Tag: Against The Grain Productions

Congratulations to 2014 ATG Scholarship Finalists

After weeks of reviewing and deliberation, The ATG Scholarship Committee is proud to announce the 2014 Scholarship Finalists. We scored them based on GPA, leadership/community involvement, portfolio/video submission, essay and letters of recommendation. This group in particular is one of the strongest groups we’ve ever had. They are brilliant, shining examples of what it means to go Against The Grain means. Drumroll, please… Read more

Sixth Annual “Fashion for a Passion” Announces 2014 Designer Line-Up


Seven Designers to Feature Exclusive Creations

Saturday, November 1 

2014 FFAP Promo

DALLAS, TX – Against The Grain Productions has selected seven emerging and established Asian American designers to join their elite roster of Presenting Designers at their upcoming Fashion for a Passion charity event, one of Dallas’ hottest must-have fashion tickets and charity events of the fall season.  Now in its sixth year, the evening showcases the talent of Asian American artists and springboard for careers, while serving as a place to bring together the entire community to celebrate up and coming talent and raise money for a worthy cause. Designers have launched careers with the event, including Khanh Nguyen of Nha Khanh, who started as a UNT graduate and within a few short years has since gone on to be featured in Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus. Hanh Dang of Lucy Dang, went on to win the title of Texas’ Next Top Designer and is now carried in Belk. The event benefits ATG’s supported orphanages, scholarships for student artists and leaders and community outreach programs to inspire, educate and entertain the community. Read more

Going Against The Grain: Kristen Kish

Kristen Kish
Born in South Korea and adopted into a family in Kentwood, MI, Kristen Kish showed an affinity for cooking at a young age. Her mother suggested she go to culinary school and since attending Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago, Kristen has never looked back.

After moving to Boston, Kristen has worked in many high-profile restaurants including Michelin-star Chef Guy Martin’s Sensing and Barbara Lynch’s Stir as Chef de Cuisine, overseeing all back of house operations, including the design and execution of nightly menus and demonstration dinners for 10 guests. Kristen went on to compete on Bravo’s Top Chef Season 10 where she won the coveted title after an amazing comeback, becoming the second female chef to win the prestigious competition and first Asian American female. Most recently, Kristen was Chef de Cuisine of Menton, Chef Barbara Lynch’s fine dining restaurant.

Full Name:

Kristen Kish


Grand Rapids, Michigan

Current City:

Boston, MA


South Korean

What does it mean to you to “Go Against The Grain?”:

To me it means doing what you feel is right even in the face of other pressures regardless of the outcome. It’s about doing what you are passionate about and doing what will make you happy. Staying true to who you are. Only we can determine our own paths and taking risks in order to find what that is takes strength and determination.

What made you decide to pursue your career path?

It’s what I love to do.  It wasn’t always easy making that decision but in my gut it is what I am passionate about.  With the assistance of my amazing family they helped me realize my true passions in life even when I couldn’t see them.

What have been some of the challenges you faced/lessons you learned as an Asian American in this field?

My ethnicity hasn’t had many challenges in the kitchen.

What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment, and why?

It’s hard to say… I believe that every success and failure I have endured has taught me an incredible amount and has been an accomplishment. I always strive for something greater and not ever feeling like I have “made it” allows me to keep pushing harder than ever. So I guess my greatest accomplishment in many ways is everyday when I wake up happy. The combination of everything allows me feel that.

What’s up next?

Self exploration… Finding out what it is i want to do next.  I would love a restaurant and that is something I give a lot of time and energy formulating.  But I know I need to see, learn, experience some things before that in order to give my guests the best of who I am through good and hospitality.

Orphanage Update: Uu Dam

(translated from Vietnamese, names abbreviated to protect their privacy.)

Dear ATG family,

Yesterday afternoon, PT and the children went to supermarket to shop for the necessities and food for the children at Uu Dam. The receipts added up to 10 million VND. The children were very excited. They always appreciate and have profound gratitude towards the ATG family.

This year, Uu Dam did not have any students taking the University entrance exams. However, there will be two students preparing for University next year. The children of Uu Dam are healthy and study hard all the time. They know that the reason they have cozy living conditions is largely due to the love, care, and support from the ATG family members. PT always reminds them to live a good and useful life in order to repay the donors who have loved and nurtured them.

With this email, PT includes pictures of the youngest children (the Three Musketeers) as a souvenir to ATG. The little boy sitting in the stroller, PH, is now 7 months old. He was only a few days old when he came to  Uu Dam, and he is currently a healthy and good boy.

Once again, on behalf of the Executive Committee of the orphans at Uu Dam, PT wishes to send the members of the ATG family Health and Peace.


DSC04128 3 chàng lính Ng? Lâm

2013 Fashion for a Passion No. 5 Words of Praise

Photo courtesy of David Loi
Photo courtesy of David Loi

2013 was landmark year for Dallas-based non-profit ATG Against The Grain Productions, who recently hosted its 5th annual Fashion for a Passion charity event. A unique evening, Fashion for a Passion brings the community together to celebrate emerging Asian American fashion designers, artists and musicians as a platform to promote up and coming talent. This year’s event was hosted at Dallas Contemporary, attended by 365 guests and raised nearly $35,000 for ATG’s supported orphanages in Asia, artistic and leadership scholarship funds and outreach programs.

Read some of this year’s reviews:

FFAP is always a highlight of the year for me. It’s so great to work with such passionate people while doing something we love and giving back to a great cause. The event itself was so fabulous, it seems like ATG somehow make every year a unique experience that is way different than their previous shows. I can’t wait for next year. – Jerry Matthews of Nine Muses, Presenting Designer

I cannot express my gratitude and admiration for ATG and Fashion for a Passion as an organization and group of people. My brand “Lucy Dang” was launched officially with ATG and it has been an amazing 3 years for us professional since our debut. I truly believe by being a part of this charity and helping contribute to this amazing cause, we were blessed tenfolds. – Hanh Dang of Lucy Dang, Presenting Designer

Against The Grain’s FFAP was a successful event not only to help me launch my career as a designer, but also to spread support for education in Asian American communities and to provide funding for orphanages in Asia. This is why I chose to return and participate as a veteran designer. ATG has been a true inspiration, pushing me to accomplish more as a designer while in turn helping to raise awareness for those who are less fortunate. – Danh Ta, Presenting Designer

This year marked my first year, and I am so grateful and honored for the opportunity to chase my dream and in doing so, utilize my time and talent to celebrate the Asian American community alongside artists and musicians to promote opportunities for scholarships funds and raise money for orphanages in Asia. ATG has given me the opportunity, the voice and the extra push in taking the plunge to purse my dream as a fashion designer and launching my own label. – Becky Hollands, Presenting Designer

Thanks to everyone for making it such a fabulous event. I would love to work with ATG in the future. – Vera Wang of Viviona, Presenting Designer

Thanks so much ATG! It truly is an honor to be an Artistic Scholarship winner and I couldn’t be more proud to be a member of the ATG community now. You all inspire me everyday and give me the extra push to continue in my artistic endeavors! Be bold and always live life ‘against the grain.’ – Kendyl Ito, 2013 ATG Artistic Scholarship Winner

It was definitely a classy event! The scene was an incredible display of art, talent and fashion. I am proud to say I was part of FFAP No. 5 not just because of the event, but more importantly the organization that directly benefits the event. – Kassy Levels, Musical Performer

It was so great experiencing the ATG event and performing for it. Everything was well organized and put together on a “next level scale.” Being involved and seeing the true passion of Tammy and her crew’s hard work was really what made the show so great. The models, designers, art and music artist were all on point. I’m just happy we got to perform for the fashion show. Definitely going to be there next year! Thank you, Tammy! – Josh Osgood & Anthony Young of J.O. & Y.O.!, Musical Performer

As a musician and artist myself, I’ve done my fair share of performances. Still, FFAP was a more precious experience than most; in that it was an event supporting aspiring artists follow their dreams. I’ve never felt more blessed and honored to be part of an event. Seeing people come out to not only socialize but support so many different artists, communities and causes were amazing. It shows that ATG is being proactive which is something that we desperately need in this world, in order to better ourselves and do better onto others. – Mijee Park, Musical Performer

I was exhilarated to be a part of the event with other artists of all forms. I had the opportunity to connect with quality people of the Asian community in Dallas…I was home! – Kathy Tran, Exhibiting Artist

It has been my honor to be a part of such a worthy cause again this past year. – Dr. Sam Lam of Lam Facial Plastics and Ova Skin Care, Year-Round Sponsor

It’s all about the kids. Keep up the good work. – Ace Kham of Copy HQ, Year-Round Sponsor

I am privileged to be involved with Against The Grain as it continues to organize wonderful events as a platform for rising Asian Americans and donate all its net profit to orphanages in Asia and creating scholarships for students seeking degrees in the arts. – John Ting, Esq. of Law Office of John Ting

Against The Grain’s Fashion for a Passion showed off some very talented young designers and singers whose donations along with the audiences support helped raise money for a great cause. Having never attended an event like this, I was impressed with the entire production which involves so many people donating their time to make this event a success. – Jeff Lanscek, Portfolio Administrator of Baldrige Asset Management, VIP Guest

The ATG Fashion Show was a fun and fashionable event with an array of talented artists. It was a great way to mingle with local designers and see their beautiful designs, all while benefiting a great cause. – Valerie Huggard of Senior Accountant at SEI, VIP Guest

FFAP No.5 was an incredible milestone event which I am incredibly proud and humbled to have been a part of as a board member and a presenting designer for Cykochik Custom Handbags. Everyone came together for ATG’s cause and produced another high-caliber event. I am inspired and moved by all the talents involved! – Nikki Duong Koenig, Presenting Designer

I have had the privilege of show casing my collection with ATG since the launch of the very first Annual Fashion for a Passion, and it is heart warming to watch how the show and the organization as a whole has evolved over the years. She show has become such a spectacle every year and provide platforms for emerging designers like me to further our careers. I admire ATG so much for their dedication to better the community, and truly appreciates the opportunity to use my talents to support such a great cause. – Kim Pham, Presenting Designer

Even though I did not physically attend the event, it was an honor to participate and have my work be a part of the show! The work ATG does is truly exceptional. – Xiaoye Jiang, 2013 ATG Scholarship Winner

Fashion for Passion no. 5 was my third year of supporting for this great cause. I am so honored to be a part of it and very happy that I could be able to contribute to the cause. I am so proud of how everyone came together, supported, and worked so hard to make the event became another successful year. I am looking forward for next year event with bigger progress, bigger success. Thank you so much for letting me be a part of an amazing cause – Cac Lam, Presenting Designer

Pictures from the event can be viewed on the ATG Facebook Page or ATG Flickr Page, courtesy of David Loi, Chi Tran and Ivy Do.

See highlights from D Magazine.

Read DFW Style Daily’s Coverage by Heather Lettieri.

Read Asia World Media’s Coverage by Anthony Tran.

For more press/media information on the event, please contact Elizabeth Dinh or Annie Tran at pr@againstthegrainproductions.com.

ATG Against The Grain Productions, a Dallas-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, promotes Asian American cultural awareness through compelling media projects and raises funds for international orphanages. In addition to giving out annual scholarships to exemplary Asian American student leaders and those pursuing a degree in the arts, they also produced the feature documentary, Operation Babylift: The Lost Children of Vietnam, which has screened at over a dozen film festivals nationwide and received the Audience Choice Award for Best Feature Film at the Vietnamese International Film Festival and the Documentary Audience Choice Award from the Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival. For more information, visit www.AgainstTheGrainProductions.com or www.TheBabylift.com.

Congratulations to 2013 ATG Artistic Scholarship Finalists

After several months of reviewing some truly talented individuals, our Scholarship Review Committee is proud to announce the following ten students as our 2013 ATG Artistic Scholarship Finalists, who impressed us with their academic excellence, leadership, dedication to community service and artistic talent. Due to the number of outstanding candidates, we decided to increase this year’s scholarship recipients. Instead of the usual two winners, this year, there will be FIVE.  Each will receive a $1,000 scholarship to attend his/her intended college/university to pursue his/her career in the arts.  Way to knock our socks off!  The Final Five will be announced in this month’s August Back to School newsletter, so be sure to sign up for our Mailing List to hear the news!

And here they are! (Drumroll, please…)



Age: 18 yrs old; GPA: 4.0; Ethnicity: Chinese; Hometown: Waymart, PA

Intended college/university and major: Carlow University in Pittsburgh, PA, majoring in art therapy

What does Going Against The Grain mean to you?  I believe that many people have a misconception about individuality, believing that wearing certain clothes, listening to certain music or voicing certain opinions marks one as a great individualist. To me, this way of thinking is more of an easy way out- telling yourself that you stand for something greater than the rest when in reality going “Against the Grain” entails much more. Now of course, to go “Against the Grain” requires individuality, however responsibility, leadership and a full understanding of self are necessary. Inspiring and influencing a community requires knowledge of the world around you in relation to the message you want to convey. I believe that going “Against the Grain” means standing for something in the world that has the ability to positively affect those around you regardless of the opposing thoughts of the masses.

How do you go Against The Grain?  I have demonstrated the ability to go “Against The Grain” through my career choice. Majoring in art therapy, I have received my fair share of criticism from my friends and even some family who believe that art therapy “isn’t a real job”. It would have been easy to succumb to their ideas of what art therapy is, believing that my profession entailed holding up ink blobs and putting a fancy title to a seemingly simple task. I however, chose to believe that art therapy goes above and beyond that of a “real” profession. As a therapist, one must be fully committed and interactive 100% of the time to best benefit the patient at hand. A therapist acts not only as a confidant, but also as a ‘safe’ person to talk to, one who doesn’t pass judgment when it would be so easy to do so. The trust that is crucial in establishing a relationship with any other individual must be doubled when acting as a therapist, as both parties must delve deep into issues that may have been suppressed for years. I am extremely passionate about the art therapy profession, and regardless of what negative connotations the profession may carry, I will continue to full heartedly support the actuality of this “real” job.


DJ Wang

Age: 18 yrs old; GPA: 3.9; Ethnicity: Taiwanese-Chinese; Hometown: Virginia Beach, VA

Intended college/university and major: Parsons School of Design in New York City, NY, majoring in communication design

What does Going Against The Grain mean to you?  Going “Against The Grain” means facing challenges, taking on challenges that test one’s basic morals, traditional standards and even relationships between friends and family. The greatest challenges that we face are also our greatest teachers.

How do you go Against The Grain?  Growing up with traditional-minded immigrant parents, the last thing any parent would want to hear from their child is, “I want to be an artist.” However, it is the arts that transformed me into a self-made man. In the beginning, I didn’t have the privilege of absolute support from friends and family as I was set to pursue the arts as a child. I had to prove myself. I had to overcome challenges and negative opposition from all corners, because the art world is not the friendliest of places either. As an artist, you are exposing your vulnerability through your creations, showing your core to the eyes of an audience that may not even understand you, but the magic happens when you find the support and appreciation every artist craves. 2011 marked my first big break through, placing 1st in Wacom’s International Art Contest. In 2012, I was among the Top Ten Young Artists Nationally Published in Celebrating Art. That same year, I debuted my first fashion collection at Virginia Fashion Week, was invited to Teen Vogue Fashion University and also won “Best in Show” at the Neptune Festival Art Show following with a Gold Key presented by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Scholastics. None of these accomplishments would have existed without my insatiable passion within, driving me to exceed all my limits.


Emily Fleisig

Age: 18 yrs old; GPA: 3.57; Ethnicity: Korean-Caucasian; Hometown: Birmingham, AL

Intended college/university and major: Birmingham-Southern College in Birmingham, AL, double majoring in musical theatre and media & film studies, minoring in Spanish

What does Going Against The Grain mean to you?  Individuality leads to infinite possibilities as an artist. Judy Garland once advised: “Always be a first rate version of yourself and not a second rate version of someone else.” I believe this idea truly captures what it means to go Against The Grain. By human nature, we sometimes find ourselves distracted by the stereotypes or idealizations defined by society. However, to go Against The Grain is a way to defy such expectations made by others, and take the necessary action to fully be you.

How do you go Against The Grain?  My mere existence as a Korean-American Jew in Alabama is almost by definition Against the Grain. From the moment I drive up – wearing my neon pink Converse with a dress – in my purple and lime green minivan, it is pretty clear that I am not the typical teenager. While I do spend a good amount of time working on my academics, my real passion and the most significant amount of my time is dedicated to performing. Unlike my parents and grandparents, who all have M.D.’s or Ph.D.’s, I am going Against The expected Grain. Fortunately, it was pretty evident from the time I was a toddler, so my family has been very supportive. I have always been extremely interested and active in musical theatre – singing, dancing, acting and directing – in school musicals, dance classes and voice lessons, community theatre productions and even founding and directing the show choir at my high school. Besides live theatre, I am also interested in film work for acting and directing, too. I plan to continue performing and directing in college and beyond.


Kit Zauhar

Age: 18 yrs old; GPA: 4.04; Ethnicity: Chinese-Caucasian; Hometown: Philadelphia, PA

Intended college/university and major: New York University in New York City, NY, Tisch School of the Arts, majoring in TV and film production

What does Going Against The Grain mean to you?  For me, to go Against The Grain is to embrace all the passions one has in life, regardless of stereotypes and cultural expectations. It means to embrace all the wonderful aspects of one’s Asian heritage and from it craft stories that holistically recreate the Asian American experience for everyone. For me, this phrase means to not succumb to stereotypes, to not strive to fit the mold of a test taking, subservient and silent student just because it is what society expects of someone. Instead, it means to be a unique individual who gives new meaning to their culture, to show the world the much too often overlooked creativity, innovation and artistic expressions that exists within the Asian population. To Go Against The Grain is to know that your culture will love you no matter what you do, you must only be genuine and true to yourself, and others will embrace and respect you for your bravery, innovation and craft.

How do you go Against The Grain?  I go Against The Grain by breaking the stereotypes of a Chinese student and expanding the definition of what it means to be an Asian American adolescent. I believe that I showed my class how multifaceted, artistic and idiosyncratic a bi-racial Chinese student could be. Though I was an extremely diligent student who took her academics very seriously, I was also an avid, outspoken and strong president of my school’s Drama Society, an editor for our arts and literary magazine and a member of the poetry club. I was usually the only person of Asian heritage at these meetings and groups, but they allowed me the valuable experience of letting people know that Asian Americans were indeed a gifted and artistically driven group of individuals, that perhaps some were just afraid to go Against The Grain.

Though I appeared only “White” in most people’s eyes, I prided myself on my Chinese features and heritage because I was so happy to be a part of two different cultures, therefore able to draw from two unique backgrounds to create a holistic, multi-layered and diverse personality. I, unlike many other bi-racial students, wanted to show my school that race should have no limitations; that I could be a good student and a goofy Drama geek, that I could be proud of my race, speak the language with pride, bring my mother’s delicious home-made dumplings to school for lunch and not let these actions define me, but instead show my classmates that I could be everything I wanted to be: a writer, an academic, an actress, a debater, an American and a proud member of the Chinese community. I go Against The Grain because I am proud child of my culture as well as a brave explorer of this ever-changing world, working to break stereotypes. I broaden the definitions of what it means to be Asian American and do not allow myself to be limited by my race. I am working to become a filmmaker so that I can show the world through thought-provoking stories just how diverse, multifaceted and relatable the Asian American experience is for people of all races, cultures and backgrounds.


Grace Kwon

Age: 18 yrs old; GPA: 4.0; Ethnicity: Korean; Hometown: Tigard, OR

Intended college/university and major: University of Oregon in Eugene, OR, majoring in visual/fine art

What does Going Against The Grain mean to you?  To me, “Going Against The Grain” is bravery. It is doing something even when I am aware that I will get stared at, laughed at, yelled at or judged. It is doing this something anyways, because I know it is the right thing for me.

How do you go Against The Grain?  In both my life and my dreams, I have been forced to decide between two actions: doing what I want and what I believe is right, or “doing what everyone else is doing.” I “go Against The Grain” to uphold my personal moral standards, even if that means breaking off friendships. When my best friend got into drugs, I made the hard decision of cutting ties with her. Though it was extremely difficult, I did not want to be a part of a lifestyle that messed with your mind and body. “Going Against the Grain” also applies to my dream of being an artist. Whenever I say I want to be an artist, I am met with raised eyebrows and condescending “oh, that’s interesting’s.” But despite the unconventional path, I have chosen it anyways, because I know it is what I love and what will make my life happy and fulfilled.


Kendyl Ito

Age: 18 yrs old; GPA: 4.17; Ethnicity: Japanese American; Hometown: Sacramento, CA

Intended college/university and major: Pace University in New York City, NY, majoring in musical theatre

What does Going Against The Grain mean to you?  The literal definition of going against the grain means to do something opposite of what is usually expected. To me, going against the grain means to do something different than the norm and to make yourself unique and original. It means having confidence in yourself to do what may be unpopular, uncommon, and unexpected. It means taking risks, exploring the unfamiliar, and placing yourself in situations where you may be vulnerable.

How do you go Against The Grain?  When I was searching for scholarships and discovered your organization, I immediately connected with the name… Against The Grain. I felt it described me perfectly in the music theater world. It is not uncommon for me to be one of few Asians at a music theater audition.  It is even more rare to be considered for a lead part not originally meant for someone who looks like me – petite and Asian. I have had the privilege of being cast as Elle Woods in “Legally Blonde,” Sandy in “Grease,” Eve in “Children of Eden” and most recently Rosemary in “How To Succeed In Business”.  It has not always been easy. I knew I had to sing, act and dance much better than others considered that already “looked the part” and more importantly convince the audience. Instead of letting this defeat me, it motivated me to work harder for those coveted roles. Nothing has been more rewarding than to hear from a director that they made the right casting decision. Though these roles were unfamiliar and risky for me, I took that as a challenge to go that extra mile to impress audiences with my talents and ignore my looks and appearances.

I have gained a lot of experience wearing a variety of wigs that have helped make me “look the part.”  However, I look forward to the day when I won’t have to wear one and the way I look is just fine. I look forward to being a part of this change when being Asian in the performing arts will no longer go against the grain.


Natasha Yeh

Age: 17 yrs old; GPA: 3.5; Ethnicity: Taiwanese American; Hometown: San Jose, CA

Intended college/university and major: Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA, majoring in illustration

What does Going Against The Grain mean to you?  I believe that to go Against The Grain means to express your natural character or embrace your individualism.

How do you go Against The Grain?  Be yourself, stand up for your beliefs even if it means being the opposite of your peers or the authority.


Talia Connelly

Age: 18 yrs old; GPA: 3.8; Ethnicity: Chinese American; Hometown: Bellevue, WA

Intended college/university and major: Pratt Institute in New York City, NY, majoring in fashion design

What does Going Against The Grain mean to you?  Going Against The Grain is the questioning of accepted beliefs, opinions or behavior that people, school, books, movies – any source of information – attempts to instill in you. When you witness something that doesn’t sit right with you – when it makes the inside of your chest to start to feel heavy – don’t guiltily accept it and quickly move on. Let that feeling stay with you. Be uncomfortable! It is the discomfort which nudges, pricks, then whacks you over the head to stand up and challenge it. Going Against the Grain is not about “being different” just for the sake of “going against the mainstream.” It’s about letting yourself  – your values and opinions, then your habits and actions – be changed, even when it may make your life more difficult, because you realize it is the right thing to do. In doing so, you become an example to follow.

How do you go Against The Grain?  Stumbling upon articles and books about the fashion industry that left me feeling horrified and disgusted, I stopped shopping in stores filled with cheap dresses and trendy ten-dollar tops. Instead, I turned towards alternative apparel companies that promote fair wages and environmentally-responsible practices. Changing the way I consume extends far beyond my clothing or beauty products, it applies to larger purchases like food, cars and housing – the more complex decisions I will face in the future.

I understand living “sustainably” is not economically feasible for everyone, but in my studies to become a designer, I am working to make “sustainable fashion” the “mainstream fashion,” and to raise awareness about an industry most people do not think about, but one we all buy from. Simply educating consumers through my designs, regardless of whether the information will permanently change their buying habits, will make my efforts worthwhile. That is all I can do: let you know what’s going on, offer a solution and hope my art will inspire you to go Against The Grain. 


Veronica Blanco

Age: 18 yrs old; GPA: 3.6; Ethnicity: Filipino; Hometown: Virginia Beach, VA

Intended college/university and major: Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Richmond, VA, double majoring in sculpture + extended media and general psychology

What does Going Against The Grain mean to you?  People who are “Going Against The Grain” are individuals who believe in what they wish to achieve or are striving for. Whether what they want to achieve is excellence in their field, an award for their abilities, or simply acceptance from their own family, people have to reach these dreams by overcoming hardship and constant obstacles in their lives. In their eyes, these obstacles are not gigantic buildings standing in their way, but mere weeds that they can simply pull out because their dreams are greater than any problem in the way. The faith they have in themselves, their determination to succeed in the midst of hardship, and their ability to never give up is what makes the impossible very possible for them.

How do you go Against The Grain?  My perseverance, my failures and believing in what the future holds has allowed me to reach places that I could have never imagined. There have been times when I felt like my dreams were merely illusions and that my abilities or position in life were not enough to reach them. However, I realized that I could never achieve anything if I simply stopped and gave up everything. This is why perseverance is so important when it comes to going Against The Grain. When people fall a million times and fail to the point where they feel lost, if their belief in their dream and in themselves are strong enough, then they will have the ability to get right back up just as many times. When they persevere a million times, those millions of failures turn into millions of learning experiences and blessings. Despite having obstacles and problems that seem incredibly intimidating and difficult to overcome, I continue to see the light in every dark situation that comes. Although everyone’s time is limited on this earth, I use my time to persevere through everything in order to be a part of something greater. This is how I go Against The Grain.


Xiaoye Jiang

Age: 17 yrs old; GPA: 3.8; Ethnicity: Chinese; Hometown: Minneapolis, MN

Intended college/university and major: New York University in New York City, NY, double majoring in photography and sociology

What does Going Against The Grain mean to you?  To me, Going Against The Grain means deviation from the norm. It is easy to do what everyone else is doing, but it is harder and more worthwhile to follow your passions.

How do you go Against The Grain?  I go Against The Grain with my identity and my drive. Being an adopted Chinese Jew in Minneapolis, Minnesota is definitely not the norm. I let my differences, and the experiences those differences have given me, influence my life and my work. I believe in myself and the work I can do. I got accepted into the program I wanted for this coming fall and have spread my work to screenings and exhibitions all over the country, even reaching as far as China. I hope to continue going against the grain and sharing myself with others so that they, too, can go against their own grain.

Orphanage Update: The Summer 2012 Tour to the Orphanages


By Aileen Nguyen

Another year has passed.  I packed my bags and came back to Vietnam on another mission to visit the orphanages.  Because of my new job, I scheduled this trip later in the year as compared to the last one.  The weather in June is quite hot and humid in Vietnam, but I was so ready as ever.

Danang Red Cross-Orphan Center:

From the guidance of my friends in Vietnam, I paid my first visit to “Danang Red Cross Association-The Orphan Center.”  This center used to be supported by the American Adoption Agencies.  As the relationship between the government of U.S. and Vietnam deteriorated on the adoption issues, this center was mostly abandoned by the agencies and left with a small funding from the Red Cross.

The children at this center are mostly severely handicapped and/or affected by illnesses and therefore were left unwanted by potential adopted parents.  Some children are in their teenage years yet have never left their crib.  The child in this below picture is ten years-old.  He is blind and could not walk.  He has a certain illness that causes his stomach to be really big, but his legs are bared bone.  He is as big as a four year-old child.

There are thirteen children that are bedridden like this child.  The director told me that some  were affected by Agent Orange.  I visited each of the children, and thought of my granddaughter back home.  I thought of all of the love and attention that she receives every day and felt sad for the children.  Most people will not know his name or remember his face.  He is not a cute, chubby, bubbly, or talkative and not a baby anymore.  What is the chance for him to be touched, loved, and hugged by an adoptive parents or anyone?  In fact, when I slightly touched his hand (which was wrapped in a piece of cloth, because he constantly scratched his eyes with it), he seemed to be scared until I spoke to him softly.

The child at the bottom in the below picture is seven years-old.  Her head is abnormally big because of a rare neurological disease.  The child next to her is four years-old.  She also suffers a neurological disease that caused her body to bend like a shrimp.

The Director told me that she was left at the hospital where she was born.  Her parents, who live in the countryside, used to come and visited her when she was little.  They stopped coming a few years ago.  May be they have other children and have gone on with their life.  Or may be they could not afford the visits anymore.  Whatever the reasons, the child did not choose to be born and abandoned this way.  Again, I thought of my grandchild, and my heart sank.

To the right is a happy child, though.  I could not hold my tears when I saw her smiling face.

There are seven other children with Down syndrome.  One girl, who was born with one ear missing and has no speech.  She kept following me everywhere and wanted to be hugged. Her face was slightly defected, but she kept smiling.   She would not let go of my hands when I was leaving.

We brought milk, treats, foods, and supplies of approximately VDN$9,000,000 or US$430 for The Orphan Center.  The Director of the Center was very appreciative of our help.  This was our second time helping the center.  My friends brought supplies and treats on behalf of ATG in March.

Uu Dam (Hue)

My friend and I left Danang for Hue around 5 am the next day to avoid the heat.  We contacted PT, the nun who is the director of the Center and met up with her and the older children at Co-op Mart to shop for the foods and supplies for the center.  After spent almost two hours at the market, we drove the car filled with foods and supplies back to Uu Dam.

The center has finished with the library and filled it up with the books purchased with the fund from ATG last year.  The center still has around forty children.  I am happy to see the baby boy who was only eight months when I first met him.  He is now a healthy five-year old boy.

I also learned that the center now has 4 children who have completed high school and will compete for entrance to University this year.  XT and TX, the twin girls, are now in their second year in University.  They go to the University during the day and come back to the center to live and be the big sisters for the younger children.  The center now has 3 younger children ages 4, 3, and 2 years-old.   Besides food and supplies, we have helped Uu Dam with funds for tuition and books.  Every year when I come back, I look forward to see the progress that the center has made and the impact of our help.  I was so happy that I was able to see the baby boy who was eight months and the twins, the youngest and oldest children of the center when I first met them.  They represent the progress and the impact that ATG has made to this orphanage.  I felt encouraged and joyful when I looked at the boy’s eyes.  PT really does a good job of raising these children.

We bought foods, treats, and supplies for Uu Dam in a total of VND$9,861,700 or USD$473.  We also gave the cooks and other poor helpers of the center  USD$50 to encourage them to continue to help PT and the children.




Center for Disabled Children Hoa Khanh

We visited this center in the past.  Like the Red Cross Orphan center, this one used to be sponsored by the American adoption agencies.  Once the adoption from America stopped, so was the funding.  The center has several severely handicapped children (about 30) and a few mentally challenged young adults who need a lot of support on their daily lives.  The center heavily relies on assistance from volunteers and private donors/charitable foundations like us.  Most of the children without disabilities were able to be adopted by foreign and Vietnamese parents.  However, the children with severe disabilities were not adopted by anyone.  In fact, the nuns told me that some of the physically challenged children had parents to begin with, but they were ultimately abandoned by their own parents for lack of economical means.

These two children, though alert at times, were born without the ability to walk.

This one could not either.

This seventeen year-old boy, who has been in the center since he was seven, has severe epilepsy.

So does this one…

Too many for me to remember their names….

This baby was born blind and without one hand.

Will he ever be able to see and feel the touch of a loving parent?

We spent VND$15,106,000 ($725) on food and supplies for this center.

Thanh Tam Center for Disabled Children

This place has about 70 children, half of which came from poor families, but they get to go home to their parents at night.  Most of the children were born without the ability to hear or speak, thus the school teaches them sign language.  Some children were born with Down Syndrome.


For some reason, Danang has many children who were born with neurological birth defects.  These children cannot walk.  Some have severe epilepsy problems. Some also could not even talk or hear.   Their families were not well-to-do to begin with, ultimately forced to abandon the children to the center because they could no longer afford the costs to care for the children.  The center, headed by a Catholic nun, aims at providing them with special education that enable these children to follow academic programs as much as they can.  However, most of the children who stay in the center were not able to pass the middle school or high school graduating exam, thus the center has been looking for the alternative vocational careers so that these children may be able to find the way to make their own living once they reach adult age.  The center received some funding from the Catholic Diocese.  However, because of the special needs for these children, the center has to hire a lot of caregivers to look after them. Thus, our support came in handy.

We purchased VND$10, 233,000 (USD$491) of foods and supplies for the center.


I contacted the Danang center for the Street children and learned that the children were allowed to visit with their relatives during the second and third week of June, thus we could not visit with them.  Since I have to go back to the US, I left USD$300 for my friends to purchase foods and supplies for these children.

On the long flight back to Dallas, I remember the voice of the child that sat next to me on the last trip to Vietnam who asked her Mom what did an orphan look like.  I could not help but felt very sad that most of the orphans I saw on this trip could not function normally like the children of Uu Dam or Son Ca orphanages.  Being without parents and/or without the appropriate economic means are difficult enough for anyone.  However, the orphans with disabilities will have even lesser chance to be loved and cared for by the adopted parents or other guardians.  They will have a lot less chance to have an independent lifestyle as they become adults.  Their journeys in life will be difficult, if not short.   I am glad that ATG could lend a hand to provide them with the much needed support on their journeys.  We hope to be there along the way to ease their pains.  I am also very glad to have friends in Vietnam likes HP to help me with transportations and deliveries of the goods to the orphanages on this trip.

To support ATG’s orphanage aid program and make a donation, visit our Donate Page.

Against The Grain Productions Announces Additional Leadership Scholarship

Non-profit to Award Three Scholarships to Exemplary Asian American Students

DALLAS, TX – Dallas nonprofit ATG Against The Grain Productions proudly announced the addition of the Sunna Lee Leadership Scholarship to its already existing Artistic Scholarship, to be awarded to Asian American students who are breaking the mold through their work in the arts and/or leadership in the community.  Last year’s Artistic Scholarship winners were Texas students Monika Hoang and Dorcas Leung. Both Hoang and Leung were awarded a $1,000 scholarship for their exceptional artistic ability, talent, community involvement, leadership and academics. The addition of the Sunna Lee Leadership scholarship is a $5,000 commitment from business executive Sunna Lee, a powerhouse in the business and fashion world who previously attended ATG’s Fashion for a Passion charity event as a guest and was moved to do her part by motivating and celebrating a young Asian American leader who is changing the stereotype of Asian Americans.

2011 ATG Artistic Scholarship Winner Dorcas Leung
2011 ATG Artistic Scholarship Winner Monika Hoang

ATG Founder/President Tammy Nguyen Lee is excited to include this Leadership Scholarship as an extension of the organization’s already strong commitment to community outreach. Nguyen Lee said, “We created the Artistic Scholarship as an extension of what our organization is already doing to promote and support Asian Americans in the arts, and we hope that the Leadership Scholarship continues to cultivate those in our community who are finding unique ways to express themselves and create stories for us to share.” Nguyen Lee continued, “ATG is very fortunate to partner with pioneers in the Asian American community like Sunna Lee and be the organization chosen to broaden our scope to select and promote a leader among the Asian American student population.  It’s a huge honor and responsibility. Our hope is that that this will send an impactful message and continue to inspire others to affect change and leadership in others.”

Leadership Scholarship Founder Sunna Lee

Sunna Lee is a first-generation Korean American with 25 years as an executive in product development, which includes trends, design, marketing and sourcing for brands and retailers small to large, private and publicly traded companies with $7 million to $2.5 billion in revenues. She has served as Vice President of Marketing for Priss Prints and NoJo, Vice President of New Business Development for Crown Crafts Infant Products, Vice President of Merchandising for Riegel, Director of Fashion for Dorel Juvenile Group and is currently the Director of Product Development for Cracker Barrel Old Country Store. At Cracker Barrel, she leads the women’s group, Woman’s Connect, as a member of the steering committee to develop future women leaders of the organization. She previously founded her own line of high-end handmade handbags, which were sold at Stanley Korshak and Neiman Marcus. Lee said, “Being a female Asian growing up in the Deep South, I have had to overcome double the challenges of prejudice and ignorance and have chosen to convert what others may perceive as a disadvantage to a competitive advantage.” Lee is passionate about empowering others to tap into their own potential. “Teach someone to fish instead of giving them fish.  Fish can feed them for one meal.  The skill to fish will feed them for a lifetime.”

Lily Yang, ATG’s Director of Community Outreach, spearheads the review process for both scholarships and highlights the principles of the funds. “The Artistic Scholarship embodies ATG’s mission of promoting awareness of art in all media and a commitment to the community. The scholarship program is not limited to only financial assistance, but also provides the winner with mentorship, exposure and a support group both within and outside of the art community.” Yang continues, “The addition of the Leadership Scholarship allows us to reach out to an even wider group of Asian American students who have demonstrated exemplary leadership skills and made a difference by challenging the conventional Asian American stereotype.  We are looking for candidates who truly embody the spirit of “going against the grain.”

Both the Artistic and Sunna Lee Leadership Scholarship applications are online at www.AgainstTheGrainProductions.com/Scholarship, and the application deadline is April 15th. Scholarship winners will be invited to attend ATG’s 4th annual Fashion for a Passion charity event, to be held on Saturday, October 13, 2012, at the Dallas Contemporary in Dallas, TX, where they will be presented with their scholarship, as well as showcase their talent amongst other Asian American artists.

ATG Against The Grain Productions, a Dallas-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, promotes Asian-American cultural awareness through compelling media projects and raises funds for international orphanages and outreach. Their first project, Operation Babylift: The Lost Children of Vietnam, has received the Audience Choice Award for Best Feature Film at the Vietnamese International Film Festival and the Documentary Audience Choice Award from the Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival. For scholarship details, visit www.AgainstTheGrainProductions/scholarship. For more information, visit www.AgainstTheGrainProductions.com or www.TheBabylift.com.

Photos & Philanthropy: Scott & Tem Photography

Summer is the time when families get to spend valuable time together. Through the month of July, Scott and Tem Photography (who are Cocktails for a Cause alum) will generously donate 7% of the session fee to Against the Grain for every family portrait session booked where the family mentions us in the initial inquiry. You must book (not necessarily shoot) in the month of July for this offer to be valid to help ATG. What a perfect way to capture your family’s unique story and memories for years to come AND help out a worthy cause!

Check out Scott and Tem’s stunning family portrait work by visiting the Scott and Tem Photography website and book by emailing Scott or Tem at photos@scottandtemphotography.com. See highlights from their session with ATG Founders Tammy & George Lee with their new daughter, Gabriella, here. Book today!

About Scott & Tem:

‘a collaboration between husband and wife’

We consider ourselves two of the LUCKIEST people on the face of this planet. We’re a little goofy, a lot NERDY, and totally COMMITTED to capturing real life…real moments… real people with our photography. We are truly BLESSED and ENJOY what we do. We are GRATEFUL everyday to have met so many wonderful, friendly, and WARMHEARTED people who give us opportunities to be a part of their lives and who TRUST us to catch the tiny bits of time that mean so much to them.

We DON’T POSE or orchestrate things on a wedding day and during our portrait sessions; we always strive to capture who YOU are in our photographs. We don’t believe in manufacturing moments. We believe in TRUE expression and TRUE life.

Going Against The Grain: Twisted Optiks

ATG is excited to bring to your consciousness Twisted Optiks (aka Ronnie Chea), a talented hip hop musical artist who performed at our recent Fashion for a Passion event.

“I’m just a humbled emcee blessed with a God-given talent to rock the mic. It’s been a long journey to get where I am and I wouldn’t change it for a thing. Twisted Optiks – see things in a different perspective; cross-eyed or as I see it ‘Eyes on the Cross.'”

Full Name
Ronnie Saroun Chea

Wichita, Kansas/ Fort Worth, Texas

Current City
Carrollton, Texas


What does it mean to you to  “Go Against The Grain?”
I believe that going against the grain means to seek alternate paths of life other than the norm. Being Asian and working with hip hop sets me apart from the norm. Where I stand out is that I want my music to make an impact in people’s lives and give them inspiration to also go against the grain and follow their dreams and ambitions, and not just live a life with regrets.

What made you decide to pursue a career in music, specifically this type of genre?
My parents loved music, either in singing it or making it. Of course my music is not necessarily similar to my parents’ music, but the ambition to let our musical talents shine is definitely apparent. I fell in love with the hip hop culture and the use of the English language to create poetry upon music. I went from writing poetry at age 16, to producing music, to surrounding my life around music. I currently instruct audio engineering to probation students in South Dallas, and it is a blessing to be a part of making a positive impact in the lives of my students.

 Well to sum up what my style is, I love lyrical, underground hip hop that appreciates the culture, life and the need to make a change in the mess on the radio that people assumes is hip hop. I always loved how a picture can be painted from words and loved creating rhymes that reflect reality, my life and what I face each day.

What have been some of the challenges you faced/lessons you learned as an Asian American in a very competitive industry?
As an Asian American, I realize that this path I chose is quite narrow and people being successful in my field are few and far between. I realize that there are many who strive to make a name for themselves in the talents they have and even when they give their all, are rarely acknowledged for it. I spent a great deal of time finding out who I was in the hip hop scene before I came to the understanding of who I am today.

I chose not to follow the trends, as I realize that it can be a big risk for me. I realize that what I have to offer is not your “usual” and may be less likely to catch much recognition or fame. But my greatest aspiration is to give the world an “alternative” to the lukewarm, uninspiring, and demoralizing sounds we call “radio hip hop.” Not all songs are bad, but what I hear now a days is built solely for commercial use and offers no benefit or motivation for the listeners other than promiscuity and violence. I’ve seen the ups and downs of the industry, but I realize that what I get out of life is what I put in. My aim is to reach that single person that needed the music at that very moment to encourage them to face life’s struggles and to overcome them with victory.

What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment, and why?
My greatest accomplishment, in all honestly, is that I am alive. And I don’t just mean breathing and being able to function. I mean that I am actually living my life with a purpose and a mission. I’m not a doctor, lawyer, computer science or business major, but I am one who decided to go the road less traveled. If this path wasn’t for me, it would have fizzled out a long time ago. But I am still going strong and growing each day more. Each day I am honing my skills and perfecting my craft. God’s got me here for a reason and I will do all I can to share my message of love through music.

What’s up next?
I am currently working on finishing a new album and possibly a music video. No set dates as of yet but I will try to get things done as soon as possible!

Visit the Twisted Optiks Facebook Page.