Everyone wishes they could go back and give their younger selves some pointers.
Those pieces of advice are what Asian-American faculty members had to think about for last night’s Asian Pacific American Heritage Week event.
They each wrote a letter to their younger selves and presented them to a group of 60 to 70 students at the “Letters to Ourselves” dinner in Bodek Lounge.
Despite the cold and the snow, students had filled all eight tables by the start of the event. Students came to enjoy Asian noodles, chat with friends and listen to the insights of their professors.
“It feels like this event brings us all together,” College junior Kate Xu said. “I love the culture, and I think [everyone at the event] shares something, and that makes me feel like we belong here,” Xu added.
The first of the three faculty presenters, PAACH Director Peter Van Do, touched on this idea of community in his letter, saying that he found success “by establishing a strong collaborative network and voice.”
His path “started with a business card from a faculty mentor,” Do said. Without a push from his mentor, he might never have pursued a career in Asian American studies or ended up as PAACH director. It’s the reason he always carries around a set of business cards today, hoping that he can inspire his students in the same way.
Professor Fariha Khan, associate director of the Asian American Studies Program, chose to write a letter to herself as a graduate school student.
“I won’t tell you that it will be easy. But know that along the way you will learn more than any exam or book will teach you,” Khan told her younger self. “Carry on and don’t worry. The future is bright.”
Dr. Josephine Park, director of the Asian American Studies Program and the final faculty speaker of the night, recalled her study abroad experience in Paris. She was taken aback by what she called the “strange celebrity of racism — when people look at you too long, or when they murmur or shout strange things as you walk by.”
College and Wharton junior Lawrence Yen said he could relate to this story. When he went abroad, he was also whispered about and he heard comments made about him in a different language. He does, however, add, “times are always improving. The whole country’s becoming more tolerant.”
After hearing from the faculty, students were asked to think about their own personal experiences within the Asian-American community at Penn. Some came up to the podium to share their thoughts.
College senior Anthony Tran pondered what he would say to his 11-year-old self.
“Find something that you really love to do,” Tran said. Instead of trying to fit into any stereotypes presented by the media, younger students should follow that same advice, he urged.
APAHW organizer and College senior Florence Sit hoped that, as one of the more educational events in celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Week, “Letters to Ourselves” allowed students to learn from the experiences of professors.
Sit also hoped students would reflect on their own roles on campus and within the Asian American community.
“Sometimes people are complacent about what needs to be achieved,” she added. “If professors show their letters to students, we can see how things have changed and what needs to be improved and what other strides we can take to continue moving forward.”