Films and discussions bring community together

An annual summit focuses on Asian-American issues.

Filmmakers Maya Yu Zhang (left), and Zia Zuik talk before a showing of short films at the Philadelphia APA Youth Summit in the Student Center Oct. 31. | Brian Tom TTN

An audience watched in silence as Maya Yu Zhang argued about her decision to be a filmmaker with her Chinese mother over a Skype call.

“You don’t even pretend to be supportive,” said Zhang, a Bryn Mawr College alumna.

“Why should I pretend?” her mother replied. “I’m just firmly against your choices.”

This translated dialogue was the centerpiece of Zhang’s short film, “My Sister Swallowed the Zoo,” which was one of the shorts featured in the third annual Philadelphia Asian Pacific American Youth Summit at the Student Center Oct. 31.

Focusing on themes of “Journey,” “Community,” and “Identity,” this year’s summit used films, from a collaboration with the Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival to start discussions about issues and concerns of the Asian American community.  Students from different backgrounds and groups like the Temple Asian Students Association talked about topics like cultural influences and generational differences between them and their parents after the films.

“Looking at the films we saw today, these are all films that help people to affirm their identities through the discussion and sometimes through the films themselves,” said Rob Buscher, the festival director of PAAFF which takes place Nov. 12-22.

Zia Zuik, a 2014 film and media arts alumnus who created “Escape,” a film based on a true story about paramedics who helped hide an illegally immigrated family during a police raid, felt the use of visual mediums brought out individual experiences.

“While we were talking about issues going on in the community, there was also a very personal touch to go along with it, which I appreciated,” Zuik said.

“D.Asian,” a film that dealt with identity, personally affected Jillian Hammer, advocacy coordinator for Temple ASA and PAYS discussion facilitator, for her experience with “wanting to be white” when she was younger.

“With me growing up as an Asian adoptee and having a white family and growing up in a white town … I think that that one was the one that spoke to me the most, because it was sort of about wanting to fit in and self-identify,” said Hammer, a junior graphic and interactive design major.

PAYS was started in 2013 by Temple alumna Melody Lam, who was also president of Temple ASA at the time. One of the goals for PAYS was, and is, to help the community connect with each other and expose each other to valuable resources.

“One of the reasons I put this together is so I can pass off this knowledge and the community connections to a new generation,” said Lam, now a consultant for management and technology consulting agency Booz Allen Hamilton Inc.

It is why Lam continues to coordinate and plan PAYS, as well as support Temple ASA, in hopes of continuing to foster the relationships she helped make between PAYS, ASA and other community organizations.

“I would like to see more community organizations be a part of it so that students and leaders of the Asian American community, and even the Philadelphia community in general, can build an established relationship with each other,” she said.

The passing down of connections and experiences is representative of the way many Asian-American students have benefited from their parents’ hard work. Keith Mui, a Drexel alumnus and national conference assistant chair of the Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers, wants people to think about this big picture.

“Having people volunteer their time and give back to the community through these efforts is what is going to benefit our next generation and so on,” Mui said.

For the future of PAYS, Lue Vang, senior biology major and current president of Temple ASA, and Melissa Ly, senior media business and entrepreneurship major and former ASA president, plan to expand and reach out for more student involvement.

“I think being a senior now, I get to do a lot more of the connecting and I feel like just having the right people to help the right students,” Ly said. “I can really help out in that part.”

Albert Hong can be reached at

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