In celebration of AAPI month, TCB will be sharing stories by PAVE NC, a local volunteer-run organization that highlights the stories of Asian-Americans in the South, for the month of May. To learn more about PAVE NC, visit their site here or read TCB‘s profile of the co-founders, Tina Firesheets and Christie Soper here. This story was originally published by PAVE NC here.

Story by Sayaka Matsuoka, photos by Scott Muthersbaugh of Perfecta Visuals, digital production by Dave from Maunaleo Ventures

Christian Chan is an assistant professor in the Department of Counseling and Educational Development at UNCG. He’s been in Greensboro since June 2020, when he moved to the city from Idaho. His work primarily deals with research as well as teaching about the impacts of trauma, particularly race-based trauma, within counseling and education. Chan is gay and is of Filipino, Chinese, and Malaysian descent.

“In order to make sense of who I am, I had to connect my different identities.”

Tell me about your background and how you came to Greensboro.

Really what brought me to Greensboro was this really beautiful opportunity to join the UNCG community. I transitioned from living for three years in Idaho while I was at Idaho State University and I got a tenure track assistant professor position at UNCG in June 2020.

It was during the middle of COVID, but the beautiful part about the transition was that I have felt at home at UNCG and in Greensboro from Day 1.

Can you tell us more about your work at UNCG? 

My primary role is related to research, teaching and service. For research, I live and breathe and practice intersectionality. What that means is not just connections between social identities, but it’s so much more than that. It’s about how we think about action and how we’re locating and dismantling intersecting forms of oppression. They’re tied to our lived experiences, especially for many of us who live with multiple marginalized identities. It shows up in my passion for understanding the effects of oppression and trauma, particularly race-based trauma, on counseling and educational pathways. I think a lot about how we seek out counseling and how we think about our own careers and education. So those are the two main areas that I cover.

What is it about UNCG and Greensboro that made you feel so welcome from the start?

I found that at UNCG I’m rediscovering my joy in community on campus and in work. I feel like I’m meshing all these worlds together. Just seeing the community on campus doing such profound work, that is what really fulfills me and shows me where I’m really connecting to my heart.

When we find institutional departments that really support, affirm and celebrate our expertise, we’re celebrated for everything we bring as a person. In the past, I’ve been tokenized for having multiple marginalized identities. But here, I’m celebrated for who I am and the fullness of who I am; this is a place where I feel like I belong.

I’ve also been able to find connection and home in all of these LGBTQ+ communities too. For example, I played in the Stonewall Sports league this past year.

I really found that this is a perfect-sized city for me. I feel like it’s easy to find connections here.

Christian Chan (photo by Scott Muthersbaugh, Perfecta Visuals for PAVE NC)

You mentioned that you have multiple marginalized identities. Can you tell me a bit about your racial background?

I grew up in suburbs of L.A. in West Covina, and I found that different transitions in my life made me more attuned to my racial development and more attuned to how racism manifested in these different environments. 

In L.A., in many capacities, we would talk about race and identity and cultural values. It was something that was practiced in everyday life, but not something that was broached in an explicit way. It became more explicit when I went to Notre Dame.

When I went to the midwest, it was a source of peace because I loved the community of Notre Dame, but it was a huge culture shock for me. Not necessarily because of the transition from the city to a college town, but because of some of the racial microaggressions that I faced from the day I got to campus.

There were assumptions that I knew every other Asian on campus or about what my ethnic identity was based on my last name or the color of my skin. The thing was, it was also displayed amongst my BIPOC (Black, indigenous, people of color) colleagues and friends. There were jokes about Asian glow and drinking. I was facing much more explicit forms of racism. It pushed me to find community with other friends and colleagues. That helped me to deepen my connections to my own culture.

Tell me more about those cultural connections.

My parents are both immigrants so there was so much preservation of culture and traditions. Going through that undergraduate experience really deepened my connection to my racial and ethnic identities. It helped me to deepen my passion, which is shedding light on disparities on racial minoritization, racial discrimination. It helped me to attune to ways we were thinking about systemic racism.

The racialized experience for Asian communities has been happening for decades and centuries. That acknowledgement is scary for us and it’s also hurtful. There’s so much emotion we’re living in. So I was coming to an understanding of my own family and what the hesitancy is around mental health counseling, and what part I am playing in the healing as part of my family.

I think a lot about my family. My parents still live in the L.A. area, and I think about the definition of family and what it means to me. I think that has been a large part of who I am and how I grew up. That was a way to represent what my cultural values mean to me. A part of who I am is that I cherish family and community.

Christian Chan (photo by Scott Muthersbaugh, Perfecta Visuals for PAVE NC)

How do your other identities, such as you being gay, coexist with your background as an Asian-American?

If I’m going to work with students, I have to know myself and be really connected to who I am. That is what became so central for me. So that means not only showing up as a Southeast Asian, but also what it meant to be a queer, brown, Southeast Asian. That is not an experience that I can set aside. In order to make sense of who I am, I had to connect my different identities.

It’s also about realizing that there are identities where I carry privilege. It’s important for me to be reflexive and know my impact and know where I’m not seeing certain things. One piece about my gender identity is that I am a cisgender male and I’m nondisabled which makes me mindful about ablelist privilege. I also grew up in a middle class family even if I was a child of immigrant parents. Those are ways I think about how I have privilege. I also grew up Catholic; I’m still working through that.

I think about body size, too. I’m someone that shows up in the world as fat. So I’m thinking about how that impacts racism and oppression. In the LGBTQ+ community, we’re still facing racism and sizeism.

Can you talk a bit about the importance of mental health, particularly in the Asian-American community?

I think there needs to be more community initiatives. What I mean by that is, it’s about having providers who are affirming, having providers who are willing to recognize and honor the experience of Asian communities, but it’s also continuing to do community outreach.

We need to be meeting with community leaders to continue to find ways to say, ‘Here are the resources and you’re not alone.’ Because it’s easy to feel like we are alone. It’s scary to seek help and it’s scary if you’re not sure how to navigate the system.

We also need to see providers who look like us. In so many ways, that is my hope. I want to see in all of our mental health professions, colleagues who look like us and I think that’s what matters.

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