Events

2018 Vulture Festival Los Angeles: Saturday

Deftly avoiding a sophomore slump, the Vulture Festival was back in Los Angeles for the second year in a row, and this year’s lineup was just as jam-packed as the inaugural iteration. Not only did the festival host conversations with cultural icons such as Cynthia Nixon and Busy Philipps, but it also had panels with new fan faves such as Constance Wu (Fresh Off the Boat and Crazy Rich Asians) and Lana Condor (To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before and Syfy’s Deadly Class), as well as a handful of pretty nutty feature events—improvised musical podcast taping with special guest Rachel Bloom, anyone? Read on for some of Dinner Party’s favorites from Day One.

Scrubs Reunion

In this age of reboots and remakes, you can’t help but wonder—even worry—any time the word “reunion” is used that a “major announcement” will shortly follow. Seriously though, can’t we all just reminisce about how great a show was without fearing that it will spark a subpar reboot from a network?! Well thankfully, this weekend’s Scrubs Reunion was just that. In what the panel (featuring stars Zach Braff, Donald Faison, Sarah Chalke, John C. McGinley, Ken Jenkins, Judy Reyes, Neil Flynn, Christa Miller, and creator Bill Lawrence) described as the “first one of these things we’ve all agreed to”—namely because of the free booze—the vibe at the Scrubs Reunion was truly just that of friends reflecting on fond memories.

Whether it was laughing about Sarah Chalke’s inability to finish a scene without breaking or trying to understand all of the multiple layers of The Janitor, there were plenty of laughs and “remember whens” at this reunion. Most importantly there was even a surprise appearance from The Todd—notably not invited to speak on the panel, but he made up for it but showing up in his full costume, banana hammock and everything. The panel even had to stop at one point because they had fallen down a deep hole of their own inside jokes before remembering the audience wasn’t in on all of the jokes.

Creator Bill Lawrence did reference and express gratitude for the intense dedication and love from the fans of Scrubs as one of the main reasons the show was able to be as bold as it was. Yes, Scrubs was a hilarious comedy with wacky fantasy bits and slapstick delivery, but it also dared to be real by dealing with solemn topics such as life and death. In the fourth episode, the viewer and doctors in training are all told that on average 1 in 3 patients admitted will die; however, the surprise—SPOILER ALERT—comes when all 3 of the patients-of-the-week die, and the characters are left to deal with the finality of death. Lawrence acknowledges that taking a major turn like that so early in a show’s course could have been the kiss of death for Scrubs, and the studio even advised against it. Thankfully, Lawrence took the risk and the fans loved it; Scrubs set itself apart from other network comedies of the early ’00s because of its ability to balance comedy and drama, all in 22 minutes.

So why no reboot? According to Lawrence, it is both because reboots feel like a cash grab, and all of the actors seem to be doing fine. Lawrence jokingly promised that if any of the actors on the panel were in a crisis, he would help them out—but only with a “small movie” and only in the form of a “where are they now.” Thankfully the cast of Scrubs is, in fact, doing well, so there is no need for the stress and worry of a “will they or won’t they ruin my favorite TV show.” Instead, we can all just gather seventeen years after the premiere and laugh about what it means to know that you’re no superman.

Constance Wu: In Conversation

Constance Wu has lived one hell of a 2018.  Not only has she been able to trade in her ‘06 Prius and swap out her apartment for her very own house, but she’s also enjoyed the fifth season of ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat and starred in the major romantic comedy hit of the year, Crazy Rich AsiansThis has been an amazing year for Wu, but she mentioned that it has not always been easy, particularly because she felt a lot of anxiety surrounding Crazy Rich Asians—and not about whether it would be a box office hit or slump. Rather, she was worried about what it meant for such an underserved audience. A reflection is the best way to sum up Saturday’s conversation; yes, there were questions about both her TV and film projects, but mainly, the conversation focused around her Asian American identity and what it means to be a woman in Hollywood during the era of #MeToo.  

Wu mentioned that she, like most Asian American actors, struggled at first with how her identity would play out in her characters. At first, she said she wanted to play parts that didn’t take race into account at all, but as time has passed, she realized that doing this was robbing her characters of a fully formed identity and experience. A character’s race (or gender, sexual orientation, and so on) should not be the only thing defining a character, but it is a large part of how the character sees themselves and how they fit into their worlds. Wu said that to ignore her race in the efforts of “color blind” casting was to erase her lived experiences and oversimplify these characters. By taking on roles such as Jessica Huang in Fresh Off the Boat and Rachel Chu in Crazy Rich Asians, Wu has been able to utilize her lived experiences and elevate characters that are not just complex and fully formed, but most importantly, real.

A theme that lasted throughout the conversation was challenging the notion that anyone should have to soften their experiences for someone else’s comfort. This came up frequently while talking about her experience as an Asian American, and specifically an Asian American actress, but it was also discussed when speaking about what it means to be a woman during a pivotal time in Hollywood history.

Wu’s struggles—and honestly, one I very much related to—was best summed up in her recent panic over whether to use an exclamation point or a period in an email. Her point was that women used exclamation points to soften the blow of their sentences; she argued that by ending “can’t wait to discuss this further with you” with an exclamation point, she intentionally created a more easygoing and cheerful sentiment in comparison to the same sentence with a period, which would have been more forceful and direct. With this example, Wu addressed the idea that as a woman, she is expected to put other people’s comfort over her own truth and experiences. In the end, she said that she—with the help of her therapist—decided that it’s still ok to use exclamation points, but not to fall back on them when you mean the sentiments of a period.

Ever the entertainer, Wu kept the conversation from lingering too long in the shadows of these complex topics by peppering the conversation with fun facts. My personal favorite was Wu’s obsession with Ariana Grande’s “Thank U, Next.” For the record, Wu loves the song because she believes it is using both an exclamation point and a period—which is where she seems to want the future to be.    

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Longform

On Form N-400


This essay was originally published by the literary journal Rock & Sling in Vox, a special edition issue on the 2016 presidential election. You can get your hands on this issue, as well as the upcoming Vox II: American Identities by visiting their online store

“You can color in the bubbles for me,” Courtland offered, sliding the ballot across our kitchen table.

I looked at him, horrified. “That’s fraud!”

“Only joking,” he said. “I’ll let you wear the sticker though.” He held up the small white oval stuck to his thumb.

Peeling the sticker off of his finger, I noticed that the Los Angeles edition was different than the kind I had seen growing up in the South. Instead of the standard blue letters stating “I Voted” across a waving American flag, this version translated the words into six other languages including Tagalog, my native tongue. “Bumoto Ako” was emblazoned across the bottom of the oval.

“Makes sense,” I thought, considering how frequently I overhear conversations in Tagalog while walking around the area. On the bus, at gas stations, and without fail, every time I approach the free samples table at Costco. But no matter how accommodating L.A. County may be towards Filipino immigrants, no matter how well I can mix into the melting pot, I can’t claim to be Filipino-American, much less American in general.

I stared at the sticker. Bumoto Ako, it said.

But I didn’t, I thought in response.

“It’s not the same,” I groaned out loud. I placed the sticker on my forehead as I walked away, leaving Courtland to sort out Senator X from Representative Y, Measure M from Proposition HHH.

I dread election season. Like millions of other immigrants such as myself, I loathe having to listen to politicians deliberate on our relative worth, like we’re abandoned dogs waiting to be admitted to a shelter. Ban them all, there’s no more room! Take pity on them, they just want a better life! Keep only the young ones ’cause the adults can’t be trained! We don’t know what kind of diseases they carry—think of the children!

But the thing I dread the most doesn’t have anything to do with politicians or their opinions at all. Well at least, not directly.

“Did you register to vote yet?”

I suppose this question isn’t an unreasonable one to ask of a fairly liberal, politically active writer, particularly one who speaks with a neutral American accent that has been described as “straight out of Sesame Street.”

I never know how to answer. If I say, “I’m not an American citizen,” this tiny nugget of personal information almost always turns into a half-hour long discussion about how the American immigration process works—“Yes, I’ve lived here that long,” and “No, I don’t get automatic citizenship because I’m married to an American,” and “Of course, the citizenship application costs that much.” Or worse, my simple “no” is met with a look of bewilderment, disbelief, and utter disgust. People who ask this question are not exactly the type to answer, “Me either.” This compels me to again put on my best college professor impression and outline the immigration process to someone who probably only wanted an alternative discussion topic to the weather outside.

It’s not the mini-lecture I dread. It’s the follow-up questions. “Why aren’t you a citizen yet?” or “When are you going to apply?” are the most common. The firm belief that duh, of course you want to be an American never ceases to surprise me.

I didn’t exactly have a say in coming to America. In my case, as a typical eleven-year-old faced with a big move, I was actively against it. I screamed. I cried. I tried to run away. I came up with a plan to live with my relatives, who would take rotating shifts to serve as my surrogate parents until my own realized the error of their ways and moved back to the tropics. But alas, I failed. My mom zipped me into a puffy turquoise snow jacket, buckled me up for a 21-hour plane ride, and prodded me through the never-ending “New Arrivals” line at the Detroit airport one snowy winter day, the first day of the rest of my new life.

I didn’t choose to come to the United States. That being said, this country has been my home for almost fifteen years—far longer than any other. My immediate family lives here. Most of my friends live here. I’ve even started a family of my own in a little apartment by the Pacific Ocean. Well, right now it’s just two people and one cat, but we might add a few more four-legged critters to the mix. At least, that’s the goal according to Article I, Section 1.1 of my personal five-year plan. In contrast, citizenship is somewhere in the draft stages of the plan’s Amendments section. Early draft stages.

So why not apply? For years, it’s been a matter of money. One does not casually fork over $680 like it’s a free paper napkin. But, at some point in the past few years, right around the time I became eligible for citizenship, I reached a turning point in my post-grad life and managed to make enough for a trip to Paris and London. So there goes that excuse.

Another viable explanation I often use is the time commitment. This kind of application, you know, the type to ask you to list every single group you’ve been affiliated with in your whole entire life—service organizations, volunteer corps, drinking clubs, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, Gryffindor, or Slytherin—can’t be completed in an afternoon. It can’t be done in five. I need time, lots of it, enough for snack breaks and naps in between. And as a full-time graduate student with a part-time job, an internship, and a husband and a cat to take care of, spare time is a luxury. A luxury designated for doing laundry and dusting the bookshelves—not for typing marathons on Adobe Acrobat.

But then again, I did find enough time to go to Paris and London.

Truth be told, it’s a bit of both of these things. No, I certainly don’t have $680 or twenty hours of free time handy in my back pocket. But if I had to choose again, and I acknowledge my incredible privilege in having this choice, I would still prefer to use these things on airline tickets and fancy French cheeses.

Because I think there is something else that holds me back.

Citizenship is an odd thing. At birth, it’s given freely, often times by the country in which you’re lucky (or unlucky) enough to be born. Unfathomable to many Americans, some countries even allow the parents to choose their child’s citizenship. As you get older, however, the window closes. You are forced to accept your citizenship like you’re forced to accept your eye color or the size of your nose. It’s an intangible, yet no less defining characteristic that shapes who you are as a person and how you view the world.

But at the same time, it’s just a word on a birth certificate. A concept made up by people as a means of self-definition. A cultural construct that holds no real value outside of the citizenship-defined society we have created for ourselves. At our core, we are no different than someone on the other side of the world. We’re all just human beings in the end.

Funny how we tend to forget this so easily.

And thus we draw borders. We fight wars. We promise to build walls. Situations become “us” versus “them” rather than “all of us” versus “those who are trying to do us harm.” We forget the idea of shared humanity and cling instead to our identity as citizens of this place or that.

My Filipino citizenship is a document. A legality. A formalized reflection of where I was born. But it’s also my last connection to a country that is quickly fading in my memories. I hesitate to say it, but trading in one citizenship for another feels like letting go of a part of me, even though the culture, rather than the citizenship status itself, makes me who I am.

Funny how a simple identifier can signify nothing inherent, nothing regarding the true nature of the identified. And yet, the same identifier is collapsed with the culture it represents. It is imbued with so much meaning by the identified in order to self-describe to a world that only understands national allegiance—national culture even—via citizenship.

Maybe this is the year I convince myself of the lesson I’ve been trying to teach others all along—that citizenship says nothing about who someone is at their essence.

Maybe this is the year I realize that I don’t have to compromise my identity as a Filipino immigrant to become a civically empowered member of American society.

Maybe this is the year I fill out my citizenship application. Because as much fun as it has been planning my exit-from-America strategy if Mr. President decides to kick all of us brown-skinned immigrants out, I’d rather not leave it up to chance the next time around.

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Think Piece Roundup

Think Piece Roundup: Crazy Rich Asians

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For the record: I loved the film adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s bestselling novel. I’m a self-professed romantic comedy junkie who frequently gets suckered into watching any movie even remotely resembling the genre. On top of that, I’m an Asian American constantly tip-toeing the line between being “too Asian” in some contexts and “not Asian enough” in others. I am this movie’s target demographic.

That said, I also grew up in the Philippines during the era of Flor Contemplacion. For those unfamiliar, Contemplacion was a Filipino domestic worker who was charged with murder and executed by the Singaporean government. Her death caused a political firestorm, souring relations between the Philippines and Singapore for years after, as well as sparking a renewed interest in the treatment of OFWs and the intersection of class, ethnicity, and power in the geopolitical sphere. Needless to say, I’m always curious to see how—but more often than not, if—filmic portrayals address this tangled web of issues.

And so, although I cherish the opportunity to watch a glitzy Hollywood rom-com starring a bunch of people who look a lot like me—I think it’s worth spending the time to take stock of the discussions surrounding Crazy Rich Asians, both good and bad. Because even if it didn’t rake in over $160 million at the box office, the film still has all the trappings of a movie that launches a thousand think pieces—and thankfully not the kind that has to explain “Whitewashing 101.” Read on for a small, curated slice of these conversations, from articles criticizing the film’s treatment of ethnic minorities in Singapore to writers celebrating the fact that this movie has moved us along just enough that we’re now able to discuss the delicate nuances of Asian identity in a global context.

Singaporean activist and writer Sangeetha Thanapal maintains that Crazy Rich Asians furthers the “ongoing systematic erasure and oppression of Singapore minorities on a global screen” in an article for Wear Your Voice, an intersectional feminist website.

Likewise, Singaporean poet Pooja Nansi calls out the movie’s troubling portrayal of her country’s ethnic minorities in positions of servitude.

Kirsten Han echoes these sentiments, arguing that the movie doesn’t avoid caricature or stereotype but merely offers another version of the “exotic” East. The Vox piece also touches upon the “divergence between the needs and priorities of Asian Americans and Asians in Asia” and points out that while the film’s all-Asian cast is touted as a win for representation in America, the focus on East Asian faces merely reinforces Chinese dominance in Singaporean culture.

Over at the Los Angeles Times, Frank Shyong suggests an alternative viewpoint, noting the film’s “fractal resonance or truth that holds up from many angles,” which he observes in the film’s popularity within the Cambodian American community in Long Beach, California.

Similarly, Jiayang Fan tempers these criticisms by urging viewers to watch Crazy Rich Asians “like an Asian American” in a piece for The New Yorker.

Shannon Liao has a slightly different take on the Asian American vs. Asians in Asia divide. She points out that director Jon M. Chu, screenwriters Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim, as well as actress Michelle Yeoh, have mentioned in past interviews that female agency and power dynamics were integral in shaping the characters and plot of the film adaptation; these concerns, Liao argues, subvert expectations of the traditional Asian rom-com and allow the film to become “not only…an opportunity for Asian-Americans to see themselves represented on-screen as positively and vividly as they are in Asian media, but also for Asian characters to be reflected in a more feminist and appreciative light.”

Journalist Audrey Cleo Yap admits that the film “doesn’t even come close” to representing the full spectrum of Asian and Asian-American experiences—and why that’s okay with her.

Oddly enough, the movie may never be released in China according to Amy Qin at the The New York Times. And even if it were, many doubt just how popular such a film—with its thematic undercurrents of diaspora culture—could ever be amongst mainland Chinese.

Jeva Lange of The Week questions if the film truly offers anything beyond “wealth porn,” writing that Crazy Rich Asians “fetishizes extreme wealth while failing to acknowledge or grapple with the nuances of a system of gross inequality.”

On MUBI’s The Notebook, Kelley Dong takes this argument a step further by connecting wealth with cultural identity—and why, against a backdrop of “sizzling street food and skyscrapers,” the movie’s failure to address these issues is problematic.

Finally, Allyson Chiu at The Washington Post notes that “since stories about nonwhite characters are so rare to begin with, movies that break the mold are put under a stronger microscope,” a sentiment shared by Crazy Rich Asians actor Nico Santos in an interview with CNN. The solution, according to both, is to support the movie for the opportunities it could create. After all, as Santos says, “We should be allowed to fail…How many chances do white people get? How many [crappy] movies do they get to make over and over again?…This is our first chance, so let us throw the dart. If it doesn’t stick, then ok. Give us another dart.”

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Ladies We Love

Ladies We Love: Catching Up with Emily Lee

Representation matters. We’ve certainly discussed it before on the site, and I’m not planning on stopping anytime soon. And if you don’t believe me, or even the experts, take it from Dinner Party’s Ladies We Love alumna Emily Lee. Even after touring the world as a musician, as well as working on the music for an Oscar-nominated documentary, she still finds herself moved, and perhaps a bit spellbound, by fellow rocker Mitski’s success—so much so that she requested if I could maybe not print the exact number of how many times she’s seen—and cried at—Mitski’s shows.

Along with my friend and fellow Asian American feminist Willa Zhang, I caught up with Emily in Los Angeles on one of her first stops on tour with new band Loma. Read on for more about New York vs. Los Angeles, post-election politics, and three Asians unapologetically geeking out over getting a taste of representation.

Last time we talked, you were on tour with Shearwater, and right now you’re on tour with Loma. What else have you been up to lately? Well last year, I took the whole year off from touring with Shearwater since Jonathan [Meiburg] is working on his book. And last time we talked, I was still on leave from my old job at PBS. Since then, I quit that job to be a musician full-time, but I also do freelance music supervision work, which is what I was doing at my old job. So last year, I music supervised two documentaries, and one of them was nominated for an Academy Award.

That was Knife Skills, right? Yep. It was the first one I did last year. It’s like, how did this happen?

Everything you touch turns to gold! Haha, yeah it’s very weird. But I’m still going—it’s just the beginning.

You’re gearing up for a very long tour with Loma. What is touring life like? Well luckily with this group, we’d all kind of toured together with the Shearwater tour, and Loma is made up of members of Shearwater and members of Cross Record. It’s been great—well, I mean we kind of just started—but I feel like we’re all friends already, and we all know each other. These members, there’s no weirdness. Everyone’s really open, no tension. And there’s seemingly a lot of room in the van right now, which is really nice.

Where are you the most excited to go on this tour? Oh man, I’m actually really excited to be here. The place that we’re staying in Santa Monica is just, you know, being a New Yorker, I’m just like, “I could never imagine moving to L.A.” And I’m always like, “I hate L.A.” But this place in Santa Monica—it has a pool, and the only thing I want to do is wake up in the morning, go outside, lie by the pool in the sun, and read The New York Times. It’s the thing I want to do. And today, we went to the beach, and the people we’re staying with are like, “You seem so natural as a Californian.” And I’m like, “I don’t drive though.”

That’s fair. It’s sometimes the deal breaker if you want to move to California. Exactly. I don’t like driving. And then there’s all that traffic…

I feel that. It’s a real roadblock. It’s not something to take lightly. Yeah, that’s the thing. It’s like, oh in New York, I just have to hop on the subway and can be somewhere in like 40 minutes. But I literally drive one to five times a year. It’s to drive my mom around during the holidays.

Since we last spoke, I feel like there have been more breakthroughs with female musicians of color, especially Asian Americans. I don’t know if it seems that way because I’m more in tune with it, or if you can just come across this music more easily nowadays. But, I guess, do you have any current favorite female musicians of color? On that last Shearwater tour, I got insanely, intensely devoted to Mitski. Like intense. I’ve seen her in concert at least five times.

Whoa, that’s a lot. That’s devotion. I know. I know. Can you make that number a little smaller? I don’t want her thinking I’m crazy! But yeah, her music really spoke to me. And, “[Your Best] American Girl,” I think every time I hear that song or go to a show, it’s just, tears. I don’t know what touches me so hard with her music, but I’m like, “She understands me.” It’s amazing. I don’t understand…

I’m like, “This is what it’s like to be represented.” You know, I feel that in the past, I never really sought out representation. I just thought, oh, you know, we were just not in that world so much, and that’s fine. My favorite artists aren’t Asian American women. But once one hits, you’re like, “Oh my God.”

It’s when you get a taste of it. Yeah, it’s like Fresh Off The Boat. Where has this sitcom been all my life? It tells my entire family’s story.

I feel with a lot of Asian Americans, we all had this collective awakening of like, “Oh we could, we could be on TV.” I didn’t even know that I should dream about that. I think that was a huge thing to unlock first—you should want that first, and then you can go get it. But if you don’t even know you should want it, you can’t go get it. Right. In those, you know, Caucasian sitcoms, that was the norm. And growing up in a very white suburb in New Jersey, it just felt like that is the representation, that I identify with this white culture, but now seeing this actual story of people that are very similar to my—well our, probably—backgrounds, it’s like, “Oh wait, no, they weren’t telling my story. This is my story.” Oh another artist—Awkwafina.

Yes! I think I saw her in a Gap commercial recently? I know! She’s getting huge. She’s in that new Ocean’s movie? The remake.

I love her rap videos on YouTube. I’ve watched them so many times. And she has that podcast, er, it’s more of a video thing. Yes! “Tawk” is so good!

Last thing—I know Shearwater’s never been shy about political leanings, but I feel like lately, especially after the presidential election, it’s pretty explicit on social media how the band feels about things. Do you feel that as a musician, you have more responsibility now, more than ever, after the election, to speak up? I never thought about that, but yeah. Yeah, totally. Because as public figures, I mean, I am in control of the Shearwater Twitter and Instagram accounts. I let Jonathan do most of the political things because I don’t want to speak for him even though he says I totally can, but I do feel like when we speak, when we say something, there’s so much response. It feels like people really appreciate having people who have a platform speaking out.

And I feel like it’s so hard. I mean, you know, we all—many people are feeling the same way, and to have an artist say it and then be able to collectively comment on that artist’s post, it forms this other type of community around the thing you’ve already said is your community. So if you’re a fan of this band, and this band says something that you agree with, and then those fans, your fans are like, “Oh yeah, we totally agree on this other thing.” And I think that’s, it’s like, I do think it’s important to build this…

You’re connecting in more ways. Yeah, exactly!

Emily is currently trekking through Europe with Loma. To see the band perform live, check out their tour dates here.

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Ladies We Love

Ladies We Love: Emily Lee

When I was an undergraduate, I had a crazy idea to try and interview one of my favorite musicians, Jonathan Meiburg of Shearwater. We had both attended the same small liberal arts college, tucked away in the deep forests of the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee, and as a senior and editor-in-chief of our college newspaper (which he once ran himself), my thought was, “Why the hell not?” Little did I know that a few years and a handful of Shearwater shows later, that conversation would not only lead to a new friendship, but even more opportunities to get to know some absolutely amazing folks.

Emily Lee currently plays the keyboard and provides backup vocals for Shearwater. After witnessing her hypnotic on-stage presence (and being inspired by her killer vintage style) at the Roxy in Los Angeles, I had a feeling she’d be a perfect interview for this column. Lee was kind enough to take some time from her Shearwater duties—which currently involve a cover of David Bowie’s Lodger (in its entirety) for A.V. Club’s Undercover series—to talk music, mentors, and being one of two badass minority ladies in the band.

Tell me a bit about your background and how you got your start in the music industry. I grew up playing piano and violin. My parents were not that strict about practicing or anything, which I think was a little bit of a detriment to me, as I got better without practicing. I always think that I might be a famous concert pianist right now if I had only devoted a little more time to it.

I went to Barnard College and majored in music theory and composition. After college, I got a job as a music specialist at WNET, the PBS station in NYC; I’m basically a music supervisor for the company. Also after college, I started to experiment with playing in groups that were not classical. I was an accompanist for my friend’s off-off-broadway musical, and I got involved with a few rock bands.

It’s nice being on two sides of the music industry—the creation side as well as the music supervision side. I never thought that the creative side would develop into a career, but it feels like it’s starting to get there.

Did you have any mentors or idols growing up that helped you pursue a career in music? I was very much encouraged by my piano teacher as well as my high school orchestra teacher. They both really seemed to see a little bit of talent in me and encouraged me to use it. My father has also been a big influence on me as he’s a music lover. He appreciates music of all types, and he’s taken me to many rock shows, classical concerts, operas and jazz shows through the years.

How did you get involved with Shearwater? My involvement with Shearwater is thanks to a random tweet I sent out as I rode the train to New Haven up from NYC to practice with my own band, Snake Oil. I had been listening to my iPod on shuffle, and a Shearwater song came up (probably “Hail, Mary”) and I tweeted about how my dream would be to play keys, sing backups and make noise in Shearwater. Two days later, Jonathan wrote me an email. I was completely surprised. I couldn’t join them for the tour he was putting together at that time, but a couple years later, he sent me another email. I was again completely shocked, but this time, my friends, family, Facebook friends, co-workers—literally everyone in my life—told me that I should do it. When does the opportunity come to play and tour in your favorite band?

Growing up as an Asian-American, it was a bit disheartening to discover that minority ladies (Asian women, even more so) in the western music industry seemed so few and far between. Granted, a handful of names—M.I.A., Karen O, Kazu Makino, and Nancy Whang, to name a few—have achieved notable visibility in recent years, but it still appears that the industry disproportionately features white dudes with guitars. 

Not that there’s anything wrong with these white dudes and their guitars, but representation is important since minority women have their own unique stories to tell. As an insider, what are your thoughts on this topic? As an Asian-American woman, I definitely feel like I had very few people whom I could point to who had the career path that I actually wanted. I think that’s why I was so focused on classical music for so long. I mainly listened to rock music growing up, but I never thought that it was something I could do—whereas there are a ton of Asian-American classical pianists and violinists, and I knew that was a doable path. I said to others that I dreamed of being a classical pianist, but deep inside, I wanted to be in a band—I mean, the “white dudes with guitars” were the musicians that I actually listened to.

I still think that this industry is heavily slanted in that direction (within bands, but also in every other part as well). That’s one of the things I really love about this line-up of Shearwater. We have two minority women in the band—I feel like that’s unheard of. And we’re both very skilled and technical players. Sadie and I love when other women come up to us at shows to point out how cool it is that we’re representing within the band. That makes playing in the band doubly meaningful to us.

What’s up next for you? I’m currently grappling with the question of forgoing my day job to have more flexibility to tour and do other projects. I love my work in music supervision, but it’s been difficult recently to reconcile the 9-5 job with the need to go away for weeks at a time. If I do wind up as a freelancer, I hope to work on my own music and take on some music supervision projects in between stints on the road. Or, I’ll become a cat sitter. You never know…

Update: A few days after I received her responses, Emily posted some exciting news on her Facebook:

I guess it’s time to go public? On this first day of the next year of my life, I want to let you all know that I’ll be leaving my treasured and amazing job at Thirteen to become a professional musician and freelance music specialist.

It has been an incredibly difficult decision, and honestly, I was really hoping that my job would have given me the flexibility to pursue my music career while still being able to work at the place I’ve called home for the past 16+ years. But sadly, that was not to be, and so I’ve handed in my notice.

I love my job. And I love WNET. (I’ve loved this place since I was barely able to walk/talk.) I put so much into doing a great job, and I hope to be able to serve outside producers with the same speed, attention to detail, organization and creativity that I have here. I will miss each and every one of my co-workers.

But, I am excited to be able to go on tour in my favorite band without trying to figure out logistics of vacation days.

Thank you to everyone who has shown me support in my decision—and everyone who has backed me in my pursuit of my dreams. Without you, I’m not sure I could be so brave…

My last day is June 7th. I go off to Europe with Shearwater on June 9th. Please help me with this transition, as I am counting on you guys to be my cheerleaders once again.

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