Rice celebrates 100 years of Asian life and contributions

RUCAA event coincides with Lunar New Year

“Rice would simply not be what it is today without our Asian-American and Asian students,” President David Leebron told more than 200 students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members at a kickoff celebration commemorating 100 years of Asian undergraduate life at Rice Jan. 27 at the Rice Media Center.

More than 200 people attended the kickoff event. (Photos by Tommy LaVergne)

The celebration, which was aptly held on the eve of Lunar New Year by the Rice University Community of Asian Alumni (RUCAA), marks the beginning of a yearlong series of events honoring Rudolfo Fernandez, the first Rice graduate of Filipino descent. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1917.

“Today is a very special day,” said Rice University Representative Y. Ping Sun. “I became a U.S. citizen 22 years ago. I am so proud to be an Asian-American. Today, we don’t just celebrate one individual; we celebrate all Asian students and their collective contribution to Rice and Houston.”

Asians constitute nearly one-third of Rice’s collective student body today. The event focused on the diversity within that population. Organizers noted that Asian students include individuals whose families have been in America for generations, those who have arrived more recently, student immigrants and foreign students.

Rice University Representative Y. Ping Sun told the audience she became a U.S. citizen 22 years ago.

“This is great celebration of the vibrant diversity of our community,” Leebron said. “Asian-Americans’ strong representation in our undergraduate population reflects their strong representation in applications to Rice.”

The evening began with several presentations reflecting the rich history of Asians on campus.

Anne Chao ’05, manager of the Houston Asian-American Archive (HAAA), gave an update on the research archive’s progress in her presentation, “A Treasured Heritage: Stories From the Houston Asian-American Archive.”

“The stories in HAAA are a testament to the blood, sweat and tears of the Asian-American immigration experience,” said Chao, who is also an adjunct lecturer in the School of Humanities. “I’m deeply moved by the heroic stories of the human spirit, and I’m inspired by each and every interviewee I’ve had the honor of meeting.”

Speakers at the event included Francine Di (left), Anne Chao (second from left) and Thu Nguyen (right).

Since its inception in 2009, HAAA has collected more than 145 interviews and memorabilia, including oral histories, letters, diaries, photographs, newspapers and other records. By recovering Asian-American narratives, HAAA strives to foster a deeper understanding of Houston’s immigrant history.

“The incredible interest and turnout tonight went beyond my wildest dreams,” said Catherine Rowntree, co-president of RUCAA. “I hope everyone learns a bit about our history here at Rice. Whether you’re Asian or not, it’s important to see who paved the way for current students.”

Attendees also enjoyed “Asians at Rice,” presented by Ed Chen ’59, and a screening of “Off the Menu: Asian America,” a documentary by Grace Lee about Asian-American food traditions in various communities, including Houston. Following the presentations, attendees enjoyed a reception with cuisines representing Pan-Asian and Pacific Islander cultures and a student exhibit featuring 11 art installations.

“Asians at Rice are a lot more diverse than you might think,” said Thu Nguyen, a senior chemistry major and student exhibit organizer. “We’re not all just science majors. We pursue a range of hobbies and foster many talents. I hope the exhibit reflects a small portion of that diversity.”

“Rice would simply not be what it is today without our Asian-American and Asian students,” President David Leebron said.

The student art exhibit featured works in performance art, graphic design, research, video, sculpture and painting.

RUCAA will continue to commemorate 100 years of Asian undergraduate students at Rice with events throughout the year.

“Asian students make an enormous contribution to the vibrancy of our university and diversity of our campus,” Leebron said. “Rice is a destination for folks from every kind of background and a place where they feel comfortable in the diversity of our community.”

For a list of other events planned for the yearlong celebration by RUCAA, Public Affairs’ Multicultural Community Relations, Alumni Affairs and the Office of the President, go to www.alumni.rice.edu.

About Kendall Schoemann

Kendall Schoemann is a staff writer in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.