By Blake Woodruff
Serena Pham is a senior at Oakland University studying to be a Physician Assistant and majoring in Health Science. Growing up in Waterford as an Asian-American woman, she struggled to find herself in a sea of faces that often did not look like her own. Pham reflects on childhood, family, and finding her identity and place in society.
BW: Who are the people who have most influenced your life and how have they affected you?
Pham: The people that have most influenced me are definitely my parents. They are probably the hardest working people I know. I am half-Chinese and half-Vietnamese, my mom being full Chinese and my dad being Vietnamese. My parents are both very driven. That has influenced me a lot in keeping my grades high and wanting to go to college and graduate school.
BW: Where have you lived and how have those places affected your life?
Pham: I grew up in Waterford, Michigan. I haven’t lived anywhere else. My dad grew up in Vietnam and came here when he was 8 during the Vietnam War. My mom was born in Tennessee and moved back to Taiwan shortly after.
Growing up here I had to get used to the idea of being different than everyone else. I have always noticed that I am the only Asian in the room. Even in high school and middle school, there were only a handful of people who identified as being Asian.
BW: How did that make you feel?
Pham: I think when I was younger I always felt out of place. But eventually I just got used to it and decided to accept it. It was really something I had a hard time figuring out when I was younger. I didn’t feel like I was the standard pretty girl because I didn’t have blonde hair or white skin.
There weren’t really any Asian actors in movies or TV shows to look up to. Eventually I was able to find influencers that looked like me on social media. I watched a lot of Asian Youtubers growing up. Watching people who looked like me made me feel more comfortable with who I am.
BW: What are the experiences that have most influenced you and why?
Pham: Growing up it felt like people only saw me for my skin tone. There were some people in my school who didn’t even bother to learn my name. They would just use a stereotypical Asian name like Lee or something. So that made me uncomfortable a lot when I was younger. At first, I thought it was a joke but then it would continue, and other students would do the same thing. Eventually I felt like no one even knew me.
BW: What do you want others to understand about your identity?
Pham: I would probably say that they need to stop believing in stereotypes. We’re more than just the smart kid in school, we don’t all work in nail salons, and we’re not talking behind your back when we’re speaking a different language. I would want them to understand that there is more to me than just my skin.
BW: What would you say to young Asian-American girls who might be struggling to find their place?
Pham: I would want to tell them that they are beautiful for who they are and to not compare themselves to other people. Their skin is perfectly beautiful, their eyes, their nose, their height, their weight, they are all perfectly beautiful the way they are.