Sorika Wolf, 30’s-40’s
I'm an actress and screenwriter.
What racial, ethnic, cultural community or communities do you identify with?
Tell us about your family story.
My father fled the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. I’m told he watched his mother being killed before his eyes. My mother, after putting her siblings through school, was in search of more opportunities. They met in Thailand and immigrated to Quebec City, Canada, where I grew up.
What are the strengths and challenges of being Cambodian-Filipino and Asian?
Well, let’s start with the strengths. Having come from immigrant parents who sacrificed a tremendous amount to offer me the life I have makes me appreciate every moment. I often see people complaining about what are essentially privileges in their lives and because of my personal history, I can find something to be grateful for in every moment. Even the hardest ones that shake me to my core. Thanks to my upbringing, I can have a very grounded mantra of: We do what we have to do to get to where we want to be and – and we enjoy it. That’s it.
Challenges are multi-faceted with lots of gray. I always speak of these candidly, because for me, removing the heaviness is how I create room for insight:
Having a mixed-Asian background - Cambodian-Filipino - has often made me feel rejected among my Asian peers. In Quebec, the N-word was the weapon of choice that the racists threw my way (it’s kind of funny how you can be an awful person who also sucks at being awful…). Unbeknownst to me, that was also the racial slur American soldiers used against native Filipinos during the Philippine-American war...
Though I mainly identify as Asian, the genetic history of both Cambodia and the Philippines make it so I have a lot of other magic in my blood. I get dark in the sun, my hair curls, and baby, this girl gets freckles...This is not what White America – or some Asians for that matter – envision as “Asian.” Early on in my career, I was actually told multiple times that I was not “Asian-enough.” This lit a painful and angry fire in me that – luckily for me – fueled determination. Who gets to decide what I am, right? My pride and identity are mine and mine alone. You would think that’s a given. But unfortunately, it is not.
One complex challenge in storytelling, that contributes to larger societal issues, is that often, BIPOC actors are only identified in broad strokes. Our background – be it Vietnamese, Columbian, Guyanese, Hmong, Abenaki, Sudanese, Pakistani, Maori etc... is still rarely shared in specific and authentic ways and therefore, does not become knowledge. Lack of knowledge fuels fear, fuels micro-aggressions, fuels racism.
I realize that storytelling structures don’t always have room for it, but I appreciate when space is made to “name us.” For example, I will never forget when, on the show "Glow," Jenny Chey (played by Ellen Wong) corrects a White producer who calls her “oriental” and says, “I’m Cambodian.”
FYI people: “Oriental” should be reserved for rugs. Stop calling people rugs.
Currently, there is also this new habit going around among agents, managers, and white actors saying things like, “The role went ethnic” or “There’s no room for White people in Film and TV anymore.” This language needs to be exterminated from our lingo. It comes from the assumption that jobs automatically belong to a White person first and is theirs and theirs alone to lose.
Someone in one of my classes actually said that to me recently: “You look multi-ethnic, you are soooo lucky. I’m white, so I’m not getting auditions.” Yes. This person’s agent was the one who first expressed that thought. Yes, this person believed it without question. And although what I wanted to say was a variation of “WTF, you need to die,” I instead opened the discussion up and attempted to make this classmate realize how the root of that comment is xenophobic and racist. It’s the same as saying, “The existence of BIPOC individuals is the reason for my failures.” #dontlookatmetakeresponsibilityforyourself
Tell us more about what you do!
As you probably guessed from my previous answers, I am an actress with training in both screenwriting and sketch writing. I’ve also trained in various fight styles, though, it’s been a minute, so while I can still kick your ass, I might not be as technically correct in the ass-kicking as I used to be.
Where can we see your work?
I was on episode 214 of FBI: Most Wanted (CBS). I played Agent Lisa Moss, an agent with the Joint Terrorism Task Force in DC.
Interesting timing with all the Anti-Asian sentiment currently going around.
Actually, yes. I didn’t think about it when I booked the role. I hadn’t thought about how someone who looks like me being casted as Agent Lisa Moss – someone in a position of power, fighting FOR the country – would positively impact the Asian community. At the time the episode aired, the wave of Asian hate destroying our communities was very evident. Three months prior, Noel Quintana was slashed in the NYC subway, then Vilma Kari was brutally assaulted on the way to church, then one after another, more stories of violence against people who looked like they could be my relatives... to the point where my Asian friends stopped going out alone and that I, scrappy as I am, would go out and just stare people in the eye, challenging them to say something racist to me.
Not a healthy habit. Definitely wouldn’t recommend it on Yelp.
After the episode aired, I got messages from members of both the Filipino and Khmer diaspora to a degree that really surprised me. To me, the role was like: OK, this is one day of filming in the life of a budding actress. Do-It-And-Next kind of thing. But what I initially saw as “just another rung on the ladder” actually had this awesome impact. And I was so grateful to be given the opportunity to embody how integral BIPOC communities are to American culture. Like Lisa Moss, we contribute huge parts of ourselves to this country!
Also, I don’t pretend to know the specific background of the series regulars on FBI: Most Wanted (other than the fact that they are genetically sequenced to Gulliver over me) but I do know that they are a diverse group of actors and that this is so important to see on our screens from week to week.
Anything else coming up?
Yes! I was in a class with a writer for Late Night with Seth Meyers, and he wrote me a bit in a sketch segment!
I also just got back from Connecticut where I was filming a supporting role in a fun Hallmark Christmas movie starring Lyndsy Fonseca (Disney + Turner and Hooch), who was such a wonderfully sharp and funny actress to work with.
I do have a couple of potential projects lined up for the upcoming month but mostly - It's back to the audition game! I'm very lucky to have such communicative teams on multiple coasts that work hard to get me seen. I'm confident that the next role is right around the corner.
Reflecting on how you grew up, what did you learn or appreciate from your family?
I grew up in a single mom household with 4 older brothers. My mom was always calling me dirty either because I tanned or because I got, well I got dirty, and to toughen me up, my brothers wavered between shoving me around and telling me I followed them home from the zoo. At the time, there was nothing humorous about it, but looking back on it, man does it make me chuckle.
In fact, my family always found the funny. My childhood was speckled with events that proved to be very arduous, and through it all, we always found joyful and genuine laughter. In my adulthood, I can see that it’s given me the ability to not let undesirable events weigh me down. I fail, laugh real hard, learn, and get back to it.
Do you speak your family's native language? Why or why not?
So, I grew up in French-Canada. I didn’t learn Khmer or Ilocano because getting me to speak French and English were the priorities. Flashback to me moving to the US with a thick French-Canadian accent... Oh man… that was... well, it was something… That being said, I did learn a little Khmer for a trip to Cambodia and I recently completed a language course in Tagalog!
What advice do you have for the younger generations in Cambodian-Filipino and Asian communities?
Ok. I have a couple Yoda-one-liners that have helped me so I will share them here:
- Examine the influence of colonialism on your behaviors. It’ll blow your shit away. (I’m sure there’s a more graceful way to say this... but alas, this is what I’ve got...)
- It is an honor to have something to sacrifice and something to sacrifice for.
- Instead of judging people, be curious about them.
- There is a fine line between assertiveness and disrespect.
- Don’t dilute your values/expectations of someone just because they have more, or less, than you.
- Stand for something. Then, don’t be afraid to adjust that stance as you change and grow.
- Ladies, don’t trust anyone who tells you to “act like a lady" (insert vomit in my mouth).
- Entitlement is a Karen’s middle name, and that shit is ugly.
And in honor of the years I spent slinging drinks in NYC – sometimes for 17 hours straight:
- If you’re an asshole, the bartender WILL make you cry.
What gives you the greatest joy in life?
Feeling how you can make an impact by being a genuine human interacting with others as genuine humans.
Thanks for taking a quick trip into my brain. I truly appreciate you holding space for me in your blog and for all the support you’ve given me on my journey.
I'll let you know when the Hallmark movie gets announced!
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This is a section for AAPI specifically because, coming from our Khmer culture, we often feel invisible in various spaces from school to the media.
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