Annie Cao
Story Student

‘Diving Into My Identity’

Annie Cao

Annie Cao, a senior at CSU Long Beach, shares her journey in discovering and embracing herself as a first-generation Asian American college student.

Annie Cao

Annie Cao, a first-generation college student, is an ambassador for Asian American students at CSU Long Beach. "I chose to attend CSU Long Beach because of its location, affordability and student diversity," says Cao. Photo courtesy of Annie Cao


FOURTEEN csu campuses are designated asian american and native american pacific island-serving institutions​. ​

"I turned the page in my history book and saw a photo of a group of people in a small boat. They had almost died fleeing from the Vietnam War to America but were saved by commercial ships. I felt an instant connection as I was reminded that my father was one of the many people who escaped from the war.

It's a memory that has stayed with me ever since I learned about my parents' experiences. My mother and father risked their lives and immigrated to the U.S. during the Vietnam War to create better lives for themselves. Because of that, they are a driving force for me to work harder.

Growing up, school was always a top priority. Even though we were a low-income family, my parents encouraged me to pursue higher education, so I always thought I would go to college.

However, as a first-generation college student, I was clueless about what I was supposed to do. In high school, counselors came into my Advanced Placement classes to remind us about deadlines for college applications and financial aid, but I didn't know how to apply. Luckily, I had friends who helped me through the application process. Surrounding myself with peers who were equally as determined as I was to go to college was important to my success.

I chose to attend CSU Long Beach because of its location, affordability and student diversity. Being a part of the CSU system has helped me dive into my identity as a first-generation Asian American college student.

I have always enjoyed being involved on campus. At one point in high school, I was active in eight clubs. This translated into my college experience when I spent my first year at CSU Long Beach with the Korean American Student Association and the Pilipino American Coalition. I went on to perform in Pilipino Cultural Night for two years and have been serving on the board for the last two years.

Additionally, I have been an Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) student ambassador for the last two-and-a-half years. I have volunteered at college fairs, led campus tours, spoken on student panels, and attended leadership retreats with other CSU students serving as ambassadors at their respective campuses.

I was also invited to the Asian Pacific Americans in Higher Education conference last year. Along with CSU Long Beach's Dr. Simon Kim and other AAPI ambassadors from the CSU, I spoke on a student panel about my experiences as an Asian American student. Speaking at a national conference was life-changing, and attending other sessions helped me think about social constructs and what it really means to be Asian American.

Attending a CSU has given me the opportunity to learn about other Asian cultures and to embrace my own background as a Vietnamese-American. There is still a strong need for Asian American representatives in many career fields, so I hope my peers and I will be able to fill those spaces and become role models for future students."

Student Success; Diversity; Underrepresented Communities