Introducing Aileen Kyoko, a multi-talented creative a and beautiful half-Asian woman with a unique perspective on life. Aileen is a playwright, actress, director and producer with her full length play The Year of the Solar Eclipse that just premiered this summer at Teatro Latea. What an incredible play it was! Aileen is also producer and brand curator for the wellness expert Randi Zinn. We had a chance to get Aileen Kyoko’s take on what it’s like to be mixed. Here is what she had to say…
Radiant Mix: What is your nationality? How do you identify yourself if it’s different?
Aileen Kyoko: To put it most simply- I am half Japanese and half Irish-American, however I was born in Manila in the Philippines and lived there for the first 18 years of my life.
It’s hard to say that I identify with one thing. I believe that as humans we are made up of all the people and places that have entered our hearts throughout our lives. On one hand, I identify with being Asian because I was raised by a Japanese mother who made sure the culture was part of her daughter’s lives. We spent time in Japan growing up and the language and cuisine (omg yum!) was part of our home.
Currently I also identify with being a New Yorker. I know that isn’t a nationality but this city has really shaped who I am today. The fusion of different people and cultures is exactly what I need in a home.
Being mixed can be a confusing state as there is no easy answer to- “where are you from?” or “what do you identify with?”. But it’s also a beautiful and unique experience that I am grateful for.
RM: When people ask you the classic ” what are you?”, what is their assumption?
AK: I’ve been asked if I am Hawaiian, Chinese, Japanese or Korean. I’ve noticed that other hapas (half-Asians) know right away that I am half Asian. I can also identify other hapas in a crowd. Maybe we know our kind when see them!
RM: What box did you check on census forms? What do you think about having to choose?
AK: I check OTHER unless I can choose both Caucasian and Asian/Pacific Islander. Checking a box is a clear metaphor to me on how our society wants to run. There is an obsession with wanting to fit us into boxes.
RM: From your unique perspective on life, what are one or two advantages that you want to share about being biracial?
AK: Being biracial has made me an open-minded and empathetic person with a sensitivity to diversity in all facets. I’m drawn towards people with interesting backgrounds and stories. It has also made me a genuinely curious person.
To be honest, one of the most difficult adjustments I made was moving to the South in North Carolina when I was 20- it was so different from my upbringing. But by the end of my 4 years there, I grew to appreciate the culture even though it wasn’t the ideal place for me.
As an artist, I have always said that ethnic diversity is a priority in my work and I mean that. Art and the entertainment world is the place where society is reflected back to us through stories. Thankfully, I have control over representing diversity when I am creating my own plays and films. We all have the power to create change even if it starts small!
RM: What’s the most ridiculous comment or the craziest thing you can share about your mixed experience?
AK: Oh god, so many things. One time I was asked if I know what a hair tie is or if I know what Halloween is because I am Asian. Also, unfortunately being an actress I have been sterotyped in workshops and auditions and asked to read things in an “Asian accent”. I’ve walked away from those experiences completely disgusted.
RM: What do you think about the Crazy Rich Asian movie that was all the buzz this summer? It’s the first all-Asian cast in 25 years coming out of Hollywood.
AK: On one hand, I can’t wait for the day it will be “just another romantic-comedy hit” versus “the Asian movie” but for now I AM THRILLED! I saw it and loved it! It was so funny and heartwarming and it was very cool to see Asians shine on the big screen. Finally, we are watching something other than the Asian stereotype. Asian men are often not portrayed as sexy- but hello, these men definitely were! Asian women always come off meek and innocent- these women were quirky, funny and learning to stand up for themselves. This movie is definitely a huge step and inspires me as a creator.
RM: What are your words of wisdom on navigating anti-racism in America and the world?
AK: People of color are beyond frustrated from the decades of discrimination- either by being completely ignored or as victims of outright abuse. There’s so much to this topic but to put it simply- it’s really important to listen, practice empathy and take action on change in the way that’s most natural for you.
What saddens me the most is the thought of any children of color growing up wishing they were white. Or being made fun of if they bring lunch to school that is from a different culture. This inability to accept other cultures and backgrounds comes from the world they are surrounded by.
We need to make the effort to celebrate differences and not berate or judge them because of fear. As an artist, the greatest thing I have learned is how to step into another person’s shoes. We can all do it and we must in order to evolve and create a safe, creative and accepting world for the next generation.
RM: What is one thing you would like to share that is on your bucket list
AK: I have been wanting to go to Osaka, Japan to visit my Obachan (Japanese Grandmother) for many years..and happy to say that I am officially doing that in September!
We are so happy to hear Aileen Kyoko is living out her bucket lists dreams! Thanks for sharing your world with us.
Follow Aileen Kyoko via Instagram at @aileen_kyoko