TOP 30: Lilly Liem

Many thanks to Narith Ta for taking Lilly Liem’s photo spreads

Lilly Liem
Major: Psychology and Social Behavior
Year: 3
Age: 21
Hometown: La Puente
In One Word: Liem-sane

Lilly Liem keeps in touch with her unique culture, by being incredibly involved with both Cambodian Awareness Organization and Chinese Association. She is dedicated to learning about and spreading cultural awareness to students by planning not one, but two cultural nights that went on in the span of two weeks.

As a psychology and social behavior major, studying psychology gives Lilly a chance to better understand the people around her and why they do what they do. She plans to get her masters in psychology, and hopes to pursue the more business oriented side of the field by going into advertising or other media-related careers.

Now that her cultural nights are over, Lilly is focusing on school and making up lost time with friends and family. She’s also planning to build a more diverse arts portfolio and get better at her side hobbies like guitar and music.

Eric Vo, co-coordinator for Chinese Association’s Culture Night, says that Lilly is a “great person to work with. She’s very friendly and open to new ideas.”

KS: Tell us about yourself.

LL: I was one of few Asians in my area…I had never been exposed to a lot of Asian American peers who were my age. Just coming to UCI was a culture shock, because I was so surprised that there were so many Asian Americans here.  So I felt like coming here was my opportunity to bond with people who had the same experience culturally as me. It was difficult matching up values with other people because they didn’t understand how it is having strict parents, not as much freedom, or always having to live up to expectations. I’m actually the first generation in my family to be born here in America. I have a pretty diverse family background – I’m Chinese by blood, but my parents and family were born in Cambodia, so I actually understand more Cambodian than Chinese. But I did go to Chinese school for 9 years.

My parents are pretty strict. Being away at college in Irvine has definitely loosened them up a bit. I was a lot busier this year so I couldn’t see them as much, so they had to learn to trust me a little bit more. During the early years of my life, they really were strict, though.

KS: What have you accomplished here on campus, and what do you hope to accomplish?

LL: Most recently I produced two culture nights. The first one was for Cambodian Awareness Organization, about two weeks ago. It was pretty difficult because I was the only coordinator for that. I did have my board members, but just organizing it throughout the year and having to communicate with everybody was tough because our organization pretty much doubled. We were very small last year, but we had a lot more members this year. We never had to encounter coordinating that many people. I guess I was the first to fully organize it in ways where we had different committees people assigned to different things. I had to text everybody and remind them about everything. It was just a very long process with funding and trying to book a venue. I also innovated a new idea this year – to sell charity wristbands. We never had that idea before, but they really blew up and a lot of the Cambodian organizations in California were really interested in it and wanted to order them from us. We’re still in the process of counting the amount of money that was donated toward our humanitarian cause, which is to go to Cambodia and deliver medical and school supplies. We basically buy all those needs and deliver them personally to Cambodia. Hopefully it’s more than last year.

My second culture night was for Chinese Association. My co-chair, Eric Vo, and I spent about ten months since last summer planning it. We spent the time getting the preliminary stuff and booking information for the Bren Events Center, recruiting dancers, performers, and actors for skit. We had a full skit prepared by December, but we still had to practice with the skit directors. My first experience on stage was last year during culture night. I actually participated in it as an actor, but this year I got to coordinate, which was a good experience. It kind of inspired me to get involved with the production. So many people asked me if I was sure I wanted to do it, but it was worth it in the end although I was really struggling in the few months and weeks before the culture nights. It was really stressful, and I was losing a lot of sleep. It was just really hard, but my friends and my family really supported me and told me to keep going. And now it’s done and here I am.

KS: How have you been involved with the Asian Pacific Islander community?

LL: Last year I used to attend APSA meetings, and  it was good networking with the other organizations. I was able to do that a little bit this year, until I got busy with my cultural chair positions. I’ve done a few projects in community service work with the Cambodian family, which is in Santa Ana, and they’re a big supporter of CAO. For OCA, Organization of Chinese Americans, I did a community service project, a toy drive, in December. So in terms of what I’ve done for the API community, I think I’ve contributed most with community service.

KS: Who or what do you feel is the biggest influence on you?

LL: My parents. I believe that I’m a hard worker and I am who I am today because of them. They basically built up their lives from nothing and emigrated from Cambodia, arriving in Oregon with basically the clothes on their backs and the money in their pockets. So I feel like I owe it to them to work hard and keep in touch with my culture in whatever way I can. I’m really passionate about showcasing how beautiful each part of the Asian culture is, no matter what it is. I’m just really proud of how far they have come, and with what they’ve seen me do in the past couple years, they can see that I’ve worked hard too, and that I got that trait from them.’

KS: What are you most passionate about?

LL: I would say my culture and having bonds with my friends and family. That’s the most important thing to me. Even though I was extremely busy this year, that was my biggest priority  – that I kept my friends and family intact and that I never lost base of who really mattered to me. It was easy to get caught up and lost with business and having to plan so many things this year, but at the end of the day they were there for me.

KS: What is something interesting about yourself?

LL: I have never been on an airplane. That’s definitely a goal of mine – to travel a lot.

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    Asian Pacific-Islander Heritage Month (APIHM) is hosted by the Asian Pacific Student Association at UCI and features various programs, workshops, and events that celebrate the APIA culture and address pertinent issues in the APIA community.

    Please refer to the tabs above for more details regarding each event.

  • Contact Us

    Any inquiries regarding Asian Pacific-Islander Heritage Month can be directed to Programming Coordinators, Siamrath (Sam) Boonsakul and Alison Tominaga, at

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