TOP 30: Aaron Tso

Aaron Tso
Major: Political Science
Year: 3
Age: 20
Hometown: La Cañada
In One Word: Critical

Growing up in a family with a law background, Aaron Tso naturally became interested in fighting for justice. Coming to UCI made him realize that what he is most passionate about involves the API community, and their justice within the community when it comes to law.

Aaron will be working through the USDA this summer through UCDC. After living in DC, he hopes to go to law or graduate school to study critical race theory or political philosophy. Eventually he would like to serve as a judge and professor, to teach students about different issues that our society faces, in regards to the intersectionality of race and law.

A friend describes Aaron as “extremely enthusiastic about justice for the Asian Pacific Islander community and how law plays a role in shaping the API experience.”

KS: Tell us about yourself.

AT: I’m a seventh generation Chinese American, so my family actually moved here in the 1850s. Growing up, my family was very involved with Chinese American organizations and the community, particularly in Los Angeles, so I always had a lot of role models that were involved within the Chinese American community. When I came to UCI, I initially decided I wanted to be involved with Chinese American organizations, so I checked out Chinese Association and Taiwanese American Organization, but in the end I felt as though those communities didn’t have a very political aspect to them, so a few of my friends suggested that I join APSA. Through APSA, I was able to learn a lot about the different social issues that Asian Americans faced. I also worked at the Cross Cultural Center, as both a volunteer, and a student assistant. I was very involved on campus during my first two years. However, after those two years, I took more of an academic role, learning about different topics that interest me, particularly Asian American studies, critical race theory and other types of critical theory. Beyond that, family-wise, I have an older sister, and I come from a very traditional family. Interestingly, I don’t speak Chinese at all, and a lot of my family doesn’t speak Chinese as well. I always find it kind of funny how they’re involved with Chinese American organizations, yet they don’t speak Chinese.

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

AT: A lot of my work on campus has been with two organizations. I have worked with the Cross Cultural Center, through APSA, and I have also worked a lot with ASUCI, specifically with the Student Fee Advisory Committee. I previously served as the APSA Advocacy Chair, so during that time, I helped hold different workshops, as well as hold a caucus at the Students of Color Conference, to highlight different issues that Asian Americans faced with their identity, and political, cultural, social, and historical identities. It was mostly about helping individuals understand how we construct our identities, and how others construct our identities for us. In ASUCI, I initially got involved with the Executive Vice President’s Office, so I would do a lot of campaigning, getting students registered to vote, and knowing about their rights as students. I also got involved with Administrative Affairs, where I worked for the Chief of Staff, and we did a lot of research on tuition and fees. The main areas of focus that we really were trying to protect was transparency, accountability and sufficient funding for student services at UCI. Given the context of my time here at UCI, there were a lot of budget cuts, so my role in ASUCI was to determine how the state’s budget would be transferred down to UCI, how the administrators reacted to these changes and where these cuts would be made, and also how money was transferred throughout the UC’s. With this background, I was elected to the Student Fee Advisory Committee, where I’ve served as the chair for the past few years. As the Student Fee Advisory Committee Chair, we worked on the three issues – transparency, accountability, and sufficient funding. Not very many students know what the Student Fee Advisory Committee is, so that’s another thing I’ve been trying to work on – the visibility of the committee. It’s actually one of the only committees that’s mandated by regental policy. Each of the UC’s has a Student Fee Advisory Committee, and so it’s our job as Committee members and as Chairs, to ensure that our fees are being used  properly and for the best interest of students. In the past few years there’s been a lot of discourse about administrators incorrectly using our fees, going against policy, or using it for different expenditures that students don’t necessarily support. It’s our job as the Student Fee Advisory Committees to both represent the students’ voice in front of administrators, as well as pass down information to the students on why the decisions are made and what conditions the administrators are under.

There are two main issues that I really want to resolve before I graduate. The first one is with Asian American Studies. I really hope that somehow students can learn more about the Asian American Studies major and ties with professors can be increased. I brought this up with APSA leaders at the beginning of the year – that I wished to start a High School Outreach program, and I’m pretty sure they have adopted that. I also work really hard to bring about different issues and have students challenge their thought. With ASUCI and the Student Fee Advisory Committee, there have been several issues with a few units on campus that have seen cuts in their funding. This year I really dedicated my time to figuring out how we can ensure that these units won’t be cut in the future, and that their services will be protected, as well as making sure that student services fees are transparent, accountable, and have sufficient funding.

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

AT: Most of my involvement with the Asian Pacific Islander community has definitely been through APSA. I helped out with different workshops about how the increase in tuition and fees can affect Asian American enrollment, as well as Asian American diversity on campus. I also had different workshops concerning the conceived generation gap and also Asian Americans in the media. I also worked on a shark’s fin campaign, with different professors and law students at UCI Law about the repercussions, both environmentally and culturally, of California’s decision to ban shark’s fin. I really tried to serve the best interests of the API community in these positions, and to have them challenge their own thought and be more aware about the different issues we face. Now that I’m not involved with APSA, I’ve continued that work, by educating myself about Asian American Studies, critical race theory, and to learn more so that I can share what I’ve learned with others, and have them critique their own thoughts and mainstream media and pop culture, which typically shapes our minds.

KS: Who or what has been the most influential to you?

AT: I think there are several individuals that have really shaped my experience at UCI. They’ve come from all different places. I really look up to Floyd Lai, who is the former assistant director at the Cross Cultural Center. He really taught me to care for others, serve as a mentor towards others, share the knowledge that I have gained, and also to be critical of my own mentality. There have been other individuals that have been influential on campus, including other student leaders within the Cross and ASUCI, and also a lot of my TA’s and professors have really shaped who I have become. Overall, I have to thank my parents for giving me the opportunity to pursue an education as well as constantly challenging my own thoughts and behaviors, and helping me to become a more progressive and driven individual.

KS: What are you most passionate about?

AT: The issue that I’m most passionate about is institutionalized racism within our judicial system. Examples of this are unfair sentences or discrepancies between sentences based on race, as well as colorblind judicial rulings and opinions. I feel as though this has furthered prison industry conflicts, as well as affected the ways in which individuals relate to law, and how it shapes our lives as individuals.

My family comes from a law background, so they always spoke to me about how law isn’t as straightforward as most individuals expect it to be. It’s very subjective, and open to the perceptions of those who are viewing it. This has led to unequal and unfair treatment of historically marginalized communities. In my lifetime, I wish that I’d be able to help resolve these issues, whether it’s through practice or academia.

KS: If you could have any superpower, what would you choose, and why?

AT: I would really like the power to make Korean BBQ instantaneously, so I wouldn’t have to worry about cooking. I could just spew it out of my fingers onto a plate, and each finger was a different type of meat or side dish.

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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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