Asian Pacific American heritage panel shares student experiences at Soup and Substance


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The Office of Diversity Education hosts a "Soup & Substance" event for Asian Pacific Heritage Month April 24 in the Terrace Rooms of the Bovee University Center.

The final Soup and Substance luncheon of Spring 2019 was devoted to exploring the journeys of Asian native students, uncovering the strangeness of Americanized dishes and feeling caught between two worlds. 

The Soup and Substance series aims to celebrate underrepresented groups at Central Michigan University in an environment centered on education, inclusivity and highlighting the personal stories of CMU community members. 

While Asian Pacific American Heritage Month is commemorated throughout the month of May, the Office of Diversity Education kicked off the commemoration with a two-student panel in the Bovee University Center on April 24.

Lauren Grotkowski, the Office of Diversity Education graduate assistant, said a student panel was "really the perfect way to end the year." 

The Auburn native said the luncheons are attended mostly by students and she aspired to utilize the young adult perspective to assemble an environment for understanding and an array of viewpoints. 

"It was a great event and I liked having two very different students speak, each carrying their own history and experiences with American culture," Grotkowski said. "They really captured what it's like being an exchange student who's brand new to campus as opposed to someone who's been here for 10 to 15 years." 

Grotkowski said "the eye-opening" event and panelists Xavier-Thomas Mendoza and Jiahui Zhong reminded the audience ethnicities cannot be simply categorized by boxes--but must be honored for the uniqueness of each individual. 

Mendoza, a senior from the Philippines, officially moved to the U.S. when he was 7 years old. 

"We had a privileged life in the Philippines, but our accessibility wasn't near the extent to the connections and the type of opportunities life in the United States could give us," he said, explaining his father's occupation kept him traveling back-and-forth from California before deciding to finally move the family to the West. 

He said his first-ever culture shock was being made of fun of in a grade school cafeteria for eating Filipino corned beef and potatoes. 

Zhong, a junior exchange student from Ganzhou, China, said she arrived at CMU in hopes of challenging her comfort zone and broadening her horizons. 

"I have had several culture shocks," Zhong said. "Back home, the movies I've watched always showed off American stereotypes I was never sure if I should believe. In entertainment, young Americans are always going to parties or nightclubs or hanging out, but really there is so much more going on and still more to learn about everyone." 

Zhong said she was most surprised that not all college students spend their days off day-drinking and going to house parties. She said she was also shocked by Americans' ability to eat salads as entire meals and power to withstand "oily" french fries from campus dining halls. 

Mendoza said a recurring obstacle with Asian native students is feeling "too Asian for our American friends and too American for our Asian friends." 

"We're finding ourselves in the middle so there's obviously a sort of identity conflict when trying to figure out where we do land," he said. "Often there's a bubble of one group of people being watched by another bubble and they're only looking at each other from windows afar." 

Mendoza said by deconstructing the bubbles separating people, common ground can be eventually discovered and diversity can become more possible. 

"Interacting with different cultures is very special," Zhong said. "I've learned it can better prepare you for getting more involved in society everywhere."

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About Samantha Shriber

Samantha Shriber is a staff reporter at Central Michigan Life and is a Saint Clair Shores ...

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