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APAHM: 腊八蒜 || Series 4

Series 4 of 5.

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Kaylyn Brown

FIELD: Spoken word and hand lettering

TIME IN FIELD: spoken word: 11 years / hand lettering: 2 years

COMFORT FOOD: Comfort food is burgers on the grill, my grandma's coleslaw, and jello salad for dessert. Typical white people picnic food!

"Representation matters. It's a tough line to both represent my heritage story well in my art, but also not be the sole voice of trans-racial adoptees - especially to majority culture. This is why we need a variety of voices and experiences to give the world a fuller picture of what it means to be Asian American."

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

I am a Korean-American adoptee raised by a white family in Central PA. There was only one China King buffet in a 20 mile radius of my house, a white person taught me to use chopsticks, and the only other Asians in my school were other adoptees. I didn't really understand what it means for me to identify as Asian-American until after college - partly because there was just no culture or other Asians to engage with or learn from. Microaggressions (aren't you good at math? your hair is so beautiful! you don't seem asian to me, you're just kaylyn!) defined my relationship to my ethnic identity for most of my life, which made it hard to love and value myself as Korean-American - so I just ignored it as much as I could. Now, I understand the necessity of understanding and embracing one's ethnic heritage - both the beautiful parts and the broken, messy parts.


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

With spoken word, I feel like God speaks through me as I write. It is a deep spiritual connection. With hand lettering, it took a lot of practice, research, and acquiring various supplies to get to a point where I felt like I could sell my work. They have been very different experiences, but in both I've been stretched and refined as an artist. I love leaning into what flows naturally (spoken word) and also seeing tangible improvement as I continue to practice and grow (hand lettering).

 

What was/is your favorite failure?

Even though I cringe when I see them, I love looking back at my first attempts at selling my hand lettering. I was so proud of them, and yet so inexperienced. But friends and family invested in me, so that I would have the confidence to keep creating and keep improving. Those cringy pieces of art reflect the support of so many people.

 

What was/is your favorite success?

Through a Facebook referral, I got to create hand lettered postcards for an author promoting a new book she wrote called "Fat and Faithful: Learning to love our bodies, our neighbors, and ourselves." As someone who struggles with my physical appearance, I am honored to be a part of her message to the Church about embodied faith. Disembodied faith is incomplete faith. I believe that Jesus is the picture of embodied faith - literally God in a body. And he lived in a brown body, at that! For me, my faith, my art, however I express myself - needs to be embodied and not disconnected from who I am physically, including my ethnic heritage.

 

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

To me, experiencing success and failure reminds me of how I was not raised in Asian/communal culture. I see my successes and failures as individual reflections of myself, not corporate reflections of my family or community.

 

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

I'm still discovering the parts of me that are Asian besides my ethnicity. But I now have a son who is Korean and black, and I want him to be connected to his Korean heritage. So we are learning together. We celebrated his baek il at Korean bbq, and I refer to his father as "appa."

 

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?

Representation matters. It's a tough line to both represent my heritage story well in my art, but also not be the sole voice of trans-racial adoptees - especially to majority culture. This is why we need a variety of voices and experiences to give the world a fuller picture of what it means to be Asian American. Also, most people are surprised when I perform spoken word, and they have no issues with telling me they didn't expect THAT to come from ME (translation: I didn't expect a small, Korean woman to be so good at spitting bars!).

 

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

I want to see Asian Americans represented in every sector from media to science to art to the Church. I want to see Asian Americans fighting for justice and righteousness, not afraid to speak out for the marginalized or oppressed, regardless of whether or not they look like us. 

Contact her for hand lettering at her page: The Lettering Well.

 

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Varsha Vivekanandan

FIELD: Media and Communications major and cinematic arts minor. 

TIME IN FIELD: About 5 years

COMFORT FOOD: Yogurt rice with lime pickle

"I really wanted to escape my identity so badly when i was a kid, but now i spend more time trying to learn more about my culture from my parents and grandparents. Also, a lot of my work is about and for asians so i want to talk about the issues pertaining to our communities."

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

To be honest, it was difficult. I hated being Indian for a long time.  Asians were definitely the minority in the schools that i attended, and even within them, there were not that many south asians. Although we’re also asian, we are often left of out of that group as well. And i wasn’t really friends with other Indians growing up, so i always felt out of place. I think it took me until like high school to start being more unapologetic about my identity.

 

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

In the past, i had never really considered myself to be super creative or anything. But now, i’m aware of all the ideas that go in and out my mind, and im always getting inspired by things i see and experience. Its cool to see how more practice and involvement in your work can influence how you view the world and fuel your next projects.

 

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

It definitely influences my perspective and ideas. Like a lot of the work i do is for other people of color, specificially south asians.

 

What was/is your biggest failure?

 I have no idea, i have failed a lot… i’ve had no direction for a long time and i was kinda just half-assing like everything because i had no real motivation.

 

What was/is your biggest success?

Honestly, me deciding to pursue media and communications is one important decision i made that was completely right. It has allowed me to more clearly see what i want in my future, and has encouraged me to create content. I’m just thankful and proud that i was able to find a subject that gives me the option to pursue art. I consider it a big success because its changed my personality and has set up a real future for me.

 

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

I felt like i wasn’t a good asian because for one, i was absolutely terrible at stem subjects. And two, i had no idea what to actually do with my life for the longest time. I was the exact opposite of the “smart asian” stereotype which often made me felt inadequate. However i am thankful that my parents never put any pressure on me and forced me to be something i wasn’t. They always told me that no matter what i decide to do, i should just work really hard and try to be the best. And that’s exactly what i’m doing now.

 

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

I really wanted to escape my identity so badly when i was a kid, but now i spend more time trying to learn more about my culture from my parents and grandparents. Also, a lot of my work is about and for asians so i want to talk about the issues pertaining to our communities.

 

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?

My reason for wanting to create films is to bridge the gap of poc representation, so going into the field, i knew my experience would be different.

 

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

I hope that other Asian Americans can grow up embracing their identity and loving their culture from a young age. I also hope they can learn that its okay to take time and figure out their life and not feel restricted/ pressured by stereotypes.

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Nick Tam

FIELD: Engineering

TIME IN FIELD: 1.5 years

COMFORT FOOD: Kimchi stew (Kimchi jjigae)

"I also take pride in parts of the success oriented culture that we have. I take pride when I do things well and when I see other people do well. I also take pride in the huge emphasis on family that exists in Asian American culture. Family ties are strong and family events are always a huge part of the holidays."

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

It seemed like a mix growing up, because I was constantly between being a part of American culture (in school) and a part of Chinese culture (at home and at church). When I was young, however, I didn’t think much about my culture when I was young.

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

I’ve learned that I am hard-working and can accomplish most things that I put my mind to. I have the ability to get things done and to do them well.

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

I’ve learned that Asian culture is very success oriented. I’ve also learned that culturally, I am different from my coworkers. I enjoy what I do in work, but something that was emphasized for me when I was younger was being successful and making enough money. For my non-Asian coworkers, they often are in their field because they genuinely wanted to do the work, whether or not it paid well.

What was/is your favorite failure?

My favorite failure is losing a scholarship when I was in college. At the time, it was not my favorite because it hurt a lot, and a lot of doubts about my ability came up. However, it is now my favorite failure because it taught me that I need to work hard and also gave me the motivation to press through and grow. I also learned that life is still okay even if I fail, which is counter to a lot of the success-oriented teachings I received when I was younger.

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

I take pride in my identity as an Asian American in the different aspects or things that I enjoy about being Asian American. I love the food we eat, as we can eat a mix of traditional Chinese food, but also American food. It is normal for me to eat these types of food. I also take pride in parts of the success oriented culture that we have. I take pride when I do things well and when I see other people do well. I also take pride in the huge emphasis on family that exists in Asian American culture. Family ties are strong and family events are always a huge part of the holidays.

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

I realized early in college that my experience as an engineer would be different from that of my non-Asian friends. My [majority culture] friends had more opportunities and open doors presented to them, while I had to work harder for my opportunities.