Interview with 2016 UIAAAN Scholarship Recipient Matthew Jason Hom

Two rising seniors each received a $500 scholarship from UIAAAN at the 21st Annual Asian American Leadership Awards, on April 26, 2016, in Urbana. Matt Hom double majors in Global Studies and Political Science; Emily Rohman majors in Community Health.

UIAAAN: What RSOs (Registered Student Organizations) have you been involved in so far?

MJH: The RSOs I have been involved with are Philippine Student Association, where I was the co-Publicity chair and I am also the current President. I have also been involved with the Taiwanese American Students Club, where I was the co-multimedia chair and Internal Vice President. Lastly, I was also the Director of Media for Paradox.

UIAAAN: What are the significant activities that you have done or people that you have met and what did you learn from them?

MJH: One of the most inspirational people I have had the pleasure to meet, and call a friend, is my big sister or Ate, Katreena Casallo. As a freshman, I was quite ignorant and naïve and she was able to mentor and encourage me and others to step up as leaders for our community. She stressed that it was okay to not be okay and to forgive yourself for your mistakes. Though this advice seems common, it was through her actions and commitment that she was able to really send that message. This helped build my mentality of support and care when addressing other officers, members, and essentially anyone.

UIAAAN: Please share with us a little bit more about your background, like the environment you grew up in. Was the Asian heritage emphasized? And what makes you participate in Asian and Asian-American related activities?

MJH: I grew up on the north side of Chicago and attended a small school until I was 13. In this class of 15 people, I was one of the two Asian-Americans. Though I did attend a Chinese language school on the weekends, my heritage was not emphasized very much. However, it did find its facets through school lunches, Lunar New Year red envelopes, and the occasional Aunt attempting to speak Cantonese to me to no avail. After a while, I began to suppress my Asian roots because I felt ashamed. I didn’t know how to explain the smell of my lunches or why my mom had a cabinet full of dishes we could never use. I didn’t begin to participate in Asian- American related things until my junior year in high school, when I began to perform Filipino cultural dances. This rolled over into college, and, from there, I began to partake in more leadership roles. I did this because both the performing aspect and leadership aspect instilled a sense of confidence and growth in me. It helped me find a family to nurture and care for me. These Asian-American organizations are one of the main driving factors for who I am today. With that, I want to continue doing this so I can give that experience to someone else.

UIAAAN: What are the most rewarding experiences you had by contributing to the Asian and Asian- American community, and why?

MJH: One of the most rewarding experiences I have had by contributing to the Asian American community was the whole development of Paradox’s project, #MyBananaStory. We simply wanted to create a platform for Asian Americans to tell their story. We were laboring every week to find people to write articles for the project. To our surprise, the project started to gain a following, even outside of the UIUC campus. When a fraternity from UIC submitted their stories to us and explained how meaningful this opportunity was, that was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve been blessed to have. Soon after, people from Canada, Ohio, and the most random places were submitting stories. It was very rewarding to see this project touch and influence people around the nation.

UIAAAN: What did you learn from your involvement in Asian or Asian-American community?

MJH: Regardless of what organization you were in or plan to join, you can learn a diverse number of skills or lessons, ranging from professionalism and communication to commitment and a multitude of others. However, the one most important thing I have learned is the power of community. Community can keep your passion strong when you’re feeling mentally broken. Community can rally people to push a cause forward. Community can give a family to a kid lost in his ways. Everything starts and ends with community and we need to value and develop it if we ever hope to progress.

UIAAAN: Did the Asian or Asian-American experience have any influence on you, and how?

MJH: I believe that the Asian American experience is almost essentially linked to a childhood of repression. Because of the shame we feel from society and our peers, we disassociate ourselves from our culture, from our roots and heritage. This left a profound guilt and impact on me once I grew older. From this experience, I realized I wanted to do everything in my power to change that vicious cycle. Ironically, I have never been more proud to be an Asian-American.

UIAAAN: How did you learn about the UIAAAN scholarship? Did this scholarship inspire you in any ways?

MJH: I first learned about the UIAAAN scholarship through the AACC, however, it was not until my friend Marc Chua, a past recipient, recommended it to me that I began to really research what it was. The scholarship now has really pushed me to continue to challenge myself for more. I want to be able to live up to the prestige and meaning behind the scholarship.

UIAAAN: Is there anything you would like to share with UIAAAN and the scholarship donors?

MJH: First and foremost, thank you to UIAAAN and all the scholarship donors. Whether you can see it directly or not, this scholarship is promoting change. Each year, we are creating a legacy that future generations will prosper from. So thank you for believing in us and for your dedication to our community.