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Wrapped up my East Coast week. SO MUCH TRAVEL. Phew. Some reflections.
OBAMA: I shook President Obama's hand and it was firm AND supple.
THE MAN MOISTURIZES.
What surprised me is after I tell people we shook hands a NUMBER of them had the same immediate follow up question: "WHAT DID HE SMELL LIKE?"
Dude. We didn't make out.
If I got close enough to sniff his musk I think the sniper stationed above the ballroom of the gala would've gotten me. RULE No 1: NO SUDDEN MOVEMENTS AROUND POTUS.
Three of us from the LA area (Jason Fong, Tanzila Ahmed and me!) chatted for the LA Times about being awarded the White House Champions of Change in Art & Storytelling. LOOK AT OUR FACES!
I flew my parents and one of my brothers out to share the experience with me. My parents are older so it was a little of a schlep. But for what little they've seen of my actual work, being able to celebrate this honor was worth it. HUGE thanks to my brother Tom who was a great parents chaperone.
Below: adapted from my Instagram reflections.
#HUNTERCOLLEGE > WHITE HOUSE > DARTMOUTH
// no. 1 // 5.2.16
I love the students who bring me out to speak and perform. They are always the most passionate and most active students on campus. I love them for it. Balancing their home expectations with schoolwork and student organizing. I get to meet my kindred spirits EVERYWHERE. I got a pretty great job.
HUNTER COLLEGE #CRAASH students tend to be from the New York area, most of them opting to attend this public university because it is still top-notch but affordable. I was struck by how the students are so tightly policed by a super power-trippy culture of public safety officers and staff. I was surprised how concerned they were about not seeing an East Coast Asian American identity and feeling like it would all be "less than" the robust West Coast culture they witness on YouTube videos. We also covered even deeper, more private ground. One takeaway I suggested was that they can use storytelling and art to shape their own narrative...they can unify their own sense of what an East Coast Asian American identity looks like.
I think we watered some seeds. I'm excited to see that happen.
* * *
HUNTER COLLEGE > #WHITEHOUSE > DARTMOUTH
// no. 2 // 5.4.16
This photo was taken by Sarah Ha a few seconds before I had a chance to shake POTUS' hand. My DC buddy Christine Minji Chang (actor and director of Kollaboration) and I anticipated his arrival in the program so we hustled to the very front of the room, Asian squatting against the press barrier.
For a hot second I thought I should say or do something wacky to get his attention then I was like, "Um there are snipers stationed overhead in this ballroom and an anxious secret service bro two feet from me. I don't want to become a security incident."
The first thing that came to my mind when I heard I was one of the #WHChamps in art and storytelling was, "Wait..there are so many other people who should be recognized." Then I thought, "Welp. This is a nice honor and good publicity so I'll take it." I wasn't even thinking about inviting my family until fellow honoree and dear friend Taz Ahmed told me her whole family was flying out.
Why didn't I think to invite them?
Honestly, I've lived in such an independent way in the English language and American culture away from my family in both my personal and professional life I've been very compartmentalized. After showing my parents that I had good grades during school years, there was little validation I sought in my life from them other than staying healthy, fed and making enough money to contribute to their needs. I was the youngest of three, most Americanized and now a comedian. I have gotten used to navigating American culture on my own and through support and resources outside of my family.
But this award was from "The White House" - something that clearly communicated "importance" to my immigrant parents. It's the most American of validations that says to them this thing I've been doing has been of value. That this isn't just some detour I'm taking along my real life journey. That perhaps this career change from politics was worth something. For that. I am thankful.
And I am thankful my brother was able to take time off of work to accompany my parents to fly to DC just to attend this two hour event. It ended up being exactly what needed to happen.
* * *
HUNTER COLLEGE > WHITE HOUSE > #DARTMOUTH
// no. 3 // 5.5.16
The activists at Dartmouth get pushback from this Greek life-dominated Ivy league campus. Terms like "Social Justice Warriors" and "political correct" are used to put down their work.
These are the students organizing Pan-Asian Pacific American activities during heritage month and the ones pushing for #AsianAmericanStudies. By inviting me to their campus, it is one of the few spaces carved out JUST FOR THEM. I made fun of the white students in the audience and joked not to worry about them because they'll be just fine when they walk back out into the larger college campus.
This is the truth. Our worries are different. And we need space to share notes and uplift each other.
The Asian American student group had put up a long chain of self portraits like the one, strung up in the atrium of Collis, one of the student centers. I noticed the title was LOVING #MyAsianAmericanStory (inspired by fellow champ Jason Fong's Internet campaign). It's of each student looking in the mirror with a defiant statement about their identity written on the mirror.
Seeing this made me a little sad. The undercurrent to this display is that as Asian Pacific Americans we need to affirmatively see ourselves in a LOVING way. That this is a pushing back to the many UNLOVING messages that we hear and that we tell ourselves.
I want a world where this type of defiant act of self-love is no longer necessary for our happiness and survival.
The students at Dartmouth laughed hard and long at my show. Then some of us got really good gelato. A solid evening spent.