by Lisa Yu
Lisa Yu Li: Hello! Welcome to your VISIONS interview. To start off, do you want to give a short intro of yourself/your writing?
Victoria Yin: Yeah, sure. I'm Victoria Yin. I'm a junior, studying Econ and Journalism at Brown. In terms of my writing, I've been interested in creative writing since I was a kid. And I guess I am inspired a lot by like journaling, or just dreams, and also thoughts that come to me while I'm walking. So it's kind of like ideas that can happen to me whenever, wherever. My piece for VISIONS is called Mother. And it's about I guess... my mother (hahah). But it's a little bit more metaphorical than that, and kind of an exploration of like, what it means to be an Asian woman, and that kind of sacrifice. And yeah, that identity and how it interacts with the world. And I think there's just an excerpt of it in the magazine.
L: Your piece, Mother, had such a personal subject matter yet at the same time it felt so universal. When you’re writing, do you have a specific goal in mind? Because you mentioned it's kind of like journaling. So do you feel like you write for yourself? Or do you write for others?
V: I think a lot of my ideas are personally very significant. And when I'm writing fiction pieces, or something like that, I think it becomes a little bit more universal in a way where I'm kind of like, okay, I have these feelings and these thoughts. How do I transcribe them in a way that other people can understand and interface with them? Is this something that other people have interest in? But I think it starts and stays as something personal to me that I then figure out how to transform into a piece and also into a story. I think that motherhood is very personally important to me, and something that I write a lot about because of that kind of relationship and its significance. So yeah, that's definitely one of the themes that I come back to.
L: I remember your piece starts off saying: “I’ve never met a being more self-sacrificing than the Asian woman” and I thought it was such a powerful statement. Do you want to talk a little bit more about that and you see yourself in relation to this identity?
V: Yeah, I guess I was just thinking about the idea of taking up as little space as possible as a person. I found that that happens in a really subtle way, and sometimes not even in a conscious way. I thought it was something that I grapple with a lot as a woman but also as an Asian woman, like, how do I take up space? Should I be doing that if I'm not comfortable with it? And like what are the societal factors that are making me feel like I shouldn't be? So it is definitely something I relate to, it is a strong statement, but it was how I was feeling at the time. And I thought it was kind of sad, and I just wanted to just say it out loud and see what happened.
L: Around the second half, you talk about her making herself as small as possible, folding into herself, becoming “the most unobtrusive presence”. I think this resonated with me because I grew up in communities where I was often the only Asian person in the room, and began to see making myself small almost as a tool for survival and blending in. I found it refreshing that you talked about her silence as her power, as she then goes on to perform all these amazing feats. Not sure if I interpreted correctly, and correct me if I didn’t, but what are your thoughts on this dichotomy of being unobtrusive while performing amazing feats? Of being unperceived yet still expected to do so much?
V: That's really interesting. And no, I don't think there's ever any wrong way to interpret this piece or any piece of art or writing. Yeah, I think I was thinking about definitely folding into yourself and making yourself smaller. And then on the flip side, like kind of the power in the emotional intelligence of being able to have this almost sixth sense of what's happening in the social situation and like, how can I ingratiate myself or like, I don't know, I just feel like there's an awareness there that comes as well. And that it's not just a meekness or anything like that. It's a skill. And it's also an expectation. So yeah, I was definitely thinking about that. And then are you talking about the gymnastics part?
V: Yeah, I guess that is about performance. And I think I was thinking about how we're expected to do things. And when, and when we do do things, I think there is sometimes like a closer eye, perhaps. And then her misstep. It's like, we're not perfect. And we're not going to be perfect.
L: Yeah, I really liked the part about the misstep, because she missteps, but then it says we pretend we didn't notice. I feel like it was such a wonderful way to just encapsulate the way children of immigrant parents often feel very, very protective over their parents, and that really resonated with me.
L: So, going back to when you mentioned that being unobtrusive isn't just being meek, I do feel like, a lot of times in the media, Asian women can be presented as very submissive. And like, personally, I know I can definitely fall into that stereotype sometimes. But, do you ever feel that and do you feel like that also plays into like, writing as an art form or as your way to express things?
V: Yeah, for sure. I totally relate to that as well. And I feel like a lot of the ways I interact with people are informed by this idea that I should be, you know, responding to everything they're saying, asking them a bunch of questions, listening and being an active listener, and not being super confident when talking about myself. Like, talking about myself, I'm so aware of every word that I'm saying, and I'm like, we'd like I should stop soon, you know, and that's definitely not something that everyone thinks about or has been taught to think about. In terms of writing, I do find that it's just a good way for me to put these thoughts and feelings down, and that the Asian identity and the Asian female identity are very important to me. It's something that I want to express for the people who share the identity and also for the people that don't, because I do think there are a lot of stereotypes about Asian women, and not a lot of media representation or anything like that. Like, I didn't read any Asian literature growing up or anything like that. Didn't really see that many Asian movies. So yeah, I kind of want to be a part of creating that narrative. And also, it personally does help with like, processing my experience. But I also don't want to be limited by my experience. So it's tricky to navigate, like, writing an Asian American story. I just wrote a piece about writing about identity, but it's just difficult because I don't want my story to come across as like, okay, this is just about an Asian American person, when it's much more than that. It's about my story, and I think it's one dimensional to just categorize narratives, stories, movies, books. Like, oh, that's an LGBTQ film. Oh, that's like a Black film. Oh, this is like an Asian story, or whatever. Because then we go in thinking, that that's the main point when it's really not. But obviously, representation matters. And obviously, so grateful to have stories and narratives like that. I just also want to expand the way we think about stories that aren't traditional majority narratives. And not having to be limited by that. But yeah, writing has been a really helpful tool. And it's something that I'm glad I can have personally as a device, and then also as something that I can share with others.
L: Yeah, I totally agree with what you said about one dimensional categorizations. So, as an Asian American writer, do you ever feel the pressure that you have to be writing about specifically like the immigrant experience and Asian American topics? Like, do you feel a weird expectation where you have to be like the representative for this experience, rather than writing about your interests outside of it?
V: Yeah, I guess it’s sometimes hard to differentiate between what I want to write and what I feel expected to write. But I don't think there's that much of an expectation to only write about that narrative. And I think I do it more on a personal interest, to be honest. But I am afraid of becoming like an “Asian American Writer” where like, that's my thing and that's what I write about. So yeah, I think Mother is actually one of my more heavily identity-based pieces. Most of the time, I try not to make it the focus of the piece. Just because that's my way of saying like, this is important, this is here, but this isn't the main point. But obviously, sometimes it is. So I guess I just try to balance that and explore my interests in that way.
L: What are your thoughts on the current representation of AAPI creatives in the media? Especially with the rise in representation through movies like Parasite, The Farewell, Minari, etc.?
V: Yeah, like the whole Crazy Rich Asians thing, right? Like it might not be perfect, but let's get more Asian representation. Yeah, I think it's really exciting to have this happen, and I'm always looking for new Asian stories. I do think obviously it's not ideal in a way, like I feel most of the narratives are focused on East Asians and like Crazy Rich Asians and this idea of like, rich East Asian narratives. Bling Empire, I just binge-watched the whole thing. I think that could be harmful in perpetuating this idea of rich East Asians, and that being emblematic of AAPI when obviously, it's not. And so I think, hopefully, there will be space for more marginalized AAPI narratives. South Asian, Southeast Asian stuff. I think it's always been a bit of an issue. Not an issue, but just like, it's been more common for East Asians to have more of a spotlight even though obviously, there isn't that big of a spotlight overall. But I still think it's really exciting to have more of a presence and to have that be accepted and acclaimed by others.
L: And that is interesting, because for things like Bling Empire, I felt this weird guilt enjoying it, because it's like good TV because it's just drama and it's fun. But it's also like, I know this is not great for an accurate Asian representation. But then I watch shows like Keeping Up With The Kardashians, and I don't feel any guilt. So, I don't know, for me, it's so interesting that anything that has more than like a couple Asian actors in it, I have these extremely high expectations of what they can do to advance AAPI narratives, which might not always be reasonable or even the piece’s main goal.
L: But, tying into that, what are the kinds of stories that you would want to see in the media? Or that you would want to tell as a writer?
V: Yeah, I guess like I touched upon like, other AAPI narratives Southeast Asians, South Asians, etc. Because I do think when people think of Asia, they think of East Asia nowadays. I think that obviously, we shouldn't be expected to create a certain type of story and a certain type of narrative. But unfortunately, I think stuff like Crazy Rich Asians and Bling Empire is much easier for people to like, consume. And I totally relate. I also felt a little bit guilty watching it. But it is representation. And that is what we have right now. And it’s very entertaining (hahah). But yeah, I just feel like Asian creators should be able to do whatever they want. And like, Chloe, Chloe from Nomadland. Have you heard of that movie? The director’s an Asian woman. So there are narratives that aren't traditional Asian stories like that. Like this one is Francis McDormand, a white woman, who like goes to trailer parks and stuff. There's also A Little Life, that book is about four men in New York. And there is an Asian main character, so there are creators who kind of break the mold and don't necessarily give us traditional Asian narratives. So I think just like not having any expectations for those creators and letting them do what they want is best. And for me, I think that because my identity is so important to me, I would want to showcase that somehow in my work, but not have it overshadow what I'm trying to do.
L: Are there any pieces of AAPI writing or art that you would recommend? Or where you've been like, oh, that's the type of story that I want to see!
V: Yeah! I find that recently, I've been trying to read more. But I think Jhumpa Lahiri is an old favorite of mine. And I'm really inspired by her work. The way she writes and her tone. And her short stories also, just very emotional, but also in almost a detached way. I think that's really effective. And she also is now writing stories in Italian. Like, that's her thing. I don't know what's happening there. Yeah, what else. Celeste Ng, I've been reading some of her stuff, which is good. I find that I enjoy these little things that I've been reading by Asian American authors. But it's not necessarily anything that I've been like, oh, like, this is like exactly what I'm trying to do. And I think that's okay. I'm inspired by a lot of other things I read to like, Clarice Lispector. She's this Brazilian author who’s like, very stream of consciousness, very abstract, strange narrative, strange plot. And it really feels like she's writing towards the reader. And you can feel her pain and her process in the work. I really like her stories that are very short. But they're very fresh. That was something that I've been inspired by. Also, just like, honestly, I can get inspired by anything.
L: I was also thinking like, I remember talking to a friend about Never Have I Ever. It's this Netflix show by Mindy Kaling, and the protagonist is Indian American. And so I remember my friend was telling me that he liked it and thought it was good, but that he felt it was just “a little too Indian”. I know, problematic. But do you feel like right now it's mostly just other Asian Americans consuming AAPI-created content?
V: I guess also, like, that reminds me of The Farewell, which was nominated for a foreign film. I don't know why. But that was definitely like an Asian American story. But a lot of it was in Mandarin, and they were in China. So I think that's a very interesting question. I would say that I think a lot of other creators have in mind, like wanting to increase representation for their community. And I think that means creating it for other AAPI and then also just for, for other people who are interested in learning more about the community and I don't think that I don't think that story could be like “too Indian or to Asian”. I guess that's just like a personal preference, but I don't think that should limit or change the way someone wants to tell a story. And I think that sometimes you can't really predict who the audience will be, and who will be receptive to that kind of story. I think you just have to do what feels right.
L: Is there anything else you would like to add about your work, about AAPI writing and art? Representation? Any last words?
V: I don't think so. I am just grateful for VISIONS being at Brown. I thought it was super cool ever since I went to the Asian room in the BCSC and saw all of the VISIONS magazines that went back to like the 90s or something. But yeah, thanks for reaching out, it was super fun.
L: Yeah! It was great talking to you.