“Hey there!! I just wanted to reach out and say that I truly appreciate your content.”
That was the first message I received from Azy on Instagram two months ago. Not knowing who she was, I looked into her account and saw “Artist/Brand Strategist/Podcast Host” in her bio.
“Interesting.” I couldn’t tell if she was a Third-Culture Kid (TCK), international student, or expat working abroad. “What value would my content bring to her?” I thought.
It turns out, she’s a TCK herself, with big ambitions and a compelling story to tell.
I also learned that when she’s not making masks (595mask.com) to keep families safe in the midst of covid-19 – she’s either posting clips of her talk show or giving us a peak into her talent in singing and songwriting.
After exchanging a few messages with Azy, I decided to interview her about her upbringing and sense of identity. You never know the racial or cultural difficulties someone faces until you dig deep into their stories.
1. Describe your cultural identity.
“I’m a Singaporean, Houstonian. I lived mainly in Houston, TX; that’s where I call home along with my birthplace, Singapore, where I spent my early childhood with my beloved grandmother.
I find that where you grew up from is where most of your foundation and ethics lie, and where you face the hardest trials is what builds you.
Everything else is the memories that molds you.”
2. Tell us about your upbringing as a Third-Culture Kid (TCK)
“I was born in Singapore and lived there until I was 5. My most nostalgic memories lie there. They’re very fond and delicate memories of spending time with my family.
I moved to San Fransisco in the heart of Chinatown. The bustling streets all seem so familiar, and there were a bunch of kids that were also Chinese. They had been there for generations. While some are also immigrants like myself, but I was born an American, so I’ve had that advantage. The food, the culture of San Fransisco, was welcoming, but I was only there for a few months.
I then moved to Denver, Colorado. I moved there right before 9/11 happened. I was the only Asian kid in my class. They were genuinely curious about where I was from, and no one knew where Singapore was. Everyone assumed I was from China. And I remember I had to go the globe and point out where Singapore was.
The atmosphere in Colorado was chill like the air. The people were friendly, and the scenery was breathtaking. We had that picket fence, comfortable lifestyle. Two cars. My parents, little brother and I would go camping in the woods and go on road trips.
My dad had an Old school 1982 Chevy Malibu, where he would take us up into the mountains. He has a collection of country music and blues. I think that’s where I get a lot of my musical influences from. It was that Johnny Cash song, my dad, would my hum on the road. It’s where I learned to appreciate nature from being a big city girl.
We moved again to Houston, Texas, and this was a considerable change. A few unfortunate events happened as I transition to the south. The first thing is that we went from a 2 story house with a basement to a 2 bedroom apartment, and within the first month of moving there, we were robbed when my parents weren’t home. I was chilling in the living with my little brother, and I was about 9 at the time, and he was maybe 6 or so, and they broke in; pointed a gun at us. They searched the house, took the TV in front of us, and ran. It was hard. I didn’t understand it at the time, but I was never materialistic. I never understood the concept of money until we were broke.
The school days were rough, it was the first time I experienced racism first-hand. I wanted to play with the kids, and they isolate me, call me a chink, and throw sand in my eyes.
I had maybe 2 friends from elementary school, and I’m still friends with them today. It has been the trial and tribulations that really built me in Houston. It taught me to have thick skin and be a hustler. It took me a long time to learn how to genuinely not give a damn about what others think and started doing what feels right to me is when I really started living.
I think the grit of Houston and the Southern Charm that I’ve found amongst the people that treated me like dirt to the people that really watched out for me. I have my family that I protect dear to my heart, and I have my family, who are my friends that have mentored me and stayed with me through the years. I found my love for fashion, arts, and music here. It’s a way for me to express myself and connect with people.”
3. What has been the most difficult aspect of being a TCK for you? Tell us a story that encapsulates it.
“You’re not home enough to be home. I’m too “Americanized” to be Singaporean. I came back to Singapore for 2 years to work there, and even though I still kept my Singaporean accent and I can switch at any time. My demeanor, nonchalant, too outgoing… it’s not typical of a Singaporean.
I had to teach myself to stand up for myself and speak up because of all I’ve been through. To hear that I was “weird” or “different” didn’t make sense to me, but I had to remember that’s the Chinese culture to “save face.” I remember I was talking a friend, and she was like, “are Americans always loud?” Hahaha.
But the hardest part is dealing with Racism. Those who don’t understand; it’s hard to make them know… I’m from here too.
Something recently happened when I was going grocery shopping. I was at the store and was wearing a face mask and gloves and this lady standing behind me started muttering under her breath on her phone, “all these Chinese bringing the virus over to American like this bitch in front of me.” I just looked at her and coughed.
My identity with being Third Culture is a dark one. Everything I’ve learned about people and God has been torn down and shattered. But it has always been family and loyalty that kept me together; I had to unlearn everything and adapt. Whenever I was sad and upset, I would still call my grandma in Singapore. She has been through WW2 & China’s Communism Reform and escaping to Singapore with nothing and becoming Singapore’s Lee Kwan Yu’s personal tailor.”
4. Where is “home” for you?
“My home is literally split into two.
I have American citizenship, but my mom and grandma live in Singapore. Houston has given me opportunities to be creative and make money here doing what I love.
I have a challenging time leaving both places. It’s not like it’s a vacation when I go from one place to another. Still, I find comfort immediately as I step foot into the Changi Airport, and I smell the sweet scent of nostalgia. It’s the family and values that I hold close too.
There’s a love-hate relationship with Houston. I love the people here. I love what I have built for myself here. I look back to see how far I’ve come. It’s the exact representation of the American Dream. I’m not by any means rich or famous yet.
But it’s just a matter of time.
Houston is a chapter where home is currently and has been for a long time. Maybe LA is next… who knows ;)”
To learn more about her podcast, Late Night Talk SEW, stay tuned for part 2.