Members of UCLA’s Mixed Student Union come from a variety of backgrounds and ethnicities, but one question unites them.
“What are you?”
The union, founded in 2010 as the Hapa Club, hosts social events or discussions every week, on topics such as microagressions and racial profiling, said Ariel Pezner, MSU co-director and third-year environmental science student. The club has about 40 members.
Chelsea Strong, MSU co-director and third-year business economics student, said MSU aims to celebrate the intersection between cultures. On Saturday, club members will work to gain a better understanding of their identities through the Mixed Heritage Conference, an annual event that includes workshops and guest speakers.
Strong said she thinks many students do not examine their own heritage until they enter college and are then confronted with clubs based on ethnic identification.
Rubi Gomez, a second-year history and molecular, cell and developmental biology student said she initially struggled to find a cultural organization where she fit in. But when Gomez stumbled across the Mixed Student Union during the Enormous Activities Fair, she found a place to explore her identity.
“I felt like a lot of my friends were joining these cultural organizations and celebrating their heritage, and I didn’t really have a space to do that,” said Gomez, who identifies as Japanese and Latina. “MSU really (allows you to discover yourself) in a space where everyone else is trying to (do the same).”
Caralie Wegeng, a third-year sociology student, said moving within the United States several times as a child made her realize how often she changed her identity to fit in.
When she lived in an all-white neighborhood, Wegeng said she focused much less on her Filipino heritage and adapted to the culture of her friends. In MSU, she realized she could celebrate both heritages equally. She added coming to UCLA presented her with new opportunities to connect both heritages.
“I never in my life had found an organization (like MSU),” Wegeng said. “It was nice to find a group of people who understood my experiences as a mixed person.”
Strong said Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni will perform “One Drop of Love,” a one-woman show about race, gender and socioeconomic class at this year’s conference. She added the event is based on a similar conference held each fall at UC Berkeley, which members of UCLA’s Mixed Student Union attend annually.
Many UC schools have Mixed Student Unions, but UCLA and UC Berkeley have two of the more active chapters, Pezner said. Strong said she expects to see about 100 students at the Saturday event.
“This year, we feel more comfortable with how to connect with people, how to get students interested and how to get them to think about mixed heritages,” Strong said.
Pezner said members’ shared experiences are what ultimately bring them together.
“People of mixed heritage have different holidays or (different) languages, but we all had really similar stories growing up,” Pezner said.
Students can attend MSU’s conference Saturday at the James West Alumni Center from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.