Rudolfo Hulen Fernandez, a Filipino who entered with the first Rice University matriculating class in 1912, was the school’s first Asian American. 100 years later, the Rice University Community of Asian Alumni will commemorate the history and evolution of the Asian community over the past century with a celebration at the Rice Media Center on Friday.
"We have defied the odds traditionally stacked against communities with high racial and religious diversity, and I feel very fortunate to be part of it.”
Today, according to Rice’s Office of Institutional Research, Asians make up approximately a quarter of Rice’s student body.
The commemoration will start with presentations by Rice alumni Anne Chao (Ph.D History ’09), who will display clips from her in-progress movie “A Treasured Heritage: Stories from the Houston Asian American Archive,” and Ed Chen (Baker ’59), who will discuss the history of Asians at Rice. After the presentations, there will be a screening of “Off the Menu: Asian Americans,” a documentary about Asian cuisine in Houston, co-presented with the Houston Asian American and Pacific Islander Film Festival.
Following the presentations and film, there will be a reception with a sampling of Asian foods provided by local vendors, along with a display of work by current Rice students that include research posters, study abroad videos, and works of art.
The student works exhibit was Wiess College senior Thu Nguyen’s idea, who is co-hosting the event. Nguyen is a student board member of Asian Pacific American Advocates-Greater Houston, an Asian-American nonprofit, and was asked by a board member of RUCAA to be a part of the event.
“Rice’s Office of Alumni Relations and the RUCAA both expressed doubt at student interest in hosting an event on campus in celebration of 100 Years of Asians at Rice,” Nguyen said. “I had suggested an exhibit of student work in order to pull student interest as well as show the alumni what cool things we kids are up to these days.”
Nguyen said she hopes the event will build better networking systems for Asian alumni and students, particularly for Asian students on international visas for study in the United States.
Chao is now the manager of the Houston Asian American Archive and will present an update on the progress the archive has made over the past few years.
“The archive’s main purpose is to document, preserve and honor the deeds and artifacts of the Asian-American immigrants to Houston,” Chao said. “By creating a rich archive of the oral histories of the multi-ethnic Asian-American community, we are recovering lost history and providing primary materials for an inclusive history of the South and of the U.S.”
According to RUCAA President Francine Di (Wiess ‘03), one of the delegates attending Rice’s opening celebration was from Japan.
“[First Rice President Edgar Odell] Lovett established an early relationship with Japan, which I think is unusual for [leaders of] American institutions at the time,” Di said. “It was an early seed of growing Rice’s relations with Asian institutions.”
Wiess junior Dana Smith, who plans to attend the celebration, said she was looking forward to attending the event.
“As an Asian-American, I’m excited to see a celebration of representation and diversity, which is one of my favorite things about Rice,” Smith said.
McMurtry College junior Mishi Jain also said she plans to attend.
“I’m attending because this event represents an opportunity for two committees I’m a part of to come together, my Asian-American community and the Rice community,” Jain said. “It’s great to see such an event is happening, and I look forward to meeting alums!”
Di said her personal experiences as an Asian-American make the celebration significant.
“As a Rice alum raised in Houston, I have always been extremely proud of how both my university and my hometown have nurtured an incredible environment of diversity,” Di said. “Marking 100 Years of Asian students at Rice is a fitting punctuation to that sentiment. In many ways, we have defied the odds traditionally stacked against communities with high racial and religious diversity, and I feel very fortunate to be part of it.”
The original version of this article published online was a draft from the writing process due to an editor error. This article has been corrected to reflect the final text, as published in the print edition.