Meet Our Interns: Amy

Amy Sit

Brown University ‘16

Development Studies

What’s your passion?

Understanding and comparing the development of societies, cultures, and individuals. Too academic? I also love immersing myself in art of all forms and being creative.

Why do you support a creative economy?

The absence of creativity in my mind would probably lead to mental stagnation, frustration, and an inability to cope with oncoming obstacles. I believe the same applies for an entire city: without creative outlets, there’s less vibrancy, less collaboration between people of different backgrounds, and less resiliency. I support a creative economy because I believe in art’s power to heal, connect, and expand the possibilities for individuals and communities alike. In a creative economy, the goal of development expands to encompass the livelihoods of individuals, not just their financial assets. People deserve to live in communities that are pulsating with color and energy, and a creative economy makes that possible.

Why are you interested in PULSE?

PULSE works to bridge the concepts that are often perceived as incompatible or irrelevant: namely, creativity, economic development, and Asian-American identities. As a person who finds solace in art, my aim is to justify it amongst claims of its superfluity in society and even in individual livelihoods. I believe that PULSE helps to connect this personal goal with my academic inquiries as an International Development Studies concentrator. In understanding how the creative sector impacts local development, I can better connect my own convictions to wider, societal movements and find how I can better situate myself in and contribute to those movements.

What interested you in diaspora?

I had never heard of the term “diaspora” being used in the Asian-American context before Kaya Collaborative. My main interest in the diaspora stems from my desire to understand the process of reconnecting the diaspora. Whenever I explain my interests to my parents to travel to the developing regions in China to “give back” and “understand my roots,” they oppose them, claiming that it goes against their efforts to keep me grounded and stable in America. I’m interested in understanding how bridges are (re)built between diasporic communities and their home countries, especially considering the negative stigma that seems to surround such a process.

In addition, as an ABC (American Born Chinese) growing up near multiple ethnic enclaves, I’d like to explore the similarities between different diasporic communities and how they adapt to survive, propel themselves forward, and establish themselves in their new countries. What makes Chinatown in San Francisco different from Chinatown in New York? Why do I feel more Chinese in the former and more American in the other?

What is your diaspora story?

Once upon a time, a bus driver and a dance teacher who’d both grown up during the Cultural Revolution decided to immigrate to the US to find the golden opportunities that were whispered about on the sidewalks in their hometown of Guangzhou, China. They took a leap (i.e. flight) of faith to the new country, struggled to make ends meet with few contacts for support, and settled down in the Bay Area to start a family. They always had the 10-minute drive to Chinatown to ease any sporadic cultural shocks, and their house was a bubble of Chinese culture, separate from the strange American sights and sounds that surrounded it.

Little did they know, “America” would transform the house each passing year; but rather than seeping in through the edges, it expanded from within—from their own children. They watched sadly as the Chinese they taught to their son and daughter diminished with each rising inch in height. But it was necessary, they reasoned. Their main purpose in immigrating was to provide their children with ample opportunities to reach the top of the American success ladder, on which they were only able to get their first step. If that meant adopting American holidays, speaking English, and paying more for American hobbies, so be it. And so their children, my brother and I, grew up, continuously trying to balance the conflicting identities of “Chinese” in an ethnically diverse neighborhood, and “American” amongst the constant reminders of what “home” actually meant…

The end is still being written.

What do you think is Manila’s pulse?

Resilience. I’d heard the term so many times in my first few weeks in the Philippines, it’d become a buzz word, almost meaningless in its pervasive usage. But if I think about it, Manila and the rest of the Philippines embodies this word, this ability to survive and rebound in spite of impediments. Whether it’s in the hundreds of young performers who perform nightly at local bars or the tricycle drivers who somehow weave their ways through omnipresent rush hour traffic, individuals have found a way to adapt to challenges and strive towards their final destination. There is such a resilient heartbeat—so much energy in the city’s pulse—that so much can be accomplished if that energy is directed effectively.

What are examples of experiences or thoughts you’ve had while here?

Taken from journal entries:

“In the first segment of my journey in Cebu, the issues of inter-Filipino hierarchies and tensions were frequently brought up in discussions. I never knew that it existed, this “Manila imperialism.” I never thought that the power discrepancy would be so great between this one city and the rest of the country. Which makes it even stranger that I’m currently in Manila, the central hub of all this wealth, the conglomeration of all the status and glamour that is so lacking everywhere else. Like the analogic America of the Philippines, Manila is where young graduates move to try and make it big, but eventually leave because the chaotic, crowded, and confusing lifestyle is too much to handle.”

(On my night out at 71 Grammercy)

“I couldn’t help but notice the large proportion of old white males with younger Asian female counterparts dancing by the bar…one relationship in particular did not seem consensual…I met her gaze once, and I couldn’t read anything in her expression. Did she feel proud to have acquired the 71 Grammercy lifestyle and all its bright fluorescent promises, at the expense of her own dignity? Or perhaps dignity is the wrong word to use—it implies judgment as an outsider. Am I to remain objective in these situations? Because I only felt frustration and anger. I could only feel angered at this man grasping her possessively while she passively stood there, frustrated at the circumstances that brought it about. I couldn’t do anything but look away, and yet feel my eyes magnetically drawn to them again, realizing they symbolized so much in the greater Filipino context.”

How do you think this experience will influence your lives back at home?

My time in Manila has forced me to reexamine the cities I inhabit in the Bay Area. Prior to my trip to the Philippines, I had never deeply explored the opportunities in the Bay Area for art, music, and dance. However, now that I have a renewed diagnostic perspective, I find myself noticing all the ways public spaces support creative placemaking and the creative economy, and I’m pleasantly surprised to discover that the Bay has even more opportunities for fostering the local arts than I expected.

My six weeks in the Philippines and internship with PULSE also refocused my self-perceptions as a Chinese-American, with an emphasis on the latter categorization. It was disconcerting realizing that my Western passport and bills (albeit scholarship money) granted me privileges that were limited to the highest echelon of Filipino society. As an individual considering a career in the international non-profit sector, it was difficult reconciling my national and socioeconomic background to like-minded foreigners with questionable organization practices. Particularly, I’ve realized how easy it is for foreigners in the Global North to establish a presence in a developing country such as the Philippines compared to in their home countries. With fewer critical eyes watching and empowered voices questioning, self-pronounced “social changemakers” are more able to exploit developing countries as social innovation hubs.

Despite these issues, I’ve gained a better appreciation of organized disorder and personal interaction after my time in Manila. When I walk down the streets of Oakland and San Francisco, I can’t help but feel an absence, a lack of some essential urban ingredient I’d gotten accustomed to. Then a rare car honk sounds, waking me and the street from its stupor, and I remember how much more alive Manila was, where human interaction was less staged, less removed, and more human, shaved down to its raw Jeepney form. I never thought I would, but I miss the noise, the irrational traffic, the systematic disarray—they are what make Manila the beautiful chaos that it is.

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