Emily J. Sullivan
Crazy Inspiring Asians, a panel organized by senior public relations major Joshua Bay as part of his senior project, showcased the insights of Asian Americans and Pacific Islander leaders in the La Verne community on Wednesday in the Campus Center Ballroom.
The panelists discussed their experiences and views on media visibility for Asian-American and Pacific Islanders.
“We can’t advocate for Asian Americans without appreciating the amazing and inspiring Asians right here in our La Verne community,” said Bay. “I was very specific when picking my panelists – there are AAPIs from all different walks of life, different backgrounds, with different careers and that was important to me because Asians are so commonly stereotyped.
“It was interesting to moderate because I was getting lost in what the panelists were saying, it all felt so personal. This wasn’t just a panel about Asians, this was deeper than that. When Ian Lising said his son was proud of him for participating in the panel, I felt like I’d succeeded.”
The discussion was lively with students, faculty, friends and supporters filling the rows of seats. The room echoed with laughter as people listened to the panelists share their stories.
When the topic of Asian cuisine came up, Wendy Lau, AECOM risk management lead and Board of Trustees member chimed in.
Her eyes become glossy and wet and her voice cracked as she shared her experience as a child.
“I was bringing Asian food to the cafeteria and it was definitely that feeling of, ‘I don’t fit in, I don’t belong,’” Lau said. “This is so sad and still breaks my heart a little, but I remember as a kid, thinking ‘my life would be so much easier if I were white, if I were blonde, if I were blue-eyed, if I were anything but what I looked like, I wouldn’t have to deal with all of this stuff’ and I’m sad for the little girl that I was. That’s why this is important, right? Because I don’t want other kids to feel separate, to feel like they don’t belong.”
University of La Verne alumna Mariel Cornel is the founder and creator of Polydeux, a fashion and lifestyle blog in Los Angeles.
She models, works as a brand ambassador, product influencer and content creator.
“Growing up, I didn’t like being Filipino,” Cornel said. “I’ve only recently come to terms with it and walking away from that panel, I felt the opposite. I didn’t feel that resistance to embrace my culture, it was very empowering. Participating in the panel helped me to confront these issues I’ve had. I felt like I was meant to be there.”
Ian Lising, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, moved to Nebraska when he was 16 to live with his aunt and uncle.
After graduating, he moved back to the Philippines for his undergraduate education, then taught there for five years until he was recruited to teach at the University of La Verne.
“I could say that I’ve had it both ways, I’ve lived the experience of being the minority, when you’re in Nebraska that’s going to happen,” said Lising. “My aunt and uncle were basically the only Filipino family in the state and that’s not an overstatement, this was the ‘80s.”
“I never identified as Filipino when I lived in the Philippines because I was always outcast as the android or the American-roid. I was a minority in Nebraska and I was a minority in the Philippines. When it comes to the idea of the model racial group, I really did feel that way in Nebraska because being the only Filipino family, anything I did was reflective. I felt like I had to live up to the stereotypes.”
Senior business administration major Deborah Lee, who greeted attendees of Crazy Inspiring Asians, said it was important to do this panel because people at the University should be talking about things they feel passionate about.
“Josh wanted to focus on the lack of diversity and inclusivity for AAPIs at the University of La Verne,” said Lee. “He wanted to facilitate a presence of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders because while there are different clubs for Latinx and African Americans, there was this need for more Asian American and Pacific Islander focused discussions and clubs.”
Mulan Novilla, senior communications major and ULV Barkada club member, said she thought the panel spoke truth regarding Asian American and Pacific Islander experiences. She said they cannot seem to shake the stereotypes.
“The leaders on the panel were so inspirational,” said Novilla. “I found myself agreeing with everything they were saying. I’m an immigrant and so I understand the struggle of not feeling American enough while simultaneously not feeling Filipino enough. I hope the panel kick-starts a conversation that needs to be had.”
The other Crazy Inspiring Asian panelists that participated were Political Science doctoral student and adjunct professor Mary Anne Mendoza, Director of Student Life, Development and Leadership Adam Wong, Professor of Kinesiology and Athletic Training Program Clinical Coordinator Paul Alvarez and UCLA organic chemistry doctoral student Katherine Bay.
Joshua Bay described producing the panel Crazy Inspiring Asians as the cherry on top of his senior project – putting his passion into action.
Emily J. Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.