Audrey’s Must Read SEX-tistics

Story by Kanara Ty & Ethel Navales.

Sex is often a taboo topic among Asians. As a result, you have some Asian women who view sex as dirty, some who have no knowledge of sex (and no knowledge of proper means of protection), and some who do engage in sex and are judged harshly for it.

This may account for the married couple in the city of Wuhan, China  who made headlines in 2011 for spending three years believing that lying next to each other would result in pregnancy. Although both individuals were college graduates, it’s safe to assume that neither had any form of sex education.

While many big cities in China have more modern attitudes towards sex, rural areas still refuse to teach sex education. In fact, some Chinese parents encourage abstinence and use sex as a scare tactic. One woman claimed her mother told her sex was like being shot with a gun. It’s no wonder the subject became taboo and many Chinese young adults learned to either fear the act or consider sex shameful.

Although this attitude towards sex changes quite a bit for Asian Americans, there is no denying that the topic itself is rather taboo for many Asians. Seeing as sex is a normal part of life, we’ve decided it would be more healthy for everyone to talk about it.

For starters, we’ve brought you some statistics to show that sex is in fact a common and perfectly normal activity. Check out Audrey’s SEX-tistics below.

 

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

The Lylas: Much More Than JUST The Sisters of Bruno Mars

Story by Jimmy Lee. 

There is nothing in life quite like family. Your parents are the source of your being, and it is family members who can offer support and comfort, unconditionally. But those same people can also cause stress and frustration to the point where you wish you were dead. And no matter how much they piss you off or cause you grief — like the umpteenth time they nag you about being single into your late 30s — there’s no escape from them, because they will always be family.

For the Hernandezes of Honolulu, there is something else that binds them: music. And there’s one fortunate son who’s made quite a name for himself doing just that: Peter Hernandez, better known as Bruno Mars. But now his four sisters — Jaime, Tiara, Tahiti and Presley — want to demonstrate just how deeply the musical talent runs in their brood. Together, they’re The Lylas, and their journey to hopefully becoming the next pop stars in the family is documented in a new non-scripted series that premiered on WEtv in early November, simply titled The Lylas.

Now, before you start to roll your eyes about another gaggle of girls from the same family having their lives captured on camera, this quartet of women had some of the same thoughts. “Before we signed up to do a reality show, we weren’t 100 percent behind it. There’s a stigma with reality shows,” says eldest sister Jaime. “Are people going to laugh at us? Is it going to flop? Is it going to do well? Are we going to take it seriously?”

Watching the first episode, you’ll recognize some of the tropes that characterize these types of shows. First off, the four daughters of Peter Hernandez, Sr., and Bernadette Bayot certainly all have the prerequisite telegenic looks. And there is plenty of bickering to go along with the alcohol consumption.

But tragedy would befall that would change their outlook on the reality show experience: their mother, also known as Bernie, died this past June of a brain aneurysm in the midst of taping. “We’re so grateful to have documented our last few special moments with our mother,” says Jaime, “that all of [the concerns of doing a reality show] are out the window.”

The series premieres with the sisters coping with their loss, and then flashes back in time as they prepare to move from Hawaii to Los Angeles to pursue their musical dreams, with their mother’s support. There are some chilling moments as you hear Bernie say, “I’m just a baby star-maker,” as well as her making references to life and death.

As a child, Bernie and her family emigrated from the Philippines to Hawaii in 1968. She, along with some of her siblings, grew up to be a performer, including a hula dancer, as part of Honolulu’s many shows. That is where she met Peter Hernandez, who is of Puerto Rican and Eastern European Jewish descent, who is also an entertainer.

“When [our father] met our mom, he taught her how to sing. My dad cannot sing at all,” says Jaime. “But he’s an amazing producer. He can arrange harmonies beautifully.”

One of the projects in Honolulu Peter started was a revue called the Love Notes. “My mom ran the girl group, and he ran the guy group,” says Jaime. “Shows [and our parents’ rehearsals] were a part of our lives. For us, that was like going to soccer practice.”

“Have you seen The Sound Of Music?,” Tahiti chimes in, the second youngest sister and a mother of two boys. “That’s what our family was like, minus the whole Nazi thing. [The Von Trapp family is] what we aspired to be.”

Talking to all four sisters at once over a conference call is a daunting experience. They have fun at this writer’s expense when asked for their ages (in their 20s and 30s is all they would reveal; Presley’s the youngest). They certainly gab like sisters, interrupting one another and finishing sentences. And soon enough, the barbs are flying as they all poke fun of each other, even while they reminisce about their mother.

“My mom could dance hula, she could boogie dance,” says Tahiti. “My mom was the best dancer. Yes, Jaime, better than you. Way better than you.”

“I agree,” adds Tiara.

Jaime’s good-natured response: “Everyone, shut up!”

With music such a huge factor in their lives, perhaps it was inevitable that the sisters would form their own girl group (the sixth sibling, Eric, is the drummer in Bruno’s band). The Lylas, which stands for “love you like a sister,” came about when a nonprofit charity organization that Jaime founded, called 4 Mama Earth, was going to put out a benefit record to raise money for an orphanage in the Philippines. The sisters wrote a song called “Headed Home.”

“It’s all about going back to your roots and never forgetting where you came from,” says Jamie. “It was going to be a ‘We Are The World’ type of song, and we had a bunch of [Filipino American] artists on the song. And I called the girls and was like, ‘We need to do this together. Let’s just do a little bridge or a hook on the song.’ So we did, and it was just magic in the studio. And then we were like, ‘let’s work on another song,’ and so we started writing together and recording and it just sort of happened like that.”

They’ve released one single thus far, “Come Back,” a song about realizing you’ve dumped the wrong man. While it may not speak directly to Jaime, a married mother of two, she says, “but as sisters, when one person goes through something, we all kind of go through it together. It might not apply to all of us at the same time, but it applies to us at some point in our lives. When you date one of us, you date all of us.”

“It’s a blessing and a curse,” adds Tahiti.

“Mostly it’s a curse,” Tiara quickly responds.

Being related to Bruno Mars, too, has both positives and negatives. “It’s difficult because a lot of people think, ‘Bruno’s their brother, so it’s just going to be so easy for them,’” says Presley. “Actually, it makes things a lot harder because we have a lot more barriers to break. We have to get out of being ‘Bruno’s sisters.’”

“It’s been helpful in that it’s gotten us in the door,” says Tahiti, “but it doesn’t take us anywhere, really. We’ve got to do that ourselves.”

They are already making an impression on people, especially through social media. It was their fans who started urging them via Twitter to do a television series. “I think they’ve seen the chemistry that me and my sisters have together,” says Tahiti. “And everyone after that petitioned, ‘please have a reality show; open the doors and let us into your guys’ world.’”

Of course, mixing family and business can be a volatile combination. When asked if they like working together as sisters, Tahiti jokes, “I got to go, my phone’s cutting out.”

But, ultimately, just like family, being in a group together “has its ups and downs,” says Jaime. “But if we weren’t sisters, I could see why girl groups break up. It’s not easy. Just because we’re sisters doesn’t mean egos aren’t involved. We do fight. But at the end of the day, we’re still sisters, and we have to get over it. It makes us closer.”

 

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

 

AUDREY’S WOMEN OF INFLUENCE | Komal Ahmad, CEO of Feeding Forward

Story by Ada Tseng. Photo by Deborah Nagai-Cromer.

Like many children of immigrants who have worked hard to provide for their families, Komal Ahmad remembers being taught not to waste food at her daily family dinners. “It was always like, ‘Finish your food!’” says Ahmad, imitating her parents’ stern Pakistani accents. “‘People are starving in Africa, and you’re not even finishing your food? Who do you think you are?’”

Ahmad, the 23-year-old CEO of the nonprofit organization Feeding Forward, grew up in the suburbs of Las Vegas, where homelessness was neatly tucked away. But when she began to study at the University of California, Berkeley, the problem was impossible to ignore. Just across the street from Crossroads, the university’s popular dining hall that served much of the student population, was People’s Park, a public park that acts as a daytime sanctuary for Berkeley’s large homeless population.

“As college students, our eyes are bigger than our stomachs, and there were various initiatives to try and reduce food waste, like getting rid of trays so you only take what your hands can carry,” says Ahmad, who graduated in 2012 with degrees in international health and development and global poverty and practice. “But at the same time, it was frustrating when I asked the dining managers what they did with the excess food, and they said that, due to liability reasons, they can’t donate it, so they have no choice but to throw it away. And it was so absurd to me, because I felt like they could just walk across the street, and I guarantee the homeless people at People’s Park won’t sue you.”

While for many of us, these moral frustrations are fleeting, Ahmad made it her mission to do something about it. She’s always been devoted to public service (Gandhi’s “Be the change that you wish to see in the world” is a quote she lives by), and as a naval medical officer for the U.S. Navy during her four years at Berkeley, she deployed to Tanzania to help launch a mobile HIV clinic during the summer after her second year in college. What she found was that treating people was one thing, but without greater public health education and effective systems in place, patients would be back in a week with the same problems. After her return to the United States, she felt helpless, unsure whether any of the initiatives she started would be continued — and knowing that, as a college student, there was no way she could realistically go back to Tanzania to sustain them herself. She realized that even if her goals were global, she needed to start local.

So she turned to her own neighborhood. While she was skeptical about giving money to Berkeley’s homeless, she was always happy to give food. And when she would periodically strike up conversations with them, she realized that many of the homeless people around campus were former veterans in their mid-20s and 30s who had served their country but were now on the streets.

She soon discovered that the ingrained concern about liability that was keeping Cal Dining (and many other organizations) from donating excess food was based on a misconception. In 1996, President Clinton passed the Federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, that has been renewed since, which allows individuals and corporations that donate food to a non-profit organization in good faith to be free of any liability as long as they don’t engage in any gross negligence.

Once the Cal Dining managers understood this, they were quickly onboard to donate their extra food to people in need. By starting the organization Bare Abundance (a play on words referring to the Cal Bears), Ahmad mobilized her fellow Berkeley students to volunteer to redistribute food from campus dining halls and events. She essentially started a movement that spread to other universities also interested in reducing food waste and eventually co-founded the Food Recovery Network, an overarching nonprofit that united all the campus organizations. By the end of this December, Ahmad expects that 100 universities across the United States will be fully functional with food recovery programs embedded in their dining halls.

“There is more than enough food to feed the entire population over three times, but the problem is that we have an inequitable distribution of food,” says Ahmad. “And it’s staggering that even in a wealthy and powerful nation like the U.S., we still have so many people begging for it.”

While giving surplus food that would otherwise go to waste to people who would otherwise go hungry seems self-explanatory, facilitating this trade is not without its struggles. Often, once restaurants are relieved of their liability concerns, they are quickly onboard, but it’s the receiving organizations that are skeptical of the good will. Connecting with charities and soup kitchens on a personal level was necessary to build familiarity and trust in the beginning, and the next crucial step involved figuring out how to streamline the process in order to respect the time of workers and volunteers. Ahmad remembers one day when the Cal Dining manager had called, alerting her of a university catering event that no one showed up to, leaving 500 sandwiches that needed to be picked up within two hours. “We’re dealing with perishable foods here, so I drove there, loaded up my car, and immediately started calling a list of agencies everywhere from Oakland to Berkeley to Richmond,” says Ahmad. “One-third of them didn’t answer their phones, one-third of them said they didn’t need food today, and the last third said, ‘Thanks, I’ll take 20 sandwiches,’ which left me thinking, ‘Great, but now I have 480 sandwiches left!’”

At that moment, it became clear that even though she wanted to do something good for society, no one has six hours to drive around aimlessly with 500 sandwiches. She yearned for an iPhone app that would automatically locate the supply and demand for food and link the two sources together. Though computer science was not her forte, she sought out programmers who would help her create a program that would steer the market. This past January, Ahmad and her team placed fourth out of 88 teams at Foursquare Hackathon 2013 and won a mentorship that helped them develop their software platform and matching system. Feeding Forward, an online and mobile interface that facilitates communication between food service organizations and charities in the San Francisco Bay Area, was born.

“Now, say you have 100 sandwiches to donate,” says Ahmad. “You can go into the mobile app, upload a picture, list a pick-up time, give your contact, and when you post, you enter a virtual marketplace. The algorithm matches the amount and type of food you have with the needs of soup kitchens and homeless shelters and matches you with a nearby volunteer who’s available to deliver at that particular time. The volunteer confirms the food’s been received, the receiving agency sends back pictures showing the donors the people they’ve fed, and that’s Feeding Forward.”

Officially launched in April 2013, Feeding Forward’s food recovery programs have altogether recovered more than 250,000 pounds of food to date. Earlier this year, they won the prize for outstanding social entrepreneurship venture at Innovation Alley, a pop-up tech area at the Jewish Community Federation’s Israel in the Gardens event in San Francisco.

Now that Ahmad is confident the organization can make a sustainable impact, she’s passionate about accelerating and expanding their movement. “The Bay Area is our case study. Our goal is to implement Feeding Forward in cities nationally, and from there, I’ve already initiated conversations with other countries, in Hong Kong and Israel, so we can eventually go global,” says Ahmad. “Because ultimately, inequitable distribution is a global issue in both developing and developed countries.”

For more information about how to support and donate to Feeding Forward, visit Feedingforward.org or their Facebook page

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

AUDREY’S WOMEN OF INFLUENCE | Ping Fu, Chief Strategy Officer and Vice President of 3D Systems

Story by Ada Tseng.

 

While speaking about her new memoir, Bend, Not Break: A Life in Two Worlds, a story that follows the author’s disgrace as a “black element” during China’s Cultural Revolution to her rise as a successful tech CEO in the U.S., entrepreneur Ping Fu often wore a pair of eye-catching, hot pink platform heels to interviews and publicity events. The shoes, made by 3D printers and designed by Janne Kyttanen, creative director of 3D Systems, were lightweight, machine-washable and customized to fit Fu’s feet perfectly. One of the pairs even had a special pocket on the side to hold an iPhone.

“Shoes are the ultimate science-meets-art object,” says Fu, a pioneer of 3D imaging software technology. “We all like shoes to be beautiful, but they are also, scientifically, very difficult to make. They have to have the perfect balance, shape and form for how each individual walks, things that are very difficult for a computer to interpret. But because everyone can relate to them, they show that life and technology are not two different things. Technology must transcend humanity to touch people’s lives.”

In addition to shoes, Fu often wears 3D-printed jewelry and carries 3D-printed bags, not only because she embraces being a female executive in technology, known for being a young man’s world, but also because the 50- something believes that you have to live and experience what you create in order to know how to take your creation even further.

While 3D printing has been around for decades — Fu started her company Geomagic in 1997 after seeing a 3D printer print a solid object for the first time — it’s only been in the last couple of years that the industry has exploded into the mainstream.

“This is the most exciting time for advanced manufacturing,” says Fu. “Not a day goes by where there isn’t news of another major company using 3D printing to enhance its business model.”

This is not the first time Fu has been at the forefront of technological innovation. While working at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications in the ’90s, she was part of the initial team working on the software project NCSA Mosaic that ended up becoming Netscape, the first widely used Web browser that made a tech star out of Fu’s colleague, Marc Andreessen. When Fu decided to build her own company, she opted out of starting a then-trendy dot-com, instead searching for a project that would utilize her background in visual computing.

“I was really hooked by the 3D printers,” says Fu, who believes her interest in manufacturing goes way back to her pre-teen and teen days building radios and making car parts in Chinese factories. “I did some research and realized there were a lot of 3D scanners and 3D printers, but what was missing at the time was some sort of 3D software that fit in between. That was the beginning of what I thought Geomagic should be.”

At one of her first investor conferences, Fu asked the crowd to imagine your kid printing out his first sculpture; an orthopedic surgeon printing a 3D model of your prosthetic knee a week before your surgery; walking into a shoe store, getting your foot scanned and returning the next day for your custom- fitted boots. Soon enough, others had visions for how this type of technology could help their own industries.

“All of these were just ideas, and I said that Geomagic would turn these ideas into reality,” Fu remembers. She laughs. “Frankly, at that point, I did not know that it could happen. Little did I know how long it would take to turn the very difficult technology into reality.”

Now Fu believes that 3D printing is even bigger than the Internet. While the Internet changed how we display and share data, 3D printing would allow us to use data to make tangible objects. With the trifecta of 3D scanners, software and printers becoming more and more accessible, mass production (which has long been outsourced to factories abroad) will be replaced with mass customization (which will be distributed locally, near customers).

“In the next few years, I believe that we will fundamentally disrupt how things are designed and manufactured, and this will have an impact on everybody’s lives,” says Fu. “Products will be more customized, service more personable, manufacturing will be distributed and products made locally, and it’ll be more green because we’ll make less of what we don’t want and we’ll ship fewer things overseas.”

In fact, in 2010, she was appointed to the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship run by the U.S. Department of Commerce, and one of her current goals is to focus on how 3D printing can help create more jobs domestically, while simultaneously opening up a more genuine cultural exchange internationally.

Back in 2005, when Fu was named Entrepreneur of the Year by Inc. Magazine, some advised her to take advantage of her initial hype and sell Geomagic to the highest bidder. Instead, Fu elected to take her company to the next level, and it wasn’t until February 2013 that she sold Geomagic to 3D Systems, founded by Chuck Hull, the inventor of the first 3D printing machine. It was a homecoming for Fu, as it was Hull’s presentation that had inspired Fu to start Geomagic in the first place.

Now the chief strategy officer and vice president of 3D Systems, Fu continues to “write software for the future not yet imagined,” as she first fantasized when she decided to study computer science as a new immigrant in America. Fast forward to the present: “Today Invisalign, an orthodontic treatment without wires and brackets, is printing 65,000 custom aligns per day,” she says. “Soon enough, we’ll be ordering our own customized shoes.

“It’s going to come quickly, like a fresh wave washing up the shore,” says Fu. “And I just think it’s really exciting.”

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WHO INFLUENCES PING FU? When asked who influences her, Ping Fu rattles off a long list of names, from Mahatma Gandhi to Nelson Mandela, Sir Harold Evans to Michelle Obama. But it’s Chuck Hull who she calls the greatest mentor of all time. “Thirty years ago, he printed the first 3D printed part,” says Fu. “To put it into perspective, at that time, Macintosh had not been released, and there was no direct connectivity of 3D modeling software to 3D printers, so the fact that he could even print a part was a miracle. And he’s still in the company! Talk about resilience and tenacity. Chuck is the hero. Without him, we would not have this technology today.”

 

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

AUDREY’S WOMEN OF INFLUENCE | Tulsi Gabbard, U.S. Representative for the 2nd District of Hawaii

Story by Susan Soon He Stanton. 

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard is a rising political star. The 32-year-old has been nicknamed the “Democrats’ Darling” and is viewed as an embodiment of the Obama era. She’s also one of six representatives born in the 1980s, the first group of millennials in Congress. And while a lot of negative things have been said about millennials, dubbed the “Why-Worry Generation” by The New York Times, Gabbard easily shatters the apathetic stereotype. She is one of the first two female combat veterans, the first Hindu and the first female of Samoan ancestry ever to serve as a member of the U.S. Congress. And though the congresswoman is busy dealing with the chaos of the federal government shutdown this past October, she briefly steps off the floor between votes to speak with Audrey Magazine.

“Congress is starting to reflect the diverse makeup of our country,” says Gabbard by telephone. “It’s an opportunity to bring voice to many different constituencies and people from all around the country who may not have been able to look at Congress before and say, ‘Hey, I can relate to that person.’”

A year into her first term, she laments a dysfunctional government that has failed to deliver on its core functions. “When you talk to people who have been here for decades, they say this is the worst climate that they have ever seen in Congress,” she says. She believes the solution is “more bipartisan friendships like [that of the late Hawaiian Senator] Dan Inouye and [the late Alaskan Senator] Ted Stevens. People who understood what it meant to serve, to put your country and the mission first and work together.”

In an effort to mend a fractured Congress, Gabbard has teamed up with Republican and fellow millennial Rep. Aaron Schock to spearhead the Congressional Future Caucus, the first such caucus dedicated to pragmatic bipartisan solutions with the millennial generation in mind. In an interview with BuzzFeed, Schock said, with the increasing number of representatives under the age of 40, that “helps give the opportunity to make people think more long term. People in their 30s and 40s look at life differently than people in their 60s or 70s.” Gabbard adds that her bipartisan efforts do not mean she will set aside her principles, but it does require Congress to “work together, listen respectfully and discover those areas where we can find workable solutions and bring those about.” She wants people to recognize that “no one gets their way 100 percent of the time, but the same can be said for any relationship or partnership that you have, be it in a business or in the home or in a friendship. It’s about recognizing the diversity of our country, doing our best to work together and making that happen.”

Gabbard is no stranger to finding the middle ground in political disagreements, even at home. Her pro-marriage-equality stance during her 2012 campaign ran against some of the statements her father, state Senator Mike Gabbard, had said over the course of his career. “I love my parents both very much; it’s no secret we disagree sometimes, surprise surprise,” says Gabbard. However, she adds, the unconditional love between them is “unbreakable.” When she was 15, Gabbard and her father co-founded the Healthy Hawaii Coalition, a nonprofit focused on teaching environmental awareness to children, and to this day they call each other for advice on a variety of issues. Gabbard, who was home-schooled along with her siblings, says her parents encouraged her to be of “service to other people and try to be a positive impact on their lives.”

Her desire “not to be a problem, but to be a part of the solution” motivated her at 21 to knock on doors with homemade black-and-white flyers during her campaign for a seat in the state Legislature. Gabbard won the election in 2002, becoming the youngest person ever elected to the Hawaii Legislature and the youngest woman elected to state office in American history.

In 2004, she decided not to run for a second term and instead voluntarily deployed to Iraq with her National Guard unit, serving two tours of combat duty in the Middle East. This past September at the National Conference on Citizenship, she accepted the Major George A. Smith HOOAH Award, recognizing a veteran who defines citizenship through service to our country, both in uniform and beyond. Not only is Gabbard the first Pacific Islander to receive the award, she is also the first female to be so honored.

Given Gabbard’s career thus far, many may be surprised to know that in her youth she was afraid of public speaking. Discussing feelings of self-doubt as she broke race, age and gender barriers, she offers advice to women who may suffer from “impostor syndrome,” a psychological phenomenon where people can’t seem to feel that they belong or deserve their accomplishments. “The first and most important question that every person should answer for herself is, ‘Why am I doing what I’m doing?’” she says. “If you are motivated by selfish reasons, then you may be faced with some of these issues. This is not just in politics, it’s in business and the military and in all industries.” Gabbard says to view career challenges not as personal advancement but as opportunities for leadership. “When you recognize that it’s not about you, but a responsibility and a privilege that you have, it changes the entire framework of your role and the path that you have ahead of you.”

It’s something she keeps in mind as she strives to balance the personal with the professional. Surfing, capoeira and vegetarianism are among her eclectic, and some would say, atypical interests. When asked if any of her extracurricular activities ever felt in conflict with her role as a politician, she responds, “I think all of the interests that I have are part of who I am. They are part of my experience or choices that I’ve made in my life.” She continues, “When I go to paddle out for a surf, there’s nothing congressional about it. I am the same person that I was before I was elected, before I went through the campaign, as I am now, and there’s no reason for that to change. Rather than a detraction or something to downplay, every part of who I am helps me to keep balanced and focused so I can do the best job that I can in Congress.”

Indeed, Gabbard values the influence Hawaiian culture has had on her as a person and on her approach to politics. “I carry the Aloha spirit with me, be it in the military or in Congress or in my dealings with people,” she says. “It is ingrained in who I am; it’s what I keep at the forefront. And I know for sure that it is complementing the work that I do.” Referring back to the government shutdown, Gabbard adds, “We need to bring more Aloha into the conversation that we are having so that they can be substantive and constructive.”

And with that, Congresswoman Gabbard excuses herself to return to the floor to vote, certain to bring some of that much-needed Aloha spirit to Congress.

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

AUDREY’S WOMEN OF INFLUENCE | Laura Lee, Director of Entertainment East Partnership at YouTube

Story by Teena Apeles. Photo by Conan Thai.

Overseeing more than 150 television, film, new media and original entertainment partnerships for YouTube is no small feat, especially when they involve striking deals with networks as big as NBC Universal, as cutting edge as Vice, and as treasured as the Discovery Networks. Welcome to Laura Lee’s world. As head of YouTube’s Entertainment East Partnerships since 2007, 38-year-old Lee is the highest-ranking Asian American woman at YouTube and is one of the highest-ranking Asian American female executives across all of Google. And, she will tell you, her job is certainly no cakewalk, but it is thrilling.

“No day is typical for me,” says the New York-based Lee by phone, whose territory includes the East Coast and all of Canada. Not only does she work with TV networks, she also advises top magazine publishers, like Time, Inc. (Time, Sports Illustrated, People) and Condé Nast (Vogue, Vanity Fair), on what kinds of video to produce for their channels.

One day Lee could be meeting with Jimmy Fallon and his production team, brainstorming about how to expand his YouTube audience en route to becoming the king of late night. (She notes that his channel hit a million subscribers recently.) Another day she could be working on an initiative like Ignite New York (ignitenyc.org), which Lee and her team conceived to make sure that all local creators — whether in news, music, education or sports — understand how to fully utilize YouTube. As a native New Yorker, she is particularly passionate about this project. “What we are trying to do with Ignite is not just for film or TV, but for any kind of creator … to let them know that through YouTube they have a platform to become a global brand.”

Lee says that one rewarding aspect of her job is helping a brand “give birth” on YouTube and then charting “their progress to adolescence.” Lee points to the hipster magazine Vice as an especially inspiring success story, which went from print to a “multiplatform creative juggernaut.”

“Some brands have made the transition effortlessly, but some of them, they need a little bit more handholding. But that is part of what I do,” says Lee. “It is really talking to all these different brands and making sure that we are getting the best of their creativity [so] that we can broadcast that to the world.”

A quick review of her enviable résumé reveals that Lee is good at getting original content to the masses. She was vice president of business development and operations at MTV, has produced an original series for VH-1, and oversaw the development of sports projects at Spike. The interesting thing is, Lee first started her career as an investment banker — while spending nights performing at nightclubs with her R&B group.

“I think that I always walked that fine line between being the subdued Asian daughter, but on the other hand wanting to make sure that I always engaged and nurtured my passion,” she explains. “My problem was, do I really take the big leap and try to do the singing thing 100 percent, or do I go to business school? And my parents said, ‘You are going to business school.’”

Lee did finish business school, albeit without a job because she couldn’t let go of her desire for a more creative endeavor. But look at her today. No longer the “subdued Asian girl,” Lee says that not a lot of people expect to encounter an assertive Asian female in the workplace. It’s something Lee and her Asian American friends in the industry are quite cognizant of. “We joke around about that bamboo ceiling and that we are experiencing breakthroughs,” she says. “But we would like to see more, and we hope that it is our generation that does it.

“Each company has a different rhythm,” she continues, “and to be successful in any company you have to be able to adapt and fall into that rhythm, hopefully without sacrificing your own personal style,” she says. Indeed, Lee went from wearing torn jeans at her first YouTube meeting (someone commented that she looked like a kid), to more grownup attire. “I love wearing dresses, and I love wearing heels,” she says. “I just feel more confident.”

So how many hours in a “no day is typical” workday does it take to break that bamboo ceiling and become the highest- ranking Asian American woman at YouTube? “I don’t want to scare people,” says Lee, laughing. “The honest answer is that I am a work in progress.”

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

Unforgettable 2013: A Good Time Was Had By All [PHOTOS]

Story by James S. Kim. Photos by Steven Lam & White Rose Production.

A cool night at the Park Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles didn’t put a damper on this year’s annual “Unforgettable” awards gala. This year, for the first time in the event’s 12-year history, KoreAm Journal partnered with sister magazine Audrey to recognize three individuals in the Asian American community in honor of Audrey Magazine’s 10th anniversary as a publication.

Guests and celebrities lined an equally cool blue carpet, then warmed themselves with somewhat responsible helpings of Scotch whiskey provided by the presenting sponsor, Royal Salute.

Television journalist Lisa Ling returned to Unforgettable, this time as the mistress of ceremonies, to emcee the awards ceremony. Clara C and Walter Hong presented the first award to singer/songwriter David Choi in the Arts & Entertainment category. As a pioneering Asian American musician in the evolving YouTube and social media world, Choi dedicated the award to everyone in the room, thanking those who supported him in his endeavors.

Actress Tamlyn Tomita and actor Tim Jo presented the second award for the Audrey Woman of Influence, which went to film producer Janet Yang, whose numerous credits include The Joy Luck Club, Shanghai Calling and the Chinese version of Disney’s High School Musical. Yang has worked for years to bridge the gap between the Hollywood and Chinese film industries, and she said for the first time in history, Asian Americans have so many opportunities to present their own culture and stories from their own point of view.

Dante Basco and Lindsay Price presented Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas the Inspiration Award for his work as an activist for undocumented immigrants, including himself. While Vargas was grateful for the honor, he said the award was “premature,” as there was much more work to be done regarding immigration reform in the United States. He pleaded with the predominantly Asian American audience to be aware of a very prevalent issue.

Korean American L.A.-based indie rock band Run River North kicked off the night’s entertainment with a powerful performance, followed by a YouTube dream team of Clara C, Joseph Vincent and Jason Chen. Filipino American R&B band Legaci made their Unforgettable debut with a medley of their songs, while dance crew Poreotics returned with another signature set of polished dance moves. Korean American hip-hop icons Tiger JK, Yoon Mirae wrapped up the evening with fellow artist, Bizzy, showing why they are considered royalty in the Korean hip-hop scene. Guests were able to take home a  copy of their latest album, The Cure.

The event would not have been possible without presenting sponsor Royal Salute, charity partner Good Neighbors, corporate sponsors K2 L.A., BBCN Bank, Asiana Airlines, Intertrend Communications, Beverly Dental Group, Ten Advertising, Vistamar School, Sans Souci, KDB Daewoo Securities, Park Plaza Hotel, IW Group, Inc., CBS, Kabuki Japanese Restaurant, WaBa Grill, Garden Suite Hotel, Pechanga Resort & Casino, Warner Bros., community sponsors Seah Steel, Korean American Economic Development Center, Paramount, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Gary Kim, O11 Communications, NetKAL, Toyota, UC Berkeley Korean American Alumni Association, Shiseido, and Lawry’s Catering.

Audrey Magazine is an award-winning quarterly publication covering the Asian American experience, as seen from the perspective of Asian American women and is the sister magazine of KoreAm Journal. You can find more information at www.audreymagazine.com.

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Singer-songwriter and Dec 2013 KoreAm cover man David Choi.

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Producer Janet Yang on the blue carpet.

Yang accepts the Audrey Woman of Influence award.

Yang accepts the Audrey Woman of Influence award.

 

YouTube singers Jason Chen (L) and Joseph Vincent knit their brows on the blue carpet.

YouTube singers Jason Chen (L) and Joseph Vincent knit their brows on the blue carpet.

Filipino American singing group Legaci woos the crowd with their vocal stylings.

Filipino American singing group Legaci woos the crowd with their vocal stylings.

 

Run River North wows the crowd with their musical stylings.

Run River North wows the crowd with their musical stylings.

Poreotics whoas the crowd with their choreographed stylings.

Poreotics whoas the crowd with their choreographed stylings.

 

Tiger JK, Yoon Mirae and Bizzy on the blue carpet.

Tiger JK, Yoon Mirae and Bizzy on the blue carpet.

Tiger JK performs with Yoon Mirae and Bizzy, a.k.a. MFBTY.

Tiger JK performs with Yoon Mirae and Bizzy, a.k.a. MFBTY.

David Choi joins MFBTY on stage.

David Choi joins MFBTY on stage.

YouTube artists (from L to R) Jason Chen, Clara C and Joseph Vincent.

YouTube artists (from L to R) Jason Chen, Clara C and Joseph Vincent.

Actor Terrence Howard arrives with his wife, Mira Cristine Howard.

Actor Terrence Howard arrives with his wife, Mira Cristine Howard.

 

Cast members of Teen Wolf (from L to R) Tamlyn Tomita, Arden Cho and Tom T. Choi.

Cast members of Teen Wolf (from L to R) Tamlyn Tomita, Arden Cho and Tom T. Choi.

Arden Cho.

Arden Cho.

Singer Clara Chung.

Singer Clara Chung.

Singer Dia Frampton.

Singer Dia Frampton.

 

Rapper and KoreAm Nov 2013 cover man Dan Matthews.

Rapper and KoreAm Nov 2013 cover man Dan Matthews.

Activist Ju Hong and journalist Jose Antonio Vargas.

Activist Ju Hong and journalist Jose Antonio Vargas.

 

Actor Leonardo Nam.

Actor Leonardo Nam.

Korean French actress Pom Klementieff.

Korean French actress Pom Klementieff.

 

The night’s host, Lisa Ling.

The night’s host, Lisa Ling.

Actress Lindsay Price with celebrity chef husband Curtis Stone.

Actress Lindsay Price with celebrity chef husband Curtis Stone.

Indie rock band Run River North.

Indie rock band Run River North.

 

Actor Tim Jo with girlfriend Hannah Jun.

Actor Tim Jo with girlfriend Hannah Jun.

Actress Vivian Bang.

Actress Vivian Bang.

 

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Actor and voice actor Dante Basco.

This story was originally published on iamkoream.com

 

DESTINY’S CHILD: Bollywood’s Biggest Actress, PRIYANKA CHOPRA

If she hadn’t been bullied at an American high school, she may not have returned to India only to win Miss World. If she hadn’t won Miss World, she may not have become Bollywood’s biggest actress. For Priyanka Chopra, with her debut pop album just on the horizon, destiny is all about taking that next step after you fall. 

STORY by Ada Tseng.
PHOTOS by Yu Tsai.

 BUY OUR WINTER 2013-14 ISSUE WITH PRIYANKA CHOPRA HERE.

 

When PRIYANKA CHOPRA was 17 years old, the young Indian beauty had spent a few difficult high school years abroad in the United States before deciding to go back to India for her senior year. Upon her return, her mother sent some photos Chopra had taken to apply for an engineering scholarship to the Femina Miss India beauty pageant. Within the span of a year, Chopra went from being taunted by American teenagers who called her “brownie” to winning the 2000 Miss World title at age 18 — still the youngest contestant to ever win the pageant in its 63-year history.

Now 31, Chopra says that if she hadn’t been bullied at school and desperate to return home to India, she would have never fallen into her mega-successful career in the Bollywood entertainment industry.

“I think it gave me the strength to take adversity head on,” says Chopra. “I also learned that your life and destiny is in your own hands. Take chances, push boundaries, jump, fall, fail, cry, and then brush it all off and start all over. You will face adversity at many points in your life, but you can’t let it become a roadblock.

“The incident [in high school] upset and hurt me tremendously,” she continues, “but ultimately made me stronger. Then being back home in India led me to participate and win the Miss India and Miss World crowns. I found what I loved to do, gave it everything I had and left the rest up to destiny. Nothing anyone says or does will ever change that.”

In a business that is ruled by Kapoors, Bachchans, Roshans and Khans (who are often sons and daughters of already-successful film industry folk), Chopra prides herself in being a self-made star. Her parents, both doctors in the Indian army at the time, had no connections to Bollywood. But when Chopra was flooded with acting offers after her Miss World win, her mother actually gave up her flourishing practice to come to Mumbai with her daughter to help chase her new dreams.

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“We were so far removed from this world,” says Chopra. “We didn’t know anyone and didn’t know a thing about the film business. What actually helped us through it was that we knew this was not a ‘do-or-die’ situation, so we just trusted our instincts and stuck to our values. Every day was a challenge, everything I had to face, good or bad, was a new experience, and that in itself was a challenge.”

In the beginning of her career, Chopra was involved in some commercial successes — Andaaz opposite Akshay Kumar, Mujhse Shaadi Karogi with Salman Khan and Kumar, Krrish with Hrithik Roshan, and Don opposite Shah Rukh Khan — but it took a while for her to be taken seriously as an actress and gain parts that did more than capitalize on her looks.

“Learning to be an actor and understanding the craft was a huge challenge for me,” says Chopra. “I didn’t go to acting school. My [previously] desired career path was to be an engineer. So I listened, observed and absorbed everything that was happening around me. It gave me the foundation that I needed to build on and really paid off.”

One could argue that Chopra’s biggest turning point came in 2008, with her role as an ambitious supermodel in Fashion. Not only was Chopra in the title role in the women-centric film with no male leads, she picked up most of the major best actress awards that year, including the Filmfare Awards, International Indian Film Academy Awards, and the National Film Awards.

In 2012, she further cemented her acting chops by donning a short curly hairdo to play an autistic girl, rendering her almost unrecognizable as Ranbir Kapoor’s unlikely love interest in the romantic comedy Barfi!. Nowadays, with more than 40 films under her belt, she’s respected as a hard-working actress who is bankable yet not afraid to take chances with her roles.

But it was late 2012 that brought her boldest move yet — a foray into the international pop music scene. Bollywood film is known for its musical numbers, and as part of film tradition, the actors and actresses dance and lip-synch to songs that are pre-recorded by professional playback singers. While there have been instances of actors recording songs for their own films, Chopra is the first major Bollywood star to sign a record deal with the intent of releasing a solo English album for a global audience.

Instead of staying in India, where she is already a bona fide superstar with almost 5 million Twitter followers (the most of any Bollywood actress), Chopra deliberately chose Los Angeles as her base for recording music, and she is working with American artists and producers to develop her own style that fuses universally appealing pop/dance beats with her Indian roots.

“It’s been super fun, but also scary in a way, because as a lyricist you are delving into your own experiences and emotions to create these songs,” says Chopra. “As you will hear, my music is really driven by my moods. When I’m hyper I write a pop song; when I’m sad I write ballads.”

Chopra has since released two singles, with a third due any day now. “In My City,” featuring will.i.am, was certified triple platinum in India when it debuted in September 2012, and it made a resurgence this past September when it was chosen as the NFL Networks’ official new Thursday Night Football opening theme song. Her second single “Exotic,” featuring Pitbull, not only hit number one in iTunes India when it was released this past July, it also appeared on the Billboard Dance/Electronic charts in the United States, as well as the Canadian Hot 100.

Her upcoming debut album, scheduled for early 2014, is a collaboration between Universal Music Group, Interscope Records and Desi Hits!, and both “In My City” and “Exotic” were produced and co-written by Grammy-nominated producer RedOne, a Top 40 hit-maker for artists like Nicki Minaj, Jennifer Lopez, One Direction and Lady Gaga.

“Making music is such an organic process, and there is really no set pattern,” says Chopra. “In the course of putting my album together, I have had such varied experiences. Sometimes a song has been borne out of a melody created while sitting in the studio, or it germinates from a particular emotion that you are feeling on any given day. Sometimes a story or a word tossed into a conversation — that becomes the center point of the idea for your song. It can happen anywhere and anyhow, and that’s what makes it so magical.”

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That said, her ardent Bollywood fans need not worry about her abandoning the silver screen any time soon, as Chopra’s filming schedule has definitely not been put on hold amidst the madness. Always the multitasker, the impossibly busy triple threat recently re-teamed with Hrithik Roshan for the superhero sequel Krrish 3, released in November, and she will soon finish filming the upcoming Mary Kom biopic, in which she plays the titular role of the celebrated Indian boxer. Chopra was also recently named the new Guess Girl, becoming the first model of Indian descent for the clothing brand and following in the steps of such well-known names as Claudia Schiffer, Anna Nicole Smith and Kate Upton. Handpicked by Guess CEO Paul Marciano, not only will Chopra appear in their holiday ads shot by Bryan Adams (yes, the musician) in the December issue for almost all the major American fashion magazines, her music and Guess campaign video will stream across the brand’s 1,700 stores worldwide.

Looking back, even though the teenage Chopra dealt with her share of mean high school girls who didn’t appreciate her South Asian roots, her experiences in the United States weren’t all bad. Her exposure to American hip-hop and R&B during her formative years — she was obsessed with Tupac Shakur and wore black to school every day for a week after he passed away — has influenced the eclectic mix of music she co-writes and listens to today.

And Chopra recognizes that we’re now in a different time: as the world is becoming more global (our own Miss America is of South Asian descent, after all), we just might be ready for an Indian pop star in America.

 

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

“Crazy Rich Asians” To Become a Movie: Audrey’s Picks for a Dream Cast

Kevin Kwan’s debut novel is a ridiculous read — and we mean that in the best way. Set mainly in Singapore, the story follows the homecoming of Nicholas Young, who’s in town for the highly anticipated wedding of his best friend Colin Khoo to model/hotel heiress Araminta Lee. Nick is bringing his American girlfriend of two years, Rachel Chu, to the wedding. What Rachel doesn’t know is that Nick is a member of Singapore’s elite, and apparently everyone is out to end their relationship, from overbearing mothers to cutthroat exes.

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What really makes Crazy Rich Asians so fascinating is that the novel is a hilarious insight into the social intricacies and hierarchies of the Singaporean jet set — new money vs. old money, Mainland Chinese vs. Overseas Chinese, traditional Chinese culture vs. traditions that are actually remnants of colonial rule. Calling upon his own childhood experiences, Kwan weaves great (and greatly exaggerated) details into his story that makes for a read you can’t put down. It’s got all the makings for a very entertaining movie, so when we heard that the production team behind The Hunger Games films had nabbed the rights to this summer’s best guilty pleasure read, we just had to come up with our own dream cast. Hollywood, better take notes!

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Godfrey Gao as Nicholas Young, 32, a history professor at NYU with Cantonese pop idol looks (described as a Takeshi Kaneshiro lookalike) and heir to the Young fortune. Why: A ridiculously good-looking guy with international appeal is absolutely required for this leading man role, and the Taiwanese-Malaysian Canadian actor/model, touted as the world’s first Asian male supermodel, has been described as a younger Kaneshiro.

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Gemma Chan as Rachel Chu, Nick’s girlfriend, a 29-year-old down-to-earth, natural beauty, raised by a single mother, who is also an economics professor at NYU. Why: An up-and-comer in Hollywood, this Chinese British actor can pull off Rachel’s sensible, effortless and intelligent charm.

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Fan Bingbing as Astrid Leong, Nick’s cousin and closest confidante who also happens to be a double heiress and Singapore’s most sought after socialite. She’s married to Michael Teo. Why: The Chinese actress has the presence (and red carpet fashion cred) to play Singapore’s biggest style icon, oozing radiance every time she walks into a room.

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Daniel Wu as Michael Teo, a son of schoolteachers and a graduate of Caltech (he was a National Merit Scholar!), the co-founder of a start-up tech company happened to land Singapore’s most sought after socialite. Why: Michael is a straight-laced former Armed Forces Elite Commando who is facing an eventual meltdown because of his marriage into high society. A hunk on the verge of a breakdown? Wu’s got plenty of acting experience (and the good looks) to pull that off.

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Brenda Song as Peik Lin Goh, the youngest daughter of the new money Singaporean Goh family and Rachel’s close friend from Stanford. Why: Song can call upon her Disney days for the over-enthusiastic spunk it’ll take to play Peik Lin, one of Rachel’s few allies in Singapore.

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Wang Lee Hom as Colin Khoo, Nick’s best friend and heir to the Khoo Teck Fong fortune, one of the richest families in the world. Why: Wang’s recent roles have required a disguise — perfect for a man disguising his true feelings about his upcoming nuptials. (Basically, we wanna see the Taiwanese American singer/actor in a Hollywood film.)

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Angelababy as Araminta Lee, a luxury hotel heiress and supermodel who is engaged to Colin Khoo, and has a serious obsession with Astrid Leong and her couture wardrobe. Why: The Hong Kong-based Chinese actress/model has the young supermodel look down. We think she’ll be gorgeous as the society bride of the year.

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Liza Wang as Shang Su Yi, grandmother to Nicholas and matriarch of the Young family. She inherited the Shang fortune, lives in a Euro-style palace that doesn’t show up on Google Maps (complete with secret service Burmese guards). Why: She is Hong Kong’s biggest diva, famously known as a stage and television actress. Her larger than life personality is very fitting to play the matriarch of the Young family.

Jamie-Chung

Jamie Chung as Amanda Ling, a wannabe New York socialite who used to date Nick. Why: Chung is so gorgeous — and we’re sure she can do snarky well — so she’s perfect to play the posh and fashionable ex-girlfriend of a billionaire heir.

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Maggie Q as Francesca Shaw, who is still pining for Nick after a threesome with him and Amanda Ling one summer in Capri. Why: She’s the cattier of the two girls after Nick and we think Maggie can play one hell of an ice queen.

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Michelle Yeoh as Eleanor Young, mother of Nicholas. Why: The Malaysian actress is well-known for playing strong leading women, but we think it’s about time she plays against type and takes on a challenge: playing the over-the-top, crazed mother who stops at nothing to end her son’s relationship with his Chinese American girlfriend.

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Joan Chen as Kerry Chu, Rachel’s mother who works in real estate and harbors a secret past. Why: Kerry is the hard-working, resilient one of the cast and Chen can capture that perfectly. Chen is also a scene-stealer no matter what role she’s in, which is perfect for Kerry’s dramatic reveal.

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Archie Kao as Edison Cheng, a successful private banker who is obsessed with being in the media spotlight. Why: Kao has a certain charisma that can get under your skin — in an effective way. We’re challenging him to play one loud, obnoxious and fame-whoring husband.

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Charlene Choi as Fiona Tung, who comes from a politically connected family and has three children with Eddie Cheng. Why: Charlene Choi possesses a calm demeanor as an actress that’s effective in quiet moments, which is perfect for the role of Fiona, the wife who remains silent to her husband’s wild antics.

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Edison Chen as Bernard Tai, the quintessential bad boy heir of Singapore. Why: Because Chen is the quintessential bad boy actor. It’d be fascinating to see him make his return to the silver screen playing someone just like himself.

Nichkhun Horvejkul

Nichkhun Horvejkul (of KPOP group 2PM) as Alistair Cheng, the younger, good-for-nothing brother of Eddie Cheng, with puppy-dog looks and who works in film production in Hong Kong. Why: The useless son with good looks? Thank goodness Nickhun is really pretty to look at.

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Clara Lee as Kitty Pong, a gold-digging TV actress from Hong Kong with a penchant for skimpy outfits and who has Alistair Cheng whipped. Why: She’s one of Korea’s hottest sex symbols — we’d love to see her play a tacky, money-hungry soap star that shocks everyone at every turn.

AUDREY’S WOMEN OF INFLUENCE | Janet Yang, Film Producer and Cultural Ambassador

Story by Ada Tseng.

Janet Yang remembers every little detail about her first trip to China as a teenager in 1972 during the Cultural Revolution: the flight to Hong Kong (because there were no direct flights to China at the time); the rickety bridge they had to walk across to get to Shenzhen; the giant Samsonite suitcases of flour, sugar and rice they brought for their relatives, whom her mother hadn’t seen in over a decade (being careful not to go over the import quota); the little old lady porters with bound feet who hoisted up these giant suitcases on their shoulders; the military songs blaring over loudspeakers; the interrogation at the border; the flood of relatives that came from all over the country to meet them at the train station in Canton; her relatives’ fascination over shower caps and contact lens cases (they hadn’t seen plastic toiletries before); and her cousin’s textbooks she flipped through that read, “Down with American imperialists!”

This was soon after the famous Nixon-Kissinger trip to China, the first time an American president had visited and a symbol that ended 25 years of separation between the two countries. Yang’s parents were part of a generation who came abroad to the United States for school in the ’50s, with every intention of returning to China — until the Cultural Revolution happened and the government started targeting intellectuals. Suddenly it didn’t seem safe for them to return. Though the United Nations ambassador from China was now encouraging American visitors, many were still fearful.

“At the time, it was such a big deal, even for overseas Chinese, to go back to China,” says Yang. “It was a very, very mysterious place, because it had been so cut off for so long, so much so that my parents decided we shouldn’t even all go together. They split us up — my mom and I went first; my father, brother and sister went on a separate trip — because the mentality at the time was: ‘If we all go together and get stuck there, who would help us get out?’ It was like a big black hole back then.”

Today, Yang is a successful film producer who is widely considered the go-to person for Hollywood industry professionals who want to tap into the exponentially growing China market. And nowadays, that’s a lot of people. BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research recently estimated that by 2017 the China box office could yield $5 billion annually for Hollywood studios, compared to $2.2 billion today.

“To me, to have experienced this dramatic shift in one lifetime is amazing,” says Yang. “Everything’s topsy-turvy now. It used to be such a big deal for us to bring over sunglasses and watches to China. Now, they’re buying up our country. When Chinese people come to the U.S., they just want to shop, because they can’t believe how cheap everything is. It’s so weird.”

Yang calls her 1972 trip to China a life-changing moment. “Before, I was really just an American kid growing up in a Jewish neighborhood,” she says, “and then the world opened up.” She immediately started learning Chinese, and once she got to college — she was a student at Brown and a visiting student at Harvard — she asked all her teachers to look out for opportunities for her to move to China. Ironically, her parents were dismayed. What would she do with a Chinese studies degree? At the time, it seemed to have no practical application whatsoever.

She moved to Beijing in the early ’80s, as part of the first wave of American expats going to China, and she worked at the Foreign Languages Press Office. The Cultural Revolution had just ended, and it was a fascinating time for experimentation.

“The most interesting thing for me was that artists were coming out of the woodwork,” remembers Yang. “After being fed one thing for so long, writers and filmmakers were trying to create [art], and I was so taken by their bravery. I realized I was carrying all these biases about what we could do, because the images of Chinese onscreen [in America] were so horrible, and it was the first time I realized, ‘We can make things.’ Even if it was a bad movie, it was still exciting.

“That’s when I decided that film was important,” she continues. “In the beginning, I just wanted people outside of China to see these Chinese films. I figured it was a good way to introduce them to China and also see Chinese people in a different light. I wanted people to have the same experience that I had.”

She returned to the U.S. to get her M.B.A. and was then hired to run World Entertainment, a company in San Francisco that imported and distributed films from Hong Kong and China. Eventually, she was hired at universal to help open up the China market, and that’s when she met a lot of Chinese filmmakers early in their careers, including Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige, and introduced them to other Hollywood executives.

The first time Yang worked on a film in China was in 1986, for Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun, starring a 13-year-old Christian Bale. They were in Shanghai while Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor was shooting in Beijing, and with two high-profile films being simultaneously shot in China, they all recognized they were part of a groundbreaking moment in history.

“People were clueless about China back then,” says Yang. “I mean, they’re still clueless now, but really clueless then.” Yang helped set up a system for Hollywood to work in China. She knew there needed to be a bilingual person who understood American filmmaking working with the head of each major department. At the time, the first crop of Chinese students were coming out of UCLA film school, and Yang gave many of them their first opportunity to work on a major Hollywood studio project. She and her team spent months in China, getting all the permits and laying the groundwork so that once Spielberg arrived, he could quickly work his magic.

Now a veteran with an extensive understanding of both the American and Chinese movie industries, Yang has served as president of Ixtlan, a production company she formed with Oliver Stone, for seven years; was instrumental in the productions of Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story and The Joy Luck Club, two rare Hollywood films with Asian American leads; and was sought out by Disney to produce High School Musical: China, the first time a global franchise was made specifically for the Chinese market.

But it all came full circle in 2012 with the production of Shanghai Calling, directed by Daniel Hsia and starring Daniel Henney as a Chinese American lawyer who is sent to Shanghai on business. It gave her the opportunity to help tell a story about contemporary China, one that showcased why she loves splitting her time between the U.S. and China — and why she dedicates herself to not only being a film producer but a cultural ambassador who can bridge the gap between two very different countries.

“If it weren’t for China, I’m not sure if I’d even still be producing,” says Yang. “It’s such a wild and woolly world out there these days. I grew up in a Hollywood where it was easier to make films. I know I have some supposedly impressive credits, but I couldn’t make any of those films today. Not one. So everything has a time, and it’s really just about trying to keep up without losing yourself. China has opened up a lot of different opportunities, so I’m happy I’ve stuck around long enough to do this.”


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