To celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Sparks Magazine is featuring Asian Pacific Islander American (APIA) student leaders across different campuses. Look out for more features from your campus throughout May.


Zubiya Syed is a senior majoring in psychology and biomedical sciences at the University of South Florida.

What does it mean to be APIA/your ethnicity?

To be Indian means to come from a diverse culture. India’s culture is also based around religions as many national holidays and traditions stem from different religions. However, I have found that we are able to live together peacefully and enjoy one another’s religions. For example, I am Muslim, myself, but love going to Garba and playing Holi, which are Hindu traditions. Growing up I always participated in these events and as I grew older I gained more respect for other people’s culture but also appreciated my own for being so distinct and unique.

Growing up, I was always surrounded by Indian culture, and I learned to balance it while living in America.

Was there a specific moment when you claimed your APIA identity?

I was actually born in India, but I came to the U.S. at a very young age. However, since I was raised in an immigrant household, I’ve always claimed to have an Indian identity.

What are some of the challenges in being a student leader on campus?

Being a student leader on campus comes with many difficulties. Triumph Over Trafficking is a student organization, which I co-founded and served as the president. We work to spread awareness about human trafficking to the USF and Tampa Bay community. To lead a large leadership division while ensuring that we are being efficient and making an impact can be difficult at times. But luckily, I have an amazing e-board team that helps make everything run smoothly. Initially, starting the student organization was difficult as there were only two students running the entire organization and holding events, but as the years have progressed we have come far. Now we hold 18 new student leaders in our organization. This is really important as it helps us ensure that we are working to create a difference. The more hands on deck we have, the greater the impact we can make.

What’s your comfort food?

My comfort food would be honey barbecue wings.

Is there a taste, smell or something you see that immediately reminds you of home or gives you a sense of comfort?

The smell of incense or sometimes, when I smell my mom’s cooking, I’m reminded of back home. The first time I wore a sari was very recently, and that really reminded me of India. Not only because my favorite aunt in India had given it to me as a gift, but also because it is a very traditional piece of clothing to wear.

What/who inspired you to be involved in the APIA community?

Growing up, I was always surrounded by Indian culture, and I learned to balance it while living in America. I always watched my older brother balance his ideals.