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APAHM: 腊八蒜 || Series 6 (Surprise bonus!)

This project has been an incredibly journey. I know it looked cobbled together, incongruous and downright sloppy at times but my hope is that everyone who took part got the chance to learn something about themselves, or their Asian heritage. I'm thankful for the people I got to meet because of this and I'm thankful for the stories I was able to listen and learn from. May/APAHM is over, but that doesn't mean that we have to stop learning and exploring our heritage. 

I really don't know how else to preface this but here are the faces behind this project! In our actual final edition. A large thank you to Rayma for sticking with me through this. 

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Rayma Kochakkan

FIELD: Filmmaking/Dance

TIME IN FIELD: 1 year/2.5 years

COMFORT FOOD: Mom's salmon curry over a bed of fresh rice (not basmati - the fat grains)

"Oftentimes the hardest part of embarking on any journey can be getting over whatever mental hurdles you have and starting, but now that I’ve dipped my toes and I know that I can do it… it just makes everything else easier. "

 

What was it like for you growing up as an Asian American?

 I’ve always felt like an outsider. Whether it was being the black sheep in my family or just the outcast at school, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was different and my ethnicity only added to that. Growing up, I felt like I just didn’t belong in most spaces. I became racially socialized very quickly and I realized that fitting in wasn’t going to be so easy. I rejected my culture for a while. I didn’t want to be other-ed anymore than I already was so I just tried to lay low and really lean in into my American side. Also, I felt like I was betraying my parents with my dreams because I didn’t want to be a doctor, I didn’t even want a secure job at all — I wanted to make movies. A lot of guilt built up inside me because of it. I felt like I owed my parents the sacrifice of living out their dreams instead of realizing mine because they did so much for me.


What’s something you’ve learned about yourself that you love as a result of practicing your work?

Just that I can do it. Oftentimes the hardest part of embarking on any journey can be getting over whatever mental hurdles you have and starting, but now that I’ve dipped my toes and I know that I can do it… it just makes everything else easier.

 

What’s something you’ve learned about your Asian heritage as a result of practicing your work?

That my presence is not only valid, but necessary. Contemporary media portrays films and filmmaking as still a very white, male dominated space. Although it’s getting better, there are still so many advances and strides to be made, especially for the brown community. In terms of dancing, there’s a huge Asian American population, but not that many South Asians. While I used to feel like the odd one out, I now feel like my presence is even more valuable because there’s so few of us across the board. Every time I make a South Asian friend at a workshop or a show, it’s very special to me.

 

What was/is your favorite failure?

The first time I auditioned for Major Def (my dance team), I didn’t even make it. I almost didn’t go to the first public class after auditions because I didn’t want to show my face, but I went and I had the time of my life. I spent the whole semester going to classes and just training and I made the team on my second try. I kept that same mentality while on the team because I really had to work for my spot in a piece which only taught me to really improve, I just had to put my head down and work for it.

 

 What was/is your favorite success?

My screenwriting professor ended our class with awards - almost like his version of the Oscars. I ended up winning one and getting nominated for another one. It meant a lot to me because I was finally trying this thing that I had dreamed about for so long and to be validated was a really great feeling. It’s small, but you gotta take the dubs where you can.

 

How do either of those (success/failure) tie into your identity as an Asian American?

The model minority myth is that we’re all just hardworking, smart people that don’t want no trouble, right? I think the part of that very inaccurate stereotype that sticks with me is the hardworking part. I’m stubborn, but I have to care to even be stubborn in the first place. My mom still mentions the few times that I was resilient and unrelenting in my life because it just surprised her how I never gave up. My work ethic is not necessarily as strict or disciplined as some of my Asian American peers, but I’m starting to come into my own and my failures just teach me more about myself.

 

How do you take pride in your identity as an Asian American?

Connecting with other South Asian Americans. I used to want to distance myself from my culture a lot growing up so I feel like I’m playing catch up and trying to make up for all the time I wasted. When I meet and engage with other South Asian Americans - especially creatives - it’s amazing how similar our stories are. And seeing other brown people that have made it. When I watched Hasan Minhaj’s Netflix special Homecoming King, I was so happy because I felt like my story was being told but just through this 32 year old north Indian dude from Davis, California. There’s a sense of pride and solidarity in seeing people that look like you, dealt basically the same hand that you were, achieving what you want to achieve.

 

At what point did you realize that your participation in your field as an Asian American would mean that it would be a different experience than that of someone that was Caucasian?

From the jump. I think it had always been engrained in me that movies just aren’t what brown people do. As soon as I realized I wasn’t white, I realized that my path was going to be different, and probably harder than those of my melanin-deficient peers.

 

What do you want to see in the future for the next generation of Asian Americans?

More tenacity and conviction. I feel like in Asian cultures there’s this idea of respecting what your parents want and doing what you’re told by them, but your life is yours to live, not theirs. There’s a lot of wondering what other people will think — or at least that’s how I grew up. Whatever you want to do, go after it unapologetically. That energy will only help you get to where you want to be.

 

Any last comments?

Asian American pride doesn’t just stop when May is over. And it’s important to understand other marginalized communities as well. Ride for Black History month and Native American heritage month and Hispanic heritage month just as hard as you would APAHM.

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Winston Zhou

FIELD: Photography/Videography

TIME IN FIELD: 6 years (ish)

COMFORT FOOD: 焖面 (Steamed noodles) it’s basically noodles steamed in a pot on top of a bed of meat and green beans. The noodles themselves are dry while the rest of the stuff is juicy.

"I realized that while it’s still important that I’m making high quality content, it’s more important that I’m just out there making stuff so that kids that come after me don’t have to live 19 years thinking that it’s impossible for them to find their way in and industry besides STEM. I just want to open up as many doors as I can for the ones that come after me.

What was it like for you growing up as an Asian American?

So I grew up in a pretty diverse area actually. My high school was about thirty percent Asian, I went to Chinese school on the weekends and the church I grew up going to is literally called “Chinese Christian Church of Greater Washington.”

I think despite (or perhaps because) my constant contact with other Asian Americans, I still grew up very much hating Chinese culture. I hated the way that the only group I quite belonged to in school was “The Asians” and even then I didn’t fit in because I didn’t fit the stereotypical mold of being multitalented and high achieving. I hated the fact that my parents would always remind me that it was important that I take pride in my Chinese heritage because I would never be able to fit in with the White people, that when the world turns its back on me the only people I’ll have are my Chinese family. And I hated that.

It wasn’t until about a two or three years ago that I finally decided for myself that maybe it would be worthwhile to do some soul searching with regards to my ethnic identity. Strangely enough, this was caused by the death of someone who I used to be really close with. (You can talk to me privately about that!) 

But anyways, it wasn’t until very recently when I started to open up my heart to the Chinese part of my identity. Wrestling with this idea of pursuing an unstable career in the arts when my parents fought so hard against the odds to get me to where I am, and figuring out where I stand in my hometown community when the majority of them are all becoming successful engineers and doctors. 

 

What’s something you’ve learned about yourself that you love as a result of practicing your work?

Patience!

I think this is something that I’ve always kind of known but really hasn’t shown itself in anything I’ve done as much as it does when I’m out shooting. Even though in reality I'm rather high-tempo for a type-B person, I do still love my laissez faire approach to a lot of what I do.

 

What’s something you’ve learned about your Asian heritage as a result of practicing your work?

Being quiet and respectful, and keeping sight of what diligence in my work should look like. I’m really love-hate with this one, almost 86’d the question altogether. I also learned that I can pick and choose the parts of my ethnic background I want to take the foreground in my life. That's one of the advantages we have as Asian Americans, being neither one or the other. But as flexible as our identities are, somehow the careers we pursue as Asian Americans haven't grown to match that.

There aren't many Asians in the professional creative industry. And that confuses me because growing up I'd be in Chinese school with all these insanely talented kids who "doodled" Mona Lisa's and played Bach fugues like they were warm-up scales. Where did they go? And this is something I'm still piecing together, but thinking about this process of becoming, and how it is we form our identities as Asian Americans in a time when there is both so much more representation than there used to be, but so little in comparison to everyone else. 

 

What was/is your favorite failure?

This isn’t quite one failure but rather like…a series of them. Coming into college I was thinking I’d become an orthodontist. I’d take my degree in Biology and I’d make big bucks. What I learned much later on was that my interest in STEM was nowhere near my actual talent in the field. I still don’t like this fact, but I’m just geared as a person towards the arts. Struggling through 3 years of Bio classes was gross, but it helped me in teaching me about certain paths that just aren’t for me.

 

What was/is your favorite success?

It’s really not much of a success yet but just the fact that I’m able to make money right now as a creative professional is pretty cool imo. 

 

How do either of those (success/failure) tie into your identity as an Asian American?

I think my failure to find success in STEM has been really humbling but also pivotal in my journey of self discovery as an Asian American man involved in the creative arts industry. I understand that this is less of a grounding statement with regards to my identity as opposed to being a more guiding direction but this was still a huge step in my journey regardless.

 

How do you take pride in your identity as an Asian American?

One of the few things that I’ve really loved about my Chinese heritage is the importance that’s placed on hosting well. Growing up my parents would always be hosting people for meetings, gatherings and parties in our house, and of course whenever people were about to come it would be my responsibility to clean the house, but I digress. This very idea of having a space to meet with friends isn’t thought of or really taken for granted a lot of the time, and my parents’ willingness to always open up our home for people to use was really influential on me. These days, if people are ever coming over to my apartment there’s almost always gonna be food I’m making for them (even if it’s nasty), and that’s all just tying back into the way I was raised.

 

At what point did you realize that your participation in your field as an Asian American would mean that it would be a different experience than that of someone that was Caucasian?

This is something that I was loosely thinking of before, but I never really got to talk to anyone deeply involved in the industry about it until just last fall actually. There’s a lot in a name. It affects what people think of you, it’s part of the image you present to the world and ultimately it becomes part of your brand. I realized that there were some clients that were seeing my work online, contacting me, and then realizing that I wasn’t the perfect person to work with them because I’m Asian. And the client-photographer relationship is important! Don’t get me wrong about that, but I realized that some people just wouldn’t be as comfortable working with an Asian American photographer as they would be with a White photographer, even if we’re totally comparable in skill.

But on the flip side, one of my good friends Rayma did a little video on me and that got me thinking about both Asian American representation on AND behind the screen. I realized that while it’s still important that I’m making high quality content, it’s more important that I’m just out there making stuff so that kids that come after me don’t have to live 19 years thinking that it’s impossible for them to find their way in and industry besides STEM. I just want to open up as many doors as I can for the ones that come after me.

 

What do you want to see in the future for the next generation of Asian Americans?

As a photographer it’s my job to see people and just watch them. The pictures we see of others and the pictures we see of ourselves are absolutely vital in the way that we create our own identities. I just remember scrolling through Instagram one day and realizing that a LOT of the people I follow, while they’re immensely skilled, are that very standard, plain kind of photographer that comes cheaper by the dozen (sorry not sorry). They shoot these cool portraits of people, and they shoot these hot couples but all the people and all the couples are white. The photographers themselves are white, the clients are white.

FIRST: I want to see the next generation, specifically Asian American photographers is to be intentional with their soul searching, and to be intersectional not only in ways they anchor their identity to themselves, but also in the people they choose to work with and the work that they present the to the world. I’m tired of scrolling through feeds of talented photographers and only seeing a skinny, white, conventionally attractive girl in all the photos. Enough of that.

SECOND: I wanna see more Asian Americans thinking critically about what it is they actually want to be doing and who it is they’re surrounding themselves with.

 

Any last comments?

Second.5: Loud kids. I don’t care if your parents (my peers right now, I guess) end up hating me. I’m realizing more and more as I grow that it’s less important that you be this model child, perfectly polite and never speaking out of turn and more vital that you learn to think for yourself, and to express yourself in the way that you want to. Be kind, love on your friends and family, but don’t bottle up your identity.

Also talk to your friends about mental health. 

Thanks guys.