APAHM: 腊八蒜

this is a reminder for myself: that the harvest takes time to grow [and you can eat it after and it will be delicious]

i’m getting reminded that substantial things take time. and yeah I know this is very rudimentary like “yeah of course winston you’re so dumb why wouldn’t things happening take time” but I DUNNO i guess i’m just stupid but i’m okay with that.

now you might ask, “why have you just now realized this? you’re 19 years old for goodness’ sake!” and to that i respond: i don’t know! I guess I’ve always known “this”

this whole “thing” of “things taking ‘time'” thing [very wide and vague gesticulation] but i’ve never really been personally subjected to this vague concept i guess? I guess to be more specific with what I’m talking about, I’m talking about patience, about growth and discovery but also naturally the very real and irritating presence of regression and stagnation (or maybe a plateau in the process of growth).

and i’m familiar with growth. people around me are always growing, evolving to become superior to their former selves. and when i’m in the presence of this i can’t help but also follow in their footsteps. learning to fight your own demons (or befriend them if you can’t beat them), reclaiming your sense of self, showing grace to people that don’t care about things as much as they should, coming to terms with endings, opening yourself up from a tight shell. it’s all cool to see, yeah. but people only talk about this side of things.

it’s regression and the feeling of “null progress potential” that i’m not used to. that when t’m in the presence of friends that are so consistent with their growth I can’t help see them as giants, (not quite paragons) but people that are suddenly out of my reach, out of my league. and somehow it makes me feel like they’ve ceased to be my friends… and that fills me with this fear. the inexplicable, gripping fear that i’ve peaked that makes me feel like I’m decaying from the bone out. and i know it’s not true. i’m not used to feeling like i’m strangely out of tune, suddenly unable to climb out of this hole I didn’t even know i fell into, not being able to trust, to love, to reciprocate after working so hard at it for months and years. why?  can’t tell what I don’t even know, no? but this is the hole i find myself in. The world spins on, and I with it.

I know that all the fragments lost from grit teeth and breaths stolen by frustration won’t be in vain, that someday everything will turn out. but for now? for now i guess I do all there is to do: I wait.

腊八醋 doesn’t happen overnight.  一点一滴。

I’m revisiting this draft I wrote almost 2 years ago tonight.

it feels as real to me now as it did back then. just being scared. being furious with myself that i’m not more of a person than i am in the moment, that i’m not more caring a friend, a better photographer, a harder worker, a kinder friend, a better son, a more motivated entrepreneur, a more creative artist, a better example of an Asian American.

a lot has happened over the past 2 years. personally and professionally. reading this again honestly doesn’t feel like it’s a diary of days past. it feels like i could have written this just a few days ago. but i guess that’s part of the beauty of growth, isn’t it? that it isn’t linear (thanks Rayma) and that it’ll just…happen. and so here i am, 2 years later. have i grown? who’s to say.

For those that may not know: May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAH) (as well as National Mental Health Awareness month).
For the past few months I’ve been slowly planning, thinking, and working on a project for APAH! I’ve been really wrestling with what it looks like for me to be working as an Asian American in the US, as an Asian American creative professional (and conveniently one of the few AA’s in the UMBC Photography Dept.) and just what that means for me and what it means for those that will come after me.

There’s a lot that can be said about growing up in an immigrant household. And something I’ve learned is that within those sentences is a lot of pain, and a lot of clashing of cultures. Growing up I never spent the time to really soak in the beauty of my heritage when I lived at home; I was too busy being angry at it. I remember when I was in middle school I was sulking after being yelled at by my mom (a frequent occurrence, knowing me). She had said said something along the lines of “If you don’t like who we are, don’t expect to be accepted by Americans. They won’t understand.” and I just remember being so confused and so mad. Thinking back that’s still such a fucked thing to say, y’know? But for many years I was of the mindset that if I was being hurt so much by part of my identity, I would just discard it. Kill it, abandon it, perish the thoughts.

It wasn’t that I hated the fact that I was Chinese, I just couldn’t figure out how to reconcile the differences between the Chinese values being instilled in me at home and the American values I was growing up all around outside. To occupy a unique perspective that neither my parents nor many of our friends could relate to. To be neither fully Chinese or fully American, to exist in between.

I didn’t know that I could pick and choose (maybe I can’t, or I shouldn’t? shoot me) between aspects of both cultures that I loved and take those for myself. I thought that I had to choose one or the other. The prospect of choosing between something that caused me so much pain but felt the most sense of belonging and something that felt easier, simpler but perpetually slightly foreign resulted in me just hating both.

And so here I am. After 12 years (probably more), I think I’m finally starting to come to terms with my identity. I had understand on a practical level what it meant to be a [insert]American for a long time now, but it wasn’t until recently that I had really start to find peace with that on an emotional, visceral level. Which brings us up to present day! This project is both a celebration for Asian Americans as well as it is a chance for some people to share their stories. I started this project not fully understanding what it looked like to be an Asian American in America and I’d be LYING if I said I know now. But this is a start.

Like I said above, May is APAH Month. Over the course of this month I will be posting interviews of people I interviewed for this project. Hopefully you all can glean something from hearing their stories.

To all the people I bugged and spammed with messages and interviewed: Thank you all so, so much. For being honest with me, and for giving me lessons to draw from.

To Rayma: Thank you for being there to bounce ideas with me. Thank you for choosing me to be the first subject in Asian American Creatives. Thank you for helping me mull over this for what seems like almost 6, 7 months.

To my friends, acquaintances, clients, coworkers, strangers (fans?): Thank you for reading this and thank you for sticking along with me as I go about my own process of soul searching. Thank you for giving me that juicy validation when I post things and thank you for also letting me know when my work is trash. I appreciate both. If anyone is interested in working with me for a personal project or professionally, you can find my contact info at my website.

I present to you all

A Winston Zhou x Rayma Kochakkan collaboration:

APAHM banner

A study and a celebration of Asian American lives in the context of different fields and practices. Explorations of identity as AA’s and how our personal identities came to be in a time when Asian American faces are not commonly seen in the limelight.

“腊八蒜”  (là bā suàn) — vinegar preserved/fermented garlic. You can read more about the history online but this has always been an item of great fascination growing up. A food that not only gets better with time, but requires a period of time to slowly prepare. a unique dish for people with a unique perspective.