Struggle with Love

IMG_3729 - Copyby Kim Navoa

(We have been fortunate at the APADRC to have Kim as a summer intern through LEAP’s Leadership in Action program. She has spent the last two months researching and developing a curriculum for our peer mediation program, creating unique materials including guided role plays and experiential activities for students.) 

I have never left the comfort of Chicago for an extended period of time. While I was excited and anxious when I was accepted, what really pushed me to follow through with this internship was my placement at the Asian Pacific American Dispute Resolution Center in the youth program, which was my top choice through LEAP.

Since my sophomore year of high school, I spent my summers as a teacher’s assistant at a community art center in Evanston, Illinois working with kids from ages 5-14 in classes like painting, fashion design, and animation. While I was able to build a relationship with the different artists and teachers I assisted, what really kept me there over the past six summers were the talented kids. Seeing their growth over the summer—and some over the years—as artists and people was particularly rewarding, knowing I was able to provide them with the support they needed to develop their skills. I witnessed their passion grow stronger and their confidence in their own abilities flourish as they experimented in different forms of art. After working with kids for so long, I eventually started to offer support to young adults and my peers. For the past three years, I served as a peer mentor for the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Asian American Mentor Program. I provided incoming freshman and transfer students with support and guidance to ensure their smooth, fun, and safe transition into college life. I encouraged them to attend our weekly sessions where we discussed everything from sex/dating to Asian American identity. They understood that no matter how sensitive the issue may be, I would be there for them if they needed me.

Youth and students are a constant source of inspiration and motivation for me. I frequently volunteer with the Korean American Resource & Cultural Center, leading me to spend time with their youth council, Fighting Youth Shouting Out for Humanity, which is comprised of a diverse group of high school and college students who are actively involved in social justice advocacy. Their main focus at the moment is immigration reform, which hits close to home for me. As an undocumented student who until college didn’t reclaim my immigration status as part of my identity, I can’t even begin to describe how incredible it is to see young people so passionate and knowledgeable about issues that they know affect their community. They fight for equality and liberation and don’t allow themselves to be taken lightly just because of their age.

My dedication to youth empowerment is what brings me here to the APADRC. In the month that I have been here, I have completely immersed myself in youth oriented work, particularly in developing inclusive and interactive curriculums around healthy relationships and bullying with the APADRC and the Center for the Pacific Asian Family. Creating a curriculum is a first for me, and it has been challenging tackling these two heavy issues. It also forced me to reflect on my own experiences, challenges, and privileges.

So far, my time in Los Angeles has been well spent. I not only get to do work that I’m passionate about, but I also have more access to things that I usually don’t in Chicago. Some of my favorite experiences so far have been an identity focused workshop I took with Leadership Development in Interethnic Relations with other AAAJC interns and a field trip the APADRC took to the Western Justice Center. I am particularly interested in their Compassion Plays youth program, which allows youth to use theatre as a means to bring awareness and facilitate discussions about tough issues like racial stereotypes and LGBTQ bullying. Since I have been here, I find myself doing more self reflections. I constantly wonder, “why youth?” The more I ask myself this, the more I think about what kind of support I needed at their age. I want to provide them with the access to resources and guidance that assists in their personal growth so they can grow up to be leaders in their own communities.

As a young, undocumented Asian woman transitioning from campus organizations to community organizations, I have to actively seek support and resources that will help me get to where I want to be. I had my fair share of run-ins with oppressive male leaders, problematic non-intersectional “activism”, and self important organizers who refuse to acknowledge their own privileges. It took some time, but I eventually found my community in Chicago: a group of peers and experienced organizers who understand the importance of intersectional identity in all aspects of social justice, using our privileges to empower others, and treating each other with the utmost respect. As some of them say, we struggle with love for our communities and for each other. While I finally found my place in Chicago, I also wonder if I would be willing to take some time after graduation to find community in Los Angeles. In the short time that I have been here, I can already sense how much I have grown as a leader and as an individual, and I know I want to continue that growth.

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