April 2019: Heather Nguyen, Student
Heather Nguyen is a junior Media Studies major, and some of her classmates might remember her as “Heather from Facebook," but there’s much more to her to know and love. Heather is very modest about her work as a student leader and the immense impact she has on her communities, so I’ll brag for her: she has been on the executive board of the Asian Students Alliance (ASA) since her first year and is currently President. She was just awarded the ALANA Center Main 1969 Award for Outstanding Leadership. She is on the planning committee for the New York City Asian American Student Conference, and just received a public relations internship in her home city, Seattle. Mention Heather to anyone on campus and they'll gush about her.
All that said, I asked Heather what she wished people knew about her, and I was in awe of the wisdom and emotional intelligence in her words. “I wish people knew I’m a work-in-progress and I’m always trying to be better. I’m not dissatisfied with where I am now, but there’s room to grow and there always will be. People say I’m a ray of sunshine, and tell me, ‘you’re perfect, never change,’ but it’s not true. I’m imperfect, I’m sad sometimes, and that’s okay, and I own that. I continue to try to be more whole and be fully myself. As I grow and evolve, so will my goals. I don’t wanna be stagnant.”
Heather talked about what it meant for her to join ASA: “I knew about them since before I even came to Vassar. I saw them tabling at Focus Weekend, and coming from a place where me and my mom were the only Asian people in my neighborhood, it meant a lot to see that Vassar had a space for us to be together.” She continues, “In high school I didn’t have access to the resources I have now, to think about my identity critically beyond knowing I wasn’t white. I’m thinking now about pan-Asian solidarity, and what that means politically, when all of our experiences are so different. Being an imagined community is not enough, but being a community of practice is much more. I hope my leadership, and owning my full Southeast Asian, first-generation, low-income, bisexual Asian-ness has expanded our idea of what this identity is and who ASA is for. I’ve been told that ASA feels more like a family and a home now. I’ve learned so much about myself as a person and how I work with myself and others. I'm learning to respect my boundaries, and I’m still learning to take care of myself. I’ll get there someday. I’m just grateful.”
My next question was about the one thing Heather would like to change about Vassar. Her first response was that she wished her friend Eugene Lopez-Huerta would return from abroad. But after that, she said “I wish it was easier to take care of yourself here. I was so sick yesterday but my first instinct was to go do work and keep being productive. And that speaks to the priorities at Vassar, and it’s hard to unlearn all of that... It’s tied to immigrant work ethic, capitalism, and imposter syndrome, and Vassar does a lot to exacerbate those things. I wish being comfortable and cared for was the norm. There’s no one correct way to go about your day and be valuable here. There has to be a better way, not just at the individual level, but systemically."
What’s Heather’s favorite thing about Vassar? The people. She sang praises of Luis Inoa, Wendy Maragh Taylor, and Peter Antelyes. “At first I thought Vassar was so small, but I am constantly surprised by the new people I’m meeting and learning from.” She met a stranger at the train station whom she recognized from Vassar, who told her, “People at Vassar are always up to something.” Ever since that shared taxi ride, she’s realized “There’s more to everyone than meets the eye here.” She is grateful for spaces of community, and the ways they transcend time: "The ALANA center exists as the result of student activists before me, and the work will be continued by the people who come after me. I think of my existence as part of a long project toward justice.”