This project aims to elevate the stories and lived experiences of the Asian American community in the DFW area (and beyond). My hope is that this project will encourage our city to listen to Asian American people in our communities, reflect on their own assumptions and discover ways to celebrate these beautiful people.
"My perspective on being Asian is specifically about being half Chinese and half white (my dad’s from Dallas). The first 13 years of my life were in the San Francisco Bay area where I saw more of my mom’s (Chinese) family. We lived for a while in Cupertino where the majority of students at my school were Asian. Moving to DFW was very different. Even the Asian people were different – I think it’s because there’s less incentive to stay in a clustered cultural group because there are less FOTB Asian immigrants coming to DFW. Most Asian families moving here are moving because they’ve been hired for jobs and generally they’re more acclimated to white culture – their priorities are looking for good schools for their kids and a lower cost of living, rather than starting from scratch like my mom experienced. In Texas schools, I noticed that my Asian friends at school were just a little more chill about not being good at a subject or two (but don’t get me wrong the vast majority of us still cared a LOT about grades and maxing our AP classes). I would say that I really don't identify as Texan at all. I love my dad's side of the family, but I'd say that I consider myself a half-Taiwanese Californian who got stuck in Texas for an indeterminate period. I probably have the greater cultural identity crisis when I consider the fact that I've been gone from the Bay Area so long that I don't fully belong there anymore."
"From a half-Asian perspective, it’s worth it to mention the burden of the “am I asian enough?” doubts (I actually really pondered that question as I was answering these questions) but as a whole I that’s not even something that really crosses my mind – in fact the only time I can remember seriously thinking about that was while writing these answers. Other than that, my experience of being Asian has been pretty awesome. I love the food, the traditions, the holidays; it’s the little things that make me feel at home, because I grew up around it."
What are your favorite things about being Asian American / of Asian descent?
It means I’m related to my mom and that’s honestly the best. I also love the history and the seemingly endless avenues to explore. Also looking at things through an Asian lens makes some things MUCH more interesting to me. For instance, I really, really hate American politics, but I’m fascinated by the politics of Hong Kong and Taiwan in relation to China. In a nutshell, it constantly exposes me an alternative way of thinking/considering things which I think is super cool.
What are some of the joys of Asian American culture most people do not see?
Getting CASH for lunar new years’ is a sublimely wonderful tradition and I feel sorry for other cultures who don’t do this. On a more serious note, it’s really nice to belong to a club of sorts. When I first began getting the word out for my bookkeeping business, I felt more comfortable reaching out to Asian-focused networking groups. I was nervous about putting myself out there in general, and I wanted to reduce that nervousness by going into a familiar environment. Also at the time, I was spending my workdays at a small, family-owned company with some exhaustingly ignorant non-Asian individuals. Over time, it got really exhausting and I just didn’t want to risk encountering that for a while. Also, I missed interacting with Asian people in my life, and Asian networking groups felt like coming home.
When do you feel most loved / most celebrated in your identity as an Asian American person?
Watching Shang Chi was pretty amazing. It was this glorious mix of “being Asian is a big deal!!”, but at the same time, “We do superhero things and also do Asian things – that’s just what we do, how is that a big deal??” Singing Karaoke and disappointing their parents felt like inside jokes intended for Asian audiences - my favorite inside joke was when Kelly admits her Mandarin is horrible and guy assures her “I speak ABC!” meaning "American Born Chinese" aka "English". My sisters and I just showed the movie to my mom and we all had such a great time!
What are unseen burdens you bear as an Asian American person living in the states? What about living in Texas?
Living in the US means you’re going to meet people who know absolutely nothing about Asian culture. Usually, they’re not outright aggressive, but it does create some bumpy/awkward conversations. I will say that I’ve had more of those kind of conversations living in Texas than in the California San Francisco Bay Area, but that’s again a matter of exposure. Asian culture took root in SF over a century ago, while in North Texas, the Asian population started to really boom just a couple decades ago.
In my life, how I “present” culturally has largely been a matter of choice. In other words, I can dial up or down my whiteness/Asianness pretty much as I wish to suit a situation. I’ve always felt that it was within my power to influence how smooth a situation goes. I’ve never had the uncomfortable situation where someone didn’t look at me or talk to me because I was from XYZ country (although my mom has!). I’ve probably been spared that kind of situation because aggressive racists often don’t have enough experience with Asian people to identify my looks as Asian from a distance. Having an Anglo (technically Irish) surname also gives me an extra buffer between me and dumb, dissatisfied people looking for a target.
When you witness racism and aggression happening against the Asian American community, how does it make you feel / how do you react / what beliefs does it instill in you, etc?
Hearing reports about the anti-Asian violence (especially during 2020), did create this lingering worry that someone will be cruel to my mom, my aunts, my grandad, my cousins or friends. BUT at the same time, I try not to think about it to the point that the worry affects how I live my life. Luckily, because of where we grew up (Plano, Frisco, Richardson) the people my Asian friends and I mostly engage with are people who are used to being around Asian people. And in college, there’s a lot of push for appreciating diversity. That doesn’t mean it’s not horrible or terrible that people get attacked for just looking a certain way – I just haven’t had much exposure to it. I do have an ABC friend my age whose in-laws literally made ching-chong jokes in front of her. They're underage and they had no realization why that’s not funny to some (most) people, until someone pulled them aside and told them why that’s not ok – they simply hadn’t had any meaningful interaction with Asian people to put it into context, but it was really stressful for my friend. The worst racial aggression I’ve heard in my mom’s case was being outright ignored by one of my dad’s friends in the 90’s. Luckily, my dad’s family was actually very open – I think it really helped that my grandparents had visited my dad in China and seen that even halfway across the world, we’re all dealing with life’s problems.
Are there any resources or books you would like to recommend to someone wanting to understand more about the Asian American community?
A Great Wall (1986) is a super fun movie and it shows the disconnect of being Chinese in America to being Chinese in China. Funny and poignant and full of people just not quite understanding each other, who also sharing a very strong bond nonetheless.
The memoir, Iron and Silk by Mark Salzman, gives the reader a very interesting view of China from an American perspective: he lives in China to learn Kung Fu and teaches English on the side. The book was fascinating because Salzman was in China at a similar time that my dad was teaching English there and I felt like I had a window into what my dad discovered experienced (apart from his many stories). The movie from 1990 is also pretty cool, but the book is better.
I just watched Us and Them (2018) on Netflix and it was amazing! It almost has a “Trying to make it in New York City” vibe, but NYC is instead Beijing. It’s a drama surrounding a relationship, but it covers some really deep subjects and the location is a cultural lesson in and of itself. I thought it was just really great filmmaking and it’s a wonderful film. I’ve been studying Chinese and this was the first movie that I watched on my own that I really liked. It’s so cool to think that I now have a favorite Chinese actor: Zhou Dongyu (周冬雨)! She’s really engaging and absolutely fearless in the movie.
The Joy Luck Club (1993) will change your idea of what a Chinese mom is. It follows the story of 8 individuals: 4 mothers from China and their 4 daughters who were born in the US. It’s technically fiction, but it’s so real at the same time. I love that relationships are so varied and the perspective of the mothers and the daughters are so fleshed out and deeply moving. It’s in my top five all-time favorite movies.
The memoir Falling Leaves by Amy Tan (the author of the novel The Joy Luck Club) was very eye-opening memoir and gives an idea about what was happening in China during the early/mid 20th century. From multiple revolutions, to family dynamics, to immigrating to the USA, Tan describes what it was like growing up amidst civil unrest, changes in regime and it sheds so much light on cultural values. This book is non-fiction and it influenced a lot of the hardship that Tan included in The Joy Luck Club.
What is something you wish you could outright say / have been wanting to say to your non-Asian friends?
“I love you guys, thanks for being patient and understanding and wonderful” (this message is also for all my friends, period).