Remarkable Experiences of 2013

The year started off filled with building excitement for travel and marveling at art. I went to a travel expo where I not only sampled foods from all over the world, but also experienced cultural shows in the form of dance (Mexico) and music (Ireland).

Celebrating Chinese New Year in Chicago’s Chinatown and walking around in search of mooncakes (my fave!), rose tea and almond cookies. It’s also a year of baking when I can. I don’t do it much, but when I do, it’s always a delight. Making homemade biscotti in February with my aunt in Rogers Park was exciting, as making chocolate chip cookies and lemon cupcakes in December.

The beginning of the year was about anticipating the Art Institute’s Picasso exhibit. When I finally saw the exhibit, I understood the genius behind his work, which I once upon a time resisted. I was skeptical of his many works that carried the theme of a “woman’s profile,” because I did not see how elemental lines put together in a seeming disorder can depict the women he featured in his work, among other creatures. I saw the light on my first visit, and I returned 4 times more. I was amazed at the breadth of work this artist had created over the course of his life. And it compelled me to pay more attention to his public art installations all over the city of Chicago. I love understanding art, despite the struggle, especially comprehending what the artists is communicating through his work. Beyond Picasso, this year was also marked with multiple trips to this art museum, where I basked in Chagall’s windows many times over and drunk copious amounts of hot chocolate.

Studying on the go was one of the main activities in 2013. I read textbooks on the bus, highlighted academic papers while sipping coffee, studied presentations while eating lunch. In the bleakness of the winter, it was hard to do any other activity. It was a struggle to find joy, especially when your plate is packed with work, school and the minutiae of everyday life… and your environment is devoid of sunshine. Being someone who thrived in the sun, there were times in the winter when I couldn’t recognize myself. Nonetheless, I searched for beauty and found it.

In between the winter and spring quarters, I flew to Texas to lead a team in a social media competition, and we won second place!

Aside from museum trips, I also made sure to party like they do in advertising!

Friends and I celebrated July 4th this year with a delicious barbecue. Celebrating holidays and friendships more deliberately seemed like a recurring theme in the mid-year. I flew to San Francisco to find adventures in the city with my bestfriend Aiza and good friend Tracy.

And I was invited to speak at Stanford GSB to share my career journey and inspire college students!

When I got back to Chicago from SF, I visited my family in the suburbs for our family clan reunion, to meet with family who flew in from the East and West coasts (and Texas)!

And again, parties cannot be avoided when you work in advertising, and I made it to a Lollapalooza pre-bash with Rolling Stone magazine at Paris Club. Oh, and I also saw Janelle Monae (who always puts on a great show!) at The Vic in Lakeview.

2013 Collage 1

2013 has been good for my traveling spirit. I was one of the organizers of a class trip to bring 25 master’s students and 2 professors to Asia. We went around Beijing, Shanghai and Tokyo, met with top companies and their marketing executives, and connected with alumni in the region. I stayed in Asia for a week more and went to Singapore and Manila, where I networked with new acquaintances and spent time with family and friends. Perhaps one of the biggest gifts this trip brought me was helping me find, challenged me to redefine and learn how to assert my multifaceted identity (Asian, Southeast Asian, Filipino, American).

A huge thing I did this year was to apply for a Fulbright scholarship to Singapore. It was a grueling process and my application is now in review- a lengthy time period and I’m sure other applications are biting their nails anxiously for the decision as we speak. I’m still keeping ALL my fingers crossed for a positive outcome for this one. My research topic of focus is how media influences identity and how this identity can be turned into power, in the Southeast Asian context.

We welcomed fall 2013 with a homecoming party in Evanston to show our Wildcat school spirit. Also, I played tennis this year, and I wished I went to the gym more but I just couldn’t find the time and energy. I will change this in 2014.

2013 Collage 2

In addition to connect with art through museums, I was invited to go to an art charity event which the Chicago advertising/creative community sponsored. I can say that I have been spoiled by the art gods in 2013. One of the best books I’ve read is Milan Kundera’s identity, which was apropos especially since this topic was a key one to me in 2013.

I had my fair share of networking events, and some of the notable ones include: Emerging Markets Summit at Chicago Booth, Chicago Ideas Week, Design Research Conference, IMC TalentQ event.

I spent the holidays in L.A. with the family and we spent time in Palm Springs, as well as the beaches and Hollywood. I love being at home. My sister and I are currently making plans for 2014, which we’re gonna make sure will even be more spectacular than this year!

Very much looking forward to ringing in the new year! 2014, here I come!


From My Perspective: Defining my Identity

Identity is something I think about a lot. It also appears a lot in my writing, especially lately, and it could be due to my phase in life, the experiences I’ve been having, or the recent events that have awoken my spirit.

I grew up in a country that, while for the most part nationally homogenous (citizens were from the country, not immigrants), was still multicultural. The Philippines is a country comprised of so many different cultures and dialects, depending on which region one belongs. I never had to define who I was outside of how I saw myself: I believed that the way I perceived myself was the same way others perceived me.

Then my family immigrated to the States, and that changed things. I was placed in a neighborhood where they weren’t a lot people who were like me. I had a different upbringing from my classmate. I couldn’t relate to many of the things that connected them: certain topics in pop culture, American slang, inside jokes. There were people who looked like me, but at once very different from me: they were not Filipino, or if they were, they were born in the States. And I felt that I was seen not for who I was as a person, but for the characterizations I was given and the boxes I was placed in. People saw me and placed me in the typical Asian American box: the one who took the hard classes, got good grades and went to prestigious schools. Yes, that all of those are true about me, but I am also so much more.

By the time I was in college, I was very aware that others perceived me first as a member of my race before they consider anything else about me. That prompted me to see them in the same racialized lens through which they saw me: you are made up of your racial stereotypes until you prove otherwise. This assessment of others is acutely inaccurate, and not seeing them as unique individuals denies us of seeing their complex identities, compositions of their being that cannot possibly be fully deciphered in a few class meetings. We went on to be civil with one another, we kept comments that involved race to ourselves, and if we do mention anything that involves race, these are shared through humor that have far too often led to awkward silences or end to conversations.

Many times in college and the years after, I found myself in situations where I’m the only person of color in the room. And I am reminded of this through the dismissive attitude people have toward me, which was illustrated in slight remarks that I am passive and non-participatory, which signaled insensitivity to my plight. I do not know if I’d rather have them notice me for my racial difference, or have them ignore this facet of my identity completely.

In Asian culture, there is this sense of community and often times, I’ve seen Asians give space to others who haven’t participated yet. Sometimes, people’s lack of participation does not mean they are indifferent or do not want to participate; it could be that culturally, they let others speak first so they can listen and offer their thoughts after. I realize that in a non-Asian environment, this does not happen. People always try to make themselves be seen. They pounce at the chance to say something. Whenever I’m with folks who grew up as part of the majority, whether it’s race-related or socio-economic related, they assume that the norms of the culture they grew up in is shared by all. I think the norm is to self-promote, to become the squeaky wheel who gets the grease. I do not feel like I’m invited to contribute nor given the space to voice my opinion. It must be that the way to win this game is to play offense. To assert your opinion at every chance you get. To fight for your voice. To define your own voice before others define that for you. To not stop talking even when there is nothing important to talk about. This is something I would understand deeply this year.

In certain circles, I am the loud one. I was the child who couldn’t stop talking, who was always told to turn down the volume of my voice but never does, or who was bouncing around the room talking to many different kinds of people. Yet in environments where I feel like there isn’t much support nor acceptance of who I am, I feel uncomfortable to speak. My suggestions or comments are often left unheard, or worse, dismissed. I feel like I don’t belong, out of place, or I don’t have the right. I learned this year that we must stop asking the question, “what am I doing here?” but focus on remind ourselves, “I’m supposed to be here.” This is a way to come into any conversation uninhibited and share the gift of ideas and participation– which ultimately benefits the group. Every time I’m in a group– whether meetings at work, in class, or a networking event– I am very much a part of that group and have the same right to express myself as others do.

It turns out, the feeling of discomfort is not some nebulous thing I imagine on my own, but it is evoked in me by the situation I’m in. So whenever I feel this unease about being conscious of my difference, I would think about what beneficial thing I can do with this knowledge of my difference. My difference that is perceived in a negative light by others (“she’s an outsider,” “different,” “not one of us”), is something that I can fully own and actually turn into a positive (“she offers a unique perspective,” “she can bring new knowledge that we don’t know yet”). This led me to remind myself to own my difference every time.

Do understand that this was not won overnight. Defining my difference goes is a continuous process, and it goes beyond racial consciousness. I can list all the ways I am different from others, even those who are members of my race. With that list, I would supplement it with a list of ways I am the same as others, including those from another race. Understanding the makeup of the group, the social structures in place, and your place in all of it is important because it helps you assess the situation in order for you to determine how to act effectively.

In graduate school, I realize I’m one of the very few Asians in my class. I’m not surprised by this, since when I moved to Chicago I was shocked my the size of the Asian American population here, even in the city. For an internationally recognized city, you’d think Chicago would have more representation of Asian Americans. Apparently, that is not the case. In my graduate class, my peers were quite welcoming, and my initial discomfort at the beginning faded and I felt I was very much a member of the group. However, I think sometimes they are unsure of how to characterize me– I am an Asian in the Midwest where they are so few of us, and my classmates may have had limited exposure to people of my race, but I am also a foreigner, someone who grew up in a different country, and who has spent a significant amount of her formative years in another American city.

I went to Asia this past summer, and to my surprise, I felt that in China I was seen more as an American, as part of the class that I went there with. I am indeed, American, but I expected that in Asia I would be seen more as Asian. One thing was clear: I was not seen as being from there. I was not seen by local Asians as one of them. Even my Asian experience in Asia was striated; I was incredibly aware that I was Southeast Asian in East Asia. When I was in Singapore, I felt that others treated me as one of them. In fact, a bakery owner asked me which neighborhood in Singapore I was from, and was surprised when I told her I’m from the States. In Manila, I was told I looked “imported,” which signified that they saw me as someone who was not from there, demonstrating that I was not seen as a local, but a foreigner. Someone from a different land. I was seen as a stranger in the country, the city, I was born in.

If there aren’t many places where people think I belong in, then where do I stand? What do I call home? Who makes that call? If people don’t know which group I belong to when they interact with me, then who owns me? If people from my very place of origin don’t even see me as belonging in their place with them, then to which group do I belong?

I am part of a group of people who share my experience of living in a variety of cultures across countries and cities. I am a Third Culture Kid. If nothing else, I am part of a group that recognizes that identity must be asserted. You reserve the right to shape your own image of yourself, and preempt others from doing it for you. It is a constant battle. And an invitation to participate in conversations with people different from you will never be given, it must be fought for with the courage gained from defining, fully owning, and asserting your own identity.

Drawn to Beauty

I was at the Art Institute today. Museums have been a habitual destination of mine over the years. This year has been a particularly eventful one for my museum visits, as I must have gone there about 20 times. Today was my last visit for the year since I’m flying to California in three days.

I brought a book with me to read, because all I really wanted to do was to was sit in the museum lounge and bask in the gray brightness of the snow emanating from outside the large, floor-to-ceiling windows that mark the perimeter of the Modern Wing. I drank my share of coffee, hot chocolate, and even had a very satisfying and elegant carrot soup for lunch. After a while, my mind was saturated and I couldn’t focus on the book that I was reading because for some reason I just couldn’t block out the chatter from those who are there with their friends and significant other. Either they were talking too loudly, or that I came with an open mindset to absorb the beauty in the museum that I was also inadvertently taking in the noise being created by others.

Making my way out of the museum, I passed by some cycladic figurines, which were beautiful and delicate, and I thought, I should pay another visit to the work of some of my favorite painters. I asked the museum docent where “La Grande Jatte” was and he pointed me to the main building. I marveled at the impressionist works of Monet, Rodin, Seurat and I took away new insights from the work that I’ve seen repeatedly in the past. Isn’t it uncanny how you can take many looks at a piece of art at varying times, and see wildly different things?

What resonated with me today was Claude Monet’s series, “Stacks of Wheat.” In his series of 25 works (10 of which are housed at the Art Institute) along with a short caption containing some quotes from the artist, he talked at once about the power of iteration in his work as a painter, humility developed in man when he realizes his falling short to the work of nature no matter how much he has ascended, as well as the relationship between an ever-changing, elusive truth and the prevalence of permanence.


Per the caption:

Seen together, as the artist intended, the series presents a world without one fixed appearance, infinitely changeable with the light and atmosphere. Yet the primeval architecture of the wheat asks, thatched to resist the wind, rain, and snow, endures throughout.

As I was looking at this piece of art, I can’t help but reflect on some of the questions I’ve been asking and observations I’ve been noticing. I’m drawn to art, and it draws emotions out from me. It can change your mood, transform your thinking and tweak the way you behave. It has the same power as a piece of advertising, but these two sides are diametrically opposites. Advertising is so vulgar, a sell-out, a manipulator, compared to art that provokes, makes a statement, and offers a voice to what is unspeakable.

And, lest we forget the elephant in the room, this series was like holding up a magnifying glass to me, affirming that I am changing, it is inevitable, and while I ride the change while resisting forces that keeps me off track from my goals, the only way to find out if I’ve made the right choices is to document my evolution and course correct at critical moments.