Intern spotlight: AAPIs on the Hill

Wednesday, September 5, 2018 - 7:19pm


Photo provided by Author (Photo by Carolyn Lau)

Summer has unfortunately come to a close, and at Michigan in Color, it’s a tad bittersweet. Though many of us are excited to come back to The Daily for more shenanigans, we’re also sad to leave the places at which we interned. We’re trading business professional attire for the casual and comfy clothes we usually wear at college. Here, a few MiC editors wanted to share their summer stories of hustling, learning and the importance of diversity in the workplace.

Rising Public Health senior Christian Paneda took to the famous (or infamous, depending on how one wants to look at it) Washington, D.C., to intern at the U.S. House of Representatives. His work was assisted by the Asian Pacific American Institute of Congressional Studies, a bi-partisan non-profit organization dedicated to build Asian-American and Pacific Islander representation in public service at local, state and national levels. The organization’s summer internship program allows AAPI students to explore the intricacies of the U.S. Congress. Paneda interned for the office of Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif, the first openly gay person of color to ever serve in Congress.

How did you hear about your internship?

I heard about APAICS from multiple sources. When I was talking to a former senior MiC editor, the incomparable Areeba Haider, on opportunities to intern in Washington, D.C., she knew a couple of people from the program and recommended to apply. At the same time, one of my close mentors, who is actually a D.C. superstar, was involved with APAICS through their fellowship program and advised me that the program was one of the best internship opportunities. Both of them weren’t wrong!

What made you want to apply?

I’ve always had a passion for policy. In the field of public health, we talk a lot about how the law and policy affects the health of a population, especially those who are marginalized due to a variety of social determinants. I wanted to intern in Washington, D.C., to get a hands-on perspective in the policy-making process and learn more about advocacy. Especially since we live in an abnormal time that threatens the livelihood of so many people of color, I wanted to take action. I applied to APAICS because I aligned with their mission of building the AAPI pipeline, because diverse representation is essential for equitable policy. In the Midwest communities of AAPIs, I’ve heard a lot of mistrust of the government (local, state and national), thus leading to a sense of apathy toward civic engagement. I wanted to combat that as I believe an individual’s voice can hold a lot of power when it’s in solidarity with others.

What are your favorite memories from your experience?

I absolutely loved every moment of my internship! I enjoyed learning about issue areas I am extremely passionate about – education, immigration and health policy. Outside of many of my intern tasks, I was given the opportunity to do some other cool things. I delivered a couple of speeches – one included me introducing the congressman at a congressional event! In Washington, D.C., APAICS really afforded me the opportunity to sit down with AAPI trailblazers who have fought for people like me to live unapologetically. I found their sacrifice and their stories to be inspirational.

What is the culture like where you interned?

The Hill can be an intense place. As it seems like horrifying news is hitting every week, one can imagine the daunting yet necessary work needed to protect many different marginalized communities. Working in policy takes dedication, perseverance and optimism. What I am also very thankful for is the AAPI community in D.C. I was surprised to find out how tight-knit the community is, and I am even more thankful that they were so kind to me as a bright-eyed intern.

Any advice for prospective interns interested in public service?

I’ve come to learn that success is not individualistic. It is crucial to find mentors in fields you’re interested in and that can vouch for your work. That said, I also do not recommend burning bridges as everything in public service is related to community.  Be genuine with your connections! I’ve heard a lot about transactional relationships in D.C., and from what I’ve observed, collaborative work gets accomplished and best sustained when a genuine connection is established.