In Conversation with Brian Chung
My story begins with my parents immigrating from China and Hong Kong. They immigrated to Hawaii to have a better future and education. There are a couple of key moments that have shaped me. Through the first couple of years after being born, all I knew was Chinese, my parents spoke Chinese to me at home, I spoke Chinese to them. It wasn’t until my first day in pre-school where things changed. I couldn’t communicate with anyone. My parents told me that I needed to use the restroom, but I couldn’t tell anyone. I cried the whole day, and from then on my parents decided to speak English to me from now on. In elementary school, my parents started having regrets of me not being able to speak Chinese, so they sent me to Chinese school. I had a similar experience to pre-school, I couldn’t communicate at all, they were speaking a different dialect of Chinese that I did not use, so I ended up crying, and my parents took me home.
Growing up in Hawaii, I never really felt like a minority, because my city had an Asian American majority. It wasn’t until going to college in California where I really understood what it meant; I remember walking through the hallway of my college dorm, and out of the 40 guys there, there were only 5 other Asian Americans. These experiences have shaped me as an Asian Between Cultures - growing up, I never felt like I fully ‘fit-in’, never fully Asian, never fully American. Equally, if not more important than my ethnic journey as an Asian American, has been my spiritual journey. I grew up in Hawaii in a Buddhist household, went to a Catholic middle school, was agnostic all throughout my life, and became a Christian in college. After college, I went into campus ministry after college for over 7 years. Today, I run a start-up company called Alabaster Co, a faith-based creative publishing and media company, exploring the intersection of art and faith.
When you get home, what’s the first thing you usually do? — When I get home, the first thing I do is welcome my dog, Levi, take off my shoes, get into some comfortable looking clothes and eat dinner.
What absolutely excites you right now? — Since I’m in the publishing and media space, the stories that are being shared in media are super important to me. Growing up, I didn’t see many role models portrayed in the media that looked like me. Even when I became a Christian and did ministry work, there were very few models of Asian Americans in leadership roles. The rise of Asian representation in media and how that is impacting society is super exciting for me!
What does it mean to be an Asian Between Cultures (ABC)? — Being an Asian Between Cultures means that I can be someone that can give context to some of the differences between eastern and western culture, and a person who can help advocate for the next generation of Asian Americans.
How does being an ABC shape the way you interact with people around you? — Being an ABC and how it shapes the way I interact with people around me is constantly changing and evolving. While going to college, and for the first time feeling like a minority, I learned early on that adopting and changing to fit in with the majority culture allowed me to get ahead easier.
At the same time, I would constantly feel like my interactions with people changed depending on who I was with, at home and with my Asian American friends, it was one way, there was an unsaid way of interacting. With my friends and co-workers in California, I felt like I needed to take more space and talk more in order to be taken more seriously. This was exhausting. Today, I am becoming more comfortable with who I am, how I normally interact with people and just be myself.
What are some of the blessings that come with being an ABC? — There are a lot of blessings that come with being an ABC - I have a greater sense and understanding of the differences between east and west communication and values, I’m able to relate and understand others on a deeper level, and be a bridge for others.
What are some of the challenges that you've faced as an ABC? — The biggest challenge I’ve faced as an ABC is feeling stuck between two cultures and feeling alone in the process. I would go home, and although I understood the culture of my parents, there were always some things lost in translation. The same has felt true with work. After graduating college, I joined a non-profit organization doing campus ministry to college students. As a young campus minister, I felt empowered, I felt like my voice was heard, and it was easy to relate with college students. It wasn’t until I became the Director of the campus ministry where things got more challenging.
I was 25 years old, well out of college, and yet there would be many times where people would question my authority and leadership. I would be invited into meetings with all the other Christian directors on campus, and I would be the only Asian American in the room. Although I led one of the larger organizations on campus, my input was constantly dismissed. It was hard for my voice to be heard and valued amongst everyone else.
Cultural identify and upbringing is a great way to start deeper conversations. Why do you think most people engage or disengage with these topics? — Cultural identity is a hard thing. It requires a lot of vulnerability and self-awareness. Cultural identity also brings into question the amount of power and privilege you were born into. Sometimes that is hard to face, especially if you were born with more power than others.
What is the driving force in your life? Share with us your motivations and why you keep on pursuing your dreams. — Jesus has been the primary motivator of my life. There are many brands and versions of ‘Christianity’ these days, but from my understanding of Jesus, Jesus was an advocate for people on the margins, he was the radical includer for people who were outcasts in that society. He was someone that used his power and privilege to advocate for people who had none. As a Christian and a follower of Jesus, He is my driving force and why I do what I do today.
What is a book, tv show or podcast that you think people definitely need to get into and why? — I love The Liturgist Podcast, Episode Black and White. It shares a good understanding of race relations in America and helps Asian Americans who are in between think about what is their role.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to your previous self? — Yesterday, last week, last month, last year, I would give the same advice, you are loved just the way you are.