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Westminster Alum elevates importance of name identity via photography project

Westminster College alum Janessa Ilada speaks about a name identity photography project during a speaker event hosted by the Asian American and Pacific Islander Life Program in Bassis Student Center Nov. 9. “It made me sad to hear a lot of stories where people said growing up they never felt like they could be proud of their name, but this project really helped them realize, ‘I’m gonna start taking back my name,’” Ilada said. Photo courtesy of Madi Goddard. Image description: A woman with long brown hair with a white shirt, black jacket and pants, smiles at the audience.

“Call Me by My Name,” a collage of portraits photographed by Westminster alum Janessa Ilada, raises awareness about the importance of names to Asian American and Pacific Islander’s identity, according to Ilada. 

Ilada unveiled the portraits and spoke about her advocacy work during a speaker event Nov. 9 in Bassis Student Center, hosted by the Student Diversity and Inclusion Center’s AAPI program.

Despite graduating with a degree in public health in 2016, Ilada said she enjoys photography apart from her full-time job. After completing a previous photography project depicting Asian women in cultural attire, Ilada said she realized people not learning AAPI’s names correctly was a massive issue.

“It made me sad to hear a lot of stories where people said growing up they never felt like they could be proud of their name, but this project really helped them realize, ‘I’m gonna start taking back my name,’” Ilada said. 

The youngest participant was just 2 years old, and the oldest was eighty, according to Ilada.

“For me, being able to be that platform for a lot of voices and coming together has made me realize what I do now […] it’s not just for me, it’s for the whole community,” Ilada said.

Kirsten Sumampong, a sophomore neuroscience major, said she also has issues with the correct pronunciation and spelling of her name; Sumampong attended Ilada’s event Wednesday.

“It wasn’t until recently that I learned that it’s kind of an important thing, to have my name said correctly,” Sumampong said.

The people who share her same name, Kirsten, and have pronounced it correctly were in the AAPI community and the photo project resonated for that reason, Sumampong said. 

“It kind of is telling me to reclaim my own name,” Sumampong said.

Westminster College alum Janessa Ilada speaks to audience member Kirsten Sumampong, a sophomore neuroscience major, before the presentation of her photo project in Bassis Student Center Nov. 9. “I think it’s just really cool to be able to get people’s stories and be able to share their stories out there in the world,” Ilada said. “And so that’s something I hope to keep doing in the future.” Photo courtesy of Madi Goddard. Image description: Two people stand and talk left of frame. Photography portraits of various local AAPI members sit propped up to the right. A table with food and drinks is in the middle.

Sophia DiGeronimo, a third-year pre-nursing major, is a co-coordinator for the AAPI program at Westminster and attended the speaker event.

DiGeronimo said she is on the women’s soccer team at Westminster College, and her last name is always pronounced correctly during home games. 

“When my name gets called [at away games] it’s always wrong,” DiGeronimo said. 

DiGeronimo said away games are not the only time her name gets pronounced wrong, and the frequent inaccuracy is frustrating. 

“It seems so silly and trivial to learn someone’s name, but it can actually have a huge impact on somebody,” DiGeronimo said. 

Janessa Ilada, a Westminster alum, said “Call Me by My Name” and her previous photography project serve as different forms of taking back her identity.

“I think it’s just really cool to be able to get people’s stories and be able to share their stories out there in the world,” Ilada said. “And so that’s something I hope to keep doing in the future.”

Janessa Ilada’s “Call Me By My Name” features 102 participants, and their photos and stories can be accessed on her Instagram @jness.wanders.

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Madi Goddard (she/her/hers) is a third-year communication major minoring in French at Westminster College. She excels at finding ways to spend money but enjoys reading books and decorating for holidays in her downtime. Her favorite animal is a dog and she swears she’s never met one she didn’t like.

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