Name: John Nguyen-Yap
Title: Outreach and Advocacy Manager
Previously: Community Services Manager, Asian Health Services
Guiding Quote/Tagline: “The opposite of war isn’t peace. It’s creation.” – Jonathan Larson
Currently Reading: I Am Alfonso Jones by Tony Medina, Stacey Robinson, and John Jennings
Favorite moment of California history:
In 2013, after a student, teacher, and community member-led effort, New Haven Middle School District in Union City, CA, named one of their schools after Larry Itliong and Philip Vera Cruz. It was faced with contention mostly because most Californians do not recognize the names Itliong and Vera Cruz, so they questioned the change. They did not know that they, along with many other Filipino Americans in the Central Valley, were leaders in the struggles for labor rights since the 1940s, and that they led the Delano grape strike in 1965 that brought in leaders including Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta to ensure that there was unity across communities. They did not know that these organizers’ efforts helped create the United Farm Workers and countless protections for farmworkers and other laborers. Now, when students and their parents pass the school and ask,“Who are Itliong and Vera Cruz?” they will find the answers and they will know.
What was it about California Humanities that first appealed to you?
Seeing a job description that included both “outreach” and “advocacy” called out to me. I thought, “Well, I could definitely do that.” History and social studies were always interesting to me, but once I learned how incomplete and often incorrect the stories were in textbooks and popular media, I much preferred learning histories through oral tradition, performance, and creative outlets. Looking at the California Humanities website and seeing the stories of the people of California being told by those communities really connected with me.
What have you been up to in your first month on staff?
It has been a very fast-paced and packed month, spreading the great work of California Humanities and the importance and impact of public humanities to our elected decision makers. March started off with Humanities on the Hill and a total of 48 meetings with our state representatives in Congress. After coming back, we shifted quickly to our first ever day of humanities advocacy in California. I will definitely share more about it in an extended blog post.
While researching and preparing for our advocacy efforts, I have been learning so much about the programs that we deliver and the grants that we have made, which help to share so many interesting stories in really profound ways. All of it is helping me define what humanities are, and link back to my memories of how the humanities have intersected with and helped me to understand the world and define myself.
What are you most looking forward to in the coming year?
Building relationships and bridging more of our work to the community in various sectors. To me, the humanities are about reflection and helping to define ourselves as interconnected beings in hopes of strengthening those connections with each other. Ultimately, outreach and advocacy are rooted in those human connections. More specifically, I am excited to work on our Oakland office’s Art of Storytelling exhibits, bridging our program and grant opportunities to parts of the state that have more untold stories to share, and learning more from our great team.
At California Humanities, we strongly believe that the humanities are a relevant and meaningful way to connect us to each other. How do you see this coming across in our everyday lives?
Being in Oakland as someone who works here, has recently moved here (from other parts of the Bay Area), and is now working with his partner to raise a child here, my experiences with the humanities (including history, film, music, podcasts, museums, books, art, etc.) help me to understand what I represent in a city whose culture is rapidly changing. Hopefully it helps me behave in a conscious, humble, and appreciative way to those that have called Oakland home for decades. I hope that gaining context through different forms of the humanities influences all of us to be thoughtful in our actions and impact we have on the people around us and the places we are, both interpersonally and through systems-level decisions.
Tell us one thing that you would like people to know about you?
One of the songs that my 2½ year old son asks for every night during bedtime routine is “Seasons of Love” from RENT. I am pretty sure that is one of the top 3 achievements of my life. At some point, I hope he’ll be asking for some Souls of Mischief at some point, but “Seasons of Love” is probably much more appropriate for bedtime.