The Asian Pacific American Resource Center (APARC) hosted a panel Thursday that featured the experiences of Asian Pacific Islander (API) students in higher education.
The event was presented by both the APARC and Titan Dreamers’ Resource Center (TDRC) in order to showcase how intersectional identities have impacted and shaped students’ lives throughout their college career. The panel was comprised of Mark Hao, Sidrich Chhour and Dia Flores, all of whom have ties to Cal State Fullerton.
Hao said his Asian identity had a huge impact on his life, considering his race was a factor other people could immediately see and identify him as, on top of having been both undocumented and gay.
He started college before AB 540 was passed in 2001, which added a section to the California Education Code allowing exemptions from paying nonresident tuition from nonresidents who have attended high school and received a diploma in California.
“Prior to just entering (college), I already knew that this was something that my family talked about–not having the papers–and I knew I was limited in the universities and colleges I could attend because of the lack of the financial resources,” Hao said.
At the time, Hao had been told by administration that most of the scholarships were only reserved for permanent citizens. Although he received a private scholarship and was able to attend college in the end, Hao said he still questioned his worth.
“There was definitely a lot of anger and not knowing where it could lead me,” Hao said. “There was definitely a lot of ambiguity in terms of thinking about my future.”
The issue of limited resources have shaped his life in a huge way and Hao currently works in CSUF’s Office of Financial Aid.
Chhour’s identities included being Cambodian-American, being male and being a behavioral interventionist for autistic children. Before college, Chhour said that he didn’t pay much attention to social identities because exposure of such topics were very limited in high school.
“In high school, you’re not exposed to courses like ethnic studies or things that pertain to social identity,” Chhour said. “When I came here (CSUF) and was exposed to that stuff, I thought, ‘well, how can I intersect this with my major?’”
He said that the field of speech language pathology wasn’t common in the Cambodian community here or Cambodia in general. So, his Cambodian-American identity impacted him to the point where he wanted to actively pursue that field in his education.
The Cambodian genocide by the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s also played a large part in shaping his identity, Chhour said.
“That particular event shaped the way I looked at higher education because it was a time where education was abolished and if you were an intellectual or you were a freethinker, you were killed,” Chhour said.
Even though Flores identifies as a Filipino-American woman, she said it hasn’t always been that way because her upbringing was traditionally Filipino, and she wasn’t allowed to speak English at home.
“Most of my journey was from a stringent, migrant experience as well because most of my life we always moved and I hated it,” Flores said. “So the whole point of me getting a higher degree was so that I could settle down and not always be a migrant.”
She also came to the United States as an undocumented person and after she got her papers, Flores said she navigated through challenges by breaking through the traditional barriers that came with her Filipino identity.
“I’m just getting past immigrant barriers and the only way I saw out of that, to achieve a new status here in the U.S., was through higher education,” Flores said.
Flores said she came from a family of five living in a one-bedroom apartment. For her, higher education meant an opportunity for a better life.
“Higher education was the way out of that one-bedroom apartment,” Flores said