“One of the biggest aspects of mahjong is just like that family bonding and kind of like that connection building during mahjong,” said HKSA co-president Connie Tran. Sergio Cervantes/PSU Vanguard.

Hong Kong Student Association

Trying to build community with little support from administration

The Hong Kong Student Association (HKSA) at Portland State is a cultural club open to all students interested in Hong Kong culture. The club seeks to organize events that educate the PSU student body about Hong Kong and foster connections between students with this shared interest.


“HKSA is open to anyone, even if you’re not from Hong Kong or [don’t] have any Cantonese background,” said Connie Tran, Co-President of HKSA. “My parents were from Vietnam. But their grandparents were from Guangdong, China, which has a lot of connection with Hong Kong culture. And I kind of associate myself with the Chinese-Vietnamese-American identity.”


“I generally just wanted to find a sense of belonging and community at PSU,” said Angela Le, the Public Relations Coordinator for HKSA. “As a Vietnamese American, I was just interested in Hong Kong culture.”


This year, HKSA has organized events such as a boba social, seasonal lantern-making and a Chinese calligraphy and painting night, as well as a learning Cantonese and Vietnamese event in collaboration with the Vietnamese Student Association. HKSA’s Annual Culture Show took place on March 2. It featured many local performing artists, such as the Mulan Drum Team from the Oregon Chinese Coalition and Taiwanese-American R&B artist Sunkis. Among these performers, White Lotus—the biggest team for lion and dragon dancing in Oregon—performed the Lion Dance at the celebration.


“We were a bit overwhelmed, because that was the first time we ever sold out,” Tran said about the Culture Show. Other Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) cultural clubs and local AAPI businesses were also involved in the HKSA Culture Show. HKSA seeks to foster broader community connections for multicultural students at PSU. 


“The student [cultural] clubs work closely together,” Tran said. For example, HKSA hosted a Lunar New Year Celebration this February at PSU alongside the Cambodian Student Association, Korean Student Association, and the Organization of International Students. “Overall, there is this really nice and beautiful connection that we all have with each other,” Tran said.


In April, HKSA organized a mah-jongg night, which served as an opportunity to snack and socialize over this popular tile-based game. “I think one of the biggest aspects of mah-jongg is that family bonding and that connection-building during mah-jongg,” Tran said. 


Despite the range of highly-attended programming put on by HKSA, the organization’s leadership expressed some shortcomings in the PSU administration’s support. One example is a struggle to secure adequate funding for events.


“Sometimes, for our finances, it’s a little bit difficult if we’re trying to hold big events,” said Anthony Phan, Co-President of HKSA. “We spent a lot of money on our culture show this year, because we wanted it to be big and kind of give back to the community, and [so] they can have an opportunity to watch performances from community organizations.”


Tran added that student groups are allocated an annual budget of just under $1,000 when they first start up. “For a student club to work with that budget can be very difficult, because food—at least for our events—costs already like $800 for just the one event,” Tran said.


Many student groups also face the challenge of procuring culturally-specific food for events. Tran explained how clubs are required to get a food waiver from PSU to host an event in Smith Memorial Student Union, but the waiver can often be declined. 


“If they decline the food waiver, you have to get food from PSU Eats,” Tran said. “And the food isn’t, you know, it’s not up to cultural aspects, and oftentimes they don’t make that specific cultural food. So because of this it can be very difficult for the student organizations to get the food that is culturally significant to them.”


HKSA had this issue during their boba social, in which PSU determined that PSU Eats would provide boba for the event. However, this option was “a misrepresentation of how bubble tea would taste in Hong Kong,” Phan said.


“A lot of times—food-wise and kind of just their competency and understanding—[is] why they shouldn’t be trying to make food for cultural clubs…” Phan said. “[It’s] to bring back that money to PSU, rather than supporting local businesses—that’s what we try and always do [is support local businesses].”


For AAPI students, this lack of representation can be felt beyond a limited availability of culturally-specific foods. It manifests in the lack of multicultural, AAPI and Black, Indigenous and people of color staff at PSU. “About first generation AAPI students, and ways that PSU can support them a little bit better, I would say hiring more staff that represents them,” Phan said. 


“I think it’ll be better at retaining students, but also kind of be relatable, since sometimes it’s really hard to kind of support us in our needs or our experiences or accommodate our experiences,” Phan said.


The Multicultural Retention Services at PSU offers a program specifically to support AAPI students. Called the EMPOWER Scholars Program, first-generation AAPI students new to PSU are eligible for tuition remission, peer mentorship, early course registration and academic advising, according to the Multicultural Retention Services website.


“I think it would be super beneficial for first-year, first-generation students who are AAPI [and] who are just looking for a sense of belonging and community and some guidance around their first year at PSU,” Le said. “So I would say that certain programs like that would be great if they were more advertised, specifically for AAPI students.”


Phan was also a mentee and eventually a mentor in the EMPOWER program. He noted that, currently, there is a shortage of peer mentors relative to the number of mentees. He emphasizes that the program would benefit from greater administrative support to bolster its advertising and greater outreach to ensure its sustainability.

HKSA functions as a student-led campus resource for AAPI students, providing community building and cultural education. On June 4, HKSA will host a dim sum event. More information about HKSA can be found on its Instagram page.