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.
Alice Nguyen is a 2nd year Anthropology major and Classical Civilizations minor.
How do you identify?
I am a 1.5 generation Vietnamese student. I come from a low-income immigrant family. Because of that, education has always been a priority to my parents and that is a value that I hold true for myself as well.
Where are you from?
I was born in Saigon, Vietnam, and I moved to California when I was five years old. I lived in West Covina, a middle-class neighborhood, before moving to Riverside. Despite living in that kind of neighborhood, my parents, brother, and I shared a single bedroom in my aunt’s house for 10 years before we bought our own house. I went to school in a Latinx community from kindergarten to high school before coming to UCLA.
Why did you choose to come to UCLA?
I wanted freedom and space to build my identity outside of my parents’ conservative Vietnamese expectations, but when going through my college options, I realized that I risked losing that Vietnamese identity that gave me my cultural foundations. Attending SEA Admit weekend at UCLA showed me that UCLA was the place for me because there was a community here that understood my background and the struggle I had – and still have – defining myself as a Vietnamese individual raised in an American culture.
How do you think your identity affects your experiences at UCLA?
I think being Asian American at UCLA made me very susceptible to losing myself in the rest of the student population, especially coming in as a pre-med student. I felt like I had heavy expectations on me just from getting an acceptance letter here, and coming here confirmed some of my fears that being a 1.5 generation Asian-American and a pre-med essentially made me part of the Asian stereotype of the good Asian girl following her parents’ dream of having a doctor in the family. I’m not going to lie, there are thousands of students like that here, and the part of my identity that made me feel unique and confident suddenly felt very confining and burdening.
It took some time – all of my first year actually – before I actually realized that at UCLA, I could be anything that I wanted to be, and that included NOT being a pre-med. In the past two years, I had a lot of time to rearrange my identity by throwing away pieces that didn’t fit me anymore and discovering new pieces through SEA CLEAR and my interests in Classical Civilizations studies. What I’ve come to conclude this far into my growth as a student is that there are some identities that are inherently part of me, such as being Vietnamese, being an immigrant, and being a woman in a man’s world. But identity is fluid and changing, and once I came to accept that, UCLA became this new ocean of opportunities and chances that I feel so grateful for being able to experience.
Are you involved in any student groups on campus? What are some of your experiences?
I was an intern for Project SEA CLEAR under the Vietnamese Student Union at UCLA my first year here. In the few months I spent learning alongside other Southeast Asian interns and interacting with the staff, I felt myself growing more conscious and aware of my community’s needs and also my own duty to give back. This was the same community that brought me to UCLA and showed me the potential I had to be a student leader for other Southeast Asian students. So my second year, I rejoined as Administrative Assistant for Project SEA CLEAR.
What are you passionate about and why?
There’s a quote that goes: “those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” Much of my family has personal experiences running away from war and living with the very real consequences of the Vietnam War, one instance in a cycle of violence and aggression. This, to me, is a sign that obviously people still have a lot to learn about their past and what it means to be human. I want to learn all about what makes us humans, our society, why we act and behave the way we do toward each other. And the root of that is hidden in the buried and forgotten past of contemporary and ancient people. Whether it is listening to the stories that my mother tells me about her childhood in Vietnam before the communists forced her to flee or reading about the history of 25,000-year-old bones, I believe that understanding and educating others on our history as humans is essential to future progress in building a global community with less discrimination and violence and more cooperation.
What’s your greatest challenge right now?
Balancing my education, my career aspirations, and my relationships. I’ve found out over the past two years at UCLA that I am a workaholic and that I enjoy the work. But I end up neglecting other equally important aspects of my life: my family and my friends who supported me on my way to UCLA and during my time here. I am here to build a future where I can give back to the people who raised me up and supported me along the way to UCLA. Sometimes I have to remind myself to step back and look at the big picture: I am working to better myself but also to give back to my Vietnamese community and, most importantly, my family.
What is a personal goal you would like to accomplish in the rest of your time at UCLA?
I want to be a stronger advocate for my Southeast Asian community. Right now, I am learning and developing my identity, which I neglected because of my upbringing in a very diverse, but non-Asian community. Sometimes I feel “not Asian enough” or at least not proud enough of my heritage to be able to speak up for my people, my Vietnamese community. With my last two years here, I want to reconnect with my cultural roots, but also make connections with the strong AAPI student leaders on campus so that when they leave to go do bigger and better things for themselves and our community, I can step up to continue the mission of having strong AAPI student leadership on campus to speak for not only the issues of the broader AAPI community, but also the issues of the Southeast Asian community.
Check out Asian Pacific Coalition’s new website!