Two Winners Named in Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Essay Contest

Brandon Dela Cruz ’22 and Sophia Nguyen ’22, were recently announced winners of the first annual Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM) essay contest. The inaugural writing event was launched to celebrate students of Asian Pacific Island (API) descent at Saint Mary’s, and their unique stories and lived experiences. “Brandon and Sophia wrote phenomenal essays, each one very different, but compelling,” said Ardi Samonte, Saint Mary’s student engagement and academic success coach, and committee co-chair for the Asian Pacific Island Resource Group. “It was important to get a sense and deeper understanding from the student perspective on what it means to be Asian, both at Saint Mary’s and in society, especially now during these times of social injustice.”

Dela Cruz, a justice, community and leadership major, and first-generation Filipino American shared that the topic of his essay was motivated by his interest in how the Coronavirus has affected Asian American communities, and the anti-Asian sentiment that is rampant across the nation. “The anti-Asian xenophobia that’s been going on requires our voices to be heard, because a lot of our identities and our important and unique stories have been overshadowed by dominant powers and dominate voices in our society,” said Dela Cruz. “I really want to help us reclaim our power and our voice.”

Nguyen, an English major with a creative writing emphasis expressed in her essay, family influences that have motivated and inspired her experiences as a first-generation Vietnamese. “I wrote my essay with a creative, storytelling voice that combines the cultural context of my historic family narrative from multiple generations,” said Nguyen. “I was inspired because I’ve never written a piece that is so introspective about my family, and I was somewhat hesitant. But the reactions I received were amazing, which boosted my confidence, and has resulted in this being one of my favorite creative pieces.”

When the essay contest was announced, the plan was to have one winner to receive the five hundred dollar scholarship for books and other college essentials. “The reviewing committee worked hard to determine a winner, but each time we voted, it was a tie. After additional review and voting again, it was still a tie,” said Samonte. “Both essays were so different, yet profound in their own right, so the committee decided to grant the winning title to Dela Cruz and Nguyen.” Instead of dividing the five hundred dollar prize between the two winners, each student received the full amount.

Both Dela Cruz and Nguyen had words of wisdom to share with future student APAHM essay contest participants. “As members of the API community, it is our duty to reclaim and rewrite the stories that have been written about us, but not by us,” said Della Cruz. “At the end of the day, these are our stories, and we should be the ones to share our truths.” Nguyen added, “Writing from the inside out can be a little scary, so it’s important to have an understanding of yourself. As long as you stay truthful and remain authentic and humble, you will overcome your fear, and your words and experiences will be embraced by others.”

To read the winning essays, click here.