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News & Events for the Smith College Community
Alumnae News April 4, 2018

The Power of Shared Experience

Jessica Nguyen ’16
Smithies are notoriously adept at seizing opportunities, which is exactly what Jessica Nguyen ’16 did when she was still a student.

While taking a digital media production course, Nguyen, the daughter of Vietnamese immigrants, realized there were few safe spaces online for Asian American women to connect, share their stories and access resources regarding identity politics and social-justice issues. The concept for Project Voice was born.

What began with Nguyen doing video interviews with friends, while still a student, has evolved into a comprehensive website that includes a blog and monthly podcast series featuring Asian American women influencers. Here, Nguyen, who is currently teaching English in Seoul, Korea, talks about some of the topics she addresses in her blog and podcasts.

GROWING UP IN THE STATES I CONSTANTLY STRUGGLED with the idea of being Asian American—am I “Asian” enough, or am I “American” enough? And what does it mean to be “enough” for me? Being Asian American in Korea, I don’t feel like I belong either. It’s a constant I have come to accept that I may never find that space where I feel like I belong 100 percent.

YOU MIGHT HAVE HEARD THE TERM “MODEL MINORITY,” where Asian and Asian Americans are expected to be on top or viewed as overachievers, and that’s really false. It’s also destructive. It’s dangerous for us to believe in the model minority myth because it separates us from other marginalized communities who share similar experiences. We face our own kind of systemic suppression.

I WAS TAUGHT TO PURSUE TRADITIONAL CAREER PATHS that are supposed to be lucrative and considered prestigious, and for me that’s something that I didn’t really care about. My parents hoped I would pursue a career in finance because I majored in economics. But I wanted to do something creative.

COMING TO SMITH WAS A LIFE-CHANGING EXPERIENCE. Taking my first course in Asian American studies opened my eyes to all the dialogues about my identity that I didn’t have before. I realized that I just needed to be me, and that that’s the greatest thing people in our community can do for themselves. The greatest revolution that we can start is just being ourselves.

TODAY I’M FOCUSED ON INTERVIEWING INFLUENCERS, like Cherisse Datu, creator of the Filipino fantasy-adventure game, “The Girl Who Sees;” and Elizabeth Yang, founder of the upcoming virtual global summit, Hmong Women Take on the World.

MORE PEOPLE ARE DOWNLOADING PROJECT VOICE PODCASTS, especially recent episodes and more people are reaching out to me to be interviewed. Knowing that there are other people who want to work with me is a sign of growth. Sometimes online magazines or other influencers get in touch with me and ask if I could be featured on their platform, so that’s been an honor as well.

THE DEFINITION OF HOME IS CONSTANTLY CHANGING FOR ME. It was a struggle growing up as an Asian American to find safe spaces, where I felt I could be comfortable and not feel like I’m being judged or misperceived based on my racial identity or my gender. Traveling outside of the country and living in another foreign country has made me realize that home may be just wherever I am and where I feel like I am most myself.