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APAHM: 腊八蒜 || Series 5

Series 5 of 5. Thank you all for sticking along! 

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Nitesh Sridhar

FIELD: Architecture/Design

TIME IN FIELD: 4 years (Undergraduate degree)

COMFORT FOOD: Maggi Noodles

"I think a lot of my desire to learn about myself and my culture stems from this path as well, as I became much more interested in these questions after taking a long, introspective look on what I was studying and why. I became a lot more comfortable asking questions about why I wanted to do certain things and about where my interests and biases were coming from. "

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

I grew up in a fairly diverse area so I never felt too out of place in that sense when I was younger. I think it was really helpful that we had Indian grocery stores nearby, and that I also had several Indian American friends who lived in the area so it was never like I was too isolated from my culture or heritage.

That said I was always acutely aware of how different my childhood was from my relatives who lived and grew up in India for most of their lives. One of the biggest differences between us, and one of my greatest regrets, is that I am not fluent in my mother tongue. My parents wanted me to practice and speak English well so they switched to speaking English at home once I started school. Due to lack of use when I was younger, I don’t know how to speak it or read it. I can understand it really well but to this day I still can’t hold a meaningful conversation with my grandparents due to the language barrier.


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

One thing about myself that I’ve learned throughout my studies and my work is that I love learning about other people. I like hearing their stories and understanding their cultures as well as sharing my culture with them. I love learning about different languages and writing systems which are inherently tied to cultural stories and identities as well. I firmly believe that every aspect of someone is tied to some story, or aspect of their heritage, or cultural beliefs and you can learn a lot about someone by trying to understand what they believe in and what they valued at different points in their life.

 

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

I think one thing that I’ve learned about my heritage specifically is how rigid our view is of what a religious building should look like, even in this hi-tech modern time. Almost all Indian Hindu temples look directly related and highly similar to each other, in a way that Christian churches, Jewish temples, and even mosques have broken away from. While Churches tend to reflect certain views of the religion at the time, Hindu temples and structures draw entirely from traditional plans and currently standing buildings. No one has really created a new, modern Hindu temple to this date and that really surprises me.

 

What was/is your favorite failure?

 Oh, it was definitely thinking that I wanted to be an Architect. After studying it for about 2 years I knew it was not for me. There was too much legal code to remember and complexities on a scale I was not interested in dealing with, but without starting on this path I would have never found out how interested I was in installations, design work, physical computing, and just building up the skills to make something with my own hands. I think a lot of my desire to learn about myself and my culture stems from this path as well, as I became much more interested in these questions after taking a long, introspective look on what I was studying and why. I became a lot more comfortable asking questions about why I wanted to do certain things and about where my interests and biases were coming from. It was for me not only an important step towards figuring out my own life plans and career path, but also towards deciding that there is something interesting and valuable in looking at why I do things certain ways and who or what shaped those reasonings.

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

I feel like the most honest way I try to show my pride in my identity as an Asian American, an Indian American, and as a Tamilian is by trying to reconnect with my language, my culture, and my relatives today. When I was growing up I never really had the desire to learn about why we celebrated certain holidays, why I was vegetarian, or even how I came to be here in the United States, but I have been slowly digging up these stories over the years. I try to ask my parents about this kind of information on a regular basis and I see myself bringing up trivia and explaining cultural terms or information to some of my friends just within natural conversation. I think the fact that it comes up naturally in my life is what is so different than when I was younger. I know a lot of it is because I actively seek this information now but I have a drive to learn about my language and my family’s beliefs that I just didn’t used to have at all and it really feels great.

 

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 think I always knew in the back of my mind that it would be different just due to the lack of famous architects that I knew of who weren’t Europeans or Americans, but it really sunk in early during my first few architectural history classes way back in my first semester of college. It just really stood out to me how many days we devoted to pouring over each decade of slightly shifting European styles while condensing almost all of Asia’s architectural traditions into 2 class periods. It just shows that even today we have a very clearly defined idea of what the profession is and how it got here, and it is steeped in the idea that while the rest of the world was just building structures, Europe was creating Architecture. I think pushing that narrative can really discourage people from bringing their own interests and culture in their work and so it is up to people growing in a more worldly and more culturally aware environment to resist that and redefine what should be called architecture.

 

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Uesin Kim

FIELD: Pastor and InterVarsity staff

TIME IN FIELD: 5 years

COMFORT FOOD: Dakdoritang (Korean spicy chicken stew) (mom and grandma's recipe)

"I think one of the biggest dynamics in the immigrant Asian narratives is that our parents or grandparents took one of the biggest risks to move to a country where they knew nothing and laid it all on the line just so we could we could benefit. And where I think it’s lost is that I think that human flourishing is always on the edge of risk, taking good risk for the community that you’re in."

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

Immigrated to Houston, Texas in 1998 and just became a citizen not too long ago. We lived in a part of town that was mostly White, Black and Hispanic. Even amongst Asians it was mostly Southeast Asians. Growing up we kinda just plunged in headfirst. we didn’t go to a Korean church because my dad intentionally decided if we were in America, we should go to an American church. Growing up I didn’t have the typical Asian American experience. I just did what everyone else did: fishing hunting, a lot of sports. It was pretty good, but for me what was different was that especially in what a lot of my friends were doing (sports), is that I was pretty good too. And the fact that I was pretty good at those things gave me a good amount of respect.

 

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

Just the Christian religion and being a Christian, I really enjoy that the culture Jesus lived in was a non-western culture. The church culture that I’m swimming in in America is very much a western culture but because I’m AA I have these non-western instincts and insights that aren’t western. So in my line of work the one example I use is that most of the “you’s” in the bible are plural. We tend to overindividualize that and say “this is just about “me” and “that’s just for you” and most of the time in a communal context God is speaking to his people in a group. I really enjoy the fact that I get to not only think about but also experience my communal identity as a Christian but also my individual identity as a Christian.

 

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

My greatest success in operating out of my ethnic identity is being able to build a communal foundational identity in al the spaces that I work in. And the consequences and expectations of that ID I can also enforce. One of those ex is a church that I’m pastoring at in downtown Baltimore. It’s been such a sweet marriage of me caring for my faith family, who also happen to need substantial help in a lot of ways. E.g. when I used to do urban ministry I used to just go to a place for a summer or a week and then I’d come back to my own place and leave that context. Now that I live here, and minister here and pastor here: those guys that I would have helped on those trips are now my church members. Having said that, I can get a lot more buy-in from them. I’d be able to say to them, ”You’re a brother, I go to my ends to help you; I expect the same from you” and I can raise the bar of mutual respect and responsibility and familial expectations and I’ve seen that respond really well. Whether that means they feel empowered or when they don’t respond in that way, there are obvious consequences. I’m not gonna be used; that’s not what family does.

 

What was/is your favorite failure?

I used to work for a Korean American church and I think I was just too American for that context. I’m very direct, I think goals in terms of objectives rather than people. I know I stepped on a lot of toes intentionally and unintentionally and that was a miscommunication in culture. But also, even in my context right now, we have a growing AA population but most of the people at our church are white or black. Asian and Hispanics are a very small minority. Sometimes I think the failure is also a failure in the miscommunication of expectation. An example is that when you come to an immigrant church, it doesn’t matter if you’re a no. Christian visitor, you’re helping somehow. You’re passing out plates, stacking chairs or just helping somehow. And that’s because we have a strong understanding of community as Asian Americans, it takes a village and all that. One of these failures is expecting that level of community in a western context. When we first planted, It used to be really hard to volunteers to do stuff, like “oh I’m busy” or “I can’t this week”, but we’re part of a church, y’know? We have to do this stuff together. So that kind of miscommunication early on was a failure due to my expectations.

 

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

You just learn as you go. I like to see that everyone’s so different, there are so many different ethnic backgrounds. So many different histories, childhoods and traumas. And I see ethnic identity as just a piece of that, even though it’s the main lens that you see things through. I think that being a pastor in the local Baltimore church scene. It’s kinda rare, y’know. It’s mostly like white pastors so when they see me or my co-pastor who’s African American it kinda just puts them at ease and it allows us to explore more topics. And the majority culture members in our church are just more willing to learn.

Even with IV work, there is this specific Asian American ministries,. Community, AA staff and things like that and I’ve always felt this strong sense of affinity towards other Asian Americans. There’s this instant connection, this instant resonance when we’re gathered together talkin about like ”oh did you try this? Did that work?”

It’s fun to workshop with other AA staff who are exploring the same things and sharing our failures. It’s always a learning curve, but I feel like I’m getting better at being able to express myself. The biggest win for me is growing in my ethnic identity enough to the point where I’m confident and comfortable in my own skin and my culture. I think a lot of people are still kind of just working out of that. But once you get to who you are, you can walk in who God made you to be and everything’s just a lot more fun. It’s like a huge burden that’s lifted off your shoulders and you can now operate in all of who you are, and I’m just learning how to do that more and more due to these successes and failure.

 

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

I love the fact that we’re space and others sensitive. So whenever it’s a gathering or a party, we’re always very much reading the room. We always have that instinct to go out of our way to welcome that outsider in. I really take pride in that. I’ve been in spaces where it’s not like that so I  used take that for granted. But that’s just something we can create as AA where everyone feels welcome. I also love the fact that we have a strong sense of support for each other. Like we’ll just go out for each other, we put it all on the line, we cover each other. I have these crazy stories of immigrant church members covering each others’ mortgages and car payments and crazy things like that when they’re in a tight spot. And that’s not even something that’s directly asked for, but we’re just so sensitive and we just help first, ask questions later and I love that attitude about us. Like hey if you’re a part of our group we’ll love you and take care of you and I’m definitely prideful about that part of our culture.

I guess the flip end of that is that I wish that cultural gift expanded beyond our cultural circles. I felt like my only biggest critique is that our definition of family needs to be bigger, not just in our tribe. It’s just such a great gift, People feel so tremendously loved even just having one experience of that. And I feel it’s a cultural gift we need to share with all people.

 

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 think even in the ways that my peers would talk about what they wanted to do, and I would even say the way that they did things: it all felt significantly different from the goals and processes I had in mind. One ex is talking to white pastors, it’s very vision, objective heavy: super goal oriented. The furthest they go in terms of diversity is that they celebrate it if it happens. At the end of the day we just got to be a church. it just sounds like they had a lot on their plate and a lot that they wanted to do. I would add on that being called into ministry, for my white peers it was a very individual calling experience, like “I was called by God to do this”, “this is my calling” they had a lot of their ID into that. “I’m gonna do this”

Whereas for me, my best example is Black Panther. The BP is a role for a community, it’s not just for one person and I love that. From the get go I always held my calling into ministry in very lighthanded ways. I know it’s a role and I know it’s a role that the community has seen enough of me to bestow upon me. But if I were t act out or If I wasn’t that much help to the community I wouldn’t felt that uncomfortable stepping out and stepping down. Because if I’m not serving the community well then there’s gotta be someone else that God has called for them.  And the fact that I see this as a privilege and not a right is a point of tension I always felt a lot with my majority culture white peers, where they felt if it was their God-given right but for me it was always a communal one. Ihad to be called out by the community, I had to be affirmed by the community and I had to be empowered by the community and at the same time I could be asked to step down by the community. So…so far so good, but I feel pretty comfortable saying that if I or the community felt I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to do that even though it might be uncomfortable that I’d ideally still jus step down.

The other thing is thinking about ministry in a centrally relational way. I had to develop this language of needing to have built trust and “relational capital”. People need to know that you’re for them; and it’s not formulaic, it doesn’t just happen. It’s leading out of vulnerability and gaining their trust and coming through for them. But once you have that trust: people run miles for you, and it’s this amazing empowered movement that’s possible and for a lot of my majority culture peers it’s not something that they think about while for me it’s something that comes very instinctually for me. That when something happens, when there’s a tough conversation that’ll happen, If you don’t have anything in the relationship bank you’re gonna go bankrupt. You won’t get the benefit of the doubt and you won’t be able to move forward as easily.

The communal calling, and thinking about things centrally from a relational perspective are the two things that differentiated me from majority culture in my field.

 

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

Grow in your ethnic identity. Be comfortable in your own skin. I always challenge minority students, church members, neighbors: because we know there’s an American culture, it’s quite possible for us to be in relationships with people in majority culture and for that relationship to not be a cross cultural relationship. Because we’re just operating out of majority culture. We know the jokes, the taglines, maybe because we’ve assimilated enough and we know what they like and what they might want to see in us. So my challenge is to AA anywhere is to intentionally force, or introduce into every relationship you have, for it to be a cross-cultural relationship.To have conversations like, “oh my family doesn’t do that at all”, “oh my family isn’t like that at all” or “these values that you have are nothing near mine, and here’s how they’re different” and to bring that creative tension of “I am not like you, and that’s totally fine. You need to get to know me as well as I need to get to know you.

First challenge: elevate every relationship as you learn and accept of who you are into a cross cultural relationship. I think hopefully your friends will be better for that.

Second challenge: I don’t know how else to say it, but to take more risks. I think one of the biggest dynamics in the immigrant Asian narratives is that our parents or grandparents took one of the biggest risks to move to a country where they knew nothing and laid it all on the line just so we could we could benefit. And where I think it’s lost is that I think that human flourishing is always on the edge of risk, taking good risk for the community that you’re in. Most of the messaging I hear from 1st generation parents to their children is “don’t take risks”.  Like we took so many risks for you to be safe, for you to be comfortable for you to be stable. Don’t flinch, stay in line, get this job.”

And I think the miscommunication I see a lot is that our parents achieved a lot of their goals because they took that risk and they experienced human flourishing because they said they loved their family and they just went all out for it. And maybe in a lot of way they did achieve that, but I think there needs to be communication for us to have that same opportunity. And it might look different for us, like going into a creative field or starting your own business, or some level of risk of something you’re passionate about that you’re called to do. But there’s needs to be that conversation of permission that needs to happen where we ask our parents like “hey you risked a lot for us and look at how much you’ve achieved, I’m asking for that same opportunity.
Whether that’s entrepreneurship, or something your parents don’t think is the most stable. I think the cost of not taking risk is very high. Because I know a lot of friends in a lot of fields in PhD programs, and industries because they thought that’s what they should have done. We all have some level of strain in our relationships with our parents, but I think building that relationship up to the point where you can talk to them in the harder conversations about what you want to do is a great goal for every AA. And to take risks into that because our parents have modeled that for us so well, and we need to have the same opportunity.