Posted on Leave a comment

Common Threads

As a Taiwanese American woman who grew up in Los Angeles, I felt a little bit of a disconnect between my world and that of my parents, who worked hard to bridge the gap. I was fortunate to have experienced some things that made me “feel” Asian, such as shopping at 99 Ranch or watching Taiwanese TV channels. But the Asian American experience lies on a huge spectrum, and I sometimes felt that I wasn’t Taiwanese “all the way”, especially as our trips to Taiwan became less and less frequent. Last summer, I went to Taiwan to teach English in a rural part of Taiwan called Yunlin County. There, I learned so much and felt so much more deeply connected, as the local volunteers accepted me with open arms and shared their home and world with me. I am forever grateful for the incredible experiences and people I encountered. I came home feeling touched not just by connecting with my parents’ home and world, but also by the recognition of the many similarities shared across the human experience that transcend the cultural gaps. 

I was born and raised in SoCal in a neighborhood that was relatively diverse. Far away from my parents’ native soil of Taiwan, my parents served as my primary source of connection to my Asian American identity. We spoke Mandarin and wore slippers at home, celebrated Lunar New Year with all the traditional foods, called our relatives in Taiwan using a telephone card my dad bought from a small shop in the 626 area, watched Taiwanese soap operas, shopped at 99 Ranch on the weekends. But these are only the tip of the iceberg. 

My parents had come from a world and a life that was foreign to me, but as I child, I looked to them as people who had “gotten used to” life in the U.S. and who seemed to just “know” what they were doing, much as many children look to their parents. I had little understanding of the disconnect between how I saw my parents and their actual lived experience before dropping everything they knew and moving to the U.S. As I grew older, this disconnect deepened as I learned more and more about their childhood. This information would come in tidbits: “The schooling here is so different; you should be grateful!”, “When I went to school, we had to stay late and go to cram school”, “The teacher would shame us in front of the class if we did poorly”, “We had to walk/bike home from school ourselves”, etc. Often, they came in the form of mild scolds–something many first-generation children seemed to relate to—but the reality is that they were also a reflection on the changes they had to endure. It was hard to connect the dots and relate to and understand their experience when it felt like my own life couldn’t be any further from theirs. 

Last summer, I was offered the opportunity to go abroad for two months to teach English in a rural part of Taiwan. It gave me time to explore life in Taiwan as a little more than just a tourist, unlike the previous times I had traveled to my parents’ home country. As a teacher in a junior high school, I experienced school life and little bits of daily life that opened my eyes to a little more of my parents’ lives before they had left it all behind for a new life—I had the chance to experience some of the things I had only heard stories about or in brief comments made in passing. 

At first, there were many differences that took some getting used to. The blistering summer heat and humidity, for one: I became accustomed to the feeling of “always wanting to take another shower” my parents always reminisced less fondly on. The toilets: the toilets at the school were on the ground—many of the older toilets were these kinds of toilets you had to squat over—and the first couple days were a struggle to become comfortable with using them without the deep paranoia of accidentally getting something on your pants or losing your balance and falling in altogether. There was also the naptime in the middle of the day after lunch: naptime?! In my schooling in the U.S., naptime was more of an unintended byproduct of the post-lunch slump that occasionally cut into class time! The mini-society: students would come in early before I arrived to teach them, to carry out their delegated jobs of cleaning up around the classroom before class began. And the smells! The smells of street food and incense from the abundant beautiful temples and the hustle and bustle of the night markets that were absent on the streets where I grew up: I finally grasped some semblance of the “emptiness” my mother felt when she first moved. I also noticed some of the things that were baked into my parents’ lifestyles, even as they raised us in the U.S.—mild superstitions, such as not whistling at night (because that apparently calls the ghosts) and eating every last bite of food on your plate because wasting it was a sign of disrespect to those who provided it. 

But as time went by and I gained acceptance from the students and Taiwanese volunteers I worked with, they opened their world up to me. I began to recognize that amid all these differences, lay so many similarities. Student mischief, practical jokes, looking up at the clock to see when lunchtime is, having a (maybe not so) secret crush in class, playing games together with your friends during breaktime (“Truth or Dare” appears to have transcended cultural bounds), hanging out with your friends after school to grab something to eat together…it was comforting to see that I could connect to my parents’ childhood, which, on the surface, had seemed so different. 

I was touched to be accepted into a world that I always felt I had looked at through a crystal ball but was just out of reach. Touched by the warm welcome the students and volunteers extended to someone who they knew came from a different world but who also, deep down, shared so much in common. And touched by the realization of the many ways my parents tried to connect their own lives with the new life they found here to create something that would make sense to me as they raised me as an Asian American woman in the U.S. I was humbled to be able to walk, even if just for a little snippet, in my parents’ shoes in the world they knew before they left it behind. And to find that, at the end of the day, we have common ground to stand on and connect, and perhaps, this is something that I didn’t realize I was searching for – the common threads of being human that underlie the differences between my world and that of my parents. 

Writer’s Biography: Alyssa Chiang co-founded Lotus Magazine with her best friend from college as a platform for Asian American stories to be told and voices to be heard. Besides working hard on Lotus Magazine’s bimonthly releases and meeting other amazing folks in the AAPI empowerment space, she is working on her Ph.D. in bioengineering at UC San Diego and in her free time loves to dance, exercise, garden, and cook! 

Lotus Magazine Biography: Lotus Magazine serves as a platform for self-identifying Asian American womxn to share their stories/perspectives with each other and the world around us. We hope that it will lead us to be able to empower and inspire one another, and to create a sense of community within ourselves and as a part of a greater whole. Our goal is to be proactive in bringing forth stories that are often overlooked or forgotten, and to be as inclusive as possible in our readership. 



IG: @lotus_mag TikTok: @lotusmagazine

Posted on Leave a comment

On Culture and Defining It

One of our YIP interns, Abby works through the various definitions of what it means to be Korean American, Asian, and Asian American in the 21st century. She explores her own life experiences, challenges social expectations, and ultimately defines for herself what is means to be Asian American.

There was this moment, some time during the early 2010s, when I remember that being Korean suddenly became “cool”.

Children would come to me, the only east-Asian looking kid in class, and ask if I could translate Gangnam Style for them, to which I would agree and make the whole thing up on the spot, unwilling to admit that I knew absolutely nothing past the occasional saranghae.

This was because growing up, the term “Asian American” always had a specific definition. It meant being a child of immigrants stuck between two worlds. It meant eating hot pot one day and In-N-Out the next. It meant attending school by day and hakwon by night. It meant somehow feeling both too Asian and too American at the same time. Two worlds.

As a third-generation Korean American, I was constantly bombarded with this idea throughout my childhood. However, bridging the “two worlds” of identity never felt like an option. To me, there weren’t even two islands to begin with. I didn’t speak the language at home with my parents, we didn’t follow Korean traditions or celebrate their holidays, and I almost never ate rice. The few Asian American characters I saw on TV were usually bilingual, and if they weren’t, it was treated as a joke. As a result, I considered myself Korean in name alone, and I found it unacceptable.

If I wanted to be a true Asian American, at least, according to the two-worlds definition, I would have to actively seek out and immerse myself in the elusive “Asianness” in order to retroactively give myself a basis for cultural heritage. This, as a prerequisite, created a club of exclusivity, and it was clear that I did not have membership.

How can you be a part of Asian America without having anything to celebrate?

Recently, I was a part of organizing an Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) cultural festival, and one of our major concerns was trying to represent as many ethnic groups as possible with booths and performances. Asians, after all, aren’t a monolith, and so we spent weeks scouring all throughout the Bay Area to find Hawaiian groups, Laotian groups, Indian groups, and more, just to make sure that we were absolutely checking all of the boxes.

Ultimately, the festival turned out to be a success, and I got to learn so much about the diverse parts of Asia, the continent. However, nothing about it seemed uniquely Asian American to me, in a way that I couldn’t quite put into words. 

I suppose that was to be expected; per the festival theme, there is meant to be “unity in diversity”, and so celebrating the different cultures of Asian ethnic groups is just the logical manifestation of that idea. Still, I found myself recalling my elementary school days once more: where in order to be a part of Asian America, one had to be perfectly in tune with their ethnic heritage and traditions. 

So what is Asian America, really?

For that, I want to shed some light on the beauty of the pan-Asian American label. There is, in our modern day, an active campaign focused on promoting and celebrating Asian American culture (as a direct challenge to the antiquated ideology that promoted total assimilation above all else). I’ve heard some even refer to it as a “golden age” of representation, and the festival I partook in is certainly one such example of the efforts. Because of this, I’ve seen some criticisms of the pan-Asian American label, how it’s too generalizing and erases the very diversity that we’re trying to promote. 

For me, I like to see it a bit differently.   

I never truly connected to its meaning until I began learning about the rich history of Asian America on my own, something I first discovered through academic journals I read for fun, and later, in an Asian American Studies community college course that I took. What I hadn’t realized was that there were so many pivotal historical events I’d never heard of before. 

These were moments like the murder of Vincent Chin, and how it sparked a wave of organized protest by Asian American groups. 

Moments like how the Asian American student rebellions at San Francisco State College emerged out of the civil rights movement. 

Moments like how the Japanese American community was one of the first to defend Arab Americans from the nationwide response that would follow 9/11. 

They were all built on two principles: solidarity and protest.

I realized that Asian America, and the celebration of it, doesn’t have to be limited to the recognition of ethnic diversity. It’s also acknowledged through its own independent culture, one that’s emerged from the cracks that years of discrimination have opened. There is unity in diversity, yes, but there is also unity in the history that brings us together––Asian American history––and in the political categorization we’ve assigned ourselves. 

Maybe that’s what allows me to relate to it so much. Learning more about Asian American history has let me detach myself from the two-worlds definition I was so married to, and determine instead what the term means for me.

Some people take pride in being Asian American by stressing the ethnic heritage they feel strongly attached to, and I personally still want to take time learning and appreciating my Korean background. However, the way I’m able to best participate in Asian America is by cherishing the heritage that I most connect with: the one woven between migrant farmers and student protestors and an ongoing fight for social and political equality. It’s not quite specifically Asian but it’s oh so distinctly Asian American. I think that’s something worth celebrating.

Abby is a Korean American high schooler who loves black-and-white musicals, essay writing, and ethnic studies.

Posted on Leave a comment

Interview with Dr. Carolee Tran, Author of The Gifts of Adversity (Part 2)

​​​​Dr. Carolee GiaoUyen Tran is a refugee and the first Vietnamese woman to earn a PhD in clinical psychology in America. She received her doctorate from Boston University and completed her internship at Harvard Medical School. She teaches at the UC Davis Medical School Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and has a private practice in Sacramento, California. 

Much of your work as a psychologist is helping patients to cope with their own traumas. How have your own personal experiences with trauma helped you become a better psychologist?

My experiences with trauma have profoundly impacted my positive outlook on life and my desire to become a psychologist and help others heal from their own traumas. I believe that people are generally capable, resilient, and have a desire to move towards growth, even in the face of challenging life circumstances. These assumptions make me optimistic about people’s capacity to heal from traumas, if they’re able to access help and get support. These beliefs enable me to remain hopeful, steady, and tenacious in my work with clients.

Given there are so few Southeast Asian women in the field of clinical psychology, have you experienced discrimination within your field? Has it been more difficult to break into the field, given your own background?

It’s more difficult to get into a clinical psychology program than medical or law school. And the odds are even lower as a Southeast Asian woman. I was the first Vietnamese woman to receive a PhD in clinical psychology in America. I have experienced multiple microaggressions throughout my career as a trainee, psychologist, and faculty member. I see myself as a psychologist and activist because racism is still rampant in our society and we need to continue to do the hard work of fighting for equity, diversity, and inclusion. I’m also a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) consultant to multiple organizations and find this work to be incredibly satisfying.  

Many Vietnamese refugees still have a hard time vocalizing the trauma they endured during the Vietnam War, as many of them have suppressed this painful time in their lives. How have you been able to help your patients, who are Vietnamese refugees, begin to process their trauma and open up about their experiences?

Each person who experiences trauma determines their own timeline of when they want to do the work of healing. The process can’t be rushed or forced before the person is ready. So the approach I take is to be present for and supportive of my clients wherever they are on the journey. I encourage my clients to trust in their own inner wisdom and let that guide them on when they’re ready to embark on the process. With this kind of support, people will usually move towards wanting to do the healing work and I’m there as a companion to provide them with tools and support to help them process through their trauma(s). This work is always sacred and powerful for me and the client. It’s incredibly humbling and gratifying to accompany clients on their journey of healing and transformation, turning their experiences of trauma into gifts of adversity. This experience allows them to see their resilience, courage, and strength and gives them the opportunity to live an empowered and meaningful life.

What personal role models have emerged in your life who have inspired you in a deep way? 

My parents are my most incredible models of resilience and courage. They have taught me how to survive and thrive under the most challenging circumstances. I’m also inspired by various Buddhist teachers, such as the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, Tara Brach, Jack Kornfield and Pema Chodren, as well as activists, such as Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King, Dr. Satsuki Ina, Rosa Parks, Mother Teresa and John Lewis, whose teachings, sacrifices, and activism have deeply influenced my spirituality, life’s work, and aspiration to fight for DEI until I take my last breath.   

You discuss with fondness your life changing experiences as a member of the Vietnamese Student Association at UC Berkeley, and how for the first time since immigrating to the United States you were able to finally be surrounded by other Vietnamese students your age. What impact did having this community have on you in your formative college years?

Being at UC Berkeley and having friends who were also Vietnamese and went through the refugee experience helped me to feel a deep sense of belonging. We understood each other’s struggles and recognized the importance and responsibility of excelling in school to provide better lives for ourselves and our families. We felt responsible for honoring our parents and making them proud, given the sacrifices they’d made in escaping Vietnam and taking hard labor jobs to feed and clothe us. Our experiences as refugees fueled our passion and motivation to excel in work and prioritize our relationships with friends and family.

You are both a practicing Catholic and Buddhist, and also practice ancestor worship and mindfulness. How has this meld of religions helped you to cultivate your own spirituality in your day to day life?

I’m a deeply spiritual person who is open to learning about other faiths and embraces the mysteries and complexities of life.  My daily practice of  prayer and meditation twice-a-day keeps me grounded and helps me cope with the vicissitudes of daily life. Ancestor worship connects me to the generations who came before me and reminds me that I come from a long line of strong, resilient, and courageous people.

What advice would you give to this generation of Vietnamese Americans looking to give back to their communities and keep their culture alive?

First, keep Vietnamese culture alive by engaging in it as much as you can. This can entail visiting with your Vietnamese relatives, attending family weddings, holiday celebrations, funerals, and death anniversaries. We can learn a great deal about our culture by observing and participating in these and other important rituals. Engage in conversations with your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and other Vietnamese Americans about their memories of Vietnam, their escape to America, the process of acculturation, and their experience of being Vietnamese in America. It’s equally important to take time for yourself to reflect on and journal about your own experiences as a Viet person- what does it mean for you to be Vietnamese? How do you navigate your multiple identities within the intersectionality of race, gender, class, and sexual orientation/identity. You can also keep Vietnamese culture alive by watching documentaries, movies, and reading as much as you can about Vietnam as a country, the Vietnamese people in Vietnam and those in the U.S. Make an effort to learn about our people’s challenges, resilience, and successes in Vietnam historically and in America. Also read the works of Vietnamese American authors who write fiction, non-fiction, poetry and their research. And lastly, take the opportunity to travel to Vietnam, preferably with a family member who is from there, or someone who has a connection to it. When making a trip to Vietnam, it would be ideal to devote a considerable amount of time there in order to cultivate an immersive experience.   

It’s so important to give back to our communities by contributing in whatever way that resonates with us within our capacity. Research on altruistic acts have shown that the giver also benefits emotionally and psychologically from the act of giving. For some, it may mean sending money back to Vietnam and/or contributing to various organizations that help Vietnamese children, youths, and adults in Vietnam and in America. For others, it may entail volunteering with different organizations that promote causes for Viet people. Giving back to our community can also manifest in our creative, academic, and professional endeavors through our writings, teaching, research, talks, and occupational contributions in whatever field of work we specialize in. I give back to our community by writing about my experience as a Vietnamese refugee in my book “The Gifts of Adversity,” conducting the first domestic violence study of Vietnamese women in America, giving talks about the refugee experience nationwide, teaching others about the plight, resilience, needs, and successes of the Vietnamese people in America, and providing therapy to Vietnamese refugees and their children. The most important thing for each of us to reflect upon is what is meaningful to us, and how we want to give back to the Vietnamese community.   

About Interviewee: Dr. Tran is the author of “The Gifts of Adversity: Reflections of a Psychologist, Refugee, and Survivor of Sexual Abuse.” She also has a segment in the documentary series My Vietnam War Story, produced by PBS station KVIE, and aired in conjunction with Ken Burns’ The Vietnam War documentary. Her segment of the documentary was nominated for a Northern California Emmy in 2018.  She was also featured in a 2022 documentary by Retro Report entitled How the U.S. Has Treated Wartime Refugees. You can learn more about her work at
About Interviewer: Carina Kimlan Hinton is a mixed race, Vietnamese American poet and writer who explores issues of identity, cultural belonging and intergenerational trauma in her writing. Her mother’s family are Vietnamese refugees, and she grew up hearing stories of their escape during the Vietnam War. She seeks to understand this journey and legacy in my writing. In 2020, she graduated from UC Berkeley with a major in History, and concentration in Post Vietnam War Vietnamese Amerasian History. As part of her program, she completed a senior thesis exploring the experiences of Vietnamese Amerasian children born in Vietnam during the war. She is a regular contributor to publications such as Project Yellow Dress, Vietnamese Boat People and Diacritics/Diasporic Vietnamese Artists Network. She was a finalist for the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) Digital Storytelling Contest.

Posted on Leave a comment

Good Girl, Best Girl

From the day I was born, like many other little girls, I learned how to be good. 

I said Thank you too much, too eagerly and apologized when outcomes were not my fault. I did not complain when I felt sad and I did not complain when I felt mad. 

Frankly, there is nothing inherently wrong with the idea of being good. To be good means you’re polite. Kids like you and grownups like you. You dress to impress. You’re invited to exclusive spaces where you pretend you’re part of that world. At the end of the night, you lie on your bed, your cheeks sore from smiling at any and all jokes, but happy that you’re liked. More importantly, you’re happy that you’re welcomed back. 

When you’re a good girl, American society rewards you, but when you’re a good Asian girl, American society forgets you and Asian society doesn’t want anything to do with you.

I was lucky though.

Being third generation, my family was supposedly past all this “good girl, bad girl” bullshit. In my family, there were girls who went to school and graduated with the highest honors. They rebelled against bound feet and ran away from arranged marriages. They lived longer than their husbands. They fixed their own floors and car engines. Anyone who has met the girls in my family knows that they’re a force to be reckoned with because while most stand at an average of 5 feet, they demand to be seen and they demand to be heard. In fact, they are so above the “good girl” title that they want to be the “best girl.”

And when you have a family striving to fill the “best girl” role, even “good girl” becomes a low hanging fruit.

As a child, I participated in numerous sports, art classes, summer camps, and tutoring sessions. My mother drove me from practice to practice, our commute taking us all around the city. Every day started at 8AM and ended at 6PM. Excelling was a job within itself.

By twelve, my parents saw that I was no Einstein. Not even close. Unlike my 4.0 younger sister, my GPA hovered around a 2.9 and my grades depended on extra credit and good relationships to get me into high school. When our teacher called for students with honors, 95% of the class stood up while a handful of us sunk low into our seats.

In sports, I lined my participation trophies, medals, and ribbons by the window. Volleyball, basketball, tee-ball, swimming, gymnastics, and soccer. My mom called me the one hit wonder for all the one year commitments.

It took a bit of stumbl




          but I eventually found my stride.


I’m sprinting an endless race.

Three. Good girls don’t rest, they stretch.

Two. Good girls jog and they stay focused.

One. Best girls focus and then, they run.

The gun goes off.

My feet are sore, calluses hardened at the touch. My arms limp at the side of my body. My breathing is ragged, hot and there’s tightening in my stomach. My legs, though, keep running and running. They are numb to the pain. They know no end.

In only the past two years have I begun to take breaks and drink water. I’ve made boundaries a priority and worked to keep a solid group of friends around me. There are days I feel lighter and other days where my shoulders sag from the weight.

Still, I must throw my teachings and values against the wall again and again until they’ve been glued and taped again and again. In the mirror, I watch tears stream down my face uncontrollably, allowing my sobs to evolve into hiccups. The pieces shatter onto my beautiful wooden floors like the start of a Picasso.

I’m left searching for pieces under couches and rugs. I crouch down on the floor and a large “Ugh” escapes my lips. Sometimes, they’re so small that they blend in. It may take at least a week to vacuum this mess. 

As I glue the pieces together to form this new version of my own values, I see that good girl holds nothing. It’s practically useless.

Best girl, too, holds nothing. 

Reluctantly, both are tossed in the trash.

My arm stretches behind the couch towards the corner of the room. Covered in dust and other questionable particles is a small, oddly shaped piece. It’s been ignored for years. The piece belongs in the middle. I squint and hold it up to the light.

It’s me.

And it holds the world.

Born and raised in San Francisco, Katie Quan (she/her) is a third generation Chinese American. She is an illustrator, comic artist, educator, and artivist. As a descendent of a paper, doctor, grocery store owner, and librarian, her life work centers around Asian American narratives, moments, and spaces. Her comic web series, GenerAsian, has been exhibited at SF Zinefest, Kearny Street Workshop, and Chinese Historical Society of America. She founded REALSOUL, a curriculum-based organization, aimed to make Asian American history accessible and intersectional.

Posted on Leave a comment

Dear Mom and Dad,

I understand why I can’t go to protests, but I just wanted to express why I feel strong enough to risk my safety. I am not questioning your support of the movement, but I am questioning how you choose to show your support. Yes, my safety is important, but I believe that the effect my presence can have is worth the risk. I have been following news of other protesters and I understand how dangerous it can be especially now, but I would take all precautions because my presence and active voice is what’s more important to me. I understand that I won’t be able to go to this particular protest because of how dangerous it really is. 

I always hear you talking about how ridiculous the racism that we, and other communities, face is. I want you to understand that the movement is part of the solution for the future and I want to be able to be a part of that. I have been supporting the movement from home for a while now through petitions and spreading awareness and resources and I will continue to do so. 

I completely understand the concern of being exposed to large groups right now. However, when I talked to 哥哥 and 姐姐 about how I should start this conversation, they already knew that there was a low chance that you would let me go. We recognize that you take a more passive and safe stance on topics like this and that is where I see the problem. To support the movement, but not do anything to actually make a difference is not actually supporting it. Especially because this movement is a battle against centuries of systemic racism, any and every thing that we do as individuals is essential to the fight. We can’t just sit back and watch what happens to the people who are risking their lives for this movement and say, “Wow, that’s a shame” while getting back to our lives. Can’t you see that if we do everything that we can we will see a future where people’s livelihoods will no longer be threatened by the very system that is meant to protect them? 

A starting point is reflecting on your own prejudices against the black community. Historically, Asian communities hold anti-black sentiment and I have seen this from you first hand. This will make you uncomfortable to read, but it is true. I know that you will avoid the predominantly black neighborhoods because you’re afraid of how dangerous it could be. I know that you will quicken your pace as you walk by a black man. I know that you hold these prejudices whether you realize it or not. And I know you won’t discriminate against a black person intentionally, but this behavior has shown me that you do so unintentionally. So, within yourself is where you can start to make change. Read books, listen to podcasts, go online and learn about the experiences of people who don’t look like us. Just because we are also people of color, it will never mean that we understand what any black person faces on a daily basis. But we can do our part 

and educate ourselves on how the system fails black and brown communities at a disproportionate rate so that we can inform our everyday decisions. 

I know that you support the movement, but I’m asking you right now to reevaluate how you show that support. Recognize that it takes being uncomfortable to actually grow and change. If at any point reading this you felt offended or attacked, sit in that and ask yourself why that is. I don’t want you to focus on the various risks that using your voice can hold. I want you to see how valuable one person’s voice can be because when more people actually show up for the black community, our voices will be heard and changes will be made. 

With a hopeful heart,


Christy is a Chinese American San Francisco native who loves to read, bake, and draw.

Posted on Leave a comment

Beauty in the Eye of the Beholder

In early 2020, I spent 6 weeks in Asia. This was my first time there for such a long duration and I had no idea how drastically the world would change in a few months. As I wandered blissfully through Ho Chi Minh City, Bohol, Taipei, I felt something in me relax that I hadn’t realized I was holding so tightly. 

Although I had grown up in a predominantly Asian community, I experienced a nasty culture shock when I moved to Boston for college. Boston was the first place where I was made to feel like an outsider, where “friends” made fun of the smell of my cooking and strangers on the street yelled “Konichiwa”. After graduating, I fled back to California but my new perspective on race endured. As I became a therapist, I started working in primarily black and brown communities where I was simultaneously accepted as another person of color and still held at arm’s length.

In Asia, there was a distinct sense of relief knowing that I wouldn’t be singled out for my black hair or almond-shaped eyes. Even in countries where I didn’t speak the language, I felt a sense of ease that was rare for me in the United States. How grateful I felt to be able to lay down the question that hung over so many of my interactions: “Are they treating me like this because I’m Asian?”

One day at a mall in Singapore, I came across a beautiful dark green jumpsuit that had a collar and sleeves just like a traditional qipao. I reached for it and then felt an internal stutter that stopped me in my tracks. Was it “too Asian”? Did I want to invite this kind of attention? Would I really wear this back in America?

A sequence of memories flashed through my mind: 

trying hard not to be perceived as “fobby”

a constant feeling that I was missing some script at college

a mixture of shame and relief when I ended up with mostly Asian-American friends on campus.

Hypothetical futures also popped up: fielding comments about my outfit from maybe well-meaning but ignorant others, being exoticized by men, feeling out of place at some restaurant. 

How deeply do we internalize racism? So many Asian-American clients come to me in distress at feeling not enough. They talk about getting feedback at work around needing to be more assertive. Men talk about being unwanted when they try to date. Somewhere along the way we become convinced that we are the problem, that if only we looked a certain way or acted differently, we would be accepted. 

We deny parts of ourselves and our heritage in an attempt to “get it right” but the self-blaming doesn’t work either. The mental and emotional fatigue that comes from trying to fit into the dominant culture can be further compounded by the pressure and guilt to live up to our family’s different expectations. 

A lot of my personal healing has happened at the intersection of my identities of being a woman, being a person of color, and being Asian-American. I have had to put in a lot of work around recognizing racist beliefs within me and trying to replace the narratives with something more joyful. At that time in 2020, I had just begun to let go of my fear of being pigeonholed professionally in order to accept that I found it especially meaningful to work with Asian-American clients.

It’s a work in progress. 

It is challenging to find ways to follow my heart and honor my heritage, a process that is modeled all too rarely. 

It is also deeply vulnerable to do so in public, such as by wearing this jumpsuit out and about. 

That day I didn’t even try it on, making some excuse to myself about my budget. 

As I continue to learn and grow, I hope that I can better embrace all of the parts of my identity. While the jumpsuit didn’t come home with me, the memory of it lingers, encouraging me to appreciate the inherent beauty found in all cultures, especially my own.

Naomi (she/her) is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist (CA – LMFT#110092) and Registered Art Therapist (ATR) based in the San Francisco Bay Area and Portland, OR. She is a psychotherapist with Anise Health. She also has a private practice and leads groups/workshops in corporate, nonprofit, and community settings. In addition, Naomi serves on the Advisory Circle for New Seneca Village, a nonprofit network offering restorative retreats for cis, trans and non-binary Black, Indigenous and women of color leaders. 

Anise Health is the first culturally-responsive digital mental health platform offering therapy, coaching, and digital self-service tools that are tailored for the unique needs of communities of color. Our interventions move away from diagnosis-driven, Eurocentric models and towards incorporating culture and intersectionality into evidence-based treatments, which research shows to be 5x more effective.

Interested? Anise is available in California and is currently accepting Asian-identifying adults (ages 18+) and partners/family members as new clients. Get started by filling out the short intake form; you will be matched to culturally-responsive clinicians within 2 business days. If you identify with another community of color or reside in another state, sign up for the distribution list to be the first to know about upcoming launches!

Posted on Leave a comment

On Grief (Part I)

My experience as a Chinese American has been marked with memories that are not entirely mine. Historical trauma can feel so personal and personal trauma can be historical. In these unprecedented times when there is so much social, political, environmental upheaval and turmoil, I felt it was necessary to look inwards and to address some of the feelings that had been bubbling inside of me but are not unique to me. This piece has been cathartic, and felt almost like metaphorical bloodletting – with my keyboard being the leech. Hopefully, it can be the same for others.

Part I

I’m 7 when I see my grandmother for the last time. She wraps her thick, wizened fingers around my little hands. I don’t remember what she says, my ears blocked by the flurry of thoughts in my head. I’m adamant that I’ll see her again. I tell her that I’ll come back for sure. I’ll go to college, I pledge. I’ll get rich and buy you a BIG house. Just you see. She nods. I’m not sure if she’s sad, looking down at me without smile or frown. I’m not even sure if I’m sad, sweat dripping down my neck in the heat of all that is a Hoisan summer, wanting to go back to America where my head doesn’t have to steam with heat.

She waves when I get into my uncle’s truck. I watch her grow smaller until I can no longer see her. I whip my head back around to the front and look forward.

I feel a tiny pang in my chest that I don’t understand.


I’m 8 and we have the same conversation over the phone over and over again for a year. She says are you doing good, Little Puppy? I’m good, Popo. I’m being good. I miss you. Do you want to talk to mom? 

The phone calls are less frequent. Mom says Popo is busy, and I find that it’s okay. Because it scares me. Popo scares me. Chee ngoy. Alzheimer’s. I don’t get really get it. I’ve only ever seen it on TVB. Old people just forget. right?


Popo stars brightly in the first chapter of my life. I’m her youngest grandchild, and she moves to America to look after me. She takes me everywhere.  She teaches me how to count, first in Hoisan-wa, then in Cantonese. Out of all her grandchildren, I know she loves me best. I’m her Little Puppy.

I used to have nine children she says sometimes. Now I have six.

I wonder if she can see any of them in me.  

My father yells at her all the time. Probably too much. She asks me why he does that. I hear the pain in her voice, and it fills me with rage. I tell her not to listen to him.


My mother doesn’t tell me my grandmother dies until years after it happens.

I only figure it out when I see her grave for myself and do the math. I’m 24. I don’t confront my mom. It occurs to me that I had stopped hearing from Popo gradually until I don’t hear from her at all.


I remember Popo turning on the faucet in our house.  The water in the tub rises, billows over the rim. Aiya, I forgot. She says. 

Everyone gets upset at Popo. They yell, and I don’t want them to. I don’t get it. It’s okay, everyone forgets sometimes. Shouldn’t we respect our elders?

Melissa Chen really is like any other ABC who grew up with a bowl cut and can’t swim. On occasion, she writes.

Posted on Leave a comment

A Story of Intersection

One of our former YIP interns, Christy, reflects on her Chinese American identity and the importance of each culture coexisting within her when society will only focus on each culture as separate aspects.

On the first day of my 11th grade English class, we were asked to share one aspect about ourselves that we thought was important for our peers to know. By then, I had enough experience in predominantly white spaces to know that my ethnicity would always be of speculation. I look Asian, with my straight black hair, “eyes that kiss in the corners,”  and lack of a nose bridge to hold my sunglasses, but what type of Asian? Where are my ancestors from? Am I Korean? Japanese? Filipino? All of which I’ve been ignorantly asked and all of which I’ve laughed off and said “no” to. I wanted to eliminate this confusion that somehow always arose as people took it upon themselves to try and guess my ethnicity, almost always complete strangers or people I barely spoke to. So, to get rid of all the speculation and apparent curiosity of my ethnicity, I stood up knowing exactly what I would share that day. 

I felt very lucky to be in one of the few English classes that was mostly people of color. Had I been in a predominantly white classroom (like most of my other classes) I would have felt very different, less understood, sharing my ethnicity to my classmates. I turned to my first partner and said, “I am Chinese American.” As another woman of color, she empathetically nodded and snapped in agreement as I explained how many times people had questioned my ethnicity and how uncomfortable it made me feel. Then, I turned to my next partner and explained the same thing, but as a white man who could not empathize with my experience, I got a slow head nod and a single “right.”

To my first partner, I felt understood and empowered sharing this aspect of my identity, but to my second partner, I felt heard, but perhaps not fully understood. I had proclaimed my Chinese American identity to these two classmates so that they would know how I identify, but what does being Chinese American actually mean for me?

Chinese American. 

Not just Chinese and not only American, but Chinese American. 

This distinction is important. 

I grew up immersed in my Chinese heritage. Everyday, for eight years, I sat in a classroom surrounded by posters filled with bright bubbly cartoons and Chinese poems we learned to recite. I (mostly) spoke to my classmates in only Cantonese, otherwise we wouldn’t get a gold star for the day. And practiced brush strokes and sentence structures that we used in our own short stories. In middle school, Mandarin classes were tacked on to our schedule where we read, wrote, and recited common phrases we may need in conversation. All of this was to prepare for our class trip to China where we would stay with a host family for four days. 

When we arrived in mainland China, I quickly felt out of place. Having to use a translator to speak to my host family, feeling accomplished when I could order my own meal, being too afraid to bargain at the market, I had never felt further from home in a country where I claim parts of my identity originate from. I thought that my Chinese heritage, and maybe my eight years of Chinese immersion, would be enough for me to blend in with the locals. But when I confidently replied to a question that my host father asked, he was shocked that I answered in Mandarin. Granted, my Mandarin is far from perfect, but it was clear to me that my host family only saw me as American. In China, my Chinese identity felt invisible, and my identity felt stripped to just American, but I know this wasn’t true.

When I take walks to stretch my legs during this pandemic, I can’t help but worry that I’ll be spat on again or be blamed for bringing in COVID-19, even though I’ve only been to China once. It’s obvious to people here that I’m not “American” enough to be treated with the dignity and respect all people deserve, no matter their nationality, citizenship, language, sexuality, etc. As I saw in my trip to China, it was clear to everyone else that being American is part of my identity, just like being Chinese is. What’s more important is how this intersectional aspect of my identity has shaped me. 

When I go to order a drink with my mom and the non-Chinese barista musters a 谢谢 as we pay or when my brother and I are taking the elevator up to our hotel room and complete strangers strike up a conversation about the best Chinese restaurant around, it becomes clear to me how obvious it is to people here that I must be more than American. 

And, well, I am more than American. 

I can’t help but see eight as a lucky number and four as its forbidden counterpart. I crave mooncake all year round, but I don’t like the egg yolk like the rest of my family. We eat our dim sum while we watch Jeopardy, celebrate Lunar New Year with red envelopes and Mitchell’s ice cream, and even drink the 7-up and Coca Cola set at our favorite Chinese restaurants’ tables. I wouldn’t be who I am today if I didn’t learn how to count in Chinese before I did in English (always using Chinese to count in fives even to this day) or if I didn’t learn the correct strokes of my Chinese name while I ate my chicken nuggets. Being Chinese American is a part of who I am and it’s a piece of my identity that I’m proud of. 

After finally realizing that there isn’t only one narrative to follow as a Chinese American, I began to claim the title Chinese American because I get to create my own narrative of what that’s “supposed” to look like. I now know it is valid for my Chinese and American identities to coexist within me. There are certainly times when holding this identity brings hardships. Especially during this pandemic with the increase in anti-Asian American crimes, but it pushes me to seek communities that advocate for positive change and growth. 

As I navigate the world as a young adult, I am learning about the vast and loving broader Asian American community that constantly breaks stereotypes about us in the fight for change. I am constantly inspired by this community to be my authentic self because that is exactly what being Chinese American means to me.

Christy is a Chinese American San Francisco native who loves to read, bake, and draw.

Posted on Leave a comment

Adult Doesn’t Equal Effortless

On writing this piece: I brain dumped a ton of ideas, then whittled it down to this. It took a very long time, not sure how long, at least six hours total. This was going to be a rant about how harmful the “just work harder” refrain has been for me, but I surprised myself when I found more peace than anger.

I don’t know how others will perceive my ADHD-friendly daily routine. Will it be mindbogglingly different to them? It’s just my everyday life. What I’m taking from this is that I am able to accept my ADHD tendencies, rather than force myself to work ever harder to be some “competent adult” that was never really me. 

My ADHD brain is all I’ve ever known.

I find grocery shopping, getting a chai latte at a cafe, and any sort of cooking confusing and overwhelming.

Well-intentioned adults reassured me that all this would eventually get easier. Maybe it did for them, but adulting is still a daily struggle for me, even four years after graduating college and entering “real” adult life. In therapy and on my own, I’ve spent countless hours devising strategies and systems to help me do these tasks in the first place, rather than try to avoid them forever.

“Adulting” actually demands a lot of executive function (the ability to set and work towards goals), which I don’t have much of, thanks to my ADHD. I’m never going to coast through life with the dutiful ease and unflagging attention that I attempted to achieve for so long. This brain is all I’ve got, so I might as well give it what it needs to do its best.

And guess what? I have finally brought wellness into my life, not by following the perennial Chinese advice of WORK HARDER, but rather with acceptance and carefully selected strategies I know work for me.

Here’s the gist of my day:

I am asleep in bed. 

My phone alarm rings and wakes my unsnoozable dog Odie, who then steps on me to wake me up. 

“Okay, okay, I’m up!” I sit up. “Wait a sec, let me take my meds.” 

I get out of bed. 

“Okay, Emily go pee.” 

I go to the bathroom and come back. 

Odie is laying on his mat, utterly bored.

We head downstairs and don our walking gear.

“Walk time! Let’s go!” 

Odie is the gym I actually use. (On my own, it can take me more than a week to summon enough executive function to walk around the block or do 20 minutes of yoga, if I somehow don’t give up or forget.)

After our walk, I have no idea what I’m doing for the rest of the day. (My calendar knows, but I haven’t bothered to check it.) 

I always go sit at my desk after our morning walk though, so I do that. 

I’m not entirely sure what I do between sitting down at my desk and realizing multiple hours have passed and I should probably bring Odie out to pee. These days, my desk is probably the site of some meandering combination of emails, writing, watching YouTube videos, and coloring. (My brain doesn’t keep time accurately, and I haven’t bothered to look at the three analog clocks in my room and therefore have no idea what time it is. It’s an easy summer day, so whatever I do is okay, as long as I’m not hangry—then it’s a mad dash to feed the Emily before she gets even madder.)

After dinner, I mess around at my desk for at least an hour before I’ve gathered the energy to go brush my teeth. 

That process goes like this in my head:

“Gotta brush my teeth…” 

Some time later: “Maybe I should brush my teeth…” 

Even later: “Haven’t brushed my teeth yet…” 

And so on, until, at last, “ugh, FINE, I’ll brush my teeth.” 

Every night. 

At some point, I’ll take melatonin to ensure I get sleepy and not be catapulted by some online article into a late-night reading rampage.

These are my good days, when adulting doesn’t give me overwhelm-induced headaches, panic attacks, and confusion that morphs into self-loathing. These are the days I feel at peace with who I am, that I deserve to give myself the ample time I need to do things at a pace I don’t have to sacrifice my sanity for. 

Perhaps the way I go through life is more circuitous, slow, and effortful than for most. I’ve absorbed more than my fair share of messages urging me to work harder, hurry up, remember better, and contort myself into someone more “prepared for the adult world.” Whose adult world?

In my adult world, it is okay to forget, be confused, and take days, weeks, even months to do things many people could do in an hour. These things need to be okay, because however much I work to avoid them, my tangles of executive dysfunction are a core part of who I am, and I need–and what a relief!–to be okay with being the real, unadulterated (pun intended) me.

Emily Chen (she/her) 陳怡君 is a Taiwanese American mental health activist, writer, and singer based in Newton, Massachusetts. Check out DisOrient, her YouTube series on Asian American mental health!

Posted on Leave a comment

The Search for Asian Pride

“We didn’t think you’d be very happy with us if we made you go to Chinese school on the weekend,” my white mom explained when I confronted her about how not speaking the language of my ancestors feels like a giant missing piece of my identity as a third-generation biracial Chinese-white woman.

To be fair, I probably wouldn’t have been happy. I hated being Chinese as a little girl. The less I stood out, the better. I was thankful I didn’t have an accent. Proud my name was something everyone could pronounce. Glad I ate PB&J for lunch so no one made fun of the way my food smelled. Even though I still got the question “What are you?” or “Where are you really from?,” as soon as I explained myself in perfect English, people backed down. When I found myself in white-majority spaces, which was most of my childhood, I’d be quick to defend myself with, “Yes, I’m half-Chinese…but no, I don’t speak the language.” As if to say, Don’t worry, I’m more like you than you think. On the rare occasion I met another Asian person, I’d be quick to say, “Yes, I’m half-Chinese…but no, I don’t speak what language.” As if to say, Don’t get too excited, I’m less like you than you think. 

Thinking back to how deeply I rejected my Chinese heritage makes me ill. Even as I write this, the creases of my eyes have formed tiny pools of water, my breath has quickened, I’m twisting and turning in my wicker chair wondering how I can escape the grief that is two seconds away from swallowing me whole. The way I fluffed up the fact I can’t speak Chinese and the way I downplayed my Asianness is a sick reminder of white supremacy at work, the person I was taught to privilege and all that my family has lost in doing so. 

“You’re fantasizing what it would be like to live where there are more Asians,” my husband, Andrew, who is a first-generation Chinese American, told me a few months ago in the middle of a heated argument about where to live. We were in Asheville, NC at the time. He loved it there, could picture us there, having a family, settling down. Each time I tried to join him in this dream, pictured it for myself, I would cry, stomp around, secretly plot how I would make a run for it if he made me live there. We could count the number of Asians we saw in our month living there on one hand. We ordered a DIY boba kit from Boba Guys to make boba at home because there were hardly any spots in town. I couldn’t for the life of me find an Asian acupuncturist even though acupuncture is a form of Traditional Chinese Medicine. I went to one lady who I thought might be half-Asian but it turned out she was just tan in her pictures. 

“Why does it even matter to you?” Andrew once asked. It’s true. Being surrounded by Asians hasn’t always been important to me. But that was back when I thought I was white. What most people don’t understand about racial trauma is it not only instills fear in being yourself but it robs you of all the good things too: community, food, traditions, celebrations, joy. In healing my racial trauma, I’m opening the door to a whole new feeling: pride. 

I am proud to be Asian. And, to me, that matters a lot.

Elizabeth Su, MA (she/her) is a writer, perfectionism expert, and the founder of Monday Vibes (, a personal growth newsletter and network for women named “12 Newsletters Actually Worth Opening” by Zoella, on a mission to change the narratives that women have been told about success and happiness.

She left a six-figure salary at a hot Silicon Valley start-up because she realized she was trying to win a game she didn’t want to play. She has since dedicated her career to empowering women, teaching about emotional and spiritual wellness, and changing the rules of the game. She’s currently working on her first book around these topics.