Amy Loo is a UC Berkeley graduate and the recipient of the Davis Projects for Peace Initiative for her work with refugees in Japan. At Cal, Amy majored in Political Science and minored in Chinese Literature, and was a 2018 GUH Undergraduate Certificate Recipient. She now works at a financial advisory firm and within the Real Estate sector, as well as within a unit called “Difficultators Tokyo” to bring awareness to site-specific discrimination.
What compelled you to join GUH?
I joined GUH during my last year of college, right after hearing about it at GUH open house. It was also the semester of inauguration for the undergraduate program. Joining was an intuitive decision for me because the GUH mission and interdisciplinary methodology aligned with how I had been developing academically.
For example, although I was a Political Science major focusing on immigration policy, I spent equal weight on humanities courses to understand politics of identity and spatial control. I think that the GUH community would agree that there is a limit in sticking to one discipline or research methodology.
What are you currently working on? Can you tell us more about your work with refugees in Tokyo?
My day job is at a financial advisory firm. I am part of a team that provides advisory services for public-private partnerships and private finance initiatives on infrastructure projects like airports, museums, stadiums, railways etc... Recently, I have also been involved in the real estate sector, providing financial modeling services for their assets. This is quite a jump from my undergraduate studies but finance is a major part of urban planning.
On weekends, however, I try to be involved with urban planning in a more artistic and creative way.
Currently, I am working with two of my close friends as a unit called “Difficultators Tokyo” to make site-specific discrimination more visible. We have been fortunate to be supported by Shibaura House, a semi-public third place and the Netherlands Embassy.
We are designing a scavenger hunt, which will have puzzles and missions related to issues such as inaccessibility in public transportation, discrimination against immigrants, and hate mail sent to slaughterhouse employees—all of which are site-specific. The hunts will lead the participants to the sites and hopefully become an occasion for all of us to rediscover our living environment and transform it through a newly-earned perspective.
As for my work with refugees in Japan: I had never been able to make a tangible difference through my academic research on immigration policy. When I received the Davis Projects for Peace grant last year, I wanted to help connect refugees and immigrants with their fellow Japanese community (and vice-versa). I organized a few cooking classes taught by (former) refugees. Instead of the usual disheartening lectures on refugee issues, this kind of event breaks barriers, undermines biases and also gives a voice to the minority. They become the main characters. I could not have done this without the guidance of Susan Moffat, Project Director of GUH.
How did your GUH experience contribute to your current research or career?
GUH shaped my research and career. The program welcomes people from different disciplines, and it speaks to the notion that the living environment belongs to everyone. When I first began exploring this field by auditing CED classes and attending seminars and events, I felt like an outsider because I was a Political Science major. GUH opened the doors to the urban planning community and gave me a sense of belonging. I joined a multidisciplinary studio that involved creating a site-specific performance at the Albany Bulb. Through this studio, I found ways to overcome discrimination against immigrants and those considered “Others” in general. It comes down to the acknowledgement of denizenship and the recognition of others as a members and stakeholders of certain community. This can be achieved by creating occasions for people to spend happy moments together and appreciate the shared space and environment, similar to what we did in our final performance piece. This realization inspired my later work with refugees in Japan and still influences how I approach public-private partnership projects.
I still maintain contact with GUH people, both faculty and fellow students, with whom I am sure I will cross paths with again.
What advice would you give to current GUH students?
Explore campus resources and opportunities. There are a lot of “Centers” on campus like the Center for Chinese Studies, Center for Japanese Studies, or Townsend Center for Humanities, that hold incredible lectures and events. For current GUH students who are looking to pursue higher degrees, you will meet the brightest scholars and researchers, some whom are visiting from abroad. I am incredibly indebted to CCS, CJS, and GUH. You only realize how privileged you are when you leave—so be sure to not have any regrets!
I also encourage students to reach outside the campus to explore other options after graduating. Urban Land Institute, for example, might be a good starting point. I am learning as much from being in the industry as I was at school, and I personally think that you should work a few years before pursuing a master’s or doctoral degree.
What are three things on your bucket list?
- Revisit Berkeley as soon as possible! Visit professors, attend lectures and talks at Wurster Hall, go on a film marathon at Berkeley Art Museum and Film Archive, eat pizza at Cheeseboard, drink boba, etc.
- Design a business formal shoe that is also ergonomically healthy...
- Create financial models for privately-owned and operating third places
What are you currently reading, watching, or listening to?
Recently, I have been revisiting Saskia Sassen’s The Global City to understand power and influence of finance in urban planning and development. I would like have a bigger perspective (sociological imagination) on my day job and how what I do fits into the big picture.
If I had more time for leisure reading, I would like to finish reading Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex and Jurgen Habermas’ The Structural Transformation of the Public Space.