ABC Takes a “Selfie”

Oct 16 2014
By: Alice Tsui
Categories: Blog
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So the food you ordered just came at Sunday brunch with your friends and what is your reaction? “Let’s take a selfie!” It is practically your second nature to whip out your phone in a matter of seconds, only to get that shot of you and your friends to then share on your Instagram which is linked to your Facebook… later.

As a throwback.

With filters.

In hopes of having over 23 likes from your last post.


ABC decided to capitalize on the hype of the word and our obsession with social media to create a romantic comedy TV series entitled none other than “Selfie,” starring Karen Gillan and John Cho. You may remember John Cho from “American Pie” and “Harold and Kumar,” but now you can think of him as the first Asian-American to be cast in a lead role on television! On being Asian in Hollywood, Cho states:

“I experienced racism, and in my professional life, I try to take roles (and have always tried to take roles) that don’t fall within the parameters of any Asian stereotype,” Cho wrote. “And so to me, hopefully, that’s a positive thing I can put into popular culture and so maybe in some bizarrely tiny way that helps people not think of Asians in one particular way.” (Washington Post).

Even though this role does not read as “Asian stereotype” to the public eye, it is still novel and exciting for audience members to simply see the Asian-American on screen as a protagonist who will certainly pave the way for more Asian-Americans on television. “I would call this revolutionary,” he told the Toronto Star earlier this year. “It’s certainly a personal revolution for me.” John, it’s an AAPI revolution for all of us in America. We’re ready.

“Selfie” follows the life of Eliza Dooley, a young woman who seeks fame through excessive usage of various social media platforms until she realizes that the importance of being real-life friends with someone significantly outweighs the promises of online friendships. Eliza is then prompted to seek help from Henry Higgs, a marketing image businessman who starts to rebrand Eliza’s image beyond the scope of social media and in real life.

Episode 1: Pilot

The Pilot introduced Eliza and Henry and simultaneously poked fun at our social media obsessed society. As a result, the Pilot received mixed reviews from the online community, with most of the banter revolving around the humor in the show. While we can all be quick to critique, let us take a moment to understand how ironic it is that we are engaging in all the critiquing more so online than in real-life conversations with our friends. Even though some of the comedy may have been a bit exaggerated (and the background music of the show certainly was no help), the show in itself is a commentary to our daily lives which perhaps says a lot about our tendencies on Twitter and what they truly are: insignificant yet major contributors to the omnipresent world wide web.

Episode 2: Un-Tag My Heart

The second episode, “Un-Tag My Heart,” shows the extremes of engaging in social media between Henry and Eliza – from genuine curiosity of exploring friends from the past to putting down the phone in order to pick up a book instead. The character development allows the audience to start connecting with the idea that there needs to be a balance in both of their lives with and without their smartphones, something that also speaks to all of us. In this episode, we see not only Eliza seeking Henry’s in-person advice, but vice versa as well, providing a refreshing co-dependent relationship that is sure to continue.

Which extreme side of consuming social media are you on – the “#ilovehashtags #omg #sorrynotsorry #besthashtagever” side or the “WHAT is a hashtag” side? Or maybe you embody that perfect balance of technology and the old-fashioned way that both Eliza and Henry are desperately trying to find? Is John Cho revolutionizing his role as an Asian American actor and truly breaking stereotypes? Well, let’s check Facebook while we wait for the next episodes! #timetocheckwhogotuglyfromhighschool #watchtheshowandyoullknowwhatimean

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Youth Leadership Week: Reflections

Aug 05 2014
By: Cynthia
Categories: Blog
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Advocacy Coordinator Kathryn Quintin writes a thoughtful reflection on her experience at Youth Leadership Week, WHIAPIA’s Youth Forum, and National Board retreat.

The Preface

So I was in Washington DC this past week, and it was an journey to say the least. I had no clue what I was getting into, who I would meet, the experiences, connections, or the realizations I would have. It was a culture shock, to say the least. From my lack of basic knowledge of public transportation (AKA getting lost on the metro for over an hour), hailing down taxi cabs, bathrooms with keypads, or reading maps, my Floridian soul could not handle the big city life.

Besides all this, I was in DC for the ECAASU’s Youth Leadership Week in tandem with WHIAAPI’s Youth Forum, and ECAASU’s National Board Retreat.  All of these events had me reflecting and pushing my limits and knowledge of who I am now, who I want to be, and where can I go from here. I have learned three key things from my six days in Washington DC:

  1. I am not alone in the fight.
  2. One person can make a difference.
  3. Community can and will be the driving force for change.

These are the three common ideas that bridged the entire week together, at least for me. These ideas helped shaped my growth from who I was to who I want to be.

When I was first thrown down the rabbit hole of social justice, I naturally was angry.

Angry because of injustice.
Angry because no one understood myself and my struggles.
Angry because I felt my voice was silenced.
Angry because of apathy
Angry because everyone told me to be angry.

This internal battle has been a prevalent part of my life for the past year, and within the past few months I have been pushing myself to break my bonds of anger, which has not been easy. In a society that over glorifies being angry as the driving force for change. I felt that without my hatred for the privileged society I would fall into apathy and become what I despised the most, apathetic (which is another story in itself). There was no middle, just extremes. This week, I feel like I can finally say that I can close that door and start a new chapter in my life that is constructive instead of destructive. Building not burning.

The Week

Enough with the intangibles, onto the stories. For various reasons I started the week a day late, so my week started on Tuesday.  I felt that the moment I walked through the door, I belonged. I was thrown into a round table discussion (with a literal round table) about mental health and self care with the wonderful Dr. DJ Ida from NAAPIHMA. It was an uplifting and informal discussion that went into several avenues that lasted two hours longer than it was originally blocked for (so a total of four hours!!). Topics ranged from self care, to being the therapist friend, to harder subjects such as suicide. The dialogue was strongly built on individual stories and experiences, and it had pushed me to think about what I can do on a personal and professional level to promote mental health and self care awareness, as well as being an advocate for others. Without even knowing these people’s names, I learned about their personal struggles, I learned about their friends struggles, and it helped me come to terms with my personal demons.

The next day focused on policy. This was the more of the ‘running around meeting people’ type of day. The morning focused on voting rights, opportunities, and ways to have the APIA community be a collective voice. From there we went to meet Dr. Franklin Odo at the Japanese Memorial and we talked about the stories behind the creation of the memorial, rang gongs, and listened to Dr. Odo being unintentionally sassy. Afterwards we met with APIA leaders on the Hill and their personal stories of how they got to where they are, and what they are doing now. We ended our day at CAPAL with the topic of coalition building and how we can work together as a community.

Thursday was Youth Forum with WHIAAPI. Seeing so many APIA youth come together for a common event was uplifting and inspiring. Not only did we focus on different issues such as immigration, mental health, and education. (They also released their new program which can be found here).We also had dialogue about regional issues (i.e. What are problems the APIA community face in the south opposed to the west coast?), and what can we do to create a positive, sustainable change.

Lastly, Friday we went to the career fair briefly and wandered the town in the morning, and in the evening we as a collective met up again to talk about our personalities. This day, was one of the highlights of the entire week for me. My sense of self was in overdrive and if having an overwhelming sense of clarity was a thing, then that is what I felt. We had the chance to take a professional level personality test. Most of the time when I take these tests, I generally know what I’m going to get: a dominant, extroverted personality that has lots of vision and is way too sarcastic for her own health and needs to calm down. I used to hate personality tests, because they always focused on why I need to change to conform into the ‘perfect’ leader, rather than you are a leader this is your personality, now use what is said here to be more self aware of how your personality effects your decision making, and how it can shape your leadership and collaborative styles. Hearing others’ leadership styles opposed to mine and how they interlocked with each other, truly helped me grow as a leader in my own community.

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ECAASU Commends the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit’s Decision to Reaffirm the University of Texas at Austin’s Undergraduate Admissions Policy

The East Coast Asian American Student Union (ECAASU) commends the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit’s decision to reaffirm the University of Texas at Austin’s he U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit’s decision to reaffirm the University of Texas at Austin’s undergraduate admissions policy that uses race as a factor. This decision ensures diversity, which is integral for the learning experience on college campuses.

In June 2008, a Texas student named Abigail Fisher, a white student, was denied admission to the University of Texas at Austin and filed suit against the university. She filed suit because she felt that she had been a victim of racial discrimination due to students of color with less impressive credentials than hers had been admitted. Last summer, the Supreme Court voided the lower appellate court’s ruling in favor of the university and remanded the case, holding that the lower could did not apply the proper standard of strict scrutiny.

Since ECAASU was founded, we have stood in solidarity with traditionally underrepresented communities. In 2013, ECAASU signed on as amici to an amicus brief submitted by Asian Americans Advancing Justice in support of diversity and utilizing race as a factor in college admissions. A fitting explanation of why ECAASU is in favor of this ruling is best explained by the President of UT-Austin, Bill Powers. “This ruling ensures that our campus, our state and the entire nation will benefit from the exchange of ideas and thoughts that happens when students who are diverse in all regards come together in the classroom, at campus events and in all aspects of campus life.

We hope to see continued strides in the direction of diversity and inclusion throughout all institutions of academia.

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Happy Father’s Day!

Jun 15 2014
By: Cynthia
Categories: Blog
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Introduction: This past week I saw a Buzzfeed article entitled “19 Things You Won’t See Dads Do in Public,” which made me think about my Dad (aka “Poppa Fink”) and how many of those things he’s actually done in public when I was growing up. I thought about how awesome/chill/amazing he was and had an idea to do highlight the Fathers of the ECAASU National Board members.

The Board of Directors recently just welcomed the 2014-2015 National Board. There is no way that of these 30 individuals, their fathers did not influence some of them to become the amazing activists that they all are. So in honor of our dads on Father’s Day, we want to share with you how our dads break the model minority myth.

-Nicole Fink, Board of Directors

As I sit here writing this post and eating a late breakfast, my dad has already been up for four hours shepherding around 11, yes, 11, middle school boys (my brother had a sleepover party last night), cleaning the pool and supervising the boys while they swim, and after they were all picked up, resuming his gardening as usual.

Needless to say, fathers do a lot, and often to little recognition. So today, we at ECAASU have rounded up a few stories about our fathers and the hard work they have put forth defying stereotypes, exceeding expectations, and all-in-all setting the standards that we strive to meet.

I hope that you all will enjoy these stories as much as we enjoyed sharing them. Happy Father’s Day!


From Danny Qiao, Campus Ambassador Coordinator; the Practice What You Preach Dad:

I wouldn’t be where I am today without my dad. He instilled responsibility and provided the proper foundation for growth and leadership. He is also so humble about all his successes and ability, which encourages me to follow in his gentle footsteps. I can only wish to grow up to be half the man he is now, but he is the ideal that I strive to reach.

From Max Nikoolkan, Asian American Studies Initiative Manager; the Does His Own Thing Dad:

My father is a funny man. He has this large rotund beer belly, a lasting artifact proudly exhibiting his love for partying as he studied Fine Arts in Thailand. His broken English is endearing, more so when he laughs at how bad it is with room-resounding laughter. I know there’s a picture of him at home, showing off an Afro he grew out when he first came to America. Now, with his hair cut short and a slightly unkempt graying beard, he is practically Santa Claus’s ethnically Asian brother.

In Thailand, he is Surasak Neng Thitijumnong, the watercolor artist from Silpakorn University. In Virginia, he is a restaurant chef that makes Thai food. When at work he tells me the food he makes follows standards set by the head chef. At home, the food he cooks is strikingly beautiful, like he decided to paint every dish with a brushstroke matching every beat from his heart.

A painting by Max's father.

A painting by Max’s father.

After my mother passed away from kidney cancer while I was in college, he began wearing those T-shirts that teenagers buy with quirky slogans or witty comments. His favorite shirt is an XL shirt with cooking stains that reads, “I’m Naked Under this T-Shirt.” It’s embarrassing for me, though everyone else has found it endearing. Now a widower, my father is still a very funny man. More importantly, he is the father who has never given up. Entrenched in poverty as a child, he stole often from markets to feed his eight brothers and one sister. He moved to America on a whim and an art degree. But he has lived and loved every step of the journey, without regrets and without spite. The APIA community has this mythological image of Tiger Moms and Dragon Dads, strict parents that pressure their children in every facet possible so that they may succeed in all the ways the parents could not.

I have never felt such pressure from my father. He is, at the end of the day, just my Asian Santa Claus.

From Alice Tsui, Arts and Education Coordinator; the Happy As Can Be Dad:

My dad is the happiest person I know. Ever since I was a kid, he has always been laughing, smiling and being positive about life. When he talks about me to his friends, he tells them “my daughter does what she loves – music.” He never pressured me to pursue any typical APIA career path, and I have my dad’s support with me in all that I do. And that support, plus his amazing cooking, means the world to me.

From Nicole Fink, Board of Directors; the Cool As A Cucumber Dad:

Poppa Fink is pretty awesome. I’m not kidding. The man has more knowledge about popular culture and social media than I do (so embarrassing I know, my Dad is cooler than I am). The man takes selfies of his own accord. Seriously. He works a full-time job, but also does the cooking and cleaning when Momma Fink has to work at night or on the weekend.  He once danced Gangnam style in public (okay more than once, let’s be honest). But despite his silliness, this is the man who built me a farm bed for my very first apartment because all the bed frames were too big for my tiny room. The man who drags my mom up to Boston for the day to fix my printer because I broke it (normally around finals time) and then had a panic/anxiety attack about how much it’d cost me to print all my notes for finals to him on the phone.

Nicole and her father.

Nicole and her father.

But my dad is not your typical Asian dad. He’s no “tiger dad.” Poppa Fink actually is one-half of a team (the other half being Momma Fink) who encourages me to break the bamboo ceiling. He never pressured me to become a doctor and has embraced my future career in public interest. He has taught me to be assertive, and to not take “no” for an answer. He is not silent or obedient like traditional Asian American stereotypes. To be honest, Poppa Fink can raise some serious hell. And my dad can’t be the only Asian American dad who is a bad ass.

From Cynthia Luo, Blog Editor; the DIY Dad:

One thing I am incredibly grateful to my father for is the high expectations he has always set for me. From a young age to now, I have always been told and reminded that I am capable and independent. One of the stereotypes of APIA parents is pressure for their children to get married and have children, but this has never been an expectation for me. Instead, it was get a good education and a great career and do the best you can. He has always encouraged me to fix my own problems (though always offering help when needed) by setting the same examples. My dad fixes everything that’s needed around, outside, and inside the house, and it’s from him that I have my unrelenting stubbornness that with a bit of elbow grease and brainstorming, I can fix anything.

My father and I

My father and I

From Daniel Hoddinott, Advocacy Director: the Endless Encouragement Dad

One thing that I am extremely grateful for to my father for is that he gave me the opportunity to live the life that my biological mother wanted and for letting me make my own mistakes. As a Korean adoptee I was born into a single, high school mother that loved me more than anything. Unfortunately she was unable to care for me the way that she wanted because she was heading to college and my biological father left her after he found out about the pregnancy and she couldn’t tell her family. She made the hardest choice a parent can make and gave her first child away. My father (and mother) provided me with what my biological mother wanted. They provided me with happiness. He never pushed me to do something because it would impress others or look good on a college application but instead encouraged me do things because I wanted to. He never forced perfection onto me but instead encouraged me to do my best in everything and to always offer help to others. My father would let me make mistakes so that I could grow and one day become a man just like him. I celebrate Father’s Day (and Mother’s Day) as a celebration for my parents. I have unmeasurable gratitude for all that they have sacrificed so that I would have the opportunity at the pursuit of happiness. Everything I do is for them and I hope one day I can somehow repay a fraction of everything that they have done for me. Love you dad!

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Remembering Yuri Kochiyama

Jun 09 2014
By: Cynthia
Categories: Blog
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“Our ultimate objective in learning about anything is to try to create and develop a more just society.” – Yuri Kochiyama

The fact that I have had nearly twenty years of schooling is very disappointing when I consider that I had never heard of Yuri Kochiyama until my involvement with ECAASU. Despite several units dedicated to the civil rights movement, despite even teaching the civil rights movement, I had not realized the extent to which APIA liberation is tied to and involved with others’ liberations.

For those who don’t know, Kochiyama had a rich history and background in her dedication towards social justice. She is most well known for a photograph in the Times of her and Malcolm X, right after he was shot. But there’s much more to Kochiyama than just an image. Her actions were as great as any other civil rights leader.

What is the most incredible is how easily Kochiyama fell into social justice. Though she didn’t necessarily seek this out, it’s her sort of accidental foray into activism that really resonates with me.

“I didn’t wake up and decide to become an activist,” she told the Dallas Morning News in 2004. “But you couldn’t help notice the inequities, the injustices. It was all around you.” (Elaine Woo, for the LA Times)

I too, didn’t wake up one morning and decide to seek change. But every small moment of catcalling, or racial joke, or homophobic remark made me cringe, and wonder if that needed to be true. What I’ll remember the most is that all actions count, and that there is no limitation to doing the right thing.

There weren’t any limits to Kochiyama’s issues, either. What I loved the most was how she was willing to fight for any cause she deemed unjust, and her continued dedication to social justice even through her nineties.

Kochiyama’s death is a loss, but also a learning opportunity. We should actively seek out and recognize such crusaders when they’re alive, instead of waiting to memorialize them after their death.

Let’s ensure that Kochiyama’s legacy is never forgotten. When we talk about equality and movements, let’s remember that everybody can play a role, and that one of us cannot be free while another is oppressed.

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Sexual Assault and Our Communities

Apr 30 2014
By: Cynthia
Categories: Blog, Uncategorized
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April was Sexual Assault Awareness month, and as it draws to a close, it’s important for us all to remember that it’s an issue that needs discussion and attention all year long–not just April.

While certainly men can be victims of sexual assault (domestic and in general), women are predominantly the targets. In particular, this post will be about violence against women of color.

For APIA women, 40-60% of report having faced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner in their lifetimes. This is higher than any other races, according to a report published in 2007 by the API Institute on Domestic Violence and the APIA Health Forum. Within ethnicities, the numbers vary but are staggeringly high, especially among undocumented women of all races, due to their immigration status being often held against them. There are often cultural or language barriers regarding the reporting of intimate partner violence as well. Let this be a reminder that the only person responsible for violence is the perpetrator–not the victim.

For more information on how domestic violence in particular affects APIA women, check out this fact sheet compiled by ECAASU’s advocacy team.

Additionally, objectification and stereotypes play a huge role in the violence against women of color. From the “porcelain doll” stereotype of APIA women,  the “Indian princess” stereotype of Native women, or the “jungle fever,” animalistic stereotype of Black women, all women of color, at some point, have probably heard these stereotypes used against them. Racism and sexism intertwine to make violence against women of color an even more pressing issue.

As I began this post, there was also a lot of conversation surrounding attempts to combat these stereotypes, namely with the hashtags #NotYourAsianSidekick and #NotYourMascot. I mostly watched the streams of these hashtags and participated tangentially, as I have a tendency towards verbosity and am still working on making my writing Twitter friendly. Regardless of my own ability to use hashtags, I found a lot of great participation and insight with both hashtags, from people of all races and genders. And that reminded me that at the end of the day, it is important that we remember that issues don’t exist in isolation. We can’t remedy racism without addressing sexism.

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First let me take a #selfie

Apr 17 2014
By: Cynthia
Categories: Blog
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Check out ECAASU National Board members (including our social media expert from which I shamelessly stole this post title from, as well as yours truly :D) talking about why we are involved in APIA issues, and why YOU should be too!


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APIAs and the Affordable Care Act

Mar 23 2014
By: Cynthia
Categories: Blog, Advocacy, Blog
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From the Department of Health and Human Services comes this nifty graphic on how the APIA community is affected by health care and the Affordable Care Act.

APIAs and Healthcare

As you can see, the data shows the dangers many members of the APIA community face due to a lack of health care.

The stats are astounding and unfortunate. However, open enrollment for insurance through the Affordable Care Act is available through March 31.

Want to help get the word out? Share:

1.       infographics on AAPIs and the Affordable Care Act (click here and see attached)

2.       a photo using hashtag #GetCovered (click here for instructions)

3.       20 Reasons to Get Covered (click here)

Join many other famous APIA figures in spreading the message to our communities!

Mindy Kaling and the ACAGeorge Takei and the ACA

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Conference 2014: Workshops & Gala Reflections

Feb 25 2014
By: Cynthia
Categories: Blog
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After getting up way too early on Saturday morning, I decided that I would walk to George Washington University from the Grand Hyatt, where I was staying. Sure, it was 1.3 miles according to Google Maps, but it was also the nicest day I have seen this year (I am from Connecticut, after all, where we have been pummeled by more snowfalls than I can actually count), plus I made the executive decision to wear my running shoes (turning off my sartorial nature for the weekend–though to be fair they were still cute sneakers).

And it was a beautiful morning. My ears got a little bit cold from the breeze but the walk was stunning. It was a beautiful morning in D.C. and I’m glad I took the trek.

On my way to George Washington University.

On my way to George Washington University.

Unfortunately, I could not attend all of the workshops as there is only one of me and there were more than a dozen workshops at any given time. However, the two I did attend were an interesting mix and relevant to my personal interests.

My age definitely became apparent in the first workshop I sat in (APIAs and the law) as the panelists, current/recent law school students from various D.C. schools, discussed the admissions process, which I have long since suffered through and survived. Nonetheless, I listened sympathetically as the panelists stressed the importance of being positive that applicants wanted to commit to law school, and on the importance of having good grades and reaching out to networks such as the APIA organizations for connections and support.

The second workshop, APIA presence in the media, included a great presentation on how APIA characters get stereotyped in the media. While this is an issue that I’ve thought about and written about before, it was staggering to see that the stereotypes are so prevalent that the facilitators had a slide with the name of the stereotype and an image of someone who was used to embody that stereotype. Dragon Lady. China Doll. The list goes on and on.

Facilitators Gina and Tiffany lead a discussion on different stereotypes APIA characters face.

Facilitators Gina and Tiffany lead a discussion on different stereotypes APIA characters face.

There was some interesting group discussion about how prevalent these stereotypes were in popular media today. I listened in on a lively conversation over whether or not Dr. George Huang, from Law & Order: SVU, was one of these or not. Jury’s still out on that one. Readers, what do you think?

The facilitators also have created an awesome Tumblr (currently under construction; it’ll be launching next week) that you should all check out and submit to–I know I will.

The final event of the evening, the gala, was definitely what I was looking forward to the most. Delicious food! Dressing up! All of my favorite things.

Dinner was delicious! But I was too full for seconds :(

Dinner was delicious! But I was too full for seconds :(

The biggest moment of suspense that evening was the reveal of the 2015 ECAASU bid: Boston! I’m already excited to see how that will turn out and relieved that it won’t involve around 8 hours of travel time.

Another exciting announcement: congratulations to the 2014 Trailblazer winner, Kim Soun Ty. There were many qualified applicants and finalists, but Kim’s accomplishments and dedication were really quite astounding.

Co-Director of Outreach Gar Yeung presents 2014 Trailblazer award winner Kim Soun Ty with her award.

Co-Director of Outreach Gar Yeung presents 2014 Trailblazer award winner Kim Soun Ty with her award.

And the speakers and performers! Listening to Cris Comerford speak was inspiring–shattering glass and bamboo ceilings alike. Maybe next time Conference is in D.C. she can be the one catering our dinner! One can only dream…

Duty called me away and I wasn’t able to see Becky Lee, who I was really looking forward to seeing since her organization, Becky’s Fund, is instrumental in working against domestic violence, an issue I personally feel very passionately about. So if anyone has video or updates, let me know!

Luckily, I DID make it back in time for Ruby Ibarra, who easily trumped all of the other events of the weekend as my personal favorite (yes, she even beat out the oh-so-delicious orange creme brulee). Girl can SPEAK. All of her pieces were fantastic, but her very first one definitely stuck with me, in particular the line (sorry Ruby, I may have botched it) “I wanted to be a Cover Girl so I cover girl” which is just genius in about every way. Ruby, if you ever want to work with my high school kids, holler at me!

Anyway, the young ones tell me that the after-party was pretty fun too, but since I had to go back to Connecticut at the crack of dawn the next morning (okay, 7:30, but after this weekend that was basically the crack of dawn) I demurred.

All in all, ECAASU 2014 was a fantastic experience. Thanks to all the performers, speakers, attendees, and of course, Conference and National Board. Mission Ignition: Success!

Since I wasn’t able to stay for the final day on Sunday, I would love to hear from all of you! Let me know at or @scluo on Twitter. And for more photos from conference, check out our new Instagram, @ecaasu!

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Conference 2014: Opening Ceremony Reflections

Feb 24 2014
By: Cynthia
Categories: Blog
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Yes, it took me more than a day to recover from the hecticness (but in the best way possible!) that was conference. As a “young professional” who hasn’t been a student in a couple of years (besides the oh-so-cliched “student of life”) I was excited that the themes and the workshops didn’t just target college students, but addressed issues outside of the student realm as well. I loved the idea of “Mission: Ignition” and I think I came back from conference pretty ignited. I struggled to find ways to get involved in my community after college, having watched my regular network of friends and fellow activists disperse after graduation. But then there was conference! Where else could I have found nearly a thousand other activists, students and working professionals alike, all invested in the same issues of race and oppression and everything I’ve been struggling against? Though conference was only a couple of days, there were so many things that happened that I couldn’t possibly list all of them.

But here are some highlights: The backstory of this photo is that I told my students that I was going to D.C. for a conference and they immediately asked me if I would be meeting anyone “cool.” I shrugged and said that I didn’t think they’d know any of the keynote speakers, but that I knew the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, would be the keynote speaker during Opening Ceremonies. I didn’t expect my students to know who he was, but one boy nearly fell out of his seat as he raised his hand shouting, “Ooh ooh Miss I have something to share!” Now this boy is notorious for sharing very off-task and unrelated stories, and knowing that I would be missing school for conference I tried to gently dissuade him from sharing now and asked if he could share after class if there was time. But he was so vehement “THIS IS RELEVANT I PROMISE!” he nearly shouted that I relented, and he said, “I saw him [Duncan] on TV! He was in the celebrity basketball game! He scored 20 points!” I was surprised at this piece of information, but then figured that if anyone knew basketball, it was this student, who loved all things basketball.

I didn’t know at this time whether or not I’d get a chance to speak to Secretary Duncan, but promised the student I’d pass on his regards and admiration if given the opportunity. Luckily, I was able to catch Secretary Duncan before his conversation in the ceremony, and below is me explaining the story to him. I’d like to think I did my student justice in demonstrating his excitement. Secretary Duncan listened obligingly to my story and gamely told me I could pass on a “Hey” to my student–who I’m sure will be thrilled to hear this.

I share my student's story (and apparently excitement) with Secretary Duncan.

I share my student’s story (and apparently excitement) with Secretary Duncan.

Duncan’s armchair conversation with Kiran Ahuja, Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders was an interesting one indeed.

The armchair discussion between Kiran Ahuja and Arne Duncan during the ECAASU 2014 Conference Opening Ceremony.

The armchair discussion between Kiran Ahuja and Arne Duncan during the ECAASU 2014 Conference Opening Ceremony.

They discussed AANAPISIs (follow the hashtag on Twitter for more information!), the fact that the United States is currently ranked 12th in terms of college grades because of stagnation, and bringing the costs of college down for students. For the latter, Duncan acknowledged the particular difficulty first generation college students face, especially when needing to work. I looked around as he polled the audience, asking who had to work to support themselves in college–and I saw many hands up (my own included).

Ahuja brought up unique issues the APIA community faces, including the fact that 1/3 of APIA students are limited English proficient and that nearly 2/3 of APIA students face some type of cyber bullying but have the lowest rate of reporting such abuse. When contrasting this with the model minority myth, Duncan said that we should celebrate success and excellence but need to have honest conversations about broader communities.

Duncan’s interest in education stems from growing up in Chicago and noticing inequalities in his neighborhood. When he said “Education can be the great equalizer…or exacerbate the situation between the haves and have nots,” I remembered this sentiment–as it’s the very one that brought me into education.

Another conversation of note was one on mental health. The statistics on mental health in APIAs are staggering, especially when it comes to young APIA women. Duncan discussed the need to reduce stigma and also dealing with cuts to school budgets and the number of counselors and social workers. He also discussed concern over gun violence and its intersection with mental illnesses as well.

However, the biggest moment for me was his observation that unfortunately, many colleges don’t take sexual assault seriously and give merely lip service to handling it on campuses. As a UConn alumna who is deeply ashamed of the way the university failed several survivors of sexual assault, and one who was heavily involved in attempting to end sexual violence on campus, I was happy to hear Duncan say that the office has been doing more investigations and working with colleges in a proactive way. Of course, only time will tell if things change–certainly there are greater societal issues contributing to the atmosphere of violence in general.

The rest of the opening acts were fantastic, including hilarious commentary and song by Jen Kwok, lyrical music by Us, and my personal favorite: badass slam poetry by G. Yamazawa. All in all, an excellent start to conference.

As this post turned out more extensive than I originally planned, I’ll follow up tomorrow with some more observations on the rest of Conference. If you’d like to share your conference story, email me at or find me on Twitter @scluo!

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