With mixed Mexican-Japanese heritage — marked by her green eyes, light skin, thick hair and eyebrows — Taylor Saucedo grew up feeling like she didn’t fit in anywhere.
The Cal State Fullerton communications major shared her path to understanding her “hapa” identity at the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) Heritage Month reception, held April 11 in the Titan Student Union.
“All I wanted to do when I was growing up was learn about my cultures,” said Saucedo, who discovered both community and a sense of belonging through the University’s Asian Pacific American Resource Center.
“If there’s anything that I’ve learned from our APIDA community, it’s that we are not submissive,” she said. “We are strong, we are not passive, we are not hypersexualized, and we will make change because together, we grow.”
Keynote speaker Mamta Accapadi, vice president for student affairs at Rollins College, reflected on her own undergraduate experience of finding identity through a cultural organization. She had no idea that her role as president of the Indian Student Association at The University of Texas at Austin would help shape her future as a social justice advocate.
“I never intended to become an activist or a troublemaker, but I found myself continually negotiating for my organization’s rights to just exist in an equitable way with other student groups,” recalled Accapadi.
Accapadi now works with students in a higher education setting, advocating for their rights to better understand their own identities and to be understood by others.
“Knowing our history allows us to have empathy and compassion for other people’s stories and lived experiences,” she said. “It allows us to connect with one another through matters of the heart.
“It’s not the job of underrepresented students to always explain their community to us,” Accapadi emphasized. “It is our job to do our personal work to understand the things we don’t know — whether that’s pronouncing names correctly, understanding traditions and culturally-based leadership styles.”
The reception, one of several heritage month events hosted throughout the year by President Mildred García, reflects the University’s commitment to celebrating the diversity of its more than 40,000 students and 4,000 faculty and staff.
Addressing the event attendees, García acknowledged this year as 75 years since Executive Order 9066 evicted more than 120,000 Japanese Americans from their homes into internment camps and 135 years since the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 created a moratorium on Chinese labor immigration.
“Cal State Fullerton is here to support the APIDA communities and to show the world what we have known, and what research continues to show: Diversity benefits all of us. Diversity means all of us. Diversity is the key to the American dream,” said García.
The reception featured performances of two traditional folk dances, tinikling and jota de paragua, by CSUF’s Pilipino American Student Association.
In addition, the Asian American Pacific Islander Faculty and Staff Association presented scholarships of $500 each to Maisune Elhaija, communications major, and Vy Le, Asian American studies major, for academic excellence and contributions to the APIDA community.