What "Crazy Rich Asians" Means to Me

The Original Crazy Rich Asians--Taken at my grand aunt's house in Buket Timah

The Original Crazy Rich Asians--Taken at my grand aunt's house in Buket Timah

In the spirit of the excitement surrounding the opening of Crazy Rich Asians, I wanted to share what this opening means to me.

So here's another long-winded #illyRealTalk post:

First of all, I feel like I've only recently (as in within the last 5-6 yrs) fully embraced being Asian. I grew up in a predominantly white area. And there were the "cool Filipinos" in my high school but I never really connected with them. I was basically an introverted band musical theater nerd kid. So I kept to myself and usually wished I were confident (& white!) so I could play Ado Annie in Oklahoma or Nancy in Oliver in the community theater productions. In Virginia, there were a ton of Asian people. But no one cared to asked or know "what kind." I feel like everyone was just neatly put into their boxes without talking about it. (Suburbia.)

Flash forward to when I moved to NY. My Asian-ness was apparent, only this time people would say, "What are you?" (Even though Virginia wasn't so diverse, I never got this question.) And usually when I answered, "I'm Filipino and..." people  would cut me off excitedly with, "I have a Filipino friend! Filipinos are so nice! " (All of you have a very nice Filipino friend, don't you?)
So I wouldn't even explain or share that I am also Singaporean. Because as my fellow Asian friends know, sometimes it's just a blessing another person knows your ethnicity and connects to it in some way. Connection was made, bing bang boom. Why say more?

Flash forward to the past couple years. I have been blessed enough to work with my friends in AzN PoP Comedy. I could feel my passion for Asian representation budding and working with them has only lit more of a fire under my ass. However, the more I do our live show, the more I feel sad that I didn't incorporate my Singaporean heritage into it--my mom's side. I know I'll be able to add it into my/our work later, but it made me realize that I am still trying to make it "easier" on myself and my non-Asian counterparts by just representing my Filipino side, the part everyone is most familiar with.    
So in an effort to understand/connect with my Singaporean side a bit more, I picked it up the Crazy Rich Asians book because I heard it takes place in Singapore. I remember reading the first one at Coney Island and taking pictures of every familiar word my mom has said to me or spoke to me and excitedly shared it with her. It was so exciting to see those same words that I heard in my childhood home on paper in an American book. The only other times I get to really dive into those words are with my mom or the rare chances I get to go to Singapore.  
Reading those words made me realize why I never explain my Singaporean side to people. When I do get to say the second half of my sentence, "....and Singaporean" people always ask, "like what is that? Malay?" And then I say, "kinda but not really. Well my mom is Singaporean, but she's actually Chinese but her ancestors are from the Straits of Malacca which is an area between Malaysia and Singapore, but she's Chinese and wants you to know that Straits born are called Baba Nyonya or Perenakan..." and then the listener's eyes glaze over.

It's difficult to explain Singapore and our culture because Singapore truly is an Asian melting pot. Singapore is a diaspora. Asia is a diaspora--even though non-Asian people think of all of us as one singular seemingly expressionless, same looking sea of people with dark hair. We are not. We are complex, we are different.

That's why I am excited for Crazy Rich Asians and that's why it means so much to me. Asian people from Singapore to China to Laos to Philippines are complex. We are rich, poor, we are crazy, sane, we are ugly, we are sexy, we are fat, we are thin, we are different and varying. But...we are also the same as you non-Asians and we deserve to NOT be tucked away from media representation for 25 years. I'm so sad it's taken that long for another all Asian film to come out, but I gotta say Crazy Rich Asians, it being set in Singapore, the Asian Diaspora feels so right to me. Welcome Home, my Asian Brothers and Sisters! You and I and all our complexities deserve to be visible.  

Thank you to the whole cast & crew of Crazy Rich Asians and Kevin Kwan for writing these stories. 
I hope you bought your ticket to Crazy Rich Asians. I know I did! 

Tickets here: 


Happy Mental Health Awareness Month! I made a dramatic short.

Honestly, I always thought and knew I was different.
Not in one of those revolutionary ways...like wow I'm going to be President or I'm going to end world hunger. But just different. 
I knew I was feeling. I always felt. I felt what people were feeling around me and what I felt about them. Even if it seemed like I was checked out, I was always watching and feeling for others and feeling things within myself. My mom said she would sing me songs when I was very little, maybe just 3 or 4 and I'd cry because they made me sad. And then as I got older, I started getting written off as very sensitive. I would cry or get defensive at the mere insinuation of an insult. 
It wasn't until I moved to New York at 20, that I started realizing what parts of my "feelings" actually were. I was depressed. I think I had been for awhile. 
New York has a way of making or breaking you and I think I experienced both. It was only when I felt like I was "making it" --but why am I still so unhappy?--did I realize something was wrong. 
Just to clarify, I think the childhood instances of sensitivity are not red flags for depression--in fact, I find my feelings and my sensitivity my strengths now--but as an adult, I realized that some of these thoughts and feelings were uncontrollable no matter how RIGHT everything seemed to be...and that was depression. The more I tried to trick myself into being happy, the more it backfired. I finally went to a therapist, then another one, then another one and finally found the right one. And we worked through everything and realized hey, maybe it's just chemical and maybe I should try an antidepressant. To me that felt like failure. Even though I am a creative, I can be very black and white about things. It can't be chemical because I do everything right. I work out everyday, I go for a walk when I feel sad, I journal, I meditate, I do yoga. It can't be chemical. My ego said I could fight this without resorting to medication. And my doctor said, "that's why I think it's chemical. You're doing everything right and you still can't get out of bed some days. If you had a stomach ache or a migraine wouldn't you take medicine to feel better? This is the same thing." 
And I got it. I started taking lexapro. And the "cloud" was gone. Things were not as bad. Since then, I haven't needed to be on lexapro but going on it was integral to my progess. It "recalibrated" my system in ways. And yes, sometimes I still have to make that extra effort to make it through some days. I can feel when I need to work out. I can feel when just working out isn't  enough. I can feel when I need to journal and I can feel when I need to meditate. And sometimes I just cry. And it's okay. Sometimes it can be a 10 step process, but it's all worth it because thanks to taking care of my "stomach ache" (depression) through medication, I knew what I could achieve when I was truly myself. 
So this film? My first short film. It's an example of one of my worst days when I was in the thick of depression. It's not perfect and it's not as bad as other people's days and it's not as good as other people's days, but this was my experience and my norm for awhile.
I shot this film at the end of 2016, then didn't have it edited for another year, and then finally got it edited, but put off sharing it. I was scared! Then I finally shared it with a few close friends and family and I'm not sure what response I expected. I think a lot of people felt/feel sorry for me. And then I got scared again. Because that's not why I made this film: for pity, or empathy, or anything like that. I made it because although you never really stop having depression, I feel like that part of me being unable to manage it is gone.  So this film was a love letter of sorts to myself. This is/was a part of me and I've finally learned to love it.

So without further adieu, Happy Mental Health Awareness Month!
If you're struggling with depression and need help, please call: Call 1-800-273-8255
There is help available, and you are worth it. I see you. <3 

See the Real Me!

Collage 2017-09-27 01_25_15.jpg

I can’t believe I’m posting one of these. But today was the first day I realized...whoa. I’ve lost a good chunk of weight. I tried on some jeans that used to be tight and they slipped right off!  

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s been a long ass journey and I’m nowhere near done--I wanna get toner, but more importantly, stronger. (For example: killing someone with my thighs is high on my list of priorities--but we can talk about that later. Lol jk jk but also real talk: that could come in handy someday.) Anyway, I rarely say I’m proud of myself--so here it is: I’M PROUD OF MYSELF! I lost 22 lbs over the course of 1.5 yrs!

I--like a lot of you-- have had a complicated relationship with weight and food. I would say being comfortable or more accurately, uncomfortable in my body has always been my default. In my adult life, I was smallest at 110 lbs and biggest at 165 lbs.

I grew up doing ballet but was always aware that I never had the waif like ballerina physique. I also grew up playing basketball (if you can believe!), knowing that people thought I would be able to block better because I looked strong and wide. I was neither here nor there though. Mostly, just awkward and usually hating my body not knowing what to do with it. Additionally, aside from my brother, I was the one American-born (and raised!) cousin. (My extended families were in Singapore and Philippines.) And being an Asian woman, you are kind of expected to be small and petite. So I was constantly reminded that I was the “big one” or the one with “fat.” (But honestly, I wasn’t fat! I wish lil bb illy had known.)

Anyway, when it comes to weight and health, I would say I hit rock bottom a couple years ago--2015--when I weighed 165 lbs at 5’3. I injured my back doing kettlebells. It was the first time I was ever faced with some kind of --”OH FUCK! YOU BETTA RESPECT & LISTEN TO YOUR BODY!” thought. I remember going to that workout class vividly. I was tired, got maybe 4 hours of sleep and was in a very negative mindset that whole morning. I did NOT want to be there. I wasn’t working out from a place of joy and was not listening to my body. It honestly felt like I was punishing myself. And within the first 10 min of class, it was like my body knew that I had no desire to be there. My body immediately shut down as I did that kettlebell swing. The pain was insane. It was like someone stabbed me in the back and was dragging a knife down my spine. I couldn’t move.

After I injured my back, I fell into a depression: ate a lot of snacks, watched a lot of Vanderpump Rules, and mostly made excuses to not show up for life. And even when I was almost completely healed, I found a lot of reasons to not workout anymore. Which prior to the injury is antithetical to who I truly am. Being physical was always a constant in my life even if I wasn’t comfortable in my body.

And I guess that’s what this whole post is about: being true to you and allowing yourself to be seen. (That saying is mad cliche but I truly believe it.)

When I injured my back I wanted to make “pleasantly plump” my thing. I cut my hair. Hehe I’m quirky! Hehe I’m asexual! Hehe I’m not physical! Hehe. (Oh FUCK no!) Because that wasn’t me. It was never me no matter how much I wanted to “embrace” it.

I think the final straw was when my manager said, “You are like an Asian Lena Dunham.” Now, I have mad respect for Lena Dunham. She is so body positive and truly shows the world who she is: body, mind, and all. Love her or hate her...you. see. her. But I remember crying and getting defensive because if you know me for who I truly am, I am NOT at all similar to Lena Dunham. And I was like, damn, I’ve been leaning so hard into embracing this weight gain that people can’t see me. (For the record, the real me is this: silly, happy-go-lucky, bubbly, girly, can’t sit still, energetic, spontaneous, sometimes rash, and as taboo as it can be, I care about how I look!)

When I was in LA last week, I had a great talk with my friend about image and it really awakened me to the progress I had made. We talked about who you are and allowing yourself to be seen. As soon as I made the choice to let people see me, the weight started dropping off even though I wasn’t going HAM (hard as a muthafuckah) with a strict diet/workout regimen. I realized THIS is who I want people to see.  And if being skinny is a byproduct of that decision then fuck yah!

I’m about to say something else mad cliche. And none of you asked, but how did I lose 22 lbs in 1.5 yrs? I guess I didn’t know going through it, but maybe balance? Or more specifically, listening to my body and being patient with it. This morning, I did not work out. My body didn’t feel like it. I don’t workout everyday like I used to in college, because I am not that bb anymore. Now? I listen to what my body needs. Some days it needs some TLC: that’s when I do yoga. Some days it needs to feel beautiful: that’s when I go to a dance class. Some days, it feels angry: that’s when I go for a run or kickboxing class. Some days, it feels like Pocahontas/Moana: that’s when I go to the beach or park and lay out and the sun is truly enough. I listen to myself. And honestly, listening to my body has had so many other great effects on the rest of my life.

Our bodies are the vessels for all the potential we have in our lives. And it’s only taken my whole life to know this but it’s worth it: if I’m not listening to my body, I’m on the road to nowhere fast.

The other day, I sent a picture of myself over to my manager that I really liked. It was nothing special but the first thing my manager said was, “This is the real you. I see you.”

So... here I am listening to my body, eating foods that give me energy, and being patient with myself. And I feel proud and happy to show you… ME!