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Interview with Asian American Studies major Alex Nguyen

"I have enjoyed learning about the history of Asian Americans the most but I have also enjoyed learning about the current issues facing the community at large. Until I took Asian American Studies, I had never know about or sometimes even heard about the different issues that affect the community."

Why did you chose Asian American Studies as your major (or minor)?

I chose Asian American Studies as my major because it became a passion. I originally entered UC Irvine as solely a Public Health Policy Major, but after taking several Asian American Studies courses, I decided to pursue it because I felt that the lessons and history being taught to me were important. I believe that you should know your own history and be able to contextualize your own upbringing and history within the greater fabric of America. Asian American Studies also appealed to me because the stories and histories I learned were those that I had never heard before. The mystery surrounding my own history, learning about the giants whose shoulders I stand on, was not only eye opening but also inspiring.

What have you enjoyed learning the most?

 I have enjoyed learning about the history of Asian Americans the most but I have also enjoyed learning about the current issues facing the community at large. Until I took Asian American Studies, I had never know about or sometimes even heard about the different issues that affect the community. Learning how interwoven our history and issues are with other peoples of color has been very eye-opening.

What do you look forward to learning more about?

I look forward to learning more about how Public Health and Asian American Studies meshes together. Being a double major, I am constantly trying to find ways to see how the two relate. I have learned the general health disparities about Asian Americans from Public Health and then have learned some of the possible reasons for those health disparities from Asian American Studies. I also look forward to just expanding my knowledge about Asian American Studies more. I know that there are a lot more things I can and should learn through Asian American Studies and I’m hoping to absorb all the knowledge I can before I graduate. 

What has been the most unexpected thing about your degree?

The most unexpected thing about my degree has been finding my love of reading. I used to despise most of the reading assigned to me in high school, aside from a few good novels, and my first few quarters at UC Irvine. I found it to be a necessary unpleasant act that I needed to do to get through my classes and pass them. Then, I started reading books and works by authors that looked like me and wrote in an accessible manner. Of course, some of the reading I’ve done for my Asian American Studies classes has been dense, but with Asian American Studies, I am reading things that I find interesting and valuable. Have I agreed with every single word or opinion stated in all of my readings? Of course not. Have I even liked every single reading I’ve done for a class? Definitely not. However, there is something to be said about reading a work written by someone who has a similar name to you, who grew up with a similar upbringing to you, and who, if you met them, you knew you could instantly have a conversation with them about who they are and what they wrote. By reading things written by Asian American authors, I have learned to love reading. I am now reading things that aren’t even assigned to me but reading them for the pure pleasure in gaining knowledge and stories.

Why should people choose to study Asian American Studies at UC Irvine?

I think that everyone should at least take 1 ethnic studies classes at UC Irvine. I believe that ethnic studies in all forms gives students an alternative way of thinking about history, representation, and society that traditional history classes don’t teach. It is these alternative ways of thinking about issues that is important to developing analytical skills. Additionally, and specific to the Asian American Studies Department at UC Irvine, because the department is so small in comparison and the number of majors and minors can fit in a small classroom for any given graduating class, all the professors of the department want you to succeed. Because there are so little majors and minors, they will do everything they can to help you because they are not inundated with tons of students that are seeking help. They truly, deeply care about their students and that is a major (no pun intended) reason why people should major or minor in Asian American Studies at UC Irvine.

What advice would you give to a newly admitted student?

 I would advise a newly admitted student to give something new academically a try. In high school, most people don’t have the different departments that a university has. I know my school definitely did not have an Asian American Studies department. So my advice would be to look through the course catalogue and take 4 units on something that is of interest to you. If the course title seems even remotely interesting and fills a requirement, because lower division requirements are broad, then take that class. At least go to the first two weeks and give it a chance. Give your interests a chance in college because it could change your academic career. It did for me.

What is your ideal job once you graduate?

My ideal job once I graduate is to combine Asian American Studies and Public Health. Whether that means being an administrator of a hospital and using the tools and knowledge I gained in my Asian American Studies classes to be a better and different type of administrator than the traditional one or if that means running a small clinic that serves the Asian American community where they need it most, I will be satisfied. I believe that Public Health can make a difference. I also believe that Asian American Studies can make a difference. Combining the two, hopefully, will allow me to have a positive impact on the community’s health and lives.

What will you miss most about UC Irvine and the Department of Asian American Studies?

I will miss most my Asian American Studies upper division classes at UC Irvine and the Department of Asian American Studies. These classes are something truly valuable. In these classes, the professor doesn’t merely lecture at you, they have a conversation with you. Time and time again I have felt heard and validated by my peers and professors for expressing my opinions. Being able to be in a class with people who don’t always agree with me but who are always civil, pleasant, and critical is something that I will value and cherish. I will miss the devoted and passionate professors who help aid and guide these conversations. They allow students like me and my peers to have these conversations that I will miss the most.