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.


Cynthia Lai is currently a junior majoring in Interdisciplinary Social Sciences at the University of South Florida.

What does it mean to be APIA/your ethnicity?

To me, being Chinese means learning and connecting to my culture through my family’s history and food. Being APIA means that I am a part of a group that has historically always fought for a space to belong in America. In order to honor these histories and identities, I have to make the most of the privileges I have now by following my passions and helping to create more inclusive spaces within our community.

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

I don’t think there was one specific moment, but over the last few years I’ve come to realize that my experiences as Asian/Chinese are connected to other aspects of my identity and how they influence each other. It wasn’t until recently that I began to accept that my Asian American culture is okay for being different from the culture of my family that immigrated.

I am a part of a group that has historically always fought for a space to belong in America.

What’s your comfort food?

One of the foods that never fail to bring back happy childhood memories are my grandmother’s sweet Cantonese tea cakes (茶果). Since I was a kid, my grandmother would make them very rarely, but I would always be ready to eat as many as I possibly could before they were gone. Last year, she made them for the first time in years and all I felt while eating them was a pure, childlike happiness.

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

There’s always been a Chinese almanac in my bedroom, even after I moved out for college. According to my mom, it’s filled with many words and spirits of good luck and fortune to keep me safe. I can’t deny that having it really does put me more at ease no matter what.

Lai’s Chinese almanac that was given to her during college.

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

When I first found out about Sparks, I wanted to join because it seemed like a good way to share my experiences, and learn and explore different APIA experiences I didn’t know much about. Since joining, I’ve found a family here that I wouldn’t give up for the world.