Audrey Women of Influence: ELAINE QUIJANO

Story by Shinyung Oh.

“Bridgegate” breaks on the morning of Wednesday, January 8, 2014. In New York’s CBS Broadcast Center, correspondent Elaine Quijano heads to the National Desk to seize the assignment. After talking to her producers, Quijano obtains a copy of the newly released emails regarding the shutdown of lanes in Fort Lee, N.J., allegedly ordered by Gov. Chris Christie’s staff as political retribution. First, she works on verifying their content. Then, she pores over the heavily redacted documents to try to decipher what is going on. At the same time, her team works on tracking down Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, the rumored target of the retribution, to schedule an interview. Quijano fires off a draft outline to her producers before dashing out at 2 p.m.

Quijano hops in a cab to head to Fort Lee on the heels of her team members who left earlier in their satellite van. Unexpectedly, they encounter a traffic accident on West Side Highway. Panic sets in. The mayor has limited availability. The show airs at 6:30 p.m. Quijano calls her senior producers to update them while her mind races to make alternative plans. Should she hop on the ferry? Track down the mayor elsewhere? For Quijano, missing the interview is not an option. This is no time to be meek. She has to get the story.

The cab makes its way through West Side Highway and Lincoln Tunnel before finally pulling up to Fort Lee. Quijano interviews Sokolich and heads over to the George Washington Bridge where she will do her live shot. There she hunkers down in the satellite van to pull her story together.

In the segment that airs later that evening on CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley, Quijano displays none of the panic that ensued shortly before. She gazes calmly into the camera, her shoulder-length hair pulled back with not a wisp out of place and white pearl earrings dangling placidly, as she reports the story that has the potential to bring down the rumored Republican presidential favorite for 2016. She’s home by 7:30 that evening to put her three kids to bed. It’s just another workday for Quijano.

Quijano, who is in her late 30s, lives a journalism student’s dream. Upon graduating from the University of Illinois, she worked at a couple of local stations before landing at CNN Newsource and then at CNN where she covered various beats, including the White House, the Pentagon and the Supreme Court. Now at CBS as a correspondent, Quijano reports for CBS Evening News and CBS This Morning. Ask whether she thinks of herself as a success, and she’ll brush it off. “Everyone defines success differently,” she says.

But by anyone’s standards, Quijano has climbed to the top of her field. She’s reported on stories as far reaching as 9/11, the election of George W. Bush, and the U.S. invasion of Iraq. On CBS Evening News alone, more than 6 million viewers watch her nightly as she reports on events like the inauguration of Pope Francis, the trial of “Whitey” Bulger, and the manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombing suspects. She works with some of the most renowned names in the field, including Scott Pelley, Charlie Rose and Bob Schieffer.

She talks as if she simply willed herself to reach these heights. “I’ve just been persistent,” she says about her career. “It requires absolute commitment. Your will has to be such that you endure.” But any ascent requires toil, and Quijano has had her share. Take this example. When Hurricane Sandy unleashed on the East Coast on Oct. 29, 2012, Quijano bundled herself in her down jacket and winter boots to meet the hurricane in Belmar, N.J. From 6 a.m. until noon, she stood in boots filled with frigid water, pants drenched, with sand pelting her as she clutched the exterior handrail of a nearby house to anchor herself. She worried about hypothermia and felt as if she was having an out-of-body experience. In the aired footage, the ocean bellows behind her and Quijano fights to keep her eyes open against the punishing rain and wind. But what you see is a reporter at work, steadily describing for her viewers the overwhelming force of Mother Nature and the imperative to evacuate.

At such moments, Quijano blocks out all else and sees only the mission at hand. “I live in the moment,” she says. “I concentrate on it 150 percent.”

Above all else, she is prepared. In her office, she has a closet where she keeps two bags, extra clothes and weather gear, like snow boots, hand and foot warmers and everything else she may need for wherever she is sent. On any given day, at any given moment, she may get launched on a story hundreds of miles away. “This is the worst,” she says, “to be unprepared.” She doesn’t even like wearing her suits to work, preferring to change once she gets to the office, for fear of getting a stain during her commute.

Quijano says that she was first attracted to broadcast journalism in part because of the adrenaline rush. But she does not look like an adrenaline junkie. Instead, she talks like a second grade teacher, ever patient, always calm. Watch her interview the parents of Newtown victims as she listens with the intensity of a psychotherapist, her face intent with empathy. “My objective is to hear what they want to say,” she says about her interview subjects. “I try to be compassionate and respectful and try to listen a lot more than I talk.”

Interviewing Sandy Hook parents was particularly difficult. At the time, her daughter was 6, the same age as the young victims. “I found it too easy to stand in their shoes, to know how to convey the stories for those parents,” she says.

When she has a choice, she prefers a walk on the lighter side. “I like stories where the viewer is left with the feeling that the world is not such a bad place to be — people coming to the aid of others, people overcoming things,” she says. “These resonate with me.” Her recent favorites? A story on Kid President, a 10-year-old boy with brittle bone disease whose homemade videos went viral. “I always root for the underdog,” she says. Then there is the story of Diana Nyad who, after several failed attempts, finally swam from Cuba to Florida at the age of 64. This story appealed to Quijano because she takes to heart the message that failure is never final. “For many people who are struggling with whatever they have in their life, [Nyad] represents this goal — that you should do what you do. It’s a human story told within the parameters of a swim.”

When asked if she identifies with the underdog and what she had to overcome in her own history, she refuses to go there. “We’re not ones to navel gaze,” she says, referring to herself and her Filipino American family. “You do what you must.” For Quijano, failure is not an option, and it certainly does not have the last word. It barely registers on her mental barometer. She is too busy. She has stories to tell.

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

Phyllis Chen Proves Toy Piano Ain’t No Child’s Play

Story by Jimmy Lee. 

When you tell people you play the toy piano professionally, hearing snickers or getting a blank stare just comes with the territory. It’s something Phyllis Chen is not unfamiliar with.

“People used to turn their noses when they heard I played classical music as well,” says Chen. “But that’s OK. That’s not a major concern of mine.”

The more pressing matters on her mind include finishing her latest commission, a composition for string orchestra and toy piano, which she will debut in April in Austin, Texas.

Chen is just one of a few musicians demonstrating that the toy piano is not just a plaything for children. “When I touched it, it was like how I felt about the piano. I just loved the tactile experience of playing it and fell in love with the bell-like sound,” says Chen, who first came across the miniaturized instrument when she was 21 (it was being used as a prop in a puppet theater). Now she’s composing new pieces and releasing CDs highlighting the toy piano. “I knew that there wasn’t a lot of music out there for it, and it made me feel like I can create new repertoire for something that doesn’t have boundaries and the traditional thinking that is expected in classical music.”

There is, however, a lot of misconceptions about what Chen does. For one, she is not anything like Schroeder of the Peanuts comics and cartoons, playing Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” on her toy piano. And she’s not the child whom producers from The Tonight Show with Jay Leno assumed she was when they inquired about her appearing — they weren’t interested in adult toy pianists, apparently. And some people who venture into one of her concerts might walk in with wacky expectations, like the one time a few audience members told Chen they thought she was going to be a miniature pianist (as in a small person).

“It’s a profession filled with misunderstandings,” says Chen.

Another refrain she hears often is that people who hear toy piano automatically assume it’s music meant for kids. But what she’s playing is verging on the avant-garde, and could even be construed as too arty; it’s music not for the masses. One of the first pieces she performed publicly was written by John Cage, the master modern composer most notorious for “4”33’,” which is 4 minutes and 33 seconds of the orchestra sitting in silence.

So how does a classically trained pianist, who started playing at the age of 5 and has music degrees from Oberlin (undergrad) and Northwestern (master’s) and is nearing completion of her doctorate from Indiana University, end up behind a toy piano? For Chen, it started with tendinitis that affected her hands. The doctors told her to take a break from the piano. “In a way, it was a blessing in disguise. It gave me the actual chance to do my own thing,” says Chen.

Her hands, since childhood, have gravitated toward sonic-producing objects. She was the one who wanted to start the piano at age 5, not her immigrant Taiwanese parents, who moved Chen, born in Schenectady, N.Y., and her brother to the South when she was 1, after her father became a professor at Virginia Tech. “Now, thinking about it, I rented bassoons, oboes, clarinets and flutes — all these things when I was a kid. I just wanted to get my hands on them and play them,” recounts Chen. “It was again the tactile experience.”

She does still play the piano, often with the International Contemporary Ensemble that she co-founded. She has also tackled the violin and yet another keyboard instrument: “I was completely in love with the accordion, and I totally thought I would become an accordion player,” says Chen. She even joined a klezmer band, but bearing it on her shoulders was too much while dealing with her tendinitis. The toy piano, on the other hand, “was an easy instrument to play because of the light touch.”

Chen exhibited that touch at a concert last September at New York City’s Joe’s Pub, while seated on a short stool. Yet she still loomed large over two toy pianos, one in the shape of an upright and the other a baby grand. You not only hear the bell-like tinkling of the notes she plays, but also the movement of the keys as they’re being depressed. And it’s really noticeable when Chen’s fingers are flying across the few octaves that fit on the keyboards. Her instruments project a clangy sound that dissipates quickly. There are no rich, resonant tones that you’d expect from a concert Steinway. And Chen is perfectly fine with that.

“[Toy pianos are] really kind of like a voice. They all have their own weird quirks,” says Chen. “It’s funny, but I’ve met instrument makers who say, you should put this into maple wood, and I could tune it for you [to make it more like a real piano]. Well, then, it’s not a toy piano if it’s perfect, beautiful sounding.”

With the toy piano, there are no unwritten rules to be bound by. Rather, the toy piano is pushing Chen to be a better artist. “I don’t feel as musically stuck anymore, or stifled by the classical tradition,” she says. “Now I could finally give myself the permission to do whatever I want and take responsibility for it.”

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

FAKY: A Multiethnic J-Pop Group On The Rise

Story by Taylor Weik.

Japan has produced a number of girl bands over the years. You have Perfume, the vocal trio who formed in 2000 out of the talent academy Actors School Hiroshima. Then there’s AKB48, the 88-member group that has sold more than 21 mil- lion CDs worldwide. But no J-pop band has ever been compared to other international vocal groups, like Britain’s Little Mix or America’s Fifth Harmony. FAKY has been likened to both, and they have only been in existence for about a year.

It was last April at Avex Academy, a Japanese school for performing artists, that the five-member girl group formed. Tina, Lil’ Fang and Anna (at 21, the oldest and so-called leader of the group) had known each other through dance classes; Mikako was a part of the same program in a different region in Japan; and Diane was the winner of Avex Audition MAX 2013. Their name is “a combination of ‘fantastic’ and ‘Tokyo,’” says Tina, the youngest at 16. “Even though it sounds like ‘fake,’ we like to think we’re the most real group here in Japan.” Since FAKY’s formation, they have already released two music videos for their iTunes chart-topping singles “Better Without You” and “Girl Digger” (they sing in English and Japanese), and are currently putting the final touches on their debut album, due out in April.

Tina says she represents the reason why they consider themselves to be so “real” — the teenager is biracial Japanese American, born in Atlanta, Ga., where she lived for four years be- fore moving to Japan. There are two other bilingual members of the group: Diane, who is also biracial Japanese American, and Anna, who is Japanese but born in New Zealand. Though Lil’ Fang and Mikako were born and raised in Japan, they’re both learning English to help establish FAKY as a global sensation.

“What sets us apart from other J-pop groups is our independence,” says Tina, acknowledging the comparisons to various international groups. “We don’t wear the same clothes like others do. Each of us has a different personality and we’re multiethnic. We’re not identical robots!” Indeed, each member boasts varying vocal inspirations: Anna is a Britney Spears fan, Tina and Lil’ Fang prefer the strong vocals of Christina Aguilera and Beyoncé, Diane leans more Lady Gaga, and Mikako is heavily influenced by J-pop bands.

Their fans are surprisingly diverse as well. FAKY takes special pride in the fact that their fanbase is largest in Turkey, and they hope to be able to visit the country one day on a world tour.

Right now, the girls are concentrating on voice and dance lessons, flying out to Los Angeles last October for training and to establish themselves overseas in the U.S. FAKY’s biggest goal as a girl group is to become role models for young girls, the demographic they most appeal to. “We want to encourage girls to be independent and not feel pressured by society,” says Tina. “As multiethnic girls, sometimes it’s hard for Diane and me to live in Japan. There are moments we feel like outsiders there, and even when we come to America, where I was born, we still feel like we don’t belong. We’ve grown to have strong cores, and we want to help others do the same.”

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

Get Your Greens On

Story & Photos Christina Ng. 

With the exception of bok choy, most people are not all that familiar with Asian greens. But with springtime just around the corner and perhaps the novelty of salad waning, maybe it’s worth looking into. Asian greens are chock full of vitamins and contain a wide variety of textures. Unlike their western salad cousins, Asian greens are rarely eaten raw and can be quite filling as a dish. The best thing is most of these greens can be prepared in minutes and can satisfy whatever flavor mood you’re in.


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SAVORY: YU CHOY 

Yu choy or choy sum is a favorite in Chinese households. Both its mild flavor and firm yet tender texture make it an extremely versatile green. Depending on how old the yu choy is, the stalks can become mildly bitter and usually require a slight trimming before cooking. It’s usually sautéed with oil and garlic and topped off with a dollop of oyster sauce, which really brings out the yu choy’s sweetness. Yu choy is packed with iron and vitamins A and C, and has been referred to as a super green.

Yu Choy with Oyster Sauce

-Blanch yu choy in boiling water for 30 seconds to 1 minute depending on how crunchy you want the greens.

-In a pan, heat oil with chopped garlic until fragrant.

-Toss in yu choy and turn off the heat.


-Top with 1-2 tablespoons of oyster sauce and serve. 

 

 


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SWEET: CHINESE WATERCRESS

Chinese watercress is very similar in flavor to western watercress. The juicy stalks and peppery leaves lend itself well to soups, which is how the Chinese love to prepare watercress. As the watercress cooks, the pepperiness mellows and the leaves become sweeter. Watercress is known to be an anti-cancer superfood and is high in vitamins A, B, C and K and also in minerals like iron and calcium.

Sweet Watercress Soup

-Simmer 1⁄2 pound of cubed pork, a small handful of goji berries and a small handful of jujubes or dates with a quart of water for about 1 hour.

-Add in watercress and some cubed tofu and continue to simmer for an additional 20 minutes.


-Add salt to taste. 

 


Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 12.24.02 PMBITTER: BITTER MELON 

Bitter melon is similar to a lumpy, bitter cucumber, so by no means does its appearance or taste seem appealing, but surprisingly, bitter melon is very widely eaten across Asia. It’s packed with vitamin C and is used regularly in herbal medicines for digestion and diabetes. It’s also good in pork dishes, and many people will cook the melon with sugar or a sauce to diffuse the bitterness. Do remember to scoop out the center of the melon, as the insides are quite tough.

Bitter Melon with Minced Pork

- In a pot of boiling water, cook two bitter melons cut into 1⁄4-inch slices for 2-3 minutes.


- In a frying pan, brown 1⁄4 pound of minced pork with a teaspoon of minced garlic, soy sauce and rice wine. Add salt, pepper and sugar to taste.


-Toss in bitter melon and sauté for 30 seconds. Remove onto a plate.


- Deglaze pan with several tablespoons of water mixed with a little bit of cornstarch. Cook for 30 seconds until sauce thickens.


- Toss sauce with the meat and bitter melon. Serve warm.

 


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SPICY: TONG CHOY

The Chinese also call this water spinach kong xin cai, which literally translates to “hollow vegetable.” Tong choy is known for its crunchy, straw-like stalks. In the past, the green has been known to grow in waterways and canals, giving it the reputation of an unclean or unhealthy green. However, today tong choy is grown in farms across the U.S. and is a good source of vitamins A and C, folate and other minerals like magnesium and iron. Tong choy is traditionally eaten with fermented tofu, which is slightly fishy, spicy and creamy, and can be found in your local Asian grocery store. Some quick tips when cooking tong choy is to wash the stalks thoroughly as it does get very sandy. Also when cooking, try to put in the stalks first because it takes a little longer to cook than the more delicate leaves on top.

Tong Choy with Fermented Tofu

- Wash stalks thoroughly and cut stalks in half so that the bottom stalks are separated from the top leaves.


- In a pot of boiling water, cook stalks for about 3 minutes. Then put in leaves and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes.


- Drain and add several cubes of fermented tofu into the greens. Mix until cubes are creamy and well combined
.

 

 


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SOUR: SUAN CAI 

Sometimes referred to as the Chinese sauerkraut, suan cai is a lacto-fermented mustard green. Lacto-fermentation is different from pickling in that it doesn’t use vinegar, but instead uses the vegetable’s natural bacteria to ferment itself (like kimchi and sauerkraut). There are numerous health benefits associated with lacto-fermented foods, as it introduces good bacteria back into your body. The Chinese use it as a condiment, mixed with pork dishes or sprinkled on top of noodles. A word of caution: Although suan cai translates into “sour vegetable,” it is also very salty, so feel free to rinse the fermented greens prior to serving.

Minced Mustard Greens

-Chop packaged mustard greens into a fine dice.

-Put on top of noodles, mix with ground meat or use as a condiment. 

 

 

 

 

 

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

ON THAT NOTE: Clara C

FULL NAME Clara Fisher

HERITAGE Korean American

AGE 26

CLAIM TO FAME After an eventful year (she got married, hence the name, and she released an acoustic album, Organika), the New York native singer-songwriter is currently working on, in her own words, “*drum roll*… Brand Spankin’ New Songs!”

Go-to karaoke song: “Forgot about Dre” or “Always Be My Baby.”

Last time I cried: Laughing with my friends.

Always makes me laugh: Stand up comedy.

Go-to comfort food: Ramen. No joke. I’m an addict and recently gave myself an intervention.

Last thing I ate: Garlic brussel sprouts, roasted butternut squash and agedashi tofu.

Currently on “repeat” on my iPod: Pharrell’s “Happy.” Trying not to listen to it too much because I don’t ever want to feel annoyed by hearing it.

A guilty pleasure I don’t feel guilty about: The. Spice. Girls.

Current favorite place: Any tropical waterside location. I dream of moving to Hawaii.

Favorite drink: I’m a whiskey lover with a growing collection.

Current obsession: DIY things. I’ve been building my own furniture, and it’s so addicting. It’s arts & crafts meets functional avant-garde artistry!

Pet peeve: Bad smells (breath, body odor, feet, etc.).

Habit I need to break: Hot Fries, Hot Cheetos, Hot Cheetos Puffs … the whole damn Hot Cheetos family needs to leave me alone! Or rather, I need to leave them alone.

Hidden talent: Latin ballroom dancing, i.e. salsa, mambo.

Talent I’d like to have: Drawing. Although my stick figures will give yours a run for their money.

Word or phrase I most overuse: I try never to over- use words or phrases. Keep it fresh on the daily.

Someone you follow on Twitter we’d be surprised about: I just logged in to see and I have no clue why or when I started following Harry Styles of One Direction.

Greatest fear: Spiders. Nasty little buggers.

Motto: Live, love, learn, laugh.

What’s cool about being Asian: Getting cash- money on New Year’s and Korean food.
My job in another life: Actress!

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

VOICES CARRY

Story by Ada Tseng. 

In so many ways, music defines a generation or a culture, giving us the soundtrack to our multilayered, bicultural landscape. And the 10 women we highlight here not only lay it all on the line and bare their souls in their music but, each in their own way, do much to round out a picture of what it is to be an Asian woman in America. Our cover girl Yuna defies the modern definition of pop star with her inimitable voice juxtaposed with a girl-crush-worthy style of chic turbans and covered-up ensembles. We have the gossamer voiced Priscilla Ahn, whom we feel like we’ve grown with as her life journey (and music) goes from melancholy to bliss. Then there’s the flame-haired Hmong American hard rocker and an indefinable artist whose voice is featured in one of the hottest hits of the year. From sweet little ditties to feminist anthems, from odes written in the throes of love to songs that feel more like a cathartic purging, their music moves us, inspires us, rocks us. Take a glimpse into the meaning and memories behind the melodies.


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1) YUNA
“The Malaysian singer has gotten a lot of questions about her Muslim heritage since her debut in the United States, a country not accustomed to seeing a pretty girl in a turban singing and strumming her guitar onstage…” CLICK HERE to read the full story.


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2) AWKWAFINA
“Nora Lum — the Chinese- Korean American rapper known as Awkwafina— admits that her catchy moniker doesn’t really mean anything. She chose it mostly because it sounded ridiculous as a rap name…” CLICK HERE to read the full story. 


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3) PRISCILLA AHN
“Priscilla Ahn — the biracial Korean American singer-songwriter — was so skilled at creating music from feelings of sadness and loneliness that when she suddenly found herself happily married, she realized she was a bit lost. “ CLICK HERE to read full story.


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4) ALLEY HER
“The fiery, scarlet-haired vocalist of the alternative metal band Fields of Prey never even listened to hard rock before she met her friend and former bandmate Ricardo Guevara in 2010. “All the screaming frightened me, to be honest,” remembers Alley Her…” CLICK HERE to read the full story.


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5) HOLLIS WONG-WEAR
“That girl singing the hook from Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ hit song “White Walls?” That would be Hollis Wong-Wear, a frequent collaborator with the Grammy-winning hip-hop duo — and the one who inspired Macklemore to write a song about his Cadillac…” CLICK HERE to read the fully story. 


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6) CHHOM NIMOL
“Chhom Nimol, 35, the lead singer of the Los Angeles band Dengue Fever, is part of a family of well-known musicians in Cambodia. Chhom’s brothers and sisters taught her how to sing while they were growing up in a refugee camp in Thailand…” CLICK HERE to read the full story. 


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7) TERESA LEE
“While the 28-year-old is counting down the days to new motherhood (“I know this sounds insane, but I swear the baby is tapping out very distinct rhythms in my belly,” says Lee), she continues to write music and can’t wait to take their child on tour with them one day…” CLICK HERE to read the full story.


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8) NADIA ALI
“Nadia Ali first garnered attention in 2001 for her band iiO’s hit single “Rapture,” the quintessential early 2000s dance song that inspired partygoers to get on their feet and lose themselves amongst the strobe lights…” CLICK HERE to read the full story.


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9) THAO NGUYEN
“The first song I ever wrote was a rap song in the third grade. I had a choice to write a book report on Charlotte’s Web or to do something else, so I wrote a rap about Charlotte’s Web. My secret dream was to become a rapper, so it was a no- brainer that I would do a rap song at that age….” CLICK HERE to read the full story. 


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10) CARISSA RAE
“One day in 2011, at a friend’s music video shoot, she met a boy, a fellow singer-songwriter named Michael Alvarado, and little did she know that after three hours of talking and laughing, he had told his friend he was going to marry her…” CLICK HERE to read the full story.

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

 

‘PIONEER GIRL’ BY BICH MINH NGUYEN

Story by Susan Soon He Stanton.

Engaging, humorous and unexpectedly suspenseful, Bich Minh Nguyen’s Pioneer Girl is the story of Lee Lien’s literary pilgrimage to uncover a mystery that connects Rose Wilder, the daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder, to Lee’s own family. Lee, the child of Vietnamese immigrants, grew up in the Midwest. Her perpetually dissatisfied widowed mother shuttles Lee, her brother Sam and her grandfather from town to town as they struggle to make a living running generic Asian-themed buffets catering to Americans. A gold pin that Lee’s grandfather received from a woman named Rose in Saigon causes Lee, a frustrated, out-of-work scholar, to speculate that the pin originally belonged to Laura Ingalls Wilder. Lee abandons her mother and their restaurant to embark on a cross-country adventure, discovering secrets hidden within Rose Wilder’s papers. Reappropriating the American classic Little House on the Prairie series to echo Lee’s transient upbringing in the heartland, Nguyen’s striking prose spins a multi-generational tale that investigates the narrative we use to create our family histories. Nguyen speaks with Audrey Magazine about her latest novel.

Q: Can you talk about your inspiration for intersecting the life of a young Vietnamese American woman with the Little House on the Prairie saga?

Bich Minh Nguyen: As a child, I strongly identified with Laura Ingalls Wilder. Her family was always looking for a home, a right home, where they wanted to be. In the back of my mind, it resonated with me as an immigrant story. I came to America in 1975, and I think what my family went through in resettling paralleled the Little House on the Prairie books I was reading.

I wanted to create a link between Lee’s family and the Ingalls. Both the Ingalls and the Liens are constantly moving. A phrase used in the Little House books is “itchy wandering foot.” The pioneer spirit is the belief that there’s got to be something better if we just keep moving — we just need to find out what’s beyond those hills, what’s beyond the visible horizon — and that feeling can be intoxicating.

Q: Lee is discriminated against for being an Asian American Wharton scholar. She’s constantly pushed towards ethnic lit. Is that something you’ve come up against while writing this book?

BMN: It can be difficult for writers of color to write about people who are not of their own background, without facing some kind of criticism. There’s a belief held by many people that if you are a person of color, you should only be writing about your own experience. When I began, many people were puzzled why an Asian American would be interested in writing a story involving Little House on the Prairie. The notion was that these books are so iconically American, why would an Asian American be interested? I wanted to question that questioning, to create a narrative of the Rose Wilder stories with the story of the protagonist, Lee.

Q: Lee makes some pretty juicy discoveries about Rose Wilder’s personal life. How much of it is true?

BMN: I took a ton of liberties. However, I did spend a lot of time reading Rose’s journals at the archives. But Lee’s theft of archival materials is made up. It’s not something that I would do myself, but I love imagining it. The Rose Wilder Lane papers in Iowa are cataloged in a fairly messy way. I was surprised there were so many souvenirs and trinkets jumbled together, and the thought crossed my mind, “Boy, you could just take one of these things.” Every once in a while a scholar will find a treasure trove of lost letters. I’ve always loved this idea. You’re an ordinary scholar, and you make an accidental and incredible discovery.

In Rose’s papers, I did find a photograph of a Vietnamese man that she took while in Saigon. The photo struck a chord. I thought, maybe she really did develop friendships there. It was the first connection I could make between something having to do with Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Vietnamese American experience.

 

Q: Your descriptions of the pseudo-Asian buffets in small Midwestern towns are appalling and fascinating. Did you have a lot of experience eating at those buffets growing up?

BMN: I did. And for research purposes, I had to go back. I went to the worst ones, the most grimy and rundown. For years it fascinated me that these restaurants are in the middle of nowhere but are somehow surviving and run by Asian people. They serve corn syrupy fast food. It’s really American food more than Asian.

Q: Lee’s brother, Sam, chooses to move to San Francisco to be around other Asians. You grew up in the Midwest, but you have recently moved to San Francisco. Can you speak more about your motivation to relocate Sam?

BMN: When I wrote Pioneer Girl, I was living in the Midwest. I had no idea that I would ever move to the Bay Area. Part of the Midwestern experience for me is conflicted. When I was growing up there, I always thought, this is where we are, this is our home. However, there’s a longing to see what the coasts are like because all you ever hear is that life is on the coasts, in California or New York, and the middle is just fly-over country. I wanted there to be a character who not only felt that way but did something about it. But it’s not a positive thing Sam does; it’s a selfish thing, and that’s what happens to a lot of Midwesterners who leave. It can feel like you are abandoning something. I wanted to get at that feeling.

Details Hardcover, $26.95, bichminhnguyen.com.

 

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

VOICES CARRY: Carissa Rae

Story by Ada Tseng. 

In so many ways, music defines a generation or a culture, giving us the soundtrack to our multilayered, bicultural landscape. And the 10 women we highlight here not only lay it all on the line and bare their souls in their music but, each in their own way, do much to round out a picture of what it is to be an Asian woman in America. Our cover girl Yuna defies the modern definition of pop star with her inimitable voice juxtaposed with a girl-crush-worthy style of chic turbans and covered-up ensembles. We have the gossamer voiced Priscilla Ahn, whom we feel like we’ve grown with as her life journey (and music) goes from melancholy to bliss. Then there’s the flame-haired Hmong American hard rocker and an indefinable artist whose voice is featured in one of the hottest hits of the year. From sweet little ditties to feminist anthems, from odes written in the throes of love to songs that feel more like a cathartic purging, their music moves us, inspires us, rocks us. Take a glimpse into the meaning and memories behind the melodies. 


Filipino American singer Carissa Rae Alvarado, born and raised in Southern California, first started appearing in YouTube videos in 2008, crooning covers of Alicia Keys and Michelle Branch when she was still in high school. One day in 2011, at a friend’s music video shoot, she met a boy, a fellow singer-songwriter named Michael Alvarado, and little did she know that after three hours of talking and laughing, he had told his friend he was going to marry her.

A year later, there was a ring on her finger, and their individual YouTube followings only grew when they shared their proposal and wedding videos with their fans online. Eventually, Carissa Rae and Michael also officially combined their singing personas to create the duo called Us. In addition to their love songs about different stages of their relationship, their 270,000 subscribers can’t get enough of their general adorableness. The 23-year-old recalls how they got all their friends and family to sing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” her favorite karaoke song, at their wedding reception. She admits to being scared of whales since she was 8. She loves jump roping. And they post new videos every “ThUSday.”

“My husband always knows how to make me laugh,” she gushes. “Even if it’s just a silly face he makes. I always tell him he is the most handsome and most ugly person I’ve ever met, because he can make some of the nastiest faces ever, and it just cracks me up!”

The duo recently released their sophomore pop/folk album No Matter Where You Are last November.

First Song: The very first song I wrote was about love. I was about 15 years old when I wrote it. It was basically about when you literally are so in love (in this case, it was puppy love) with a person, he or she is all you can think about. So no matter where you go, you see that person’s face.

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder: My husband and I were in a long-distance relationship for a while when we were dating. He lived in North Carolina, and I was in California, so one way that we coped with the distance was writing songs about it. “Near or Far,” which is on our first self-titled album, speaks about how we don’t need to worry about the miles in between us, that I’ll always be right there with him in his heart. This song was a wonderful reminder to stay strong and never give up on us even though distance was tough.

Favorite Music of the Moment: Lorde’s album Pure Heroine has been [playing] on repeat lately. She is such a wonderful songwriter!

Instrument Envy: I’d love to learn how to play an upright bass. The instrument itself, along with the sounds it makes, just fascinates me.

Guilty Pleasure: Excessive shopping is a habit that I need to break. I personally love shopping and can’t get enough of it, but my wallet (and my hubby) aren’t as thrilled when it comes to new clothes. If I weren’t doing music right now, I’d probably be working in fashion.

Fall in love with Carissa Rae at AudreyMagazine.com/carissarae.

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

VOICES CARRY: Thao Nguyen

Story by Ada Tseng. 

In so many ways, music defines a generation or a culture, giving us the soundtrack to our multilayered, bicultural landscape. And the 10 women we highlight here not only lay it all on the line and bare their souls in their music but, each in their own way, do much to round out a picture of what it is to be an Asian woman in America. Our cover girl Yuna defies the modern definition of pop star with her inimitable voice juxtaposed with a girl-crush-worthy style of chic turbans and covered-up ensembles. We have the gossamer voiced Priscilla Ahn, whom we feel like we’ve grown with as her life journey (and music) goes from melancholy to bliss. Then there’s the flame-haired Hmong American hard rocker and an indefinable artist whose voice is featured in one of the hottest hits of the year. From sweet little ditties to feminist anthems, from odes written in the throes of love to songs that feel more like a cathartic purging, their music moves us, inspires us, rocks us. Take a glimpse into the meaning and memories behind the melodies.  


Born and raised in Virginia, Vietnamese American Thao Nguyen began playing guitar and writing songs as a pre-teen, before starting the alternative folk rock band Thao & The Get Down Stay Down with two of her College of William & Mary classmates in 2005. Last year, after years of touring and numerous albums, Thao & The Get Down Stay Down released their third full-length record, We the Common, which was inspired by Nguyen’s volunteer work at the California Coalition for Women Prisoners in San Francisco, Calif. The title track, “We The Common [For Valerie Bolden]” is dedicated to the first prisoner Nguyen ever met. Though Bolden, who is serving life without parole, has not heard the song — there are strict rules about bringing music into prison — Nguyen has read her the lyrics. “I just had a very intense interaction with her that stayed with me,” remembers the 29-year-old. “She talked about how she doesn’t want to die in there. She wants to see her daughter. I was struck by how lighthearted and casual our conversation was, yet it was punctuated with very poignant moments.”

“The Feeling Kind,” their latest music video for another single off the new album, made local news when the California Highway Patrol had to halt the shoot mid-production. It was the first music video to be shot on the new San Francisco-Oak- land Bay Bridge after it opened last September. “We had a salsa dancer dressed in full carnival regalia,” explains Nguyen, “and the outfit was beautiful but also revealing. I think traffic on the bridge came to a dead stop.” Luckily, they had gotten enough footage to make the parade-themed video.

After finishing up their We the Common tour early this year, Nguyen and her bandmates will begin working on their new album, tentatively scheduled for early 2015.

First Musical Memory: Listening to Smokey Robinson for the first time on the radio. And playing my brother’s Casio keyboard.

First Song: The first song I ever wrote was a rap song in the third grade. I had a choice to write a book report on Charlotte’s Web or to do something else, so I wrote a rap about Charlotte’s Web. My secret dream was to become a rapper, so it was a no- brainer that I would do a rap song at that age.

Best Advice: When I was 17 and living in Virginia, in the suburbs of D.C., I went to a small coffee shop show to see one of my favorite musicians, Erin McKeown. I got her to sign something, and I told her, “My dream is to do what you do.” And she was very direct and straightforward with me. She said, “It’s not a dream. You just do it.” I took that to heart, and she was right.

Inspirations: I looked up to Chrissie Hynde from The Pretenders, Cowboy Junkies and country blues players. I didn’t know any Asian American musicians when I was growing up, so I want young [Asian American] girls today to see that it’s a possibility to make music your career.

 

Check out Thao & The Get Down Stay Down at AudreyMagazine.com/thaonguyen

 

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

Dating Culture Shock: The Good, Bad and Fetishism of Modern-Day Dating in Japan

Story by Paul Nakayama. 

After decades of the singles scene in America, columnist Paul Nakayama discovers the good, bad and fetishism of modern-day dating in his ancestral home of Japan. 

Why would I forsake the moderate temperatures of Los Angeles and spend six weeks in the freezing, ball-numbing winters of Japan? The same reason I’ve always tortured myself— a girl. Well, and ramen. Really, really good ramen. But mostly, it’s for a girl. And while I was there, I made a few observations about the dating scene in Japan. They aren’t about my personal experiences per se, because this is my column and not my diary — I mean, journal. Men don’t keep diaries … not that I keep a journal. Wow, jet lag is nature’s crystal meth.

I should start by explaining that I was in Fukuoka, which is in southwestern Japan. If Tokyo, where I usually party in Japan, is like New York, then Fukuoka is like Chicago. In Fukuoka, like Chicago, people tend to get married while they’re still in their 20s or early 30s. So many of my girlfriend’s friends were already married. Otherwise, the first words from the single ones to me were, “Do you know any single men?”

Despite the marital aspirations of most of the people I met in Fukuoka, there was a contradictory and disappointing social trend, one that I’ve seen often in Asia. Cheating is a common occurrence. I don’t know the official numbers, but I met a lot of married men with mistresses and a lot of girls that were dating married men. It’s no surprise that in 2013 AshleyMadison.com (the affair-friendly website) made Japan its first Asian market. You can’t see my face, but I’m frowning, like I’m tempted to drive around Japan in a pickup with a TV in the back streaming Before Midnight.

But to get back on a positive note and to get back to the single people that are in search of true love, how do they find one another in Japan? While online dating is on the rise, the predominant method is undeniably the goukon, or group blind date. Basically, it’s a system where a single man and woman who know each other invite approximately four friends to meet at a restaurant or gastropub. It’s safer and less stressful. And genius. Oh, how I wish this could’ve been a possibility in my earlier years. The money saved from failed first dates aside, I — I mean, my friends — would’ve been spared all the emotional scars of humiliation. You know, like those horrible moments of dance-walking up to a girl at a club where she vehemently shakes her head “no,” and then having to shuffle back to the bar in shame. At goukon events, it becomes pretty clear who’s interested in whom, and it’s already established that everyone there is looking for something serious, meaning attendees can’t use the “I’m not ready for a relationship” line.

As great as goukons are, they aren’t infallible. Everyone is a friend of a friend, so at least there’s a level of trust. But honestly, how many of you know the sexual proclivities of your friends? Whenever my friends start dropping details, I cover my ears and sing Katy Perry songs. I heard this great/awful story of one goukon match gone awry. Apparently, they dated for a few weeks, but the guy always came up with some excuse not to let her go to his apartment. She finally found out why: he was an underwear fetishist with huge stashes of ladies’ used underwear. He’d buy them from vending machines. (They actually exist! I was as shocked as you to learn that it’s not an urban legend.) He’d even wear them to work. I may be embellishing at this point, but he might have peed on her, too. You know, I take it back. Goukons are perfect. Someone please go out there, host a goukon event and send your favorite stories to the Audrey office.

Now, once you’re dating, Japan has a whole slew of interesting and unique cultural options. For example, many people still live with their parents (or their spouses) and lack privacy, so many couples go to “love hotels,” which is essentially an upscale, usually gimmicky, pay-by-the-hour motel. They usually come equipped with karaoke, which is what I like to combine with sex (I didn’t watch porn growing up; I watched music videos). Another interesting difference is in the holidays. Christmas is Japan’s Valentine’s Day. It’s the busiest night of the year for restaurants. Interestingly, on Valentine’s Day in Japan, girls give chocolates to boys. Then a month later, on White Day, boys reciprocate. I don’t quite understand it, but it is kind of sweet.

It was a fascinating experience to hear everyone’s dating stories during my time in Fukuoka. In my case, I’m a Japanese American dating a Japanese girl, so I suppose we can pick and choose the best of both dating cultures. I like the idea of having two major romantic holidays, so we agreed to that. It was also comforting to both of us that I have no interest in wearing her underwear nor does she in mine. There are no love hotels in the U.S., at least not of the same hygienic and entertaining quality as found in Japan, so any music we make in the bedroom will have to be of our own making. Katy Perry, anyone?

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