‘We Bloom Together’

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

The mural in the ARCH building lobby represents and celebrates the diversity of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders

Vicky Aquino, Associate Director and the artist behind the mural, at its launch. This project was supported by the entire PAACH team and key members of University Life, including Associate Vice Provost Will Atkins (left).

From the vivid red poppy of Turkmenistan to the golden shower tree of Thailand, all 66 Asian and Pacific Island countries are now represented on a vivid mural in the ARCH building lobby. The mural, “Planted in Different Worlds by Chance, But We Bloom Together by Choice,” was planned by the Pan-Asian American Community House (PAACH) and unveiled with student collaboration in an April 13 event.

The base of the painted mural is a woman’s silhouette and a house icon representing PAACH, said Vicky Aquino, associate director and self-taught artist. Aquino came up with the mural’s vision. PAACH, she said, “is a place where everyone can grow and bloom like flowers that have their own colors, scents, and unique beauty.”

Aquino invited students to choose one or more of 66 flower decal stickers and attach them to the mural, adorning the hair and neck of the silhouetted woman with roses, lilies, plumerias, and Tahitian gardenias. 

“The national flower of the Philippines is jasmine, which smells really good,” said Aquino, who chose that as her sticker. “As a Filipino American, that’s my pride. I really want to be inclusive of every single person; the best way is to represent them through the national flowers of Asia and the Pacific Islands. As a community, we should all work toward the same goal of advocating for each other, uplifting one another, and living our lives harmoniously like a field of colorful flowers.”

A student standing in front of the APA Mural at the ARCH.
Grace Edwards, a second-year studying health and societies with a journalistic writing minor, worked with the PAACH team on the mural as their office assistant intern.

Grace Edwards, a second-year studying health and societies with a journalistic writing minor, worked with the PAACH team on the mural as their office assistant intern. Edwards, who grew up in Damascus, Maryland, and has since moved to Haverford, Pennsylvania, felt it was important to include everyone, she said.

Edwards identifies as biracial. Her mother is from Vietnam; her father is from Barbados. Sometimes, she says, she felt as if she had to choose. During the pandemic, there was a surge of both anti-Black racism and Asian hate, she said.

“I was able to come to terms with that and figure out what it means to be Black in America and what it means to be Asian American in America,” Edwards said. “I’m still kind of navigating that. But I’m hoping that I can use my identity to bridge these two cultures.”

The mural also incorporated a QR code that goes to a website where students can list additional AAPI organizations. “If you are part of an AAPI community, please identify that group so that we can come and reach out to you in the fall to collaborate,” said Cindy Au-Kramer, PAACH finance, operations, and program coordinator. “If you are looking to connect and you don’t know what the resources are, whether it’s Penn services, alumni connections, or community partnerships, come to us so that we can connect you.”

This project was supported by the PAACH team and program assistants; Marjan Gartland, director of creative strategy and design at University Life; and Will Atkins, associate vice provost for university life.

Penn Lions In The Year Of The Tiger

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Dripping rain falls through barren branches along Locust Walk late on a Thursday night. Students hurry past, unwilling to linger in the unhospitable February weather. But the ARCH building glows golden. Drumbeats reverberate through the structure. Four solemn thumps announce the interplay between two fighting lions engaged in a tug of war. The ornate animals, enhanced with vibrant red, bright gold, and ruffles of sparkling sequin fabric trimmed in faux fur, are tussling over a head of romaine, the lettuce symbolic of wealth. These are the Penn Lions, an undergraduate group that spreads good luck and blessings through the traditional Chinese lion dance, and they are practicing for the Lunar New Year, a reminder of rebirth and new beginnings to come after the cold rain.

The Lions, who have two practices per week during the academic year, are training for Feb. 8 performances in collaboration with Penn Dining, which is featuring a Lunar New Year menu with recipes from Fuchsia DunlopAndrea Nguyen, and David Chang.

Traditionally spent with family, Lunar New Year is a time to root ourselves within all of our connections. The multi-week holiday is celebrated in many parts of Asia, including China, Korea, Vietnam, and Mongolia. It’s a time to prepare and reflect on how we can wish each other and ourselves blessing, prosperity, health, security, and peace for the rest of the year,
Peter Van Do Square Photo
Peter Van Do
Director of the Pan-Asian American Community House

This year marks the year of the water tiger, says Van Do, as one of the elements—wood, water, metal, fire, and earth—are also associated with the zodiac animal. This year will draw upon the embodiment of both the element and the animal, which is associated with ambition, bravery, courage, and strength, he says. 

The lion dance is believed to good luck throughout the community. “The lion dance wards off evil spirits and brings prosperity,” says Tiffany Lu, a junior from Hershey, Pennsylvania, studying fine arts in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Lu is one of the Penn Lions’ two dozen members. While she came into her freshman year as an experienced dancer in both Western and Eastern traditions, most learn lion dancing mainly through oral tradition, with upperclassmen teaching the newcomers. Only about one person per class has prior experience.

One of these was Zelan von Kaenel, a senior at Wharton specializing in finance and operations. Born to a Dutch father and Chinese and Costa Rican mother in Princeton, New Jersey, von Kaenel went to a Cantonese primary school, where the students were taught lion dancing basics. Reigniting this passion in college has been “one of my best decisions,” von Kaenel says. “The Lions has some of the friendliest and best community of people that I have met at Penn, and very diverse. If I wanted to know someone from a specific school, they are probably in Lions.”

Friendship bonds are consistently cited and praised within the Lions. “You come for the lion dancing; you stay for the community,” says Luke Bandeen, a senior from London. Far from a benign quality, this trust is essential as the two parts of the lion, the “tail” and “head,” work together as one. “The tail stabilizes the head while they do crane stands, wild kicks,” says Bandeen, who dances as a tail. He’s tall and robust—well over 6 feet—which comes in handy with the heavy lifting, called “stacking,” that is part of the tail’s role.

Connecting with culture

Friday, November 12, 2021

If Inga Lam could live happily ever after with any food, she would marry bread. “Even as a kid, bread was my to-die-for food,” Lam said during a talk in Houston Hall’s Bodek Lounge: “Who doesn’t like bread?” she asked. “Raise your hand, and get out.” Lam, a senior video producer at BuzzFeed, was the keynote speaker of this year’s Asian American Pacific Heritage Week (APAHW). 

Founded in 1993 with earlier versions of the program held in the 1980s, APAHW is one of Penn’s longest-running heritage programs, says Peter Van Do, director of the Pan-Asian American Community House (PAACH). APAHW celebrates heritage and community and fosters awareness to “address how invisible the community is within the context of the American mainstream,” Van Do says. 

Every year, APAHW brings together guest speakers, faculty, staff, and students with a series of student-organized events that attract hundreds of attendees. This year, the week included “We’re All in This Together,” a discussion on Asian and American cultures with a “Squid Game” themed icebreaker, a talent show, an arts and crafts workshop, and a presentation from Penn professors called “Sharing Our Roots,” in collaboration with the Asian American studies program. 

“It’s amazing to see the support from Penn and PAACH communities in making sure that APAHW continues to bloom and flourish. APAHW’s programming as well as other Penn Asian and Asian American spaces are absolutely paramount, especially during these times.”

APAHW went virtual in fall 2020, with performer Anik Khan delivering the keynote. “If there was any speaker that was needed for that time, it was him,” Van Do says, calling the Bangladeshi American hip-hop artist “uninhibited.” That realness is the overlying thread in both 2020 and in 2021, as students crave connection points, Van Do says. “People are looking for something more tangible,” and APAHW provides that in significant ways. There’s been a focus on genuine authenticity and connection.” 

Lam was chosen by popular vote of the APAHW general board, says Grant Li, a junior from Toronto majoring in biology. Known for filming herself making Pixar’s Ratatouille, a confectionary version of Harry Potter’s golden snitch, or 24 hours of only eating clear foods, Lam showcases her Taiwanese culture through scallion pancake and beef noodle soup how-tos. “We all love the videos, so we wanted to invite her to speak to us here on campus,” says Li, who serves as the programming treasurer and tri-chair of APAHW. “She’s so good at promoting Asian American values.”

In her keynote talk, Lam answered questions moderated by students Sabrina Tian and Julia Yan before fielding questions from the audience. She also tasted dishes created by students from Penn Appétit, offering feedback on a biryani-style rice dish with paneer and raita as well as a strawberry tart macaroon inspired by one of Lam’s own videos

Members of Penn Appétit present their culinary creations to Inga Lam.
Members of Penn Appétit present their culinary creations to Inga Lam.

Honoring the Legacy of Kusum Soin

Saturday, January 7, 2017
Kusum Soin + alumni (L-R: Franklin Shen '03, Eugena Oh '03 & Michelle Yuen '02) at the PAACH 15 Year Celebration.

We have reached our $15,000 goal! Thank you to everyone who has helped to honor the legacy of Kusum Soin and her fifteen dedicated years at PAACH. She has connected, mentored, and inspired so many generations of students who have passed through PAACH’s doorways. We’ve specifically chosen to direct our gifts to the PAACH Endowment so that Kusum’s impact will live on in perpetuity, helping students for many more generations. We are still short of our goal to reach 150 individual donors.

Celebrating Years of PAACH

Saturday, January 7, 2017

By Peter Van Do

Welcome to the 12th annual issue of the Pan-Asian American Community House newsletter.

Time flies when you are having fun and working with great, hardworking, and passionate students. I have completed 5 years working at PAACH. PAACH has become a place where we are thriving—we are fortunate to be working with such dynamic student leaders who are working to create tangible change on campus. I am glad to be a part of the PAACH community because it allows me to support and encourage the personal success of AAPI undergraduate and graduate students at Penn. This year I am proud to announce that we have started a number of new PAACH initiatives on campus, which include a program on black, Latinx, and AAPI intersectionality called Solidarity Series, space for AAPI women named The Spice Collective, and community organization for AAPI first generation/low-income students called 7/8.

We continue to offer our signature programs. The Asia Pacific American Leadership Initiative (APALI) celebrated 15 years. Due to very generous donations to the PAACH Endowment, the program can continue to grow and provide enhanced programming for the AAPI community. The Promoting Enriching Experiences and Relationships (PEER) mentoring program will celebrate 15 years in the Fall of 2017. Asia Pacific American Heritage Week (APAHW) will celebrate 25 years in the Fall of 2017 as well.

Students can find their niche within any of the 23 groups in APSC. APSC continues to act as a strong voice for the AAPI community.

With the help of the University of Pennsylvania Asian Alumni Network (UPAAN), we raised more than $15,000 in gifts to the PAACH Endowment Fund in honor of Kusum Soin, an effort that was started by alumni at the PAACH 15 year anniversary. We are grateful to have so many alumni who contributed to this fund. With alumni support, we can build and invest in our home so that programs like APALI, APAHW, ASPIRE, 7/8, The Spice Collective, Solidarity Series and other PAACH initiatives may grow and thrive.

Alumni are an excellent resource when determining what has worked in the past and what has not worked. We invite alums to informally speak with students to discuss career goals, and to talk about ways to work together to improve PAACH. This is why we have had Career Conversations (AAPI alumni speaker series) in the PAACH Living Room.

If you are ever in town please stop by to visit us—we welcome you back to PAACH, your home away from home, with open arms. As always PAACH is open to our alumni and community partners here at Penn. We invite you to engage with us to let us know how you are doing, and to connect with our current students about professional development, networking, and job opportunities. We also encourage all of you to continue the discussions that you had in PAACH when you were a student within your respective alumni/friend circles wherever you may be.

Finally, let’s all come together to support our academic partner, Asian American Studies (ASAM), as they celebrate their 20 year anniversary during Homecoming Weekend 2017.

We will see you soon!

APALI 15th Year Anniversary

Saturday, January 7, 2017

By Miru Osuga

The APALI 15th Year Anniversary was a sentimental and invigorating call to community action. Full of sweet moments of tradition—cue the APALI letters, food friend songs, and facilitation circles—the room warmly welcomed alumni back into a community of thoughtful agents of change.

Speakers shaped a mood of inspiration. In the spirit of learning history to combat oppressive erasure, Yen Link Shek, one founder of APALI, spoke of the program’s founding. “If we don’t know our own history, we’ll repeat it,” she said. As college students, we had the privilege of having a space to organize, she reminded us. We needed to advocate for others and be leaders for society, she said. She moved us to think critically and deeply around why we were here and who was not here. We had that potential to create change; it was our responsibility to push the conversation.

Other speakers moved us as they reminded us about APALI’s powerful role today. Dr. Fariha Khan discussed APALI’s importance, especially given the election. Peter Van Do talked about APALI defining PAACH and how the program promoted leadership, growth, agents of change, complexity, and PanAsian endeavors. He ended with #HaveFun #CheerForEveryOneOn Stage #AAPride #AAStudiesNow #ThisIs2016 #BLM #LoveIsLove. Dr. Dana Nakano also spoke about the politicization of our identities, and the power of claiming “Asian American” and “Person of Color” as our labels.

Kusum also spoke of her experiences at Penn. All the notes I have on my white paper napkin are black streaks of eyeliner, remnants of make-up mixed with tears as I realized the depth of my appreciation and love for her.

I also cried because I remembered how special this space was and still is. As we shared our stories from our own experiences with APALI, I realized that time and place were different, but the spirit of the program was constant. It didn’t matter if we’d done the program one semester ago or ten years ago; the level of respect and listening that we gave each other was the same. Being in this inspired space, we felt the energy in the room, the power of a collective consciousness built throughout these last fifteen years manifesting itself today, together.