Sharon Tran, who graduated with the highest honors of any student, speaks at the May 27, 2010 Commencement Ceremony
To say that Sharon and Frances Tran have much in common would be an understatement. The twins both majored in English and minored in Chinese. Each had to weigh full-scholarship offers for English PhD programs at prestigious universities. (Frances chose the CUNY Graduate Center and Sharon Picked UCLA.) And each recently had a paper accepted by the National Conference on Undergraduate Research—for the second year in a row. They presented their papers at this year’s conference, in April, at the University of Montana.
“They’re exceptionally talented and motivated students,” says Duncan Faherty, an associate professor in Queens’s English department and the Trans’ faculty advisor. “Their intellects complement each other. They push each other quite hard.”
The papers the sisters presented in Montana reflect the interest they share in how contemporary Asian-American authors deal with the changing meanings of kinship, identity, and nationality in a rapidly globalizing world. Both sisters wrote about how characters in a novel struggle to define who they are. (Frances chose The Love Wife by Gish Jen, a Chinese-American; Sharon picked Native Speaker by Chang-rae Lee, a Korean-American).
The sisters say the issues Asian communities in America face are not unique. Indeed Asian-Americans and African-Americans have more in common than is often assumed, says Sharon. They “have a shared history of racism and discrimination.”
The sisters’ academic focus comes at least in part from their own history. Their parents and grandparents emigrated from Vietnam, and the sisters were raised by their grandparents in Astoria for their first years, until the family moved to Little Neck, Queens. They still speak Vietnamese at home.
Their parents set high standards. They told the girls they “have to constantly do better,” says Frances. “The pressure only . . . came off after we were accepted in the Macaulay Honors College” at Queens.
The twins, whom people often have trouble telling apart, are each other’s biggest backers. “We always read each other’s papers and bounce ideas off one another,” says Sharon. “Sometimes we even get a little competitive.”
When they are not studying, the sisters both like reading—and writing—manga, Japanese-style comics, and watching anime, as its animated form is called. They also play volleyball on the QC Quad. Both envisage careers as English professors.
Sharon: Southland, by Nina Revoyr
Frances: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Sharon: Chinese-American pop by such artists as Wang Leehom
Frances: Alternate rock and pop by such groups as Daughtry and Light House
Interesting fact: The sisters spoke Vietnamese at home and only learned English when they started school.