As Asian American women in today’s society, it is important to remember where we came from, our roots, and give ourselves the opportunity to connect with others sharing our stories to relate our differences and similarities.
In light of 13 Minutes’ recent release of the new collection of stories, “Pho For Life: A Melting Pot of Thoughts,” I chatted with “Pho For Life” contributor, Kelly Banh about her story, experiences, and inspirational view of the road of life.
Audrey Magazine: What has been your pursuit of happiness?
Kelly Banh: Live genuinely. I’ve made this my motto. My picture of happiness is much like anyone else’s. It includes family, friends, and purpose. When you treat the people and projects in your life with genuine care and honesty, you get what you deserve in return. It hasn’t failed me yet!
Do you feel that you have attained happiness?
KB: One of my favorite quotes by John Stuart Mill is “I have learned to seek my happiness by limiting my desires, rather than in attempting to satisfy them.” I’ve attained happiness by limiting my desires. That’s not to say that I’ve settled or given up on self-improvement, but I’ve realized that happiness does not mean having everything in my possession. Happiness does not mean having everything in equilibrium. We want things to constantly be moving, or else life would just be at a standstill, right? Some regard happiness as an end, but I regard it as a means. When I am in a mentally and emotionally good place, I can do greater things for both myself and for the people around me.
Can you give Audrey readers a preview of the story you share in “Pho for Life”?
KB: I’d love to! In my short story, “A Table Tale,” I take you back into an old, pretty well-known Buddhist tale. A woman, in an act of revenge, feeds the vegetarian monks of a temple meat. She is condemned to hell after her death for what she’s done. Her only son then attempts to relieve her of this eternal punishment. (It’s a version of the Muc Lien Thanh De story that my Vietnamese grandmother passed down to my mother, who then passed it down to me.) As you read on, you’ll find yourself seated beside me at the dinner table with my mother, a scene into which the Buddhist tale is woven. It’s a story of love, expectation, and gratitude.
How do you feel your story can inspire other people?
KB: After you read my piece, I hope that you’ll pick up the phone and call your parents. Make small talk. Take a few hours out of this weekend to drive home and see them. Our time together is short. Sometimes, we all need to be reminded to look deeper into our parents’ words and gestures. As much as I tried to connect with my Asian heritage growing up, consistently attending Vietnamese and Chinese weekend school even, many of the lessons my mom tried to teach me didn’t always translate so well across cultures. I wish I was wise enough at that age to see where she was coming from. I hope my piece will serve as a little reminder for anyone that might need it.
Audrey is a magazine for Asian American women – what advice do you have for those who are trying to find happiness. Where do they start?
KB: First, accept you won’t find happiness overnight. Then, accept that regardless of how long it may take, you will find it. It’s a gradual, multi-step process. Know your worth. Be grateful for what you have (even ifit requires you to bring pen to paper and write out an actual list). And finally, go all out. Give yourself wholly. You might get hurt, but when you know what you’re worth, you’ll be strong enough to get over it.
Was there a time in your life where you felt like you wouldn’t be able to attain what you were striving for?
KB: There was a time when I didn’t even know what I was striving for, career-wise. That was heartbreaking. It took a lot of self-reflection and reevaluation. That’s all. Oh, and flying to India on my own! (How appropriate that my read for the plane was Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat Pray Love.”) There I volunteered at an eye clinic for a few weeks. For ten to twelve hours every day, I saw patients and administered exams. Witnessing that kind of work told me again and again what I would love to do for the rest of my life. In fact, it was screaming at me. It was the loudest, most beautiful message I could have asked for.
What has been your biggest challenge in life thus far? Were you able to overcome it? If so, how?
KB: For nearly 4 years, I struggled with body image issues. Before then, I only heard of vicious cycles of binging and starving. See, I stand at 5’6” with a larger frame than what most people identify with Asian girls and thighs and calves that my family members call worthy of being labeled “thick.” After my 3rd year of high school, my grandfather passed away, and during the weeks of mourning, I didn’t have much of an appetite. Fifteen pounds lighter, I was receiving compliments on how great I looked. When really, I felt physically weak from lack of nourishment. Instead of finding food, I let the compliments fuel me, and soon fell into that vicious cycle. It wasn’t until I was volunteering on an orphanage mission in Vietnam that I realized what I had been doing wrong. How could I regard food as an evil when these children were longing for it because they couldn’t afford it? Knowing that and finally seeing bigger-than-myself world issues like hunger, I had to get over myself. With the support of counselors, family, and my college roommates, I was able to overcome it.
What do you feel the hardest part about being an Asian American women is today?
KB: How do you embrace your heritage, defy diminishing but still existing gender roles in society, juggle work and school, cared for loved ones, embrace femininity, and exhibit strength without burning yourself out? It’s ironic that sometimes seeking balance is what could very well push us over the edge.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
KB: In five years, I hope to be practicing medicine, volunteering, and of course, sharing stories. If I can connect with people in any of these three ways, I’ll know that I’m doing what I’m truly meant to do.
In light of the Holiday season, what are you thankful for this year?
KB: I’m thankful for TIME. As quickly as 2011 went by and as much as I hoped for it to slow down at times, I realized that that just meant I was lucky enough for life to be eventful. Even with school, I had time to spearhead a community disaster education and first aid campaign with my local chapter of American Red Cross, speak about my father’s battle with liver cancer at an American Cancer Society fundraiser, represent the state of California in a national pageant promoting service and scholarship among young women, be photographed as a Hep B Hero for a calendar produced by SF Hep B Free and Asian Week Foundation, spend the best holidays at home with my family, and write for an Asian American Anthology. I’m so thankful that I was able to find the time to have these meaningful experiences.
Is there anything else you would like to add that you would like Audrey readers to know?
KB: Being a small part of this journey has been one of the most humbling, motivating experiences. I wouldn’t have had the honor and pleasure without Mr. Mai Bui of 13 Minutes Books and his dream of uniting accomplished and aspiring writers. I’m still just a student and a volunteer, and being able to contribute to the anthology gave me a voice. I hope that I was able to present a piece many Audrey readers can identify with and relate to.