Vivian Huang, 20’s
I serve as the Admin Specialist for the Cultural Programs Office at Seattle Center which is a department of the City of Seattle. The Cultural Programs Office manages 24 cultural festivals known as the Festál series, which are free and open to the public. I act as a liaison between the City and the community, supporting the relationship and communication in joint-producing events. Prior to working in the office, I served four years as the Marketing Chair of the Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month Celebration which is one of the cultural festivals.
What racial, ethnic, cultural community or communities do you identify with?
Chinese American or Asian American.
When and how did your family come to the United States? Where were you born?
I was born and raised in Seattle. In 1985, my maternal grandparents came to the United States, specifically Seattle, on a green card. At the time, my mom was 16 years old. In 1990, my dad came to the United States, specifically Phoenix, where he worked and lived with family. A few years later, my parents connected through relatives who lived in neighboring villages back in Mainland China. Eventually, my dad moved to Seattle and my parents were married, leading to my birth in 1994.
My maternal grandfather spent 30+ years as a tailor in Hong Kong. He was 18 years old when he left Mainland China to start training and work. He regularly sent money back to his family and single-handedly raised his three younger siblings. When he arrived to Seattle, he started working for The Bon Marché, which is now known as Macy’s. Growing up, my grandfather made many articles of clothing for my siblings and me.
My maternal grandparents lived through Chairman Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward (1958-1962) and the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). The Great Leap Forward was Mao’s five-year plan to industrialize and reconstruct China into a modern society. It can be similarly compared to the U.S. Industrial Revolution. However, millions of people died of starvation as a result of the Great Leap Forward and its policies.
In high school, I interviewed my grandma for my history project on the Great Leap Forward. She spoke about the Great Chinese Famine and her experience with starvation back then, but was too afraid to show her face on camera for fear of retribution from Mao’s followers and reign.
What are the strengths and challenges of being Asian, Asian American, and/or Pacific Islander?
A challenge has always been juggling my Asian (Chinese) culture with American culture. When I was younger, I saw this dilemma as a "this" or "that" issue. I thought I could only pick one and it needed to be the “right” one. Now, I know to pick and choose what values from each culture makes sense to me and build my own hybrid set of values to live by.
For example, respect your elders. This is such an important value to uphold in Asian, especially Chinese culture. Elders have an enormous amount of life experience and knowledge that younger people should value and hold to a high standard. However, on many occasions, my strong sense of justice tends to clash with this value of respecting one’s elders. I will not respect anyone who does not deserve it, even if they are my elder. I don’t mean to cause harm or disruption but it always seems to be an outcome when I question authority and stand up for myself. Why can’t we both be right? Instead, I am accused of being “too American” because I don’t hold myself to the same traditional values and ways of thinking. But, over the years, I have learned to create a new set of values for myself and hold myself accountable to those instead of allowing others to do it for me.
In response, a strength of being Asian American is living with two different perspectives and being open to new ideas. I want to point out the contradiction that lies in how I also see it as a challenge. I am always interested in learning about other cultures and ways of living. I recognize that people have different life experiences that have shaped who they are. I think about how language plays a role in how to interpret experiences because there are phrases and words in Chinese that don’t directly translate into English. There are different cultural norms and mannerisms to abide by, which can be offensive or complimentary – depending on the culture. Truly, it is a privilege to be Asian American and have the best of both worlds in a way.
What is your proudest accomplishment?
My proudest accomplishment is being the first in my family to graduate from a four-year university. I faced many barriers and dealt with pressure along the way but managed to persevere.
Unlike some families, my parents didn’t know anything about FAFSA, financial aid, or grants. I had to ask for help in filling out applications and applying for waivers. I also had to weigh the price I was willing to pay for my education and think about debt accumulation. I’m very grateful for the support network I had, which included College Possible Washington (formerly College Access Now).
Both sets of my grandparents did not finish school. They started working early to support their families. My dad only has a middle school education, while my mom finished a two-year college program. My maternal grandfather was extremely proud to see me graduate from the University of Washington which was more important to me than my degree. He worked hard at a young age to support his family, so it was a special moment for him to see his granddaughter achieve the opportunity he never had.
What is one thing you learned or appreciate from your family growing up?
Food has always been important in my family and my life. There are many customs and meaning behind food in Chinese culture. I’ve been lucky to have a dad who is a chef. He has worked in most Chinese restaurants in the Chinatown-International District, and it’s safe to say that I know where the best places are to eat!
Dim sum or "yum cha" (translated to: "drink tea") is generally a Cantonese style cuisine. I don’t speak Cantonese often but I definitely know how to order food when I go to eat dim sum. I also know and understand the customs for dim sum. For example, younger people should pour tea for the elderly. But the goal is to try pouring tea for everyone at the table as a sign of respect and manners. When someone pours tea for you, use 1 or more fingers and tap on the table next to your teacup to thank them. This custom dates back to the Qing Dynasty from a legend where the Qianlong Emperor was in disguise and poured tea for a servant. At the time, it was customary for servants to kneel and bow to the Emperor as thanks. But to maintain the Emperor’s cover, finger tapping was developed to show thanks, and actually imitates a servant "bowing." Finger tapping is also useful when people are in the middle of a conversation when tea is being poured. Dim sum is about gathering with people and having conversations rather than simply sharing a meal.
Do you speak your family's native language? Why or why not?
My family is from Kaiping, a city in the Guangdong Province, China. People in Kaiping speak a variant of the Toisanese/Taishanese dialect which is related to Cantonese. Cantonese is most commonly spoken in Guangdong, Hong Kong, and Macau. The official language of Mainland China is Mandarin.
I grew up learning both Kaiping and Cantonese. My maternal grandma speaks Kaiping and raised me for most of my life. I only speak Kaiping to her. At the same time, my mom and I used to watch Hong Kong TVB dramas and movies together which is how I learned to understand Cantonese. Plus, my family only communicated with me in Cantonese which helped me pick up the language. Once I started attending school, my proficiency in both Kaiping and Cantonese diminished and was overtaken by the need to learn English. I can still understand Cantonese and watch HK dramas without subtitles but I am more comfortable speaking Kaiping despite it being in broken phrases. I have friends who speak Cantonese, but don’t understand Kaiping, so I never feel comfortable speaking it around anyone but my grandma.
My biggest regret in life is not being fluent in these dialects. For me, language is so important in communicating with others and trying to bridge a gap.
What advice do you have for the younger generations in our Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander community?
My advice is seek to actively learn about your culture and identity. Do your own research and trust yourself in making the right decisions. We know ourselves best and need to keep accountable. The younger generations have access to tons of information and know more than I did at their age. The older generations need to support their decisions and include them in conversations at the table.
What gives you the greatest joy in life?
Simply, I enjoy helping others. I believe in giving back to the community or contributing in an impactful way. For most of my life, I have volunteered my time with non-profit organizations that have supported me, such as CISC-Seattle and College Possible Washington (formerly College Access Now). CISC-Seattle has a summer youth program that I was enrolled in when I was in elementary. Later, in high school, I returned to become a volunteer for that same program. I wanted to mentor and support the kids in the program in the same way that volunteers did for me. As I mentioned before, College Possible Washington supported me in getting to and through college. They also helped review my resumes, practice interviewing skills, and saw me through my first job. I’m always happy to sit on college panels and attend their fundraising events to speak with donors about how important their work is.
In my current role at Seattle Center, I see myself as a person who is supporting and advocating for community. If my work makes it easier for festival producers to meet, collaborate, learn, and produce a successful event, then I feel very accomplished. When I attend the cultural festivals, I am overjoyed to see visitors having a great time. I love learning about the different cultures and simply eating my way through the festival. It’s important and valuable for these communities to gather and celebrate what makes them unique. That is joy to me.
Are there any projects you have created that you'd like to share and promote?
There are a few links to articles/podcast/video that I participated in, related to talking about community and my Asian (Chinese) identity, located on my LinkedIn profile under the "Publications" section.
I have a description written underneath each one. Feel free to share or link to those. If you have any questions, let me know!
If you would like to share your voice as a person of color, please read the directions and fill out this form here. All ages, backgrounds, and generations welcome. Thank you!
Who are we?
Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander voices in our communities.
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.
We want to show the ways in which we are the same and different, and that all of our backgrounds and experiences are valuable to learn and celebrate. Let's uplift each other!
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