I was born and raised in Hawaii, where I learned to appreciate and respect a diversity of cultures as a member of its thriving Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. Most of my classmates stayed in Hawaii for college or went to schools on the West Coast, but I decided to broaden my horizons by attending Purdue University in Indiana. While there, I discovered my ethnicity made me a rarity – a minority – which I had never experienced back home.
Being a minority for the first time, I felt marginalized and like an outsider. My ideas, interests and values were constantly overshadowed by my heritage. After sharing an alternate point of view, I would often hear, "What do you know, you're from Hawaii." These responses eventually made me reluctant to tell people where I was from; I had lost pride in my heritage.
That summer I went home to work for a political non-profit in Honolulu, where I discovered a love for policymaking. Slowly, my pride in my heritage was rekindled. I came to the realization that everyone comes from a different upbringing, and the people who had previously dismissed me were so focused on their pre-conceived notions of where I came from – a remote island paradise – that they were ignorant to my culture and the value that alternate views and opinions can offer.
I returned to Purdue with a newfound love for my upbringing. I decided to share my culture with everyone I could and, after I did, I found people were more willing to hear my perspective. I changed my major to Political Science and decided I wanted to be a civil servant, with the goal of helping people of Asian American Pacific Islander descent. I strongly believe if more AAPIs are given opportunities to expand their horizons by attending universities across America and the globe, the veil of ignorance will be lifted and more voices will be heard.
I’m still young and have much to learn, but I vow to always remain proud of my heritage. It has shaped the person I am today and will continue to do so for the rest of my life. I’ve also learned to be more tolerant and patient. Regardless of what I do professionally, I will strive to provide a safe space for people to express their ideas and backgrounds without fear of being ostracized.