Community Forces “Connecting to Community” Episode Transcript
It’s Community Forces!
A podcast where we talk with students who are working with Asian American community leaders and organizations in the Chicagoland region, to learn, uplift, and engage.
From the Global Asian Studies program at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Sarah Eli: This episode is all about connections between our university and our communities, and why these connections are important to develop young Asian American community leaders.
UIC’s Global Asian Studies program makes meaningful connections between the classroom and the community. These relationships enrich the educational experience and provide opportunities for young leaders to get involved. To tell the story of how it’s done, let’s start at the beginning of the school year. Dr. Corinne Kodama hit the quad in the first weeks of the 2019 fall semester to talk to students and community organizations.
Corinne: Hi, I'm Corinne, and I'm right now at the University of Illinois at Chicago, at the annual Asian American Resource and Cultural Center's Ice Cream Social. You can probably hear the buzz. There's over 25 organizations here, both student organizations and Chicagoland Asian American Community organizations, a couple hundred students milling around talking to them and learning about what they do, and also waiting to eat some ice cream. So in the course of today we're going to be talking with some of these students about their interest and engagement with Asian American communities in Chicago, given that UIC has one of the largest Asian-American student populations in the area.
Abby: My name is Abby Mohann, I’m in my fifth year, and my hometown is Hoffman Estates, Illinois.
Corinne: So, why do you think it’s important for young people to be involved in their communities, especially Asian Americans?
Abby: It’s really hard to find communities for AA specifically. I think the really awesome thing about about UIC is that the AA community really comes together, they all support each other, and it’s a great way that we can express ourselves as students, but also as a greater
community, that we are present, we do exist, that we are active in the current climate of America.
Corinne: So, I understand that you were working in the summer doing outreach to incoming students, how would you describe this generation’s interest and engagement in being involved in AA issues?
Abby: The new generation is way more “woke” than I ever was or will be, I have mentees that are freshman now, and they are teaching me way more than I could teach them about what’s happening in the world. They’re super involved. They’re running up to me to ask me questions or asking me how to get involved, the majority of them versus back when I was a freshman barely anyone would come to the table in the AA Cultural Center.
Corinne: Why do you think that is?
Abby: I think overall in general social media has boosted awareness. There’s definitely a “woke” culture that’s really “in” right now, I hope it stays in, and I hope that going forward more people are interested in learning more about Asian Americans and their cultures.
Corinne: So, what have you gained from being involved in AA communities, either on-campus or even more in Chicagoland.
Abby: When I came to college, I never even heard of the term “Asian American.” I’ve never heard of microaggressions or cultural appropriation, or any of that. So initially a lot of that was me learning, what being AA meant, my identity and where I fit in. After that I was able to get
leadership. I was able to help pass on the knowledge. I was able to help new incoming students find that same footwork, getting to where they are now and helping them too. In the greater
scheme of things, I’m able to now able to get involved in non-profit organizations and volunteer and get involved in community organizations. I think starting here on campus really helped me, helped me get better footing to be able to do that and become part of the greater AA community in Chicago.
Corinne: Why is it important for young people to be involved with their communities?
Abby: It’s empowering, and young people are the future. They’re involved now, then they can change things for the future generations for those to come. Even currently, there are many students and many AA that need different forms of help and young people are the ones that can advocate versus versus the older generations, as they have more awareness than the older generations do.
UIC is well suited to partner with Asian American communities in Chicagoland, which is home to the largest Asian American population in the midwest, and the 7th largest population of Asian Americans among major cities in the United States. There are many community-based organizations close by that meet the needs of diverse Asian Americans and advocate for civil rights.
The HANA Center, which was formed in 2017 when two Korean American organizations merged, is one important organization the Global Asian Studies program has partnered with to facilitate internships and civic engagement opportunities for students. Here’s what the HANA Center’s Organizing Fellow Glo Choi has to say:
Glo Choi: The HANA Center is a comprehensive social services and community organizing group. Our social services range from an early childhood center to senior services, so it really is everything from very young to quite old. And for organizing, we organize around immigrant rights. And right now, we serve the Korean, multi-ethnic, and immigrant bases.
Corinne: So why do you come to this event at UIC and try to reach college students? Why are they important?
Glo: We’ve been coming here for the past few years, why we come to this school specifically—aside from the fact that there’s so many incredible young people here, we think it’s really important that we create spaces for Asian people and immigrants alike to have spaces to develop, come together, and really develop their skills for the future, because well, they are the future.
Corinne: You had mentioned to me earlier that you had been involved with UIC students, young people involved with you before. Can you explain a little bit about that?
Glo: Yes! The program that we have is called the Civic Leaders Fellowship. The purpose of the program is to develop soft and hard skills around community organizing and advocacy. We believe that so many young people have incredible ideas, and we want to provide all the resources that we can give so they can lead the fight for justice.
Corinne: Have you seen an increase in engagement among young people, young Asian Americans, do you think?
Glo: I can’t speak statistically, but anecdotally, I certainly think so. We have affiliates across the country, and across the board, there’s been increases in participation. I think that in the tumultuous time we live in, young people see the world for what it is, which is: we had an idea of what it’s supposed to be and it’s so clearly not going in that direction. And so I think young people have all the energy and the power to organize collectively and to challenge all these ills and woes.
Niha: I’m really proud to have volunteered and been a part of the HANA Center, because it opened my eyes and it taught me a lot. My name is Niha, I study Industrial Engineering here, I am a senior, and I’m from Elgin, Illinois.
Sarah: What was something you did in your work at the HANA Center that you’re proud of?
Niha: I think door knocking. I am very shy, and I was just nervous, going up to a door and knocking and being like, “Hi, have you heard about the census?” And I was just nervous that they were just going to be like, “No!” and slam the door on my face. But I was very social, and I was willing to engage with random strangers, and I’m really proud that I got out of my comfort zone to do that. The census for 2020, if we don’t fill that out, then, it’s basically saying there aren’t any Asian Americans in that area, even though they are, so it’s really important that we fill that out.
In addition to connecting students with community engagement, GLAS facilitates internships that help students gain work experience.
Hi, I'm Anita Das, I'm a fourth-year English major with a GLAS minor.
I'm from Westmont, Illinois.
Anita majored in English, but if she could, she might have majored in internships. She completed internships during 6 out of her 8 semesters at UIC. Each internship sparked the kind of insights you learn through experience, like realizing where your strengths lie and that you can choose an educational path aligned with those strengths.
Anita: I was designated as a social media development intern at the Arab American Cultural Center in Stevenson Hall. And my duties were to help set ground rules for their social media postings. So like, how often should they post on Facebook? How often should they post on Instagram and Twitter? How often should they send out emails? What email platform should they use? How should they design their graphics? All of that. And that was my first exposure to any sort of marketing, social media development, anything like that. When I would work on social media, I was like: this is fun to do in a workplace like oooh, like, maybe I could do something like this after college...like that was a thought. And when my supervisors and staff members, like other people were just like, why are you doing math and computer science if you have a social media internship? My answer was like, Yeah, I don't really know.
It just gave me the extra push of like, Yo, I'm like doing this outside of school. So why don't I just do this in school? At the same time, I declared a GLAS minor And I was just like, why don't I do this earlier?
Oh my gosh, I did not know like any workplace etiquette at all. I only had like one other job before coming to college, which is just being a cashier. That was my first exposure to that kind of environment and training yourself to be in that mindset that if you don't do your work, you are impacting your staff, you are impacting the org. So you better do your stuff.
Sarah Eli: How did you learn that?
Anita: Yes, I think I like I delayed a project. Yeah, I like missed a deadline. And my supervisors and like, my staff, like had a conversation with me like saying that like, yeah, like this the work that you do, like don't disregard it. Like it's important. And I was a pretty average student like I like of course, like I missed some deadlines and like, I didn't like take school like as seriously as I should. I like literally just had to develop a serious mindset to working and interning because I didn't really have that for academia. So I was like, I need to really settle down and like, I need to really take myself seriously because this is not just me, like I'm not the only person in this space. Like this is a whole staff that is depending on me. Oh my god, it was so scary. But it needed, it needed to happen because like the way I learn, I learn by doing and if people like people need to be like, explicit with me, which is like, why I value open communication now. This is what I learned. So, if you cannot meet a deadline or if you are struggling, always openly communicate. That was my first exposure to that, to always openly communicate like what you're doing and like what you're struggling with and like if you can get extensions, because like in the workplace like extensions are not as given out. Like, rather than being in school.
From this first internship, Anita went on to intern off-campus at Project Vision in Chinatown for over a year and continued honing her understanding of how to contribute to organizations and communities through her sixth and final internship in her senior year.
Anita: I'm interning at Asian Americans Advancing Justice in Uptown during the semester fall 2019. Well first, like, attracted to me that to them was just like, I've heard like my other peers interning for them, and they had a really great experience with the staff, the community and like, what their mission is. And I was like, oh, I'll look into that. And what AAAJ does they work on policy work, they just work on like, racial ethnic, like gender equality, like not just for like the AA community, but just like, for all identities, and I really aligned with that. Unifying our struggles, like recognizing, like what we deal with, but also recognizing, like, how does that like overlap into our like, not only our other identities, but like, how that affects like other communities as well. Like, what are other communities struggling with? And how can we support them and how can we like be allies together, just to like work together like that's mostly what AAAJ does. Yeah.
Anita’s final internship brought her closer to what she wants to do professionally.
Anita: I've dabbled a little at newsletter writing, but grant writing is completely new. And that's like, I've considered that like a possible career choice. So that makes me extra excited but extra nervous. Because I'm like, Wow, I've never written a grant before I do not know what this looks like. And currently now I'm in an English class that will like teach us how to write a grant so yay, awesome. Connected. The Yeah, that just like, just oh, I'm like getting experienced with like, what actually want to do, but this is so terrifying as well.
Most of our UIC students are from the surrounding area. They may come to us deeply invested in their communities, which can motivate them to seek out ways to further develop their community engagement work through Global Asian Studies coursework and internship opportunities.
Hanging out by the snack table at the Global Asian Studies Fall Open house, I was lucky to capture an interaction between Dr. Karen Su, coordinator of off-campus internships for GLAS, and a new student named Renae Mijares Encinas:
Karen: It’s cool to hear that you are already involved in Anakbayan because Maya, who works with Anakbayan, does have a project for a potential internship if you're interested in Spring to try signing up for an internship?
Renae: yeah I would love that!
Karen: so I'm very excited to meet you!
Renae: Yeah, I would definitely be interested.
Sarah: Is this your first time meeting like the GLAS group?
Renae: Yeah, actually.
Sarah: So, you walk in and someone is like: “would you like to do an internship to get academic credit for a thing that you are already doing, that was like already part of your life, and part of your community before you came here?” What's that like?
Renae: For me, I think that's natural. I suppose, I don't see my education and my community involvement as being separate and in fact I think it’s quite the opposite: that my education should actually be based on community, and what's happening in them, and what's happening around the world. It will give me a good opportunity to be able to still stay connected and to be able to contribute in some way as a Filipino-American.
When it comes to the connections between our university and our communities and the new generation of Asian American leaders, there’s so much more where that came from. Stay tuned for more episodes featuring the journeys of UIC students serving Asian American communities.
Over the last fifteen years, over 20 percent of our undergraduate students have identified as Asian American or Pacific Islander. And, UIC is federally designated by the U.S. Department of Education as an Asian American Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institution or what’s called an AANAPISI. Check out our show notes for more information about UIC’s programs, the HANA Center, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice.
From the Global Asian Studies program at UIC, this is Community Forces!
Community Forces was created by Dr. Karen Su and Dr. Corinne Kodama, and this episode was produced by Sarah Eli Lu--that’s me. Special thanks to the Asian American Resource and Cultural Center at UIC, Abby Mohann, Glo Choi , Niha Ahmad, Renae Mijares Encinas, Anita Das and Anish Tailor. Ari Schwartz composed our theme music. Additional music by Blue Dot Sessions.