“If I say I’m Han and Hui, it’s sort of giving a nod to where I’m from or where my family has been. It feels almost like a matter of respect, but it’s also a matter of my remembering in a way. I want to remember where I’m from.

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

TSC: This is Tonia Sing Chi, and I’m here with christin hu for Storytelling Spaces of Solidarity in the Asian diaspora.

To start, I would love it if you would tell me about your identity as Han and Hui Chinese, and as a child of Chinese immigrants, and how that played a role in your experience growing up in New York City. Did you feel connected or disconnected to your ancestral homeland? Did you grow up around other Asians and immigrant families?

ch: Yeah. I think this is something I really struggle with because I didn’t grow up around any Asian communities, really. I mean, yeah, Chinatown was basically a thirty-minute walk away, and we would often go to Chinatown to get groceries and things like that. But I never really felt community with Chinatown or even where I live, because I live—and still live—in the same spot in New York City, which is in Battery Park City. There’s a little bit of a history behind that—but it’s like a high-end residential kind of area, sort of. It was designed for folks who were working on Wall Street and things like that. My mom and my dad were both working in the computers industry at that time, and so they had enough money to actually buy a place, which is why I’m still here, actually, because even though the maintenance is exorbitant, it’s still lower than rent in New York City. (laughs)

TSC: So you’re living in your parents’ home—your childhood home?

ch: Yeah. Pretty much.

TSC: That’s awesome.

ch: So remember the lecture and I showed those two apartments?

TSC: Yes.

ch: I’m in one of them now, and my mom is in the other.

TSC: Oh, okay. Got it.

ch: So it’s kind of like a bit of a sore topic for me because I feel like—like I don’t really have community here.

I didn’t mean to get emotional here. (laughs) It’s sort of hard for me to think about because I’m still trying to figure out how to get involved with “the community” or what I consider to be community. When I was here, first of all there were barely any people in the hallways and in the building at all because many people had a second home. They didn’t live here, but we lived here. I mean, now it’s completely changed. Now it’s like so many kids everywhere; families and dogs. It’s completely different now, like post 9/11 basically. But when I was growing up here for the most part, it just didn’t feel like a community, and I think it was pretty hard. And I grew up in a single-parent household, really—my dad kind of, umm—I still talk to him, and he would visit sometimes—and there was a moment in time when my parents tried to reconcile, and—there’s lots of stories there.

But, in terms of my identity as Han Chinese and Hui, I never really specified when I was younger. I think this sort of “Han Chinese” identity was much more recent, like within the past five years, I would say. I didn’t really even differentiate. I was just like, “Oh, I’m Chinese.” I would sometimes even say, “Oh, I’m also Taiwanese.” But then I later found out that my dad—although he grew up in Taiwan, his family is from Anhui, and so he’s not really from Taiwan necessarily. I mean, I don’t know actually how he would consider where he’s from, but like in terms of—

TSC: Would he call himself wàishěngrén or—?

ch: I don’t think so? But also—this is related—there’s something called jíguàn, which is kind of like where your ancestors are from. And it’s this thing that my mom told me about just this year. My mom was saying that there‘s this form in China you have to fill out, and you fill out like where you might live or where you were born. But then there‘s also this term called jíguàn, which is where your ancestors are from. So I guess, for my dad, his jíguàn would be Anhui, and my mom’s is actually Guangxi, Guilin. I didn’t know this until this year, and it was only like last year that I really even started to think about this whole side of my family, whom I’ve never met, but who are practicing Muslims.

It has always kind of been in the background in certain ways through food, I would say, because my mom and I and my brother are actually big lamb and cheese eaters, and that’s not a Chinese thing necessarily. My dad is lactose intolerant, for example. (laughs) So I was always like, Why does our family eat so much lamb and cheese? And it’s like, Oh—my grandfather—my maternal grandfather—was Muslim, and his whole side of the family is Muslim. And so he wouldn‘t eat pork necessarily.

TSC: And they eat cheese?

ch: Well, okay. What is it? It‘s really good. It‘s like this kind of nǎichá, but in Inner Mongolia—my mom grew up in Inner Mongolia—they have—it’s not really like soft cheese. I think they call it nǎipiànr, which is like “milk pieces” and sort of dried. And you’d put it in the salty nǎichá, which is really good.

TSC: That sounds amazing!

ch: Yeah. It’s amazing. But, yeah, I had a chance to go to Hūhéhàotè actually in 2015 with my mom and see her elementary school and everything.

TSC: Oh, wow. That’s so special.

ch: Yeah. I think that was actually the last time I was in China. I don’t know if that kind of answered some of the questions about identity?

TSC: Yeah! It’s funny because I relate a lot to some of the things you said. I don’t live in the house that I grew up in, but I’m living in the Bay Area, which is where I grew up. Yet I still struggle to figure out how to be with community here.

I’m curious—in talking about not having a sense of community, were there places that you found community or that you saw yourself or your experience reflected growing up? Like, even if there were small moments, or places like Chinese school or Chinese club?

ch: Yeah. So this is also kind of interesting to share. I didn’t really go to Chinese school, but I would visit China every once in a while. I think it’s usually every five to seven years there will be a trip over the summer to where my grandma was staying. In 2012, I actually applied to a study abroad program to learn Chinese at Tsinghua University, which is also interesting because Tsinghua University was, like, established post—I mean, there‘s, like, a history there. So I didn’t really go to Chinese school at all. When I think back on it, it’s like, Maybe I should have? But I didn’t go to Chinese school. I don’t really know that much Chinese.

Interview Segment: Why am I searching in English?


christin hu, they/them

Interview Date:
February 22, 2023

Themes: Chinese diasporic identity,  jíguàn, chinese holidays, gender, games, collective, collaborative design, cultivating community, Chinese language, translation, Chinglish, queer, grandparents, food, school, relationships, self-compassion, belonging, communication, research, co-authoring, imperialism, muslim, home, learning, Wing Chun, pīnyīn, privilege, doing things

Chinatown, New York City, China, Hūhéhàotè, Inner Mongolia, Guangxi, Guilin, Anhui, Hefei, Kaifeng, Zhengzhou, Henan, Lenapehoking, Taiwan, Turtle Island, Missouri, Persia, Lebanon, Kuwait

Design as Protest, Dark Matter U, Black in Design, Yale-China Association, African American Student Union, Eric Williams, Real Talk, Failed Architecture, BLM, Black Squares (Blackout Tuesday), Politically Asian Podcast, the Index (Anti-Racist Design Justice Index), history of the word Asian American


Ancestral Land:
Guangxi, Guilin (Mother’s side)
Anhui, Hefei (Dad’s side)

Lenapehoking (New York, NY)

Current Land:
Lenapehoking (New York, NY)

Diaspora Story:
Impacted by the aftermath of the Opium Wars, Kàngrì Zhànzhēng (WWII), and Cultural Revolution, my mom and Laolao’s family moved from place to place within China, from Zhengzhou to Xi’an to Huhehaote to Beijing, and many places in between. Meanwhile, my dad’s family migrated to Taiwan from Hefei during what’s known as the 大撤退 (Great Retreat). After universities were reopened, my mom began studying thermodynamics at Kēdà (University of Science and Technology of China), and in 1985, she moved to the US and transferred to the College of the Ozarks in Missouri, which provided tuition and room and board in a work-study arrangement. With a dual major in computer science and mathematics, she went job-searching in NYC, working at a Chinese restaurant on the side, where she met my dad. After moving up in the computer industry, my parents were able to afford a house in Long Island and eventually an apartment in Battery Park City. I was born in Queens, NY, raised mostly by my mom and older brother, and have pretty much lived in Battery Park City ever since.

Creative Fields:
Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Game Design

Racial Justice Affiliations: Design as Protest Collective, Dark Matter U

Favorite Fruit:

christin hu 胡潇嶙 of 广西桂林 (Guilin, Guangxi) and 安徽合肥 (Hefei, Anhui), is a designer and coordinator from Lenapehoking (New York, New York). Through accessible games for collaborative design, critical learning methods, and facilitated workshops, they help others build genuine relationships with one another and our shared environments. christin currently works as a Visiting Assistant Professor at Pratt School of Architecture and Adjunct Assistant Professor at Columbia Graduate School of Architecture and Planning, organizes within the Design as Protest Collective and Dark Matter U, and supports local food justice efforts. They hold an MLA from Harvard GSD and BArch from The City College of New York.


︎    @nimbusbud@upinthenimbus

Were there other moments of community that I did find? I would say around holidays. First of all, when I was really young for the New Year, we’d always go to, I think, my godparent’s house in Long Island somewhere. There’d be a big party, and people would sing karaoke. And then I guess later on for Lunar New Year, we would wrap dumplings and just kind of eat together. So I think those moments are nice, just kind of celebrating Chinese holidays and usually surrounded by food, I would say. I think that’s where I feel most connected with my family at the very least, and my “Chineseness” in certain ways.

Of course, I have Asian or Chinese friends, but I would say in school I didn’t focus on building relationships a lot. I was a lot about school, school, school, grades, go to bed, and then do more schoolwork, and then go to bed. When I think back on it—I didn’t know it in the moment, of course—I see myself as being extremely antisocial and kind of alienating myself from my peers, which was hard. I don’t think I experienced “Chinese” community outside of my family—you know? Which is why it’s like, when I came to DAP and then I got to know you-all, I was like, Oh my gosh! Asian friends!—who share similar values kind of thing.

TSC: Yeah. When you say you previously alienated yourself from your peers and have now met Asians who share similar values through DAP, I’m curious—had you met other Asians in school or around where you lived? Was there a moment where you were trying to distance yourself from being Asian, or do you just find it easier to engage with and meet people online through these networks where we’re working towards something we really care about together?

ch: I would say the first time I noticed there being an Asian or Chinese group of students was in middle school. So I was in seventh grade, and there would always be a table where all the kind of Chinese kids—I think for the most part they were Chinese and also born in mainland China—they would be playing this game where you pick up paper stars and you try to—you drop them and you pick them up. I don’t know what it’s called, but you know what I’m talking about.

TSC: I know that game. I’ve played that game.

ch: I never really connected with them only because I preferred going outside. This is like a gender thing too. I liked going outside and playing football with all of the “guys.” People didn’t even know my name. They would just say, Oh, you are the “girl” who always plays football. So I think it wasn’t necessarily that I was trying to avoid any kind of interaction. It was almost like a gender thing and preference in just different kinds of activities. Also, middle school was the time when I felt a little bit weird about being very noticeably Chinese or Asian—or being called Asian. Actually, this is really the first time I started being called Asian.

TSC: In middle school?

ch: In middle school. It’s partially because, I guess, of the age, but also that’s when I started going to public school. For most of elementary school I was in private school, and nobody talked about that kind of stuff. So I got into middle school, and then I start getting comments like—if I happen to have a good grade in something, it’s like, Oh, it’s because you’re Asian. I remember feeling especially offended about that, not knowing necessarily why, of course, but it felt like an insult.

TSC: Like a backhanded compliment.

ch: Yeah. Middle school was really when I started noticing that. I don’t know if this is also maybe a kind of Chinese or Asian thing to do, but I just sort of ignored a lot of those interactions, I guess. I’ll be like, Oh, that was annoying. Let me go do my homework. Let me go focus on school. And like, Don’t worry about other people. Just focus on what I need to do.

TSC: That’s very “Asian immigrant” of you—or child of immigrants, I should say—to be like, I’m just going to put my head down, keep working.

ch: Yeah. That’s the vibe I constantly got. Also advice from, like, my mom—I’d be like, “This thing happened at school, blah-blah-blah.” This also happened in high school where I would talk about how I felt like I didn’t have any friends. I was friendly with everybody, but not close friends. I just remember getting advice to just be like, "Well, don’t worry about that. Just focus on yourself," as if relationships aren’t part of myself.

TSC: Absolutely.

ch: And I also realized this really late—I think when I was maybe twenty-four, when I started being in a romantic relationship. When I talked about this, it was like, That’s not a default. That statement of just focusing on yourself, meaning “don’t have friends,” is not a thing. I was like, Oh, let me unpack that.

TSC: Yeah. When you started saying things out loud to another human that was outside of your family, your immediate family, they were like—

ch: Yeah! Like, Wait, that’s kind of not helpful. That’s not the default.

TSC: Yeah. That’s interesting. I’m curious to hear more about how you describe yourself and how you learned more about your background because—to reference a concept that you brought up in the CCNY talk—you gave one of the more precise and specific responses to my question of describing your racial and ethnic identity on the questionnaire. So some people would just say, “Asian American,” and you wrote, “Han and Hui Chinese.” And I thought, That’s interesting. Personally, I’ve started to appreciate that specificity more and more, and I’m learning to put that in practice myself. What is it that made you start to identify yourself as Han specifically or Han and Hui specifically? And then, on the flip side, how do you feel about being called Asian American? Do you feel that identity empowers you or limits you in any way? Was your decision to call yourself Han and Hui specifically related to that?

ch: Yeah, I would say it’s definitely related. I think I feel uncomfortable with being labeled as Asian American at best just because—well, not just—but Asia—or Eurasia more like—it’s a whole continent. So I think I don’t really understand completely, but of course I sort of take issue with that because it’s just so broad, and because of the way that term has been kind of used to actually refer primarily to East Asian, you know (slaps own face), “pale” Asians and the sort of model minority kind of face, let’s say. So I think I take issue with that, even though that term—I think I was reading up on some history of that term where it was sort of coined by students trying to provide unity. I guess I still feel a little bit of an uneasiness with just taking that term to refer to myself, especially because my family’s history of arriving to New York City or the US or Turtle Island is not the same.

It’s actually not really part of—or let’s say it just came after that history of the term Asian American. And so it feels not as connected yet, although I know it’s connected. But, for me, I’m still trying to make that connection, let’s say, because I know it’s connected, but it doesn’t feel true to myself yet. Maybe if I do more research.

“So I think those moments are nice, just kind of celebrating Chinese holidays and usually surrounded by food, I would say. I think that’s where I feel most connected with my family at the very least, and my ‘Chineseness’ in certain ways.”

Also, within China, there are over fifty different types of ethnicities and cultures. So, to me, it’s almost like, if I say I’m Han and Hui, it’s sort of giving a nod to where I’m from or where my family has been.It feels almost like a matter of respect, but it’s also a matter of my remembering in a way. I want to remember where I’m from. And I’ve been doing all this family history research because I want to know more about what my family has done or where my family has gone or lived. And even with just, like, the very beginning of the research—which, when I say “research,” I mean conversations with my mom. It’s so interesting and kind of unsettling the way that US imperialism and other global events are intertwined with my identity and my family.

So remembering that we’re being specific about Han and Hui is sort of like being able to trace those threads. I can give an example, which is that, from my Hui identity, it sort of played into how China treated my grandfather and in some senses influenced where he might have moved to. But, also, it’s interesting to learn more about how the Hui identity actually came to be. And I’m still kind of looking into this because it’s just interesting and also complicated, but how this is related to the overall migration from centuries ago, let’s say—from Persia to Western China, I guess.

But also my great-grandfather on my maternal grandmother’s side was a Western medicine doctor, and it’s like, How did he become a—? Like, how? Okay, guess what? There was the Yale China Association, a group of missionaries—they were in Central China at that time in eighteen-something. They had this clinic, a health clinic, and they basically scouted—to my understanding—again, this is sort of like oral histories here. So they basically scouted my great-grandfather, and he later became a very well-known Western medicine doctor. This is in, like, central China, I think, around Kaifeng and Zhengzhou in—I’m not remembering the correct province. I think it was Henan or something like that.

TSC: You can look it up later.

ch: Exactly. I can, like, know the correct province. But yeah, this happened there, and that’s how he became this relatively wealthy, successful Western medicine doctor. It’s a really weird history that I can share more about. It’s actually quite epic actually.

TSC: That’s exciting. I’d love to hear more about that! We’ll come back to it. I want to talk a little bit about your work and your practice methodologies. How would you describe your work, and how has your identity or your upbringing shaped your creative path and the way you approach your work?

ch: This is actually a really interesting question that I haven’t really thought of very specifically. So bear with me as I kind of just think out loud here. But I would say my work right now is very collaborative and collective, almost annoyingly so, I think, to a certain extent. And almost to the extent where I need to think about myself a little bit more in the sense that—this is why I have a lot of trouble applying to these positions—is because I have to talk about my research and I’m like, "What is my research? What is my work?" Because in the past couple of years, especially working within DAP and DMU, all that work has been collective. I feel good about doing that collective work. If there was one word to describe my practice right now, it’d really be “collective.” And it’s like, Well, why can’t my research be about something that other people also care about in the sense that there’s obviously other initiatives going on right now—can I just tag along basically and just help and support that and kind of be a part of that?

And this is interesting because I think growing up here, it’s my mom being also, like, a single mother—has been extremely independent and capable. That’s something that is very individualistic actually, I would say. And I think just from earlier parts of our conversation this mention of like, “Oh, just worry about yourself, just build yourself up and just do this on your own.” I would say up until I graduated from college, it has very much been about me as an individual, and it’s a virtue to do something all by yourself. So I’ve almost made like a 180, I feel like, from my experience growing up to what I feel like I have been doing in the recent years, which is very much collective.

Of course, there’s a balance. I think I’m still working on that. And I would say what I’m working on now, like a collaborative game—it is in a sense my project, but all the playtesting, all the kind of iterations, if you look at the list of folks that I playtested with, they’re all kind of co-authors in a certain way because they all offered their advice and their participation in the making of the game. So there’s at least forty names on there for my thesis project because of that level of involvement and feedback, and that wouldn’t have existed without them really. I find that really fascinating, but also fun; that’s, like, great! I love it. I love that it’s, like, the more people the better. And the more fun because I get to know how—I find myself interested in, like, Oh, well, what would you say about this? Or like, How do you think about this or what do you think would be good? Because I’m curious about it and because I feel like it’s this multitude of perspectives and experiences only add more to the project itself. And, sure, I might be facilitating or curating and doing that kind of administrative stuff. It still feels very collective to me, which is why I feel like—I don’t know. Maybe that’s—

TSC: Yeah. Keep going if you’re still reflecting.

ch: I’m trying to figure out a way to land the plane. (laughs) I don’t really know the main point—

TSC: (laughs) You don’t need to land the plane. It’s okay. You can leave the plane in the air if you need to.

ch: Yeah.

TSC: I love that. I would very much describe your work as collaborative and collective.

I was thinking back to when we did the co-authoring piece with Log. And it was funny because I remember when Anne and Anna reached out to Justin and asked him to solo author a piece on co-authorship. I was like, “Ha ha. Why would you do that?” But then Justin forwarded it to DMU, and I remember doing the piece with our small group of editors and how we not only co-authored the workshop, but there was co-authorship in the piece, and then we co-authored the rules for the editing of the piece. There were just so many layers of co-authorship, and it was super meta. And I was like, How deep can we go? How much can we disentangle ourselves from sole authorship? That piece was so collaborative you can’t even pull it apart.

I was really excited to see your lecture that you gave with Bz last week, “Translations: wǒmen de stories, cóng practice, pedagogy, dào organizing.” What was the experience like of getting invited to do that lecture, working with Bz, and putting it together?

ch: Oh. Could I tell the full truth here?

TSC: You tell the full truth. Whatever you want to say. You can also withdraw consent to share later or be anonymous.

ch: I was confused by the invitation because it wasn’t clear to me if they were inviting both me and Bz as separate speakers or if we were meant to collaborate on something together. I felt a little bit odd receiving it because I don’t consider myself a “designer” or someone located or doing work on the Pacific Rim. I had to look up the Pacific Rim. 

TSC: (laughs)

ch: I could totally see Bz, because their work is on the Pacific Rim; they’re in LA. So I was like, “Okay. Yeah, totally. They’re doing research. Their research is there.”

And in working together on the lecture, both Bz and I were kind of like—we had long phone calls back and forth while working on stuff—similar to kind of, like, the co-authorship stuff that we were doing, which were great. It became somewhat clear in email communications that our Asian identities or our identities as immigrants or children of immigrants were the key factors here, which is why we latched onto this idea of translation because it was a word that was used in the lecture series itself. But also because that is something that children of immigrants might find themselves doing.

And so I guess in many ways our content can be considered in relation to the Pacific Rim in the sense that—and I think Bz actually put this quite nicely towards the end of the lecture—is that it’s sort of like a translation from the Pacific Rim. Hence we use the term diasporic translation sort of like, Yes, this is what happens quite literally across from the Pacific Rim, not necessarily at it.

TSC: How did it make you feel that they were asking you to be part of this lecture because of your racialized identity or because of your experience as a child of immigrants?

ch: It didn’t feel good necessarily, but at the same time in other ways it was nice to receive an invitation from where I went to school, because I went to City College. And I think I found myself feeling like a lot of what I had to say wasn’t really valuable or legitimate in its own right as I relate to the overall topic. So it was just sort of like, Here’s a platform for you to say what you want to say. And so I was just like, Okay, cool. This is going to be fun because we’re going to be doing this together. Again, it’s sort of like this collective aspect.

TSC: Yeah, I know. So you said something that also caught my eye, which was that, in the lecture description, you and Bz—or maybe you said Bz wrote that the talk was using diasporic practices of translation to frame conversations around future models of design practice. Of course your work is inherently diasporic, you could say, given your identity. But is there any way you could articulate what it is about your work that makes it a diasporic practice?

ch: I think that’s a hard question to answer because I think—(long pause) I don’t know if this is actually the case, but I feel like this desire for understanding and for relating to other people is something that might be considered diasporic in the sense that, like—this desire to connect with a community or to be in community. And I think, in many ways, this landscape games project was also a lot about building community.

I don’t know why I am feeling feelings right now. (laughs) Again, I have always found a lot of difficulty in finding community and feeling like I belong to a place or a group of friends, let’s say. In grad school when I was working on this project, there were the mainland Chinese students, who were like a huge group of students, and then there were all the students that spoke Spanish from all over the place—from Mexico, from Columbia, from Argentina. And then there were the white folks and then a very small handful of Black students. I think there was maybe like one other Asian American in the program or in my cohort at least.

“Also, within China, there are over fifty different types of ethnicities and cultures. So, to me, it’s almost like, if I say I’m Han and Hui, it’s sort of giving a nod to where I’m from or where my family has been. It feels almost like a matter of respect, but it’s also a matter of my remembering in a way. I want to remember where I’m from. ”

So I was like, Where do I even belong? I ended up talking to a lot of—actually, do you know who I ended up connecting with? We’re still in contact now. A friend of mine from Kuwait and a friend from Lebanon, which is also an interesting thing to me because of the sort of extended family history of coming from Persia and things like that. But yeah, I think this desire to cultivate some kind of community is inherently diasporic.

TSC: That’s so beautiful. I love that. That’s so beautiful.

ch: It has always been about that, you know?

TSC: Yeah. It’s bringing me back to the question where I asked you how your upbringing influenced the way that you practice, and I think that we kind of looped back around to that question, as well, with this. And it’s also something that I really relate to. Speaking of community, I do want to talk a little bit about solidarity. And just given the context that me and you met, what personal history and experience brought you to Design as Protest and Dark Matter U?

ch: I would say my relationship and also grad school and just kind of, like, becoming a little bit more aware of politics and just societal concerns. Also, when I started having a relationship with someone who’s not in my immediate family, it’s sort of like this whole new world of communication, learning how to communicate.

TSC: Translation.

ch: Exactly! Learning how to communicate also feelings and thoughts about things that—just outside of immediately reacting to something, which I think I still have some tendency to just react and then it’s like, Wait, I can actually think about this before I speak. So that, I think, was a really informative—I mean, it is still. I’m still in a relationship. It’s just kind of learning how to communicate with someone who’s not in my family. And moving away from home for the first time. So for grad school I moved to Cambridge to go to GSD. So that was the first time I ever moved out from this location, basically. I lived in the dorms for like one semester at City College, but I feel like that doesn’t really count. So moving away from home and just outside of the immediate setting of my childhood home, I think, played an important role in terms of just experiencing life on my own, but also, again, kind of inviting more perspectives and thoughts that other people had.

I think I learned how to listen more in moving out and going to grad school. During grad school, I also again was searching for community. I felt extremely frustrated and alienated and just not really existing. I guess one key experience would be the Black in Design conference in 2017 when I was like, Wow, these are all really important issues that make a lot of sense. They seem really important. We should totally take action to make some of these things that we’re talking about happen. Maybe this is just me being naive. But I was just like, Oh, the fact that there is a conference like this happening here at GSD means that these are okay to talk about and that people must think this is important, so therefore they maybe will take action to change the curriculum or change how things are taught, et cetera. Which it doesn’t exactly play out that way, as I later experienced.

But from that point on I joined AASU, which was the African American Student Union at that time. I don’t know if they changed their name now. But I joined AASU because I started talking to people about these broader issues of racism and inequity and sort of thinking like, Okay, yeah. Folks from AASU were the folks I was really able to talk to. So the Black students were talking about these issues and I was like, “Yeah. Yeah. That makes sense.” I helped them with the club, I became the treasurer and sort of did a lot of administrative finance stuff. It was, like, I think, the first time I felt, in grad school at least, a certain sense of community. Actually, it was really because of that one open mic night. It was called Real Talk.

A Loeb fellow, Eric Williams, I think, hosted this thing called Real Talk. And it’s just kind of like, “You have five minutes to talk about whatever you want. It has to be true, and you can’t read from a script.” That was the first time I did something like that, and I just talked about my middle school experience. Actually, I remember what I talked about, and it ended up being kind of emotional, but also slightly funny. If I were to name a very particular instance, that was the instance I was like, Wow, I can actually maybe talk to people and maybe they actually appreciate what is being said and that I can relate to other people.

Sorry, I’m getting to the DAP and DMU. So that sort of experience in grad school—I graduated in 2019. So, by the time I graduated, I really was starting to become more and more aware of especially, like, inequities in the design profession and racism in particular. I started work and that was 2020. So I was working for a small firm in Cambridge, and the pandemic hit, and then the protest and the murder of George Floyd. And I just remember feeling like I wasn’t doing anything, or I wasn’t doing enough or something. And just a huge sense of urgency, which of course is like—I feel weird about it now because, of course, folks have been fighting against racism for a really long time. And it’s like, Oh, I’m just realizing now. Okay. Then I end, and I have to be a little bit self-compassionate in the sense of like, Well, I know now. So it’s like everyone kind of, like, gets to that point, hopefully.

So I joined DAP at DMU because I cared about these issues and it wasn’t necessarily being addressed in my day-to-day. So I was like, Oh, where can I find a space to work on this with other people, and actually do anti-racist work or actually benefit or help move the design profession closer to where we want it to be? I guess I was searching for a way to make it become a part of my practice. I didn’t predict that there was going to be a collective after that call, and I don’t think anyone did. But it was just like a start to something. I think it was nice, actually, to interact virtually and just get to know each other. Obviously, I was very familiar with tech stuff and organizing things. I’m like, I can do this. I’m good at this stuff. That is helpful, I think. And so it’s like, Okay, all right. Setting up a Slack stuff, G-Drive, Notion; all that kind of like—I was like, All right, cool. I know how to do this. So in some ways I was searching for a way to be helpful, and it seemed like what I was doing was helpful. (laughs) So that’s how I kind of continued to be involved with DAP at DMU.

TSC: How did you even find out about it? Where did you hear about it?

ch: I think it might have just been from Instagram or something. I don’t really remember exactly. But I also remember that—and I kind of shared this in the lecture, but I was also starting to edit for Failed Architecture at that time. We were also kind of thinking of writing this piece, especially because there’s—do you remember the black squares just everywhere? So we in Failed Architecture were really keen on calling out those architects and firms who were posting these black squares, but obviously have designed prisons or have terrible work culture or just sort of as a way to kind of keep track and form some sense of accountability. That’s how I think also that connected with DAP in that way that I think at some point—actually, I think it was like April or something.

Oh, I’m remembering now! Sorry. I’m like, When did this happen? I think it was in April where I had a call with Bryan. So I guess this might have been before the National Call even. Sorry, I’m just getting timelines mixed up. I’m not sure. I’m not positive. I seem to remember—I think it was in April where we met with Bryan, and I think Bz was on that same call and started talking about these potential collaborations for a project, how this might become The Anti-Racist Design Justice Index "The Index."1 This is like the first time “index” kind of was being thrown around, and Bryan was like, “Yeah, let’s put something together.” It’s so weird. It was like three years ago.

TSC: Yeah. I haven’t thought about that spreadsheet until you just brought it up, and now I’m remembering because I was trying to put the firm I was working for on there.

ch: Yeah. It’s still there. I looked it up, I think, for the lecture because I was like, Oh, I wonder if this spreadsheet is still up, and it’s still up. I was like, Wow, that’s a pretty good spreadsheet. I mean, it’s not updated, or it’s not being updated anymore, but I can see a life to that spreadsheet again. Oh, you know what? It was because a place called The White Pube put together a list for art organizations and museums and stuff in the UK, and so we were sort of drawing it from that and being like, Well, architecture too. So yeah, that spreadsheet. Still relevant. (laughs)

TSC: I’m going to look it up now. I want to look at it again.

ch: I can totally send you the link. It’s the architecture—

TSC: Yeah, send me the link.

ch: If you just search like, “Let’s remind architects about their commitment to BLM or something.” It’s on Failed Architecture, and then there’s a bunch of links in that article.

TSC: Okay. I’ll look it up. (laughs)

I want to ask you a little bit more about DAP because you were mentioning you showed up and there are other people working on something that you thought really made sense. You wanted to help, and you were like, I can do tech stuff. It seems helpful. People seem to perceive it as helpful. Do you feel like you cultivated a sense of belonging in these spaces? Do you feel like you belong, or do you still feel like you’re kind of searching for that sense of belonging?

ch: I think so actually, especially recently where now a lot of folks have sort of gone back to their pre-pandemic routines. So I think—I’m getting emotional. (laughs) I think that getting to know folks in DAP really changed my life in many ways. I put a lot of value in the relationships that I’ve built with DAP members. But I also do often feel like people have their own lives outside of DAP. And I feel like I don’t necessarily. I mean, I do, but it almost feels like I need folks in DAP more than it needs me in a way, which, I don’t know, that might just be something I need to think through. I think last year a lot of it, especially post retreat, I was trying to pull folks together and be like, “Hey, let’s figure out what our campaigns are,” and things like that. I went from just working on the side, sort of this data research team kind of thing, to running meetings and trying to pull people together for various projects and things. Like running these monthly capacity surveys and trying to—and this is not to blame anyone or anything. I totally understand. But it’s just—it feels like folks dropped off or were okay without DAP. And I was not. (sighs)

Then also now, a lot of the masking guidelines have been under fire and not followed anymore. I feel very strongly about being in solidarity with disabled people and immunocompromised people who have been calling to maintain all of these mask mandates and to keep safe spaces or safer spaces for gathering, and not just virtually. Not just having like, “Oh, well, it’s available on Zoom,” but actually masking and taking precautions as more and more in-person gatherings are happening. I think I feel more isolated because I don’t necessarily see people within DAP following those practices. Again, I’m not trying to say, “Shame on you,” or whatever. It’s just something that has been a little upsetting to me and feeling less aligned.

Alignment I think within DAP and DMU has always been an issue because, while we are all sort of united behind the DAP demands, a lot of things are not said and in some ways can’t really be all written out necessarily. And also it’s not to say that everyone has to agree on everything; it’s not that. But it does feel in some ways isolating.

So do I feel a sense of belonging? Yes, in the sense that I still feel happy to hang out and talk to people within DAP and whenever there is a chance to. So I feel comfortable in that sense to reach out to folks in DAP and also very grateful because DAP and DMU are part of the reasons why I have a job right now, basically. So I’m totally acknowledging that and appreciate that. It’s a place where I found mentorship and just joy, especially in the Discord channel where we just—

TSC: Still can’t figure out how to get there. I don’t know. I’m too old. (laughs)

ch: I can send you the link. (laughs)

TSC: Too old. I don’t know how to do it.

ch: But just having fun and having a space to actually talk about certain issues that I never really had a chance to talk about. To a certain extent, yeah, of course I have a therapist now I can talk to. There is no infinite time with the therapist to talk about everything.

TSC: You’re always reminded that you’re paying them when it ends and they’re like, “Well, we’ll talk to you next time.”

ch: Yeah, exactly. So I can’t completely rely on my therapists to answer all of my questions. So it’s really important to me to have some kind of community to talk to. And I’m still, I think, trying to find that.

TSC: Yeah. Thank you for sharing that. I relate to so many things that you said. I also identify as heavily values driven, and when I don’t feel like somebody’s values align with my own, it is very isolating, and it can be hard to explain to people what that’s like. I’m not trying to impose my values onto you, but I feel isolated when we don’t believe the same thing.

I want to know what dreams and aspirations you have for Asians and for Asian diasporic spaces and the people who shape them through design.

ch: What aspirations? I kind of want to know what other people’s aspirations are. (laughs)

TSC: I’ll share them.

ch: Because I feel like I just would want to support whatever their aspirations might be—or are. But I think there’s a big issue within—let’s say just within the Chinese diaspora because there are different generations and also levels of privilege, let’s say. So I would hope that there’s some way to have more intergenerational communication and understanding, which I feel is really hard. I recently picked up this card. It’s not really a game, but it’s like a set of cards. It’s called Parents Are Human. I don’t know if you’ve heard of that.

TSC: No, but as a new parent, maybe I should look into it.

ch: So it’s like a set of question cards and they’re in different languages. So it’s in Chinese and English, and has pīnyīn. And I think there’s other languages too. But it just has kind of—mostly basic questions in terms of just getting to know your parent if you don’t know how to ask in Chinese. I didn’t immediately think of my mom because my mom is actually really fluent in English. But I immediately thought of my grandmother, and I was like, Well, many people’s grandmothers and aunts and extended family are not close. They’re somewhere in China, and it’s difficult to communicate.

I mean, Wechat, sure. But also, if it’s all in Chinese, I don’t really feel how I can contribute to that. So these questions asking, "What’s your favorite food?” or something. I just feel like if there is more communication, more passing along of stories like this project [SSSAD], for example, I think it would be helpful in terms of understanding, because there’s also this whole—I don’t know know facts and things like this. But I’m seeing in a lot of places very “corporate” kind of young Chinese people talking about becoming landlords or how to make money and like the Boba Guys or something. This extremely capitalistic and corporate sort of attitude.

It feels not good, first of all, and it also feels hard to communicate with folks who have just like—I feel like I don’t really know where to begin, and I’m afraid to kind of say something that is just wildly incorrect because I’m kind of just speaking. I don’t necessarily have this direct experience. I’m just sort of like, Okay, my direct experience is seeing some of these conversations happening on social media. So disclaimer in that respect. I follow this—quick plug for Politically Asian! Podcast and there’s critiques of Chinese landlords in Chinatown, like Jonathan Chu. How do we begin to even start to communicate and reconcile almost? Isn’t there a way that we can be more aligned within our families?

“I think this desire to cultivate some kind of community is inherently diasporic.”

Interview Segment: What is a diasporic practice?

I have this huge issue because it’s like I have an aunt who is a Trump supporter basically. I’m like, I don’t even know how to talk to you because I don’t know enough Chinese to talk about politics. Got any question cards for that? (laughs) It’s hard. So I feel like I hope that there is more awareness and just even solidarity within whoever considers themselves Asian. Or like, yes, of course with Black and Indigenous communities and efforts. But it’s like even within ourselves, where can we find moments of connection there? I feel like I would love to see some kind of an intergenerational project that sort of talks about a long-term communication and process of understanding each other, basically.

And it’s like, Is there a way? Or is it like, No, we just have to find our own way somehow. Or are there any kind of moments where we can find unity or realization or just connection, you know. There’s so much more to say about this. I think because I’m just thinking like, Wow, there’s so much to unpack there that I haven’t really figured out. I think about like, Okay, well, it’s not necessarily all on one person to be that bridge, right? So how do we build these bridges together collectively? I just want to do things together, and I want it to be a learning experience for everyone. I kind of just wish that there was more of this attitude of learning together and helping each other out—just all sorts of ways because—you know—I don’t know. (laughs)

TSC: I love that. Everything you said is so amazing, and I want those things too. So I just have one final question. I know we’re a little bit past our hour, but it has been nice hearing you talk. If you need to go, please feel free.

ch: No worries. We can keep going.

TSC: Okay. So this is my last question, which is that an important component of this project is to create resources that will hopefully be useful for Asians, Asian diasporic designers and creatives. What resources would you love to see for yourself or for other Asian designers? Or what would you have loved to have seen as a younger designer?

ch: I feel like I still consider myself to be a young designer, I guess. (laughs)

TSC: That’s why I said “younger.” (laughs)

ch: Oh! Younger. Younger. (laughs) I mean, even just seeing more people talk genuinely about their experiences as someone who might be from China or as an Asian person in design, in architecture, I think like—I mean, besides like I. M. Pei, or like all those Japanese designers—male Japanese designers—I didn’t really see that many—if at all—Asian designers—or queer Asian designers. That’d be amazing. It’s sort of like seeing that work and that kind of work in school, let’s say. And having the opportunity to listen to or just have a conversation with. Almost kind of like mentorship in a way. But in ways that are value driven, you know?

I feel like I’m very particular. I feel very suspicious and also particular about the Asian creators or designers that I encounter, which is maybe not good of me, but it feels like I can’t help it necessarily because of many different factors. But just seeing more Asian designers being more specific about what they care about. If I was in school—I’m just trying to think what is a concrete way to describe this? It’s like, Oh, what if I had a professor who I could kind of go to and talk to? Actually, this is really important, but like in early design education, because when I was at City College, almost all my professors were white men—cishet white men. It’s not like I don’t think they’re good professors. Actually, I had relatively good luck with professors, I would say.

“But it’s like even within ourselves, where can we find moments of connection there? I feel like I would love to see some kind of an intergenerational project that sort of talks about a long-term communication and process of understanding each other, basically.”

But then I’m like, What if I had an Asian professor, or what if I had a Chinese professor? I find myself wondering more about Chinese architecture or various architecture in China, let’s say, to be a little more broad. This is why I’m kind of frustrated about not knowing enough Chinese, because I feel like, What if I used a Chinese search engine to find stuff? What do Chinese people have to say about this architecture or architecture practice? It’s like, Oh, why am I searching in English for a Chinese recipe? I’m sure there’s a million different Chinese recipes—recipes written in Chinese, let’s say, about this particular dish that I’m having trouble finding on an English search engine, let’s say. So I’d like more resources or ways to connect. Maybe we need more Chinglish everywhere. (laughs)

This is kind of an aside, but I’m learning Wing Chun right now, which is a martial art. And even trying to find names of different techniques is hard. I find myself pulling together a glossary of a sort of more phonetic way to describe each move, but also trying to translate that into traditional Chinese and also translating that into pinyin but also the Cantonese pronunciation and the Mandarin pronunciation and then the meaning of those words. And the way that it has been given to me is in this kind of phonetic spelling of the move. But I have no idea what that refers to in terms of the Chinese character. So it’s like maybe there are more things that need to be—or not need to be necessarily, but like, it would be nice if they were written in Chinglish, you know? (laughs)

Because I want to know what the Chinese is. I want to; it’s not like I don’t want to. I actually want to. But if I look at something and it’s in Chinese, I don’t know what it is. So I’m like, Tell me, but in a different way. And it’s like—have you ever had this moment where you ask your parents or you ask your mom—I would always ask my mom like, “What does this mean?” This phrase in Chinese—I know how to pronounce it, but I don’t know what it means. They’ll try to describe the definition of it in Chinese. I would always guess how I would translate it to English. There would be lots of times where I would actually mistranslate it because it’s pronounced the same as something, but because there are characters in Chinese that are pronounced exactly the same but they’re completely different meanings. So it’s like, “Oh, is it like this word?” And my mom would be like, “No,” and just be laughing hysterically. (laughs)

So, I don’t know. More Chinglish.

TSC: More Chinglish. Yeah. (laughs) I love that. You made my brain go in so many directions. I’ll have to marinate on this for a while.

ch: Yeah, for sure. (laughs)

TSC: Yeah. It’s exciting. Thank you so much. If there’s anything else you’d like to share, please do so, or if there is anything you want to revisit before we end—

ch: I don’t know. 

“What if I had an Asian professor, or what if I had a Chinese professor? I find myself wondering more about Chinese architecture or various architecture in China, let’s say, to be a little bit broader. This is why I’m kind of frustrated about not knowing enough Chinese, because I feel like, What if I used a Chinese search engine to find stuff? What do Chinese people have to say about this architecture or architecture practice? It’s like, Oh, why am I searching in English for a Chinese recipe?”

I also feel like my brain has a lot of things. I think there’s more to say about a lot of the topics or the questions that were brought up in terms of just, What are ways to show or practice solidarity? I’m still trying to figure out what that looks like in an everyday way that doesn’t burn out people. Because I just feel like there’s always this tension between feeling like you’re doing enough but not being so hard on yourself. It’s like, How do you balance self-compassion but also doing stuff? That’s just the way I feel. I don’t really know if that’s a common feeling, but I think I’m just constantly struggling with that feeling of not doing enough and then being depressed about it, but doing too much and also being depressed about that. So that’s like, Oh yeah, I’m just burnt out. And then it’s like, How are ways we can remind each other or take care of each other a little bit more but also domore—together, you know?

TSC: Mm-hmm. I don’t know if it’s a common thing, but it’s definitely something that I feel as well, especially when you see yourself in an allyship position or a solidarity position. But I’ve definitely resonated a lot more with some concepts you talked about in DAP, like collective care over individual. Self-care is not a concept that I’ve ever really related to, but collective care, that’s something I relate to. Like when can I step back and when do you step up? But it is always a balance, and I actually like the way you put it—as a balance between self-compassion and doing stuff. It’s kind of a nice way to—

ch: (laughs) Yeah. I mean, it’s not that compassion is not doing something, right?

TSC: I like self-compassion over self-care actually.

ch: That’s what my therapist just brings up. It’s like, “Maybe you should just be a little bit less hard on yourself.”

TSC: Yeah.

ch: And I think this is actually really related to my particular experience of being a second-generation Chinese person who came during—or, basically, my parents came during the eighties and being in an actually very privileged position of having gone to private school and have stable housing and went to grad school, all these things. I think that’s just what makes it really hard to feel like I’m not doing enough, but then, at the same time, feeling bad about feeling bad about that because it’s like, Why am I feeling bad about myself feeling bad? Or like, Why am I even giving myself the space for that? Because there are so many other issues, there’s so many other things I could be doing or helping with this situation instead of feeling bad about myself not knowing how to be better, if that makes sense. It makes me frustrated and upset that it frustrates me this much.

TSC: Yeah. I relate to that too. Why can’t I just do things and stop being in my head and overthinking?

ch: It seemed like, for my mom, it was just as easy as being like, Well, I just need a job, so let me just work and that’s it. In my brain I’m feeling like, Why is it so hard for me to get a job? I have a job now. But it’s just like, Why does it feel like I am resisting something at every step of the way when maybe I shouldn’t have to, or it’s like self-fabricated or something.

TSC: Yeah. That’s what happens when you grow up in America. You get this emotional energy you never asked for. Sometimes it’s like, Why can’t I be more like my immigrant parents? They just did what they needed to do, and they moved forward. (laughs)

ch: Yeah. It’s like, Wow. That’s great. I mean, I really admire my parents, especially my mom. And I’m just like, I should be able to do that too. I am afforded so many more privileges because of their hard work. Why can’t I just do the thing? Why is it so hard for me to accept the fact—I don’t know, this is kind of getting into another rabbit hole and stuff, so I’ll maybe stop there. (laughs)

I think there are a lot of feelings around that, and I haven’t really figured it out. I know it’s not necessarily about figuring it out, but it is helpful to talk about it.

TSC: That’s great. We’ll probably wrap up because we’ve been going on for a while and I don’t want us to get Zoom fatigued! But I just want to say that I do see you as somebody who’s very, very committed to this work, more committed than most people that I know in a way that I really admire. And so I think that in and of itself will result in you having all of these feelings. I just want to say that I really appreciate you.

This is a random little anecdote, but I remember this one time I wrote a Slack message where I was having a hard time figuring something out related to my job. It was this long message, and nobody responded or reacted. Then you responded and I remember thinking, christin responded! Who is this person who cared, read my message, and then thoughtfully responded? I feel that you’re like that all the time, in all the spaces—you really see people and make people feel seen. I mean, of course there’s moments where you have to step back and have self-compassion, which I think is always supported. But I hope that you hang onto that personal quality because I think it’s really special and rare. Just wanted to say that.

ch: I appreciate that. I’m glad that—it feels good, so thank you.

TSC: Yeah, I mean it.

“What are ways to show or practice solidarity? I’m still trying to figure out what that looks like in an everyday way that doesn’t burn out people. Because I just feel like there’s always this tension between feeling like you’re doing enough but not being so hard on yourself. It’s like, How do you balance self-compassion but also doing stuff? ”

Posted January 21, 2024