May is Asian, Pacific Islander, Desi and Asian American (APIDAA) Heritage Month. Throughout the month, The Daily will highlight members of the university community who are of Asian, Pacific Islander, Desi and Asian American heritage to celebrate their accomplishments as members of the campus community and shed light on their experiences at CWRU.
Last weekend, thousands of people gathered in Cleveland’s Asiatown district for the city’s annual Asian Festival. Among them was Maemie Chan, DMD (DEN ‘09), a Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine alumna on a mission to give back to the community.
In addition to having the chance to experience everything from martial art demonstrations to authentic Asian cuisine, the festival’s visitors—totalling more than 40,000 in 2019—could take advantage of free health screenings and information from volunteer practitioners. Chan and her husband, David Hudec, Jr., DMD (DEN ‘11), could be found in the Medical Pavilion alongside other volunteers helping distribute informational materials.
“It is so great to be able to help the local Asian community,” said Chan, who practices at Mayfield Smiles in the Cleveland area. “A lot of the people we see don’t have access to regular dental care, and many of them don’t speak English. They’re intimidated and scared, so it’s nice being able to bridge that gap and communicate to them, ‘I’m here and I can help.’”
A first-generation American from Chicago, Chan speaks fluent Cantonese—a skill she’s maintained into adulthood and puts to use in her work. “I practically grew up in Chinatown, I went to Chinese school and was involved in Chinese dance and choir,” she recalled. “My parents really submerged me in the culture, they didn’t want me to forget where I came from. I’m American, but I’m also Chinese.”
Now that Chan and her husband have a 1-year-old son, Andrew, they are eager to pass on their cultures and traditions from both sides of the family. Part of that includes monthly treks from Cleveland to Chicago to visit Chan’s grandparents.
“It’s a lot of work to make that trip every month,” said Chan, “but our son is learning how important it is to take care of elderly relatives, to have family dinners. It’s a gift to be able to share that with him and with my grandparents.”
Chan is teaching Andrew Cantonese as well as her husband, whose basic understanding of the language enables him to help at the Cleveland Asian Festival.
“We pass out toothpaste, toothbrushes and floss, activity kits for kids and informational pamphlets for the families, and we answer a lot of questions,” Chan said. “But in the future, we hope to do exams and maybe even cleanings. That’s all in the works.”
The couple has been volunteering at the festival since 2014 and in recent years have recruited two more Case Western Reserve alumni to assist their efforts: Winnie Wong, DMD (DEN ‘16) and pediatric dentist Kari Cunningham, DMD (DEN ‘10, ‘12), president of the School of Dental Medicine Alumni Board.
“Case Western Reserve is a very close-knit community,” Chan remarked. “In a lot of ways, it’s very similar to Cleveland’s Asian community. Even though I’m not from here, the Asian community has been so welcoming and they treat me as if I were a Cleveland native.”
“When you meet another CWRU grad, anywhere in the world,” Chan continued, “there’s a sense of camaraderie. We bond over campus and our professors. It’s where we came from, we want to help each other grow.”