Aileen Huang – Regional Coordinator for Students for Barack Obama

UC San Diego, La Jolla, San Diego

What makes me proud is that the tension between my Taiwanese heritage and my American upbringing compels me to think for myself and find my own happiness…

Who are you?

I am a second generation Taiwanese American who has become the unexpected politically liberal product of a socially and fiscally conservative family. Everything about my life can be traced back to my relationship with my mother. I am as rational as my mother is irrational. I am as tolerant as my mother is intolerant. I am as skeptical as my mother is judgemental. I am as temperate as my mother is impulsive. And I am as doubtful as my mother is pious. As a Taiwanese American, my struggle is not only with the generation gap, but also with the East-West cultural gap.  My search is for a happy compromise between the Western conception of “the good life” and the Eastern-Asian conception of “the successful life”; between my civic and individual duty as an American, and my familial obligations as an Asian person.

I am approaching the end of my undergraduate chapter as a Philosophy major at UCSD, and I can safely say that I could not have had a more fulfilling few years of my life. And understanding why my college years have been so formative requires understanding how I was brought up. To know who I am is to know where I have been. My upbringing has not been so different from that of any other Taiwanese American in my generation, but it is the juxtaposition with the person I have become that makes my story interesting. I am strongly opposed to full assimilation into any culture and am adamant in my belief that preservation is necessary and progress is inevitable. What defines society at all points in time is the struggle between the two. And I am in love with the struggle.

Tell us about your organization / project, your role, and its impact?

There were two parts to my involvement in the campaign to elect Barack Obama as president. The first was co-founding UCSD Students for Barack Obama and serving as Vice President and Outreach Coordinator (the chapter was no more than 10 people at the start). Our objective was to inform students at UCSD about the young black senator. This proved to be a formidable challenge, as UCSD has been known to be politically apathetic and socially unaware. We gained some momentum just as the school year, so I went back home and did some work with local campaign organizations. That summer, I scored an interview with the California leaders of Obama for America. I received the position of Regional Coordinator for San Diego/Inland Empire, which included about eight college chapters across southern California. I held weekly conference calls and continued working closely with the UCSD chapter, which a close friend of mine took over. We had students sign “pledge cards”, mobilized an average of 70 voters at every campus every week, and collected contact information to make sure voters came out for the primary and general election. At meetings we would not only brainstorm campaign strategies, but we would also share stories of how so many of us, who were never politically active, came to volunteer for the Obama campaign. We also organized “Drive for Change” events where students could do trips to Nevada to canvass and inform voters. The most gratifying part of my experience was finding and bringing together different people from all walks of life.

Where do you find your inspiration and motivation as a student leader?

Barack Obama circa 2004 in his keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. ( ; watch the entire speech!). His sincere words and simple message served a unifying purpose that could resonate across all ages and creeds. All it takes is a good heart, a genuine concern, and an education. Leadership cannot be forced. Leadership is inspired. My advice to future students leader is to venture outside of your comfort zone, READ everything you can get your hands out, find something you are passionate about, and find someone who shares your passion. It’s all organization and logistics from there. But you can’t get there without passion.

What is your vision for the organization / project and the role that it may play in the broader community?

Our organization has since dissolved, but a number of students on each chapter’s leadership team went on to take leadership roles in College Democrats and CALPIRG, and ACLU. My hope is that student organizations will continue to inform students about how politics is directly tied into our daily lives and encourage them to find a reason, ANY reason, to become involved in the community.

Why are you proud to be of Taiwanese heritage?

My Taiwanese heritage and upbringing makes it so that my worldview is not so narrowly defined. Each of our brains is governed by a conceptual framework that develops well into our mid-20s, and this framework is to a large extent influenced by social and cultural factors. What makes me proud is that the tension between my Taiwanese heritage and my American upbringing compels me to think for myself and find my own happiness, one that is not mono-culturally defined. There are so many parts of Taiwanese culture that I have yet to explore.  There is an entire other dimension of my life that is slowly revealing itself to me.

What does the future of Taiwanese America look like to you?

Informed. No more willful ignorance and political resignation.  We have a moral obligation to do our part. My mother always told me, 這世界是殘酷得, 你該勇敢一點, 聰明一點.  And part of having courage (勇氣) is standing up for what’s right, even in the face of fear. We have to contribute to society, earn our respect, and demand the best of each other. Taiwanese America can help paint a better image of Asian America, one that is not a racially triangulated.

Any additional information you would like to share?

My responses to the previous questions have probably given the impression of a solemn, cynical, and highly opinionated Aileen Huang, which is somewhat accurate, but a 10-minute conversation with me would have anyone thinking otherwise. If you are curious about what occupies most of my working mind, these might help:

Cheers to social media!

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