I was born and raised in China, I didn’t go to international school. I applied to schools on my own, took the tests on my own for the American application process. I never dreamed of being accepted of being accepted by NYU, where I’m currently a junior studying Media, Culture, and Communication. Growing up in China, I never realized the importance of race and ethnicity. Everyone around me was just like me. There were few distinguishing features.
In my college applications, I said that I wanted to be an advocate for Chinese culture, especially in media and arts. I feel like there’s so much that comes to mind when you think of Korean or Japanese culture, like K-Pop and anime. But when you mention Chinese culture, people think “Jackie Chan” and that’s it. And that’s not fair. We have so much culture, history, so many amazing bits of arts that people should know about. So that’s what motivated me to come here to the US. To learn more about the media industry.
I had never categorized myself as Asian before the US, because it was so instinctual. It was a default. I never had to put that label or hashtag on myself. After starting college here, I met a lot of hyphenate Asians who struggle to learn about their culture and where they come from. I’ve been lucky to not have to go through that. Representation matters so much because you don’t know who you are until you see someone who looks like you. You need a lighthouse to guide you to move forward.
I’m currently working on a Mandarin production of Man of La Mancha as an associate producer, based on the famous Spanish novel Don Quixote. It was a hugely successful musical in China and couldn’t continue due to copyright issues. Our other producer Eva, who worked on the Chinese version for 100+ performances thought, hey, why can’t the show run in NYC? The legal rights company agreed and it’s been a sparkling moment that brought us all together. The show means so much to all our cast members on different levels. 1 out of 6 in our production are Chinese speakers who don’t come from a purely Chinese background or didn’t grow up speaking Chinese.
For many of our actors, this is one of the first musicals they saw in China, and they’re very emotionally invested. So it’s just everyone coming together for a greater cause. Every time I step into the rehearsal room, it’s an emotionally fulfilling moment for me.
I see so much communication during those moments between people from very different backgrounds. Our production members hail from the US, Canada, China, with varying levels of professional training. Helping to build that space for them to talk to each other is so very fulfilling. A conversation we have in real time during rehearsals often is the difference between cultural appreciation vs. appropriation and what it means to tell a Western story with a Chinese cast in a Chinese language. It’s a very open space. People come to this project for different reasons and everyone has valid opinions. We can be frank about what we believe in and what we care about. And we accept each other for those concerns and where we’re coming from.
My director and I have reached an agreement — that before it’s an Eastern or Western story, our story is a good story. It resonates with us on a human level before anything that adds additional layers on it.
Don Quixote sings about “the impossible dream,” about how no matter how far, no matter how many barriers there is in between, we need to hold on to our dreams. There’s obviously so many difficulties for our productions or ones similar to ours and many barriers to cross to have more Asian American representation in the media. There are very few stories that feature us. What it means to tell this story at this time is that we’re able to convey our story on a human level and emphasize what’s more similar and shared amongst people than to emphasize our differences. At the end of the day, we have more similarities than difference, and those similarities connect us.
Man of La Mancha is open for general ticketing mid-April (10th-19th). The show will run at the end of May. If you’re interested, please support the production or spread the word!