Dr. Alvin Wang (China)

By August 18, 20212021 Film Subject

For Dr. Alvin Wang, growing up as a first-generation Chinese-American meant adapting uneasily to one culture while not feeling fully rooted in another. His parents, who had escaped the Communist takeover of their country to forge a new life in the United States, were so intent on their children fitting in here that they refused to speak their native Mandarin in front of Alvin and his sister. But assimilating wasn’t so easy in the Manhattan of the mid 20th century, where the Wang children were not only the sole Asians in their school, but the only non-whites to boot.


In short, there were a lot of what Dr. Wang now calls “social adjustment issues” to contend with. But trying to understand the behavior of people who didn’t always know how to respond to him helped foster an interest in human psychology that would determine his lifelong career path.


Trained in cognitive experimental psychology, he earned his doctorate in 1980. He immediately spent four years teaching in Europe, followed by another two on the faculty of the Virginia Military Institute. He arrived in 1986 at the University of Central Florida, where he’s been ever since. Currently, he’s a professor of psychology at UCF, and the former dean of its Burnett Honors College.


Over the course of that three and a half decades, he’s witnessed first-hand the school’s remarkable expansion – although he’s quick to point out that the upswing isn’t strictly a numbers game.


“What has impressed me about the population growth on our campus is that it’s also been associated with an increasing amount of diversity without any lapse in student quality,” he says.


And he’s seen Orlando itself follow a similar trajectory. As a former member of Orange County’s Arts and Cultural Advisory Board, Dr. Wang knows whereof he speaks when he says that the City Beautiful of today is experiencing a Renaissance of venues and experiences that by his count has been going on for 15 to 20 years now.


“I’m talking about a lot of grass-roots effort and organization,” he explains – an ongoing process he sees reaping dividends in everything from the opening of small theaters to “an abundance of terrific eateries.”


Food is important to Dr. Wang: He enjoys cooking authentic Chinese dishes in the Winter Park home he and his wife share, then presenting them to guests who only know the bowdlerized version of the cuisine that’s served in American Chinese restaurants. Fixing traditional meals provides an essential link to his heritage, and for that he can thank recipes passed down to him by his mother and grandmother. He may not speak their native language – and he still doesn’t, after all these years – but in another important way, where he comes from is always on the tip of his tongue.

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