Annie Scherer is a New York-based indie-pop singer, and a second-generation descendent of Chinese immigrants. She was recently nominated for her local newspaper's "Best Local Performer" and in Times Union Annual as "Best of the Capital Region". She recently recorded a live performance of her original song, "Andy Warhol", in LA which will be aired on television sometime this year.
Her music touched us, and so did her answers to our interview questions.
1. What inspired you to start creating music?
"I’ve always had a profound love for music. I grew up listening to rock n’ roll classics like the Beatles, the Kinks, and the Rolling Stones. They’re still some of my favorite bands. I also began classical piano training when I was six, and I continued to perform piano for 13 years. "
2. What are your thoughts about the industry and Asian-Americans in the music industry currently?
"It’s very bittersweet because on one hand, music is so accessible and widespread. But on the other hand, it’s harder to stand out and be heard. I miss when streaming didn’t exist, and you could only buy physical or digital copies. Ten years ago, the best present I could get was an iTunes gift card. I always had a list of songs I couldn’t wait to buy.
3. How has being Asian-American impacted your music/lifestyle?
"I feel a strong responsibility to represent Asian-Americans in music, since there are so few of us. My family history and my ancestors’ success is something I strive to live up to. My grandparents are Chinese immigrants, and lived through a war before coming here. My grandmother was the daughter of a wealthy businessman in Shanghai. Meanwhile, my grandfather grew up in extreme poverty and wound up at Princeton. I want to make them proud."
4. What advice do you have for other young Asian-Americans who are thinking of going into music?
"I always encourage people to follow their passion. It’s so rewarding, and the hard work pays off. We need more Asian-Americans in the music industry. I hope to empower other Asian-Americans to pursue music as a career by serving as a role model for them and helping to pave the way."
Thank you so much to Annie for doing this interview with us, and we are so excited to see Asian-American artists continue to rise up throughout the music industry.
Listen to Annie's newest single, "After Rain", on Spotify here.
"I am what I am, firelight of a different color."
I grew up listening to this song and these lyrics. Emboldening and encouraging the concept of individuality, it is a source of empowerment for not only me but millions of listeners across the globe. Despite being released two decades ago, the legacy this song has become is ever so evident. But what has become even more iconic is the singer and artist behind “I am What I am”.
King of Canto-pop, Leslie Cheung, donning red heels and a sequined suit performed on stage in his concert accompanied by a male dancer. In 1997, a time where homosexuality was still classified as a mental illness in China and only 6 years after it was decriminalized in Hong Kong, Cheung became a symbol of resiliency among the LGBTQ+ community and a trailblazer for queer people across Hong Kong and China. Though this concert drew massive backlash from the media, Cheung did not halt his steps towards self-expression and the displaying of his non-conforming identity. The release of “I am What I am” in 2000 encapsulates the career of Leslie Cheung, highlighting his unique presence in Hong Kong and Chinese Entertainment.
Born in 1956 in Hong Kong, Cheung was sent to England at age 12. There he chose the name Leslie, citing the androgynous appeal. When he returned to Hong Kong over a decade later, he took up the path of a pop star. He began to truly make a name for himself a few years after his career started with hit singles like “The Wind Blows On”. After that, Cheung was awarded numerous gold-certifications for his albums and singles and took home award after award for songs and albums like “Monica” and “Who Feels the Same?” His status in the Canto-pop industry was undeniable with sold-out tours and record-breaking sales. In 1989 however, Leslie Cheung took a different path in his career. He announced his retirement from the music pop industry and instead chose to focus on his acting roles and his big-screen career. Already an experienced actor, he became a star in numerous award-winning films and critically acclaimed.
One of Cheung’s most remembered roles left a lasting impact on the Chinese film industry. Playing a Peking Opera singer, Cheung portrayed the conflicting identity of an opera singer in China’s cultural revolution and his struggles with homosexuality, friendships, and ultimate suicide. Launching him into international fame, this movie and his character Douzi was known as an artistic masterpiece. Although being heavily censored, this film was able to reverse the initial screening ban placed on it by the Chinese government. Leslie Cheung’s raw portrayal of internal battles and the experience of turbulences through the Cultural Revolution left a lasting mark on Chinese Cinema. His role as a man in love with another man played a vital role in cutting through the stigma of homosexuality.
As Cheung took more and more homosexual roles where at one point he played exclusively gay characters, rumors of his sexuality followed him around. Leslie Cheung officially came out in an interview where he announced his attraction towards both males and females. This was historic, as he became one of the first openly LGBTQ+ Cantonese stars. This did not come without criticism, however, and Leslie Cheung faced insults, negative remarks, and endless criticism. But his bravery to open up his identity became an inspiration and a symbol of courage.
Leslie Cheung is an icon and star, whether it is on-stage, on-screen, or in the memories of people around the world. While he left us on April 1, 2003, his legacy lives on. He left with us his bold statements of androgyny like his iconic, and sadly last, performance during his Passion Tour where he became the first Asian artist to have French fashion designer Jean-Paul Gaultier design for him, as well as his final posthumously released album, “Everything Follows the Wind”.
For millions of LGBTQ+ Asians and Asian Americans, Leslie Cheung led us in our fight towards equality and breaking down social molds. He was a push back against suffocating heteronormativity in Asia. His sales broke records while his music and performances broke Hong Kong’s and China’s societal view of what a celebrity and even what an everyday person should look like.
Most importantly, he taught us how we can truly embrace ourselves to become vibrant firelights of extraordinary, different colors.
Author: Audrey Zhou
DeclarASIAN Blog Contributor
The search for meaning has never been more prominent as Asians in multi-cultural environments are galvanized into taking action. Whether it’s a stance against anti-Asian racism, the search of one’s place amidst a diverse environment, or the requestionning of established rules, Asian American identity is resurgent. One galvanizing change is the rise of Asian Americans in the film industry. Even though Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite (2019) is a film made and produced in South Korea, it still broke a new frontier for Asians in the film industry, similarly to Crazy Rich Asians (2018),The Farewell (2019) and the recent Minari (2020). These films highlight the importance of film and diverse representation of Asians on screen.
So, Let’s dive in personal territory, a microcosm of this Asian cinematic movement. A lot of people say that kids don’t see race, that their minds aren’t very stained by social constructs yet, in a way it is true — but subconsciously…maybe not! Growing up, I was watching typical American content, cartoons, superheroes, blockbusters, but I was also watching Hong Kong Wuxia and comedy films with my father which added a Chinese mix in my juvenile taste. As days went by, I watched less and less Mandarin/Cantonese films and naturally shifted into watching what was popular, what was being talked about at school. My curiosity and passion for cinema kept growing and in the blink of an eye, a whole decade passes. The weird thing was that all my favorite films by 2017 only starred white talents in front and behind the screen. Blade Runner, Lost in Translation, Her, Denis Villeneuve’s films, literally all Marvel movies, films from legendary directors and hundreds more. This subconsciously made me feel alienated from cinema.
It’s not that I couldn’t relate to the characters, but that they made me feel like people who looked like me weren’t part of this American experience. This lack of identity was not only present in film, it also bled in other aspects of my life, such as the music I was listening to, the friends I had, the way I saw things in life. While there is nothing ethically wrong with it, it distanced me from my Asian identity and at some point, I felt it.
I was trapped in a bubble until my sister popped it. She watched this Hong Kong film called Chungking Express (1994), starring legendary icon Faye Wong, retired legend Brigitte Lin, veteran legend Tony Leung, and the charismatic Takeshi Kaneshiro, — directed by one of the most memorable architects of Chinese cinema, Wong Kar-wai. In 2018, I was an uninspired and quite depressed student in architecture, where I was almost completely surrounded by white students and teachers. I was doing an assignment while my sister was watching the film, and I lifted my eyes up from time to time, semi-watching the film. At some point, my eyes were glued to the screen…leaving my assignment completely dry. It’s a film that is separated into 2 stories. One is about a detective falling for a mysterious woman who turns out to be an illegal smuggler, and the second is simply about Faye having a crush on Tony Leung’s character who’s still hung up on his ex. What enlightened me was not just Christopher Doyle’s amazing way of capturing the electricity that was 90’s Hong Kong, but also how these were cool and charismatic characters who looked like me. They didn’t fit into any stereotype: Faye is a quirky, energetic and shy girl who just does what she wants and feels what she wants, Kaneshiro is a charismatic detective who’s looking for love. I felt like I was brought back to to life watching these people be weird, cool, attractive and mysterious. Can I only see Asians play layered and interesting characters in Asian films?
That same year, Crazy Rich Asians (2018) broke the box office and Searching (2018) was a huge success, two films led by Asian talents in America. Suddenly I was rediscovering Chinese music (obviously Faye Wong’s legendary discography), I began discovering independent Korean cinema and I began asking my father to tell me stories about my grandfather from China and him in Vietnam. You can call it coincidence or whatever, I like to call it a wake up call! Notably in the wake of COVID-19, one thing it has solidified is the Asian American community. We need to be recognized, and we cannot retreat back to the olden ways or distance ourselves further away from our culture and history. We are part of a branch of multiculturism and we have to represent our experience, not in a way that differentiates us from others, but in a way that makes us human.
Author: Andrew Luk
DeclarASIAN Blog Contributor
In January of 2003, I was left at one day old on a bridge in China, bundled into a box with blankets to protect me from the cold. At a year old, my parents adopted me from Guiping Social Welfare Institute and brought me to America. I grew up knowing my adoption story and accepting that I looked different from my family, but I did not think much of how being the only Asian person in a white family would challenge my notion of identity.
At the beginning of seventh grade, we moved from New Jersey to California, which had a different racial makeup. It was the first time all of my classes had Asian students in them. I was excited to have so many people who looked like me in my classes. But when I made new friends, I found out I hardly knew what it meant to be Asian.
I struggled to fully understand the references of my Asian friends. Eating rice with every meal? What was boba? Do all Asians really get straight A’s? I was embarrassed by my unfamiliarity of the nuances of Asian American culture, feeling like a “banana”- white on the inside, and yellow on the outside. I asked questions, and they were delighted to share basic Asian norms with me. I discovered that we also had many similarities as American teenagers. Then, just as I was becoming confident about my Asian identity, I moved to Seattle for high school, returning to a predominantly white neighborhood.
I felt a deep loss, now separated from my Asian squad, and feeling disconnected from the white kids around me in a way I hadn’t before. In California, I had planned to study Chinese in high school, but my new school only offered Japanese. I quickly found others like me in my Japanese classroom, and the cultural atmosphere there, which is similar in most Asian countries, brought back that feeling of belonging. I was able to emotionally connect in a way that I’d lost when I moved to Seattle.
The summer before my junior year, I decided to participate in a three-month homestay exchange at a high school in Osaka, Japan. Upon our arrival, it was clear that the other four students, all white, were far more popular with the Japanese students than I was. Our travel coordinator explained that the Japanese students loved American culture, and that white people were rarely seen in Osaka. I was very jealous. I finally looked like everyone around me, but now I didn’t want to. Teachers, shop owners, and strangers assumed I was Japanese, and stared at me if I made a mistake culturally or with the language. I wanted the attention and compliments that my white peers enjoyed, not the expectations and responsibilities of a Japanese student. As my American friends began to struggle with whether they were liked for themselves or just because they were white Americans, my mindset changed. I began to embrace that I could blend in, realizing that the extra responsibilities placed on me strengthened my language skills, cultural understanding, and self discovery.
Living in places with different racial makeups challenged my original assumptions of racial identity. I believed that racial labels were necessary and I had certain expectations for them. That is why I had always identified myself as a “banana” to lessen the burden of racially not fitting in. However, I also discovered that race is not the only thing that makes me who I am. Identity is more complex than a specific ethnic or racial group. What creates my identity is the way I connect with myself and others.
Author: Claire Junkins
DeclarASIAN Blog Contributor
January is a cold and cruel month, especially for the many Jets fans who have had to watch their team lose game after game and stagger to a depressing 2-14 record, 2nd worst in the NFL. However, when winter nears its end and a new football season begins, the New York Jets will have one of the most energetic head coaches on the sidelines. Robert Saleh, former 49ers defensive coordinator, was recently hired and became the first Muslim head coach in the NFL.
Saleh was born in Dearborn, Michigan, home to one of America’s largest Arab American communities. After four years as a tight end on the University of Northern Michigan Wildcats, he graduated with a degree in finance and was about to begin a job at Comerica Bank. However, in 2001, when his brother escaped from the World Trade Center on September 11th, Saleh rethought about his decision to leave football and decided to return to the game as a coach. After bouncing around through college programs, he finally landed an internship for the Houston Texans in 2005. Eventually, Saleh was promoted to defensive quality control and was hired by the Seattle Seahawks in 2011.
The Seahawks, a mediocre team back then, saw an instant change in play after the organization drafted core players like Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, and Kam Chancellor, a defensive group that would eventually be known as “The Legion of Boom”. During this time, Saleh helped to coach these players to their max potential, forming one of the strongest defenses of all time. They were hard hitting, fast, and intelligent, leading the league in scoring defense for four years. After a 13-3 record in the 2013 regular season, the Legion of Boom clamped the Denver Broncos 43-8 in Super Bowl XLVIII, and Saleh obtained his first Super Bowl ring.
In 2017, Saleh became the defense coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers. At the time, the Niners had the worst defense statistically in the NFL. Yet with passionate, motivational coaching from the sideline, Robert Saleh became a star in the 49ers organization. Always the first one to dap up a player after a turnover, Saleh’s energy as a defensive coordinator pushed his unit to be better. His motto, “All Gas No Brake”, was embedded into every player. Steadily, the 49ers defense became one of the best in the league. In 2019, Saleh returned to the Super Bowl; however, the 49ers lost to the Chiefs in a tight game.
From intern to defensive assistant to coordinator, Saleh’s journey has finally reached the highest possible coaching opportunity in the football world – head coach of his own NFL team. Being the first Muslim head coach in NFL history, Robert Saleh is an inspiration to those in his community and around the world. In a country where anti-Muslim sentiment is still present, Saleh broke racial and cultural boundaries to reach where he is today. However, the challenge to make the New York Jets into a winning team will prove difficult. After all, the team hasn’t been to the Super Bowl since 1969. If there’s anyone in the league who can turnaround this team, it’s Robert Saleh.
Author: Devin Wu
DeclarASIAN Blog Contributor
To celebrate the end of my 14-day quarantine after arriving in Japan in mid January, my dad and I drove out to the town, Hakone, in the Shizuoka prefecture to visit the dormant volcano, Owakudani. Like most of Japan, the road up to Owakudani was scattered with many abandoned businesses that have yet to reopen their doors due to COVID-19. Colorful, eye-catching hotels with empty bars and lonely lobbies line the drive up the mountain. There’s hotels of every imaginable theme-- from Mediterranean style villas to castle-like resorts. Through the thick patches of trees, my dad and I were able to catch glimpses of Lake Ashinoko, the vast body of water created in the caldera of Mount Hakone, and the many discarded boats littering it. As we continued to ascend up the mountain, we were suddenly hit with the strong scent of sulfur. Amusingly, the egg-like smell was like a reminder of the famous snack sold atop the mountain.
Once we reached the Owakudani Valley viewing site, we were greeted by a surprisingly crowded parking lot, and, of course, an even more potent sulfur scent.
After walking around the area and taking pictures, we headed into the giftshop to buy the famous kuro tamago, black, hard boiled eggs cooked in the hot springs of the volcano. While my dad and I waited for the next batch of eggs to arrive, we looked at what amusing merchandise the gift shop carried. From black egg-shaped soap to keychains of Hello Kitty dressed as a kuro tamago, the shop offers a variety of cute and unique omiyage (souvenirs).
Although there was a long line due to the late arrival of the eggs, the line moved swiftly once the eggs were delivered to the shop.
Perhaps the sulfur smell is what inspired the Owakudani egg… what came first, the chicken or the egg?
Despite the strangely hard and slightly off-putting black shell, the famous kuro tamago taste just like plain hard boiled eggs. Admittingly, I was expecting the eggs to taste a little funkier since they are rumored to extend your lifespan by seven years (according to the recordings played at the viewing site). However, I would still consider them the perfect snack for the occasion because the freshly boiled egg warms your hand up, and goes perfectly with the egg-like scent of the steaming sulfur from the volcano.
Author: Akiko Anna Iwata
DeclarASIAN Blog Contributor
Today, when we think of today’s example of Asians in Western music, our minds jump to either K-Pop or 88rising--which is highly reasonable. We recognize names like BTS and Joji because of how much they have contributed towards Asian representation in American media. However, a face that some Americans are criminally unfamiliar with is Jin Au-Yeong, more famously known as “MC Jin”. Jin rose to fame around 2002 after his appearance on a BET program. Back in the early 2000s, seeing Asian representation in the American music industry was almost unheard of. As a pioneer of Asian American rappers, MC Jin changed the game that arguably now allows modern Asian artists to thrive in.
Jin was born in Miami, Florida after his parents had emigrated from Hong Kong. There, his family opened a Chinese restaurant where he would busy himself listening to the radio and watching MTV. Around the age of 13, he slowly developed an interest in music, specifically hip-hop. Despite his love for multiple genres of music, he admits in an interview with the CGTN, “The one thing I can’t explain is that for some reason, hip-hop was the one that pulled me in.” By 16, rapping was not only an interest, but a prospective profession for Jin. After he graduated from high school, his family moved out to New York where his rapping career began, and by 19 Jin would perform his original work on the streets, in the clubs, and at any opportunity that he could find.
In 2002, MC Jin was given the chance to move from the small stage to national television. He was invited onto BET’s 106 & Park and participated in their weekly segment “Freestyle Friday”, a competition where rappers are given 30 seconds to perform a freestyle on the spot. Walking up to perform, there was one thing apparent about him: he was Asian.
Jin told NPR in an interview, “There was the inevitable elephant in the room [at local rap competitions]. Everybody’s like, ‘Hold up, hold up! That Chinese kid is going to go on stage and rap?’” In just his first Freestyle Friday battle, he impressed the audience and judges after beating 6-week champion Hassan, disproving any doubt they had of him. MC Jin continues to dumbfound the crowd after every appearance using his witty retorts and confident style.
Jin’s second rap battle was possibly his most iconic. His opponent, Sterling, like many others, took the low opportunity to poke at Jin’s race. Sterling mocked, “You acting like I ain’t the one / Why you got me battling Bruce Lee’s grandson / I’m a star, he just a rookie / Leave rap alone and keep making fortune cookies.” Instead of discouraging him like Sterling intended, the insults just fueled Jin’s spite. Once it was his turn, Jin responds to Sterling nonchalantly, “You wanna say I’m Chinese son, here’s a reminder / Check your Timbs, they prolly say ‘Made in China’.” With that sharp comeback, MC Jin made the crowd and judges go crazy, letting America have its first taste of “beast meets west”.
Jin continues to win a streak of 7 rap battles before his name was officially established into the Freestyle Friday Hall of Fame. Right after this major accomplishment, he continues to impress the public with his announcement of signing with Ruff Ryders Entertainment. At this point, he becomes the first Asian American to get signed to a major record label. MC Jin goes on to release his debut single “Learn Chinese” which charted 74 on Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop, and later came out with his first album “The Rest is History”, which reached rank 54 on U.S. Billboard Top 200 Albums. He even played in major Hollywood hit “2 Fast 2 Furious”, and contributed to the production of the movie’s soundtracks. It is evident that his accomplishments were ahead of his time, though some believe it hurt Jin more than it helped him. Music critic Jeff Chang observes, “Jin was trying to basically break the mold of Asian Americans being sort of the kung fu artists or the folks who...played the supporting role. And so it might have been a case of Jin being there too early.”
Jin, on the other hand, believed that he lacked direction in both his album and life which led to an ‘anticlimactic’ career.
After Jin left Ruff Ryders in 2006, he managed to keep a low profile while still pursuing his passion for music. He eventually began a career in Hong Kong as an artist, actor, and a celebrity icon. MC Jin was featured in popular Chinese variety shows such as ‘The Rap of China’ and ‘Idol Producer’, but he has also returned onto American programs such as MTV’s Wild ‘n Out. Despite Jin’s major accomplishments, he remains true and humble. MC Jin now continues his career both in America and in China balancing his art, family, and media presence. When discussing his Asian identity, Jin stresses its importance, especially in hip hop culture. In an interview with YouTuber duo ‘The Fung Bros’, he tells them, “It’s a matter of finding that balance…of where you do embrace it [your identity], [and] you do acknowledge it, but [you] don’t let that define you all the way.” Jin continues to emphasize the idea of balancing your identity with your art in an interview with Chinese media outlet RADII stating, “Yes I am an Asian artist, but I don’t want to be just a dope Asian artist. I’d love to be recognized for my art as well, as opposed to, ‘Oh yeah, he’s pretty dope for an Asian.’”
When talking about Asian American artists in the western music industry, it would be a crime to not acknowledge MC Jin’s influence. Jin’s work broke down doors for today’s Asian Americans, allowing America to see the true potential that Asian Americans have. Jin worked unashamed and relentless, putting down every stereotype along his way.
Today, we now have amazing artists like Rich Brian releasing songs confidently stating, “B***h hello, don’t fight the feeling ‘cause I’m yellow.” But we should remember that it all began with MC Jin’s unapologetic, “Yeah I’m Chinese, so what.”
Author: Quynhnghi Tran
DeclarASIAN Blog Contributor
The description on my LinkedIn and Instagram pages alike (after a Hamilton quote, and a rainbow flag emoji) reads “freelance creative”.
I was supposed to be a doctor. Or a lawyer. A prime minister. You know the drill: anything high-achieving. Or, as Asian parents see it, regular-achieving.
It all started off so well - I was the perfect Asian kid. I did Kumon. I went to judo. I learned, and “completed” both piano and violin. I had neat, shiny hair. I got straight A’s, and if I ever got B’s, it was correctly alongside a 3 for effort (it’s better to be lazy but smart, than hard working and dumb, according to my mother). I was quiet, polite, and cleaned my plate. I was a Mensa child even, at a school for gifted individuals. I couldn’t have fit the bill for perfect Asian immigrant child any better. Take that, Evan Huang!
In actuality I was a fraud, my true gifts being inauthenticity, deception and self betrayal. I cheated at Kumon for years by ripping the back pages out and dropping them (along with my leftover noodles and un-swallowed ginseng) behind the upright piano, which I hated playing because I wanted to shout punk rock instead. Unbeknownst to us then, I was no Evan Huang of FOTB - child genius, apple of his mother’s eye, model student & Model Minority. I was Gilmore Girls’ Lane Kim – master of the double-life, Dead Kennedy’s t-shirt perfectly concealed under a Bible Camp jumper, blasphemous CDs carefully stacked under the floorboards, black hair boldly stained with bad-ass neon purple hair then hidden under another layer of opaque black hair-dye, lest her mother see.
This clash set us up, my own mother and I, for a lifetime of disappointment. I was always supposed to be High Achieving, and creative pursuits were never a factor in that limited definition.
This is a theme that occurs for those of us in the diaspora in particular, and is certainly linked to financial structures, immigration and privilege, but I’m not here to get into that too much – I want to talk about the personal confidence that can be lacking because of cultural views on Creativity. I’m sure there are many Asian kids/kids of the diaspora who long to be creative but don’t feel able to pursue this as a career.
I’m here to say: pursuing an unconventional / creative career path IS a valid choice.
My credentials to give the following advice: I’m a working creative. After a decade of poorly balancing my own desires and the conflicting desires of my family, living out a constant cycle of push, pull, and fallout – I left the academic world for the live music industry. I left that for corporate hospitality, which I left for Financial Analysis, which I left for the charity sector. I left that, and everything else, for travelling. I left so many promising careers, simply because I started them to please someone else, so I couldn’t ever finish them for myself. I don’t regret the wealth of amazing experiences I had as a result of this inability to commit to full authenticity or indeed inauthenticity - but I do wish I’d simply been allowed, or allowed myself, to follow my desired path, and not wrestled with the weight of expectations for so long.
I am now a freelancer in London, doing whatever creative work comes along. I’m sort of “middling” successful (I say this because the story is often so Make It or Break It when discussing creative careers, and it doesn’t have to be!) - I live happily with my partner and cat, and in our home studio/workspaces, I make spray paint art, I write and do voice work, I host a podcast, and I have run choirs and facilitated workshops. I have supplemented this all when necessary with non-creative work, and I make substantially and laughably less money than I did in my most junior corporate positions. Yet, I am finally living the life I want, and I couldn’t be happier.
Now – the advice:
The mental health repercussions of stifling yourself are real.
Fighting against it will only make everything worst. If you have a passion, and you stifle it in order to please your parents, or fit into what you feel is expected of you – this feeling of inauthenticity/lack of fulfilment/self betrayal very well may stay with you, and morph into all sorts of insidious qualities. You could “win” at the “correct” career, and never fully feel good enough. You could end up on the top of a ladder you don’t really want to be on, and feel like you can’t climb down for fear of failure. This stuff can trap you.
This isn’t to say you can’t be passionate about dance/music/*insert creative interest* and not have a separate career – we are all multi faceted people, with wide interests. The feeling that we have to commodify our hobbies is a real problem. Feeling like our interests aren’t valid unless they are financially profitable/have an impressive social media account attached is a problem of our pernicious “hustle culture” and I’m keen not to feed into that. Being a shop worker who knits scarves in her spare time, or an accountant who sings in a choir, is a wonderful way to live – interests aren’t only valid with paychecks attached.
I’m talking about something specific here: knowing inside you, underneath all the self doubt and insecurity, that you want to do *insert creative interest* with your life, with your days, but not feeling allowed to because of familial or cultural expectations that are common as a ‘toxic Asian trait’.
Familial financial responsibility / “you won’t make any money”.
You will. You bloody well will. I wish I’d seen this, been told this, as a child. If you are dedicated, there is always money to be made in the Arts, just as there is in other fields of work. There are infinite roles, avenues, doors you can take – formal training, paid contracts, freelancing, teaching, performing, community work, succeeding in so many different ways. It’s just different to other, potentially more financially reliable fields of work than the Arts – the structure of which isn’t necessarily as clear to our parents’ generation, cultural viewpoint, or indeed the working class.
There is of course a huge problem with the Arts, certainly in the UK, belonging to the white middle and upper classes – but let’s be honest, what bloody doesn’t?! Push through. Let’s collectively rise, and lift each other. The Arts is for everyone, including us.
Surround yourself with other Asian creatives.
They are out there! Seek one another out, follow on social media, join communities online, reach out to other Asian creators for inspiration or collaboration, create WhatsApp groups – none of this is necessarily because of a tribal nature, or a need to create art centered around Asian-ness per se, but rather it is to give yourself the representation that the diaspora in particular are lacking, in our mass consumption of (sadly still largely homogenized) Western media.
“This isn’t what I wanted for you”.
Your parent has a unique viewpoint and may not have been able to pursue their own interests beyond financial betterment, particularly if emigrating abroad (a huge, huge feat). They may not have been exposed to the options you subsequently have, or may not have had the luxury of being able to follow them. Your parent wants you to be successful. Show them what success looks like – YOU can define success, and feed it back to them.
Get comfortable with the idea of disappointing your parents/ being a "Failure".
Let’s be honest, this is the crux of it. This is the real barrier for us.
Mine have no idea that I run a podcast, didn’t support my singing projects, didn’t like or understand my Artwork, will barely hide resentful looks and comments whenever my correctly-achieving cousins come for dinner, but I do it anyway. The limitation is their mindset, but this shouldn’t stop you. If they’re anything like my mother, they may be confused and disappointed quite literally forever. The disappointment will no doubt resonate back through the ancestors, and stay in the bloodline from here-onwards, sitting in the gene pool alongside lactose intolerance, the legacy of disappointment and rebellion. But they will accept it, ancestors and all – simply because, they have to.
I mentioned earlier being a Mensa child. As well as a subtle humblebrag, I share this to show you the sheer magnitude of my fall from grace. If I can survive it, so can you!
Jimmy Yang says it best:
It’s never easy to disappoint your parents and pursue your dreams. But I figured it was better to disappoint my parents for a couple of years than to disappoint myself for the rest of my life.
Author: Steph Dylan Cawitan
DeclarASIAN Blog Contributor
The aroma of freshly-cooked fried rice, bok choy, and red bean buns wafts from the kitchen to my room. My stomach picks a fight with me, urging me to run downstairs and stuff a red bean bun into my face while it’s still hot. I resist. Instead, I drink some water and dream about how tasty tonight’s dinner will be, typing away at my computer, mitosis phases and triangle proofs slowly intertwining until I can no longer think clearly.
Standing up, I stretch my sore muscles, relax my eyes, and -- hold up, do I smell Gordon Ramsay-level food? I head down to the kitchen where my father is tossing fresh string beans he bought at Farmer's Market and slices of glistening pork from the Asian supermarket into the pan. Tssssss...The ingredients sizzle with excitement, encouraging my stomach to growl more fiercely and testing the limits of my will-power. Glancing over at my father, I notice how he tosses in meats and veggies and pan-sears the scallops like a science experiment. Every swirl of olive oil and dash of soy sauce measured and mastered.
In about half an hour, my dad yells from the kitchen, “Chī fàn le!!!” The clams he’d been boiling are ready, the basil leaves we went scavenging for at ShopRite now decorating the shells with pepper-red strokes. I open the kitchen cabinet and take four small bowls off the shelf, then count eight chopsticks and distribute the kitchenware among four placemats. I bring the string beans and pork dish to the table, then return with some steamed bok choy and Mahi-mahi. Yum. Like most nights, we are eating Asian-fusion: traditional Chinese snow beans with Bonefish Grill-worthy fish. And each night, my father’s cooking experiment sows delicious results.
My stomach throws a temper tantrum as the rest of my family sits down in their seats. It’s my father’s turn to pray, and after the “amen,” the clinks of chopsticks, warmth of laughs, and comfort of family and heritage vibrates in the air. My teeth sink into a leaf of bok choy, the flavoring rushing out like a squished sponge. Tames my impatient stomach. It’s a simple, yet valuable moment with my family I cherish each day and one that I would not be complete without. To put away computers and work and live in the moment. To gather pieces of yourself lost in the day and piece them back together at night.
Author: Hannah He
DeclarASIAN Blog Contributor