In The Know by Yahoo celebrated AAPI Month in front of a live audience
In The Know by Yahoo celebrated a AAPI Month with a panel of people sharing their stories and experiences
JENNY ARIMOTO: Hi, everyone. How's everyone doing? Sorry to start it like a comedy show. But how is everyone feeling tonight?
That's pretty good. I'm Jenny Arimoto. I am a Brooklyn-based comedian. I will be moderating the panel tonight. Lots of good-looking, very well-dressed folks here. I didn't know. So I kind of wish I really like brought my A-game. But thanks for being here. I'm very excited. Maybe we can go through and just each introduce ourselves, starting with Schuyler.
SCHUYLER: Sure Yeah I'm really excited to be here. Yeah, my name is Schuyler. I use he/him pronouns. I am a Korean-American, queer, transgender, athlete, educator, and an author. And I'll probably share more, but I think that's good enough for now perfect.
SUNNY CHOI: Hi I'm Sunny Choi am a professional breaker, or break dancer. For those of you who don't breaking will be in the Olympics in 2024, Paris.
Yes. So I recently quit my job in January to pursue that full time.
Hi, everybody. My name is Sriha Srinivasan. I use she/her pronouns. I'm @sexedu on TikTok. So I talk about sex and sexual health on the internet for a living. And as you can tell by the shirt, I did not bring my A-game. I wore my UCLA sex squad shirt. So I am graduating this June.
JENNY ARIMOTO: My gosh, so young. Like me.
Well-- Oh, and I also-- I use she/her pronouns, as well. That was-- thank you for beginning that. Cool. So I think we'll start by talking about the theme, today is AAPI Changemakers, and Non-traditional Paths. So I think let's start with the question, how did you get started on your non-traditional path? I think we'll start the same order, and then I'll round it out.
SCHUYLER: I like consistency. Thank you. OK, my nontraditional path. Let's see. I'm going to highlight two quick pieces of my nontraditional path. So I am mixed-race. My dad is white, he's like a 6' 3", like, very white man. He's got blond hair, blue eyes, he's tall, very white, OK My mom is a Korean-American immigrant. She moved to the States from Korea in the 1960s. And I'm made of both of them, right?
So that was the first identity I really was aware of as a kid. And people have asked me since I've been public, when did you first recognize that you were Asian? And I was like, I don't remember ever not knowing my racial identity because it was so obviously different from my parents. And I was constantly asked to identify with one or the other. I was never allowed to be both. It's always are you really Korean? Are you really white? What are you? What are you?
And I had to learn how to define my identity as myself and say, you know what? Fine, maybe, I'm not Korean enough for you, maybe I'm not white enough-- I don't know if I want to be white enough for people, but anyways. The Korean enough part was something that I feel like I always had to-- it was always just out of my grasp.
And I still find myself feeling that, even when I'm in spaces like this that are designed for Asian-American, Asian Diaspora movements. I still am always a little bit like, do I really belong here as somebody who isn't wholly Asian? And having to claim that has been a big part of my journey, I think, as an Asian migrant in person.
The second big thing is, as an athlete, as a trans person, and as a Korean person, putting all of those together. Coming out as trans and then being able to play my sport. Being able to swim on the men's team instead of the women's team, where I was assigned, was a big journey. I think if I were to go into that, we'd spend all night talking about it, so long story short, that was a big part of my journey as well.
JENNY ARIMOTO: That's awesome. And I also think, like talking about the biracial pieces is also very interesting piece that I don't think we always touch upon. So thank you for touching on that. Sunny.
SUNNY CHOI: So this is--
JENNY ARIMOTO: How did you get started on your non-traditional path?
SUNNY CHOI: How did I get started? Do I give you my life story in two minutes? Is that possible?
JENNY ARIMOTO: Ready. Set.
SRIHA SRINIVASAN Go.
SUNNY CHOI: Yeah, OK. I'm Asian, I can do this. So I guess it started actually I watched the 92 Olympics when I was 3, which tells you how old I am. And I'm not that old. And I told my mom. I guess I bothered her for an entire month that I wanted to do gymnastics, and I wanted to win a gold medal. And so she put me in gymnastics. I ended up deciding not to go that route pretty early on. And I signed with the collegiate team, had a couple injuries, quit.
Lived my life as like a very typical Asian. I got really, really great grades. I took every single AP class I was offered in my high school. Even took college courses in high school. Got into Penn. Was super lost. Kind of stumbled into breaking. I was just walking around super drunk one night. There's some people dancing outside. I thought it was a good idea to take that class that they asked me to come to on Friday. And I just kind of got hooked. So I've been dancing ever since then.
I was working a corporate job, so doing everything I was supposed to as an Asian. And when they announced the Olympics, basically, I kind of hit this crossroad of like, do I want to give up this life and move on and do something that was very like risky and scary for me? So it took a couple of months for me to go through that process. And finally, I was like, all right, I'm going to pick the path that actually makes me happy for once. I'm going to do everything against the grain from what I've been kind of told my whole life.
You're supposed to go to a good school. Should have been a doctor or a lawyer. Didn't quite get that, but that's OK. I was supposed to be married and have kids. That hasn't happened. But, yes, I kind of put all that aside. And I was like, all right, I'm just going to do this because it's what I want to be doing with my life. So here I am on the path. And yeah.
JENNY ARIMOTO: And it was all from a drunken night.
SUNNY CHOI: Yeah, basically.
JENNY ARIMOTO: And she said her you'll never know.
SCHUYLER: Really good morals there.
JENNY ARIMOTO: That was my takeaway from that.
SCHUYLER: Yeah, some really good takeaway.
SUNNY CHOI: Moral of the story, drink more.
JENNY ARIMOTO: Yeah, moral the story. Have fun get out there. OK, Sriha, yeah.
SRIHA SRINIVASAN Well you, before I tell my story, explain-- I know we talked about it a little bit, but like what is break dancing? So I know it's hard, but I'm asking.
SUNNY CHOI: I recommend everyone to go Google what breaking is now, or YouTube it because it's a lot different from what, especially the older generation thinks. Like it's not cardboard on concrete anymore. It's like these huge productions that are like people internationally being flown out for them. And, I mean, it's pretty incredible where it's gone, so far. And if nothing else, you can find me on Instagram, and there are videos there.
JENNY ARIMOTO: Good plug.
SUNNY CHOI: Yeah. it's definitely really different from, I think, what a lot of people kind of picture in their mind of what breaking is today.
SRIHA SRINIVASAN OK, thank you. So for my story. So I think very similar path. Was very OK, like grades, and everything. And that was very important to me growing up. And it was all throughout high school. I also took college classes in high school, so shared experience there. But then, and maybe this is a relatable experience for some of you in the audience, I was a very fiery teenager. Not that far off from that point in my life. But very fiery teenager. So I didn't get along with my mom very well in my young teenage years. I love her to death, always loved her, but we just clashed. Probably because she was a lot like me.
And so we would have these really fiery conversations, where one, when I was like maybe 13 or 14, we were arguing about how many holes somebody with a vagina has. And I was like, Mom, it's 3. I swear to you on everything I know, it's 3. And she was like, no. You're 13. It's two. I know that it's 2. And I was like, you're actually wrong. And she was like, you have to take a tampon out every time you pee. And I was like, you don't. Like, Mom, nobody told you that? like you actually don't have to take a tampon out every time you pee. She hates that I tell that story now in a public place.
But that was my kind of like light bulb moment, where I was like, oh my god sex education is really bad in India. So I went to India. I taught sex education there to young people in Tamil Nadu, in Southern India. Made a curriculum. And I was like, yeah. like I'm changing things in South India. Came back to the US. And I was like, wait a minute. Sex education sucks here, too.
And so I was starting to work in sex education. And then, I was going to do Sex Ed work in Vallejo which Solano County in California has the worst STI rates in all of California. So it's something that's a real big deal there. And so I was working in Sex Ed, and I graduated college a year early. So this was in 2020, as I was doing my senior project on Sex Ed. And then the pandemic happened. I was a senior in high school in March when the pandemic happened. And I was like, oh my god, I still need to graduate. And I can't go into high schools and do this whole Sex Ed thing that I was going to do.
So I was on TikTok, like most young people, were and are at the time. And I was already making really dumb TikTok videos about my high school, and like my life, and whatnot. And I was like, OK, I'll make like seven TikTok videos. And just submit that as my project. Get my friends to follow. So I've got like-- and maybe like classmates, and maybe I'll get 100. If I get 100, I can make a presentation where I say I got followers talking about Sex Ed. I made a huge difference. Thank you so much.
My sixth video, maybe, it was doing really bad. I had like 11 followers at this point. My sixth video was a dance about chlamydia, and I went a little bit viral. And I was like, oh, my god. People know me for chlamydia. And I just kind of kept it going. And then when I went to UCLA-- or I went to UCLA that fall it was online, but I went to UCLA that fall, joined UCLA Sexperts. Started getting involved in Sex Ed there. And Yeah, I still doing it now.
JENNY ARIMOTO: Incredible. And also, to grow your follower base like that.
SRIHA SRINIVASAN: Thank you. Yeah, exactly.
JENNY ARIMOTO: That's a lot of skill, yeah, I guess, well, I can talk about my stuff, too. I do comedy. And I-- and I always liked-- I just assumed everyone liked sketch comedy, which I don't know how many of you guys were making sketches at 5. But I just learned very recently that's not normal. And so, I've always loved sketch comedy. Like SNL was my dream. But I never saw people like me on there. And so, I just didn't think it was anything that I could actually pursue, until like my mid-twenties.
And so I started doing improv in San Francisco. I kind of-- everything happened very quickly. And then I was like, I'm going to go to New York. And here I am, moderating this panel, sometimes making TikToks. I nearly, I don't make seven TikToks that often. But that's kind of how I ended up here. I just started taking classes. And just started getting more stage time. And now, I won't shut up. So that's how that kind of happened. Great. So next question. Were your parents supportive of you pursuing your passion? And I'm going to change it up. And we're going to start from Sriha.
SRIHA SRINIVASAN: Oh boy. OK, so you know a little bit about me. You know that maybe that wasn't the best conversation to have of when it started blowing up a little bit, and I was starting to do like an interview here or there, and things were happening. And, of course, I wanted to tell my parents, like, oh, my gosh. Look, I'm doing all of these cool things. But then I was like why are you doing all of these cool things? And I was like, well, I started talking about sex on the internet.
So that was a really awkward conversation to have at first. They definitely were concerned. And I think it was a very legitimate concern of your digital footprint. Like what are colleges going to think about this? If you go on and get a real job, like what are they going to think about your now digital footprint that exists on the internet forever?
But I kind of kept at it a little bit. And I was like no, like-- and as opportunities got a little bit bigger and they were able-- I think, especially when my content was on TikTok. They didn't have TikTok. And quite frankly, I didn't want them watching the TikToks, anyway. They didn't really see it. But then when like I did another event with Yahoo last fall. And they saw that. My Mom was at that. And I think it was the first time that she got to saw me do this. And then this is really cute. My dad's sitting in the audience right there.
That's Srini. And so, that was another conversation I had, where I was like, Dad, like you've never seen me in my element. You've never seen me working or doing it, what it is that I do. I would love if you would come out to New York and see me. And also, I really need you to because you have to be 21 to check into a hotel in New York.
And I'm turning 21 this year. And so he came out. And it was really sweet. And so, they are supportive now, yeah
JENNY ARIMOTO: I mean, your dad's had his phone out this whole time.
SRIHA SRINIVASAN: I know. He's recording.
JENNY ARIMOTO: So I know he's a fan. OK, yeah. That's so sweet. Sunny.
SUNNY CHOI: So, were my parents supportive of me breakdancing? No. When I first I told them I was dancing, it was definitely just a novelty. Like, OK, cool. But I was already doing everything I was supposed to be doing. So I was working a corporate job, making enough money, living in New York. I mean, they couldn't really say too much. it got to the point where they started really pressuring like, aren't you going to stop breaking so you can have a family, and kids, and a house, and move on. And in my head I'm like, no.
So it wasn't until recently actually when breaking got announced to be in the Olympics. I went to this event called the World Games in 2021, 2022. And I got-- I did pretty well there. There was a lot of media around it. I was on like NPR and CBS and some other stuff. And my parents saw me on TV. And they were like, oh, this is real. And seeing your kid on TV is like check. Good job.
And then they-- my mom, recently, actually happened to be in LA when I was flying there for an event. She was there with my aunt. She couldn't even tell me that she wanted to go. She was like, your aunt wants to see you dance. So you should buy us tickets. And I was like, Oh, OK. So I got them tickets to go watch.
They show up adorable, sticking out like a sore thumb. And then, they're watching me dance first round. They're kind of like back a little bit further than the crowd. I can see them, but they're not like up close. And, I mean, they look happy and excited. And so I do that round, done, all good. The next round I come out. And by round, it's like we do like battle stages, so like you know when-- as you advance.
So, like the second time I came out, I didn't see them anymore. And I was like, oh, fuck. They left. They hated it. And so, I'm like scanning the crowd like, where are they? And then I see them sitting right up in the front. My brother told me they had elbow their way through this like hot, sweaty crowd of like teenagers and young adults to sit up in the front so they can get like front and center, like the best seats in the house. And they stayed there the entire time. Huge smiles on their face, super Asian, cute, cheering. And I won the event.
And then afterwards-- Thank you. And then afterwards my mom was like. You know what, I'm converted. And so. it was the first time I've had like just like true like unburdened-- like the support of like my Mom, I feel like, in my life. And it was kind of one of the most amazing moments ever. I want to cry right now.
But yeah, so now they're really supportive and they know that this is what I want to be doing. And moving forward, I want to work with kids and kind of open dance school, or something like that. And they're all like, yeah, let's do it. My whole family is like following the journey. So yeah, it's been really amazing, but--
JENNY ARIMOTO: That so sweet.
SUNNY CHOI: --it took a little bit to get.
JENNY ARIMOTO: Yeah. Have you taught them any moves?
SUNNY CHOI: So my brother, my little brother, actually started dancing before me. And it was a problem when he was dancing. But then I was a good kid, so when I started dancing, my mom was like, oh, it's fine then.
JENNY ARIMOTO: Yeah, no worries with Sunny, yeah.
SUNNY CHOI: Yeah, so my mom hasn't learned any moves yet. My dad recently learned that it's called rap music and not lap music that we dance to. So he's making some strides. He'll get to the move soon.
JENNY ARIMOTO: Yeah. That's a good place to start. Great. And Schuyler.
SCHUYLER: Oh, gosh. That was just really emotional to listen to you. Thank you for sharing that. Were my parents supportive? So I'm going to talk about my trans identity because they made me, so they better be supportive of my mixed identity. So when I came out as trans. I would say that-- well, actually, how do I want to say this best?
When I came out as trans, my parents were very supportive. I think they were confused. They're kind of like, well, where did this come from? What do you mean? What does this mean? And generally speaking, they ended up being very, very supportive. But it took time for us to figure out what support look like, right? I think a lot of times, especially 10 years ago, the word transgender wasn't commonly said as much as is it now.
Now it's often said negatively, but even then, people just didn't know what it meant. And even more beforehand less people knew. So there was a lot of educating that we all kind of did together. And even less of me educating them. It was just all kind of us stumbling together through, figuring it out. And what I always like to say about that experience is that I think there are many times my parents didn't understand my identity as a trans person.
And that sometimes led to conflict where there's a specific fight I can remember with my dad. Where he kept on repeating to me, well, I just don't understand why you have to change your body. I don't understand, I don't understand, so you shouldn't do it. And I screamed back at him, and I don't recommend the screaming, but that's where I was, at the time. And I was like, well, I don't want you to understand, that's not actually the point. I'm not asking you to understand. I'm asking you to just be here. I'm asking you to hold my hand through it. And that was, I think, a big shift for us, going forwards of understanding that you didn't have to understand, right?
There's lots of things in the world that we don't understand that are still very real, that are very valid. I don't know if any of you know how planes fly, but they still do, right? These are like multiple ton things metal whatevers and they fly. And I don't know how they fly, but they do it. And I trust them so much I've flown in three of them in the past three days, right? But I don't get it. And it still is true, right? Still the science is still valid. So I think I've been very privileged to have a lot of love from my parents, especially once they sort of released the need to understand. I want to tell, if it's OK--
JENNY ARIMOTO: Yeah.
SCHUYLER: --one other story though. Thinking about, especially in my Asian-American identity. When I was coming out as trans, I was very nervous about telling my halmeoni, my grandmother. She's the matriarch of that side of my family, my Korean side of my family. And when I was-- I'd actually come out as gay before I came out as trans because I thought that was the thing that would define me, that I thought that was what I was feeling. And so, I'd come out as gay.
But I thought, you know what? At some point, I'll marry a woman, and then we'll deal with it. Let me not tell Halmeoni, let me not tell my grandmother. And my grandmother had come up to me at one point, and she was like Schuyler, I see gay things on FaceTime. I was like-- I was really really into pot-- she meant Facebook. I was like gay things on FaceTime? What are you doing? No, she meant Facebook. And I was like, I froze in the moment because I was like, I don't know what she's seeing, what did I-- did somebody post something on my wall? Did like--
It's one of the times where people actually use Facebook, so people posted stuff on people's walls. Anyways, long story short, she'd seen a rainbow. There was like a rainbow that I had posted, that somebody else-- anyway. So that was my first inclination of very clearly like no to queerness because she was very nervous about this.
So fast forward when I was coming out as trans. I was like, I'm probably going to lose her, right? She's going to disown me. But I knew I had to tell her, so as I was coming out, before I told her I came out on Facebook actually. Not FaceTime, but Facebook. And I blocked her on Facebook. She has a Facebook, she uses it. She was paying attention, so I blocked her on Facebook.
And then I spent about a month writing her a letter. And I really wanted to read her this letter. I knew I needed something to read. So after about a month of figuring out what I wanted to say. And my mom and I went to go read my grandmother this letter. And, like I said, I was very pessimistic. Like it wasn't-- I wasn't like excited to go do this conversation. I was telling her out of respect. Like I knew I needed to tell her. I knew I was going to look different. At the time I was getting solicited for media articles because of my transition in sports. And so I knew I needed to share it with her. So we went to read her this letter. I was like, I'm probably going to get disowned I have tell her.
Sit down. I read the letter. I say, this is who I am. The word transgender doesn't exist in Korean. It's just it's just transgender with a Korean accent. So it sounds like to "to-ren-su-chen-da" gay is gae-e, right? So that wasn't going to help at all. So instead, I explained a little bit about what trans meant. And then, I ended with, I love you, and I hope you can understand.
When I finished I waited. And then my grandfather began to clap. And he did this like really slow clap, like an old man clap. And he goes so you come out of the closet now. I was like, Harabeoji, Grandfather, like you don't even really speak a whole lot of English. But you have coming out of the closet? Like where did you get that?
And then Halmeoni, my grandmother, who I was really nervous about, she looks at me. She's got this like really stern look on her face. And she's like, I knew that. I was like, Halmeoni, what do you mean, you knew that? I didn't know that. How did you? Because I knew that, OK. OK, so I have two grandsons from your mother. That's fine. My mom is like bawling at this point. And I was getting there, but I was like, this is like way too easy. What is going on?
She was like, oh, I saw gay things on FaceTime. I was like oh, my god. She talk about the gay things on FaceTime again. But she goes, OK, so you can be a boy, you can be a brother, you can [INAUDIBLE] you can be a husband. I was like, wait a second. Slow down. I'm 18. I'm. 19 and then she goes, oh you can be a doctor now. I was like, Halmeoni we're going to have to address those stereotypes later.
She goes, you can be a man. But in Korean culture daughters take care of their parents. And your mother has no daughters anymore. You still have to take care of your parents. And so I said, of course, you know, actually, my words were, dude, I've got you. Very embarrassing response, but that is what I said. But I have, of course, committed to that. I even have the words [SPEAKING KOREAN] although it's a longer form of pumon, which means to take care of your parents, mother, father, filial piety, tattooed in her handwriting, so she wrote out the tattoo for me and everything.
Very, like, woke grandmother, if you think about it. Like tattoos, trans people, texting. I texted her the photo and everything, so. But when I got the tattoo I sent her this picture of my tattoo, which is next to my heart, underneath my mastectomy scar, part of my my gender affirmation. And she responded with the praying hands emoji, like this one. And she goes. Thank you for taking this eternal vow to take care of your parents. But my grandmother has been unbelievably supportive. And I-- Thank you. And the applause is really for Halmeoni. But I love to share that story, especially in these types of crowds because we don't see those stories often, right?
I think my grandmother is proof that anybody can be supportive, but it's not it's not necessarily that everybody will be. In fact, the support I have is absolutely a privilege, and something that we all should have, but we don't all have. And so we should fight for. Sorry that was long.
JENNY ARIMOTO: Wow. No. That was beautiful.
SRIHA SRINIVASAN: I think it's so important too, to have that conversation about elders and like grandparents and things. Because we've been talking a lot about parents and siblings. And that's like the first hurdle, I think, when you're doing something that's a change or something, a deviation from the norm. But in collectivist cultures, which many Asian cultures are, it is equally as important to see what your grandparents say, or what your extended family says.
JENNY ARIMOTO: Yeah, absolutely. I have a podcast where I talk to a lot of like Asian-American, like, creatives. And one of the things I've learned from that is that we often don't give our grandparents and parents maybe the grace that they deserve. Like they many times are often willing to change. And I think we probably have our own thoughts about whether that's going to happen or not. But I've seen I've heard a lot of great stories of like grandparents being able to like turn around and use FaceTimes and Facebooks and emojis. And I think that's really-- that's wonderful. It's beautiful.
SCHUYLER: Halmeoni loves the emojis.
JENNY ARIMOTO: OK, great. I think we're nearing the end of our time. And as we were talking backstage, we're like, we could probably talk for forever. So maybe I should do a quick round of like a fun question. OK. I am thinking about this. It's not on this card. So I'm going to think of it right now.
SRIHA SRINIVASAN: Improv is jumping out.
JENNY ARIMOTO: Yeah, I'm an improviser. I can do it. OK, what is the food that reminds you of home the most? I can go first if you want. OK, I'm Japanese, and so when I go home, I beg my mom to make miso soup. But it's like-- there's a different flavor based on like your mom and your grandma and how they learn it. So it's my mom's like clam-based miso soup. That's my number one home-cooked meal. Schuyler?
SCHUYLER: Oh god, I have to go next. OK. The first thing that popped into my brain is kimchi jjigae, which is, for anybody who doesn't know, kimchi stew, but specifically the kimchi jjigae that my [SPEAKS KOREAN] my auntie makes.
JENNY ARIMOTO: Oh, yeah. Specific, I like that.
SUNNY CHOI: For me it's yukgaejang, but I don't eat yukgaejang anymore cause I'm pescaterian. But when I went to college, my mom would always ask me, what do you-- like what's the first meal you want when you step of the plane. And that was it until I gave up meat. So that would be the one. I kind of miss it right now.
JENNY ARIMOTO: You're very strong, strong willed.
SRIHA SRINIVASAN: I think for me-- this is really sweet of my parents. I cannot cook it's so sad, too, because my younger sister is 15, and she cooks. She like has an Instagram where she like posts her food. And she's like very into-- I cannot cook it so embarrassing, but-- so I basically starve while I'm at college. But my parents when-- I kind of hid it from them, but when they realized that I was, in fact, not eating, they were like, we can change this.
And they cooked like an insane amount of food and put it in little baggies, and brought, like drove it down. I'm from North Bay Area, so they drove it down to LA in these little baggies, in a cooler. And then came and like dumped it in my fridge, like, barely fit. And so now like every time I'm there, especially on the weekends, like I think I'll just take one out. I have to remember to defrost it. But if I remember to defrost it, it's like Italy. And like especially, like my dad literally makes fried rice. And it's just-- like the second I take it out of the microwave. I'm like, oh, like I'm home. And it feels really good.
JENNY ARIMOTO: Well this is a restaurant with a kitchen and your dad is here.
SRIHA SRINIVASAN: Put an apron on.
JENNY ARIMOTO: I'm just-- the food here is great. Yeah, please, you don't have to cook tonight.
OK, great. I think we're nearing the end of our time is that-- Q&A? yeah, OK. So we're going to move to you guys being the question askers. So we're going to move to a Q&A period. I believe there's someone with a microphone. So if anyone has any questions for any of us up here, raise your hand. You can get the spotlight. Yeah, we'll try to see you.
SUNNY CHOI: So may questions.
JENNY ARIMOTO: Oh, amazing. I think we have one there.
JENNY ARIMOTO: Hello. Hi, I'm just wondering. For b-girl Sunny. Like how did you decide on Sunny? Like did you have any like breaking names when like you started. And did you eventually decide on Sunny? Or is that something you just came up with?
SUNNY CHOI: So my whole life, I've actually just been called Sunny. My Korean name is chae sun, so that's where Sunny comes from, even though my legal name is Grace. When I started dancing, so for the people in this room. In breaking, typically you have like a stage name. And it's given to you by someone in the community. Like usually, a teacher or somebody you've battled against, or someone like in your crew.
I kind of started dancing just around some friends. And I was super shy. So for some reason in my head, it made sense not to take a stage name, and just to take my real name up there. Somebody questioned me the other day. And I was like actually that's like totally counterintuitive, but anyway. So yeah. I just entered as that. And then it got to the point where I was like, well, I can't change my name now. It's too late. So I just use my real name, actually. Or the name that I go by when I'm dancing.
JENNY ARIMOTO: Cool.
SRIHA SRINIVASAN: What is your crew? Like what does that mean in the break-- is it just like the folks you practice with?
SUNNY CHOI: Yeah. So in breaking, it's kind of like your crew's your chosen family, I guess. So it's like the people that you battle with, you train with, you you hang out with them. I don't have a crew. And I feel like part of that is like-- has to do a lot of-- actually, kind of relevant to the whole like identifying as Asian-American. I feel like my experience has been that I don't ever feel like I fit in anywhere. And I 100% felt like that in hip hop, and in breaking initially.
But what I realize is it's like, it was all me because everyone else actually accepted me. It was just me that I couldn't accept myself. So I think, early on, I always kind of felt like a loner and I danced-- I danced alone. So I don't have a crew. I do have a lot of good friends in the community, and people who I danced with. But yeah, this is something that I've learned as I've age, that kind of come full circle. And here I am now, sharing so that other people don't have to feel that way.
JENNY ARIMOTO: I'm going to call my improv team a crew, moving forward. It sounds much cooler.
Any other questions from the audience? Oh, I see a hand up.
AUDIENCE: Thank you. So Thanks, everyone, for sharing their stories. So I'm a first generation immigrant-- or son of first generation immigrants. And one of the question I have for all of you is, people who are changemakers kind of going against the traditional American-- Asian-American traditions, we have this juxtaposition of our old, our family's culture, but also the Western culture that we get to. For the next generation, what would you say are some values that you would keep from Asian-American culture versus Western culture? What are some of your values, some would change? However you want to take it.
JENNY ARIMOTO: Does anyone have burning--
SRIHA SRINIVASAN: I feel like there's so many things you could say when it comes to this. But I do-- I want to talk about that in the frame of sex education and sexual health and pleasure. Because I think one thing about sexual health that I really realized with conversations with my parents is that in Indian culture, which is the lens that I'm speaking from.
I don't believe that stigma has always been there. I genuinely think that that's something that is recent is my grandparents or their parents learned through colonization. I don't think that the base culture from before colonization new stigma in that way. It probably existed in some way, shape, or form. But when you go visit temples or other monuments in India, there is no shame. It's all pictured out there.
And so that's a conversation that I had to have with my mom several times. And one that I'm still having and still trying to understand because I recognize that it's nuanced, is that I realize that you have stigma, but let's talk about where that's coming from. And so that's something that I really do want to infuse in the Indian-American diaspora here.
But then of, course, generally, in Western culture, too. Because America also, as much as we put sex and pleasure in the media, there is still a lot of stigma around talking about, say, STI, and not using, say, the. word dirty or clean when it refers to STIs and things like that.
So I think that's what I mean, when I think there are-- we think of other cultures, especially Asian cultures, maybe, as being like oh it's so stigmatizing. But I think that comes from colonization and so I think dismantling that is what your question made me think of.
JENNY ARIMOTO: It's a great answer.
SRIHA SRINIVASAN: Thanks.
JENNY ARIMOTO: For me, to be thinking about art and just being in the more creative space. I think that what I would like to see is, I don't know if anyone watch Beef. But it's like-- the amount of-- you know Asians are in the room because we're seeing this. But I think that was so groundbreaking because it portrayed Asian-American culture very specifically. And it was finally a story that wasn't like revolved around like trauma from parents necessarily. It was just about being like a down on your luck person who's angry.
Like we get to exist now as an Asian-American, as like that identity. And I think that role is like we don't have to just have the immigrant story. We get to have our story here. And so I would like to continue to see that. And I would like to write that. I would like to continue to live that, and make jokes about it. But we get to like live our lives as Asian-Americans as like a valid experience, identity, and a story that gets to be told.
And that we don't have to be more individualistic. And we also don't have to be more like Asian to exist here. So yeah, that's what I would like to see more of. And also to be more involved in, myself.
SCHUYLER: Yeah, I love both of those answers. I was thinking a lot about my connection with my grandparents, and how much I learned from them. And they're, as one does, get getting older. And they're going to be-- one of them's going to be 90 soon. And it's just making me think a lot about what happens after they're gone. And in a selfish way, what happens to me? What happens to my Korean identity where I don't have this tie-in the same way to history, to the land of Korea.
And so the reason I'm saying this is because I think that what I don't want to lose when we think about tradition is the-- what is the best way to put it? The-- I guess, knowing where we come from. I think that knowing where we come from. This actually goes back to understanding colonization, too. And the impacts of colonization. I think knowing where we come from, where our origin stories are. I come from really strong Korean women, North Korean women, who walked from Pyongyang to Seoul to escape the North, the invasion from the North, right?
And that I don't ever want to lose that. And I want to know all of the details that I can about it. Now, will Halmeoni tell me all of them? Probably not. But I've tried to ask as many questions as I can without prying into her trauma. But I don't want to lose that history. I don't want to lose what comes from before.
And when I started actually learning how to expand beyond just my immediate blood ancestors, I learned about Muism, or mu dongs, which are Korean shamanism that was like a native and Indigenous religion or spiritual practice before both Buddhism and Christianity. And that was like groundbreaking for me to know about. And I don't think it means that everybody has to be an expert on their ancestry necessarily. But I think the curiosity to just step a little bit into it, I think is really, really important.
SUNNY CHOI: So my answer comes from my breaking background, or my experience in breaking. In that, in breaking, for me, my goal is always to be as authentic as possible. And as genuine as possible to who I am. And I get to define who I am. So I feel like I don't have an answer to your question about what should and shouldn't be taken. I think-- or taken forward. I think what you do choose to move forward with should be something that feels right for you, and feels authentic.
And it's something that you want to and are choosing to carry forward, and not something that you're being forced to carry forward. Because that's not going to feel good. Plus, I mean, the younger generations, like, who likes to be told what to do anyway. So yeah, I think it's really about just finding your voice, taking the time to figure out who you are. And then finding the pieces of history, finding the parts of your family, finding the parts of your culture and heritage that really speak to you. And then deciding what you want to do with that.
JENNY ARIMOTO: Wow, we had all different answers. I like that. Thank you for the question. We have time for one more question. Oh, that was a quick hand raise. I was going to start singing to fill the time, but I won't.
AUDIENCE: So this question is kind of for everybody. I think growing up as Asian, or in a traditional Asian household, a lot of times when I was little, being. successful, A lot of times, meant being a lawyer or a doctor. And you guys kind of have redefined that, the definition of success.
SCHUYLER: None of us are lawyers or doctors. Oh, no.
AUDIENCE: Yeah, I know. You guys redefined that in a very exciting way. So I kind of wanted to know what being successful meant to you guys as a kid. And how that definition changed as you guys grow up, and redefine that?
JENNY ARIMOTO: Great question. Sunny?
SUNNY CHOI: I can tell you what I wanted to be as a kid. When I was really little, I wanted to be a gold medalist at the Olympics. Shortly after that, I decided that I wanted to be a doctor, graduate from Stanford, and at the age of 23, be married and have kids. 2 to be specific. I had already decided.
And then, now, my the definition of success looks so different, because I've lived that corporate life. And honestly, I was miserable, pretty depressed. And now it's really just about finding my way and doing what makes me happy. I know not everyone is privileged enough to be able to kind of always make that choice and step away from a corporate and a stable job like that. And I recognize that.
But I'm in this position where I was able to do that. And I just wanted to live, put myself first for a little bit for once in my life. So that I could figure out who I am, so that I have lessons to pass on to people, so that I can teach the next generation. Because without having lived that experience, and without having had those lessons, I'd have nothing to give. And my whole life, I've known that I wanted to give back. And I wanted to work with kids. And I love teaching. And I love sharing.
So Yeah I was kind of like, let me be. Now, it's about, like, building myself as a person, exploring, discovering. And then it'll be about giving back, moving forward.
JENNY ARIMOTO: Beautiful. Sriha?
SRIHA SRINIVASAN: Sure. I mean, that made me a little emotional. So thank you for sharing. I think I can really relate to the idea of exploring, and that, that being kind of how I define success now. I think it blurs the lines a little for me. It just give-- with where I am in my life sometimes it's hard for me to know whether something I'm struggling with is a result of my identity, or if it's something that just everyone experiences. And I just really don't know.
So I think growing up, I grew up in a very homogeneous community. The town I grew up in was 99.7% white. And so I always felt left out. And I always felt like I didn't-- I don't really know. It's hard to talk about that because I just never felt like I belonged. And I never felt that I could go to my parents and ask them how to socialize. Because they were figuring it out at the same time because they had immigrated here.
And in retrospect, now I realize that they also were struggling whether it was the corporate world, or even like my dad was so involved with my Girl Scout troop. He was the Girl Scout dad. Which I look back on so fondly now. Like just dealing with that. And so now, in college, and I'm about to go into post-grad, and that feels like, oh, my god, the real world.
For me, success now has been defined by when I look around, and I feel comfortable in a space. And I look around and I'm in a sorority, guy's, like I'm like, sometimes I live in my sorority house so I literally like eat, sleep, and breathe Alpha Delta Pi. And-- but sometimes I'll look around at the dining table and be like, Wow, I infiltrated this. Like I came in as, like, a freshman like, I'm going to change the system. And like a little bit, I did, so, but I bring that up because I feel success in that, obviously, that's not like a tangible or quantifiable modicum of success.
But I look around and I feel like, oh my gosh, like I'm in America. My parents have made so many sacrifices for me to be pursuing higher education, and for me to be here. And I'm comfortable. And I'm still messing up. I'm still making so many mistakes every single day. But to sit down and to go to a dinner, or to network with folks, and just feel like I'm figuring it out. And my identity is not hindering me. If anything, it's something that's pushing me forward. And if anything, I'm just screwing up because I'm a young person and everyone screws up regardless of age. And so, that idea of exploring and moving forward, and feeling comfortable is how I would define success.
JENNY ARIMOTO: And selling a lot of Girl Scout cookies.
SRIHA SRINIVASAN: Oh my god, the Girl Scout cookies are big. Oh, the month is over. I still would have plug my little sister's link and everything.
JENNY ARIMOTO: Yeah. I would have ordered it. Schuyler?
SCHUYLER: Success. So I think, as an athlete, I started swimming when I was 10 months old. I was training by the time I was 5. I was on a team at the same time. I was swimming at 4:00 AM, so I could do it before and after school by the time I was 10, 20 hours a week by the time I was 12. So sports were really a big part of my life. I think, academically, success was getting A's. And that was, I think, just-- for me, that was like a no-brainer.
But swimming was really what I focused on. And that all kind of came to a head when I realized that I was trans. And I'd been swimming in the women's category for-- or the girls category for 18 years, at that point and been fairly successful doing so. We'd been national champions on my team three years in a row. I'd been on a national record breaking relay. I'd gotten recruited to Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, Columbia, and Princeton, for swimming. Like there had been all these things that have been clear categorize-- or categorizers-- I don't know, markers of success in swimming.
And then I was like, Oh, my gosh. I am not a woman. What do I do now? And there was this reckoning where, for a long time, I thought, OK, I'm going to stay on the women's team, then I'm going to shove this part of me down. I'm going to not show the world this. I'm not going to actually really even look at it myself. . I'm just going to push it away because I need to keep being a great swimmer.
And for a long time, I thought I was going to have to choose between swimming and myself, right? Which felt like me choosing between myself and myself. And it wasn't until I really sat down with the men's team, actually, at Harvard and thought, can I actually be on this men's team? Can I actually-- what would it look like for me to spend my time with these guys.
And there was a moment where I was having a conversation with my dad. And I was trying to figure out which team I was going to swim for, having had the huge privilege of having the welcome on the men's team, right? The men's team said, you can swim for us. What do you want to do? And so as I was trying to figure this out, still thinking I was going to swim for the women's team because I didn't want to let go of all the success that I thought I was going to get. My coaches had wanted me to go to Olympic trials and maybe beyond. So I was like, if I switch to the men's team, I'm going to lose all of that potential success.
But it all came to a head when I had a conversation with my dad, and we were talking about what success meant. And he said Schuyler, most people would say you've done the success, right? You've done the National teams, you've done the medals and the records. And where are you, right? Where did that bring you? And at the time, I was actually still in an eating disorder treatment center, miserable, barely hanging onto my mental health.
And I sat there having him ask me this question of like, where are you? Where has this success brought you? And the answer was nowhere, right? I was miserable. And I think when I realized that, I was able to then take this leap of faith, really, to prioritize what would be my happiness, what would be my peace, really. More so even than happiness, my alignment, instead of what I would call sort of paper success as something you can write down. And so, I guess, that's what I would redefine success as, alignment and peace.
JENNY ARIMOTO: Wow. You bubble that up, like in a thesis, gorgeously at the end. It was really well done. And I think I would just echo very similar things for myself, as well. I was doing the corporate thing. I thought that it was going to grad school. I thought it was buying a house. And throwing lots of dinner parties, and having a designer bag. And I was-- the pandemic hit, and I was absolutely miserable once I lost my creative outlet.
And so that was like a huge learning for me, that life is so much more than these markers that you grew up thinking is happiness and success and fulfillment. And doing my little jokes on stage has also put me-- brought me into a community that's, like, very kind, loving, and also very funny. And so I've just met other like-minded people. And to feel like I belong, and to feel like I have a voice has been really important for me and my growth as an individual, and feeling a purpose in life. And just laughing a lot, which is fun.
Great. I think we've hit time. Thank you for your wonderful questions. Thank you for sitting and listening to us chat up here. It's been a pleasure. Thank you to the panelists for being so honest and raw.
SRIHA SRINIVASAN: Thank you.
JENNY ARIMOTO: It's been a lot of fun. Thank you, all. Goodnight.
SUNNY CHOI: Thank you all.
SCHUYLER: Thank you.