This bracelet is my Lola Gunding’s. Between each stone is a Chinese symbol (as a Filipino American, I’ve always felt confused about which tropes are "mine"). It bares five different jade stones: black for protection, orange for connection, white for clarity, green for prosperity, and purple for happiness. The Philippines is one of the most Catholic countries in the world, but also one of the most superstitious.
These earrings are my Lola Patsy’s (Gunding’s daughter). Lola Patsy and her husband, Lolo Jun, met on their way to becoming doctors, and they spent two years studying on opposite sides of the world— my Lolo in New Jersey and my Lola in Manila. They wrote each other a letter every day.
This dress was my Lola Cezarina’s. She came to the US when she was seventeen, and she fought cancer three times. I spent every day with her during her final round, and I learned more about her and loved her more deeply in those three months than I ever had in twenty years.
The luminous team behind #racismisavirus asked that to kick off APA Heritage Month, I send in a smidge about what it means to be #unapologeticallyasian. To me, it means that I’ve inherited an identity full of contradictions. I’ll wear jade on my wrist for luck, but a crucifix on my neck for strength. Chinese food kinda tastes like home but my mouth will still mispronounce most of the menu. My Lolas are some of the most educated and intelligent people I know, but we also make fart jokes. And even though as a young woman in the US the world tells me that youth is beauty, the three women I wear today show me that we only get better with age.
I’ve also inherited the example of ancestors who do the right thing because it’s right, not because it’s expected. During World War II, one of my Lolos was a spy who delivered love letters between war camp prisoners and their families, and the other was a guerrilla fighter. This week, my Lola Patsy turns eighty-one, and she’s spending it treating patients at Washington Hospital Center where she works as an anesthesiologist (yes, my grandma has been going to work at least four days a week even during the pandemic). These aren’t model minorities— they’re model human beings. I’m trying to follow their example by producing a virtual concert marathon raising money for RAINN this Saturday, using the arts to try to protect people quarantined in unsafe situations (alongside the brilliant Jacqueline Holloway). I also own my grandparents’ love letters, and I’m using them as source material to write a musical with my cousin.
Finally, being Unapologetically Asian means that I am an individual and I speak for myself. Being Unapologetically Asian will mean something different for every person. So now that you’ve heard from me, go ask someone else what it means to them.
Alexandra, founder of The Hustling Creative, is a performer, composer, audiobook producer and business owner based in New York City. She holds a BM from the University of Delaware and professional certificates from London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and Harvard Business School. She has been engaged as a speaker at dozens of universities and conferences across the country. She works with artists to convert their craft into a meaningful and creative business. Contact her here.