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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

UF Asian American Pacific Islander students connect with their cultures on campus

Students’ identities overlap into their educational career aspirations

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Sharika Khondaker always searches for a sense of fulfillment in her extracurricular activities, especially when she honors her Bengali and Muslim roots.

“I feel like that’s kind of how my culture is instilled in me,” Khondaker said. 

Khondaker, a 20-year-old UF student, has noticed that AAPI representation around campus is growing. Outside the classroom, students have made an effort to celebrate and understand their identities amongst their extracurricular and curricular commitments. 

Khondaker, the internal vice president of Society of Asian Student Engineers, has met other AAPI students through the UF SASE, she said.

“I’ve met a lot of people that are like minded to me,” Khondaker said. 

Having the opportunity to associate with AAPI students has been one of the most valuable ways she stays connected to her heritage on campus, she said. 

She’s gone back to Bangladesh a few times, but she’s also been able to find a community here on campus when she can't experience her nationality firsthand, she said.

UF SASE has also given her the opportunity to teach others about her culture, such as Ramadan.

“We broke our fast together, but we invited our other friends in SASE to join us and experience our culture,” she said. “That was really nice because people were able to see Bengali food and some of the things that we do.” 

Khondaker has also learned about her peers’ cultures.The organization provides a place where people from similar backgrounds and engineering and science-related fields can come together, she said.

Like most ethnic organizations on campus, UF SASE isn't exclusive to Asian ethnicity, but it’s helped students find a group that they feel they identify with.

AAPI month serves as a reminder for the students looking to learn more about their heritages, students who haven't had the experience to learn from home.

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Yamilee Lopez, a 22-year-old UF art and psychology senior, racially identifies as Asian, yet she was raised in a Hispanic household.

“People would always label me as Asian and I kind of had mixed emotions and mixed identities about it,” Lopez said. “Being someone I didn't feel connected to.” 

Lopez was born in Lima, Peru. Her great grandfather migrated from China to Peru. With limited knowledge of her family background, she’s now breaking down her culture by reading books and learning the language during her time at UF. 

“I tried to take a semester of Mandarin just because I wanted to feel closer to myself and to my own identity,” she said. 

Growing up in Miami, Lopez was surrounded by Hispanic communities but didn't see Asian Latinx communities too often.

“I was still kind of confused,” she said. 

UF helped Lopez learn more about her culture by meeting a wide variety of people of different cultures and different nationalities, she said. 

For Laila Jamasi, her Afghan and Persian background has been a significant aspect of her involvement on campus. The 18-year-old UF nutritional sciences freshman is part of the pre-dental ASDA and Muslim Student Association.

Although Jamasi believes UF has made more efforts to expand the inclusion of AAPI, there’s always more to learn about, she said.

“I think there’s a lot of diversion, inclusion and equity overall.” Jamasi said.

Junior Kanna Isabel Agnila’s Filipino heritage has played a crucial role in her upbringing. Finding involvement that is inclusive of her heritage is important to her.

“Being involved in Asian American organizations on campus has given me a place to really connect with my cultural roots and find a home away from home,” the 20-year-old psychology student said.

Agnila has been involved in Filipino Student Association, FiND Program, Asian American Student Assembly and Kappa Phi Lambda Sorority, an Asian interest sorority.

Agnila’s involvement has been able to help her grow as a student, embracing her ambitions, she said.

“I find myself motivated to be involved and seek leadership because the people and organizations around me encourage me to be myself and live life to the fullest,” Agnila said.

Kappa Phi Lambda is offered to all Asian nationalities and beyond, and there’s respect and acknowledgement for each individual background, she said.

Azward Ahmed, Bangladeshi Student Association external vice president, said his experiences in college have helped him grow closer to his culture.

“I think it’s done an amazing job,” Ahmed, 20, said.“Coming into college, I didn't feel as cultured as I do now and I really do feel like BSA has played an enormous part in that.”

Students have been able to immerse themselves in comfortable communities where they are free to express their identities.

Contact Nicole at nbeltran@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @nicolebeltg

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Nicole Beltran

Nicole Beltran is a second-year journalism and economics major. This is her first semester as the race and equity reporter. She has previously worked as a translator and editor for El Caimán. In her free time, she enjoys watching movies, trying new foods and drawing.


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