Mariah Soriano Finds and Grows Community Through AAPIA Club Involvement
Mariah Soriano always knew growing up she wanted to leave her home of Juneau, Alaska, and move to a bigger city.
The University of Idaho senior did just that through a National Student Exchange (NSE) while enrolled at the University of Alaska Southeast. She attended Stony Brook University in New York.
“I felt pretty homesick being so far away from my family,” said Soriano, a student studying architecture in the College of Art and Architecture. “Living in a big city was a tremendous learning experience, but it just wasn’t right for me at that time.”
The following year, 2017, she decided to give NSE – and “the city” – another chance.
“An opportunity became available to attend the University of Idaho, and I decided to try it,” she said. “I knew I wanted to pursue a career in architecture, and I knew Moscow was a smaller college town that would feel similar to Juneau. It was much closer to home. U of I seemed like a perfect fit for me.”
After one year of exchange, Soriano officially transferred to U of I and enrolled in architecture school. She’s loved her Vandal experience ever since.
While she enjoys further developing her skills as an architect, one activity she’s particularly proud of is her involvement in the university’s Asian American Pacific Islander Association (AAPIA).
“When I was 3 months old, my mom and I moved to Juneau from the Philippines,” said Soriano. “My grandparents immigrated from there to Juneau, followed by my dad in 1989 and then me and my mom in 1996.”
Growing up in Juneau, Soriano said she was surrounded by a “big and proud” Filipino community, so she never felt like she didn’t belong.
“Coming to U of I was an entirely different experience with the demographic here being mostly white,” she said. “I think, early on, not having that community of people who identified as Asian American was something that was missing from making U of I a place I could call home.”
In 2018, she received an invitation to join U of I’s AAPIA, which was re-emerging after years of inactivity.
Growing and supporting this community as part of my Vandal experience has been amazing, and it’s really made me feel at home in Moscow and at the University of Idaho. Mariah Soriano
“I remember walking into the room during that first meeting and seeing people who weren’t necessarily Asian American Pacific Islander but were people who took the initiative to bring this club back so these individuals could feel a sense of belonging and community on campus,” she said. “It was really great to see all these people helping support our community, even if they didn’t necessarily identify with it personally.”
The first two years of re-establishing the club was difficult, said Soriano, who has since served as vice president and now co-chair of public relations for the group.
“Our club continues to gain traction and more visibility on campus, which is great,” she said. “Our numbers grow every day.”
Her involvement in the group has been fulfilling and a side she didn’t expect to explore as part of her Vandal experience.
“Taking initiative like this on campus was honestly not something I really saw myself doing at first, but AAPIA has allowed me to collaborate with students and staff to make real change that affects the whole community,” said Soriano. “I joined AAPIA because I wanted to be a part of a community of people like me who celebrate and embrace their AAPI heritage and pride. What we’ve been able to accomplish in terms of community-building these last few years is incredible.”
She said she’s been proud of the growth the club has witnessed, particularly now as AAPI hate and violence has witnessed an increase during the pandemic.
“Now, we are a club that, locally, can create change by bringing awareness to the issues that our communities are going through on a national level,” said Soriano. “Growing and supporting this community as part of my Vandal experience has been amazing, and it’s really made me feel at home in Moscow and at the University of Idaho.”
Article by Kassandra Tuten, University Communications and Marketing
Photos: Provided photos
Published May 2021