AAPI Heritage Month Stories: Blake Ran Li (冉力) Reynolds

When Blake Reynolds introduces herself, she always makes sure to include her Chinese name as well: Ran Li (冉力).


When Blake Reynolds introduces herself, she always makes sure to include her Chinese name as well: Ran Li (冉力). The name also hangs around her neck, written in Chinese characters.

It’s a reminder, to her and to everyone she meets, that she’s proud of her heritage, she says.

“Because I am multicultural, I have two different sides of me,” Blake says. “But I really associate with my Chinese side. It’s comforting to me.”

Blake’s father is white, while her mother is Chinese-Hawaiian. Blake says her mother grew up in a mostly Latino community in California and was often targeted for her race. Growing up in Lehi, Utah, Blake says she sometimes experienced similar racist attitudes. Even so, she persevered, wearing traditional clothes on Chinese holidays despite being told she looked silly.

“I still do take pride in my white side as well,” she says. “But every time my mom teaches me something new about growing up Chinese, it’s so good to have that connection.”

One big touchpoint for Blake is food — she says she hosts a Chinese New Year celebration for herself and other Asian students, many of whom struggle with finding authentic cuisine options in Utah Valley.

“Coming to a place, especially where you probably don't have that much diversity, it's hard to find those authentic foods,” she says. “Even more authentic restaurants up in Salt Lake for Chinese food, they’re still missing that something. Food is a serious part that people don’t realize about culture.”

While she didn’t grow up speaking Chinese, Blake has made the language her focus of study as a student at Utah Valley University. She started learning what she could on her own before arriving at UVU, and this month she graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in university studies and a double minor in Chinese language and Chinese studies. She also received the Most Outstanding Student award from the Chinese studies program.

The decision to focus on language, she says, has made her link to her heritage even stronger.

“My mom wasn’t able to teach me the language,” Blake says. “But I feel like that language, especially for Chinese people, is something that’s really, really big. Learning the language myself first, and then taking classes, I just feel more connected.”

At UVU, Blake is a representative for the Asian Initiative, a program dedicated to promoting and celebrating Asian and Asian American identity and culture through education, awareness, and appreciation while also developing programming and interventions to improve college access and graduation achievement for Asian and Asian American students from underserved communities.

Blake says she’s happy to add to the Asian representation at UVU’s Multicultural Student Services (MSS) office, which runs the Asian Initiative.

“I loved going to Multicultural Student Services,” she says. “It just felt like a safe place, a place where I was a little more accepted because I am different.”

Blake’s position with the Asian Initiative served as her internship, making it possible for her to graduate. She says MSS Director Darah Snow was critical in helping her find a way to contribute and gain internship credit at the same time.

“I’m so glad I was able to give that voice and platform through that initiative,” she says. “That's what I love.”

Meanwhile, Blake has also been working as a Chinese language translator for Alliance Fence and Supply in Provo, where she communicates with suppliers in Mandarin and runs accounts, despite not studying accounting or business. She plans to work in the position full time now that she has graduated.

“Since I was small, when I started learning Chinese, I always wanted to become a translator,” she says. “I was super fortunate to find this job. I got to meet the Chinese CEO and vice president of the company that we work with. I just opened doors for myself to be a translator now. So I think that's super exciting."

Blake continues to lead the Asian Initiative, along with running its associated Instagram account, @uvuasianinitiative. She says it’s one of the best ways UVU students, faculty, staff, and supporters can become involved with the local Asian community.

To other Asian and Asian American students, Blake says it’s important to keep up momentum in your classes and stay connected socially, even when you’re fighting social anxiety, as she says she does.

“Find a friend if you can,” she says. “It's not as scary when you have someone close.”