Cultural identity was a bit of a mix for me, growing up- as it is for many in the US. I grew up hopping between Long Island, Queens, and Manhattan, but most of my impressionable school-age years were spent in suburban Long Island.
I attended elementary school in the town of New Hyde Park, which borders a much more ethnically diverse borough of Queens, so there was some, but minimal, diversity amongst school classes. I still have plenty of memories of kids saying things like “Ching-Chong” or singing the pee-in-coke song and making fun of my homemade lunch that my mother had carefully prepared, and I had begun to resent (and in retrospect am thankful for having had, and skipping the American junk the other kids ate which contributed to diabetes, obesity, etc). I even wrote a short story about it in my college creative writing course which my professor had pulled me aside to tell me very seriously to publish but never did (hmm maybe I still should...).
Anyway, I moved to queens for a bit in middle school where I was shocked by both the diversity of backgrounds and the Catholic school environment, having come from public schools in the suburbs.
Then I moved back to Long Island, to probably one of the the waspiest towns to exist, for the rest of middle and high school.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved school wherever I was, and was lucky that I always found my way and got along fine... I just never really had many Chinese or asian friends.
....the few asian kids I did know, called me a “twinkie.”
I mingled a bit with the asian kids at All-County music festivals- but they were all in the orchestra, and I was there for vocal.
Again, I didn’t fit.
I arrived to college and was once again re-immersed in unfamiliar territory, this time in a highly populated asian community, through which I would find myself discovering & learning - about my own culture and that of others, in ways I’d never thought.
Fast forward to present time. I still find myself in diverse groups, and I think this is why I’m most comfortable this way. Most of you give little head tilt when I say that I work both in fashion and healthcare, but to be honest I think I’d be extremely bored to be in one niche my whole life.
Point being, I’ve had a bit of a journey before I got to where I am now, to be in my level of comfort with who I am. I’m happy to have been surrounded by people who have taught me things, big or little, and it’s why I’m always grateful to meet people who come from all walks of life.
I had this idea to get a few of us together for this project I wanted to do: to have the same production concept as Crazy Rich Asians, where everyone involved was asian, for the purpose of not only awareness but supporting our community as well. So I rounded up Leo of Levitate Style and Vera of WG Empire to be in this shoot with me, asked Nick from Coastal Flicks who is half-Filipino to be a part, and went to locations in Chinatown, NYC, as well as China Blue restaurant with their beautiful interiors and lovely service.
As for clothing, it was actually a bit of a search to get Chinese designers here in NYC involved, but Vera and I are wearing her line Verafied.
The whole thing was really about representation as well as experience-sharing - and I love that, along with my personal story as an Asian American, it ended being done alongside Vera, who was born in China, Leo who was born in Hong Kong, and myself being born in Manhattan, all of whom are making our own paths here in New York City.
Really, that’s what everyone is doing no matter the background, but we still need to remember the importance that our long-standing history plays in tying us together, whether we see it on the surface today or not. And some cultures here in this space lack that more than others.
Now that I have a platform where I can share my voice and maybe influence someone positively, I’m going to do my part, especially when it’s around culturally significant occasions like Chinese New Year.
Happy Lunar New Year everyone, hope you enjoyed the read and images. Please share if you’ve had similar or different experiences, would love to hear them!