PEER Mentoring Excitement!

I’m incredibly excited to be the Board Chair for the PEER next year! PEER (Promoting Enriching Experiences and Relationships) is a first-year mentoring program for Asian Pacific American students at UPenn, run through PAACH (the Pan-Asian American Community House). This year, I have been the Vice-Chair of Social Programming, and for the coming year I am going to be Chair. We recently had our board changeover process – the outgoing board met with the incoming board and discussed what each of the positions would entail, and talked about individual visions for what these roles could achieve moving forward.

Later on today, we’re going to have our first official meeting as a new board. There are a couple of logistical issues that we need to cover – discussing how we want to structure interviews for mentors, and planning for our End of Year banquet. I’m most excited to be having a conversation with the rest of the board about what our collective vision for the program is for the coming year. Having the ability to positively shape the PEER experience is something that I am really looking forward to. (At the same time, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that I am a little bit nervous! PEER has set consistently high standards over the past several years, and I really hope to be able to live up to these expectations!) I hope that we’re going to be able to form a cohesive idea of what we want to do with the program – it obviously doesn’t have to be something that gets done by this afternoon, but by the beginning of the fall semester, I really hope that we can set tangible goals for us to achieve.

As a multiracial individual, I haven’t always known where I fit in when it comes to racially specific categories. With my light hair and light eyes, I’m often seen as more “White” than “Asian”. And I realize that this bifurcated identity comes with a different set of privileges and problems. I identify most strongly with my Asian cultural heritage, although I know that my version of Asian American identity is vastly different than a lot of my friends. Becoming part of the APA community here at Penn has been a strange experience. I don’t know many other students at Penn who are Asian multiracial, and I know fewer who are active within PAACH. At any given point, I’m almost guaranteed to be the whitest person in the room, and that can be an alienating experience for me. However, I have to say that getting involved with PEER in my freshman year as a mentee really helped me to understand myself and know what my multiracial identity meant.

Over the past two years, PEER has been a deeply personal experience for me. I’ve made some of my closest friends at Penn through the program. My mentor from Freshman year is someone who I can talk to about anything – and (as clichéd as it might sound) I really consider her like an older sister. Although she graduated last year and is no longer in Philadelphia, she still finds so many ways to be present in my life. I am really inspired by how she values her friendships, and I hope that I can be as thoughtful and considerate as she is to me. This year, I was also able to be a mentor, along with my responsibilities as Social Chair, because of the number of mentees that we accepted into the program. Although my mentee and I don’t have many academic interests in common, I am so glad that we have found common ground on so many other levels, and I am so excited to have another two years on campus together to continue to strengthen our friendship.
Given all of this, I am cycling back to the sentiments I talked about at the very beginning. I really can’t express how excited I am for the upcoming year. The relationships that I have built through PEER have been so important to me, and especially in the last year as a co-chair, being able to see our mentees grow and succeed in different ways has really made me feel like I am able to have some kind of positive impact on other individuals.

Fingers crossed for the upcoming year!

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Gong Hay Fat Choy! Thoughts on Lunar New Year.

red and gold fireworks

The house is cleaned thoroughly before the Lunar New Year to sweep out bad luck, but not on New Year’s Day, for fear of cleaning out the good luck in store for the coming year. It’s apparently a traditional practice, or so I hear from the internet. My family didn’t adhere to a lot of these traditions growing up. In a multicultural household, it’s hard to keep track of all of the things you’re supposed to do, or the days that you’re supposed to do them on.

Still, I find comfort in traditions. Although the ways that we perform them may be different, and although my interpretations of their meanings may not be universally shared, it is something that I grew up around and appreciate. This year, as a sophomore, I am living in a dorm with a full kitchen. While it has a pitiful amount of counter space on which to work, I have enjoyed being able to get off of the dining plan and cook my own meals. I decided that I wanted to celebrate lunar new year by cooking dinner with my older brother. My mother sent me her recipe for wonton filling a few weeks ago, following a conversation that we had over the phone.

Although I could likely approximate many of the ingredients at the grocery stores around Penn, I made a trip out to Chinatown to purchase most of the things that I needed. As a note, I can’t read Chinese, and the small amount that I can say always tends to comes out convoluted and incorrect. (My garbled American tongue doesn’t know the accents it ought to use, and fails to replicate the proper tones.) Still, grocery shopping in Asian stores has a sense of familiarity with it. I spent enough time shopping with my mother in the Chinese grocery store to recognize labels and packaging, to know what brands we always liked and disliked.

I cleaned my apartment – washing and folding laundry, sweeping the floors. Although I know that these are behaviors that we should ingrain in our day to day lives, I sometimes fail to pay sufficient attention to the small tasks associated with cleaning and washing. One of the things that I know I need to work on in the coming year is mindfulness, and working on being present. Appreciating

I prepared food – pulling out bottles of sesame oil and soy sauce from my pantry, and oyster sauce and green onions from the refrigerator. I try to cook Chinese food whenever I can, but as a college student with time constraints, heavily involved meals don’t tend to happen too frequently. My dinner crowd increased from just myself and my brother to my three roommates. And, overall, it was really nice. I made wonton soup and a rice noodle dish, and enjoyed both the processes of cooking and sharing. We got to talk, and to listen.

It certainly isn’t tradition in its strictest sense – I don’t think that my ancestors had originally pictured that the new year would be ushered in by a mix of students in a crowded living room, looking out over the skyline. Still, I can’t imagine having it any other way, and feel that the purpose of the festivities (a celebration of togetherness, and remembrance) is one that has been maintained. I’m glad to have spent the day and night with friends and family, and am looking forward to continuing it throughout the rest of the year. Tonight, I’ll be cooking a second time for a dinner with friends in a student group I am part of. I mixed more wonton filling, and have hard boiled eggs sitting in my fridge to turn into tea eggs. Some more friends are coming over to help me prepare the meal, and walk it over to the halls together. It’s certainly starting my new year off right.

Gung Hay Fat Choy! Happy Year of the Horse! Wishing you and those you love a happy and rewarding year ahead of you.

Mid-Autumn lion dance

Homophonic Translation – Keanakolu

This poem is “translated” from a Hawaiian song titled “Keanakolu”. I took the first five couplets, although the original totals eleven. This translation exercise required that we take a composition in a foreign language that we do not know, but that we can pronounce. American missionaries in the 1830s introduced a writing system to what had previously been a spoken language. Because the writing system was developed by Americans, I find that it is possible to approximate the phonetics of the language for the purposes of this exercise. To “translate”, we found words that sounded akin to the sounds of the original language.

I, uh, I can lie. Oh, keening cold you
You lay my nuance, I could anew.

Upon you, eyes lain. Who can manage no?
He, like me, cannot even open up.

My only plural is knowing you can wow
No key could he, we. How I, me, could lone.

I, I a loon. Oh, why could?
Can’t a lone oak? You put eyes, can’t I?

Could any of you know ways to do?
Could how I stay in you, who can allow?

The history of racial diversity and interracial relationship in Hawaii has interested me greatly for several years. In Hawaii, the term for mixed race individuals is “hapa”, a word which translates to half. (Hapa refers to anyone with Asian heritage, and Hapa Haole specifically refers to people who are part-Asian and part-White.) I myself am Asian/White multiracial, and have infrequently encountered others who share the same racial background. The idea that my self-identity is one that has its own vocabulary words associated with it is fascinating to me.

However, I think that I can recognize that my fascination with Hawaiian culture for this reason is somewhat problematic. I want to be immersed in a society where I can feel understood, but have idealized and crystallized notions of Hawaiian identity. My preconceptions or stereotypes that I associate with Hawaiian life are distanced from the lived experiences of the very individuals that I am trying to relate with. I don’t have a real opportunity to gain a meaningful understanding of the intricacies of Hawaiian life.

In “translating” this poem, I’ve tried somewhat to represent the spurious connection between myself and a hapa identity. Through appropriation and misinterpretation, I have made an original composition. For comparative purposes, the original Keanakolu can be found below, and a true English translation can be found on the website Huapala, an archival resource with Hawaiian music and hula.

Aia i ka la`i o Keanakolu
Ku`u lei mâmane nu`a i ke anu

Pôniu `ailana hu`e ka mana`o
E ike i ka nani o ia pua

Maoli pua ia no ka uka wao
Noke kuahiwi ho`i me ke kualono

Aia i a luna o Waikiu
Ka luna o ku`u pua i ka`ana ai

Ka`ana pû no wau me ke anu
Ku`u hoa i ke anu ao Hakalau

Lauahi kô lima lâ e ka hoa
Ke aka kau o ke ao nâulu­­­­­

Ulu hua wale au ia Waiau
Ka piko kaula o ka `âina

I laila ka wai hû a Kâne
Ia wai kaulana helu minuke

Pupû ike `ole ia iho ia
He ihona na ka lima hema `eha `oe

Maka `ao`ao `âkau mai `oe
O loa`a i ka hema lâ palupalu

Ha`ina `ia mai ana ka puana
Aia i ka la`i o Keanakolu