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APAHM: 腊八蒜 || Series 2

Series 2 of 5. 

Claudia Xie and Byung Ham

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Claudia Xie

Field: A capella (UMBC Co-ed group The Cleftomaniacs

Time in field: About 4 years

Comfort food: Soups! My dad used to make a big pot of beef noodle soup when my grandparents came over for dinner. I also really like seaweed soup with pork bones and white radish chunks.

"I don’t take for granted the opportunites and privileges I have as an American, but loving America means wanting to make it better for its people, and that means people of all backgrounds. So I like being a living reminder of America’s diversity. My Chinese identity does not take away from my American one.

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

I grew up in an area with a relatively high Asian immigrant population. On Saturdays and Sundays I went to Chinese school and Chinese church. Most of my friends have been Chinese-Americans. I remember my dad asking me out of the blue if all my friends were Asians and he laughed when I told him yes. It really threw me off because I hadn’t thought about it before.

I asked myself if it was my fault that I didn’t branch out. I felt really comfortable with my friends because I assumed that we all shared the same experiences and our parents shared the same values. In college, I’ve learned that the Asian American experience is not universal! Neither is the Chinese American one!

I’ve thought a lot about being Americanized. I dropped out of Chinese school so I don’t read or write Chinese very well. When my parents talk about travelling to China it’s “hui guo,” which means to go back. When my dad talks about China, my mom will call him out if he acts like he knows what’s going on over there because it’s been a long time since they’ve lived there. I’ve thought about living in China and how unnatural it’d be for me but I’ve still imagined alternate universe Claudia who was born and raised in China.


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

I love contributing to the group sound. We sound the best when we’re all aware of each other and we’re listening closely to blend and match each other. So I’m happy to be a part of something bigger than my self.

 

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

I’ve always questioned my skills as a performer. I’m not confident, and I’ve connected my shyness with my Asian background and how I was raised. It’s dumb! I avoided performing arts besides piano and choir because I assumed my parents didn’t want that for me. I know many Asian Americans in entertainment have families that don’t support  their careers because they’re worried about stability.

But my mom was happy to hear that I’m in a group in college. It’s definitely an easy out. If I fail, it’s because of others, not me. But now I’m 22 and I’m my own person and it’s my choice to practice and improve or to stagnate. I can’t change how others see me, if they assume things about Asians being quiet or studious, but I can change how I see and present myself. I’ve half-assed auditions for my group becaues I’m afraid that my real best won’t be enough. But I’m capable! People like hearing me sing! And I think lack of confidence and imposter syndrome can be a real issue for Asian American performers, if they can’t imagine themselves being successful.

 

What was/is your favorite failure

I went to South Korea with my best friend the summer after I graduated from high school to audition to be a kpop star. I love singing, but at the time I was just burnt out from high school and I had a fantasy to run away and start fresh. I obviously didn’t make it, but what I remember the most about that experience was running around the city with my best friend trying to find the audition location and how much she believed me. It was just great having that support even though my chances of making it were very low.

           

What was/is your favorite success?

Winning first place at the ICCA (acapella competiton) quarterfinals after being in my group for past three years. This was my third time doing ICCAs, and we rehearse for 9 hours a week over winter break. The win was a big surprise because we are the first acapella UMBC group to advance to semifinals and it was wonderful seeing our hard work recognized and validated.    

 

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

Wanting to be a kpop star in the first place and being in a performance group, I’ve thought a lot about Asian Americans in the media! That’s not my career path, and many Asian Americans don’t feel like it’s an option because we don’t have much representation of Asian Americans in movies or music, or the representation we have has been white actors in yellowface, side characters, or stereotypes. I think it’s great when Asian Americans take initiative and create their own spaces. Youtube was great for content creators like Wongfu Productions, but it’s even more validating when you have Asians in well-developed roles in Hollywood! Wider audiences can recognize your talent! I haven’t watched Elementary or Killing Eve but wow! Asian female leads! But there’s still more that can be done. Asian women and men are viewed differently in terms of sexualization and demasculinization, respectively, but that’s a whole other story.

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

I like thinking beyond the US. I don’t want to think of America as the greatest country in the world because we don’t do everything perfectly and we’ve hurt a lot of people here and in other countries. I really hate when people say that American problems are trivial because people in other countries have it worse. I don’t take for granted the opportunites and privileges I have as an American, but loving America means wanting to make it better for its people, and that means people of all backgrounds. So I like being a living reminder of America’s diversity. My Chinese identity does not take away from my American one.

 

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?

White is the default and the majority. You can see that there are more successful white actors, singers, etc. You know that established performing arts schools have mostly white professors and that when a director has an artistic vision, they are visualizing white leads. Asians are not being considered for roles and jobs the same was their white counterparts. It’s not ideal, but people of color will take roles where they play stereotypes until they can get the roles they want.

It’s cheesy, but representation matters! When you see someone on TV that looks like you and is doing what you want to do. Kpop has honestly helped me understand that Asians can be performers, but has also helped me change how I think about Asian Americans. I’ve bought into the model minority myth of quiet, studious Asians. There is nothing wrong with that, but it is possible to be something else, if that’s what you want, that’s who you are, or that is who you can one day be.

 

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

I want Asian Americans to be successful both in white-dominated spaces and spaces that they have created themselves. I don’t believe in color blindness, but I want to get past the point of “first Asian man” to win an Oscar because enough Asian men and women will have already accomplished those feats. And Asians won’t be put in a box and are free to play well-developed characters. You won’t have an Asian Katy Perry or an Asian Justin Timberlake, it’ll just be whoever it is. Childish Gambino has expressed that he doesn’t like hearing that he’s the black version of somebody else, and he has a lyric that goes, “James Franco is the white Donald Glover.” I’ll put it out there that I really don’t know much about theatre, but I really want us to get to a point in casting where we cut the “artistic vision” crap in terms of casting based on race. Then more directors will audition and choose an Asian Ariel if she has the best audition instead of putting “pale redhead” in their casting description. That actually happened, by the way. Asian-American actress Diana Huey.

 

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Byung Ham

Field: Pastor

Time in field: 19 years

Comfort fooD: Momma's Kim-chi Jjigeh

"After the public humiliation of getting fired, I realized as an AA that "saving face" or maintaining the status quo was unnecessary because it is an empty pursuit. I felt freed by the shameful rejection and psychological death that held me back.

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

Growing up as an AA was/is a blessed burden, full of undeveloped questions and thoughts. Because I was "adopted" by the black community along with the hip-hop culture at a young age, I always felt a sense of belonging and acceptance from the world around me. However, Korean people did not welcome me as quickly because I lacked fluency and a deeper understanding of the Korean culture.

Instead of becoming more and more hostile towards my ethnicity, I decided to bridge the gap, even if it means to be stepped on by every party involved.


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

Serving others in any role is often a thankless job. But serving others as a pastor and leader is, again, a blessed burden because you receive a lot credit and a lot of blame. In light of this, I learned how much I care about others and what matters in life, namely good relationships.

 

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

Through this work I've realized that my parents raised me to work hard and respect my neighbors regardless of how they see me. I also learned how being an AA and the eldest son prepared me to lead and submit to authority and boundaries.

 

What was/is your favorite failure?

In the 2004, when I was 24 years old, I was fired as a youth pastor for the way I dressed, talked, and acted, not because of moral failure or incompetency. Even though I was heartbroken, God was the lifter of my head and validated my life in spite of how others saw me. I felt like an illegitimate Korean-American and a bad rule model but the Gospel of Christ prevailed and secured my identity as a child of God.

 

What was/is your favorite success?

Marriage.

 

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

After the public humiliation of getting fired, I realized as an AA that "saving face" or maintaining the status quo was unnecessary because it is an empty pursuit. I felt freed by the shameful rejection and psychological death that held me back.

 

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

Hard work. My mother and father modeled hard work and ignoring short-cuts. This has made a big difference in how I view life and relationships.

 

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?

I'm not sure if I've experienced this "point" yet in my field of work but I have noticed that it is much harder to develop deep community amongst the Caucasian crowd because their brand of fellowship is restricted by time. Asians tend to hang out for unrestricted periods of time.

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

My desire is to see the AA (particularly Korean-American) community develop an urgent care for their respective neighbors and for social justice. Secondly and perhaps of more importance (and possibly why the former seldom occurs) is a concerted approach to conflict-resolution. So many Korean-American churches and communities are fractured and split up by a displaced sense of entitlement and lack of forgiveness.