(Editor's note: Amy Wang is currently a senior at Canyon Crest Academy and President of Asian Student Union. ASU organized the film screening and a discussion forum in March of 2023. The event was sponsored by ACA. ACA actively participates in programs that raise mental health awareness in youth.)
Try Harder! - Film Screening
Canyon Crest Academy’s Asian Student Union (CCA ASU) club organized a screening of the documentary Try Harder! by Debbie Lum on March 3rd, 2023. We chose to screen this movie because it had been praised for its depiction of race, specifically focusing on AAPI students.
The event took place at the CCA College and Career Center and we welcomed 83 people. The venue reached maximum capacity and so 11 people were directed to a different room on the campus. This turnout rate delighted the club members.
The beginning of the movie was an introduction to the high school the movie was centered around. Lowell is a top public high school located in San Francisco and known to be highly competitive and a “pressure cooker.” The introduction familiarized the audience with the school’s intense academic environment, large emphasis on being talented, and how Asian-Americans made up a large student population of the school.
But it was not until the introduction to the students that the audience seemed to connect with the movie. These seniors, from different backgrounds and facing different struggles, shared about their personal experiences. One running theme was how race played a large role in their experience in high school and college applications. Most specifically, the Asian students mentioned how it felt being second-generation immigrants where the sacrifices of their parents loomed over their every accomplishment. They felt pressured to succeed or else their parents’ hard work would be wasted.
One scene, set at a party, seemed to receive the most laughter, striking a balance between humor and the serious discussion of parental pressure versus personal aspirations. The students’ own desire felt more personal as the audience connected with them through their sense of humor.
The remainder of the movie follows a group of seniors as they navigate the college application journey, reflecting on their past, and receiving admission or rejection from their dream colleges. From emotional moments such as teachers leaving to evictions from their homes, Try Harder! humanizes the stressful journey and paints a detailed picture of those challenges. As there have been massive changes in the college admission system that are unknown to those outside the process that even the teachers touch upon.
After the movie, the ASU members asked questions about the documentary such as which scenes were most emotionally meaningful to the audience. Overall, the movie had a great reception by the audience by both being noted as relatable by the students and, by the parents, as both interesting and insightful windows into their children’s experiences.
ASU is extremely grateful for everyone involved with the screening of Try Harder! because it gave an opportunity to reach out to others and show the struggles that Asian-Americans, alongside other students, face. We hope to foster empathy towards a more understanding future with thought-provoking documentaries like Debbie Lum’s Try Harder!
Try Harder! - Discussion Forum
Canyon Crest Academy’s Asian Student Union’s (CCA ASU) held their second event on March 5th, a panel which focused on intergenerational communication between Asian-American students and parents and titled “What I Wish My Parents Knew.” The panel took place at a venue at the Indigo Sage Clubhouse and consisted of three main sections: student panel, guest speaker panel, and a Q&A session.
The student panel consisted of seven CCA students who all volunteered to speak of their personal experiences. While many topics did touch upon being a student at CCA, it also went further to encompass broader issues that affected Asian-Americans overall. Questions explored how stress impacted the speakers and their friends, parental pressure dynamics, and ways to foster more communication between parents and students. Despite being made of all Asian-American CCA students, there were diverse responses and experiences. Underlining the complexities of communities such as the Asian-American one.
Next up was the guest speaker panel, which included two family therapists, a neuroscience biostatistician, youth pastor, a movie director and life coach, and other parents. After introducing themselves and their background, they answered various questions. The panel was more interactive with more emphasis on parent-speaker interactions and inquiries being more prevalent. ASU had hoped that they would speak about their own experiences as children from Asian households and then their journeys being parents as well.
Following the panels, there was the general Q&A session which allowed parents to ask both students and the guest speakers questions. Questions such as “how can I help my child to realize their passion?” and “how do I push my child without hurting them?” were part of the themes ASU wanted to touch upon: unconditional love, toxic stress, culture and psychology, and judgment-free environments.
As the Q&A panel concluded, ASU distributed cards and letter paper for parents to write letters to their child. The aim was to promote communication between parents and their children because of the aim of healthy communication and mental health. Further aligning with the larger theme of the panel of intergenerational communication.
ASU would once again like to thank all the people that helped make the panels and events possible. We are very grateful for the sponsorships, participation of the guest speakers, the work of Ying Yang who led the event and did translation services, and all the people who showed up to both events. We at ASU strive to provide open discussion about Asian-American experiences and help move forward with bridging the gap between students and parents.