31 Days of APIDAs: Albert Oku

In honor of May being Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Pacific Ties and Asian Pacific Coalition (APC) are teaming up to featuring Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) Bruins. We’ll be posting one interview per day. 

Albert Oku is a third year Bioengineering major who is actively involved in the annual production of Samahang Pilipino Culture Night and is also currently a Residential Assistant (RA) for Rieber Terrace. One of his goals in life is to have his own house with a personal garden and his favorite food is anything in relation to chocolate.

How do you ethnically identify?

I identify as a fifth-generation Japanese, second-generation Pilipinx American who was born and raised in SoCal.

What part of California are you from?

I live in Covina, a “middle of nowhere” suburb that’s close to West Covina, the setting of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

Why did you choose to attend to UCLA?

My dad is a UCLA alumni who graduated in 1982. During the couple of times I visited when I was young, I thought of this place as akin to Disneyland: so full of magic and such a huge place that there was so much you could do, and I still think that. Although my views now are more grounded in reality than in the mind of a 7 or 8-year-old.

How has your identity affected your experiences at UCLA?

In my household, my dad is Japanese and my mom is Pilipinx. I felt that up until the end of high school, I had more contact with my Japanese side of the family and I was more aware, at least on the surface level, of Japanese culture and customs, but I never really got to meet the Pilipinx side of my family that much or learn more about Pilipinx culture. In coming to UCLA, I met a lot of Pilipinx students; a lot of them I’m still friends with to this day. It was through them and through watching SPCN my freshman year, that made me want to commit time to Samahang Pilipino, be a performer in its culture night, and through all that get to learn about the current Pilipinx community and also learn about the past. I felt like I knew this stuff about Japanese culture but I didn’t know anything about Pilipinx culture and that, coupled with my Lolo and Lola moving close to me, has allowed me in the past couple of years during my tenure at UCLA to become more familiar with Pilipinx culture, Pilipinx history, and Pilipinx current events.

Describe your experience with Samahang Pilipino.

The organization opened me to not just the community of Bruin Pilipinx but also made me more aware of what was happening in Pilipinx communities here and in the Philippines themselves. I became aware of the community outreach, the push for support or retention, and of the need to empower those without a voice or without representation. Currently, I’m a general member who volunteers at some of their events. One of the events coming up is Pilipinx Youth Empowerment Day and for the incoming Pilipinx transfers, their rendition of a Bruin Day. I’ve also hosted for Pilipinx first years for BLW (Bruin Life Weekend). Lastly, I’m a performer for Samahang Pilipino Culture Night.

What is your favorite part of your culture(s)?

Not just for Japanese culture, but even for Pilipinx culture, there’s a sense of strength and pride that even when conditions are bad, even when we’re at our lowest points, we’ll still find a way to overcome and rise up. And I think more so with Pilipinx culture, along with having a family you also have an extended one. That’s something we always refer to in our meetings in Samahang Pilipino Culture Night. Being among all these different people who I’m not blood related to, I feel that being with this group and getting closer with this group has given me a sense of having a second family.

What is your greatest challenge at this moment?

Because of recent events, mainly tied to my work, but overall in terms of my habits, in terms of my lack of scheduling time or budgeting my time wisely, and due to family commitments, I am currently on academic probation and I have started to see a CAPS counselor. And that of course could impact when I could graduate, it could impact my job as a Residential Assistant, so I’m trying to do the best I can to overcome that with the network of friends that I have, with the CAPS counselor I’ve met, and with my supervisors.

What is your favorite memory of UCLA?

So there’s two which I can’t really choose between. One of them was when I got to perform for the first time as a second year in Samahang Pilipino Culture Night: the feeling of being out on the stage and knowing that my friends are there, my family’s there, and they get to see the product of almost 5 to 6 months of practice and dedication put on stage at Royce. That was a wonderful experience. The second one is my experience being an RA and my co-bond with Karin Chan. I think without her help I’d probably be in an even tighter spot; I’d probably be doing worse without her support and without getting to know her. And through our conversations about APIDA events, APIDA issues, feminism, history, geek culture, it has kept me motivated.

What do you plan to pursue after graduating from UCLA?

I’d like to go into research. What I’m currently doing right now is working with a research group that analyzes scans of the brains of stroke victims to reconstruct the blood vessel networks. I want to discover a way to create physical models that can help predict strokes or uncover the areas of damage caused by strokes. I think that’s the direction in which I want to go and regardless, if that’s not the direction then whatever skills I pick up, I’d like to apply wherever I am.

Interview has been edited for length and clarity

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