As a first-generation Hmong American college student, I have been exposed to institutional racism and the detrimental effects it has on Asian Americans. I have seen how anti-immigration rhetoric and toxic masculinity has affected my community. I have heard too many stories of people losing their lives because of mental health issues, financial instability, ICE, the criminal justice system, and so much more. There have been multiple nights where I have cried out of sadness, anger, and grief over the inhumane discrimination and oppression of people of color. Through the Center for Community-Engaged Learning, I have learned how to harness that energy to further my passion for social justice and how essential community engagement is to my advocacy work. The space there has allowed me to ground myself in the work that I do by connecting me with the communities who I am doing it for. I want to pass on the empowerment that I have gained to other students and communities. As a result, I hope to continue connecting college students with organizations around the Twin-Cities. I truly believe that community engagement and community-engaged learning is crucial in attaining social equity, thus, I have made it my life’s goal to encourage and participate in it.
To achieve this, I plan to complete a master’s degree in clinical social work so that I can work with marginalized communities. Ever since attending university, I have discovered that community-engagement and higher academia are a passion of mine. It allows space for controversial conversations so that individuals can self-evaluate and cultivate their moral sense of justice. The lenses of which we engage with topics are no longer limited to our experiences but intertwined with the history that came before us, the critiques of contemporary society, and the possibilities of the future. I love higher academia, however, I also acknowledge its lack of representation and flexibility towards non-traditional college students.
From my own experiences with my intersecting identities, I want to provide an equal opportunity to all, specifically those who do not share the same privileges as White-Americans. I want to become a clinical social worker in marginalized communities because I want to reframe how we help non-traditional folks. To pivot higher-education towards a direction that can provide financial, social, and emotional support to these community members is how I want to exercise social justice. Working at a practice near these communities would provide me the opportunity to do so for I would be in a position where I can critique the institutions at play while simultaneously supporting folks who are not supported by it.
I am actively taking steps to achieve these goals. This upcoming spring semester, I plan to study abroad at the University of Limerick in Ireland. This experience will allow me to broaden my perspectives on the world. This summer, I plan to apply for internships at multiple non-profit organizations. Although I have not decided where I am specifically going to complete my internship, Although COVID-19 has made many things uncertain, I understand that these experiences are essential for me to better support my clients in my future career.
My intersecting identity as a low-income, first-generation, queer Asian American male has been central in who I am today and where I want to be in the future. Through these intersecting identities, I have been forced to navigate through the complex social hierarchies of America and to constantly reflect, question, and challenge them.
Figuring out my identities has been an ongoing process and I continue to learn more about myself every day. Coming from a low-income family has had its challenges. There were nights I wondered if my sister and I would get to eat. These memories have shaped me into the person I am today. To change the discriminatory systems, it is crucial to understand how folks in these marginalized communities are being directly impacted. As for my queer identity, only a few amount of selected individuals know about my queer identity. This is due to my own internalized homophobia and experiences with the LGBTQIA+ community. Embracing my queer identity can be extremely challenging as a child of immigrant parents. I am fearful of what my family thinks because of biases and stigmas I have heard them express in the past. My parents have worked and fought so hard to get to where they are today. They have not only supported me financially but have also tried their best to support me mentally and emotionally. I fear that I will be a disappointment in their eyes if I tell them about my queer identity. However, I am actively working towards dismantling my internalized homophobia, being a better ally towards myself and the queer community, and learning to love myself for who I am. I know I cannot surrender in the face of adversity. I recognize those who have fought and paved the way for me, and it is my responsibility to continue forging this path for those who have yet discovered their identities.
The voices of Asian Americans may be loud but they are oftentimes forgotten, especially around topics of race and social justice. Asian Americans are commonly regarded as the model minority —obedient, quiet, hardworking, and often lacking in charm, emotion, and sexual appeal; the racial group that other non-white groups should strive to be. As I entered college, I forced myself to challenge the model minority myth by speaking up about the injustices against my community. Never again did I want me or individuals who share the same identities as me to feel like their lived-experiences are invalid. I refuse to be invisible in the face of oppression and made it my mission to champion the realities that I and my peers walked. I have been fortunate enough to find people who also work towards this goal and to be in a working environment where they support my vision. I am now at a place where I can actively fight oppression without fear.