November is over…
No more writing for this guy. I apologize for a month’s worth of spam. I’m going to go hide in a cave with no pens, paper, or laptop, and just hibernate for a handful of centuries.
I honestly didn’t think I’d make it this far. There were more than a few times throughout the month where the pressure was starting to mount and I began to fall behind on the essays, and I thought I was going to for sure crack.
But here we are.
The first few essays were easy because I had the topics already mentally mapped out, but as I started getting towards the middle of the month, it became increasingly difficult to not only find interesting and provacative talking points to write about, but to also articulate them in a compelling fashion.
It was as though I had run out of words.
What I loved about #NationalWritingMonth was not only the challenge I took upon myself to become a better writer by actually writing, but through these essays I got a chance to explore a deeper, darker, more nuanced side to my personality. A side that not a whole lot of people got to see. A side that I don’t even get to see some times.
I feel an incredible rush of strength writing this final essay. Like I’ve vanquished the final boss in a Super Nintendo video game or graduated at the top of my class, I feel like I can do anything now.
I feel infinite.
But a few things I've learned that I need to improve on:
Write with others.
Engage in topics I normally wouldn’t be interested in.
Meet more people.
Don’t stop writing.
In a lot of ways, writing is a muscle. It needs to be constantly exercised and maintained at peak conditions in order for it to function at its most optimal level. Throughout college, I feel like I was the worst English major. I coasted on my instincts and intuitions when it came to constructing essays. I never put more than I needed to in my writing as long as I received a passable grade. I became lazy and complacent.
Writing isn’t necessarily a gift for me.
I wasn’t always confident in my abilities or even trusted my own voice. It took a long time and a lot of reflection to be able to come to this point in my life where I can proudly parade my work around without shame.
Even in this last essay, I write these words for myself and no one else. But I am grateful that thousands upon thousands of folks actually turned out to read my daily mental ramblings! It was nice to see folks come forth in solidarity saying they felt the same feelings before or they were happy to see me be so honest and vulnerable. It made the process feel less lonely.
A lot of you don’t know this, but during the harder stages of this experiment, it was you who kept me going. Your words of encouragement, your words of criticism, and your words of love were the fuel to my fire.
Thank you for your words, because they helped me find mine.
To my writer friends who I looked up to throughout the process (in alphabetical order):
T.C. De Witt
Traci G. Lee
New York City.
New York City has been my number one travel destination ever since I watched “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York” as a four-year-old. Asides from the sadistic pleasure of witnessing a small, sociopathic child terrorize two grown men with elaborate homemade booby traps, the movie romanticized New York like it was this urban fantasy from another world where Christmas was celebrated every day.
To quote the great Liz Lemon, “I want to go to there.”
This last March my dream finally came true. Your boy was going to The Big Apple. I was so charged up after I booked my flight; I stayed up late multiple nights to research and map out all of the iconic spots I wanted to visit during my stay. When the time came around to actually be in New York, my mind and my body was not at its fullest strength and capacity, unfortunately.
The first few days were fantastic. Even though I felt a little exhausted, having not slept for two days, and eating everything that was put in front of me, I was running on pure adrenaline of simply being in New York. After a few late nights of hanging out with old friends and new, eating from food carts, and all the while working on my documentary project; it all came crashing down on me like it was raining bricks.
One afternoon after having had brunch and walking around Brooklyn taking pictures with a friend, I took the subway back to Manhattan and felt like something was off. When I stepped off the train, I immediately felt a rush of vertigo-like dizziness. Like my senses were being bombarded by sounds of a never ending police siren and the heat of the sun felt like the heat of a thousand suns. Seemingly out of nowhere, I found myself hanging on to a rail for dear life.
I think there was even a moment when a concerned woman approached and asked, “Are you okay, honey?” but I’m not sure if that was real or a hallucination.
It was frightening.
I was all by myself in a strange city, not entirely sure what was wrong with me, and not entirely sure of who to call. My vision was getting blurry and I started seeing double. I had to call an Uber to get me the hell out of dodge because I couldn’t even tell which direction I was going anymore.
That wasn’t even the worst part.
As I enter the Uber car with this feeling of pre-vomitation in the pit of my stomach, the driver was relentlessly chatty. Usually I would be okay with entertaining folks like him, but not today, man. Not while I’m on the verge of losing my marbles. To put the icing on the cake, he brings up Trump. Scratch that, he champions Trump.
“Donald’s a business man; he’s what New York needs right now!”
When I finally stumbled and bumbled my way back to my AirBnb in the Upper West Side, the rest of my time in NYC felt like a complete haze. It felt as though I slept through the next few days in a Nyquil induced slumber.
I learned a valuable lesson in NYC about self-discipline, over-working, and realizing that I’m no longer invincible.
It seemed like eons ago when I pulled off all-nighters on the regular and lived off essentially cheese and crackers all the while accomplishing all that I wanted to accomplish, but I've come to the hard conclusion that I am not a machine. (Traci is probably going to read this and go, “Ha! Amateur.”)
It sucked that it came at the cost of my first visit to NYC, and it sucked because I wasn’t able to give my NBC fam 100% during my stay (30 Rock was so cool though!), but it had to happen. If it didn’t, I wouldn’t have been cognizant of fixing my bad habits. As a young professional still trying to figure out and navigate this post-grad life, I’m being more conscious of listening to my body. No more insane hours, no more late night eating. I’m in this for the long haul and I want my mind/body to hold up the rest of the way or else there’s going to be more episodes like this.
I’ll always have New York, but my health is never a given.
And shout out to the lady who coughed on me on the subway. Now that I think about it, you were probably the one who set it off.
During the junior year of my undergrad, I had the opportunity to intern for Richard Donner and Lauren Shuler-Donner’s film production company. You may or may not have heard of them, but they’re legends in the game having produced such works as the original Superman movies, the current X-Men franchise, The Goonies, Lethal Weapon, The Omen; the list goes on and on.
On the first day walking into their office, I became anxious with an overwhelming sense of impostor syndrome. There they were with their prolific films plastered in poster form hugging every inch of their Beverly Hills office. Films I grew up loving. “What am I doing here?” I asked myself. I felt extremely under qualified. It was the most intimidated I have ever felt in a professional setting. I’m sure I soiled myself in an alternate parallel universe.
That feeling didn’t last long as they welcomed me with open arms. I never had an internship experience quite like that again. They actually took their time showing me the ropes. ME. This kid they plucked out of obscurity with zero experience and zero knowledge. It was fascinating to see the the inner workings of their operation, because they ran it like a mom & pop shop. It's not like the way it's portrayed at all in the movies (ironically). There was no Hollywood BS. My time as their intern was short, but I made some lifelong friends and mentors along the way.
My favorite memory of my time there would have to be when I had the one-in-a-million chance to actually sit down with Mr. Donner and have a conversation with him.
When I felt brave enough to ask my internship supervisor to see if it was even possible, I was surprised by their response when they said that no intern had ever asked for that kind of request before. It was shocking! Here was a golden opportunity to pick the brain of one of our industry’s living legends, why wouldn’t you take that shot?
I couldn't resist.
I remember walking into his office like it was yesterday. It felt like that scene from “The Sandlot” when the kids first stepped foot in James Earl Jones’ house and was enchanted by all of its rich history. Mr. Donner’s office smelled like fresh pine, it was brightly lit, and there were memorabilia from all of the films he directed, scattered all over, along with some old photographs of all his famous film friends.
When I walked in, he said, “Hey! Take a seat, Andrew.”
He would always call me Andrew (apparently there were fifty other Andrews throughout the company’s history), or he’d call me “kid.” I didn’t mind either way. I was just excited to be in the same room as him.
"What did you want to ask me?" he said.
My mind was racing. I had a thousand questions, but I had to mentally sift through them quickly to make sure I wasn’t going to say something stupid.
We ended talking for a long time about the politics of the industry, his pragmatic blue collar approach to directing, and what he thinks of the current state of the movie business. Some of my favorite stories were his recollections of old friends and shenanigans: his on-set fight with Steve McQueen, William Shatner pranking him on “The Twilight Zone”, and how he knew Christopher Reeve was the one to play his Superman right away.
I was like a kid in a candy store.
I spoke very little because I wanted to take as much time to absorb everything he was throwing at me. Yet being the courteous man that is, he continued to prompt me nevertheless. He even asked me a lot of questions about myself. Not once did I feel like I was being lectured or talked down to. That’s how you know someone cares.
We chatted for a whole hour. We probably would be sitting in his office until the sun came down if his wife hadn’t called him home for dinner. I always thought my director heroes would be these larger than life icons in real life. Who'd ever thought one of them turned out to be this friendly grandfather next door type figure? My biggest takeaway from our heart-to-heart was the sense of validation and affirmation. Hearing about his own ups and downs, and how he pulled himself up from his bootstraps to make it to where he is today, it’s more than inspiring. It confirmed everything I’ve done up to this point has not been a total waste.
He immediately forgot my name again once I left his office, but I’ll never forget his parting words to me: “You have to find your own voice, kid. There’s no advice in the world anyone can give you about making pictures unless you know your own voice and the stories you want to tell.”
I strolled down the rain soaked sidewalks of Beverly Hills that night, skipping, and thinking about how much brighter the future is beginning to look for a small town kid like me trying to make it in the big city.
Thanks, Mr. Donner.
“C'est la vie, mon ami” is a French expression that means, “That’s life, my friend.”
It’s something I keep telling myself when things don’t go my way.
When I lose control.
A couple of months ago, I got a call to come in to interview for a mid-level position at a well-established film production company. They produced high-tech, futuristic looking commercials and music videos for world-renowned clients. Before NBC, I could hardly lock an interview, so I was stoked they would even consider me.
The first interview was with their office manager at a swanky, modern office space in West Hollywood. We also Skyped in one of their project managers from New York to sit in on the interview. They both asked a variety of questions and they both seemed to be impressed with my expansive resume and experience. I even cracked a couple of clever jokes.
The second interview was with one of their two in-house Executive Producers. He was a lot more reserved, but still very friendly nevertheless. He seemed intrigued by my documentary miniseries that I’ve been producing for the last year. He was also blown away by my cultural competency and knowledge.
By the third interview, I already felt like I got this in the bag. Who would call someone to come in three different times for one position? Something felt off the third time around though. This interview was with the second EP. He seemed disinterested in the way he yawned multiple times and he didn’t even look at my resume. He asked me what movies I’ve been watching and what basketball team I rooted for, but nothing related to my professional experience or what sort of expertise I could offer to the company. It lasted for a total of ten minutes.
I’ve been replaying those three separate interviews over and over again for a while now.
What did I do wrong?
Why would they waste my time yanking me around like that?
The worst part of it all (the real kick in the sack) was that they didn’t even bother to call me back. I left a follow-up email and voicemail just to check in to see if they were even alive. But…
Nothing. Nada. Radio silence.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t hurt. Insulted. Angered. Was it too much to ask for a little common courtesy and professionalism these days?
As sky high as my confidence has ever been, I do get down on myself from time to time wondering why I’m not where I want to be, where I should be, or at a level where my other friends and colleagues are currently thriving at.
But that is life.
If we keep dwelling on the things we can’t control, we lose sight of all the progress we've worked so hard to make in the first place.
In elementary school, one of my favorite after school programs was a little animated series called, “Recess.” In the show, there’s a character by the name of “T.J. Detweiler.” T.J. is a kid who thrives on being well-liked. In one of my favorite episodes aptly titled, “Nobody Likes T.J.”, T.J. finds out that there’s this one kid (out of hundreds of kids at his school, mind you) who doesn’t like him; he goes to great lengths just to prove his likability. It was straight up neurotic and desperate. He never stopped to ask himself why he wants to be liked just to be liked. In the end, he came to the conclusion that this kid will never like him, and that’s okay.
The moral of the story is we cannot constantly vie for the attention and affection of others. It will literally drive us insane. If one person out of a hundred people doesn’t like me, I’ll just take the ninety-nine others and count my blessings.
The same goes for my career. I may have lost out on the job, but I refuse to lose myself in the process. I can’t control what others may think of me or even make others like me, but the one thing I can control is my mentality to keep getting better. If this interview didn’t work out this time, then fine. I’ll improve my interpersonal communication, go work on more projects, and continue to build my portfolio, because that’s not only all that I can do, but it’s what I should do.
“If you do not believe in yourself, no one will do it for you.” Kobe Bryant said this. Unfortunately.
C'est la vie, mon ami.
"Why are there Asians and Asian Americans out there who believe that they’re above racial issues and relations pertaining to other minority groups in America? When did we get a pass for saying and perpetuating racism?"
“Don’t forget who you are and where you came from.”
This was the humbling sentiment that has been hammered into my consciousness ever since I was born. The belief that I can be a successful American citizen while remembering and honoring my Vietnamese identity. However, the more I grow into this identity, the more concerned I have become for the very people who taught me this sentiment, because they are slowing forgetting it themselves.
Identity politics intrigues me.
At least the intersectionality of identity politics helps me understand people better on a racial, gender, religious, sexuality, and humane level, which in turn helps me understand people better on a social, economic, and personal level.
It has helped me understand all of these aspects within myself as well.
I’ve been talking to a lot of friends recently about they have coped with their family members voting for Donald Trump. It’s been known for a while now that I believe he’s a dangerous man. He’s even more dangerous when he’s infiltrated our households.
This becomes odiously problematic when we utilize his platform and ideologies to demonize other struggling marginalized communities.
Since entering this post-election period, I’ve heard nothing but romanticized stories from his supporters about how his presidency is going to create more jobs by being tougher on immigration. The word “illegals” is being tossed around like it’s free currency. It’s as though we all have conveniently forgotten that a lot of us are immigrants ourselves. Now all of a sudden we feel compelled and emboldened to trash other immigrants who, in particular, are not like us: Latinos, people of Muslim faith, international students, etc.
There are a lot of reasons why this is happening (respectability politics, xenophobia, white supremacy), but I feel as though it’s a culmination of all these concepts.
This illusion can be explained through the “model minority” myth.
According to Wikipedia (I know, don’t judge me): “A model minority is a minority group (whether based on ethnicity, race or religion) whose members are perceived to achieve a higher degree of socioeconomic success than the population average. This success is typically measured in income, education, low crime rates and high family stability.”
I’ve seen folks, even Asian folks, use this myth as a way to excuse stereotyping. “Look, our people are doctors and engineers, why should we be ashamed of that?!” It’s much more complex and nuanced than perceived superficial success. It’s deeply rooted in white supremacy and classism. It ignores intersectionality thus ignoring Asian Americans who are not succeeding.
My colleague, Sahra Vang Nguyen, explains this eloquently in her essay for The Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sahra-vang-nguyen/the-truth-about-the-asian_b_8282830.html):
“The overall poverty rate in the U.S. is 14.3 percent; relative to their unique populations, the poverty rate for whites is 11.6 percent and Asian Americans is 11.7 percent. Yet no one is talking about the fact that Asian Americans have a higher poverty rate than whites. Why not? Probably because it doesn’t fit their portrayal of Asians as the model minority. Average per capita income for whites is $31k, while for Asian Americans it’s $24k. Asians make up 12 percent of the undocumented population (that’s 1.3 million undocumented Asians), while whites make up a reported zero percent. But nobody wants to talk about the poverty, unemployment and immigration problems when it comes to the Asian American community, because to do so would accurately align us in the fight for racial justice and hurt the white supremacist agenda (which historically, thrives with divide and conquer tactics).”
Money is a hell of a drug.
It’s changing us.
And people are hurting.
This myth mostly addresses East Asians, who are already global superpowers, and blatantly disregards folks of South Asian, Southeast Asian, and Pacific Islander descent. But it also gives us an illusion of power, which we often use to turn on other communities when we should be standing with them in solidarity.
I’m becoming overwhelmed with all of these gross declarations about “how we’re tired of paying taxes to support the poor” or “how Mexicans are having babies in the states so they can become citizens” or “how we can’t trust Muslims because they could potentially be terrorists.”
We do not realize how much we’re killing each other by buying into this idea that our community is okay, so let’s disrespect everyone else.
Do you remember a time when that garbage was said about us? It was not too long ago that Jeb Bush called Asians, “anchor babies.”
When was the last time you interacted with someone on a personal level who came from a different economic, ethnic, or national background? We live in such small and closed-off enclaves. We forget there are others striving for the same aspirations and dreams. We’re using their differences to uplift ourselves instead celebrating each other’s differences in the face of hate.
It’s something to strongly consider when we come across these issues in our own communities and families. I’m still struggling to find a way to address it without having the exchange turn into a shouting match, but I know that I eventually have to stand up to the very people I love who continue to perpetuate racism and xenophobia. The very people who taught me to do so.
If you are an immigrant or you are from an immigrant family, remind each other that we did not escape persecution so that we could in turn persecute others.
"A college student approached me after a conference and told me I was his hero.
Back in April, I had the pleasure of speaking at the University of Minnesota on a panel of new media experts for an Asian American Students Association conference. It was such an inspiring experience to see so many young people express their ever burning desire and passion for creating substantial change within media diversity and inclusion beyond the conversational level.
I’ll never forget this one kid came up to me afterwards asking for a picture. We chatted for a bit and he mentioned that it was really cool that we both happen to share very similar narratives: he’s also an aspiring filmmaker and he also grew up in a Vietnamese-American household.
As I was preparing to leave, the last words he left with were, “You’re my hero, man.”
I was stunned.
Here I was being a little stress ball spending the last year developing my documentary miniseries, “Life Stories”, for the internet masses, but mostly it was for me. Before I sold the series to NBC Asian America, I managed to produce about 15 episodes on my own on a zero budget. Traveling along the West Coast knocking on the doors of every notable and influential Asian American I could find via Google search. I would shoot the interviews, edit them, and post them on social media once a week all the while finishing up my bachelor’s degree, working a day job, and attending a film development internship.
I never meant for it to get as far as it did. It just came from an emotional place. A place where I was sick and tired of the way I was seeing my community represented in mainstream media. I already knew Asian America was awesome, but a good portion of the rest of the country hasn’t seen that part of us yet, so I took it upon myself to make it a personal mission to alter that perception.
As proud as I am of my personal accomplishments, I’ve never truly took the time to appreciate the impact it made for other people like me. I was so preoccupied with the rigor and the grind within the process of being the captain of this documentary series that I had totally forgotten that there’s real living and breathing people out there consuming my content. Most notably, young Asian Americans seeking voices and stories similar to theirs.
If you don’t come from an underrepresented community where your voice and your image is not often heard or seen outside of said community, then you have never felt the emotional power that comes with seeing someone that looks, talks, and acts like you in a film, on TV, on a record, etc. It's exhilarating. The kind of exhilaration that makes you want to climb on your roof and shout to the heavens.
I didn’t grow up with that, but it fills my heart with an immense joy to be able to provide that for other people especially up and coming filmmakers. We don’t realize it sometimes because we’re so caught up in our own personal lives and living in our tiny social bubbles, but we all have the power to influence. What we say, what we do can create or destroy. I choose to create and I choose to positively influence.
You never know who’s looking to you to represent them.
We're all somebody's hero.
"The Dark Knight" changed the way I watched movies.
In the summer of 2008, there I was:
A fresh-faced, 19-year-old Pharmacy school dropout, a few months removed from stepping off the plane from humble Oregon and on to hopeful California soil. I had no direction of where I was going or knowledge of how to accomplish my lofty goals, but I knew I wanted one thing and one thing only: I wanted to be a part of cinema.
One of my first, and one of my favorite, jobs was when I worked as a film projectionist at a local movie theater. It was one of those summer jobs that lasted well beyond the summer. Even though the pay was trash and I hated some of my managers, I had access to free movies that were actually projected on 35mm film (which is on the verge of becoming an extinct format). I made sure to watch everything I could get my hands on from big budget action blockbusters to independently produced prestige dramas. Since I didn’t have the money to go to a traditional film school like USC or UCLA, the movie theater became my film school.
Everything that I have absorbed about appreciating and deconstructing cinema up to that point came to a climatic crescendo in the form of a tiny little art house flick called, “The Dark Knight”, and it altered my perception of sights and sounds, forever.
From start to finish, there was not a second of that film that was wasted. Whether it was Heath Ledger’s electric posthumous performance, Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard’s explosive score, or Christopher Nolan’s confidently cerebral and robust direction; it was the perfect film.
An aspect of the film that truly helped me come to age as a student of the medium was how it challenged us, as an audience, intellectually, viscerally, and morally (something that was hardly seen in a film of this scale and size). Would you have killed one man to save an entire city or blow up a boat full of prisoners to save another boat full of civilians? These complex questions of ethics and humanity shaped the way I viewed the world (socially and politically as well as artistically).
I hold Christopher Nolan in the highest regard among the modern pantheon of elite filmmakers. In many ways, I aspire to be him. We share a few similarities: he also majored in English, he also had zero formal training in film, and his filmmaking philosophy to always push genre conventions beyond its expected boundaries has become my ultimate career motto. I’m not saying I am him at my current level nor will I ever be him, but he should be on that pedestal of quintessential role models for any up and coming independent filmmaker looking to make it on their own. The man essentially talked his way into a very exclusive club that is the Hollywood studio system, which in turn helped him secure resources to produce his own ambitious passion projects. Not a lot of people in their lifetime can say that, let alone established filmmakers. Think about it: who in their right mind would ever invest in an expensive quasi-heist film about dream thieves or a three hour long existential space opera, which were both shot on outdated technology?
Mr. Nolan is in a class of his own.
I have gained so much confidence and knowledge just by following his career. His films are less of a passive activity and more of an immersive and provocative experience. Memento, The Prestige, Inception, Interstellar, and The Dark Knight trilogy were all epic, innovative, and wildly entertaining films on the surface, but underneath lies a mentally and emotionally stimulating subtext of romance and idealism. It demands that we demand more from our art. It demands that we be brave and be bold in our artistic pursuits while maintaining the intellectual core of who we are.
I used to copy the way he made films, at least on a superficial level, whether it was his methods, his swagger, or right down to his quirky habits and rituals. I thought that if I took my own films seriously and injected an abundance of philosophical questions, then my work would also ascend to a level of professional legitimacy. But like any pretentious student filmmaker, I got lost in the aesthetic of asking empty questions instead of asking myself why I loved the film going experience so much in the first place. Mr. Nolan’s films helped me ask myself not only what kind of filmmaker I wanted to be or what kind of films I wanted to make, but what kind of man did I eventually want to become? These films helped me be brave.
It’s kind of funny to say that a film this dark, morose, and borderline nihilist gave me “hope”, but it did. It gave me hope in a tumultuous personal year, it gave me hope in listening to my own voice, and it gave me hope in the art of cinema once more. "The Dark Knight" did not follow a traditional path, model, or formula, and that’s how I want to approach my craft as well as my life.
Bruce Wayne once told the love of his life, “It's not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me."
The day I watched “The Dark Knight” was the day I stopped being afraid of who I am and who I was destined to become.
I am an American.
I am a proud American of Asian descent and I am thankful for all that I have been able to afford during my time here in this country, but I am not native, and neither is anyone else who does not have indigenous blood flowing through their veins.
With that being said, I do feel an overwhelming sense of guilt. A feeling that I was brought here on accident and that I’m enjoying the fruits of someone else’s labor, or in this case, someone else’s life.
This is something I can no longer ignore.
Even though the Pacific Northwest has a rich indigenous history, I didn’t grow up learning or interacting too much with real Native Americans. In grade school, we were read stories from picture books that portrayed these people as though they were mythical figures from another dimension. We dressed up as “Pilgrims and Indians” to re-enact the “First Thanksgiving.” We did everything except for respectfully honoring the very real lives who once roamed this country freely.
They were caricatures.
They were costumes.
They were props.
As we gather together with our loved ones around the dinner table for Thanksgiving, many Native Americans are gathering together with loved ones at Standing Rock to fight for their home.
I will admit I was fairly ignorant to the issues surrounding this protest. I didn’t want to further contribute to the noise by saying something incorrect or uneducated. After much research and soul searching, I have come to realize the grave severity of the situation and I feel compelled to take action.
We are taught to not discuss politics during times of peace, but the problem is peace for us may not always mean peace for others. I am grateful for the privilege that I’ve been granted, but I would rather use that privilege for more than just myself and those who are like me.
I don’t have any Native friends. This could be because of geography or gentrification or past ramifications of genocide, but I do know they are people. Just like you. Just like me. So when I witness these folks protesting peacefully and the police are armed to the teeth with military grade riot gear and are cruelly spraying them with high-powered water hoses during freezing weather conditions…how can I give thanks this Thanksgiving without acknowledging those who paved the path for me?
I am thankful to be alive.
I am thankful for friends and family.
I am thankful to being doing what I love instead of doing what I must to survive.
This is all in thanks to the brave native men and women who fight everyday just to validate that they are human. I thank you, and I will never forget you.
Water is life.
If you’re feeling the same way, please consider donating to the Sacred Stone Camp GoFundMe campaign to assist the water protectors in their quest to save their families, homes, and way of life.
Here is their campaign statement:
“Hau we are the Inyan wakankagapi otip-Sacred Stone Camp from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. We have partnership with the Oectc Sakowin- Seven Council Fires, Indians and Cowboys and anyone who was to stand with us against the Dakota Access Pipeline. This pipeline will cross the Missouri River and Cannon Ball River which is the life line to many tribes and non-native, when this pipeline leaks it will destroy the water and land. Water is life! So this pipeline is along the Missouri River and the KL pipeline was along the Ogall aquifer both are important to save.
We are asking for financial support for water-propane - food and blankets for the camp. This is a prayer camp movement to save our sacred land and water and has been entirely supported by the people and the campers. We are in great appreciation for all you contributions....Wopila lila tanka-- we are deeply grateful for you contributions thank you!
Sacred Stone Camp”
"I’m not a fan of Thanksgiving, but I am a fan of family."
Asides from being the one holiday that definitively represents the day when a gang of punk ass pilgrims pulled a drive-by and landjacked our indigenous brothers and sisters, Thanksgiving reminds me of my Mama Bear.
My all-time favorite Thanksgiving memory would have to be when my Mother accidentally turned our turkey dinner…completely pink.
If anyone knows my Mother, knows that she loves to experiment with food. Whether it’s with noodle soups, spring rolls, or coconut milk desserts, she’s game to put her own creative spin on any dish.
Growing up, I will admit that I was a bit of a picky eater. I saw a lot of my white friends eating fun stuff like Lunchables, meat loaf, and mac & cheese, which made me question, “Is my Mom’s cooking normal?”
I would always make unreasonably outlandish requests for her to make us something “American.” She never did once hesitate. She searched far and wide through cookbooks and asking her co-workers for recipes. When she actually placed the finished dish in front of me, I still sensed a difference. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I was never satisfied. It wasn’t like how my friends’ Moms made it.
I’ve come to understand that it wasn’t my Mom at all, but it was my own identity crisis and my hidden desire for our culture to be normalized. I was so caught up in trying to fit in that I didn’t appreciate the effort that my Mother constantly puts forth to take care of our family.
To be the matriarchal glue of our household, while holding down a 9 to 5 job and all, she’s a superhero.
For all of my non-Asian friends who don't know what “Char Siu” is, it’s barbecue pork that is marinated in honey, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, spices, and a dash of food coloring that radiates a deep maroon. Mom thought it would be an interesting take on the traditional turkey by marinating it in char siu sauce…without telling anybody. When she put it in the oven, she imagined the finished product looking red like the OG char siu found at our local Chinese butcher shops. Hilariously, it came out bright pink!
Like Kirby pink.
Like an episode of “My Little Pony” pink.
Like a shade of pink that can only be found at an Abercrombie & Fitch store in 2003.
It was such a jarring image to see an iconic dish as the Thanksgiving turkey turned into this 80s style, neon-colored monstrosity. It was off-putting to look at, and on the inside I thought to myself, “Well, there goes Thanksgiving.”
But you know what? It was freaking delicious.
I remember it being lightly sweet and mouth-wateringly savory. The texture was so tender that it melted upon contact. Thinking about it today makes my brain discombobulate with sensory overload and my belly grumble with a grizzly hunger.
Thanksgiving means different things for different people. Thanksgiving, for me, means Mom. It means a woman who did a thankless job her entire life with a smile on her face. It means a woman who set an example for thinking outside of the status quo for her children. It means a woman who was proud of her heritage and her cuisine.
This one is for Mom, for teaching me to not only eat properly and well (with the right portions and ingredients), but also for teaching me to enjoy food in all of its colors.
When the seasons change and the air gets a little chillier outside, I like to have myself a big fragrant bowl of piping hot phở at any one of my local noodle houses in Garden Grove, CA (where the Vietnamese population is one of the largest anywhere outside of Vietnam itself). Its soothing warmth reminds me of the comforts of home and the people I love.
For some, food is simply a means of survival.
For many, food is an instrument used to pass down generations of culture and stories.
Gentrification upsets me. Every time I go back home to Portland, there’s a new hipster “ethnic food” spot…that’s often not owned or ran by a person of color. Instead of investing in the already rich existing Mom & Pop shops in these diverse communities, we choose to push them out of them way for another strip mall of overly-priced “fusion foods” that we don’t need. It’s not always done with the intention of appropriating and erasing people’s culture, but the consequences always seem to scream otherwise.
And this usually starts with the way we perceive food.
I have been seeing way too many articles and blogs from various mass media outlets (ranging from The New York Times to Starbucks) going on and on, recklessly, about how phở can now be remixed with quinoa and how cà phê sữa đá should now be spiced up with a little mint leaf garnish. Those who do not understand Vietnamese culture, and quite frankly, Vietnamese people, will never understand why this is offensive until they attempt to try to at least understand the basic humanity behind Vietnamese cuisine beyond the attractive aesthetic.
Many Vietnamese American families have faced traumatic dehumanization and displacement due to war. Losing their homes and businesses. Losing friends and family. So something as simple as a bánh mì (made with tender love and care) is enough to remind them of a more peaceful time. Maybe they see a thriving city within the flaky crust. Maybe they see a quiet countryside within the milky coffee.
Vietnamese cuisine is deeply rooted in family and healing. This is why phở cannot be made with broccoli and bánh mì cannot be made on a bagel, because it's thoughtless. It’s a rearrangement for no other reason than to rearrange. Each ingredient has a purpose and adds worth to its respective dishes. Asides from the overall cultural meaning and value, the former literally means "rice noodle" and the latter literally means "baguette"!
As a Vietnamese-American who craves not only for a good traditional home cooked meal, but I also hunger for my family’s missing history and the stories that make up my identity, and the identity of so many others like me. I didn’t grow up knowing a whole lot about how my family came to America. For my family, these times are often too painful to talk about, so they express it through other various means like their cooking.
My Grandma illustrates her vibrant childhood through the careful craft and techniques she uses to preserve and pickle vegetables, the precision she deploys when she debones a chicken or fillets a fish, and the eternity’s worth of patience she exudes when she steams (her favorite) salted eggs and braised pork in a clay pot. It reminds her of simpler times living in a rural small town with her friends and family. It represents happiness. To this day, she still cooks the same way as her mother did and her mother’s mother. I peel back another layer of her story every time I eat her food. It's an experience.
For some, food is sexy, food is trendy, and food is a way to make money.
For many, food is home.