(President of Pearl River Mart)
The mission of Pearl River is to share culture, and in so doing, to bring down barriers, create community and celebrate the creativity and achievements of Asian Americans. The mission has remained the same since my father in law opened as a “friendship store” in 1971. At the time, he had a PhD in Chemistry from the University of Chicago and was energized by the activism of the late 1960s. At the time, it seemed possible for young people to effect global change and that’s what he hoped to do when he opened the store. The “friendship store” project was meant to last 2 years, but luckily for NYC, Mr. Chen, and later Mrs. Chen, continued the store for almost 50 more years.
This month, we’re celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. What was it like growing up between two cultures?
I grew up in Astoria, Queens in the 1980s. NYC was not super safe back then. The city was raw, dirty, crime-ridden. And us kids we hung out in the streets until dinnertime and then came home. My parents didn’t really know where I was, but that was ok back then. This environment was not idyllic, but it did make you tough and adaptable, which were skills that greatly benefited me as an adult. There were not a ton of Asian Americans in my school or neighborhood, but there were a few. More importantly, I grew up surrounded by immigrant families of all different cultures, which likely was the most important factor shaping my world view today. My best friends were Greek, Guyanese, Vietnamese, Puerto Rican, Filipino, African American, Italian, and Indian. Lots of good food and lots of really colorful parents who all wanted us to study hard and make a lot of money when we grew up.
Have you ever felt different and where are you today in this journey of learning to embrace diversity?
I stayed in NYC for college and after working for a couple of years, attended law school and graduated school in the South, at Duke University in North Carolina. I definitely felt different there. Not necessarily because of my ethnicity, though that was part of it, but more because it was the first time that I was in a place where liberal urban politics and viewpoints were not the norm. Law school especially is a place where classes are filled with passionate discussions about the future of society and culture, and it was definitely an environment where I felt challenged to defend and define my beliefs on a regular basis. I believe the experience helped me grow though, and understand the world better. It also made me confident that you can drop me in any part of the world, and i'm a be ok. That's a good feeling.
We created Elevated Fit® so that we could smile with confidence. What does confidence mean to you?
Confidence to me is having an extra spring in my step and feeling prepared to attack the day. Sometimes when I wake up on a day when something really big is happening, like an important presentation or a big event, I bolt straight up in bed and say to myself, “Game time!” Then I jump up and do a little Rocky-style punching and shuffling jig, and we’re off to the races. It’s a little hack that boosts confidence and mood, just like walking down the street on a sunny day with a new outfit or a rockin' pair of sunglasses! We all need a little extra confidence sometimes and it’s helpful to figure out what makes us feel good and effective and powerful, and not be bashful about doing those things that make us better at what we do.
Anything you learned recently that blew your mind away?
I recently listened to a podcast about waste, recycling and sewer systems, and I was blown away to learn that you are not supposed to flush away your tampon. I know this might be totally obvious, but it blew my mind! It is really terrible for our sewer systems and the environment.
Three things always in my purse? Umbrella, lipstick, snack (I hate being hungry)
Frames I’m obsessed with? I love my Carina Sangria and also just bought the Maia in Marble! I love how the frames are both fashion forward, but also totally appropriate with a suit in traditional business situations.
Best lunch spot in Chelsea Market? For a quick bite, I always find something delicious in the Lobster Place, like sushi or soup or a sandwich, or at Dickson’s, which is a meat market. For sit down meals, I like to eat at Le Song, a new French bistro, or at our neighbor BlackBarn, which is both a home décor store AND a bar/café/restaurant. If I’m eating by myself, I might sit at the counter at MokBar or Crepe Suzette. And if I’m bringing food home, it is usually from Very Fresh Noodles or Dizengoff, the Israeli hummus stall.
What should we order? I forgot to mention Amy’s Bread, which has the most amazing salads! But you have to get there early because when they’re out, they’re out. I am actually perfecting my Chelsea Market walking food tour—the best bites from each place resulting in a complete meal—for when my friends come to visit and want the whole experience. It is a work in progress so I will just say, try everything! It’s all amazing.
Best advice I received? The best advice I ever received was from a mentor at my job before I left for law school. He said, “Try everything.” Not do this or join that, or don’t forget to aim for this. He just said try everything. You can like it or hate it, succeed or fail, but at least you tried it and now you know. And that’s what I’ve done for most of my life.
Emoji that best describes me?