Alumni of NY continues to build our relationship with the Goldfinger Track Club by hosting a AAPI Heritage and Mental Health Awareness Month community run May 28th at 9:00 AM. To get the conversation started we asked a couple of the Asian identifying runners on Goldfinger to talk about their cultural heritage and their mental health.

Q: How do you like celebrating your cultural heritage?

A: Enjoying as much of it whenever possible. Cooking Chinese food at home is a way of staying in touch with my family and keeping recipes alive. Throwing dinner parties and having potlucks is a recreation of my childhood, and it’s so much fun to host and introduce friends to my world. Speaking Mandarin with my parents. Learning simplified Chinese on Duolingo. Playing any video game with my little brother who never fails to tell me how much I suck, but only because he's extremely good at them which makes me average. Getting boba and then going to karaoke. Going to Costco. Loving and accepting the way that I look and accentuating my features with make up, and growing my hair out as long as I can. Supporting and uplifting other AAPI people in whatever way possible, whether through work, volunteering or showing up. I’m happy there are so many opportunities to do so. Just being in this body is a celebration.

Q: Is there anything you wish people would know about your experience as an Asian person?

A: I grew up within a big community of East Asians in LA, so I was lucky to have my cultural heritage around me to the point where it felt normal. In general everywhere else is so different compared to my life in LA, in the sense that I’m always like, where are my Asians at? Then I have to remind myself that AAPI accounts for less than 6% of the entire population in the US and that my upbringing was an anomaly. My experience of having immigrant parents and first gen friends was not unusual. At times the normalcy of it all was almost to my detriment because there were high expectations for academic achievements (I.e. a lot of what people think of when it comes to stereotypes and the model minority myth). I understand now as an adult that many of those immigrant parents were able to move due to academic success, so it makes sense that they would implement the same standards on their children. Of course immigrant parents aren’t a monolith, but from the perspective of my younger self, I thought of the academic track as something to break away from, and I did. It was difficult to be at odds against my family, especially when they have good intentions, but ultimately fighting for a life and career in the arts was what needed to happen in order to go in my own direction. Carving out your own identity will always be challenging, but it’s something we can all relate to.

Being an Asian woman adds a whole new layer. The fetishization and sexualization can be seen by some as a social benefit, when in reality it consistently puts my mental health and safety at risk. It’s a demographic that is often perceived to be demure and acquiescing, which is incredibly dehumanizing and stems from a horrible history of wars, comfort women and media. The flip side is a domineering matriarch who is cold and lacks compassion or empathy. It’s frustrating to fight against objectification because it messes with my sense of self. I won’t hide myself to avoid it, but it is a constant boundary that needs preserving and reiterating. As exhausting as it is, I’m worth the time and effort it takes to demand the respect I deserve.

When it comes to running, it’s all of the above and some more. I only do so without headphones when I’m in a group and never run alone at night. I’ve been grabbed on my runs in broad daylight and no longer keep track of unsolicited comments. I wish we could all have the space to relax and be at peace moving through the day and our lives.

Without the NYC run community, I would not have found GFTC, the group I run with now. I wouldn’t have met and befriended so many others who needed that same sense of safety and shared experiences. I wouldn’t have felt how powerful and inspiring it can be to run together. I’m immensely proud of and grateful to be a part of it.

 Q:Is there anything that is top of mind when you think about your identity as a Asian person in the New York City run community?

A: I imagine like any minority, it’s a relief to meet others in new spaces who are similar to yourself. My partner Daniel, who is also Asian, was the one who planted the running seed in my mind. He’s a strong, longtime runner and has been very supportive, but ultimately the takeaway for me seeing another Asian person run was that I felt like I could do it too. Even with his support, our paces were too different to really run together often, so I ran mostly alone for several years. Despite all the experiences I’ve had while running solo, I made sure to always know where I was and never thought of not making it home. In 2020 when Ahmaud Arbery’s murder was finally brought to light, my relationship with running started changing. Before then it had felt like an exercise, a harmless activity that helped clear my mind. Now it was a pandemic and new anxieties were piling, and I couldn’t help but think of dangerous possibilities. 

Soon after Daniel and I went on a protest run and that was the first time experiencing the magnitude of the NYC running community. I wanted to be amongst others who understood why these anxious thoughts existed- because I’m a person of color, and a woman. I felt a sense of familiarity that day in that sea of white shirts, who had all shown up in solidarity, and it has stayed with me since. Without the NYC run community, I would not have found GFTC, the group I run with now. I wouldn’t have met and befriended so many others who needed that same sense of safety and shared experiences. I wouldn’t have felt how powerful and inspiring it can be to run together. I’m immensely proud of and grateful to be a part of it.

Q: What has been your mental health journey? (Whatever you wish to share) How has it shaped the way you view your mental wellbeing?

A: Mental health is a long and ongoing journey. It took me a few years after moving to NYC to reckon with the fact that I tried to keep as much distance between myself and my mental health as possible. I’m not sure if it was intentional or a result of avoiding pain. Work is a convenient (though unsustainable) priority as it doesn’t care for personal problems, so my career was the main focus, to the detriment of relationships and self awareness. As a freelancer in the commercial arts, every job has a learning curve and I felt like I couldn’t put myself first. Proving self worth is a fool’s errand if you can never be good enough for yourself, and even more impossible if you don’t know who you are. Money and stability is always a concern, but you can’t make anything if you’re unhealthy. 

I learned the hard way that the longer you ignore what you need as a person, the lack of balance will make itself known over time. When I finally started to acknowledge that there was a lot of self maintenance being ignored, it was confusing and frustrating. I got a therapist who helped with self esteem and communication issues, and gradually started unlearning the knee jerk reaction of taking on more than I could handle. Realizing it was ok to ask for help reassured me that I wasn’t a burden or alone. Giving myself permission to take time off to play guilt free is still an ongoing practice. Running helps because it is time I can take for myself, and it builds confidence that I’m taking care of the part I ignored for so long. Nowadays mental health for me is about consistency, awareness and patience. 

This is the mental health starter pack I wish I had: Be kind to yourself, there’s more to life than work, and eat food/drink water/sleep everyday!