“It'd be something new but not un-Filipino to me.”

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Tonia Sing Chi (TSC): This is Tonia Sing Chi, and I'm here with Chaz Kern for Storytelling Spaces of Solidarity in the Asian Diaspora.

Tell me how your identity as Filipino or mixed race has played a role in your experience growing up. What was your family home like? Did you grow up around other Filipino, mixed, or immigrant families?

Chazandra Kern (CK): Yeah, so I grew up in Northern California, in the Sonoma County area, which I kind of qualify as a majority white population. My mom is from the Philippines and came over here in the late eighties. A lot of my family, except for maybe one aunt who lives in San Francisco, lives in the Philippines or close to that area. So, for me, I was able to, through my mom, find a community through the Filipino American Association of Sonoma County. So I grew up around quite a bit of other Filipino parents and children, which was a good experience for me to be able to contextualize who I am or what I thought being Filipino American was.

It's a little bit super interesting I kind of qualified myself as being mixed race. So my dad is white, and a lot of the—I would say a fair majority, if not half of the other Filipino kids who I grew up with in the Association were also mixed race or biracial in some way. So having that ability to be around folks who had a very similar, parallel experience was interesting to me. I think that in addition to some of the smaller Filipino communities that existed in Santa Rosa, or Sonoma County—Santa Rosa being the city—there were other ethnic groups or Asian identities or immigrant communities within the area. So Mexican, Eritrean, Thai, Cambodian. Being in a space where I’m mixed race and then also have this diversity of other ethnic communities around me gave me an understanding and positive association with the differences between communities and why they’re different and how they're similar. It was really something that was important to me. Those are some of the special moments from growing up that I like to reflect on.

TSC: Did you say your mom founded the Filipino—?

CK: Oh, she did not found it. She found the Filipino American Association.

TSC: Okay, got it! I was like, "Wow." I mean, that's still pretty incredible to find. One thing I was going to ask you is whether there were spaces that you found community or that you saw yourself reflected in. It sounds like that Association was one and having other people who are Filipino or Southeast Asian, but also mixed race and biracial—that sounds like a really great community to grow up around. Maybe it gave you a strong sense of self?

CK: I always think that there is this very strong kind of energy from my parents, both my parents—my dad and my mom—around being prideful about my Filipino background. So I think growing up, I would more so kind of lean towards the identity of Filipino; sometimes in adulthood I qualify myself as mixed race sometimes, depending on who I'm talking to. I think that shift might come from an expansion or awareness of racialization, to be able to talk to those nuances, and just get more in depth with my identity and how that shows up in my position in different spaces. I think that's one thing.

Then also, because my dad was born in Berkeley, grew up in Richmond for a little bit, and then he moved to Hilo, Hawaii, which is a pretty rural area; he grew up in a lot of very diverse neighborhoods. He always shared his perspective about how some people see their ethnic identity as valuable and special. He also has the context of having grown up in America where my mom—not necessarily—she grew up in the Philippines. So her idea of America is pushed a lot by whatever sort of media goes on in the Philippines about America. And then also, I think a lot about their American colonization—the benevolent assimilation, I think that's what it's called. So how America is framed in the Filipino consciousness is around it being prosperous or in some cases perfect or a place to be—and those different things.

So growing up I had a contextualized understanding of America from my dad being someplace that has a lot of diversity—which I understood as a positive thing that should be celebrated more than anything, but that there is still racial and ethnic discrimination mindset that exists among people, and that people don’t value this diversity. I don't think he realized he was doing this, but he put it in the lens of like, “That's somebody's choice that they're making to do that, to discriminate.” And having an awareness that that could and did happen to me and my mom as being something that he didn't ignore but consciously put forward in existence, which now I know as white supremacy, as an adult human. (laughs)

TSC: (laughs) You’re like, “That’s the word for it. Now I can put names to these things!” A lot of what you're saying really resonates. The word for America in Mandarin translates to “beautiful country,” which really frames the way that it's perceived in the places that speak that language. Have you maintained a connection to the parts of the Philippines that your family is from? Have you visited with your mom or with both your parents?

CK: I probably visit maybe once every five years, and that's, like, in between schooling or areas off from work. A lot of my family live in an area called Botolan, which is on the main island of the Philippines or the big island in the Philippines. I would say that because all of my mom's siblings have stayed on that property or around or near it, that's a pretty big geographic resonance for her and for her family. They are always like, “Oh, we are from Zambales; we're from Iba.” So in my mind, when you talked about, “What is the terms that resonate with you or not, or how do you view it?” For myself, I would explain it as someone whose family is from Zambales or Botolan because my cousins or aunts talk about that as their neighborhood, their barrio, their province, as a thing.

TSC: So the specificity of that is something that you lean into more than just the Philippines for example?

CK: I think so. There will be some parts where it goes back into saying Filipino. That's cool. One of the reasons why the specificity resonates with me also is my grandpa on my mom's side—we call him Papo, which is in Zambales—means grandpa, but I didn't really know that until maybe two years ago. So I was wondering why other people were calling grandpa “Lolo.” I was like, “Why does everybody have the same nickname?” (laughs)

TSC: Oh, it's a dialect thing. (laughs)

CK: It's a dialect thing. I was like, “Oh, we're calling him grandpa in our dialect, not by the national language.” That was interesting.

TSC: That's really cute.

CK: Why didn't I ask? I don't know.

TSC: You mentioned something about identifying as Filipino or mixed race and how that's kind of affected by how you're racialized or you're coming into awareness about your racialization. So I wanted to hear you talk a little bit more about that. Was there a moment where you became more aware about your racialization as Filipino, or mixed race, or a person of color, or Asian? And as a follow up, what is your relationship with the term Asian? Do you identify as Asian American, and do you feel that label empowers or limits you in any way?

CK: I think that growing up biracial—where do I start. The presence of feeling Filipino came a lot from the different sorts of habits or cultural activities brought from my mom or the Filipino American Association. So those are things like wrapping lumpia, folk dancing, adopted phrases, or celebrating Christmas Filipino style. Those sort of cultural experiences helped me feel and identify as Filipino. I didn't find myself experiencing racialization as Asian or as Filipino because I’ve always been told I don’t look it, if race is a construct around phenotypes—I don't look that way so I’ve felt invalidated in my identity many times.

Interview Segment: Crossing over that line of emotional capacity building


Chazandra Kern, she/her

Interview Date:
May 15, 2023

Themes: Filipino American  identity, mixed-race identity, biracial identity, Asian identity Filipino food, benevolent assimilation, colonization, belonging, affordable housing, urban design, architecture, cooking

Botolan, Zambales, Philippines, Sonoma County, Santa Rosa, Los Angeles 

Filipino American Association, Office Of:, Taste of Control, LA-Más, Coming Full Circle: The Process of Decolonization Among Post-1965 Filipino Americans, Dr. Leny Mendoza Strobel


Ancestral Land:
Botolan, Zambales

Pomo Land (Santa Rosa, CA)

Current Land:
Tovaangar (Los Angeles, CA)

Diaspora Story:
My parents met in Olongapo; my dad (white American) was in the US navy and my mom worked on the military base. In the mid 1980s, they married and moved to California living/working with my dad's family until purchasing a home by 1990.

Creative Fields:
Architecture, Urban Design

Racial Justice Affiliations:
Design as Protest, the affordable housing movement for communities of color

Favorite Fruit:

Chazandra Kern is a first-generation Filipino-American designer born and raised in Santa Rosa (Graton Rancheria and Southern Pomo territory). Chaz is a co-founder of Office of Office, a design practice that centers community knowledge and leadership in their affordable housing, public space, and small business work. Chaz focuses on planning and implementing programs that support equitable housing preservation and development. Previously, she was design lead at LA Más, a community organization building collective power in Northeast Los Angeles. Chaz serves on the board of the Elysian Valley Arts Collective, the Association for Community Design, and organizes with Design as Protest. She holds a master’s degree in architecture with a specialization in housing from the University of Oregon, and a bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University.

︎    @chazzzchazz

So a lot of my stronghold about feelings of my ethnic identity came from the way that I practiced it, because of the way I look, or how people told me I look. I think I always had this awareness of trying to prove or teach people about my Filipino-ness. I noticed my mom did this—because she would be very, very present in my schooling, she would volunteer whenever she could at my school. She brought Filipino food whenever she could. She did this thing where she was kind of teaching people about herself to either bring familiarity to who she was as a Filipino, because they don't know a lot about the Philippines. She's like, “Well, you're going to know who I am and what Filipinos are.” (both laugh) And in some ways it was kind of diffusing for people, I felt like, to have some sort of visual first impression about this tiny ethnically ambiguous brown woman and then her being like, “Well, did you know that I am an entire identity within this island that exists somewhere in Asia?”

I think to your question about my relationship with the word Asian, this is something that I've been thinking about recently because my sister is getting her PhD in education at UCLA and we’ve been talking a lot about racialization and Critical Race Theory in academia. She kind of identifies strictly right now as mixed race because we look very different. To her, she is perceived as white in a lot of spaces where me, I'm not? I'm just kind of ambiguous to people until there's some sort of identifier that they can put onto whatever I am. (both laugh)

But one of the things that she was talking about was around racialization and phenotypes or scripting sort of language or the way that you talk or look, or your name. Racially, I don't have a strong personal leaning towards Asian. But if you talk about culturally or ethnically Asian, I've been kind of leaning into this camp in the last couple of years. So these are things around habits or similarities that I find comfort in with other groups of Asian Americans. I think for me making that distinction is still a little fuzzy because I think of race as something that's attributed to you. And then ethnic identity is something that you, as a person carries on, and how you talk or speak or build that construct around your heritage or history in a different location—a different location from where your ancestors might have been. I don't know if that makes sense, but it's coming together up here.

TSC: I love that distinction. I’ve thought a lot about the difference between how I understand race and ethnicity as well, and I like the way that you put it. With your ethnicity, there's more of a kind of narrative or story that's built in. Whereas race is a social construct—it’s the way that you're categorized, how people treat you or perceive you as a result. But it doesn't really tell the depth of who you are the way that ethnicity might.

CK: I think it has to, for me, be this thing where building a narrative for my present self, and for my past, and for those who might be within the same camp of exploring their ethnic identity as an Asian person.

TSC: I want to talk a little bit about your design work. How would you describe your work, and how has your upbringing and identity shaped your creative path and the way that you approach your work?

CK: That's a great question. I think my goal with going into my undergraduate and graduate education was towards becoming an architect and practicing architecture. I think what I learned through school is that there is this wide world of the built environment which architecture contributes to. So I focused a lot on affordable housing in the last maybe seven years and alternative forms of that—so anything outside of how affordable housing is traditionally funded, or that is in some cases how it can be community led.

So I think that's how I would describe my work. I think my interest in the idea of a built environment ecosystem came from my parents; they have been really interested in history or the ability to kind of define—and natural ecosystems. Very specifically, flowers bloom here because the hill looks this way and because the climate is this way during certain times of year. So I feel that sort of contextualism within my own work. A lot of that came from, one, sort of that difference between learning about my own ethnicity and others, and then, two, spending a lot of time in museums or nature. Those are things that my parents really like to do. They really, really like to be outside. So—finding those pathways around how to make sense of built-environment work through an adaptive or organic point of view. Nothing's as straightforward as it seems or clear; communities are complicated and contextual. There's always going to be a multiplicity to it somehow. They didn't say that literally, but this is what they meant. This is what I feel. (laughs)

TSC: (laughs) I'm sure they would be proud of that interpretation of their experiences that they passed on to you.

CK: Yeah!

TSC: I love that metaphor of the flower growing on the hill and extending that to the built environment. You had mentioned before we started recording that you've been thinking about this topic a little bit more recently. So I'm curious if any of your—and maybe it's just really in your personal life—but I'm curious if any of your work has directly addressed mixed-race or Filipino identity, history, or themes. If so, can you tell me more about that? And if not, are you interested in exploring that more?

CK: I think that I haven't really found a pathway or a thought around what these themes mean around my professional work. What I do with Office Of:, which is an office that I started with three other people maybe-oh my gosh, it’s been so long!—like one or two years ago that deal a lot with program development around affordable housing, small-business support, and public-realm work or marginalized communities in Los Angeles. I can’t say I’ve addressed Filipino or mixed-race identity or themes within this work directly. I want to think about that one a little bit more.

“So a lot of my stronghold about feelings of my ethnic identity came from the way that I practiced it, because of the way I look, or how people told me I look. I think I always had this awareness of trying to prove or teach people about my Filipino-ness.”

But I think personally I have wanted to bridge the gap between this identity work and the built environment. I've been into Filipino-based research on non-architecture things to spark something. I've been thinking a lot about food! (laughs) So, as a part of that, I've been reading this book called Taste of Control, which talks about American colonization in the Philippines and the different methods of food being a way to control Filipino history and narrative. A lot of Americans who came into the Philippines would make cookbooks, and that would include Americanized versions of things that were available in the Philippines.

TSC: Can you talk a little bit more about the control part, and what that means to use food to control the narrative?

CK: I think right after the change of the Spanish occupation and when America had come in for what they called benevolent assimilation—which is basically saying like, “You are uncivilized; you're savage—you need us in order to be civilized”—is that there were narratives during that time that talked about the food being un-eatable, gross, unhealthy. So this movement changed the food within the Philippines for the American settlers. So that's kind of how they described control as, or control over—is the changing or the forcing of the food being altered from what it was and culturally up to that point to the insertion of American occupation, and the change was made because of the perspective that they have on the food as “un-eatable.”

So I've been thinking a lot about that and personal projects around cooking—having friends cook with me, altering recipes because I live in Los Angeles and imparting a lot of changes over time onto my family's adobo recipe to include frying chilies and some slaw, which were influenced a lot by my partner, whose family's from Mexico. And—kind of attributing things that happen in posole or birria into adobo to bring some of that heat, or the citrus, or the spice into this recipe. Being very specifically or geographically in this location, having these relationships, being somebody who's taking these Filipino recipes that have existed in my family and what does it look like for it to exist in this American context and be changed to taste that I like that are kind of familiar to my partner in some ways. It'd be something new but not un-Filipino to me. (laughs)

TSC: I love that! I'm also thinking about the story about your mom showing up to your school and bringing all the Filipino food. It's like you're continuing to bring that part of your culture to the forefront but interpreting it in your own way. I had a conversation with Shalani actually surrounding cooking and food as a way to bring people together, share your culture with people in ways that are low stakes. (laughs) But I love that that's becoming a personal project. There's this hot sauce company called Fly by Jing. I don't know if you've heard of it before. But this woman started making this hot sauce and her tagline is “not traditional, but personal,” which I always really loved. Because she’s like, “It's not like it's a traditional hot sauce from this region. I'm not here to represent this entire region of people, but it is very personal to me and my experience and my story of being from Chengdu and then growing up here or in the various places I’ve lived.”

What challenges do you think you have faced as a mixed-race or Filipino designer, organizer, educator, and has that kind of influenced how you operate in the field or feel about yourself and your identity?

CK: I think, while I was in school, some of the challenges I felt as someone who's learning how to become a designer—it became kind of evident to me that I didn't know how to navigate that space. A lot of it maybe came from like, I'm the first generation to go to college in America for my family who didn't—for my mom and dad who didn't or weren't able to go get an education in that way. So I felt that there were some challenges navigating that space to be able to understand, one, how, I guess, to talk or speak about design in a specific way where a lot of it was coming from. I think that there are challenges that I've faced around coming out of school and finding a job and not necessarily having a lot of those connections that I saw my peers have around professionals who were able to kind of hire or offer jobs, or even being able to, in school, get employment and work experience that would be similar to architecture or that would be able to get me into that space.

So I felt a lot of challenges around trying to make space within the architecture profession to get experience, but not necessarily having the tools or the connections to be able to do that. One of the ways that I kind of addressed that was going into things that were adjacent to architecture that I felt that were interesting to me. So I restored pianos for a little bit because I had some building background—my dad is a really big furniture and woodworker and I had grown up helping him or observing. I did that for a little bit. I ended up working in general contracting for a little bit over a summer. That happened from a connection from my mom's friend who's Filipino, who worked for an architecture firm. But I didn't know when you were supposed to apply for things at a specific time. So they're like, “We're full.” And then got recommended from my mom's friend's husband who's an electrical engineer to a general contractor. (laughs) So I worked for a general contractor from that too.

TSC: That's cool!

CK: I was like, “Got to do it through the network!”

TSC: Whatever you can do! (laughs)

CK: So there were just things that I was learning as I was going. Looking back on it, or even teaching students now, that perspective that I had going through it, I'm like, “You're not going to know what you don't know, and it's not your fault!”

TSC: Thank you for sharing all of that. It's making me want to ask you—do you feel that that kind of experience growing up has benefited the way that you work now or your ability to work with the communities that you're working with now in your job?

“But I think personally I have wanted to bridge the gap between this identity work and the built environment. I've been into Filipino-based research on non-architecture things to spark something. I've been thinking a lot about food!” 

Interview Segment: Something new but not un-Filipino to me

CK: I think so. I think there's a lot of curiosity that I take to approach my work, and leaving assumptions at the kind of secondary because there's always going to be something that I don't understand or that I don't know because my experience is going to be different from somebody else's. That comes from explaining cultural-based experiences to other folks who might not have gone through similar experiences and them be like, “What? How could that be a thing?” You're like, “Don't feign in disbelief! You don't believe this is a thing?” (both laugh). When I teach, my first question is “why?” for students who might not have turned something in on time or who might during a certain portion of the semester—their work is starting to go down in quality. You're like, “Well, why is this happening? What are the other things that are happening within university life or home life that might be this, and how can we adjust this work for you?” Because we're just all learning how to prioritize different things based off of either our personal or cultural sort of responsibility that we might have.

TSC: I love that. Thank you for sharing. I want to talk a little bit about solidarity, especially given the context that we know each other—and hopefully we'll get to know each other more—which is Design as Protest. I wanted to know what personal experience or history brought you to Design as Protest, and also how you found out about it and got involved.

CK: So, starting in 2017, I had been employed as a fellow and then moved up to associate, to lead, at an organization called LA-Más in Los Angeles. Their focus was on being an urban design nonprofit that helps communities shape their own growth through policy and design. So, at the turn of 2019, we had been unpacking a new mission to talk about systemic change and how we might be able to achieve or support or contribute to a more just built environment for marginalized communities within Los Angeles. A lot of our projects were us just parachuting into communities, then leaving, and were based in scarcity. We were always pushing for more scope, more community engagement, more impact in projects where there was limited budget, limited political will, things like that.

So there was a moment in 2019 where they and the staff was like, “Well, what are we doing with design? Is it a tool? Are we using it in a way that it is actually causing more oppression because we're centering ourselves by using that as a purpose?” So all of these questions that came out, like, “Okay, well, then how are our personal identities attributed to this?" Because we all have different opinions about what our impact is and different experiences around what design is, and different levels of personal connection to the communities we worked in.

So it was like two years of just intense, like, “Why are we doing this? How have we caused harm to communities, to ourselves, to each other?” The basis of having those conversations came from Elizabeth Timme and Helen Leung being very critical and open, understanding where their position was as leaders and how their actions or inaction affected us as employees. This was a great environment and first job to come into. I spent five years with people who are like, “Let's try better. It's okay to fail and learn; it's all just a work in progress.”

So I had that work environment sort of coming out of grad school. I think with that and leading into 2020 with the murder of George Floyd, there was an open call for Design as Protest. I was getting into a lot of theory of change. (laughs) A lot of trying to answer questions of positionality and social change that came up through the re-missioning conversation of LA. So when the call came out to join one of the national calls, I was really interested in seeing whether I could contribute or how I could show up. It was super clear what DAP is doing. It's a collective of anti-racist designers. It's inclusive, and it's trying to think about what a just built environment is—and had a lot of overlap with sort of the work that I had been doing from 2017 to 2020 with LA communities.

We had always been, at LA Más, very critical about our projects and how systemically they have limitations within our current system, which was a hard thing to separate between feeling like a personal failure in doing the work that didn’t quite have the impact we imagined. It’s working within an environment that is not set up for you to achieve equitable change. So that's kind of one of the reasons why I had wanted to join DAP.

There is also, at that time when I had started reading Taste of Control, this book called Coming Full Circle: The Process of Decolonization Among Post-1965 Filipino Americans. It's by Dr. Leny Mendoza Strobel. So, at that point when I was joining DAP, and being in community at this point, I felt the need to figure out my own ethnic identity a little bit more intentionally. So I did a lot of reading and community building around being Filipino American and what that meant through those readings or discussion with my sister or others. 

“I think there's a lot of curiosity that I take to approach my work, and leaving assumptions at the kind of secondary because there's always going to be something that I don't understand or that I don't know because my experience is going to be different from somebody else's.”

Interview Segment: A lot of curiosity in my approach

And being able to kind of reflect on memories of my childhood and the thoughts around awareness of one's own differences, my history, and then understanding how other ethnic or racial groups have different experiences within a system of white supremacy—because our experiences aren't going to be the same. But that doesn't mean that I can't find or understand my own positionality within that movement.

TSC: I want to hear so much more about this conversation that you were having between 2017 and 2020. There are so many things that you're saying, especially when you're talking about the ways that we've been causing harm as designers. I think about that a lot in the work that I do. I want to put a pin in that conversation for another time. I would love to talk about it with you more.

I want to hear a little bit more about your positionality, because I've been thinking about this a lot too—my positionality as Taiwanese or East Asian, in this larger context of racial solidarity. Do you have some reflections about your relationship to BIPOC spaces, as in DAP being a BIPOC-led organization. And could you say a little bit about how you view your positionality within that space or how you relate to other communities of color or people who have other marginalized identities? Did that question make sense?

CK: Yes, it does. I'm like, “I don't know if my answer will make sense.” (laughs)

TSC: (laughs) Explore this with me because I'm curious.

CK: This is like one of those draft thoughts, which is interesting. So when I think of DAP and joining DAP or being a part of DAP, within my own sort of ethnic identity, I have learned or have leaned into calling myself Asian, more so than ever. I think that's something that's interesting to me and of how I explained earlier about my perception of my racial identity and the turning point into seeing myself as biracial in adulthood. And not having been included in being recognized as Asian growing up, it was warming to have, like, other Asian designers within the Design as Protest space saying like, “You belong in this group with us”; this space includes Southeast Asians, South Asians, which is something that I felt outside of—that space. So that's something that I've been trying to lean into more and be like, “Okay, this does include me!” (both laugh)

“...our experiences aren't going to be the same. But that doesn't mean that I can't find or understand my own positionality within that movement.”

So I've been doing that more especially since there's—like you were talking about earlier, the rise of anti-Asian hate and crimes that have been happening. Through DAP there had been people who had reached out during portions of it who were like, “How are you doing?” That's not something that I would have expected someone to reach out to me for before DAP, but I realize, through the relationships I’ve built within the group, it does involve me, and my community. So I really appreciated that, and it changed my perspective about my own ethnic identity within that space. So that's one thing, I think—is feeling like I can't affiliate with the Asian community has changed because of DAP. Thanks! (laughs)

TSC: So you feel like it expanded your sense or your feeling of belonging?

CK: Yes. I think so. Definitely. I loved it. So that's one thing. And then, second, I think this is like—you were talking about how there's a double standard to marginalization, maybe?

TSC: Double marginalization is kind of how I named it.

CK: In my experience I have noticed that Filipinos love American culture and Western beauty standards and the benefits that come with whiteness—this among other factors have contributed to our complicity with white supremacy. On the topic of double marginalization for Asian Americans I think there is a challenge with being perceived as outsiders to racial inequity, while also experiencing it, because in some ways we also benefit from it. This is where it gets murky for me because I’m approaching this topic from a mixed-race mindset, something that has continued to separate my connection to the Asian community–and as someone who is a Filipino with Western features, and also as someone who is usually perceived as some sort of ambiguous brown person. So—murky.

There are things around Asian experiences that I'm learning not necessarily through community but through more academic or research or others’ stories. So like for example, when Filipinos had immigrated into America for a lot of the farm worker movement, there were solidarities through the farm worker movement from Filipinos and Latino or Chicano farm workers and figuring out how to unionize and organize around that. I have an affiliation with the Filipino community, but that specific Filipino community is something that's not similar to my very specific history or background. So, in that case, I am more of an observer than somebody who's part of that community experience.

But I find differences even within my own sort of ethnic community or Filipino community where there are differences of experiences where co-solidarities can be found and made. So that's kind of a portion where if somebody were like, “What do you think about this sort of solidarity movement?” You're like, “I can only speak to that as an outsider level.” I want to be careful of how I speak or think or talk about it because my perspective is different than those who've experienced it generally. And I feel this parallel to other folks in DAP who have different racial identities as well.

TSC: That's a good point that solidarities and differences are not even just across different races and ethnicities but even within your own race and ethnicity. It seems obvious. It seems that you shouldn't have to say it, but you do.

I want to talk a little bit about your dreams for the future. What dreams and aspirations do you have for Filipino and Asian diaspora spaces and the people who are shaping them through design?

CK: The question about what sort of futures or aspirations do I want to see or do I see for Asian diaspora or Filipino—sorry my partner came back in and is putting up two bobas in my face and is like, “Which one do you want?” (laughs)

TSC: Which one did you choose?

CK: I didn’t choose one.

TSC: I want to know which boba you chose. That’s actually my real question. Scrap the one I just said. (laughs)

CK: It probably has matcha or taro.

TSC: What is your boba order? I want to know.

CK: It depends how I feel. I really like taro. Like the root—well I do like the powdered version too. (laughs)

TSC: (laughs) I will accept that.

CK: I will accept it. But I also like taro that has all the roots and stuff in there.

TSC: I actually love the taro one as well. I’ll repeat that question again—but thank you for indulging me in that little detour. The question was: What dreams or aspirations do you have for Filipino and Asian diaspora spaces and the people who are shaping them through design?

CK: This is bad of me, but I feel like I haven't given a lot of thought to this, but I think something that I can kind of maybe pull from is since teaching for two studios at Cal Poly Pomona—is that was the first time that there was more Filipinos than just myself in a studio. Which is amazing to me to be able to teach Filipino students—tell them this is the first time that there’s more than one of us in a room, for me, and then have them say, “Well, you're the first Filipino teacher that we've had.”

TSC: That's amazing.

CK: That's crazy! So I think that, one, it's that Asian Americans, Filipino Americans, find the ability to have community and spaces of design or within policy or within planning that may not exist or be totally common right now—that there's not this consciousness around you being the only person in the room or one of the only few. But you feel welcomed in that space. You have the ability to shape it. I think that's one thing that I think about a lot in terms of the future or aspirations of like, You don't have to question if you belong because you do belong within that specific environment.

“That's not something that I would have expected someone to reach out to me for before DAP, but I realize, through the relationships I’ve built within the group—it does involve me, and my community. So I really appreciated that, and that changed my perspective about my own ethnic identity within that space.”

I also think an aspiration of mine touching back on my mom and her excitement for sharing her culture is that feeling like myself or the Filipino American and Asian American friends can feel like they can show up fully and share something from their ancestry or from their culture without feeling like it's a burden to explain but an excitement to share and to carry on and to make space and knowledge for.

So kind of crossing over that line of emotional capacity building for someone versus excitement to share and be accepted and to have somebody learn more about yourself because you've chosen to share that with them and you feel comfortable doing it. I feel like that's a big aspiration for myself and something that I hope for the folks that I have in the community around me to feel like, “This is why I do this thing, and it's cool.” I'm like, “Great! Thanks for sharing.”

TSC: That's a great answer for not having thought about it!

CK: I know I was like, (snaps fingers) Good job, brain. (laughs)

TSC: (laughs) You're like, “Okay, off the cuff. Here we go!” I think that's really beautiful. I'm a bit older than you, but I think just when I was growing up, there was less space to kind of be different. I think people were mostly in just survival mode and mostly thinking about trying to assimilate and just trying to belong. And nobody notice me or comment on the way that my food smells or whatever, right? I actually really want to read that book, Taste of Control—I'm going to make note of that and add it to my reading list. But I do think that so much progress has been done in that area where I do think that the younger people these days are starting to feel like they have the space to share and be excited and proud and not be like you said, burdening themselves or other people with explaining themselves constantly. I think that there is a shift in that direction, which I think is really exciting.

An important component of this project for me is really creating resources that will be useful for Asian diaspora designers and creatives. And so I want to know what resources you would love to see for other Asian designers. Also, what would you have loved to see, know, or be a part of as a younger designer?

CK: Hmmm—so resources that I would like to see—

TSC: Or have access to, or where you're like, "I wish somebody would do this."

CK: Definitely. The one question about the younger designer—I wish that I would have had more access to affinity spaces and being able to kind of understand or unpack as a designer what the field means, and then also as a person of color, as a woman, what does that mean and the intersectionality for me as a designer. So something I think about is—my sister did an interview with a teacher for her own personal research project. That teacher grew up in Los Angeles and she identifies as Latina. So, in her classroom in high school, she has chisme hours so students can unpack microaggressions within that space, which she kind of qualifies as an affinity space. So I feel like I would've loved to have some of that as a young designer within my own schooling and education and maybe the first couple years out of my education into the work workspace. I think that's one thing.

And then I think in terms of resources, I'm really into maybe thinking about even what you're doing with your project around storytelling—like hearing stories of other people and their experiences. If that could be something that's super common or spaces where people are able to share stories and have that as a resource, I think that would be interesting. I think a lot about the work that I did around the books I had read around Filipino American experiences and understanding how we experience discrimination, but also the ways that we cause it. So I think, like, there's always a duality that happens within it. So making space for both at the same time would be an interesting resource.

TSC: If you take that one step further, how would that become a resource—like a space where you can discuss these things or talk about them, or like a reading list?

CK: I think maybe a reading list. Maybe the first step, like, reading list. Education, fun stuff.

TSC: Yeah!

CK: I think maybe a reading list on that.

TSC: Nice. I think we approached an hour, but just one final question: Is there anything else that you would like to share or revisit?

CK: I hope that my answers were okay for your study. (laughs) I feel a lot of joy and also some surprise from being asked to being a part of this. So I thank you for giving me some space to talk about this and listening. I really appreciate having an ability to share some of the ways that I've been working through this—some of them that are more working through my own sort of identity as a Filipino American and what that means to be Filipino American, to be biracial, to be all things at once and be okay with that and understand the ways that I kind of look through life with this identity and unpack it a little more. So I'm very fortunate to have this be a part of that sort of journey of understanding myself. Thank you for giving me the opportunity.

TSC: Oh my gosh, so sweet! Thank you for sharing that. I feel so much joy that you wanted to be part of this. I'm glad that you found it helpful or interesting to reflect together. I'm looking forward to continuing these conversations with you and with others. One of the people that I interviewed described this project as a “gathering of energies,” and I really liked that image—gathering energies with people. So thank you for sharing your stories with me. Thank you for being part of this. Hopefully we'll connect again soon about these topics.

CK: Definitely. Thank you so much.

“I also think an aspiration of mine touching back on my mom and her excitement for sharing her culture is that feeling like myself or the Filipino American and Asian American friends can feel like they can show up fully and share something from their ancestry or from their culture without feeling like it's a burden to explain but an excitement to share and to carry on and to make space and knowledge for.”

Posted April 6, 2024