31 Days of APIDAs: Moneel Chand

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. 

Moneel Chand is a 5th year mechanical engineering major who has been in the Pacific Islands’ Student Association, the Community Programs Office as an Extern and a member of the Pacific Islander Education and Retention (PIER) project, and the Student Fee Advisory Committee (SFAC).

What does a CPO Extern do?

You have an extern site and they pay you do to an unpaid internship. Mine’s a little different in that I help assist the office managers in whatever duties they want to do. It’s kind of like an assistant.

How do you identify?

I identify as Indo-Fijian. I have roots in the Pacific Islands and, by blood, I’m mostly Indian, but I identify with Pacific Islander (PI) culture. This is a part of the diaspora of Indians, so there are a lot of Indians in Fiji.

How has your identity affected your experience at UCLA?

For me, being Indo-Fijian, UCLA has challenged what it means to be Indo-Fijian. There are aspects where I benefit from being primarily Indian, but I feel alienated from other Indians at UCLA because I identify more with my PI side. It’s hard to explain to both PISA and South Asian Orgs on campus. It feels like at times you don’t completely belong in one or the other.

Have you tried to enter any South Asian orgs?

I haven’t tried to enter any South Asian orgs on campus because I don’t identify with my Indian heritage too much, and our cultural values and socioeconomic status are different. Indo-Fijians have values that align more to PIs. I always refer to myself as PI.

What kind of cultural values do you find align more with PI culture?

Family above all else. Education is also not necessarily a value, but cultural retention is one – being involved in one’s culture. Faith, too. In our culture, faith is basically a huge component of being Indo-Fijian. You cannot be one without the other. It’s hard to be considered Indo-Fijian if you’re not strong in your faith.  Also working together as a community, just like other PI communities. Working closely with your neighbors and growing together as a community. Another huge cultural value is serving one’s parents and elders.

What does community mean to you?

Community, to me, is a network of people that not only understand the struggles that you come from, but also align with the values one has. At the same time, I think community is someone that is able to leverage resources to allow everybody to grow. It does not allow individuals to be selfish or individualistic. I think the best way to summarize community is who is there for you when shit hits the fan.

What kind of involvements have you had at UCLA?

I’ve been a part of PISA. I have been the Yield coordinator and the fiscal coordinator. I’ve helped out with making sure all the events are funded, making sure we can leverage all the resources on campus to make sure we can get resources. As the yield coordinator I worked for 2 years to make sure we have more PIs coming into the university. IN PIER I volunteer occasionally, I tutor and mentor. I go out to Carson this quarter. I’ve also gone out to Long Beach Poly HS to mentor and tutor youth. I always wanted to be a math and science teacher to increase the number of PIS in college as well as in STEM fields. In the CPO I started as an Intern, I really loved the internship and I could interact with a lot of different cultures. I didn’t really get to interact with Asian people, people who are Muslim, and others from different backgrounds before I got to UCLA. I’ve also served on SFAC – it’s detached and not as grass roots, but it’s on a different level. How do we interact with the university policies and fundraising to make sure UCLA students have the best time they can at UCLA?

I also was a part of UCLA Baja – an engineering organization that builds a car from ground up. I worked on the fiscal and business aspects of that, particularly relationships with sponsors.

What drove you to join PISA/PIER?

I think it was a family away from home. I’m originally from Fiji, but we moved to the Bay Area. The reason I chose UCLA despite better finance options elsewhere was as soon as I came here as a YIELD student and I saw all the resources in the CPO, I knew I had a family here. I really fell in love with the campus. One of the things that has always been on my mind is always not fitting in. I’m one of two engineering students that are PI and it feels isolating. CPO and PISA really helped me find a community on campus.

What are some community issues you wish you could address?

I think one is the number of PIs that are matriculating into colleges. It’s more of an outreach issue and it’s not that they don’t know about college. Colleges aren’t putting enough effort into outreaching to them.

The retention of PIs, as well.  We have RAIN that helps the retention of PIs on campus, so I can’t even imagine what it’s like at places other than UCLA. Almost everyone runs into academic trouble at UCLA.

Lastly, I’d say that emphasizing the importance of academics isn’t that emphasized in community. There is a vast amount of possibilities when you get your education. We value helping out our family immediately with jobs, but there are a lot of long term successes that can come from having an education.

How do you think your experience here will help you in the future?

If I could describe my experiences here in one word it would be “rough.” It’s super rough. Being low income, first generation, PI, you get to see how much everything is against you. But you can also see how much opportunity there is out there for other people from your community that don’t have the privilege of coming to a 4-year institution. I know that I can help educate my PIER kids and my future students about college and help guide them.

It’s a lot of figuring out how to do paperwork, when I should take classes, which classes to take and what professors; knowing these things would allow students a better opportunity to enjoy college. Right now I just want to get out of here so other people can get here.

What’s one of your most memorable moments at UCLA?

My first memory that really sticks out to me is Yield. That was the first time I got to meet PISA, the family, the camaraderie, everyone’s joking around with each other and everyone’s poking fun at each other familially – it felt like home. Other times I would probably say seeing the PISA girls perform at the CPO reception my second year – it was so graceful and beautiful and it was eye opening to see how far we’ve come in a few years. The people I’ve met are great too. Natasha Saelua, a former associate director to the CPO, was really awesome to work with. Being able to work with her and her guidance to steer me in the right direction, that really stuck out to me. Also meeting Johnnie Yang and Live Maluia were both memorable experiences. They have had such a positive influence in my life since I met them.

Are there any parts of your culture that you wish you could teach others?

Indo-Fijians – we don’t have phenotypes of being PI, but it’s basically like externally taking the body structure, but internally everything I know and where I grew up is all PI. One thing I wish that people understood that is that Indo-Fijian is a hybrid of this Indian diaspora and a mixture of all this new PI culture.

Are there any things on your bucket list for UCLA or LA in general?

I want to visit more of the museums that are here. I just visited LACMA for the first time and I thought it was an amazing experience. I want to take more advantage of that. I’ve kind of become a grandpa in the last few years here. I want to go out to see more of LA – Chinatown, different markets, Disneyland, Magic Mountain, different beaches.

In terms of school, one thing I definitely want to get done is trying to create a structural support structure for PIs in STEM. This is the first year we’ve had an insurgence of south campus majors. We’ve typically had north campus majors. This is specifically a support for PIs in STEM fields.

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