Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Asian Student Org Spotlight: Asian American Students in Alliance

                  As your productive and meaningful day of education comes to an end and you find yourself on that routine walk back to your bike, bus, or blue line, you reflect on the definitive successes and prevailing of obstacles that lead to such a glorious, fulfilling experience that encompasses you with the desire to return home to prepare for another day full of exciting challenges… Yet despite your progressing academic endeavors, there’s still an emptiness inside, a void (and I’m not talking about your hunger for that home cooked meal, cafeteria food, or whatever else is inside that Tupperware or crumpled up tin foil in your bag).

                  You realize that this emptiness can only be occupied by a greater cause. A structured coalition composed of your earnest peers that you can devote your additional time towards in a meaningful and social way. A student organization. Specifically, an Asian interest student organization. Led by charismatic, organized role models and generously attended by entertaining, chipper students with similar interests. WHAT ARE YOU EVEN WAITING FOR? (Their next event, I suppose...)

See how warm and approachable they appear?

                  Luckily, I have had the enjoyable privilege of attending many of these organizations’ events and will try my best to portray what these organizations stand for as well as the experience you can expect when you join!


AASIA's mission: The purpose of this organization is to encourage and reward academic excellence, to promote campus and community awareness by addressing Asian American issues, and to provide social and cultural activities for its members.
“Hold on! That mission statement sounds just like every other Asian cultural org’s statement.”
                  You’re right. So what is this organization actually doing? What makes this organization different from the others? Why should you check out their meetings instead of studying?

                  AASIA is actually quite unique from the other Asian cultural organizations. It is the oldest Asian interest organization, founded in 1986, and is rooted in social justice and education for and about Asian Americans (they are making an effort this year to return to their roots!). They support, volunteer, and fundraise for non-profit community organizations that are in solidarity for the benefit of Asian Americans such as ADOPT (Asians with Disabilities Outreach Project Think-tank) and AAJC (Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Chicago). They are always actively collaborating with other student organizations, as well, for the betterment of the community!

                   AASIA’s efforts encompasses Asian Americans as a whole! They are not specific to one culture or identity (and also help fill our campuses lack of a Chinese cultural student organization). Their meetings and workshops are pedagogical in nature with thoughtful presentations and discussions on current issues, identity, and cultural aspects of Asian American lives! Their upcoming events include a micro-aggressions workshop (co-presented with multicultural fraternity, Sigma Lambda Beta) and a discussion about the model minority myth (Featuring Jeff from the Asian American Resource and Cultural Center).

                  As an aside, AASIA holds a special place in my heart being the first non-exclusive Asian interest organization I have checked out! Tea-tasting and Origami making were the first two events I attended and I greatly appreciated learning about the origins of these activities and their significance to our heritage. I was greeted by their e-board members with both, warm smiles and a warm cup of tea despite them not knowing of my existence prior at a meeting one month into the spring semester, so it’s never too late to come by!

Major Event:

-        ­Imaginasian, a unique variety show in which student organizations prepare a skit that fits along with the theme! Features a famous headliner! (Last two headliners: David So, The Architeks)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Gentle Rays of Summer, Identity, and AAMP

Kevin Shi, Graduate Assistant
Asian American Mentor Program

These mornings, I wake up quite regularly to gentle rays of sunlight filtered through my window blinds and the rumbling growl of lawn mowers eagerly devouring grass. There’s just something about the sights and sounds of summer that put me in the right mood; it’s the almost as the universe is telling you to get ready to have a good time.
Kevin Shi facilitating a session during AAMP Mentor Training

As has been case with past summers, I often use the gentle breezes and pleasant temperature as a backdrop for self-reflection and to consider how what I’ve accomplished in the past year fits into the greater life story I’m currently authoring. Though my conclusions are not always insightful, I’ve found that an increasingly significant amount of my time has been dedicated to thinking about the generations before me and those to potentially come after.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Garden Items - From Ground to Table

By liz thomson, Interim Director

Global Garden Market
Open Thursdays, 3-6 p.m.; Saturdays 9 a.m.-2 p.m.
3000 W. Lawrence Ave. (just north of Francisco Brown Line eL, or #81 Lawrence bus)
Cash only.

Okay, I think I'm officially converted. Not in the religious way, but I'm a garden fan! From this summer's experience with the UIC Heritage Garden and then our most recent field trip to the Global Garden Refugee Training Farm in Albany Park, it is super cool to see the veggie and greens growing, get picked, and then cook them. What I appreciate the most is hearing the cultural influences and stories related to the items.

A selfie at the Market!
After the field trip, I returned that weekend to the Global Garden Market on Saturday to see what I could buy. I bought Red Mustard Greens, radishes, and a Daikon bunch. Wasn't quite sure what I was going to cook with them, but hey - that's what the Internet is for, right? Each bunch was only $2 and I also got to meet some of the farmers. I looked to see if one of the women we met was around, but she wasn't. I was hoping to see her and her little boy again who was earlier wearing a Batman top and running around.          

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Get to Know Jullie Han - helping new students in many ways

By liz thomson, Interim Director

How does one describe summer? For a group of about 30 Orientation Leaders, it means giving tours, introducing incoming students to UIC campus resources and services, answering a lot of questions, and then some? Sophomore Jullie Han is one of those Orientation Leaders and also a mentor in AARCC’s Asian American Mentor Program (AAMP) for the fall of 2014. On her day off from Orientation, Jullie made time to chat with me.
Jullie during one of her busy days during Orientation

Seemingly always smiling, Jullie identifies as Korean American and is a psychology major, who is fluent in Korean and has English as a second language. I first got to know Jullie during the AAMP overnight training this past May. Since then, I’ve seen her shuffling students here and there in a calm and professional manner.

With a lot of different summer opportunities, my first question to Jullie is how she found out about Orientation and what made her apply?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Getting to Know Akhila Gopal and Phoenix Chen - garden, culture, and heritage

By liz thomson, AARCC Interim Director
June 14, 2014

Summer Garden interns at the Garfield Park Conservatory
The best part of working in higher education is meeting enthusiastic and engaged students. Earlier this summer, I met sophomores Phoenix Chen and Akhila Gopal through the Centers for Cultural Understanding and Social Change’s Heritage Garden Internship. Between weeding, watering, and sharing stories, I got to hear why they applied for the internship and how it connects with their culture, academics, and life.

One day after the internship, we decided to grab lunch and chat.  While walking down to Lotus CafĂ© & Banh Mi, we talked casually and made light conversations.  Phoenix and Akhila are both very open to talk to. After ordering our food, we sat down, and I started asking them how they found out about the Heritage Garden Internship.

“I heard about it from an email through the Honors College, and I was looking for something to do this summer,” says Akhila, “I always hated only seeing concrete in the winter, and I strongly believe being out in nature is healthy.”

Getting to Know Annie Pho - books, biking, and cats

By liz thomson, AARCC Interim Director
June 10, 2014

This past academic year, I have gotten to know Annie Pho, Visiting Reference and Instructional Librarian, at the UIC Daley Library. She’s been here since January 2013 and some of her UIC new-ness has worn away. Since the summertime is less stressful and busy, I thought I would take some time to get to know her a little bit more. Our conversation begins as we walk from the Library to Student Center East. We get a hot beverage and then find a quiet place to talk. What is usually an extremely noisy building is eerily quiet. I’m taking notes on my laptop, and Annie is at ease drinking her Chai dressed in a lightweight, red sweater that is conducive to working in an air-conditioned space during summer.

Annie identifies as a first generation, Vietnamese-American.

Annie Pho, Visiting Reference and Instructional Librarian
Liz Thomson (LT): Thank you for making time for the interview and sharing. To ease into things, Annie, where do you call home?

Annie Pho (AP): I’ve moved around so much – so, it’s interesting about where to call home. I’ve only lived in Chicago now for one and half years, and I feel like Chicago is becoming like home. I grew up in Sonoma County (north of San Francisco), so California is still home. I’m excited to learn more about Chicago.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Shirts Can Start Conversations

By Phoenix Chen
UIC Heritage Garden Summer Intern

Phoenix working in the Heritage Garden.
I am going to be late! I am so going to be late! That was the only thought running across my mind as I ran up six flights of stairs to my first period physics class. By the time I reached the sixth floor, I was out of breath and drenched in sweat. I felt light-headed as I walked quickly through the half-empty hallway with a mix of exhaustion and fear twisted inside my stomach. It was only the third day of school, and I was going to be late for class, again. I could see myself spending the rest of my freshman year, stuck inside a windowless classroom, serving detention after detention. When I turned a corner, I saw my physics teacher standing by the door to the classroom. Ms. Kovacs was wearing a t-shirt with WE ADD UP printed in the middle. Each word had its own row, and there was an addition sign to the left of UP. Underneath the words, there was a line and a number beneath it. The message on my teacher’s shirt didn’t make sense to me. Letters certainly could not be added up to numbers. When asked about her shirt, Ms. Kovacs couldn’t tell me much about the meaning behind its message. She said that she bought the shirt from the environmental club and was simply wearing it to support the club.

"The Mother of All"

By Akhila Gopal
UIC Heritage Garden Summer Intern 

Kalpavriskha. In my native language, Kannada, the name that some use for the banana plant translates directly to “the mother of all”; that from which so much can be harvested, used, and replenished. Though most people in the United States are only familiar with the ripened fruit of the plant, bright yellow and sold in bunches, there is a lot more that the banana tree has to offer.

The soft inner bark of the tree is used in salads and curries, the unripe fruit can be boiled or fried, and the flower is so delicious that it considered a delicacy in many parts of Asia and the Pacific Islands. But to me, it is the banana leaf that holds the most importance.
The leaf of the banana is a symbol of festivities, because during a time of celebration people are served food onto a banana leaf. More than being just a biodegradable plate, the chemical composition of the banana leaf make using it as a plate, a wonderful experience.

Asthma, Allergies, the Environment, and My Moms

By Liz Thomson, Interim Director
May 20, 2014

On the second day of the Heritage Garden Internship, we did a story share circle where everyone brought in an object or image that related to the environment, sustainability, and culture.

For my story circle object, I brought in allergy pills and an asthma inhaler. Even though I just turned 40 years old, the objects bring back childhood memories like they were yesterday. When I think back to my childhood and the outdoors, it’s not too happy. My memories are of me inside with Ma doing inside house stuff, while Kim and Mom are doing outside stuff. Whether Kim was having more fun than I was doesn’t really make a difference – but to me, it seemed more fun. This dichotomy made an impact in a few ways. Sure- I also could have tried to be outside, but as a kid, I had asthma and allergies. So being outside equated to difficulty in breathing, sneezing, and probably being sick for the next few days… missing school. Looking back through my childhood stuff, I found many “get well” cards on an annual basis from classmates and teachers. I guess it was a thing.

Being inside with Ma, I learned how to cook, do the dishes, vacuum, and dust. Therefore, I got to know her more. This increased my relationship with her as she was the one who had travelled to Vietnam in the 70s and had eventually adopted me and another baby girl. Growing up, I was always more interested in my Asian culture more so than my sister. So as I’d be inside with Ma dusting or cleaning, sometimes she would tell stories about Vietnam.

Is This a Weed?

By Liz Thomson, Interim Director
May 27, 2014

Information about the UIC Heritage Garden can be found at

Heritage Garden Leader Karl
What started off as a story share circle with the garden interns, student leaders, and instructors, became the next day a question and answer of – is this a weed? I know I asked it at least five times in the hour I was in the UIC Heritage Garden satellite areas. For me, the question was multi-faceted. On one hand, I had a fear that I would uproot an innocent plant. Not only would I kill it, but I would negate someone’s hard from the year before. I didn’t want that guilt on my shoulders. Then, I also was playing a guessing game in my head – I think it is a weed, but I’m going to ask to see if I’m right or wrong. I was mostly right. Fortunately, I didn’t uproot anything I shouldn’t have.

The energy was good with the interns and leaders. There’s a feeling of shared interest and commonality – to a degree – as we all had various garden gloves on and drank from many styles of water bottles. The diversity amongst us was parallel to these simple things. The young bond I felt the group had might have been due to the foundational groundwork that was laid before with the story circle share.