“Breaking Boundaries”: A Q&A with Henry Zeng (COM ‘20)

Boston University Asian Student Union is a non-exclusive organization that aims to foster unity, participation, acceptance, and integration in the Asian community by tackling AAPI issues. The Communicator sat down with Henry Zeng (COM ’20), the PR chair of ASU, to learn about the group’s goal to “break boundaries.” 

Tina Wang: How would you describe ASU and what is the mission of the group?

Henry Zeng: The Asian Student Union is a non-exclusive organization that welcomes students from all ethnicities. You don’t need to be Asian to be in our group– you can simply be interested in Asian cultures, or just seeking a group of new friends or a new family. Our mission is to unite and strengthen the Asian community by tackling AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) issues and raising cultural awareness. 

TW: What kind of events has ASU hosted in the past? 

HZ: We tackle AAPI issues through hosting various kinds of events: social events, speaker series, cultural awareness events, and community service. I think the event that most symbolizes our mission is “Breaking Boundaries.” This is an annual event (hosted every November) that started two years ago. It is a speaker series featuring influential people, mostly of Asian descent, that we bring to BU. We invite people from all industries. They speak on how they got to where they were and how they went away from the social norm of how Asians were supposed to be, as well as how they became successful, and the troubles they went through. 

TW: How has the ASU acted as a voice for the Asian community at Boston University?

HZ: I think ASU has acted as a voice through this event “Breaking Boundaries,” because we are able to pull in so many influential speakers. When it is first started, we are able to have actress and rapper Awkwafina, Youtubers KevJumba and Blogilate. Last year we brought Kristina Wong, Timothy DeLaGhetto and Kane Diep. Inviting them here and giving them a platform to talk about their journeys really speaks to the audience.

College students especially are under the impression, or pressure, that the only path to success is through majors like STEM and business. However, if they were to major in other subjects like art and writing, their parents would be really upset. So, I think having these speakers really raises awareness of alternative paths.  

TW: How do you think that these ideas resonate in the American dialogue, beyond BU? 

HZ: For our events, people from all over Boston are invited to attend. We reach out to a lot more universities, like Northeastern University for example. I think within recent years, the Asian American community really got better as stepping away from the stereotype. When it comes to choosing majors, you start seeing a lot of people going for Arts and English and people are doing stuff they really enjoy. I think we are already making some progress in solving this issue. With “Breaking Boundaries,” the event really elevates this idea, especially within the Boston Community. 

TW: I saw ASU also teamed up with the African Students Organization. What programs have come out of this partnership? What does this collaboration mean for the ASU? 

Our first collaboration was last spring semester, as a part of our social justice campaign, which is an ongoing thing called “Culture Shock” that takes place every spring. The goal of the video was to explore African and Asian culture through music. The goal is to collaborate with organizations that are not Asian specifically, because we believe that a lot of problems aren’t specific to one ethnicity. 

Along with the African Students Organization, we’ve collaborated with other organizations this October: BU Alianza Latina, BU Student of Caribbean Ancestry, and BU’s chapter of Timmy Global Health. It was interesting to learn how similar problems are faced by different minority groups. We are looking forward to having more collaborations with these organizations. 

TW: What are some AAPI issues that the ASU wants to address?

HZ: The main one is the stereotype that Asian Americans have to be successful by becoming doctors and lawyers. We want to address that these are not the only ways to succeed. You should do what you love. Luckily for me, my parents are more understanding and support me in doing what I love, but I know there are tons of Asian Americans out there whose parents are tiger parents: they will force you. For example, “If you don’t want to be an engineer, we won’t pay for your college.” I understand it is a very hard thing to get out of, but we just want to show them that they should do what they love.

The other issue is the “Model Minority Myth”, which means that all Asian Americans should be successful, even though a large majority of them are not. Because of this, it has been creating a lot of problems for those who are not as successful as what people believed them to be. 

TW: What is ASU planning on doing in the future? 

HZ: For me, I want to invite as many different types of people as possible. Right now, a lot of people are afraid to join because they don’t necessarily see “their kind of people”. Every time in SPLASH we introduce ourselves as a non-exclusive group. We don’t want to discourage people to come just because they don’t see people who “look like them.” It is hard to not be discouraged by that, but we really want to increase our diversity so that we can gain different perspectives in tackling AAPI issues. 

Tina Wang, Staff Writer

Tina is an advertising senior in COM who has a journalist dream. She has reported for BUTV10 for three years, specializing in Sino-American relation features and Q&As. As an international student from China, she enjoys telling the stories about humanity and art from a unique cultural perspective. 

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