Tag: Going Against The Grain

Going Against The Grain: Lily Jang

Lily Jang grew up in northwest Houston and feels so blessed to finally be back at work in her hometown. She attended Lowery Elementary, LaBay Jr. High and Langham Creek High School. Lily’s first two jobs were teaching aerobics at Gold’s Gym in Bear Creek and working as a cashier at Randalls off Highway 6.

Lily is a graduate of the University of Texas in Austin with a degree in Broadcast Journalism. She landed her first on-air television news job at KFDA-TV in Amarillo. After a year there, Lily joined WIAT-TV in Birmingham, AL as anchor/reporter. In 2000, she packed her things and moved across the country to the Pacific Northwest to join Northwest Cable News as a night-time anchor. Three years later, Lily moved across the street to anchor mornings at Q13 FOX.  Lily brings to her position significant television experience in reporting and anchoring. She provided continuing coverage of the 2001 Nisqually Earthquake, 9/11, the war in Iraq and the capture of Saddam Hussein.

Lily is an Emmy-nominated journalist who leads the country when it comes to social media interaction with viewers. She is an avid social media user with a loyal following on both Facebook and Twitter. Lily has been honored twice by The Huffington Post as a Twitter Powerhouse. She is a fitness fanatic who enjoys mentoring, traveling the world, trying new cuisines and micro-blogging about her adventures on Facebook. Lily is happy to donate her time and energy to worthy charity causes in the community. On a typical weekend, you’ll find her emceeing a non-profit event in the area, throwing a tweet-up or speaking on a panel about social media. Lily is also fluent in Cantonese and Vietnamese. She began her duties as KHOU 11 News This Morning anchor in late February.

Full Name:
Lily Jang
Current City:
 Chinese/Vietnamese Texan!
What does it mean to you to “Go Against The Grain?”
It means being the voice for the minority. Asian Americans were few and far between in the first two TV markets where I worked. I was proud to put a voice to the silent minority and represent the Asian American community, even to this day in Houston where we have the biggest Asian American population in Texas and one of the biggest Asian American populations in the country.
What made you decide to pursue your career path?
I wanted to be a storyteller, and everyday after 16 years in the business, I still get to do that. I wanted to make sure that Asian Americans were heard and seen and that I would be a role model for younger Asian Americans that we can pursue any career path we want to.
What have been some of the challenges you faced/lessons you learned as an Asian American in this field?
I feel very fortunate because being Asian American early on in my career made me different. I was the first Asian American to work in Amarillo, TX and also Birmingham, AL.  I can’t say I’ve had many struggles because of my ethnicity. I’ve been pretty blessed.
What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment, and why?
My biggest professional accomplishment is coming full circle and working in my hometown where my parents can watch me everyday. But the most important thing about my life is the network of love and friendship I’ve made. I still have best friends from 2nd grade whom I talk to on a daily basis. That’s pretty special!
What’s up next?
I just moved back to Houston in 2012, so I hope to continue to emcee events throughout the community and be someone they can count on to represent them.
Quote to live by: My religion is simple. My religion is kindness. – Dalai Lama
Sign (Eastern Animal Sign & Western Zodiac): Ox and Sagittarius
Passionate about: paying it forward
Favorite food: Korean BBQ
Can’t live without: My iPhone!

Going Against the Grain: Thanh Le Hoang


Thanh has wanted to be many things: an artist, a designer, an entrepreneur, a humanitarian.  Starting her jewelry company sprang naturally by coming from two generations in the jewelry business.  It is where she developed a true and impressive eye for color and design.  As the founder and creator of Le Dragon d’Or, Thanh creates extraordinary pieces with a passion that ignites from deep within her.  Nothing is ordinary, but everything is extraordinary.

Born in Quy Nhon, Vietnam, Thanh along with her family immigrated to the United States when she was two.  Thanh received her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a minor in marketing and management from the University of Texas.  After graduation, Thanh then went on to work in sales and managed her family’s jewelry business.

Thanh has been actively involved in helping underprivileged children from foreign countries, supporting a numerous of charities.  One is to help sick and special needs children around the world.  Thanh resides in Los Angeles and enjoys traveling all over the world, collecting inspiration for her jewelry collections.

On her first trip back to Vietnam in 2008 with her sister Dr. Dane Hoang, Thanh witnessed first-hand the dire poverty that so many of our children face on a daily basis.  Thanh and her sister made it a mission to help the needy children around the world by working tirelessly to form the Le Hoang Foundation with the help of their family and friends. Thanh developed a true understanding of how one person can make a difference in the lives of others, and the most powerful path towards change is by empowerment through education.  Thanh passionately believes that the Le Hoang Foundation has the power to affect that change, and she knows that every journey truly does begin with that first step.  The task that lies ahead seems daunting, but Thanh also knows that this children’s charity will truly be the seed of positive change in the lives of countless children.

Full name

Thanh Le Hoang


Quy Nhon, Vietnam

Current city

Los Angeles, California



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

Going against the grain is to march to the beat of your own drum; to do things and live on your own terms regardless of what society and industry says is the norm.  I try to be true to myself and my own vision rather than following a course set by others.

What made you decide to pursue your career? 
Growing up in the family jewelry store definitely played a huge influence on, and helped develop my passion for jewelry and design. I remember as a child admiring the luster of polished metals and the intricacies of some of the designs; touching the carved curves of some of the jade pieces we had. It sounds corny, but their creation was kind of magical to me. Even at that early age, I already knew what I wanted to pursue.

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

I think I’ve been lucky to not have faced many challenges as an Asian American in my field because jewelry is art and art is objective.  It’s all about connection and whether the person has a connection to the jewelry piece.  The challenge I face is balancing work, family and friends.  Also, I’m learning to live in the moment.

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

My biggest accomplishment is to have stayed true to myself personally and professionally.  Personally, being open and honest with yourself and others is the best in order to have authentic and meaningful relationships.  Professionally, many people told me I should look into producing lower quality jewelry due to our economy, but it just wasn’t me.  It wasn’t about making money to me…it was about making beautiful art by designing from my heart.

What’s up next?
I have a trunk show coming up in November hosted by my dearest friends.  It’s being held at the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills and is benefiting Operation Smile, a non-profit charity that provides free surgeries to children with facial deformities.  Also, I’ve been working on a bridal line and plan to launch it next year.
Quote to live by:
“What you think, you become.”  – Buddha; I’ve learned that our mind is a powerful thing.  Never ever let negative thoughts get into your mind.
Sign (Eastern Animal Sign & Western Zodiac):  Dragon/Capricorn.  We’re very passionate about our work, thoughtful and have a lot of compassion towards people.
Passionate about: I’m passionate about spirituality, because it’s a part of my growth and development in liberating my soul through truth, giving and love.
Favorite food:  I love all things sweet!  There’s this little charming bakery called Sweet Lady Jane on Melrose Avenue.  They make this amazing Triple Berry Shortcake that is to die for!  It’s a yellow butter cake filled with three layers of lightly sweetened whip cream and layers of fresh berries.
Can’t live without:  My mobile phones and my date planner, because it keeps me organized.

Going Against The Grain: Dane Hoang


Eric Clapton once sang, “That I can change the world, I would be the sunlight in your universe.” 

Born in Quy Nhon, Vietnam, Dr. Dane Hoang and her family immigrated to the United States in 1979 and settled in Dallas, Texas.  Almost 30 years later, she returned to Vietnam for the first time as a volunteered pediatric dentist with Operation Smile in 2008.  The mission was a life-changing experience for her and not only was it a chance to return to the country of her birth place for the first time, but more importantly it was an opportunity to learn what it truly means to help those in need. It was during these trips to her native country of Vietnam that Dr. Dane became aware of the urgent need by children for assistance in all aspects of their lives. As a result, Dr. Dane was the driving force behind the creation of the Le Hoang Foundation. Founded in 2008, the Le Hoang Foundation has already made a tremendous impact by attracting numerous benefactors, all whom have graciously donated time and financial resources to help orphanages throughout Southeast Asia.

Sometimes we forget how blessed we are to live in the United States, but there is a world of children beyond our borders that desperately needs our help.  Through the work with Operation Smile and the Le Hoang Foundation, Dr. Dane learned that a pediatric dentist from Dallas, Texas can change the world and be the sunlight in the universe of children thousands of miles away.

Full name

Dane-Thuy Le Hoang


Quy Nhon, Vietnam

Current city

  Dallas, TX



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

It means never having to compromise your core values and beliefs. I have a specific set of values and beliefs that I try to uphold everyday, and even if it means that what I do and what I say might “go against the grain” of mainstream America, I refuse to compromise when it comes to those core values and beliefs.

What made you decide to pursue your career?

Growing up, my family was always business oriented.  I can remember playing and working with my hands in my parents’ jewelry store at a young age.  My parents’ work ethic and independence inspired me to find an occupation that would incorporate both autonomy and manual dexterity.  The field of dentistry provided me with the best of both worlds.

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

It’s not so much as being Asian American but more so being a female pediatric dentist/business owner who had to work in a predominately male dominated field.  From dealing with bankers, general contractors, architects and equipment dealers, I have worked with an all male team over the past 14 years with the construction of three dental offices.  It was quite a challenge at the beginning to convey my vision to these individuals in the design of my dental offices with all its bells and whistles, while trying to cater to my patients.  Once they understood and saw my passion for pediatric dentistry, my team worked tirelessly to help me achieve my vision.

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

My biggest accomplishment is surrounding myself with a great network of friends and family over the years.  These are the people who have been with me from the beginning of my career and have been supportive in everything that I have accomplished.  These individuals are my true friends who love and support me, who can be brutally honest with me and lastly, who bring out the best in me.

What’s up next? 

I am working with Operation Smile and my sister Thanh in organizing a trunk show for Le Dragon d’Or in November 2012 at the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills.  Also, I am planning a fundraising event for Le Hoang Foundation for next spring in Dallas.  We hope to raise money for a dental mission in the Dominican Republic which will be led by Dr. Mike Gioffre, a general dentist and Operation Smile volunteer residing in Delaware.

Quote to live by:

 “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” ~Winston Churchill  

Sign (Eastern Animal Sign & Western Zodiac) Pig/Aries

Passionate about:  My first passion has always been children. Becoming a pediatric dentist and then working with Operation Smile and the Le Hoang Foundation have just been a natural extension of my love for children.

Favorite food: Bún Bò Huế– this is pretty obvious, since I am from central Vietnam, Hue province.

Can’t live without  Besides air, it’s love and laughter with friends and family.


Going Against The Grain: Thoa Nguyen (2012 ATG Artistic Scholarship Winner)


2012 ATG Artistic Scholarship Winner Thoa Nguyen

18 year-old Thoa Nguyen was born in Hue, Vietnam.  In 1996, her family (including herself, her parents and older sister) immigrated to America when she was three years-old. After living in Arkansas with her grandparents for six months, the family moved to Arlington, Texas. The family experienced culture shock, but the opportunity to pursue the American Dream was a dream come true.

Although the language barrier was initially an issue, school quickly became one of Thoa’s strengths. She challenged herself, taking advanced classes whenever possible, as well as courses that interested her artistically. After stints in choir, band and theatre, she found her passion for studio art.  She served as Vice President and then President of her school’s National Art Honor Society, Vice President of the National Honor Society, Historian of the Drama Club, was a Project SOAR mentor and part of the International Thespian Society, Environmental Club and Future Business Leaders of America. She recently graduated from Juan Seguin High School ranked number three in her class. Thoa plans to study Radio/Television/Film as well as Studio Art at the University of Texas at Austin.

Full name:

Thoa Thi Kim Nguyen


Born in Hue, Vietnam but I consider my ” hometown” to be Arlington, Texas

Current City:

Arlington, TX



What does ‘going against the grain’ mean to you?

To me, ‘going against the grain’ is synonymous to swimming against a current, doing what your heart tells you to do, despite what is expected. By pushing yourself to reach your goals no matter the circumstances or resistance, you are going against that opposing force. We would not be where we are now if minorities throughout history had not conformed and sparked revolutions. Like they say, ‘if there’s a will, there’s a way,’ even against the grain.

How do you go against the grain?

I believe that the most important characteristic to be able to go against the grain would be courage. It takes a lot of courage to STAND UP for your ideals when everyone else is sitting. I’d also have to say that it has taken me my entire life so far to earn that courage. I go against the grain by putting full faith and spirit into what I have realized I want to do for the rest of my life: incorporate my art with my love for film(making). Any person with traditional Asian parents can agree that they want the best for their children’s futures, which means they expect us to be in high paying career like medical or engineering fields. Having come from an immigrant family, I was expected to earn outstanding grades, then pack my bags for medical school. To my parents dismay, I had no interest in such fields… I had my heart set on being an art director for film. Although it may not seem like much, it took me my entire life to figure that out. To stand behind what I was passionate about, even if it was not what was expected of me. To have courage.


On the importance of art to a community: (excerpted from scholarship essay)

“If there were a few imperishable and infinite things in this world, art would be one of them. Art takes so many forms and is perceived by so many perspectives that it can never be nonexistent.  Lucky for us, as human beings, we need it in our world to survive. It is a wonder that something that can be seen as trivial and even unnecessary and impractical, is so embedded into ourselves, we almost forget it is there, if it were not for the people who express it so well. Art is soul, and life, and presence, and void. It is what adds color to our world, our community, and our being.”

What made you decide to pursue a career in film (art direction)?
Film production has always been interesting to me, and I believe that you should pursue a field that provokes your curiosity and interest for it. And with my art skills and creativity as a precursor, I want to associate that with film production to be an art director for film.


What have been some of the challenges you faced/lessons you learned as an Asian American in this field?
It is not a common field for an Asian American (especially an Asian American with traditional parents) to pursue, so the toughest challenge is proving myself based on my passion and skill, not my race, to every one else. Something that I’ve learned is to do what suits me, no matter what any one else says, and do it well to the best of my ability, because it does reflect on my culture and where I come from.


What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment, and why?
My greatest accomplishment would probably be making it in my graduating class’ Top 2 % and being ranked number three. I know how proud that makes my parents and that all the hard work I have put into my studies for the past four years in high school was with that goal in mind.


What’s up next?
The great, scary, life changing experience called ”college” is next for me! I’m so excited to be in a new city, surrounded by the immense creative atmosphere that UT will offer me!


Quote to live by:
”It is every man’s obligation to put back into the world at least the equivalent of what he takes out of it.” – Albert Einstein


Sign (Eastern Animal Sign & Western Zodiac): Rooster/Scorpio


Passionate about: All forms of visual arts; learning


Favorite food: Barbecue chicken!


Can’t live without: My best friend and future roomate, Alexa Harrington


What it means to you to be named the 2012 ATG Artistic Scholarship Winner:  
“It means the most to me spiritually. It’s a sign of reassurance that what I am doing will be worth it in the end, because someone out there believes in me.”


To read more about Thoa, visit the  2012 ATG Scholarship Finalist Announcement.

Going Against The Grain: Britt Espinosa (2012 ATG Artistic Scholarship Winner)

2012 ATG Artistic Scholarship Winner Britt Espinosa
Britt Espinosa graduates this June after being homeschooled with a variety of academic courses through public school, online, community private courses and self-directed learning.  His community service and leadership experience includes a month long service trip to South Africa with Global Expeditions, Food packaging and shipping (Children of the Nations), Sharenet Christmas Shop volunteer, Small Group Leader and Kairos Youth Group Leadership Team.  Britt is an Awana Citation Award winner after serving for 10 years with Awana International.

Britt studied classical piano for 10 years and had formal voice training for 2.5 years. He quickly discovered he loved music and found himself on various musical groups singing and playing; not only piano, but also guitar, bass, and the occasional drums.  Britt is actively involved in leading a musical ministry team, teaching younger and newer musicians.  He has received multiple artistic awards, including Superior Ranking in Male Vocal Solo and Superior Ranking in Christian Band.   In the past two years, Britt has performed and toured regionally throughout the West Coast with his band, The Exchange, playing about 100 events during that time.   Whether it is through singing with fellow team workers in South Africa, performing for youth on stage or leading a team of young musicians, Britt values the power of music.  “When words fail, music speaks. – Hans Christian Anderson  Britt will attend Northwest University this coming fall, with his anticipated major being Music Business Management and Performance.

Full name:

Britt Larson Espinosa

Hometown/Current City:

Kingston, Washington



What does ‘going against the grain’ mean to you?

To me ‘going against the grain’ means having the discipline and drive to pursue a dream in the midst of hardship, stigma, and setbacks. Discipline includes dedication to education, working when you don’t think you can go anymore, and having foresight. Having a ‘drive to pursue’ means to make the most out of every opportunity, and to also hold onto to the dream when things are slow and require patience.

How do you go against the grain?

I live to pursue and accomplish. When I set my sights on a goal, I will do everything to accomplish that goal. I go against the grain because I know that education, foresight and patience are essential to success.

On the importance of art to a community: (excerpted from scholarship essay)

“A man named Thomas Merton once said, ‘Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.’ Art plays a huge role in culture, community, relationships and everyday life. In my opinion, a society without art is a society that has no identity or soul. Art is an expression of the soul, like Thomas Merton said, it pushes us to ‘find ourselves’ and lose ourselves’…Art affects much of our culture and the way we identify with our culture.  From branding to movies, art is the aspect that our souls react and respond to. Art is important in our society and community because it gives meaning, purpose and identity to individuals and groups. Without art, the world would be a bland place, full of people without an identity and without the desire to find one.”

What made you decide to pursue a degree in music/music management?

I’ve always loved music, and musical performance. I started the band, The Exchange,  in 2010.  Over the next two years, we went on to perform almost 100 events, playing shows, youth camps and conferences throughout the West Coast. As we gained more experience and play time, I started to fill the role of managing the business and road management aspects of the band. Through this and also my years of leading young musicians on a musical team, I came to find that I greatly enjoyed and was challenged by the business aspects of leading a band/team.  I want to sharpen my skills as an artist in my college years.  Additionally, I believe an artist can be much more effective and influential if combined with skills of leadership and management expertise.  A possible outcome of my combined education would be to become an artist developer and manager.

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

As an Asian American, I have always been aware of the undercurrent that exists, that I may not be given the “benefit of the doubt” as to my abilities or education.  Sometime during my middle school years, I read a book entitled Do Hard Things – A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations.  I came to realize I may not be able to change people’s initial perceptions about me based on their first impression. However, if I personally pursue excellence and not make excuses, in the end, I would become the best I could be and would eventually earn the trust and confidence of those I am working with.  Serving overseas in South Africa as well as through the various countries that I have traveled has also allowed me to apply this same principle of acceptance and openness to others, no matter what culture I may find myself in.

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

While I could initially say it could be my band, grade point average or even my overseas service project, as I truly reflect on a personal accomplishment, I would say it would be completing 10 years of classical piano training. This is my biggest accomplishment, not because of the years or even the hours of practice, but because there were several times I wanted to quit.  During my 8th and 9th year of piano lessons, I doubted whether sticking with piano was even worth it. What kept me going was simply my personal discipline and knowing that even though it was not always easy or enjoyable, I wanted to finish strong with my piano training.  Now, looking back, I can see how my piano training has opened so many doors and possibilities, even allowing me to learn other instruments more quickly.  I learned perseverance.  I learned that hard work can pay off and that reaching for excellence, even when there is no motivation, is truly the most rewarding after all.

What’s up next?

I will be attending Northwest University, where I will be working towards obtaining a degree in Music Business Management and Performance.  I also plan to continue touring with my band, The Exchange.  Recently, I was asked to be in Northwest University’s choir called Choralons.  This is an innovative choir comprised of 110 vocalists and a 7 piece rhythm section, of which I will be the piano player.

Quote to live by:

“He is no fool who gives, what he cannot keep, to gain that which he cannot lose.” – Jim Elliot

Sign (Eastern Animal Sign & Western Zodiac): Rooster/Capricorn

Passionate about: Music, Jesus Christ and Rock-n-roll!

Favorite food: Lumpia

Can’t live without: Listening and playing music on a daily basis

What does it mean to you to be named the 2012 ATG Artistic Scholarship Winner?

I feel incredibly honored to be chosen out of all the very impressive entries and participants! It humbles me to see so many young people like myself making beautiful art and giving back to the community. To be chosen out of this group is a very great honor!

Learn more about Britt in the 2012 ATG Artistic Scholarship Finalist Announcement.

Going Against the Grain: Patrick Wang


We’re thrilled to spotlight filmmaker Patrick Wang as May’s GATG. Patrick recently released his first feature, the critically-acclaimed movie In the Family, which is currently making its way across theaters nationwide.  In the Family is a heartfelt story woven around child custody, “two-Dad” families, parental loss, interracial relationships, the American South, and the human side of the law.

Patrick graduated from MIT with a degree in Economics and a concentration in Music and Theatre Arts. As an economist, he has studied energy policy, game theory, and income inequality at the Federal Reserve Bank, the Harvard School for Public Health and other organizations. As a theatre director, he has specialized in classical verse drama (world premiere of Diane Arnson Svarlien’s translation of Medea) and new works (Surviving the Nian, Jonathan Larson Award). He has taught and directed productions at the Stella Adler Studio and The Neighborhood Playhouse. A collection of his short drama was published as The Monologue Plays. His performance in M.Butterfly was the subject of Leah Hager Cohen’s book, The Stuff of Dreams. His film/television credits include Surveillances (Panavision Prize), Little Mary, Saturday Night Live and One Life to Live.

Full name

Patrick Wang


Houston, TX

Current city

New York, NY


Taiwanese American

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

To defend something you feel is missing or endangered in the world.

What made you decide to pursue a career in film?

I don’t think much about a career in film. I love the peripatetic life.

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

I have learned there is tremendous leadership in Asian American communities. And I’m not sure I could have found the confidence to choose to be in the artistic minority without my unelected experiences as a social minority.

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

I consider a book I wrote called The Monologue Plays to be my biggest accomplishment. The book is a collection of 75 short plays, all in monologue form and mostly unrelated. It expresses the deepest range of thoughts and emotions of anything I’ve done.

What’s up next?

Distributing this film. I love getting to see this country (and others) through the prism of its movie theaters.

Quote to live by

“Beauty is about the improbable coming true suddenly.” – Charles Simic

Sign (Eastern Animal Sign & Western Zodiac): Dragon, Virgo

Passionate about: Quality

Favorite food: Gumbo

Can’t live without: Hope

For more information about his film, In the Family, visit the Official Film Page.

Going Against the Grain: Lee Ann Kim

SDAFF Founder Lee Ann Kim

Honored by San Diego Magazine as one of the Top 50 People to Watch in 2009, Lee Ann Kim is the founding executive director of the San Diego Asian Film Foundation, a nonprofit media arts organization best known for its annual film festival.  Lee Ann also worked for nearly 12 years as a news anchor/reporter for KGTV Channel 10, where she earned numerous awards for her journalism, including a regional Emmy for investigative reporting.

Lee Ann was recently honored by the San Diego Film Critics Association with the 2011 Kyle Counts Award for her commitment to cinema;  the KPBS Hero of the Month for May 2010;  San Diego Metropolitan Magazine’s Top 40 Under 40 in 2007;  as well as Director of Excellence from the 2008 International Film Festival Summit.

Full name

Lee Ann Yi Yun Kim


Seoul, South Korea

Current city

San Diego, CA


 Korean American

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

Go with my gut and what I know is right, instead of what may be pleasing to others.  To take risks. To be me!

What made you decide to pursue a career in journalism and then later film festival programming?

My life commitment is to be the voice… and SDAFF’s commitment is to connect those diverse voices with an audience.

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

1) We are still defining what it means to be Asian American, and so many of us still exist in silos which is never good when we’re trying to create a collective voice and collective energy.  2) And we cannot support all projects just because they’re made by or about Asians. 3) Change starts in my own home, raising my two sons to be active members of the community, to give back, vote, and serve the greater good.

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

Starting the San Diego Asian Film Festival and Foundation.  I started it from nothing, and 13 years later we’re still around with 6 full time staff presenting 40+ events throughout the year.  I’m very proud of the community in which SDAFF created and the impact we’ve had on the lives of independent artists and students.  I never even went to one film festival before I started one.

What’s up next?

Creating a filmmakers fund and an experimental mobile cinema project.

Quote to live by:  “Work hard, play hard.”

Sign (Eastern Animal Sign & Western Zodiac):  Dog, Virgo

Passionate about: My family, friends, justice, and 80s music

Favorite food: I don’t have one. But I need dark chocolate once a day.

Can’t live without: Love… and mascara

The San Diego Asian Film Foundation will host their annual Spring Showcase April 19-26. For more information, visit the SDAFF website.

Going Against the Grain: Dat Phan


Dat Phan is the Original Winner of NBC’s “Last Comic Standing” and is a Headlining
Comedian touring live across the U.S. He has made numerous TV and movie appearances,
including “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” “The Family Guy” voiceover, and “Cellular.”
Most recently Dat has appeared on “The Tyra Banks Show” discussing racial diversity.

Dat Phan was born in Saigon, Vietnam and immigrated with his mother to San Diego,
CA. He suffered through financial hardships most of his childhood. After 9/11, he realized life
was short and decided to go for his dream to pursue comedy full time. Moving to LA he had to
live out of his car and even after being robbed at gunpoint, he wouldn’t stop pursuing his dream.

Dat answered phones for The Improv in Hollywood during the day and tried to get as much stage time as possible at night; this meant he often went on well after midnight when crowds were often more drunk than coherent. Later, Dat took the risk and auditioned for the experimental, comedy based show produced by NBC that would launch his career. The rest is history as he was named the funniest person in America on August 5, 2003.

Dat’s culturally insightful comedy inspects ridiculous stereotypes, and shares his
experience of being a regular American guy with a Vietnamese heritage. His youthful energy
and truly unique life experiences, including all the tough times, are combined to create the
message of living your dreams and reaching out for the stars. Dat Phan’s mission is to bring a
more positive portrayal of Asian-Americans to mainstream entertainment and Hollywood. “We
want to be seen as more than just martial artists, or bad stereotype token roles in American TV & Movies.”

Dat Phan has been included in The Smithsonian Institution’s exhibition of The Top 10
Most Influential Vietnamese-American Individuals. The DVD “Dat Phan Live” was released in
January 2010 and is available from Amazon.com. Dat’s latest CD, “You Touch, You Buy“ is
now available on iTunes.

Full name

Dat Tien Phan


Saigon, Vietnam

Current city

Los Angeles, CA



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

Knowing who you are and taking risks.

What made you decide to pursue a career in comedy/entertainment industry?

I went through a breakup with a girlfriend and the ex-girlfriend’s mom suggested I go to college. So, I enrolled in classes and took a required speech class. I realized that most of my speeches made people laugh. After that I started performing at the La Jolla Comedy Store and then was forced to hone my craft at small coffee shops in San Diego, CA.

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

I’ve learned that there is less opportunity as a whole, but much more opportunity as a demographic.

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

Being voted into the Smithsonian’s Top 10 Most Influential Vietnamese in the world. Usually the list is full of doctors, lawyers, scientists, Nobel Peace prize winners. It’s an honor to be a performer and on that list.

What’s up next?

I just finished a showcase program with CBS Diversity which will help me become more active in film and I have a pretty crazy tour schedule for 2012.

Quote to live by: “If you fail to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

Sign: Aquarius & Tiger

Passionate about: Networking, marketing, and staying fit

Favorite food: Alaskan King Crab Legs

Can’t live without: My iPhone

Going Against The Grain: Grace Borrero

Grace Borrero is currently the Manger of Development & New Series for cable’s fastest-growing network, Style.  Her team is in charge of creating fresh content for the channel and overseeing new series from pitch to delivery.  Grace constantly meets with producers to discuss the network’s needs and collaborates with them on developing new shows.  She has nurtured some of the network’s highest-rated series, such as Jerseylicious, Giuliana & Bill, Ruby and Kimora: Life in the Fab Lane.  Grace was also the recipient of the 2008 Ingenuity Award for the Comcast Entertainment Group.

Grace graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in English and Minor in Asian American Studies.  While at UCLA, Grace proudly received the Royal Morales Prize in Pilipino Studies and created the Pilipino Organization of English Majors (POEM).  Immediately upon graduation, she jumped into the production world at MTV.  From 1999 – 2003, she focused primarily in production management, handling all logistical aspects of production, such as hiring crews, overseeing shoot schedules and booking locations.  Grace then transitioned into producing and worked on multiple reality shows, such as Lifetime’s Instant Wedding,  VH-1’sKept and MTV’s Next. As a producer, Grace developed storylines, managed talent and helped execute the creative vision of the series with the Executive Producers.

Grace is an active member of the National Association of Multiculturalism in Communications (NAMIC), Women in Cable Telecommunications (WICT), Coalition of Asian Pacific American in Entertainment (CAPE), Visual Communications (VC), FilAm Creative, Filipinos Hollywood Mafia (Co-Chair), UCLA Alumni in Entertainment, APA@NBCUniversal (Co-Chair, Professional Development Committee) and the Diversity Council for NBCUniversal.  She has also participated in the NAMIC and WICT Mentorship programs and was a selected participant for the 2011 NAMIC Leadership Seminar.

Full Name
Grace Anne Flores Borrero

Diamond Bar, CA

Current City
Los Angeles, CA

Pilipino American

What does it mean to ‘go against the grain?’ 
‘Going against the grain’ means taking chances and believing in risks.  It means not being satisfied with the status quo, but passionately initiating change for the better.

What made you decide to pursue a career in cable television/entertainment? 
As a college student, my goal was to work in the media and share stories that would touch people, particularly women and ethnic minorities.  The plan was to become a journalist, until I landed a Production Assistant gig at MTV, which I thought, at the time, was the coolest job ever!  I discovered I had a knack for pulling together shoots, especially since my strengths were being ridiculously organized and detail-oriented.  As I climbed my way up the ladder, I found that this was another way of storytelling, except it reached a larger audience than writing would.  Now, my job at the Style Network allows me to connect to our female viewers by creating aspirational and entertaining content that they can relate to.

What challenges have you faced/lessons learned as an Asian American in this field? 
The obstacle I have faced in this industry is being perceived as passive and weak.  No matter how smart I am, or how much work I produce, some people refuse to give me opportunities I deserve because I am viewed as the “quiet little Asian girl.”

What is your biggest accomplishment and why? 
Personally, my biggest accomplishment was completing two marathons (San Diego in 2004 and Las Vegas in 2005).  I’m not a runner by any means, and the fact that I could finish a marathon – twice – still blows my mind. Professionally, my biggest accomplishment was being asked to be on the Diversity Council for NBCUniversal.  Since I started my career in TV, it’s always been a personal priority to get more people of color in front of the camera and more executives behind the scenes.  Being on the Council, I now have a bigger role in ensuring that.  It’s a dream come true!

What’s up next?
I’m continuing to develop more edgy and diverse shows for Style.  I’m also actively networking with the several professional groups – I love connecting people and helping them along their career path!  As a Co-Chair for APA@NBCUniversal, we will be doing a Rock the Vote event in March and a mixer for Asian American Heritage Month in May.

Quotes to live by:
“Never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.” – Harriet Beecher Stowe
“You will never change what you tolerate.” – Joel Osteen


Passionate about:
Diversity and cooking

Favorite food:
Sushi.  However, my last meal on earth would be Chicken Adobo with rice, lumpia and pancit malabon.

Can’t live without:
My family

Going Against The Grain: Jen Kwok

Jen Kwok is a Renaissance Man who happens to be an Asian girl.  Jen’s sparkling talents take form in writing, singing, comedy and ukulele/piano/glockenspiel playing, and she has performed at venues as varied as Highline Ballroom, Gotham Comedy Club and bawdy basement burlesque shows!

A mainstay of the Asian-American performance community, Jen co-hosts the Asian American Writers Workshop’s open mic series and has a much loved/mildly controversial YouTube hit entitled “Date an Asian” (YouTube #1 Comedy Spotlight, MTV Iggy & Buzzfeed Top 3).

In the mainstream media, Jen’s work has been featured by The New York Times, PBS, CNN, MTV and Rolling Stone Magazine. Jen was also a national finalist in NBC’s Stand-Up for Diversity and will make her feature film debut (as a ukulele player!) in the movie EAT, PRAY, LOVE.

Full name:

Jen Kwok


Palmdale, CA

Current city:

Brooklyn, NY


Chinese (my family came to the US from Vietnam)

What does it mean to you to or how do you “Go Against The Grain?”

Going against the grain means not being limited by expectations and doing what you feel is right – even if it’s not the easiest path.  I would go with the grain if I could, but as an Asian-American performer, that’s kind of not an option.

What made you decide to pursue a career in the business?

I completely blanked my third or fourth time doing stand-up, and didn’t go onstage for nearly a year.  Then I picked up the ukulele and found my thing with musical comedy.  I figured that comedy was for me if the awesomeness could somehow outweigh the stage fright, anxiety and nausea.  Plus, I don’t like having regrets.  They suck.

What have been some of the challenges you faced/lessons you learned as an Asian American in a very competitive industry?

It’s hard for anyone to be in the entertainment industry, period.  For Asians and other minorities, we have to deal with the fact that most American film and television roles have been limited to racial stereotypes.  But even in the past year or so, the number of non-stereotypical roles and minorities cast in lead roles has increased.  The industry is changing, even if it’s one Asian/Black/Latino judge on Law & Order at a time.  In terms of overcoming the challenges, writing your own material definitely helps because you can create opportunities for yourself without waiting for somebody to cast you in something.

What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment and why?

My biggest accomplishment was realizing that I wanted to be a writer and performer unconditionally, no matter what.  The industry is tougher than anyone can imagine when they’re first starting out, and for the first few years, I wanted to quit nearly everyday.  It was through sheer tenacity – or madness – that I stuck it out and realized that this life was for me, for better or for worse.  I guess it’s kind of like getting married.  Now I just hope I don’t get divorced.

What do you hope to achieve?

I want to have fun, entertain people and get as good as I can get at whatever it is I’m doing.

Who inspires you and/or who are your biggest influences?

Most Asian female comics would probably not be here without Margaret Cho – myself included.  It literally blew my mind to see an Asian woman on television doing her own material, talking about sex and not being a size 0.  Style-wise, Victor Borge was a huge influence – he was one of the first people I ever saw combining music and comedy.  I also really love Richard Pryor, Dave Chappelle, Tina Fey and Tom Waits.

What is the most important lesson/advice you would give?

Find your own voice and be patient with yourself.  Be more patient than you think you need to be.  Be brutally patient.  And honest.

What’s up next (upcoming projects or plans for the coming months)?

If my ukulele and I don’t end up on the cutting room floor, we will be in the movie EAT, PRAY, LOVE coming out in August!  I’ve also got a new music video hitting the web and (fingers crossed) television very soon.  Other than that, you better believe it’s gonna be a lot of drinking and Facebook.