Former APAICS Intern Caitlyn Phung is the founder of Women of Color at George Washington University. She talks with us about her current role in Rep. Gil Cisneros’ office, her time as an APAICS office intern, and her work in building coalitions.
APAICS asked Caitlyn 13 questions about her life and career.
APAICS: Tell us a bit about the Women of Color Coalition at George Washington University.
CP: GW Women of Color or WOC for short (pronounced woke because you have to stay “woke” on these things) is the first intersectional organization on campus dedicated towards cultivating an inclusive community that unites minorities together. Through community, advocacy, and professional events, the core of our efforts is to create a safe space through our three founding pillars: Solidarity, Community, and Empowerment. We strive to unite and celebrate our racial identities together as women of color.
APAICS: Tell us about your inspiration behind creating Women of Color.
CP: After the historic 2018 midterm election results put more women in Congress than ever before, I was particularly inspired by the record number of women of color who were elected. I felt so proud to be a woman of color because the racial makeup of Congress is now one step closer towards reflecting the diverse makeup of our country, and for minorities to finally have a seat at the table and be involved in decision making that affects our communities is a breakthrough in itself. I didn’t want this feeling to be a one-time thing, so I got together with some friends and we started to collaborate on how we could better foster diversity on our campus and support women of color as they navigate through college and beyond. It was then that WOC was born!
APAICS: Your personal hero/who inspired you.
CP: My mom! She taught me to not only work hard, but to work smart as it’s not always the quantity but the quality of your efforts that matter most. My mom carries a confidence that is strong but also humble, which reflects how there is always room for improvement and to check our ego out the door for all of our pursuits.
APAICS: You worked as an intern at APAICS. How has that affected your decision to work in public service?
CP: Looking back, I’m grateful to have started out at APAICS before pursuing a public service internship on the Hill. At APAICS, we attended advocacy, political, and professional development events where we learned about current issues the AAPI community faces. I felt empowered by APAICS’ mission of encouraging us to become leaders in the political pipeline so that one day we can be part of the solution. At the same time, working with everyone in the office and alongside the other interns showed me the beauty of diversity and how everyone has their own story that deserves to be heard. I will always be grateful that I found my purpose to serve from APAICS.
APAICS: Favorite vacation spot.
CP: Japan! Everything about the country, from the people to the food and beautiful scenery, is a delight. And if you’re into ramen as much as I am, you’re in for a treat!
APAICS: Tell us a bit about your current role in Rep. Cisneros’ office.
CP: As an intern, I’m responsible for handling the daily operations of Rep. Cisneros’ Congressional office. Each day is different as I’m on the phone speaking with constituents, drafting and sending out letters, or giving tours. I’ve learned a lot from being in the center of policy-making and to see how the legislation process works first hand. CA-39 is very unique in that it is one of the most diverse districts in the state with 30% of the population being AAPI. Rep. Cisneros is a member of CAPAC, so I’ve gotten the chance to work with policy advisors in the office on projects that can better engage the AAPI community. It’s been a privilege to work with Rep. Cisneros’ team!
APAICS: What is your morning routine to get your ready for the day?
I’ll confess, I’m not a morning person at all. You’ll first find me hitting the snooze button (a few times). When I eventually get up, I like to make a list of things to get done for the day. Before I head out for class or work, I find some time to practice gratitude. For me, that means opening my laptop to a screensaver that shows a new quote of the day and scenic photo from some part of the world. It’s a reminder that today is a new day and with a positive mindset, the opportunities to make it a day to remember are infinite.
APAICS: Favorite book or podcast?
CP: The Other Side of the Island by Allegra Goodman
APAICS: Message for someone on taking the first step into public service?
CP: Find your purpose, make connections with people who will support you as you would to them, and stay grounded by sticking to your roots and values while doing it!
APAICS: Favorite boba flavor (or favorite drink!)
CP: Even though I’ve only had it a few times, my favorite drink is a coconut red-bean milkshake with boba. So far, I’ve been able to find it in a Vietnamese restaurant back home but if you know where I can find one in the DMV area, hit me up!
APAICS: What was your motivation in carving out a space for women and people of color?
CP: College is a time when many discover their identities and who they are. It’s a weird transition in life, but having a community that supports you in all of your academic, social, and professional pursuits makes it a little easier and that’s what we wanted to do with WOC.
It’s one thing to be a woman, but another to be a woman of color. I am a firm believer in intersectionality and the value in learning from other cultures. When it comes to navigating my own racial and ethnic identity, I realized that while it’s important to self-discover your identity through your own culture’s club(s), I found it equally important to do so in the company of others who were doing the same. This kind of intersectionality affirms that there are other perspectives that may not be seen or heard (ex: someone who is adopted and wasn’t brought up with their respective culture, someone who is half one thing and half another, or someone who grew up in a predominantly white community). It’s important to recognize all perspectives in order to foster solidarity and empathy in society.
APAICS: What are the challenges you’ve faced in building a coalition?
CP: There has never been a coalition quite like WOC at GW, so it was important to emphasize the importance of intersectionality as a way of promoting diversity on campus. As we created the organization, we were often asked what the difference was between WOC and other multi-cultural groups. When most think of coalitions, women of color isn’t necessarily the first type that comes to mind. We wanted to change this narrative by emphasizing the need for a space where women of color can self-discover their heritage in a way that supports WOC but also allows them to do so at their own pace.
APAICS: What AAPI events do you look forward to every year?
CP: I love the summer solstice, or the mid-autumn festival, because of the food and the sense of togetherness it brings. Over a nice warm lotus and egg yolk filled mooncake, I like to reflect over the summer and ready myself for the year ahead.