Category Archives: Essays on the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

this brings out the wannabe scholar in me

An essay on my sexay photo shoot

Background:  This essay is an effort to compile and channel all my rampant thoughts about sex, sexuality, female empowerment, objectification and the male gaze.  Last weekend, I was invited to be a part of a photo shoot with renowned Japanese photographer, YONE.  In a nutshell, YONE likes to translate SEXY in his photos.  He gives lots of creative freedom to his models to wear and pose however they want.  Some girls take it all off.  Some girls leave it all on.  Overall, YONE himself is an amazing artist. A lot of his work look like this.

I took up the photo shoot opportunity as a way to 1) expand my network, 2) experience something different and 3) express my sexual nature. This was my first time in a photo shoot so I had no idea what I was doing.  I told myself that if I was going to do the shoot, I wanted to bring something completely different.  I didn’t want to look all raunchy and shit like the other girls. (Too predictable).  I didn’t want to take my clothes off. (Too easy).  I wanted to send a positive message that firm, strong and fun is also sexy.  I kept my pants up, shirts on and legs closed.

Outfits:
1) Cocktail dress for the CLASS.
2) Fur vest, shorts and tank for the SASS.
3) Black spandex and mom’s 80’s t-shirt for the THROWBACK.

I entered the photo shoot wanting to stand out and challenge these norms.  I left the photo shoot feeling like I looked like every other girl. Damn. I didn’t feel empowered.  The shoot was a good experience and the people are amazing, but that’s just not my style.  Prancing around and trying to look all hot and shit in front of the camera wasn’t all that fun for me.  I’d rather go painting.

Even though I had something to say,  I realized that the photo shoot was not my platform.  I entered with one agenda and YONE had his–this was clear to me from the beginning (I just failed to recognize it).  At the end of the day, this is YONE’s artwork and YONE’s message.  This wasn’t MY photo shoot, it was YONE’s photo shoot.  His narrative takes precedent over mine because he is the one in control of the camera, he frames the shots and he snaps the photos.  It’s like elementary sentence structure: SUBJECT –> ACTION VERB –> OBJECT :: YONE –> CAMERA –> ME. Understanding the sexist, male-dominated context of our society, I feel inclined to reject the overt idealism of female sexiness and dress myself down.  Sometimes I overcompensate by wearing big sweaters and shit.  Then I wonder if I’m being too reactionary by responding this way.  How do I embrace my sexual side without coming off as typical or slutty.  At the shoot, I was trying to filter my feminist message through the male gaze and that just isn’t possible.  It doesn’t matter what I was trying to say or trying to do, this can all get lost when the camera frames me a certain way, photos are rearranged in a certain way and photos are exhibited in a particular context like “GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS”. Haha yuuup.

I asked YONE to credit all my photos with my name and website that offers all my artwork and writings.  I don’t know if he will actually care to do this.  In the case that he doesn’t, I would be just another anonymous GIRL GIRL GIRL amidst the bunch, and I’m not okay with that. I don’t want to be known for just a “pretty face”.  I have so much more to offer than that.  TRUST.  I appreciate the genes mom and pops gave me but I  don’t consider “good looks” as much to be proud of because it’s not something I worked terribly hard for, yadidamean?  I am very thankful for this experience.  I can be quick to judge other girls in photographs like, “HOE.” Now that I know what it feels like to be on the other side, I can better understand the pressures of succumbing to the feeling of sexy and desirability; at the same time, it has helped me affirm my own views in how I want to function in this world.

Thanks for reading.

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Filed under Believe Me Ego, Essays on the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

I just got Twitter & I’m scared…kinda not really.

There was a time when I said, “I will NEVER get Twitter. FUCK THAT SHIT.”

Damn, times change and another reason why “Never say never” is the truest form of contradiction.

I’ve always been a little scared of technology and the WWW.  I’ve been called a “cave woman” before.  I felt that rapid technological advancements:

1) warped social evolution to go backwards (less talking, more typing..byebye touchy feely face).

2) dramatically developed a strange 6th human sense: HUNGER for FAME (Vanity strikes the YouTube revolution…the self-telecast, self-made, self-proclaimed celebrity.)

3) resulted in the subconscious surrender of human privacy.


All this was scary to me and I didn’t want to be part of it.  I don’t always like talking about myself, I just want the product to speak for itself.  On top of everything, if any of you caught “My Very Honest Post”, you’d know that I was victim to a very serious, schizophrenic and delusional stalker (literally).  I still am, because that MFer never got put away.  So I take privacy, trust and personal space are all very seriously.  For a good chunk of time, I was in hiding–from the stalker, from everyone around me, from my family, from the world, from myself.  I won’t divulge too much because I know the stalker is reading.  But anyways, back to technology and the voluntary surrender of privacy, people are starting to give up their personal information, then their photos, NOW, even all their THOUGHTS.  It was disturbing to me.  We used to complain about the Patriot Act and the U.S. government fucking with all our privacy rights; now, the government doesn’t even have to try to be all up in our business.  We willingly give it up without knowing how much of ourselves we are exposing.

I STILL am a very private and reserved person.  To be an artist, I need to put myself and my work out there if I want to reach as many people as possible.  It’s a twisted dilemma.  As I come out of “my cave” and away from “hiding”, I’m learning how to trust the world again.  I absolutely DO want to be connected with the world.  That’s the beautiful thing about technology.  I’m understanding how to function in my role as a grounded human being in this technologically advancing world.  I just don’t want to lose myself in the digital vortex.

So “Follow Me” but not really… twitter.com/ThisFirstLady

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I told myself I wouldn’t post about Tiger Woods,

That I wouldn’t join the thousands of ruthless indulgers in sex-crazed America to throw in their two cents about Tiger Woods’ private affairs.   I’m in no position to dissect Tigers’ marriage issues, but at the very least, I can say sumthin’ about the wild reactions that have since ensued.

Everybody wants a piece of Tiger.  Whether what Tiger did was right or wrong, Tiger Woods is known for being an amazing GOLFER, not an amazing husband.  I’m in no way condoning or excusing him, I’m just saying, you can be the best golfer in the world and still be a dirtbag.  There’s no stated correlation between athletic ability and marital morals.  Even though I believe what he did is fucked up, I still believe in the right to privacy.

Tiger Woods getting caught cheating affected people in 3 different ways:

1) He lost fans.
2) He gained fans.
3) Did not matter.

Some (heterosexual) women are thinking, “Ugh. MEN. Typical.” Another reason why we can’t trust them.  Even nice guys are dogs.

Some women are thinking, “Damn, Tiger. Can I holla?”

Some (heterosexual) men are thinking, “Damn, Tiger ruined it for the male species.  He just made it harder for the rest of us to get with women (such as  the ones quoted above).”

Some  guys are thinking, “Damn, Tiger. Elin is HOT! You idiot.”

Amidst all the reactions, there is one common factor: DISAPPOINTMENT.  For me, the most disappointing thing about the disappointment expressed is hearing about how many men are NOT disappointed in the fact that Tiger CHEATED, they are disappointed in the fact that Tiger GOT CAUGHT.

“Tiger got CAUGHT.  And THAT’s where he fucked up.”

WTF?

This implies that it is acceptable for men to cheat on their wives as long as they don’t get caught.  I’m not judging polygamy.  If people want to have multiple partners, they should join a polygamous society and/or NOT get married.    But in the context of American society, a sexist culture promotes the narrow view of manhood as being misogynist, macho and dominant.  We raise boys to believe that being men means it’s acceptable to devalue women.  Preserving the male ego means exerting dominance over women.  Many men would argue that this is inherent and part of biology.  I won’t go into arguing the entire sociological standpoint of how people are conditioned to play out gender roles, but I think we could agree that babies are innocent.  Everybody is born into this world with a clean slate of mannerisms and behavioral habits.  Those things are taught and learned, not inherent.  SpikeTV is an example of the macho teacher.  As a woman in this society, I think men forget how their words and actions can make a women feel devalued, disposable and disrespected.  Some men think women like it.  Maybe some women “do”.  Or maybe that is also part of the female gender role conditioning to accept objectification because that understanding is correlated with male dominance and desirability.  Like many things, it’s a vicious cycle.  But if the root of our problems are socially constructed, then we can most definitely do some social reconstructioning. Holla.

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Filed under Bigger Than Me and You, Essays on the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

When Globalization Hits Home

Globalization has declared a war on diversity by setting a universal standard of living. The process has most of the world convinced that the capitalist way is the “best” way.  For nations to gain international leverage, they must enter the race to modernize society. In essence, the reality of globalization results in standardizing all aspects of culture–language, customs, traditions, food, production, manufacturing, etc. When we see field workers drop their pitchforks and take up jobs at the nearest McDonalds–that is a product of globalization. When we see a street vendor sell rice plates for 50 cents outside a newly erected Louis Vuitton store–that is a product of globalization. When we see indigenous mountain people sell souvenirs to tourists for a living–that is a product of globalization. While the process of globalization standardizes, modernizes and quickly transforms a nation’s economic landscape, it inevitably widens the disparity between the rich and the poor at exponential rates.

There was a point in time when my dad’s family and my mom’s family were in the same economic class–DIRT POOR. I remember visiting both sides (Dad’s family in the North, Mom’s family in the South) and it was always everybody packed into a one room “home” with rice, salt and potatoes for sparse meals. By the end of the Vietnam War, most of the country was so fragmented and ravaged there were only 2 social strata: the impoverished and the ruling. In 2007, Vietnam finally joined the WTO (World Trade Organization) and made a significant shift toward an OPEN MARKET ECONOMY–which basically means they’re opening their doors to compete in the global economy, which basically means more standardizing, more mechanizing, more modernizing, more skyscrapers, more condos, more business suits, more wireless networking, more conference calls and more westernizing. This is a race, so you can either get with it or get left behind. But the reality is, some people can’t even run the race if they wanted to.

Being in the city (and capital, Hanoi), my dad’s side of the family still had the chance to go to school and pursue an education. Most of my dad’s siblings went into finance, marketing and business. With the booming open market, some quickly went from rags to riches (my aunt even got her own chauffeur!!). My dad’s family are part of the lucky few who entered the finance market at a good time–when it was rapidly on the rise and they got pulled up as quickly as they entered. Like stock markets, trading and closing deals–timing is everything.

My mom’s side of the family is less fortunate. They are stuck in the cycle of poverty which they’ll probably never escape. As a small fishing village, education was less accessible. When boys become men, they head out to sea and become fishermen. Girls find little ways to make money, like washing hair, bartering at the market or selling lottery tickets. That small fishing village my mom grew up in has not changed. Some of her siblings are still living in the same dainty shacks made of the same wood planks and metal sheets I remember visiting as a child. I’m surprised the homes haven’t collapsed under the water yet. Everyone is begging for a way out of poverty. My female cousins keep pleading me to find them American husbands that can marry them out of the cycle. Now, after all these years, the government is kicking everyone out of my mom’s fishing village because they want to build a resort for tourists. The villagers have no mode of transportation, no savings to buy land and no money to build a new home. Tourism, capital and resorts are all a result of globalization, which in turn makes the economy better, but makes the poor just damn pointless.


(This is actually the “nicer” part of the village. My aunt’s shack is on wooden stilts above the water. And the public toilet is like a high dock on poles. You squat above a hole in the dock that drops all your crap into the ocean beneath your stankin’ ass.)

With a Bachelor of Arts from UCLA, I’ve studied and theorized globalization from many angles. But I can’t even find the words to describe how I feel when I actually WITNESS the impact of it in my polarized family. North vs. South. City vs. village. Rich vs. poor. They say that those who flourish within capitalism can only profit at the expense of fucking over another entity. If there is a winner, somebody’s got to lose. So within economic politics, is the reason for my dad’s side becoming richer part of the reason that contributes to my mom’s side being fucked over?

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Filed under Bigger Than Me and You, Essays on the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Refugee Romeo & Juliet: I WAS BORN

I’m starting a new category.  It’s going to be somewhere between critical essays on race, class, gender, sexuality, global ish and the good, the bad, the ugly in my eyes.

There are many layers when talking about the Vietnam War.  So let me break the entities down for you:

The Colonizers = French (Outsiders)
The Anti-Imperialist Revolutionaries = North Vietnam (Insiders)
The Anti-Communist Revolutionaries = South Vietnam (Insiders)
The Nosy MFerz with the Personal Agenda = United States (Outsiders)

North Vietnamese revolutionary leader, Ho Chi Minh, finally kicked the French out, claiming Vietnamese independence for the first time in over 1000 years.  After so many years of fragmented colonization, he wanted to unite all of Vietnam under one vision–Communism.  But South Vietnam wanted to do their own thing, so they became more of the underdawg radicals, waging a guerilla war against the North.  The U.S. got involved, fighting on the side of the “South” but since they couldn’t tell North Vietnamese apart from South Vietnamese, they ended up murdering anyone and everyone who looked Asian.  To this day, the world still questions why the U.S. got involved and what they were fighting for–and no one will give you a good reason because there isn’t one. But international supporters like Che Guevara, Black Panther Party, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, African nations, Third World Nations, the working class and revolutionaries alike outspokenly stood in solidarity with Vietnam against U.S. and their aggressive, imperialist, suckiest agenda.  Basically, looking at internal affairs, the Vietnam War was a war between one set of Revolutionaries against another set of Revolutionaries.  The North and the South did not get along.  It was an onslaught of radicals, militants, guerilla fighters and working people against their mirrored selves.  Everybody wanted independence, but freedom looked different to different people.

My pops was a city boy from the North, one of 7 children. After the North Vietnamese kicked out the French AND the Americans in 1975, the entire country fell under “Communist” rule.  There was a lot of chaos and poverty.  Many people wanted to get out but it was illegal to leave the country.  So people secretly escaped by boat; hence, refugee.  If you were caught trying to escape, you were immediately imprisoned.  When my pops made his run, he left only a letter behind for my grandma.  He didn’t tell anybody–not even his family because it endangered him to get caught.

My mom was a seaside girl from the South–she was from a small, fishing village where all the men went off to sea for months at a time and the women stayed back and hustled a modest living in anticipation to see how much fish would be brought home.  They lived in shacks made from scraps of metal and wood, some on stilts because the tide would rise and so people had to travel by boat to go from home to home.  My mom was the youngest of 5 kids, and the only one to escape Vietnam by boat.  The boat fare was 1 ounce of gold.

My mom and pops were just teenagers when they said “FIGHT THE POWER!” and escaped Vietnam.  We got the revolutionary-life-on-the-line-fight-for-what-you-believe spirit in our blood.

To fast forward to the good part, both my parents coincidentally ended up in East Boston via a Refugee Relief program.  They lived in the same housing complex with other refugee homies.  My mom was a Pretty Young Thing and all the girls had a crush on my dad.  No surprise, my pops had his eyes on my mom, and tried stepping to her but immediately my mom was like, “I don’t date men from the Communist Country!”  This was nothing to deter my dad.  He insisted, “Just because my government is like that doesn’t mean I’M like that…” (Sound familiar, Americans?)  My pops persisted with the mackdown and continued to woo my mom until next thing you know, my older sister was born, and then I WAS BORN!  It was a brave, forbidden love for it’s time. But like Che Guevara and many revolutionaries will tell you, at the core of any revolution, is love.

And that’s how I was born.  Now let’s start the show.

It’s cool to find artwork in every countries around the world supporting Vietnam (China, Cuba, Angola, Russia, Philippines, Cambodia, etc.).  This is just a snippet:


Cuba supports Vietnam: “For a Vietnam 10 times more beautiful.”


“The People of Viet Nam will win!  The American Imperialist will lose!”


Friends today and back in the day

Read about how the Black Panther Party and Ho Chi Minh became homies! Click the image for full story:


I had the honor of meeting Muhammad Ali when I was in the fourth grade!!  This man laid the WWF truth on the world.  And I’m not talking about wrestling.  I’m talking about the SMACKDOWN!!!

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Filed under Bigger Than Me and You, Essays on the Good, the Bad and the Ugly