When people ask An Dang where he’s from, he usually just says Lincoln, despite his Vietnamese roots.
“It’s an easier and a shorter answer,” Dang said. “But when people do ask, I will talk about it because it’s something I’m very proud of.”
Dang believes there’s more difficulties in being an immigrant student than just explaining his heritage.
One of the difficulties that the junior biochemistry major says most people don’t think about is that many immigrants leave their families to come to the United States. Dang’s mother immigrated with her husband’s family and left her own behind.
“She was the youngest of 11 siblings. It was a lot of calling back home when she got over here, trying her best to keep supporting them with the money that we made,” Dang said.
The difficulty of learning to integrate into American culture was also met with the difficulty of trying to stay connected to family in Vietnam for Dang’s family.
“Just trying to stay in contact is very hard to do your first year being over here in an entirely new country,” Dang said.
Dang is very involved at UNL. He has been involved in ASUN, UPC Nebraska and New Student Enrollment. He uses his involvement to make the university more inclusive and diverse.
“When I was a part of student government, I worked on a project that looked into modern languages that we offer here at the university and why Chinese isn’t currently offered as a major by itself. Throughout that, it made me realize how important it is for our students to be able to interact with people that are different than them,” Dang said.
Dang says his involvement in on-campus organizations is something he hopes encourages more diversity.
“My presence on these organizations itself is influential in that I represent a face of a minority group that might not show up a lot. Speaking strictly from my observations from organizations I’m in, I’ve counted like maybe two or three other Asian or Vietnamese people out of 30 to 50,” Dang said.
Dang believes he serves as representation for others. He hopes that a face like his in many well-known organizations will encourage many other minorities to be active on campus, even if they fear being different from other members.
“I think that just by being in those well-known organizations and being an active member is really something I can do that encourages other students to also pursue these. I know it can be kind of intimidating to join a council where everyone is different than you,” Dang said.
Dang is involved in UPC Nebraska, the university’s programming student board, and UPC Nebraska President Gabby Rodriguez said Dang brings an important view to the council.
“An brings a diverse perspective as an involved Asian American student on campus. His welcoming personality is super inviting and he encompasses a growing demographic here at UNL,” Rodriguez said.
Dang believes many immigrants or international students can be overlooked as applicants for these organizations because of their English abilities or other factors.
“I’m constantly thinking, are we missing all these students who could be potentially great members of our organizations just because they can’t translate their thoughts into English very well?” Dang said.
Dang also pointed out the difficulties immigrant students face that most domestic students don’t have to worry about.
“One thing that’s hard with immigrant students especially are a lot of their families don’t speak English as their first language. On top of balancing college as their primary responsibility, they also have duties at home,” Dang said.
Dang discussed how immigrant students often have to not only serve as students, but also translators for their families among other duties. Often, young children are helping their adults with important tasks due to the language barrier.
“I knew my social security number by second grade because I was using it so much. That’s something I struggled with my freshman year. The fact that I had to find an hour between classes my freshman year to go home and pay a bill or go to the doctor with my mom,” Dang said.
Dang also emphasized the importance of mental health for these immigrant students and how different cultures don’t have direct language translations surrounding the terminology and stigmas. Dang discussed the importance of acknowledging that immigrant students are just as likely to face mental health issues as domestic students, but face more barriers.
“Mental health in Vietnamese culture isn’t talked about very much,” Dang said.