Why Representation Matters with HyeJung Park

Blog, AAPI Appreciation Month | 05/10/2022

As we continue to honor Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we had the pleasure of speaking with 2020 Tillman Scholar HyeJung Park. HyeJung is a doctoral student, Army reservist, and a beneficiary of the California Dream Act and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Her experiences inspired her to pursue both military service and academic research to contribute to our community’s promotion of equitable opportunities for the next generation of young people, with hopes of a future devoid of the inequality and injustices she has seen in her community.

As HyeJung explains, inequality and misrepresentation of Asian Americans has been an ongoing issue that she has experienced firsthand.

“The PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games (figure skating) were on when an interviewee of my doctoral program asked, ‘why is the U.S. flag next to his name (Nathan Chen) on the screen?’ I was taken aback by the ‘othering’ from someone interviewing for a prestigious doctoral program, but perhaps not entirely shocked. The unfortunate reality is that the AAPI community has been historically viewed as “perpetual foreigners” within the U.S. (e.g., Chinese Exclusion Act, Japanese Internment Camps, ‘Kung-flu’).

“More recently, we have seen a visual representation of the othering through the dramatic increase in anti-Asian hate crimes. According to the data published by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, anti-Asian hate crimes increased by 339% from 2019 to 2020 and by 124% from 2020 to 2021. These numbers represent my concerns for my parents’ safety on a personal level. The concerns heightened when I saw the news of a grandmother, Xiao Zhen Xie, who was attacked on San Francisco’s Market Street on the morning after six women of Asian descent were murdered in the shooting rampage in Atlanta. These events struck us at the core. What put salt into the wound were the following speculative comments regarding their work in spas or massage parlors brought back memories of those who have made lewd comments towards myself.”

HyeJung shares these stories, cognizant that her experiences differ from those who are a part of the broad range individuals who are represented under the AAPI umbrella. These memories, according to her, allow her to think about how we as a country can support and advance the AAPI community towards a more equitable future.

“One of the ways to influence a cultural shift in how Asian-Americans are perceived is through greater representation of Asian voices and sharing narratives of how Asian Americans were involved in the United States history as Americans. First, individuals can intentionally create opportunities for people of color to amplify their voices, especially within media. An alternative way to represent voices is to give credit by citing or stating the authors’ names or original content creators. I recently read a Nature article on citation bias where scholars of color and women’s work are under-cited. We see this persisting in other spaces. Those interested in being a part of the community to make the future a more equitable space for all communities should be more intentional about citing and stating the names of the authors or creators of the original content.”

Remaining consistent with her work towards her PhD in developmental psychology, HyeJung advises how we can help cultivate a more equitable future for the AAPI community.

“Lastly, I think the step toward creating a more equitable society for the AAPI community is through creating equitable spaces for other marginalized community members. As a Korean-American growing up in Orange County, I know that the opportunities presented to me stem from the sacrifices that families made from different countries of origin. One family that comes to mind is the Mendez family. Mr. Gonzalo Mendez and Mrs. Felicitas Mendez, the parents of Ms. Sylvia Mendez, took it upon themselves to take legal action opposing the segregation and racial discrimination preventing their children from attending a nearby Westminster elementary school. The success of the Mendez v. Westminster case made California the first state in the nation to end segregation in schools. This case paved the way for Brown vs. Board of Education seven years later. Recognizing, learning, and stating the names of those who have pushed the status quo to create a more equitable American society is how I plan to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.”