When I lived in Myanmar, I went to an international school comprised of students from all over the world. This exposure helped me to embrace the world’s different cultures as well to learn how to be proud of my own. Because of this experience, I began to hold my racial identity and ethnicity as one of my defining characteristics. Today, I embrace my Burmese ethnicity and all the culture that goes along with it.
As I grew up and moved to America, I became more and more fascinated about what it meant to be Asian, especially in different contexts. I went to the Bronx High School of Science, which in 2012 had a student body that was 63 percent Asian. On the other hand, in 2010 Georgetown had a student body that was 62.3 percent white and only 8.8% percent Asian. Despite the lack of representation of students who either identify as Asian or Asian-American in the student population, diversity and culture are very much a vibrant part of the Georgetown experience. In my two years at Georgetown, I have come to find many friends in the Asian community and in members of Asian organizations such as the Asian American Student Association (AASA).
AASA is a multi-faceted organization; it is an education, culture and advocacy group that aims to promote the Asian-American Pacific Islander community’s achievements and examine the issues that they face. Its main committees include the Programming Committee, Political Awareness Committee and Professional Development Initiative. Its Programming Committee puts on a variety of events including Taste of Asia, which is intended to highlight the cuisines of different Asian ethnicities, and AsiaFest, an annual performance showcase. As part of its Political Awareness Committee, I had the chance to organize thoughtful discussions over tea. Topics of discussion ranged from mental health to “yellow fever,” the phenomenon of fetishizing Asians.
In addition to AASA, there are other Asian organizations on campus that represent many different ethnicities, such as the Chinese Student Alliance (CSA), the Vietnamese Student Association (VSA), and Club Filipino. They all are very active on campus and host a wide variety of programs and events, which often include sampling delicious food from a plethora of countries. The CSA frequently has language dinners in which where students can bond together over good food while learning the complexity of the Chinese language. Often, these organizations collaborate and co-sponsor with each other. Most recently, the CSA, KSA, TASA and VSA all worked with each other to hold a Lunar New Year celebration with food that differing groups brought from their respective cultures as well as performances from dancers and singers. Attendance to the event was high; students and representatives from many organizations from all different parts of Georgetown as well students from other D.C. area schools and the University of Maryland there in attendence. I am proud to be part of a university where different ethnicities are well represented and strive to educate the whole student body about their cultures.
In fact, many of the same student leaders that are the heads of these organizations also advocate for Asian or Asian Pacific Islander rights outside of Georgetown. This past weekend, I helped run the East Coast Asian American Student Union 2014 Conference. The ECAASU annual conference is the oldest and largest student-run Asian-American conference in the United States. For the 2014 ECAASU conference, students from Georgetown University, American University, George Washington University and the University of Maryland all banded together to work either as part of the conference committee or as volunteers to help over 1,200 registrants have a great time. This year’s theme of “Mission Ignition: Champion Your Cause” aimed at empowering the AAPI community with the opportunity to engage in discussion about what affects AAPIs and the necessary tools to address these issues. Through workshops, powerful speakers like Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and former State Legislator Mee Moua, and engaging entertainers such as Jen Kwok and US, this year’s ECAASU was a great success.
It would not have been possible for D.C. to hold such a large and amazing conference without the support of student leaders in the Asian community on campus. These people were willing to spend countless hours in addition to schoolwork and on-campus extracurricular activities to advance the rights of the AAPI community.
Eng Gin Moe is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. NEW IN TOWN appears every other Friday in the guide.