A Brief Conversation: My Asian Cultural Identity is Ever-Evolving

By angela chan

To go in line with Asian Heritage Month this May, we participated in a fundraising project with Rise and Embrace and other women identifying Asian Creatives to raise funds in support of AAPI organizations within the US and Canada. This is the extended version of a series of discussions we had about our personal experience as an Asian Creative behind Soft and Sticky. 




What's your preferred name, and your (dare I say, 'real') family name?
Every few years I drop a letter from my name - like I'm a new version of myself. Some people know me as Angela, Angie, An. This year I feel like going by Ang. And my last name is Chan.
Who are you, and what do you do?
I think this is pretty difficult for me to answer - as with many creatives, we fall under an umbrella of titles like 'multidisciplinary'. I think the people I've met throughout different stages of my life know me as someone different. That I was  someone who worked in print production, graphic design, photography, art direction, content strategy and marketing. My main focus at the moment is my jewelry brand, Soft and Sticky. I don't like titles – but I guess you can say I'm now a combined mix of all of the above.
Tell us about your product/service/work. What is it and what does it mean to you?
Soft and Sticky is my exploration of art and making things. I don't come from a jewelry background and I'm mostly self taught, so it's kind of like my journey on learning how to make something from a new medium.

Working with a tangible medium like wax and metal working is unlike any of the primarily digital work that I've done before. Soft and Sticky is like giving a hug to, and embracing that messy in-between when you feel unsure... because you don't know everything about this new medium, but you feel free and creative.

Right now Soft and Sticky is a small collection of jewelry, but I see a collection of other objects and accessories outside of jewelry in its future. Possibly home stuff and furniture - but that would be far and deep into the future.


Above: The Smoky Quartz Curb Choker 

How has your view and relationship with your Asian culture and heritage changed over the years growing up as Asian-American/Asian-Canadian? Is there anything you have learned, changed or continued to embrace or celebrate?
I feel as if growing up it was kind of like being on autopilot. Doing things in an asian home without questioning it much because it was expected and it was the norm. And then compartmentalizing and separating those experiences between home, school and work. It's weird because sometimes I feel connected to my culture, and other times not.

I grew more curious in my cultural identity as I entered adulthood. Cultural traditions, family heritage and relearning my first languages (Cantonese and Toishanese) that I slowly lost and had mostly forgotten over the years.

I feel like I'm usually trying to take in as much as I can, and wanting it all at once. Being pulled wherever which way; like I want all this information instantaneously. It's certainly a change of pace for me – that every time I see my family I can slowly learn a little more about my asian heritage. I'm so proud of this because for a long time I wasn't curious in this way. It gives me more of an understanding about myself growing up Asian-Canadian, and I want to share that.

Somehow, it feels like I've learned to practice patience along the way. Like I don't have to know the answer to everything all at once; and that the relationship with my asian cultural identity is celebrated and ever evolving.

Above: The Minikin Necklace, $15 from every purchase of the Minikin Necklace will be donated to a rotating organization bi-anually.

What are you most proud of and enjoy celebrating and embracing the most of your cultural heritage? How has your cultural background influenced your creative process or journey?
I grew up in a home surrounded by what I now consider to be rich in cultural art – traditional Chinese paintings and a large collection of random garage sale trinkets and mini antique sculptures that my dad had amassed over the years. So there's this meeting point of my Asian and Canadian experiences that have influence on my work; whether it is unconscious or conscious to me. Especially now that Soft and Sticky is what I consider a project that is more personal to me, I have that control.

I hope to see more asian representation in media and industries most specifically to creative fields. I remember the first film that I'd seen in theatres was Mulan from 1998; and at the time, little me was just excited to have popcorn and snacks for the first time in theatres. I didn't realize the significance – that an experience that was probably considered ordinary and normal to many people would be meaningful to my own cultural identity. This memory in the form of a fictional animation would be my first time seeing any kind of asian representation in western media. And despite it not being 100% accurate in it's tellings (although I didn't know it at the time as a child), it brought comfort to see someone that looked like me be acknowledged.

I'm also really into art history for its interpretation and symbolism. Asian art history wasn't really ever part of the curriculum in art school for me, so I'm excited to get more of an understanding behind asian visual imagery, symbolism and motifs.

Has it been more challenging to remain creative at this time. How have you dealt with the emotional pushback and lethargy? What is your advice for others facing the same difficulties?
I feel like I'm always being challenged - creatively and overall in general.

I think there are people who have this really confident attitude like everything they do and want will come easily, but I'm not like that. It's like I'm in a constant mental battle with myself, where I inherently want to do XYZ, but my initial response is to have this excuse; like "...no way, go away, I never asked for this, can I go now?" It leads me to avoid certain things or people, a lot of decision paralysis and procrastination.

Most of the work comes from noticing those thoughts and challenging your initial reaction to it. Give yourself the time to feel and then to think. I kind of joke about this sometimes, saying that I'll leave texts and emails on read for 3-261 business days (which is about a year), or that I'll complete a project way past due.

I think it's about giving yourself that chance to sit (within reasonable time) with whatever emotional pushback you have. Ask yourself if it's something you're willing to take a chance on even though you're uncomfortable with it, or is it something not yet in your level of comfort to do? Either or is fine, so set a loose boundary for discomfort with some flexibility for yourself.

I tend to think you can never really truly feel 'ready' to do something new; especially if it's something that you've never done before. Whatever it is that you want to do, it's not yet proven, making it that much more challenging. I try to find that balance for something worth doing when I can sit between "I'm afraid of doing this" and "I'm willing to take a chance even if I fail". 


To read more on the stories of the women part of Rise and Embrace's fundraiser, go to Rise and Embrace.




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