The Struggle of Asian American Women: Chuti Tiu’s ‘Pretty Rosebud’

Story by Jeline Abutin.

She’s seen in films such as The Internship with Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson as well as the Spirit Award-nominated film Rampart. Now, Chuti Tiu has released her very own screenplay Pretty Rosebud.

Pretty Rosebud, directed by Oscar Torre, is a film about a frustrated, career driven woman who is stuck in an unhappy marriage. Bound by cultural, religious and family traditions, Cissy, played by Tiu, breaks societal taboos in search for her true path in life.

“The film definitely deals with what is right and what is wrong and a lot of times in life we like to put the blame on other people,” said Tiu. “In this film, what [the director] and I really strived to do was to make sure that even though you kind of root for the main character Cissy, we didn’t want to make her husband the bad guy. So the challenge was to treat both of them fairly and show that in any marriage that is falling apart, there’s not just one person to blame. It takes two.”

In the film, Tiu’s character tries her hardest to be a good daughter, a good wife and a good worker. Striving to achieve perfection is something Asian American women and Asian Americans in general can somewhat relate to, said Tiu.

“Traditionally, our culture holds excellence in such high regard —  in music, in sports and in grades. In everything,” said Tiu. “There’s also the guilt of how good of a child you are to your parents. I think all cultures have it, but I really think our culture has a very strong tie. Sometimes I’m very proud of it and [other times] I think it feels like such a burden. The idea of disappointing your parents, whom you love, feels like such a huge weight.”

Rarely seeing films that reflected an Asian American woman’s experience, Tiu took matters into her own hands with Pretty Rosebud.

“I think that we have a very special voice,” said Tiu. “What I want people to come away with is a story you can relate to and finally feel like ‘yay, my culture, my experience, my stories have been given a voice’  and for people whose background isn’t very similar, hopefully they will be enlightened on this aspect of Asian American culture and they’ll also find things they can relate to.”

Pretty Rosebud has been accepted to the Big Island Film Festival in Hawaii May 22-26 and will also be shown in The Asian Film Festival of Dallas on July 10-17.

 

 

 

My mother, Alzheimer’s and Vietnamese Cooking

Story by Andrew Lam.

“Why don’t you call me anymore?” she asks on the phone, her voice plaintive, barely above a whisper. “No one remembers me, no one cares if I died.”

“Mother, I called 3 days ago.”

“Liar! That never happened.”

It happened. She just no longer can recall.

Five years ago, my mother, who is now 81, was diagnosed with dementia and Alzheimer’s, and her short-term memories are almost non-existent. Unless something very dramatic—death, divorce, accidents, and marriages—happens to those very dear to her she retains nothing of the immediate past. She has, too, become paranoid and housebound, and the once vivacious, outgoing and beautiful woman has become frail and depressed. Though my two older siblings and I visit my parents in Fremont practically every week, as we all live in the Bay Area, my mother nevertheless feels isolated and confused due to her increasing dementia.

But when it comes to the distant past, and especially when it involves cooking, it is another story altogether. “Mother,” I say her on the phone, changing the subject. “How do you make banh tom co ngu?” It’s a Vietnamese fried shrimp cake made with yam. “Well,” she responds with no hesitation, “you need both rice powder and starch. You need to make sure it’s of equal part and the shrimp you keep the head, that’s the best part. You need to have good, light oil.” She rattles off the recipe with increasing confidence. “Be careful, if you use too much starch, it doesn’t get crunchy.”

I already know how to make banh tom co ngu. In fact, I learned dozens of dishes from her by simply watching or listening and occasionally assisting her in the kitchen over the years. I asked because I simply wanted to hear her talk with confidence, to have her in her element, and not in her self-pitying voice when that dominates her outlook in old age—a mother abandoned.

I want my mother, that is, at her best: cooking and providing for her family.

Indeed, ever since I can remember, there was some sort of party or another every week in our house during the war in Vietnam. My father, a high-ranking army officer in the ARVN (Army Republic of Vietnam), always had important guests at our house. Since I was four, I remember Vietnamese ministers, generals, visiting dignitaries, and yes, even American stars—Robert Mitchum and John Wayne and Jennifer Jones—had grace our dining tables during the Vietnam War. And Mother—with the help of servants—would always be cooking, and entertaining Father’s guests. There was a war going on, but people were caring and the kitchen was always crowded with people.

Or else, it’s birthdays and death anniversaries, or Vietnamese Lunar New Year or Christmas Eve, where mother’s tireless cooking made our lives luxurious, celebratory, comfortable. And I remember often waking up with the sounds of pots and pans clanging and the chopping on the cutting board down in the kitchen, and on the weekend, the delicious aroma of mother’s pho soup or bun bo hue, a spicy pork knuckle soup in beef and lemongrass broth, would infuse the entire house.

The dishes could be elaborate. There’s the fish dip that is she made of sea bass and dills and celery and homemade aioli, to be eaten with shrimp crackers or fried bread. The steamed fish head and tail are retained, but its body is made entirely of fish dip mixed with aioli, its scales made of colorful carrots and beet. Then there’s that special gourd and mushroom soup, which is served in an actual gourd. There’s also the grilled crab cake that’s served in its shell.

Mother was tireless in her creation. Later on, her repertoire expanded to include Moroccan couscous, French bouillabaisse, Spanish paella, and when she couldn’t find key ingredients, she found substitutes—turmeric for saffron, homemade sausage for Chorizo, and shitake for porcini.

In Dalat, Vietnam, that French-built hillside station full of Lycee and villas, where we lived for 5 years, she taught a free pastry class, showing our neighbors how to make pate chaud, choux a la creme, eclaire, buche de noel. My mother was mostly a self-taught chef, though due to father’s many foreign guests, she later took cooking classes with some of the best chefs in Saigon to expand her repertoire.

It is a sad thing therefore to see her so frail and forgetful and depressed, and no longer capable of cooking. She can barely make rice and heat soup.

“I don’t know what happened,” she said one day when I came to visit and wanted to cook for my parents. “Someone stole all my knives.”

I kept searching and finally found three knives hidden under the sofa’s cushions. It was depressing: Her fear of robbers and thieves is overwhelming her, to the point where she feels the need to defend herself with the knives she once used to create such fabulous, sumptuous meals.

Still, for the appetizer, I make the classic Vietnamese spring roll. I mix pork with fish sauce, black pepper, crabmeat, green onion, and vermicelli. I bring out rice papers and warm water. “Let me help,” she says. She gets up from the sofa where she often lies listless, watching Korean soap operas.

Though she could never cook an entire meal again, she is her old self as she works. The bony fingers are guided by muscle memories. And as she rolls her spring rolls—a scoop of mixed ground pork with crabmeat, a wet rice paper—she begins to remember. “Back when we were in Hue, I remember making dinner for 25 guests,” she says. “Mrs. Ngoc, she would send her daughters. My gosh, that woman had six of them. And they all worked so hard.” Mother starts laughing.

She remembers the women crowding her kitchen. How they gossiped as they worked. One young woman had a great voice and often sang. They shared recipes. She remembers a gentle world long gone.

I encourage her. I give her more rice papers. And we roll cha gio together. We make more than we could possibly eat. But it doesn’t matter. We roll back the clock. We talk about food, cooking.

We talk about the past.

Andrew-Lam3-648x364

Andrew Lam (left) with his mother and family celebrating his mother’s 80th birthday last year in Fremont, CA. Photo courtesy of the author.

Andrew Lam is an editor with New America Media and author of the “Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora,” and “East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres.” His latest book is “Birds of Paradise Lost,” a short story collection, was published in 2013 and won a Pen/Josephine Miles Literary Award in 2014 and a finalist for the California Book Award and shortlisted for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing.

This story is a part of Off the Menu: Asian America, a multimedia project between the Center for Asian American Media and KQED, featuring a one-hour PBS primetime special by award-winning filmmaker Grace Lee (American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs), original stories and web content.

Main image: Lunch at Andrew Lam’s uncle’s villa in Saigon in 1972. Lam is in his mother’s arms. Photo courtesy of the author.

A Hidden Tragedy — Mental Illness and Suicide Among Asian Americans

Story by Andrew Lam. 

What do Jiwon Lee, Kevin Lee, and Andrew Sun have in common? Sadly, they are three Asian Americans college students who killed themselves in high profile cases in April at prestigious universities. 

Kevin Lee, (no relation to Jiwon,) a sophomore at Boston University studying biomedical engineering was found dead in his dorm room. Andrew Sun, also a sophomore studying economics at Harvard, jumped to his death in Boston. Jiwon Lee a dental student at Columbia University left a note that said “not living up to expectations.” Her body was found in the Hudson River.

According to the American Psychological Association, using the year 2007 as case study, suicide “was the second leading cause of death for Asian-Americans aged 15-34.” The websiteReAppropriate which advocates for Asian American concerns estimates that the three students who killed themselves are part of about 150 college-aged Asian Americans who will die by suicide this year. 

Stanley Sue, a professor of psychology and Asian-American studies at the University of California at Davis who has studied suicide rates among Asian Americans, believes part of the problem is that Asian Americans are not likely to talk about their psychological problems.

“Community practitioners notice that Asian Americans are less likely to self-disclose their personal problems,” Sue told Time magazine in 2008.




That attitude hasn’t changed. Asian Americans are also less likely than other groups to rely on mental health services, according to studies, and many prefer instead to rely on culturally acceptable traditions of discipline and family order as a way to solve their problems.

Two years ago the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asked Asian American high school students if they had seriously considered suicide during the past year — 19 percent answered yes, compared to 16 percent of all high school students. 

According to Katherine Kam, a journalist who writes on Asian American mental illness, Asian American teens become depressed for various reasons. “Family conflicts and academic failure loom large,” she reported, “but some have a family history of depression, which might make them genetically vulnerable.” 

It doesn’t help that Asian parents, more than other groups, often reject professional diagnoses of their children’s depression and mental health. “They fear that any mental problems will reflect badly on their son or daughter, as well as tarnish their entire lineage,” Kam noted.

Many, especially if they are immigrants from countries where mental illness is considered a low priority in health care, and where treatments are scant or non-existent, believe they can overcome disorders by will power or discipline alone. 



Few want to admit the problems publically. Shame, in this case, often operates in a way that further isolates the persons suffering from mental disorders. 

Three decades ago at UC Berkeley, a classmate of mine suffered from an episode of psychosis. A refugee from Vietnam, she stopped going to class and started talking to herself in Vietnamese, and started hallucinating. Her distraught family came and retrieved her back to their home in San Jose, California but that family a few years later ended up in the news, having been arrested. Instead of having her treated for mental illness, as her conditions worsened, the family apparently had her chained at the ankle in their garage and it was where police found her. 

“Southeast Asian refugees are at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) associated with trauma experienced before and after immigration to the U.S,” according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. “One study found that 70 percent of Southeast Asian refugees receiving mental health care were diagnosed with PTSD.3.”

Asian women according to the study, also lead in the highest suicide rate amongst all ethnic groups in the US. So much so that Chinese American comedienne, Kristina Wong, wrote a play about depression and suicide called “Wong Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” to talk about depression and the silence that surrounds mental illness in her own community. 

“A curious thing happened when I announced in 2005 that I was working on a show about depression and suicide,’” she recently told XO Jane magazine. “A lot of women came out of nowhere to tell me that they had been depressed and contemplated suicide. These were total strangers who found me by email — college professors and women I had known as professionals, all telling me things I had not imagined could be shared.”




One of the biggest factors is the kind of pressure many college age students put on themselves. “Not living up to expectations,” was the note that Jiwon Lee left behind. It says more than intended. 

For many Asian Americans, no doubt, education is so worshiped that not getting good grades often means failing to achieve your destiny and thereby failing your own and your family’s expectations. Asian American students consequently learned to measure the world and themselves solely through a pedagogic lens. 

In my own family, as in many Vietnamese and Chinese families I know, the unwritten rule is simple: you are how well you do in school. 

When I was a freshman at UC Berkeley a studious Chinese student tried to jump from the Campanile tower. He was from my dorm unit. He wanted to kill himself because, well, so went the gossip, he had never gotten a B before, until vector calculus overwhelmed him. I remember the entire dorm talking about it. It took four hours for officers to talk him down. The next year, Berkeley decided to put metal bars to prevent others from jumping. 

Asian Americans typically make up 10 to 30 percent of the best colleges. Less than 6 percent of the country’s population, Asian Americans have excelled in higher education in the last few decades. What’s barely explored, sadly, is the darker narrative, that subterraneous stream that runs parallel to this shining path to academic success: stress, disappointment, depression, and mental disorders.


Andrew Lam is an editor with New America Media and author of the “Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora,” and “East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres.” His latest book is “Birds of Paradise Lost,” a short story collection, was published in 2013 and won a Pen/Josephine Miles Literary Award in 2014 and a finalist for the California Book Award and shortlisted for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing.

This article was originally published by New America Media. Reprinted with permission.

 

Audrey Woman of Influence | VERONICA WONG

Story by Anna Shen. Photo by Conan Thai. 

Veronica Wong answers her phone on a Friday night after a business trip, but she can’t talk. She has to call her boss as she just finalized negotiations with a new investor for Moon Capital Management, an investment management firm that runs several hedge funds. As director of marketing for the firm with offices in New York, Singapore and Dubai, Wong raises capital for investment in public companies globally.

Although Wong is a moneymaker at her firm, friends note that she does not brag and hardly ever reveals her accomplishments. In fact, she says she had “no grand plan” for her career other than always trying to challenge herself.

A genuine, petite force of nature (she’s 5 feet, she says, in heels), Wong is modest considering her academic accomplishments: a Harvard degree in economics (magna cum laude), Columbia Law School (a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar), and an M.B.A. from top- ranked INSEAD in France. Her professional CV is no slouch either: a securities lawyer at Davis Polk & Wardwell in New York and Hong Kong, a manager at Barclays Capital in London, and vice president at Deutsche Bank in New York. Last year, she became part owner of Neta, an acclaimed sushi restaurant in New York. Sandwiched somewhere in between her schooling and more traditional professions were stints as a DJ in Tokyo and acting training at the Lee Strasberg Theater Institute, activities she took up to get over her shyness. “Nobody believes I am shy,” she says. “However, when I was growing up, I was a shy person, and it wasn’t like I was verbose in high school, as English was not my first language.”

Last spring, the Asian American Federation (AAF) honored Wong at The Pierre in New York City, before 400 guests, as a woman who not only has broken through the “bamboo ceiling” but also gives back to the community. In what little spare time she has, Wong serves meals to the homeless, translates pro bono in discrimination litigation, supports various charitable organizations and serves on the board of the Harvard Club of New York City. “She struck me as a powerhouse, like dynamite,” says Michelle Tong, director of donor relations for AAF. “She is a role model for Asian Americans, especially women.”

When we finally do get a moment to talk, Wong says she doesn’t have some grand driving force behind her on-the-go lifestyle. “I love to experience life and experience people,” she says simply. “I am naturally curious about people, and I love learning a new thing every day. I connect with people at a deeper level, even in my job, because people feel like I am genuine.”

“She is one of the most inquisitive people I have ever met,” says Elaine Yu, managing director of DBS Vickers Securities. “She has a natural thirst for knowledge and is constantly striving to improve.” Even as a child, Wong remembers, her mother would beg her to stop studying, but she always wanted to answer just one more question.

Indeed, her inspiration is her mother, a “fearless” woman with a “tremendous zest for life,” says Wong. She became a single mom after her husband unexpectedly passed away when Wong was just 2. Raising three daughters alone, Wong’s mother eventually moved her family from Hong Kong to New York. Five years later, Wong’s oldest sister was involved in a car accident that left her in a coma for three years. She eventually came out of the coma, but was confined to a wheelchair. Through all the hardships, however, the family remained tight-knit, likening themselves to The Joy Luck Club. After Wong’s oldest sister passed away several years ago, the three women moved in together in a loft-like apartment in Tribeca.

It was perhaps such obstacles that lent Wong her fighting spirit, something that served her well during her five years in finance. “It is a boys’ world on the trading floor, and it definitely took some adjustment,” she says. “Ultimately, it made me a much tougher person.”

When asked about her accomplishments as an Asian American woman, Wong remains true to form. “I am not the president of South Korea, the opposition leader of Burma or CEO of Pepsi,” she says, “but I try to do the best I can in all areas of my life, and things fell into place. I have been fortunate to have people in my life who were supportive of me through my career.”

This story was originally published in our Spring 2014 issue. Get your copy here

Korean Americans on TV: Who’s In and Who’s Out?

Story by Ruth Kim.

Wondering whether or not you’ll see your favorite Korean American faces on screen this season? Here’s a rundown of which of their shows got the green light—and which ones got the boot.


Sniff! Here are the shows that have been cancelled:   

The Neighbors: The aliens are moving out of New Jersey. Tim Jo, who plays the extraterrestrial Reggie Jackson on the ABC comedy, will have has his last laugh as the show ends after its second season. In a KoreAminterview, he said, “There’s no doubt that the world is getting more accustomed to seeing minority faces on screen.” We doubt this funny man will stay off the screen for very long.

The Tomorrow People: With the foresight of their telepathic abilities, you’d think that The Tomorrow People saw this one coming. Unfortunately, the superhuman cast of the CW Network sci-fi series is being transported back to the future, including Korean American actor Aaron Yoo, who played Russell Kwon, one of the leading roles.

Community: The spunky Ken Jeong will see his last days as Ben Chang, the pesky, peculiar, and totally endearing character on NBC’s cult comedy, Community. While the threat of cancellation loomed over the show in previous seasons like a dark cloud, the network will finally lay down the ax after five seasons. Ken Jeong tweeted, “A most heartfelt THANK YOU to all the Community fans. I LOVE YOU SO MUCH. My life is so blessed because you’re all in it. Chang The World.”

BelieveJamie Chung’s days as Janice Channing on NBC’s drama Believe were cut short. The KA actress doesn’t seem too fazed, though. Receiving critical acclaim for her roles as Eden in the eponymous film and Mulan in ABC’s Once Upon a Time, Chung has a lot to believe in.

Growing Up Fisher: NBC’s American sitcom will be cancelled after its first season, despite the efforts of 13-year-old Lance Lim, who played Runyen. Three days before the show was cancelled, Lim posted on his Facebook page, “We really need all the viewers on this one so please please please watch tonights episode of Growing Up Fisher, again at 9:30 on NBC! 1 view really counts so even if you can’t watch it just turn the tv on at NBC! thanks guys!”

Intelligence: You’d think that any show starring the husky voice and the chiseled features of Josh Holloway would grace our screens forever. Sad to say, CBS will cancel the cyber-themed television series after only one season. Will Yun Lee had a recurring role.


But it’s not all doom and gloom. You can still catch your fave KA TV actors on these shows, which have been renewed. 

Once Upon a Time: Who is this girl I see, staring straight back at me? Jamie Chung, that’s who. As mentioned above, Chung will continue her role as Mulan in ABC’s Once Upon a Time as the show moves forward with its fourth season.

Modern Family: There’s no way ABC will cancel a show that features the most adorable, spunkiest little girl on television. We’re talking about Aubrey Anderson Emmons, who plays Lily Tucker-Pritchett on Modern Family. Little known fact: Emmons is the daughter of South Korean adoptee and comedian Amy Anderson and radio host Kent Emmons.

The 100: Speaking of Korean adoptees, actor and fellow adoptee Christopher Larkin will continue his role as the endearing delinquent, Monty Green, on the CW Network’s The 100. When KoreAm spoke with Larkin before the show premiered, he spoke passionately about representing Asian Americans on screen while trying to avoid stereotypical Asian roles. We’re glad that Larkin still has the chance to show us what he’s made of

The Mentalist: Surprise—Tim Kang is back as Special Agent Kimball Cho in another season of The Mentalist. Despite a series of low ratings in the sixth season, the CBS drama made the cut. Kang tweeted, “Thank you, everyone, for all your support! Seriously, couldn’t have gotten a Season 7 without you. Looking forward to it!!”

Grey’s Anatomy: There’s no rest for the weary: wrapping up its tenth season, the cast of Grey’s Anatomy will move on to its 11th season. Operations will resume at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital but without one pivotal character: Sandra Oh. Read all about Oh’s decision to move on from her groundbreaking role as Dr. Cristina Yang in the latest issue of KoreAm. And see her before she scrubs in for the final time—Oh’s final episode airs tomorrow.

There’s also some fresh meat coming in on the ABC network—John Cho will play an arrogant, successful marketing expert in his new sitcom SelfieRex Lee, who starred in Entourage and in the recently cancelled show Suburgatory, will explore a new role as a high-strung, metrosexual publicist in an upcoming comedy, Young & Hungry.

And last but not least—and at last!—ABC filled one more slot with an unprecedented sitcom that focuses on an Asian American family. Based on food personality Eddie Huang’s memoir, Fresh Off the Boat  will feature Hudson Yang, Randall Park, and Constance Wu.

This story was originally published on iamkoream.com

ATTACK ON 4-YEAR-OLD ASIAN GIRL AT WALMART DEEMED A HATE CRIME

Story by Julie Ha. 

In an episode authorities described as “every parent’s worst nightmare”—and now, also a hate crime—a 4-year-old Asian girl was attacked by a tire-iron wielding woman at a San Jose Wal-Mart earlier this week.

The girl and her father were shopping at a Wal-Mart in the Little Saigon district of East San Jose on Tuesday morning, when Maria Garate walked up to the girl and struck her on the head with a tire iron, authorities said. The girl’s father then tried to cover his daughter with his body and was also struck with the tire iron. On-site security personnel detained the woman until police arrived and arrested her.

On Thursday Garate, a San Jose woman described by authorities as a transient, was in court facing attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon charges, as well as hate crime enhancements. She faces up to life in prison if convicted.

“Based on evidence we do have, the victims were targeted because they are Asian,” said Santa Clara Deputy District Attorney Kalila Spain. “This is a premeditated, willful and deliberate act on her part.”

Spain said that the injured girl was taken to the hospital after the incident, but is now recovering at home.

The San Jose Mercury News reported that one source told the newspaper that Garate had expressed disappointment to authorities that she had not injured the girl more seriously.

Garate is being held without bail at Santa Clara County jail. Her next court date is May 23.

Photo via ABC 30 Action News.

This story was originally published on iamkoream.com

Summer Issue Exclusive First Look: Sandra Oh on Leaving Grey’s Anatomy and What’s Next For the Actress

Story by Michelle Woo.
Photos by Lever Rukhin.

After nearly a decade of breathing life, love and humanity into Grey’s Anatomy’s beloved Dr. Cristina Yang, Sandra Oh is looking in a new direction. The woman whose eyes — and every emotion behind them — changed the way we look at Asian women on the screen, is now turning her attention to the next generation.

It’s nearly impossible to sit at a table with Sandra Oh inside a Korean café in Los Angeles and not study her face. That face. The one that, throughout her 10-season run as hyper-driven surgeon Cristina Yang on ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy, has said so much with every subtle movement — a crinkle in her forehead, the flutter of her eyelids, the quiver of her chin. The face that made fans gasp for air when she was abandoned at the altar, grin in satisfaction every time she fired off one of her sassy one-liners (“I am laughing, just not externally”), and loyally watch her navigate years of twists and turns, from an icicle stabbing to a plane crash to PTSD.

Just where does that expressiveness come from?

“That’s a really good question because I have no idea,” Oh tells me, touching her cup of latte with the foam shaped into a heart. “You’re not conscious of it, like you’re not conscious of how you’re looking at me: your head is slightly tilted, your eyebrows are slightly up, your eyes are open and your mouth is soft. You’re not conscious of any of that.” She does say that people, particularly men she’s dated and her mother, have often pointed out her inability to mask her emotions. “If I’m angry inside of me at a three, it comes across as a 10.”

We end up talking a lot about faces, a topic the actress has passionate feelings about. Wearing a fitted navy blazer, her hair a plump array of ringlets (she has naturally wavy hair), Oh says she once read a magazine article about the rise of plastic surgery in Korea influenced by K-pop stars, and it still upsets her. “I was taking a shower and just thinking about that,” she says, leaning in intently as she speaks. “It’s a very dysfunctional thing. Korean women don’t even know what they look like. Before even finding their own identity, they change it. I find that so … antihuman.”

At 42, Oh wants to help empower young men and women, particularly those discouraged by the lack of faces like theirs in movies and on television. Having just hung up her white coat for the final time on Grey’s, a show she’s dedicated nearly a quarter of her life to, winning a Golden Globe and five Emmy nominations for her role, she ponders where to go from here. She’s going to act, no doubt — she’s in the upcoming comedy Tammy with Melissa McCarthy, which hits theaters on July 2, and she’s starring in a play in Chicago this summer called Death and the Maiden.

But she’s also looking to do more. “You get to a point in your life when you realize you can do things in a more concrete way,” says Oh, who comes across as soulful and introspective. She wants to be part of a shift that moves society forward in its representation of people of color, which involves seeing more Asian American actors propelled from clichéd sidekicks to rich and meaningful characters. Pausing for a moment, she tries to think back to when Asian American women first started taking on television parts that historically weren’t available to them.

“If you go back to, I dunno, 10 years ago, Lucy Liu was on, ummm, what’s that show?” Oh asks.

Ally McBeal,” I reply.

“Yeah, she was on Ally McBeal, and … who else was there?”

“There was … Margaret Cho.”

“Yeah, well, Margaret had her show, like, 20 years ago,” Oh says. “So we’re tapped into this industry and those are the only two people we can think of? That’s really, really sad. I know that we have more than a handful that we can point to now, and it’s really about bumping up those numbers, you know?”

The issue is one that hits her deeply. Oh has an email that she saved from her producer, who wrote to tell Oh something her daughter had randomly said at dinnertime. The producer’s daughter is 10 and adopted from China.

She pulls out her iPhone and looks for the message. “Here, I’ll read it,” she begins. “She said, ‘I used to think I was kind of ugly because I had squinty eyes, and then I met Sandra and she has squinty eyes and is beautiful, and now I don’t think I’m ugly.’” Oh puts down her phone and takes a slow breath. “When I read that, I burst into tears because I felt like that when I was 10, and if someone as beautiful and as full of life as she is can feel that way, then how many other 10-year-old girls feel that way?”

She shakes her head. “I just keep thinking, how can I transform this?”

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THE LACK OF DIVERSITY in the Hollywood landscape is part of the reason that Oh feels “so lucky, sooooo lucky” to have been able to play the nuanced, emotionally complex role of Cristina Yang. Part of the original crop of surgical interns at Seattle Grace Hospital when the show premiered in 2005, Cristina became what Slate television critic Willa Paskin proclaimed “one of TV’s most original and influential characters.” She was quick-witted, sarcastic, competitive, brutally honest and unyieldingly loyal — her friendship with main character Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) was a pillar of the show.

Prior to filming the season finale (which aired after press time), Oh felt like she was getting off a “fast-moving train,” and the fact that she would never scrub in again hadn’t fully hit her. She did, however, find a moment to plot out which items she would steal from the set. “I took a rug from Cristina and Owen’s [Kevin McKidd] apartment that we stood on for I dunno how many years,” she confesses. “And you know, I’ll probably take my stethoscope.” McKidd, who plays Cristina’s on-again-off-again love, says he’s going to miss the marathon workdays he spends with Oh, who introduced him to the practice of meditation and would play with his kids whenever they visited the set. “With most actors, when you talk to them, they’ll nod while looking on,” says McKidd. “When you talk to Sandra, she’s engaged and really listens and there’s no bullsh-t. She’s a deep-thinking, compassionate human being.”

As for why she’s leaving Grey’s, Oh says, “I feel like I’ve completed my job. Working with the writers, we’ve unearthed every stone.” While she says it’s too early to really see the ripple effects from a primetime television show where almost half the cast are men and women of color, Oh believes she was part of something monumental. “I just haven’t felt that there’s been another show that has brought so much light to a different type of casting as ours did,” she says. “It’s the magic of time. It was the right time in society, in the culture. It was the right grouping of people.”

Beyond race, the series was also gutsy in other ways. A couple seasons back, Cristina had an abortion. A child simply would have shattered her career, the one by which she defined herself. “There was no fanfare about it,” says Oh. “That’s how far we have come as women. My character was making that decision based on what was right for her as opposed to a medical emergency or her being attacked or reasons that would otherwise have been more palatable.” She points to the fact that Cristina had also gotten pregnant early on in the show, in 2005, but before she could have an abortion, she lost the baby. Over the past decade, she says, there’s been “a shift.”

“I really tried to create a character who followed herself,” Oh says. “[Grey’s creator] Shonda Rhimes, the writers and I were very interested in creating the kind of character who is not bound by a husband, not bound by a family, and is only really committed to herself and who she is in the world.”

How she became that character — and how she becomes any character she plays — is a calculated process in itself. “You can see Sandra’s dedication in the look of her scripts,” says costar Chandra Wilson, who plays no-nonsense surgeon Miranda Bailey. “They are completely marked up with highlights and colored tabs and notes that are full of intention. It doesn’t matter the size of a scene — she wants to be honest every single moment.”

Oh’s supreme focus revealed itself early on in her career. Her big break came when, at age 19, she beat out more than 1,000 young women for the title role in The Diary of Evelyn Lau, Canada’s made-for-television film about a tortured poet who flees her disapproving parents for a life on the streets. At her audition, she asked the producer and director for a moment to focus. Then she laid on the floor for five minutes. “I love that girl,” Oh says with a laugh, reflecting on her younger self. “She didn’t know you’re not supposed to do breathing exercises in the middle of a f-cking audition. She only knew to follow her own instinct.”

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The actress says she gets her audacity from her mom and dad — a former research scientist and businessman, respectively — two people who, as she describes it, “freakin’ left Korea in the mid-’60s and just changed their lives.” Oh adds, “The insanity and challenge of my parents’ generation going through occupation, living through occupation, living through the second World War, living through the Korean War, then coming out of the Korean War and then in their mid-20s, coming to America — that to me is fearlessness. It’s like, hey, I’m gonna go to some American school and not know the language and then get a job. I mean, who does that? Immigrants do that.”

Oh gets philosophical as she ponders what drives success. “There are so many articles and books and studies about this generation not being challenged, and my belief is that if you’re challenged, you find out who you are much quicker,” she says. “Privilege is such a trapping because it’s a longer road to ever finding out who you really are. You have to be able to say no to a safe place.”

For Oh, who grew up in a suburb of Ontario, Canada, that meant pursuing acting in spite of her parents’ objections, trusting that they would still love her and ultimately understand her. A self-described “extremely hyperactive, hyper-sensitive kid,” Oh began performing when she was 10, playing the Wizard of Woe in a musical operetta called The Canada Goose. She trained in ballet, then studied drama at the National Theatre School in Montreal and went on to star in a London, Ontario, stage production of David Mamet’s Oleanna. “I just lucked out,” Oh says of her path. “I lucked out with the family I had. I lucked out with where I grew up. I lucked out in a lot of ways where, in my early years, I didn’t encounter anything that crushed me.”

More than luck, though, Oh’s evolution is the result of careful decision-making, beginning with the characters she chooses to play. Those have ranged from the dual-life-living artist Jade in the film Double Happiness to the inscrutable personal assistant Rita Wu on the HBO comedy Arli$$ to the asskicking wine seller Stephanie in the Academy Award winning indie megahit Sideways. Oh says she made a commitment to herself early on that she wouldn’t take on stereotypical, throwaway roles. “There are certain bars that you strive for, that you set for yourself, and then hopefully you’ll achieve that bar and then you’ll get another bar,” she says. “So at one point, that was a bar. I said, no more ‘prostitute to the left.’”

Then she chuckles and adds, “But one of the prostitutes that I’ve played — I haven’t played that many — was in this wonderful film called Waking the Dead that Keith Gordon directed. I played the Korean prostitute, and I didn’t want to go in on it, but then I decided, well, someone’s going to take this part and it should be me. It turned out to be a really, really positive experience. Keith was a wonderful director, and it became much more than a cursory part. I think I had no dialogue, but my goal was that if the camera was ever on my face, people would think, ‘What’s going on with that character?’ It
was about her inner life.”

When asked if it frustrates her when other Asian American actors take on token roles, she says with zero hesitation: “Never. Never ever, ever. Ever.

“It is hard out there,” she explains. “Doing what we do as actors is crushing every day. If anything, I search for the magic that they are bringing. Because they better bring it. Every actor has a choice, an opportunity to transform something. If you enter into a situation where there’s no room for transformation and you feel comfortable playing something that’s demeaning, then that’s on you. But there’s a whole range of what is right for you as an artist. Let’s say this character is a completely demeaning character and that demeaning character is essential to the story — I’d wanna play that.”

Oh believes the issue of responsibility as an actor of color is “very complex.” She says, “I don’t think you can rule out responsibility. If you so choose to take it, it’s there. But I also feel as much, if not more, responsibility to who I am as an artist. The next step for me is to try to figure out that balance. Having said that, one serves the other. If you are true to yourself as an artist, you will do good work. If you do good work, if you do truthful work, you will represent a culture well because you will be seen, hopefully, as an artist that’s worthwhile and someone who we want to see telling our stories.”

One of the stories Oh will be telling post-Grey’s is that of Paulina, a former political prisoner who encounters the man she believes raped and tortured her 15 years earlier, in the award-winning play Death and the Maiden at Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theater starting June 13. Director Chay Yew, one of the first people Oh met when she moved to Los Angeles, calls the actress “a shining bright light. She is able to fiercely love and embrace all the characters she embodies, despite their flaws, shortcomings or darkness. In turn, we find ourselves in every character she portrays.”

To center herself, Oh meditates every day in her Los Angeles home — she’s on the board of a nonprofit meditation group called InsightLA. Her best days, she says, always involve “family and friends and some sort of creative work.” She keeps her personal life private and doesn’t consider herself a celebrity (“I detest that word,” she says). And now with Grey’s behind her, she’s looking to do something — something more.

When Barack Obama was elected president, Oh says it was a “game-changer,” explaining, “I could feel the rumbling inside of myself because I somehow felt I was part of that change.” Now, more than ever, she wants to encourage Asian Americans to be bold. She’s involved in community outreach and says she’s open to starting a dialogue on race, in Hollywood and beyond. “I’m trying to teach Asian American girls that they are perfect the way they are and all they need to do is discover themselves,” she says.

If they ever need some inspiration, they can simply look at her face.

 

This story was originally published in our Summer 2014 issue. Get your copy here. 

 

 

Stylist: Anita Patrickson for The Wall Group
Makeup: Georgie Eisdell for The Wall Group
Hair: Christine Symonds for The Wall Group
Location The Legendary Park Plaza Hotel

Cosmetics Meets Technology: 3D Print Any Color Makeup From Your Computer

Story by Ruth Kim. 

Ladies, ever scroll through Tumblr or Pinterest and see a lip color that you’re just dying to have? Or maybe you accidentally drop your eye shadow case and the palette bursts into a thousand, tiny particles (isn’t that the worst?), and you need a replacement ASAP.

Well, with the Mink printer, these dreams may soon come true.

Grace Choi, a former MBA student at Harvard Business School, is introducing a gadget that may just shake up (and piss off) the makeup industry: a mini 3D inkjet printer that prints real, usable makeup in the comfort of your own home.

Choi, who calls herself a “serial inventor,” debuted a proof-of-concept demo of the Mink printer at a TechCrunch Disrupt conference this week. She launched her presentation with this bold claim: “The makeup industry makes a whole lot of money on a whole lot of bullsh–.”

Summarized by Choi in simple terms, all makeup is made of are cheap raw material substrates that are mixed with varying shades of pigment. Cheaper and more accessible makeup products, sold at a Walmart or CVS, only come in colors that will sell in masses. More unique “niche” shades are sold at exponentially higher prices at Sephora or makeup counters. Who wants to pay that kind of money? “No one, that’s who,” Choi says.

So this is where the Mink 3D printer comes in. The gadget essentially turns the internet into an “endless beauty aisle,” says Choi. From any YouTube channel, Pinterest board or Facebook photo, makeup enthusiasts can select a shade, use a color picker to copy the exact hex code, click print, and voila. But you’ll just have to see it to believe it. Watch Choi’s demo in this video.

When all is said and done, Choi will initially sell the mini printer at the retail price of $300. We’re just simply fascinated at the endless possibilities that technology can offer.

 

This story was originally published on iamkoream.com

 

Yes, Asians Can Pull Off Blond Hair Too

Story by Anna M. Park.

Model Soo Joo Park turned heads with her platinum locks on Chanel’s fall runway earlier this year. Since then, the Korean American 27-year-old has been in practically every major fashion magazine, has walked dozens of runways, and has been featured in advertising campaigns from Tom Ford to Chanel to Benetton. We seriously covet her look, so we asked Chinese American stylist Vicky Shen of Wicked Salon in San Francisco how to go blond.

“Being Asian American ourselves, we very much understand what works and what doesn’t on Asian hair,” says Shen. That said, if you want to go blond, aim for a platinum or creamy beige color. “In general, Asians have more yellow undertones, so having any yellow or orange in the hair really clashes with the skin tone. Try platinum, a soft buttery beige, or even a hint of peach, which will complement the skin.”

We don’t know if blondes really do have more fun, but it’s clear that if an Asian woman wants to go blond, she’ll have absolutely no fun in the salon. “It’s very difficult to achieve a platinum blond look on very dark hair,” says Shen. “It requires a lot of hair bleach, and a lot of time under the dryer. We would apply hair bleach mixed with either 30 volume or 40 volume peroxide, and apply the mixture from roots to ends; most likely the process will be repeated again. The hair color we are looking for at this stage is a very pale yellow, without a hint of orange. Then we would apply a purple-colored glaze to counter any yellow that is still left in the hair.”

It doesn’t end once you leave the salon. Purple shampoo and conditioner are very important to keep the yellow away, as well as a deep protein conditioner at least once a week to strengthen hair. And expect a root touch-up every four weeks, a glaze possibly every two weeks. This is a very high-maintenance look, says Shen, and if you go blond, “a fierce attitude is the key. You really need to rock it.”

Wanna go lighter but not ready for all that work? For a more realistic shade, first lighten hair to a light neutral brown, says Shen, and then add beige-y highlights on top.

 

THE TOOLS:

tool 1
1. Sensai Intensive Hair Mask.


tool 2
2. Arbonne Pure Vibrance Lustre Fortifying Shampoo.


tool 3
3. Mixed Chicks Hair Silk.


tool 4
4. Even your hairspray should have sunscreen to extend the life of your color. Philip Kingsley Weatherproof Hairspray.


tool 5
5. Shen likes the purple shampoo from Davinese. Also try Alterna Caviar Anti-Aging Brightening Blonde Shampoo.

 



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This story was originally published in our Winter 2013-14 issue. Get your copy here

Nina Davuluri Joins Macy’s in celebrating Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month

Story by Jeline Abutin. 

Embracing her cultural background whole-heartedly, Miss America, Nina Davuluri, has partnered with Macy’s in celebrating Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month. Its first stop of six took place at Macy’s in Cerritos, CA. on May 8.

“It has been absolutely incredible, especially being from New York,” said Davuluri. “I was formally Miss New York and Macy’s on 34th Street is so quintessential New York. To be a part of this campaign and to be the face of Macy’s during AP Heritage Month has really been quite an honor, so I’m really excited.”

Commemorating Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, Macy’s has collaborated with Miss America in a quest to spread cultural awareness as well as celebrate the accomplishments of Asian-Pacific Americans.

Up the escalators on the second floor, guests were immersed in their very own taste of the Indian culture. With upbeat music along with samosas and chai lassi, onlookers watched a Bollywood performance while anxiously awaiting Davuluri.

As Miss America made her way to the small stage, with poise and grace, guests were awestruck and inspired by her strong cultural roots and her platform of diversity through cultural competency.

“As much as I’ve always viewed myself as first and foremost American, I am Indian,” said Davuluri as she spoke to the crowd during the Q&A.

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“I have my Indian roots, my heritage, my culture, my background, and that’s so important to me and that’s definitely a part of who I am,” said Davuluri. “I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is that assimilation has to happen from both sides. You simply can’t raise your children in American expecting them to be 100 percent Indian, a 100 percent Hispanic, whatever your cultural background might be, it’s just not possible. And so I think there has to be a healthy balance between both worlds. And that is still a process in my household for my parents to understand to this day and for me to find that healthy balance too. It will probably continue for the remainder of my journey as well as for my children.”

With both parents originally from India, Davuluri is second generation. Growing up with many stereotypes and misconceptions about her culture has propelled Davuluri to educate younger generations about the different cultures around the world.

Inspiring culturally rich women as well as young women in general, Davuluri, who is opening the eyes of society to a culturally aware and diverse world, is still amazed at what she has achieved.

“It’s still unbelievable, it’s very difficult to put into words,” said Davuluri. “I’ve just been very blessed to be able to wake up everyday and know that all I can do is be the best Nina that I can be and hopefully that’s enough and that’s what I’ve been trying to do this whole year. I’m thankful that it’s inspiring some young women out there.”

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