2019 Labor Studies Graduate Q&A with Siyue (Lena) Wang— “It took me nine years but I’m finally graduating!”

Edith Elenes & Karla Martinez | June 20, 2019

Labor studies graduate Siyue (Lena) Wang majored in linguistics and psychology with a minor in labor studies. She was one of three students who spoke at the labor studies graduation ceremony this past Saturday. We recently sat down with Lena to learn more about her personal story and future plans.

Please tell us a little about yourself. 

I’m a first-generation, low-income student who came here from China about nine years ago. This is my ninth year pursuing higher education, but I’m finally graduating. I’m a lot older than other students because I was forced to drop out of school because of some financial difficulties and lack of support when I first immigrated. As a result, I started working in the San Gabriel Valley and then returned to school at Pasadena City College. After that, I applied to transfer to UCLA and was accepted.

Siyue (Lena) Wang/ UCLA Student Class of 2019

Were you involved in any activities on campus or in the community? 

Even though I’ve taken four classes each quarter and have two jobs, I have tried to stay involved in my community. I really want to give back and be there to represent because not many people have actually returned to school successfully, at least from the Asian immigrant worker community. I’ve been involved with UCLA IDEAS where I’ve been a project director since last year. During my time as the AB540 Project Director, I organized the eleventh and twelfth annual Immigrant Youth Empowerment Conference (IYEC). I also organized the Educators Conference in February.

What was your favorite course in the labor studies program?

My favorite course was Introduction to Labor Studies with professor Gaspar Rivera-Salgado. We had so much reading and archival research and interviews, essay questions, and different kinds of assignments. He puts so much effort into the class, so it’s not an easy class, but you learn a lot. It gave me the theoretical framework to explain my own experience as an immigrant, and it is why I decided to join the labor studies program. And it was very transformative.

What challenges have you faced while pursuing higher education? How have these challenges helped you in discovering your passion? 

As an Asian immigrant student, I’m seen as the “model minority” student, which doesn’t really help. There are also different layers of identities and intersections of our experience. In my case, I don’t have my family here and I didn’t know anyone, which was a huge challenge. It was very difficult for me to navigate and on top of that, I had my language barrier. I didn’t know where to find resources, I didn’t even know what a counselor was when I first started school. I want to change this because at the end of the day, we are all working towards more opportunities for our communities. So, I want to see an organization where we all work more collaboratively and involve immigrants from different races and ethnicities to work together for more immigrant rights.

What is your dream job after graduation? 

My experience with the Labor Center, IDEAS at UCLA, and the UCLA Academic Advancement Project really encouraged me to see the power of education. My dream job will be where I’m my own boss because as an immigrant worker, I still have so much trauma from employers making me feel marginalized and isolated. So I hope to lead a nonprofit organization where I can support new Latino and Asian immigrant families with an easier transition to American society. I want to bring everyone together for career trainings and English courses and to offer different resources, like health care, transportation, and legal services.

What advice would you give your younger self? 

Be brave, because I was a very shy person because of both my cultural background and my family experience. My parents were very strict with me, so I always isolated myself from other people. I always felt shy and was not outspoken, but I wouldn’t have become who I am today if I didn’t go through all of my experiences as an immigrant. But I really wish I could have been more outspoken and spoken my mind and just chased after what I wanted earlier.

Lena hopes to pursue a Ph.D. program at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies and is working to help immigrant communities experience an easier transition in the United States.