Arts & Entertainment Editor
The Asian Student Association is one of the most welcoming spaces I’ve joined during my four years at Whittier.
I only joined earlier this year, in March. At that time, I had written my opinion article discussing the continuous issue of hate crimes to the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) community. I was tired, frustrated, and, most of all, lonely. The only outlet I had at Whittier was one of my friends, who is also part of the APIDA community. I got an outpour of responses to my article, but one that stood out to me was the response from fourth-year Nona Golden. She expressed her empathy, saying that she fears for the safety of her family as well. She then talked about ASA and how she was a member. She invited me to a meeting that Friday, where I got the pleasure of meeting Anica Falcone-Juengert, who was the president at the time. While Falcone-Juengert is no longer a student at Whittier College, she had an important impact on ASA.
Falcone-Juengert joined ASA the first semester of her first year in 2018. She was drawn to the club because she is a Chinese adoptee and did not really involve herself with anything that had to do with Asian culture prior to college. “I thought it would be an opportunity for me to learn more about one of my most salient identities,” she said.
From there, Falcone-Juengert became president of ASA in 2019: “My main goal was to make people feel heard and seen. I hope I created a sense of community or space for any person to feel comfortable sharing in, no matter their relation to Asian culture.” Her primary focus was geared towards identity and belonging. She wanted to ensure that we had discussions and mobilize around how we could share our distinct histories and learn from one another. During our virtual meetings, she would always open by asking how we were all doing. She would make sure that the club members’ health, both mental and physical, were doing okay first and foremost, before proceeding on with her agenda.
When I joined the club, a lot of our meetings consisted of planning events. During a time where Asian hate crimes were on the rise and receiving a spike in media coverage, it was a priority to hold a space of listening and healing for the APIDA community. So, ASA held two different events. One was open to all; during one meeting, we discussed whether or not we should open ASA to all who need the space. This led to the second event, the Asian Pacific Islander and Desi American Community Space. That space was only open to APIDA faculty, staff, and students. Falcone-Juengert’s care and persistence really shined in the short amount of time I knew her as ASA president.
The one experience that stands out the most was a closing experience that Robert Kondo, the Associate Director of the Center for Engagement with Communities CORE Mentor Program, had posed. Kondo is a Whittier College alumnus and recently reconnected with ASA. He had been attending meetings with the rest of us; he wanted to help be a voice for us during this difficult time. He knew that he had some influence, being that he was a faculty member, and he used his standing to bring up the concern of under-representation of the APIDA community to administration. The activity he suggested was the rose, bud, thorn exercise. If you are not familiar with it: you share something positive that happened, a challenge you faced, and then a new idea or realization that came from that. We went around the Zoom room and shared our rose, bud, and thorn of the week. I will be honest, I do not really remember what my rose and thorn were, but I do remember what my bud was.
I have always struggled with my identity because I am a fourth-generation Japanese-American. There have been many times where I felt so disconnected from my Japanese heritage. I do not speak the language, I have never been to Japan, and there have been times where I have asked myself: do I even deserve to claim my Japanese heritage? However, the bud I shared was that I took my partner to Little Tokyo for the first time. Little Tokyo holds a special place in my heart because it was a place I spent a lot of time in my childhood. It was the closest thing I got to visiting Japan; it is a slice of Japanese culture. I made this realization in real-time, that showing my partner around this place I knew inside and out reassured me that I am Japanese-American and I do deserve to be a part of the culture. It was a very vulnerable moment to me, and it was met with so much kindness. Kondo is also a fourth-generation Japanese-Mexican, so he understood my identity struggle. Everyone else showed me love and support, and we moved on once the sniffles had subsided.
If you are interested in joining ASA this year, I say: do it! It has been a very welcoming space for me. As Falcone-Juengert put it, “ASA became a place for me to organize and create life-giving spaces. This club can be whatever you want it to be. All you have to do is show up and start a conversation to build the community you are looking for.” The best way to contact them is to send an email to email@example.com or to send a DM to @wc_asa on Instagram.
Featured Image: Courtesy of @wc_asa on Instagram