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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

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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.

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Interview with Dr. Carolee Tran, Author of The Gifts of Adversity (Part 1)

​​​​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. 

Your new book is titled, “The Gifts of Adversity.” To you, what are the gifts of adversity? What does this phrase mean to you?

The gifts of adversity are the things we learn about ourselves and the gifts we receive from having gone through various adversities. Going through life’s challenges can reveal our greatest strengths. We learn that we can persevere through hard times, that we’re resilient, courageous, and resourceful. We learn that we have the capacity to cope, survive, and thrive in the darkest of times. Living through adversities can also help us identify with others who have suffered and have compassion and empathy for them. It can awaken our humanity and inspire us to help others.

In your book, you talk about the bullying you experienced after arriving in the United States, including being called derogatory names, such as “boat person,” due to being a Vietnamese refugee from an impoverished background. How did you deal with these adverse childhood experiences at such a young age?

These incidents of bullying were extremely painful and ALMOST  broke me. I became depressed, anxious, and contemplated suicide. What saved me was the love I had for my siblings and parents, knowing that I would cause them great heartache if I took my own life, and that my siblings needed my love and care. So I coped by focusing on my family and excelling in my schoolwork. The gift that came from this adversity was discovering my own resilience. I learned that I had an inner strength and resourcefulness that enabled me to cope, mobilize, survive, and thrive through this very difficult time of my life. Seeing how my parents coped with racists acts against them with such courage and dignity also helped me to persevere through mine.

You discuss in great detail your memories of your family’s escape by boat from Vietnam during the Vietnam War. How does this journey continue to affect you today?

I get triggered by various current events such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the fall of Kabul, deportations of migrants at the borders, the list could go on and on. My heart aches for all these people who have suffered so much. I try to channel my energies into advocating for immigrants and refugees in various ways. My feature in the documentary “My Vietnam War Story,” this book, and countless talks I’ve given throughout the U.S., at professional and education institutions have been my efforts to educate the public about the devastation, displacement, and suffering of war, as well as cultivate a deeper understanding and compassion for immigrants and refugees worldwide.

You also talk a lot about your relationship with Dad and weathering the “seasons of a marriage.” Given you and Dad both came from drastically different upbringings and experiences, how were you able to “weather these seasons” together without growing apart?

While your dad and I are racially, ethnically, and culturally different, we have deep love and respect for one another. We also share similar values in our appreciation for good food, closeness to our families, a commitment to growing together as a couple, as well as shared interests in cross-cultural psychology, traveling, and the arts. These commonalities and the strong commitment to one another have carried us through the seasons of our marriage and allowed us to deepen our relationship over the past 35 years.

A common theme throughout your book is the hard work and grit of grandpa and grandma, who both worked multiple jobs to support your family, and made many sacrifices for their family. You also discuss how they experienced extensive downward mobility when moving to America from Vietnam. In your childhood, what extra responsibilities did you have to take on to help support you, your sister and Dad?

I became the third parent to my four younger siblings. I took care of them, cooked and cleaned for them, and did their laundry. It was loving them in all these ways that made me know early on that I wanted to be a mother someday. I loved my siblings like they were my own children. To this day, we are still extremely close and are very supportive and protective of one another. They are some of my life’s greatest gifts aside from your sister and dad.

In Southeast Asian culture to this day, mental health is still heavily stigmatized. How do you help your patients, and those in the community to work through these stigmas in your work with them?

I tell my patients that mental health is just as important as  physical health, that they are interconnected, so we need to take care of both in order to be healthy. If we have diabetes or heart disease, we need to treat it. It’s the same with mental health. Also, some clients resist going to therapy because they think it’s only for people who are “crazy.” I emphasize to them that therapy is one of the most responsible and loving things we can do for ourselves and others. When we get therapy, it improves our quality of life, and in turn helps everyone we come into contact with.   

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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A Piece of My Puzzle, A Love for My Heart

My life, as everyone’s life, is like a puzzle, full of wonder, challenges, beauty, and a work in progress. 

Growing up in a transracial family from the age of 3 months in a predominately white town, I became accustomed to not looking like my parents and people being naïve enough to think my sister, who was also adopted from China though two years prior, and I were biologically related, even though we don’t look alike at all. As the youngest, I always felt like I needed to try harder, do better to be as good, smart, beautiful, athletic as my older sister. Our different body builds (she’s tall and thin, and I am short and stocky) and her natural talent at school and sports, in addition to already feeling like an imposter, living in a predominantly white community, being one of just a handful of people of color led me to a perpetual feeling of being an outsider and “not enough” growing up. 

At a young age, I did not want too much to do with my culture. Sure the food and the traditions around the Lunar New Year were great, but I did not want to learn what would have been my native tongue if I were not adopted, and I did not want to partake in Chinese traditional dance. My sister, on the other hand, loved Chinese School and Chinese dance. As a result, I always felt like the rebellious child, the child who did not partake in what her parents expected of her and wanted from her. 

What now remains from my own and societal preconceived notions, is that as an adult and a Chinese adoptee, not only do I feel the societal pressures of being an Asian American woman, but I also feel that at times I must work harder to prove myself to myself, my family, both my adoptive and unknown biological families, and the world. 

However, I can fully express and work through these notions, in part because of a big piece of my life story puzzle: Chinese Heritage Camp, one of now 9 camps from Heritage Camps for Adoptive Families. 

I do not remember the first time I went to camp as I was only three. However, what I do remember is that from a young age once I could remember what camp was and what it meant to myself and my family is this: every year when it was time to register for camp, it was pre-internet days at first, my sister and I would make sure my mom was able to fax in our registration first thing so there was no chance of being put on the waitlist. 

I also remember driving up to camp in the mountains each year after school on a Friday, as Chinese Heritage Camp is over Labor Day weekend, and that feeling of excitement, happiness, and eagerness creeping into my belly as we passed landmarks along the way: the mountain pass, that Starbucks in a mountain town, the A frame sign on the side of the road, and finally the sign that read “Snow Mountain Ranch”, with each one telling me we were getting closer to our friends, community, and annual home over Labor Day weekend. 

I remember stepping out of the car into the smell of fresh mountain air feeling embraced by love standing in the cool, crisp air and feeling excited as a little kid feels on Christmas morning. 

I remember stepping into the Kiva (the main meeting place for camp) each year for the first time smiling ear to ear and looking around for the directors, the other campers, and most importantly the counselors (who were teens and young adult racial mirrors) some of whom would be assigned to my group for the weekend. 

As time went by, I remember seeing the faces of dear friends and a community, stepping into the Kiva felt like stepping into a warm hug, both literally and figuratively, as many warm hugs usually presented themselves over the years. 

I remember sitting on a big wall that separated the gym space and roller rink space with my friends just chatting, giggling, and feeling at peace in a place where we all felt like we belonged, because our families all were built the same way.  

It was here, at Chinese Heritage camp that I was met with racial mirrors and role models, many of whom have become family to me. 

It was here that I found out more about my heritage, the complexities of adoption, the importance of post-adoption services/ resources, and how important it is to recognize, celebrate, and look introspectively at these intersecting areas and aspects of my life. 

 Camp was full of other kids and families that looked like me and my own family from all over. There were so many Asians, mostly Chinese and Tawainese faces there. Throughout the weekend, I loved walking with my peers and counselors to workshops full of arts and crafts, food to cook, talks of adoption, and presenters who looked like me and knew about my own culture full of happiness to share their own experiences with us campers so that we could know and learn more about our own heritage. One of my favorite workshops, even to this day as my role at camp has come full circle with me being the counselor/ role model, is titled HeART Talks. In this workshop we always did some form of art that was about self expression, emotions, and/ or adoption. We always read a story together about adoption, and we always discussed what adoption meant to us and any feelings we had about adoption. HeART Talks has always been one of my favorites, because I always felt seen and like I belonged here, and as someone who tends to be more on the emotional side, I loved being able to express myself and share my emotions and story with others. I truly, and strongly, believe to this day that this workshop really helped lay the foundation for me understanding my own adoption story more and being able to cope and adjust into this strange, sometimes lonely world that we live in, especially during transition periods in my life, like going to college. 

As I grew older, camp not only continued to feel like home for me, continuing to grow with excitement as we approached camp, but it became a place I realized I could also have an impact and be there for other adoptees. From evolving from camper to counselor to presenter to coordinator, I have truly become a part of camp, and camp has become a part of me in so many ways. I’ve seen how my own experience and bringing what I loved doing as a camper and child growing up in camp can be brought back and enjoyed by the next generation. I learned how important it is to have racial mirrors and people you can relate to with similar upbringings. 

Growing up with this special place and community each year has allowed me to be innovative at different stages of my life. For example, when beginning college, camp allowed me to realize how passionate I felt about connecting with other adoptees and bringing awareness about adoption to others, and with my knowledge and experience at camp, I was able to create a student organization on campus so that adoptees in my new community, and others who wanted to be allies for adoptees or had connection to adoption, could have a safe place to go. 

Furthermore, in my young adult years as a new professional, I was able to tap into my passion again for adoptees and those who have been separated from biological family by working on a project on children in the Foster Care System (Out-of-Home care) and how as healthcare providers we can do better for this community. If it weren’t for camp and the acceptance and vulnerability it has allowed me to express and experience regarding my own adoption journey, I am not sure I would have been so open or innovative in my later years. If it weren’t for camp, I don’t think I would be as passionate about finding and connecting to other adoptees or sharing my own story, because who knows how my processing about my own story would have changed. Lastly, through my own knowledge and experiences with camp, I have been able to serve as a role model for younger adoptees and be there for them, not only as an adoptee, but also as a person of color who grew up in a predominantly white community, went to a predominantly white college, and now works in a predominately white profession. Camp has allowed me to be there as a resource for other adoptees and also adoptive parents who are looking for more answers and connections for their own children. 

For over 20 years now, Chinese Heritage Camp has been a part of me. It has watched me grow up into a confident, inspired, empowered young woman; it has watched me transition from camper to counselor to presenter to coordinator. Camp has given me opportunities to lead, reflect, and share with others. Camp has given me a place, both in the tangible and intangible sense, where my adoption story is just one of many, where I cannot only learn from others but teach others, a place where I can build upon life bonds and make new connections, a place where I will always feel comfortable crying to “Happy Adoption Day” and feel nostalgic for all the memories I had there growing up. Chinese Heritage Camp knows so much about me, more than I likely even realize. 

Chinese Heritage Camp has given me life, love, happiness, and a place to soul search and discover myself and where I can help the next generation do the same. Chinese Heritage Camp is, and always will be, a piece of my puzzle and heart, and without it in my life all these years, I would not feel complete.

Emily Quinn (she/her/hers)  is a transracial, Chinese adoptee who was adopted at 3 months of age from Zhejiang Province and identifies as pansexual/queer. Emily grew up in Colorado, and she currently works as a pediatric physical therapist. Emily is passionate about connecting with other adoptees of all ages, and her own journey as a transracial adoptee has made her passionate about diversity, equity, and inclusion issues, including fighting for social justice for all people. She continues to volunteer with Heritage Camps for Adoptive Families, especially the Chinese Heritage Camp, and she enjoys rock climbing, being outdoors, spending time with family,  and working on acts of self-care and self-kindness in her free time. 

Heritage Camps for Adoptive Families serves as a post-​adoption resource and advocate for children, adults, and families with diverse heritages. They focus on supporting international and domestic adoptive families, including adopted children, parents, non-adopted siblings, and extended family. Learn more about their work at

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By: Karen Zheng

The current COVID-19 pandemic and my family’s situation in it has inspired me to write this piece. Ever since the pandemic began in China, my family was already very cautious and nervous around the virus, collecting masks and information on testing. When it came here, my parents and I got laid off our restaurant jobs because the restaurants closed. That was March. After almost four months in quarantine, my parents are going back to work as part of the reopening process. In this piece, I hope to share with the Asian American community a little part of the lives of Asian Americans who is working at a Chinese restaurant, where I fear for their lives.

T-2 days. Mother is scheduled to go back to work July 1st, in two days. Mother works in a Chinese buffet restaurant. A few days ago, she went in to do some deep cleaning before the official reopening. When she came home with a huge yellow stain on her black work shirt, I glimpse her face. She looked different. Tired. Old. I never realized Mother had wrinkles around her eyes. That moment, I knew Mother is not superman. I always thought she was, working all day and everyday and never complaining about it. She said money is worth more than life. She still says it, and it infuriates me to hear it. I am mad at myself because I don’t have the ability to give her what she wants right now. Money. 

There is another woman who is important in my life. I will call her D. She will also be starting work. I am not sure what the reopening of a buffet restaurant entails, but I know they will come in contact with lots of different people throughout the day. Close one-on-one sessions. Like therapy. I will a certain future into existence, but there is no answer. Every morning, I still hear the cheerful chirping of birds. Does my will even mean anything when so many people are dying? I’m sure those people’s families willed them to live too. Why should god, if there is one, listen to mine?

This is the first time in my life that I have become afraid. Truly afraid. Afraid of losing. Mother. D. There’s this saying in Chinese. 失去才懂得珍惜. This roughly translates to: when things are lost, they are cherished. For me, there is a possibility of losing Mother and/or D, and I am panicking. I am regretting. I want to cherish them, but I do not know how much time I have. It’s funny because both of them will die one day, but when death nears or the potential of death nears, I want to be good to them. More and more. 

I wish so many things right now. Things that I haven’t done.

I’d been a better child to Mother. 

I’d given Mother my money when she asked. 

I’d treated D better. 

I’d grown up faster because growing up means I can somehow protect them?

I’d earn so much money for them. 

I could support them. 

I’d hugged D and kissed her and spent all my money on a trip with her. 

I’d propose or something. 


I don’t know. 

How does one enter a gamble with a loved one’s life?

I want to be good is what I’m saying. How?

Karen is a queer, first-generation Chinese-American undergraduate student studying English and Creative Writing. She writes poetry and occasionally creative nonfiction. In this piece, she explores her anxiety around the perhaps too-rapid reopening of restaurants that impacts her family’s livelihood.