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  • Stephanie Fung

A #hyphenatedAsians POV: Vivian Tran

Tell me about yourself: Where are you from? What is your job? etc.

I am a second generation Chinese-American. To me, growing up was quite a bit of a challenge both externally and internally: being the minority, the cultural differences, the social identity… Ultimately, I was trying very hard to figure out just where I fit in the world.

What I did know was that I wanted to be somebody. I wanted to do something special. I wanted to rise up on top and prove to people that I wasn’t just the girl next door, and I didn’t need anybody’s help doing it.

So, I was very independent from a young age and I just had all these dreams and ideas that I was going to do it all on my own. Fast forward a number of years later, I am now the Associate Director of Budget and Operations for Columbia University. That is my main role during the day.

I just finished my Ph.D. in business psychology as well, and I am also working on a startup with a partner. The startup is for a cloud-based application that will be used by small restaurants and cafe management. I also manage properties as a solo side-hustle. I own multiple properties and I manage the tenants for those properties.

So with everything that I’m doing, I am trying to put all of that in my book.

You are working on so many different projects at the same time. How do you manage your time?

I will be very honest and tell you that I cannot do everything by myself. Yes, I’m wearing multiple hats, but I also acknowledge that I can’t be a one-woman army. I need help and I need support.

For example, for the startup, I have a partner that I work with and I do the business aspects of things such as building up the internal interfaces and the system structures whilst he focuses more on the technical aspects, the actual software engineering side of things.

There’s also a lot of time management, self discipline, but at the same time, it’s really acknowledging that you need help building the team as well.

Tell me about "Asian Duckling." Who are the characters? What is the premise? Why did you decide to write this? What are some of your inspirations?

With this book that I’m working on, it’s a story about my experiences, all the challenges that I have gone through and how I thought I was alone in the world. I have a partner who uses her magic wand and takes all that and puts it into creative writing.

Essentially, it started off as a reflection on my own experiences. Growing up, I went through a lot of those identity crises and social dilemmas. At that time, I didn’t know what I was going through, but now as an adult and with my background in psychology I can identify those themes a lot more. I wanted to create that awareness for the next person that is growing up and going through what I went through.

Growing up, I didn’t have a support system. I’m Chinese ethnically and culturally; we don’t really have that type of support background. So I’m trying to create that platform so that the next person who’s going through these challenges will realize that he or she is not alone in this world. The challenges that they’re going through are not unique to them.

I think that was really the main reason why I wanted to capture all this in a book, the story itself is a way to outline this. I wish my partner was with me because she would be really great at telling this, but I’m trying to find the balance where I can share but not give too much of the book away.

It’s basically about this young Asian-American woman who is in a mid-management position, and she’s encountering challenges at work. Those challenges remind her of past incidents and those life lessons that she learned. Those incidents are actually based on my own personal experiences.

When will it be published?

It’s still a work in progress. Originally, we were planning to have this published probably towards the end of this year. However, with the pandemic, that kind of threw a wrench in everyone’s plans. Hopefully, we will be able to pick up traction again.

We’re now aiming for mid next year. I’m really hoping that there are no further delays. But, I don’t want to give you any promises. I would hate to really disappoint. Keep following my Facebook page, I try to update as much as I can, and keep progress updates as we move along.

Who do you hope your book reaches? Who is your target audience?

I would say it’s more for whoever is feeling lost. Those that are really feeling lost whether you’re born here, or you came here when you were young, or even if you just came here recently, and you’re struggling to find where you fit in that world. I’m trying not to set a specific target, but it’s more of a general kind of conceptual idea.

What would you like to see in the Asian community moving forward?

I feel like we’re already starting to move towards it, especially with the recent protests that have been going on which we’ve kind of branched off of a little bit. But, I’ve seen the Asian communities starting to empower themselves to be a little bit more vocal and expressive and advocate for themselves.

That is so amazing compared to me growing up and the resources that were available. I’m really happy to see that we’re starting to do this. I would love to see us advance further and also further empower ourselves.

When I was doing my doctoral research, I came across the idea that yes there are external factors like a glass ceiling, but at the same time, there are things that are within our control. Those are self-imposing factors that we can take charge of and change.

What does your identity mean to you?

For me, I feel that I’ve created my own version of an identity that I don’t belong in one specific place. There’s the Asian identity and there’s the American identity, but then there’s this new merged version of the two. It took me a while to get to that place where I am very proud of who I am to be able to see the pros and the faults of both cultures. Basically I pick and choose to become the person I want to be.

For example, in Asian culture, we are very family-oriented. I agree with that value, so I’ll pick and choose that value. At the same time, in the American culture, we’re taught to be very independent and to stand up for ourselves. I also agree with that value.

So, I have this very customized identity that is unique to myself. Honestly, I like going against the trend. I don’t like to be a follower. I like being my own individual person.

What is your advice for younger Asians navigating through the world we are currently living in?

I would say, don’t be afraid to be yourself. Forget what other people are saying. For example, growing up, for some odd reason, I had this love to learn Chinese. I had this passion and so I went to Chinese school and all my classmates were looking at me going, “Well, you gave up your Saturday cartoons for this? Are you serious? We were all dragged here. Why are you so weird?” If that’s your passion, be proud of it and stick to it. Now, I’m fully bilingual and I can speak, read, and write in Chinese. That’s a skill set that comes back and benefits me.

So, don’t be afraid to do it. Those friends and people are not going to carry you 10-20 years later in life. So, if there’s something that you believe in, hold onto it. If anything, I would further advance it!

What’s your vision/goal for the "Asian Duckling?"

Interestingly enough, when you were talking about not being Asian-American but British-Asian, I was on a different podcast a few weeks back with someone from Australia. I never imagined that [the book] would get this much attention. I thought it was something that was going to be local and domestic. I’m blown beyond belief at this moment right now. I’m also wondering if I should take some of the feedback that I’ve gotten in the past and in today’s session and go back to my writing partner to see if maybe we can kind of adjust it a little bit. Maybe add in some language where it’s not just Asian-American related but more of an East meets West thing so that it’s a little bit more applicable. Right now, I’m just beyond belief at how far it’s reaching.

Who are your favorite fictional “hyphenated Asian” characters?

I know so many people are going to laugh as soon as I give this answer. My favorite character, which I assume is Asian because it’s an anime character, is Sailor Moon. To me, she is Asian but she was speaking English this entire time. I really loved her because of what she stood for, seeing how she stands up for justice.

Although during the day she’s this clumsy, ditsy character who you can barely rely on, when you actually need her, she comes through without even caring for her own safety.

My favorite character from the book—I don’t want to give away too much again—so this is just a little sneak peek: the main character has a best friend and that best friend is actually my favorite character, because she is just so spontaneous and so fun. It’s like the ying and the yang to the main character.

So, the main character is this serious person who is just trying to do her job and everything she does is to the bullet. Whereas, the best friend…she’s just a good compliment to the main character. I will be sitting there and wondering, “Oh my gosh, what is she going to do next? What crazy thing is she going to just pop out?”


You can also follow "Asian Duckling" on Instagram.


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