By: Ricky Rath
Editor: Donella Lalas
Photos by: Jaden Moon
The vibration from my iPhone wakes me up as the sun beams through the gaps of my blinds.
I rub my eyes, roll around and stretch my arms before grabbing my phone to see what time it is. It’s 10 a.m. but something else catches my eyes.
I notice a string of unusual iMessages from my friends and Twitter notifications. Why was it such a busy morning?
Oh my god. ODESZA is coming back.
They’re coming back to where it all started, Western. Not only is this giant duo coming back to perform, I notice on the digital poster it’s a benefit show for the scholarship department.
That stuck with me.
I spent the rest of the day on my usual routine through campus listening to my favorite livesets, but something in my mind lit up as I walked through the Communications Lawn - the site of where I performed for the first time.
What if… I throw my own scholarship benefit show and put it toward my community, toward my people and toward my aspirations.
I doubted myself a lot initially. I mean this was literally just a thought, a dream I came up with walking through campus.
A lot of that doubt came from the financial aspects. I’m just a broke college student like most of you reading this.
I knew I was destined to do more than just perform on stages. I wanted to create meaning with my work.
The biggest hump was getting a venue and getting someone who would believe in me.
It was kind of an awkward time in my, I guess, “DJ career.” I didn’t have any major upcoming bookings and I was just waiting around.
Primarily performing in Bellingham, a lot of my Seattle friends didn’t have the opportunity to watch me spin in their area. So I took initiative.
The phrase, “if you want something, go get it,” kept playing in my head. That was it, I was going to host my own benefit show in Seattle.
I talked with my friend, Andrew Nguyen, who gave me guidance about potential venues. Then it started to get real - maybe this might actually happen.
"Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much." - Helen Keller
I knew there was no way I could pull this off alone. Over the span of the next few days, I put together a team of selfless volunteers who I call the board of directors. They believed in my mission.
These talented and experienced individuals are doing work that would usually be compensated for in the professional world, but instead they’re willing to make that sacrifice to give back to a community that is often overshadowed.
I’m Cambodian American and prior to college I didn’t really understand or appreciate my culture and heritage. I just knew I was Cambodian.
Our people are still recovering decades after a horrific genocide that left families like mine struggling to re-adjust in America. Part of the re-adjustments involved generations like me who are going to college for the first time with little guidance or help from our parents.
Enrolling into Western Washington University, I was often lost the first few weeks. I felt homesick and missed Tacoma.
There weren’t too many people who looked like me on campus and it made me feel kind of awkward. I felt like I couldn’t be myself.
Not a lot of people know about us. We’re that single line in your 10th grade History textbook - that’s about it.
It wasn’t until I joined the Khmer Student Association that I began connecting with people who shared the same struggles, stories and experiences as me. Then I realized it.
In the pool of the underrepresented I should carry my culture, my people and my heritage with pride.
According to the Western Office of Institutional Research, data shows in Spring of 2018, there were only 52 students who identified as Cambodian. Since 2010, only 70 students who identified as Cambodian have earned either their Bachelor’s or Master’s degrees from Western.
It’s easy to feel alone.
Creatives Fuel the World
In just about a week, I’m going to be the first person in my family to graduate from college.
My dad has been working long hours in a factory his whole life in America to help support me getting to this point.
If you’re a fellow Asian American, I get it. Your parents set high expectations for you to go to college to make bank in the medical field or do something with law. Don’t get me wrong, those things are great, but when does it cross the line?
I understand some of our parents have made tremendous sacrifices for us but I believe we should understand our purpose, our destiny and trail blazing our own legacy.
Luckily, I had parents who understood my skills and believed in me. I’m graduating in June with a degree in Public Relations, Journalism and Sociology.
I primarily picked Public Relations because of the opportunities it gave me to be creative and the skills it taught me to execute events like this. Public Relations gave me the opportunities to write, design and create.
I’m a huge advocate for believing in yourself and following what you’re good at. That’s where the target audience for this scholarship comes from.
I took the risk of going into this field of study that doesn’t fit the “Asian American career norm” and there’s a lot of kids out there spending nights in Adobe CC wondering if it’s even worth it.
Through this scholarship, I want them to know it’s worth it.
Without us, there isn’t documentation of memories, there isn’t clean creative ads for those big corporations, there isn’t beautifully engineered music on your Spotify; hey, we help fuel the world too.
R-Squared & Friends
On August 16, 2019 at The Vera Project, you have the opportunity to help create a difference in our Southeast Asian American community.
Through a curated lineup of electronic DJs/Producers/Artists of color, 100 percent of R-Squared & Friends’ proceeds will help establish our first R-Squared Media scholarship for Southeast Asian American students in creative fields of study.
Honestly, I’m still scratching my head and pinching myself to make sure this isn’t a dream.
This spring and summer I made a vision come true.
Now, I challenge you to make one of your visions a reality.