Jacqueline Mac is a strengths-based social justice educator, who deeply believes in students' potential to bring positive social change to the world. She empowers students’ voices by working with them to explore, articulate, and own their stories. Her work with college students and colleagues focuses on the intersection of leadership, social justice education, and identity development. Jacqueline brings a unique blend of organizational development principles and social justice foundations to her work in higher education.
Also a self-identified nerd, she is on a number of research projects examining student experiences and creating culturally engaging environments on campuses. She hails from Chicago and holds degrees in psychology and student affairs. Jacqueline is also a 200-Hour Registered Yoga Teacher and teaches at community-oriented spaces in her spare time, emphasizing healing, empowerment, and acceptance.
WHERE WE MET
An Interview with Jacqueline Mac
Francesca: Today is June 28, 2014 and it's about 12:15PM and I'm here with Jacqueline Mac at the [Washington] D.C. Vietnam War Veterans Memorial. Tell me a little bit about yourself Jacqueline, so people know who you are.
Jacqueline: Sure. I am a native Chicagoan. I came out here five years ago for grad school and was able to find a job out here. So [I] stuck around ever since and have been really drawn to the active [Asian American Pacific Islander] community and how close [I] am to the nation's national news. I was actually in Chicago this weekend with my family for a cousin's wedding, so it was a good reminder of what Chicago means for me, in terms of where all my family still is and how I'm the only one out here.
I'm currently working with the Asian and the Pacific Islander Scholarship Fund, where I work with all the scholars after they've been awarded scholarships. So I work on everything from academic advising to creating programming for them based on leadership development, creative development, community building. All of our scholars are all over the nation, so it's tricky but it's also very cool because I get to meet students who remind me a lot of myself—the first generation college student. I've been there since August but before that I was at Georgetown University during multicultural affairs work and diversity programming, focusing a lot on how to build allyship and community amongst people who have very different identities and walks of life.
Francesca: How long have you been in D.C.?
Jacqueline: I'm going to be starting my sixth academic year, which is a long time. It's probably the longest I've been in—actually just kidding—I've moved a lot. I came out here August of 2009.
Francesca: Do you ever plan on going back to Chicago because that's where you grew up or do you see it as a hometown you can come back to once in a while?
Jacqueline: I've been thinking about that a lot, particularly since I found out about your project. I have trying to think less about my students and more about me and where I'm going. My parents are there. They're getting older but I have siblings. I have an older and younger sibling and they're both in Chicago. I don't think it'll be anytime soon but I do think eventually it will be nice to be closer to my family particularly when I start a family of my own or when my siblings start their families. I don't want to be that one relative who just comes around once a year or twice a year. So we'll see how to make that happen.
Francesca: The project has a lot to do with thinking about place and how place is such an active role in thinking about who you are and your identity and how you choose to self-identify. I know that because you're from Chicago, you may have picked a different place [to meet today] that is really significant to you. In terms of thinking about D.C. and where we are today, can you tell me why you particularly chose the Vietnam War Veterans Memorial to meet?
Jacqueline: It took me awhile to figure out where [to meet] because I don't necessarily see D.C. as home. And the concept of home, for anyone who's lived and grown up somewhere, and then spent a lot of other formative years in other places, is really tricky. I'm in the field of education and a lot during graduate school, we were asked to think about what your education was like. “What were some of the formative moments? What were some moments that really made an impact on you?” The ones that kept coming up for me about elementary school [were the times] I learned about wars. I'm strangely attracted to the ideas of war. Not because it's beautiful but because there are so many awful things that come out of wars and I was a psych major so I'm always very curious as to why people make those decisions and why people are the way they are.
I still remember where I sat in my eighth grade classroom and who was there and who my teacher was and that we were learning about the Vietnam War. We learned about the memorial and how it was an Asian American woman, Maya Lin, who designed it. When she was first selected to do the architecture of this memorial, there was all this controversy about why you would have someone who was Asian designing an American memorial. This whole concept of Asian and American and not being able to unite the two was the first time I was like, well this makes no sense. It's not like she was in the war. It didn't make any sense to me and so just thinking about where we can meet in D.C., I was like, when was the first time I wrestled with that idea of identity? The closest thing I could come up with is how that was connected in how this memorial was built. Growing up, I heard so little about where I might of come from. I knew my parents weren't from here but I didn't know where then. It was also the time—the first time—I read something similar to something I've heard, like what my parents talked about. The first time I heard about Saigon outside of my parents' conversations was when we learned about the Vietnam War. So that's why I chose this place.
Francesca: Growing up, did you feel connected at all to anything you were taught in school, like with this memorial or did you feel separate from what you learned from your parents?
Jacqueline: I think it felt very separate because it was all like—we learned about the green berets, we learned about when the war started and ended, we learned about napalm. Everything was very factual and I connected with none of it until I saw this one picture that's in a lot of the textbooks about the Vietnam War. It’s a photo at the museum too. I remember every time I see this photo, there's something haunting about it. It's a photo of this young girl who, I don't know if you recall this, was walking down the street after napalm was dropped. She didn't have a lot of her hair, her clothes were burned off, and she was just in terror. I remember seeing that picture and being like, that kind of looks like someone I would know—like me. Is this something my parents saw?
I started getting curious. I remember asking my parents, why are you all here? I remember them saying, “well it's because of the war.” Very cursory. So I was like, well was this the stuff that they saw? I was a very curious and probably very annoying child. I had all those questions but it never connected for me because it wasn't like I was learning explicitly in school about my identity—it was just, this is the world. We would learn about World War I or World War II or the Holocaust. At home it wasn't something my parents talked about because they didn't really know what I was being taught in school and it wasn't something they talked about until I asked them specifically. It wasn't until sixteen or seventeen for a school project that I finally heard my mom's side of the story of how she ended up here and what the journey was like. Still, at that point, I hadn't really connected to what I was learning in school until I took an Asian American studies course. I read this one book and I was like, oh this is a lot like my mom's experience.
Francesca: Which book was that?
Jacqueline: Catfish and Mandala by Andrew X. Pham. It was for an Asian American studies type course that DePaul [College Prep, a high school in Chicago] was offering as part of an enrichment program for high school students. The assignment was to interview an immigrant. I got two. My parents.
It was interesting because as I was interviewing my mom and she was telling me her story. We had just read through a certain part of the book and I was like, this is totally what I'm reading right now! It was the first time where what I was learning and what I was hearing from my parents actually aligned with each other. They were corroborating stories. So I was like, okay I'm not crazy.
Francesca: Where you really surprised by some of the stories she told you?
Jacqueline: Yeah, it was part of the child-parent relationship when you're starting to realize your parents are people. They're not just parents. She was telling me about the actual journey—her and a couple family members. She didn't go too deep in detail but I really remember distinctly she said we were on the boat and they thought they were going to die. It was a really small boat, maybe twenty people. If this was the side of the boat [motioning], the water was right there [pointing nearby], it wasn't a big thing. Literally boat people. She said they were afraid they were going to die because it had been seven days and they had ran out of food and water. The boat started leaking and babies were crying because they were really hungry. I distinctly remember that piece. My mother went through this when she was a couple years older than I am now and I'm complaining about what? It was surprising because it was something I didn’t know that my parents have gone through. For some reason when you're a teenager you just don't think like that.
Most of it was surprising because it was my mom's story, which I had never heard before. Even if I did read it, it's different to know it was someone you knew and grew up with and took care of you for two decades to tell you that's what she experienced. And I’m like, that's kind of cool. Even now I think back to it. I'm twenty-seven now. By the time my mom was twenty-seven she already had two kids. She has never been back to Vietnam since she came [to America]. She's left the only country she ever knew to come to this place, learn this language she hadn't really learned, and all this stuff. I'm like, what are my struggles in life right now? Not that it should be held over my head all the time but it really puts things into perspective, like how much strength her and her family had.
Francesca: You mentioned that you were doing your own family history project. How's that going and what's your progress so far?
Jacqueline: I was able to get my youngest two aunts, a couple cousins interested. I'm trying to figure out strategically how best to do this. On my dad's side of the family, there are ten siblings. On my mom's side, there are nine siblings and cousins together are thirty on both sides. The easiest way to do this would be to have one from each family be able to say “this is what I'm interested in” and be able to just help with the work. Part of what I've come to realize is that even though my grandparents were really open about talking about their history, I want to honor that by making sure all of the project is taken care of by family to maintain the integrity of our stories as opposed to doing all the interviews and sending it off to some transcript center in Indiana to get it transcribed. That would be the more efficient way to do it but I feel like it means something to be able to have the interview, talk to them about it, be able to transcribe it ourselves, use those words, and struggle with transcribing something that someone just said in Cantonese or Vietnamese. That's also the other barrier. Not very many of us are fluent in Cantonese. How am I supposed to ask this question without sounding like a five year old?
Francesca: I have the same struggle.
Jacqueline: My mom's really patient with it. I don't know about my aunts and uncles, but they'd just be like, “why are we doing this?” I've gotten the younger folks involved and interested. It all started because I was like, hey this is something I'm doing this summer, I think all of you should do it too. By the way, we should totally document our family story. I've gotten some buy-in. It's just design and implementing. Still in the planning stage.
Francesca: Do you know how you want it to turn out, look like, or archived?
JACQUELINE: I don't know. One of my friends I met here did his senior thesis and was able to get grants and funds for his senior’s thesis on documenting his own family history. He just has scanned versions of immigration cards and paperwork and this old D.C. map that showed where one of his relatives' restaurant was and photographs and all this stuff. I'm going to talk to him about beyond having it for ourselves. [I wonder] if there is a way to officially work with the Smithsonian system or national archives that will document this story that was never probably captured or has really been captured. I also like to collect a lot of information, so for sure it will sit on a hard drive. So we'll see.
Francesca: When did your parents come to the U.S. and when did they meet?
Jacqueline: They didn't actually meet until they were in Chicago. I know for sure my mom was born in Saigon. I think my dad was born in Saigon too. My dad was in Taiwan first. They both left on boats I believe. My dad arrived in 1975 in Chicago. My mom didn't get here until 1979. She left very close to the Fall of Saigon. She remembers hearing bombings as part of her day to day. They actually left and was at a Malaysian refugee camp for a couple years and then sought sponsorship. I think both sides of my family were lucky that there was someone in the extended family who ended up being here [in the United States]. This is why I'm interested in getting my whole family's narrative too.
His older brother was supposed to enlist in the army I think, but he like—here's where the issue of ethics come up. He falsified some doctor's paperwork so he didn't have to actively serve in active combat. He was just doing paperwork somewhere. Because of that, I think he was able to get some sort of exception or something, so he was actually in the States a little earlier before my dad and his side of the family came around. And then on my mom's side, one of my uncles was an architect and one of my aunts was a nurse, so somehow one or both of them ended up here somewhere and was able to get a flight sponsorship for both sides of my family to come too.
Both my parents didn't meet until they were in high school, which is interesting given that there's a four-year age difference between them. They met in a high school called [Nicholas] Senn High School in Chicago, which is on the north side of Chicago, really close to the uptown neighborhood. Historically black, low-income neighborhood. So where's the best place to put new Vietnamese refugees? Chicago. “When they come in, you just put them in this neighborhood and not work on any race relations” [sarcastically]. And so that was high school. There were a lot of students whose education was interrupted, so that's also how my dad ended up there. That's where they met and that's where they've been.
Francesca: Is most of your family still in Chicago? Extended family too?
Jacqueline: Yeah, most of my extended family is in Chicago. I'm one of the older cousins on my dad's side. Other than myself and my youngest aunt, who is based in San Jose now, everyone's pretty much in Chicago or Midwest area. I've got a small contingent in Davenport, Iowa, like four hours west of Chicago. But we're all starting to get married now, so the cousin who just got married this weekend is moving to Seattle because he's an architect and there's no market in Chicago for architects right now. It's been interesting seeing who decided to stick around and who's like "we need to go to other places." A lot of it is rooted in our education too. Of those who've graduated from a university with a four-year degree, most of us have not been located in Chicago but those who are still working on their education or are in community college have been staying closer to home. Again, I'm in the field of education. I'm trying to look at what this means within my own family [because] there have been different tracks of education and also these different paths of staying or going. That's been interesting to know for me as well.
Francesca: Like you said, if you were in Chicago you would pick a different place [to meet]. What kind of places can you think of that you identify closely with?
Jacqueline: Yeah, so many. The first five years of my life, I lived really close to the neighborhood where my parents met— the high school where my parents met. It's part of the uptown neighborhood and it was specifically called the Argyle neighborhood. Now it's called north side Vietnam—or north side Chinatown or Little Vietnam or something. Sadly it's going through a lot of gentrification. We lived in this one apartment. It was on the corner of Winthrop and Winona Street. It was a three-flat apartment building.
The story behind this building was that my dad's side of the family lived and raised me. He said that when they first came to the U.S., they were all in a one bedroom apartment, like twelve of them, which isn't a strange story by any means when you to talk to any immigrant family really—a refugee family. They bought this building, the building that I was born and raised in for the first five years. I think they bought it in 1980 something. They worked really hard to get this building, buy this building. At the time, it was—I don't know, $75,000 or something? Cheap, in those days. We all just kind of took a room. It didn't matter which floor, even though there were doors and stairs in between.
I went to a grade school just up the street. The neighborhood, like I mentioned earlier, was largely black and low-income. I remember whenever my grandparents would go grocery shopping and every time we walk down the same street, we'd see the same people just kind of hanging out outside their buildings and I was always like—again, curious annoying child—oh what are you all doing, it's so hot out. Why are you here? It was just that little stretch between our building, that stretch of building and sidewalk and then we'll see the main Argyle Street where the restaurants were, and the grocery stores were. Even now a lot of people who grew up there, lived there in some shape or form, and moved out to the suburbs still go back there to go grocery shopping and eat.
It was a neighborhood where there were a lot of bars on windows. We always had locked doors. My grandparents, my aunts and uncles didn't want to take care of grass so they just poured concrete over the entire backyard, which I always thought was strange and somewhat embarrassing when my friends came over. Having friends over was not even a thing until late high school years. But it was still like, oh this looks different than what I see on Full House, you know? What their backyards looks like. They tried to make it habitable for the kids. They bought a little playground set and they'd have the kiddie pool in the summer. We were only there until I was four or five, when my mom got pregnant again.
Francesca: You said it was mostly you and your sister, but were there other kids or cousins you would usually interact with growing up?
Jacqueline: My sister and I are thirteen months apart. She was born in 1986, two weeks later than one of our cousins. I was born in 1987. We had a gap year in 1988. Had another cousin born in 1989. We all— chu chu chu [shooting noise], were born all around the same time. We were really close. When you're all growing up, we're kind of all the same. When you get older, you have to deal with all these other things that you can't talk about within your own family. Then the responsibility of raising each other comes up. There was a lot of that happening. My sister and I, at ten and eleven respectively, raised my younger brother, who is seven years younger than me and eight years younger than my sister. There was a lot of that happening in our family too. Being one of the older cousins and having a younger brother and all of the drama our family was going through made me grow up real fast.
Francesca: It seems like your cousins come from such different backgrounds because you have such a large family.
Jacqueline: Yeah, even with a larger family everything is so drastically different. Some of our younger cousins—like my younger brother just finished his first year in college. I'm the first one to graduate from college and get my masters. My brother is at the University of Illinois Chicago. My sister is in community college and she's working full time, still trying to figure out what she wants to do. We went to the same grade school and then went to different high schools and that's where our paths diverged. When we talk about how a family with that type of background can work with the differences within all the children and how they make decisions and what happens [when they] try to navigate whatever this American education system is. It's crazy.
I was helping my younger cousin with some of her college essays and one of them is about how you had overcome adversity. I was like, okay tell me about a time when you had to overcome something. She's like, "well.." This is where the educator in me recognizes where she's at and that I should meet her where she's at. Her story's her story. At that point, the biggest challenge she could talk about was her breaking her ankle and needing to be on crutches junior year of high school so she wasn't doing that well in classes. She was hesitant to get into the deep part of it, like how it was impacting her self-esteem. She's like, "Well, I was on crutches so it was really hard for me to get to all my classes and do stuff and I didn't do that well." I was like, you need to give a little bit more for a college admissions essay. You really need to paint the picture of what it was you experienced, what it was that you learned, and how you're going to apply it. It took awhile to massage it out of her. I tried to think about what I wrote about when I was applying to college.
At that time, my dad had gone through this really crazy cancer scare. We had multiple family members who passed away. There was all of these other things that I could have talked about other than me breaking my ankle. I just thought, wow. I'm consistently reminded how different of lives we have, which continues to support my desire to capture my family's history and narrative because I think it would be at a disservice to my cousins, who aren't necessarily as plugged into this, to not know about their family history. The only thing they could have talked about was them breaking their ankles. They were so many other stories of how we have been taught about how to work through adversity and do all this stuff and when [my cousin] finally got to some of that, I was like, good. This is great. Let's keep going with this.
Francesca: Do you see your project as a way of reconciliation with your past?
Jacqueline: Yeah, and just providing that space because I think the practice of my parents' generation [is to] not talk about it. And everyone can do that so well: "Let's not talk about all this stuff." I, on the other hand, am unable to not talk about anything. I need to talk about everything.
So how do I reconcile this? Growing up, it was such a cultural clash because my parents were like "don't talk about it." I'm like [sticks out tongue] verbal diarrhea. I think part of it is also knowing this is something I'm good at, something I do for a living. How do I create this space for my family [when] they've never had that space created for them? Also, how do I honor some of my other family members' lives? Like I mentioned earlier, all my grandparents have passed away at this point. I've never met my mom's dad who unfortunately passed on in his sleep before he was supposed to come here. It was tragic. The totality of their lives has left with them. How much they know about their stories has gone once they've passed on.
That whole process really I think—and especially after my grandmother passed away—the whole family kind of in a way broke apart. I don't know if I was the only one who thought about this [in] this way. It was with my grandmother's death—like she was the glue that held everybody and everything together—that when she was no longer there, it just broke apart. Or everyone's shit came up. Every issue that they had with each other just resurfaced again because apparently they were able to not talk about it when mom was around. But now that she's gone, let's just air everything.
So that whole process really pitted, just divided, the family. I feel like with doing this project, it's a time to potentially help [my family] come back together. Not that it's my responsibility in any way, shape, or form—it should be their own responsibility—but if we can talk about where we've come from, what's significant about our story, how we've connected it to my grandparents' stories, perhaps it will help my parents and their siblings see through some of what I'd consider more as petty stuff. Pride. Birth order. Other stuff. Not to say it's not important but when you're looking at your parents being gone, your kids growing up, you can still make a decision about how you want them to grow up. Do you want the cousins to get along? Do you want them to talk to each other? Do you want them to talk to the aunts and stuff? We'll see if we get there.
Francesca: I definitely feel like the project will get you there. Especially with all this trauma, all of these really heavy things that happen in life, who really wants to talk about something like self-identification? There's always a bigger problem at hand and it never seems like the right time to talk about something like that.
Jacqueline: Yeah, absolutely, or if it's appropriate. I'm this grandchild. They’d say, "What are you doing? Don't you have better things to do like a job?"
Francesca: You mentioned that when you grew up, you identified more with being Asian American than being Chinese or Vietnamese. Were you mostly influenced by your mom or was there some other factor why you felt that way?
Jacqueline: Yeah, I hear from some of my friends in my realm of the world and they tell me, "Yeah, my parents have instilled in me how proud I should be to be X, Y, and Z." That's not a message I heard growing up. It was because I was—I don't want to say confused—but I didn't have the vocabulary to say what my experience was and how I identified. I had Chinese friends growing up. I had Vietnamese friends growing up too but I didn't really quite fit in with either one of those groups. I think erring on the side of caution, I identified with the larger umbrella term.
In Chicago, there's a really small percentage of Asian Americans. It's large for Illinois but compared to the East Coast, West Coast—particularly California—it's pretty low. There weren't—other than my immediate family—other people who I've met that identified like me. Who had a lot of blending of Vietnamese culture, but also had a lot of prominent Chinese cultural values. So I was like, there's something interesting going on here. It wasn't really until high school again, in the series of courses I took, where I was like okay, there's a reason why I've always felt that way because I am not like those groups. I am my own group.
That was really clear to me—that I didn't fit in with Vietnamese Student Association or Chinese Student Association. So I stuck around with the Asian American Student Association kids where we did talk about identity, but it was consistently being challenged. I didn't think there was a space for me to talk about it.
When I was in grad school, I met one of my closest friends now. She grew up in California in the Bay Area and she went to [University of California at] Berkeley. I remember we were talking about this and she's like, "I've always grown up knowing that I was Chinese American." She did a lot of her involvement in the Filipino Student Association, but she would never think about how she identified as Asian American until she came out into the East Coast. I thought, this is interesting because it's all I thought about myself. In the last five years, I've been more intentional about it, particularly when I'm in largely Asian American spaces because I realize it's a story that never gets told. It's something people don't know exists, so it's become the new soapbox I get on really.
In more recent spaces where it's been largely Asian American, I've maybe felt more empowered—I don't know if it's more empowered or just more vocal, being more comfortable being vocal about being ethnic Chinese-Vietnamese. People are like, "Oh, what does that mean? Does that mean your mom's Chinese and your dad's Vietnamese?" I'm like no. It took me awhile before I said I'm multiethnic, even though my parents have a very similar journey. They're very similar in that there's a blending of cultures. I've been able to talk more about my story in recent years but when you're the only one, I wonder if it's because I'm confused or because it doesn't actually exist or because there's no one else like me.
Francesca: Was it only in these few recent years that you identified more as being more ethnically Chinese-Vietnamese?
Jacqueline: Yeah, it was vocabulary I learned when I was in high school during the series of Asian American studies courses. It was very cursory in my experience as a college student because I think also because of the context. I went to the University of Illinois Champlain, which had a very large Asian American student population—maybe twelve or thirteen percent. I met the same type of dynamics I saw in high school and I didn't want to continue to force myself to be in a space that wasn’t going to include me so I just identified myself with the space that already existed. My mindset in college was that I knew this existed, but I wasn't at the point where I felt empowered enough or had enough agency to create my own space. Where in the recent years, I would meet more people who have the same story and they'd be super cool and I'd want to get into this really long conversation about where's your family from? What was your experience growing up? There's just more ethnic Chinese something in the world than I think there is.
One of my colleagues actually shared your project with me. She's ethnic Chinese-Cambodian. We get into all these conversations about like, "Oh let's corroborate our stories and see which parts are Chinese and which parts are not, like Cambodian or Chinese." It would be interesting because I see her and identify closely with her and then doing Lunar New Year she had a joong and she's like, "I don't know what to do with this." I was like, Oh, I guess that's not a Chinese thing then. I don't know if it's just her family thing. That's been fun, I think, being in spaces where it's not so rigid. Even now. My partner is multiracial. He's Thai and Irish. Thirty, forty, fifty years ago, he shouldn't have existed as a multiracial individual. Being in a space that wasn't carved out to be siloed has allowed me to be able to not think so limiting of my identity too. If that makes any sense.
Francesca: It does. What do you think it means, to you, to be ethnic Chinese-Vietnamese versus being Asian American?
Jacqueline: I think, where I am at now, being Asian American is a very political/personal identity. It's one where to identify with it requires allyship. You have to be able to identify with the other Asian Americans underneath the umbrella. How do you create this larger narrative that represents that group but also recognizes that we're all very different at the same time? I see them both working together. I also see it as a way to leverage our voice in this country designed thinking this couldn’t happen—that we would have such a diverse group of people here.
It's also about being equitable really. That you don't just look at percentages. You don't just look at quotas. You don't just look at numbers. How many graduated, how many persist. But you look at the more holistic narrative of the group and the history. At the same time, within that, you need to recognize the specific identity groups. That's where I've been able to identify more with the Southeast Asian community because of what my family looks like and the community I grew up in. I feel like the Asian American identity is more of my external identity, one I'm more comfortable with that I can talk about a lot and am well versed at. It's the space that I work in.
But the ethnic Chinese-Vietnamese part personally represents a lot of my family to me still. I still base a lot of it in the history of my family, of their struggles, of how they've overcome adversity. I think the piece I have yet to reconcile with is also how this ethnic Chinese-Vietnamese identity in Southeast Asia has also been an oppressor in their own history. That's something I'm going to wait until my forties to deal with that one or something. [laughs]
There's that part.
What I'm starting to think about more recently is knowing that there's more than just myself, more than just you, more than just my cousins. What does that mean for our community to really be connected to each other ? How can we use this network to reconnect people who might have lost touch during the war or reconnect themselves with their stories they've blacked out because of trauma? Like really be able to bring some healing back into the community which has experienced a Diaspora based upon war and how can we really make sure that story doesn't get lost.
My grandfather had a couple different wives so one of his wives was a French Vietnamese lady. When my grandmother passed away, I finally met my grandfather’s daughter, who’s my distant aunt, and my distant cousins for the first time. They live in France. It was really weird because they were our cousins. We could talk about so much more in Cantonese than we could in English. This ethnic Chinese part, I feel is going to transcend national boundaries, how we can think largely of the Diaspora, and how this history of how we've grown and connect with people spreads out across the world. I don't think it's just bounded here for that particular identity which is weird for me because everything that I've learned about my identity so far has always been in such an American context even when you're thinking about being bicultural. It's always been so deeply steeped in here, this place. It's exciting to be like, what is it like to break out of this context and look at ways that we do connect with each other on a more global scale.
Francesca: From here, what else do you want to discover about yourself and your identity in the upcoming years?
Jacqueline: Other than learning family history pieces, I think what's really helped connect my cousins and I together are identifying the values that cut across the different families. I want some of those things to get passed on from generation to generation. I'm trying to reconcile how I can continue doing my work, which I'm really good at, and all of this. There's something so awesome about doing a deep-dive into this particular part of my identity, of being ethnic Chinese-Vietnamese. I'm trying to figure out how to connect the two because it almost feels like two parallel, but separate tracks. I'm trying to figure out how they intersect—not that they need to be. I feel less like I do opposite things, because they’re both about breaking down barriers. But you can't [break down barriers and] share your stories unless you know what your story is. Maybe that's how I'm going to connect it. I think moving forward I want to be in spaces where I think more about my identity. I want to do more of that and see where things go. It’s all kind of amorphous still, but I think I'm okay with it being amorphous. ∎
Jacqueline Mac is an educator and yoga teacher from Chicago. She currently resides in Washington D.C.
An update from Jacqueline
since we last spoke:
Since the last time we've talked, what are some of the major changes that have happened in your life?
I've changed jobs. I left my role at APIASF to spend a little more time thinking through how I can make the most impact on the world, and how I can use the time I have. Not to be morbid, but tomorrow really isn't guaranteed. I am currently finishing out a one-year contract back at my alma mater - University of Maryland - working with graduate students. I am looking forward to working on some potential contract projects focused on diversity and inclusion work on a campus or in other industries.
I've also looked at what of my "side-hustles" can incite the most passion from within me. Since we last spoke, I joined a research team with Dr. Sam Museus. He is an Associate Professor in Higher Education/Student Affairs at Indiana University, and the principal investigator of the Culturally Engaging Campus Environments (CECE) project, which is a national project aimed at examining and transforming college campus environments where diverse college students can thrive. I also became co-chair of the Asian Pacific American Network for the ACPA College Educators International organization. And, I am teaching yoga! When we last spoke, I had just finished my teacher training but now, I have been teaching regularly (3-4 times a week) for just over one year. My hope is to move my teaching into areas where I can work with more diverse populations who typically would not or cannot access yoga. Yes, you are probably thinking - wow, how does she have time for all of this AND a full-time job? This is exactly why I am hoping to create more space in my day to day to live the question of "how can I make the most impact with my time on earth, that can truly result in the change that needs to happen so that world can be a more socially just place?" More on this in a following up question.
I married my long-time partner in May. Thinking about our partnership and ways to celebrate our union really brought to surface our multiethnic backgrounds and, now, marriage. We had an "American" ceremony and reception in our backyard, a Chinese banquet with my extended family in Chicago, a lake house celebration with his extended family on his Dad's side in Michigan, and we recently celebrated with a Laotian/Thai-Isan calling of the spirits ceremony called a Su Kwan/Baci.
What was the most important lesson you’ve learned since the last time we spoke?
Learning to live the questions, and find the answers as they reveal themselves. I am my father's daughter when I have plan A, and back up plans from B-Z for EVERYTHING. In some ways, it's been hard to deal with things like ambiguity, gray space, not having a precise answer. In many ways, I've thrown myself into a pit of anxiety because I did not have specifics - but most things in life comes without specificity, or guarantee for that matter. As my professional career takes a turn into some gray space, I am trying to embody and to embrace the notion of truly living the questions, and allowing my decisions/choices/opportunities reveal more answers that lie ahead.
Not a lesson, but a healthy realization is that things do happen in cycles. With the desperate state of Syria and the state of the Syrian refugees, I cannot remove what I know and feel about my parents' and family's history from what I see and read in the media. When I think of my parents and my family's history, they did not know what their future would hold when they left Vietnam. What they knew, much like the state of the Syrian refugees, is that somewhere is better than where they were. That is something powerful about the human spirit. It moves me to do something - maybe something to help the cause, at least, a commitment to staying awake because what happened to my parents, is happening now, and will probably happen again. This breaks my heart but it also fuels my fire.
After reading the transcript, what are some of the thoughts on your past state of mind and how you've changed since the last time we spoke?
The biggest change probably has to do with feeling like being Asian American and being ethnic Chinese-Vietnamese were two different things, like they were dichotomies. The part about the transcript that struck me was how I felt that the identities were very distinct and very separate. I was speaking with Dr. Museus some months ago about potentially going back to school and I shared with him feeling like I had to choose between exploring the Southeast Asian Diaspora more deeply and with a career in identifying how to creating environments for the success of diverse communities at a systemic level. He encouraged me to think about where those pieces overlap. Perhaps one option is thinking larger systems impact and influence the education about the SEAsian Diaspora or education of those who identify with the Diaspora, and that my work can be a blend of the two.
The thoughts that have remained at least the same, if not strengthened, is (1) language and learning the language of one's culture (my own, my partner's Lao/Thai-Isan background) has never been more critical in my journey and (2) I really need to get moving on this family history project. Progress has been slowed (mostly due to the wedding and associated travels/celebrations).
What does your future hold?
I'll be finishing up my current work contract mid-October. After that, who really knows how I will be spending most of my days. I will be an adjunct faculty member for Georgetown University's Strategic Diversity and Inclusion Management certificate program in November. I hope to continue teaching yoga but moving more in a community-oriented direction. I hope to be engaging in both short-term and long-term projects that examine issues of identity, and issues of diversity, inclusion, and social justice at large in varying capacities within organizations. I also hope to travel - my partner and I have a Southeast Asian honeymoon trip on deck for 2016, so hopefully, we'll make it to Vietnam. Maybe I'll be enrolling in a PhD program. These are all hopes. Who knows what the future will actually hold?