Athena Chen (BA, English)

Athena is graduating with a major in English Literature and a minor in ACAM. She wants to thank the ACAM program for opening her eyes in seeing the value of local marginalized histories and providing a sense of belonging and pride in her cultural identity. Every ACAM class has taught her to keep questioning, discovering, and to showcase alternative narratives of history, and the importance of including diverse cultural references in students’ learning. She will be attending UBC’s Bachelor of Education Program this September, where she will be applying the valuable knowledge gained through ACAM and prepare to pass it on to her future students. As ACAM has helped shape her own cultural identity, she also aims to provide her students a sense of belonging and pride in building their unique sense of self and cultural identity.

Why were you drawn to the ACAM program? 

I discovered ACAM through taking ENGL 371 with Dr. Chris Lee, and although I originally had a history minor which I was close to finishing, I immediately changed my minor within the first three weeks of class to ACAM. I was hooked by the discussions of Asian minority communities in Vancouver, and reading material we had in class, most notably Disappearing Moon Cafe by Sky Lee. Growing up in Richmond B.C. I was surrounded by a prominent Asian community, however in school we were only taught a limited history of Asian migrants to British Columbia, reduced to only one Social Studies class about the Chinese migrant railroad workers. It was invigorating to explore more about the history of Chinese Canadians beyond the narrow scope of migrant workers, as ACAM first revealed to me the deep generational roots of people who looked like me in the city I was born in.

How has ACAM impacted you or the people around you? 

ACAM has given me a sense of belonging in my cultural identity. Even as a part of the Asian majority in Richmond, I’ve always battled with my confidence in my Asian identity. Throughout grade school I convinced myself being “white-washed” was what set me apart from the stereotypes Chinese people face in Vancouver. Largely, this had to do with having little to none Asian role models or references in the media and in the course material in school. ACAM was like a new world parallel to the one I lived in, stepping away from a Euro-centric view on local history. I was in awe of discovering a rich and diverse Asian history in Vancouver, such as how different waves of immigration from different countries reflect historic global events, and to the strong connections between different minority communities on a local scale. ACAM has changed my own pride in my cultural identity and the way I value marginalized local histories through different cultural and gendered lenses.

What are you most looking forward to in the future?

I am looking forward to providing the next generation with the tools to appreciate and recognize the value of local history among marginalized communities. I have just been accepted into UBC’s Bachelor of Education Program, and I wish to apply what I’ve learned from my experience in ACAM to my teachings for my future students. From my experiences growing up in a high school where the racial minorities were the majority, it doesn’t make sense to me to teach such a limited, Euro-centric, two-dimensional Canadian history to a classroom full of diverse students, especially in a province literally built on immigrants. I would like to modify school curriculums to include more diverse literature and histories in its liberal arts courses. I aim to showcase the value of different histories, apart from the textbook history used in the same class for decades. But overall, I will provide a wide range of stories and references in my teachings so students of all cultures, genders, and sexualities can have some sense of belonging in the materials they are using to enrich their knowledge, and in turn, take pride in building their unique sense of self.