Mural celebrates USC’s Asian American and Pacific Islander students


Freshman Neel Iyer didn’t have a strong Asian American and Pacific Islander community to lean on while attending high school in a Georgia suburb.

“There weren’t too many of us in high school, so we didn’t have a consolidated community,” Iyer recalls. “It was a phenomenal change for USC.”

Iyer, who majors in biochemistry and international relations, immediately found support from the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities on campus, including the PEER mentorship program at Asian Pacific American Student Services, known as APASS.

“I feel like I can actively practice my culture and my religion now without fear of being judged,” he said of APASS, one of several cultural centers run by USC. Student Equity and Inclusion Programs. “I learned to accept myself more. We are all motivated to support our community.

Iyer is just one of countless USC students who have found support and community through the cultural center over the past 40 years. To celebrate these students and commemorate this milestone anniversary, USC’s Asian American and Pacific Islander community commissioned a space mural at the Gwynn Wilson Student Union Building..

Meet Asian American and Pacific Islander students where they are

Los Angeles native Dave Young Kim, a prolific Korean American artist whose work “draws on cultural history, family histories and personal experiences to portray images of identity”, has always been fascinated by ideas of home and belonging. Kim was the ultimate choice to create the piece for APASS, which is a “home away from home” and a dedicated support network for many.

The creative process began in early fall 2021, and input from USC students was paramount at every step. Kim met with various Asian American and Pacific Islander students, staff, and an APASS mural committee, seeking to gather the history, experiences, and perspectives that would guide the direction of the piece.

“It was hard for me to find a way to build something that would make sense to a student today as they stared at the wall,” Kim said. “I wanted something hopeful but real, and to really meet the students where they really are.”

Common themes shared by many Asian American and Pacific Islander students

The personal stories and experiences shared by many USC students who identify as Asian American and Pacific Islander served as inspiration during the eight-month process.

“There were many common themes: identity challenges, the desire to embrace one’s culture of origin, being different, the harms of the ‘model minority’ myth, finding belonging, internal and external racism,” explained Kim. “All of the things that are very specific to Asian Americans but also universal, and all of the things that I could personally relate to as a child of immigrants who found their way with that cityscape in the background.”

“Passage”: A Tribute to the History and Legacy of Asian Americans and the Pacific Islands

The resulting mural, titled “Passage”, depicts flowers native to various parts of Asia. A floating red and white circle pattern in the far corners represents the sun and moon and the passage of time, Kim said.

Location-related background images include the Sierra Nevada mountains. The waves also represent the LA River and the Pacific Ocean, but also reference immigration and travel, with “the gradation of colors in the waves indicating history and passing it on to the next generation,” Kim explained. .

Iyer, who shared her own story with Kim this spring, said the new mural will brighten up the space at APASS, which is already a favorite hangout for many Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students.

“It was honestly empowering because I got to tell my story for the first time since coming to college and highlight what’s important to my identity and my heritage,” Iyer said. “I think this mural brings together all of our AAPI sub-communities on campus.”

The latest piece installed spans 34 feet across the entrance to APASS – a large-scale celebration of identity and welcome to all students who visit the cultural center.

The mural can be viewed at a 2-4 p.m. reception on Monday, May 2 at the Asian Pacific American Student Services Cultural Center in Room 410 of the Gwynn Wilson Student Union Building, or anytime through the after.

More stories on: Diversity Equity and Inclusion, Race and Ethnicity, Students


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