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AAPI Month Faculty Interviews

Ella: Can you give a quick introduction for yourself and how you identify within the AAPI community? 

Minh: For myself? I’m Minh, I'm a math teacher. And how do I identify in the AAPI community? I’m Vietnamese and French––I’m French Vietnamese. But I guess I'm also Vietnamese American. It's funny because I'm Asian American in the sense that it's not necessarily my own identity, or how I perceive myself. I still perceive myself as French. 

Ella: That’s interesting! How would you say your heritage has shaped the person you are today? 

Minh: How has it shaped the…? I guess it's the usual thing of um…my family being Vietnamese and…Confucian values, I would say. Some Confucian values, which are unfortunately still kind of, pretty patriarchal…It’s kind of part of my identity, I guess, some of those values are strong.  But also, being French––being raised in France, I also have very different values that conflict with a lot of Asian Americans, I suppose. 

Ella: Does your family have any traditions that are particularly meaningful to you?

Minh: Meaningful to me? Yes, we do have an altar with the ancestors at my parents’ home, so  not my home, but my parents’ home. So on death anniversaries, we always kind of send our wishes to our ancestors. And so that's one thing––for me it's just a reminder of…well, it's more like the memory or nostalgia, of big family gatherings around those death anniversaries, so that was kind of a fun time of my childhood. And then of course the Lunar New Year––in Vietnamese we say tết, that's spelled t-ế-t––and that's you know, because a lot of Asians go by the lunar calendar. 

Ella: It’s a pretty well known fact that you're French and you’ve lived in France for a while. And you've mentioned that you identify more with French Vietnamese, rather than Vietnamese American––can you talk a little more about that difference?

Minh: Yeah, so I think part of it is that a lot of my cultural references and pop culture references are still French, and so I don't identify with that kind of American pop culture. I mean, I do, but not as strongly. So, that's one thing. Another is  a very interesting consequence of history, that in the US, most Vietnamese Americans are from the south of Vietnam, and so they speak a southern dialect. I speak a northern dialect, which in the US is strongly associated politically with the Communist Party of Vietnam. So, whenever I speak Vietnamese, I feel very self-conscious in the US, you know, I have a feeling they look at me and think I’m a commie, whereas I don't have that feeling in France. 

Ella: Have people ever said anything to you, or is that kind of a presence? 

Minh: I think…someone said something, that became why I'm self-conscious. It was more of a friend of a relative. I was using a word that's a modern word––a lot of Vietnamese Americans who left have their own culture, and also the language has evolved, and the words and expressions are different from what is spoken in Vietnam currently. I mean it's the same, but some things are different. I studied Vietnamese in Vietnam some while ago, and I took this vocabulary word for “apartment.” So I was using that word, and that's just a word that person didn't know. And uh, because that person didn't know that word, that person said to me, “What? You sound like a communist.” So, that's why. 


Representation of viet? Media representation of viet culture? 

Farc? Connection to food? 

Something about language? 

Are there any moments where you can specifically recall being proud to be Vietnamese? Or any moments that bring you joy? 

What does AAPI month mean to you? 


Can you give a quick introduction for yourself and how you identify within the AAPI community? 

How would you say your heritage has shaped the person you are today? 

Does your family have any traditions that are particularly meaningful to you?

(did you grow up here) can you talk a little about your childhood growing up? Where DID you grow up? Do you find that place different from California now? 

How did you develop your interest in photography? Any particular mediums that you find most interesting? Why? 

(my dad interested in landscapes) 

What does AAPI Month mean to you?

cut for clarity

Adie: Can you give a quick introduction for yourself and how you identify within the AAPI community? 

Ms. Williams: My name is Christina Williams and I teach visual art here. I identify by being a Chinese-American who was born in Burma. But we came out to the US when I was eight months. So, I don’t have a real deep connection with Burma except for through food.

Adie: Yes, food. What are some of your favorite dishes?

Ms. Williams: Burmese dishes? Oh my gosh, oh that’s like asking who’s your favorite student! It’s too hard. But I will list a few. I like the noodle salad. I like something called nan ji do which is like a chicken, kind-of stewy, dish over noodles. And then I also like the catfish noodle soup.

Adie: How would you say your heritage has shaped the person you are today? 

Ms. Williams: You know, I have been mulling on that one. That’s kind of a hard one to answer. I think the easy answer is to say because of my parents and what they sacrificed, and what they did when they first landed in America, it’s shaped me to remember that however hard that I got it, is not nearly as big or as daunting of a challenge as when they first landed in America with an 8-month-old baby.

Adie: Does your family have any traditions that are particularly meaningful to you?

Ms. Williams: Chinese New Year. Lunar New Year is a huge, huge tradition. It’s when my extended family and I, we all get together. Aside from passing out red envelopes, we also make little goodie bags full of sweets and oranges for all the symbolism and prosperity and health and all that kind of stuff. And we would rent a place and gather for four or five hours. It’s a big potluck and we bring all kinds of food and just enjoy each other.

Adie: I remember whenever it was New Years, we’d watch TV shows of Chinese operas. It was a bonding experience.

Ms. Williams: When my grandparents were alive, my family would bring them. It was actually my grandparents, my mom, my dad, me, and my godmom in one house for a very long time. And my grandparents were practicing Buddhists, so it was an even bigger deal. Chinese or Lunar New Year Eve, as we call it now, was always vegan. You would have to do the praying at the altar and the offerings, then 2 o’clock in the morning was when you did the turnover. I couldn’t wash my hair for the whole nine hours! But now that my grandparents have passed, my mom’s generation and my generation are more lax, or even fusion in our traditions.

Adie: Yeah definitely, that’s a big part of Chinese-American culture.

Ms. Williams: Exactly, you have to wash your hair. And usually you’re going to work the next day!

Adie: How have stereotypes such as the “model minority” stereotype influenced your life and how did you deal with them? 

Ms. Williams: I think it has shaped me in a way that some of my relatives called me a rebel when I was growing up. I didn’t do well in math, I hated it, and I was always into artsy stuff. A lot of my relatives, my aunts and uncles, my dad especially, told me, “You need to become a doctor, lawyer, dentist—engineer was also ok.”

Adie: Acceptable.

Ms. Williams: None of those, none of those thank you very much. And my dad actually helped me get my first real job at 16 at a dental office. Because my dad’s side of the family comes from dentistry, and he didn’t become a dentist because of education and moving to America, he had really high hopes that I would. And so he thought if he could get me an internship, then I would fall in love with it. And it completely backfired. That was exactly the summer that I knew there was no way I was ever going to dentistry. I was not going to be a doctor, I had my heart set on art. So in terms of stereotypes, I kind of actively but against them. It wasn’t always an easy conversation, or debate, or even argument to have with my dad especially. When it came time to choose colleges and majors, it was tough. 

Adie: For sure, stereotypes man.

Ms. Williams: Oh, stereotypes are you know, are they just, I don’t know, are we just being sensitive about it? When I talk to a lot of people in my generation, that was very much how it was. 

Adie: It’s like when you think about it so much, that when you’re doing those things, it’s very hard to not actively think about stereotypes.

Ms. Williams: Yeah, when I was studying art in college, especially undergrad, I had a lot of older relatives say, “What are you going to do, you’ll starve!” or, “You’re wasting your parents money!” It was always “your parent’s money,” because they were paying for college. It was this whole guilt trip and all of that. I used to have to back myself up, there was no one else supporting me on this decision. I actually think the model minority stereotype shaped me into a more ferment artist, and art teacher, I dare say.

Adie: Speaking of teaching.

Adie: How has being Asian American influenced your art or teaching students?

Ms. Williams: You know, it hasn’t really influenced my art. I studied a lot of Western art and I do mostly Western-type art. I’ve never done Asian brush painting. In that regard, my art is very Western, very Westernized. But I have explored more Asian or Chinese themes, typically around food. I’ve done a lot of paintings of Chinese food, fruits, pastries, stuff like that. And in terms of teaching, it’s not about teaching concepts and approaches that are more Asian or Chinese. It’s more about when I’m teaching Asian students, who have an interest in art and I can tell their parents are not necessarily approving, I feel for them, you know? I try to make sure that they understand, A.) You can do it. It won’t be an easy conversation to have with your parents but it’s doable. I’m living proof of it. B.) There’s so many ways you can apply artistic creativity that’s maybe not in the art field, but can still maybe appease your parents. And you can still be creative. So I try to make sure they understand it’s not a dead end.

Adie: That’s really interesting, the different avenues that you can explore art. That’s really cool.

Adie: Do you have a favorite Asian artist and what work of theirs do you find telling?

Ms. Williams: There are the famous ones like Yayoi Kusama and Ai Weiwei, but most of my favorite artists are actually Instagram artists. There’s one, Felicia Chiao (@feliciachiao), she does very distinct lineart and has recurring characters. There’s a daisy character, one sort of amorphous character, and then another one that’s a dark blob. Her themes are actually about mental wellness, anxiety and depression. I follow her partly because her work is very cool, but also because she's one of those upcoming Asian-American artists that are really breaking the norms by exploring mental health. Which is like a no-no in a lot of Asian cultures. You just don’t talk about it, just suck it up and get over it. And she explores all of this through these characters. I really admire her for this. I don’t really do a lot of personal art and share it with people. So when I find younger, Asian-American artists that are really paving the way, I think it’s just wonderful. There’s another one, Eddie Ha (@ehacomics). He explores similar themes, but also just what it means to be an Asian-American and straddling two cultures. So a lot of the artists who I follow, and are Asian-American, those are the themes they explore. The ones that I’m not brave enough to explore myself and share with other people. 

Adie: That’s really cool.

Ms. Williams: It’s like living vicariously through them. Yes, I can relate to that!

Adie: I gotta love Instagram for the amount of work you can see. There’s so much diversity and new artists that you’ve never heard of before. 

Ms. Williams: They’re doing really good work by exploring themes that have been very difficult to have open discussions about. Now they’re sharing it with everyone. 

Adie: I don’t know if this counts, but I love reading manga because that’s one of my favorite forms to view art. Because there's also a story to it, and I love Webtoons.

Ms. Williams: Have you seen Fashion King? 

Adie: Is it like a fashion show where contestants compete?

Ms. Williams: No, it’s a Webtoon, an older one. It explores a guy who’s in high school and his own awkwardness. 

Adie: That’s interesting, I’ll read up on that. Thank you!

Ms. Williams: Thank you.

Adie: D’ya wanna say bye?

Ms. Williams: Byeeeeeeeeeeee.

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