Aja Dang: Student Loan Debt Influencer

I first heard of Aja Dang from this story in Yahoo Finance about a woman who paid down $100K in student debt.  As I have kids in college, this story really attracted my attention.  When I think of “influencer”, I think of beauty influencers like Michelle Phan and people on Instagram projecting the “perfect” life, but a student loan debt influencer?   Intrigued, I decided to see what she was all about it and to figure out 1) how she accumulated $200K in student debt and 2) how she paid off half of it.

First, I asked my kids about her.  Number One Son follows her (not surprising as she was a 2011 Maxim Hometown Hottie and as does The Daughter does, while Number Two Son has a friends who do although he doesn’t.  The Daughter said she became interested in Aja Dang after the personal finance and debt videos started coming out.  When I looked at her YouTube channel, which Dang says is her main avenue of expression, I found she had some videos you might expect, such as travel videos, beauty tips, and music video parodies.  But also there were finance videos, where she goes over her monthly budgets.  She even posts spreadsheets of her monthly budgets online. Seems like a weird area for an influencer to make a living, but many of the commenters on her visitors find them useful and even inspirational.

How did she accumulate $200K in student debt?  In this interview (and in the video above) she says that she borrowed money to cover undergraduate private school, and then borrowed more for a masters at USC.   Does she regret going to college?  Not really, although one of her recommendations is that people who not sure if what they want to do should take a gap year to figure it out.  She reminds that people that they don’t have to go an expensive private school, as she did twice.

My other question was how she paid down $100K in around a year.  I took a look at her budget spreadsheets, and she made substantial amounts of money with “brand” deals.   Her YouTube income and her side hustles (I found her video on side hustles to be very interesting) are much smaller in comparison.  In the above video, she is doesn’t have that brand income yet and is scraping by making debt payments by doing things like dog walking. Her spreadsheets show that the life of a freelancer is extremely unpredictable, with very large variations in income month to month.

Check her out at her web site or her YouTube channel.

Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism During World War II

Washington DC is full of monuments, but this is one that I have only heard about a recently.  The Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism During World War II was completed in 2001.  The idea was conceived by the Go for Broke National Veterans Association, which would later be renamed The National Japanese American Memorial Foundation.  The organization raised $13 million to construct the monument which honors Japanese Americans who fought for the United States during World War II.

The included picture is Golden Cranes, a bronze sculpture by Nina A. Akamu.  Also on the monument are the names of the Japanese Americans veterans who died fighting for the US in World War II, along with quotes from a number of prominent Japanese Americans.  There was some controversy over a quote from Mike Masaoka, but his quote was retained.

The National Park Service now is in charge of the monument.  The memorial is located at the intersection of New Jersey Ave, Louisiana Ave, and D Street NW.

<photo credit:  Cliff via the Creative Commons License 2.0>

Penguin Classics to Publish Editions of Four Asian American Novels

In honor of Asian American Heritage month, Penguin Books is publishing four Asian American novels in their Penguin Classics imprint. The four books include America is in the Heart by Carlos Bulosan, The Hanging on Union Square by H.T. Tsiang, East Goes West by Younghill Kang, and No-No Boy by John Okada. It’s sad to say that I haven’t read any of them even though America is in the Heart has been on my to read list for decades. I had heard of No-No Boy but not the other two books.

All four were originally published over 60 years ago.  This cover from No-No Boy is from a University of Washington Edition published in 1976, nineteen years after the novel first appeared in 1957.  The classics editions will all have new forwards and afterwards by contemporary writers and are scheduled to be released on May 21.

(photo credit:  Nancy Wong,  licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International)

Eating at The Kid’s Table

I read about the Kids Table from this article from Vice, so I decided to check it out. Mentioned as an Asian American story about friends, it has a lot that I could identify with. Although I am not Chinese American, the series has many things that resonated with me and probably will resonate also with other Asian Americans.

Although I am at an age where I definitely don’t sit at the kids table, our family gatherings and holidays usually end up with all of the young adults at one table and the rest of us non-young adults at other tables. My kids are at an age where they discuss many of the topics in the series at their kids table, such as trying out nontraditional non-safe careers – being a “bad Asian.” I did the same when I ate at the kids’ table.

While this series resonated with me, it had some shortcomings. Sometimes I felt the dialogue felt a little forced, and the ending seemed a little too pat. Still, I ended liking the characters and found myself wanting more after seeing the last episode.

The Kid’s Table will be shown at the 2019 Los Angeles Asian American Film Festival at this session on May 5, 2019.

Bay Area Asian American Immigrant Women more likely to get Breast Cancer

We have written how some doctors would not believe that Asian American women could get breast cancer, but in the past few years, I know a number of Asian American women who were diagnosed with the disease.   Previous studies of women in Asia show a lower occurrence of breast cancer outside of the United States and higher incidence in US born Asian Americans.  In contrast, a recently released study of Asian American women in the San Francisco Bay Area suggests what I have seen anecdotally – immigrant Asian Americans are more likely to get breast cancer than native born Asian Americans.

Of the Asian American women that I know personally that have had breast cancer, all were immigrants and most were in the Bay Area.  The Wife knows even more women who had breast cancer – all are Asian American immigrants too.  Tim’s mother also died of breast cancer,  The only Asian American woman who had breast cancer who was born in the US that I can think of is Ken Jeong’s wife. Is this some acculturation factor, like with South Asian Heart disease?  The authors tried to control for that, looking at BMI and length of time in the US, but controlling those factors left the same result.

Then again, the majority of the Asian American women that The Wife and I know are immigrants in the Bay Area, so my anecdotal sample is biased.  Similarly, the study’s authors mention that one possible shortcoming of the study is that it was limited to the Bay Area population.  One risk factor for breast cancer is higher socioeconomic (measured by income and education) status – this is borne out in studies of populations all over the world and is seen in the rise of breast cancer in parts of Asia and with Asian American women in the Bay Area.   Given the large numbers of affluent Asian immigrants in the Bay area and in certain cases, where the native born children of immigrants earn less than parents, this study might simply be showing the socioeconomic risk factor.

So what to take away from this study?   Given the limits on sample size, the authors suggestion that further cross national studies be done to confirm the results and to narrow down the particular risk factors that generate this result.  If the discrepancy is caused by mainly be income/education differentials, then some of the known breast cancer risk factors that come with affluence, such as a sedentary lifestyle, should be publicized in the affected communities and should be avoided.  The authors suggest that from a public health perspective, doctors should recognize immigrant status as a breast cancer risk factor with Asian American women and increase screenings, which have been low in the past.

(h/t:  John)

Jeremy Lin on Adjusting to Toronto, D-League Experiences, and Kobe Bryant’s Disrespect

Toronto Raptors player Danny Green hosts a show called “Inside the Green Room,” and he recently had on Jeremy Lin, who moved last month to the Raptors from the Atlanta HawksYahoo Sports Canada has posted some of the more interesting sections of that 1 hour session, such as the one above where Danny Green and Jeremy Lin talk about their experiences together on the D League (now called the G League), the NBA’s minor league.  This made me respect Lin and other D League products like Green much much more, as they made little money and had not so great working conditions (as an example – practice getting delayed as a 7th grade volleyball team was still using the court) while they improved enough to make it to the NBA.

I also liked the “behind the scenes” type conversations about life in the NBA described in this segment – little tidbits about how different levels of players have to deal with practice jerseys, adjusting to a new team, and tricks that other players use to their advantage (e.g. Vince Carter chatting up players on the court to distract).   Other interesting parts of the conversation include why Lin has a video production team and Youtube channel – he felt that if he didn’t get his own voice out, other voices which had stereotypical attitudes about Asian Americans would dominate.  I particularly enjoyed him making fun of Cornell University, mocking it as a lower tier Ivy and comparing it to a younger sibling who is jealous of everything (sorry John!).

Here are some pointers to the more interesting parts published in smaller segments:

 

Asian American Medical Hazard: South Asian Heart Disease

Silicon Valley resident Mahendra Agrawal exercised regularly, maintained a health weight, and followed a vegetarian diet.  When he went to the hospital with shortness of breath, doctors found that the 63 year old had obstructed coronary arteries.  His reaction:

“I’m a pretty active guy and I eat very healthy, my wife makes sure of that.  It makes me wonder why this happened to me.”

Agrawal’s predicament is detailed in this New York Times article (also here if you ran out of free articles) that talks about another Asian American Medical Hazard – South Asian Heart Disease.  It also describes one potential benefit of being Asian American – how adopting a blend of Asian and American practices can lead to better health than either alone.

Continue reading “Asian American Medical Hazard: South Asian Heart Disease”

Asian American Commercial Watch: This is the Avery’s


Asian Americans are in more and more TV commercials these days, but when I saw this Wells Fargo ad, it immediately caught my attention.  Rather than the familiar white man Asian woman couple commonly portrayed in commercials, it has an Asian guy married to a non-Asian woman of color (either African American or Latina or both – hard to really tell here).  There have been a few commercials with an Asian male in an interracial relationship like this one of Asian male and white female, but I personally don’t recall any commercials with this particular pairing.  I also like the fact that the Asian American guy isn’t a nerd or martial artist and seems pretty outgoing and worldly.

While Wells Fargo has been in the news lately for a variety of problems and lapses in  judgment, I would have to agree with the commercial that eating out a lot can really strain a budget.  This ad was part of Wells Fargo’s rebranding efforts called This is Wells Fargo.

Asian American Medical Hazard: Somatic Symptom Disorder

When she was 14, Diana Chao began experiencing severe pain in her eyes.  The pressure buildup in her eyes was diagnosed as uveitis, an inflammatory eye disease that caused her to go temporarily blind.  For the next four years, she repeatedly visited doctors to find the cause of her uveitis, which would recur every few months.   When an ophthamologist mentioned that she had seen the same symptoms in patients with mental illness, it dawned on Chao, who had been experienced depression as a child and was also diagnosed with bi-polar disorder as teenager, that her mind might be affecting her body.  This article from the Philadelphia Inquirer talks about Diana Chao and how somatic symptom disorder, a form of mental illness that manifests itself as bodily symptoms, is actually common in Asians and Asian Americans.

How does mental illness manifest physically in Asian Americans?  The article mentions that how chest pain, headaches, and stomach problems with no known physical causes are common in Cambodian refugees, many of whom are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  It also talks about a Filipina American who experienced daily stomach pains which an organic cause could not be found.  This Filipina traced back the source of her problems to being sexually abused as a child.  These kind of stories are very familiar to me.  I have a relative who had persistent stomach pains for which no physical source could be found.  Alleviating anxiety and depression were key to making her pain go away.  One explanation for why somatic symptom disorder occurs in Asians and Asian Americans is that many Asian cultures stigmatize mental illness and tend to repress talk about feelings, causing mental problems and issues to manifest themselves in other ways.

As for Diana Chao, she attributes fewer episodes of uveitis to better mental health treatments.  Her own story is remarkable.  Despite suffering from uveitis symptoms and dealing with bi-polar disorder, she is a photographer who has placed work in prominent places and is currently a sophomore  at Princeton University.   She advocates for mental health treatment, giving a TedxTeen talk on the subject and founding a nonprofit called Letters to Strangers, which aims to destigmatize mental illness and to increase access to mental health care for people aged 13 through 24.   I had previously written about Wendell Tang, who suffered from mental illness but did not receive treatment.  Diana Chao shows that students with mental illness can thrive, even at intense Ivy league institutions, when they receive treatment.

(h/t:  akj)

Asian American Family Sues Harvard, but not for what you might think

Lawsuits against Harvard and well-known selective universities contending discrimination against Asian Americans have happened over the years, with the lawsuit sponsored by Edward Blum still in play and actively opposed by Harvard.  In late 2018, another kind of lawsuit against Harvard was filed. The family of Luke Tang filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Harvard contending that the University was negligent in caring in for Luke, who committed suicide in 2015.

After a suicide attempt his freshman year, Luke Tang was hospitalized.  While he was there, he signed a contract with Harvard saying he could return if he received mental health counseling.  He was able to return for his sophomore year even though, the lawsuit alleges, Harvard personnel knew that he had not received the required mental health counseling.

Since his death, his parents have set up a foundation in his name to raise awareness of signs of depression and other mental health issues, especially as it affects Asian Americans.  In addition, a short documentary called Looking for Luke was produced by the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds to educate and to destigmatize seeking help for mental health problems.  In the trailer above, the fact that Luke committed suicide is hidden for a long time and only told to one of his friends six months after his death.   My personal experience with the issue of mental health in Asian American families is that any problems are hushed up, considered a shame on the family that is not to be discussed openly, and likely not to be dealt with directly.  In particular, this article on Filipino Americans and mental health really resonated with me and other family members.  Our family, like many others in Silicon Valley, have known Asian American students who have committed suicide.

Harvard was required to respond to the lawsuit by January 9.  I haven’t been able to find the actual lawsuit text or any response since then (if someone has link to any of those, please include it in the comments). At the same time, the Luke Tang foundation is granting scholarships to students who have overcome psychiatric problems and welcomes donations.

Having a Hard to Pronounce Name: Does it Make a Difference?

When I was an undergraduate, a Filipino American classmate once asked me why I was pronouncing my last name wrong.  What?  I was pronouncing my name wrong for the first 20 or so years of my life?  Apparently so, and my parents never bothered to correct me, leaving our last name constantly mispronounced.  But what’s in a name really?  According to this article and others, quite a lot, especially if names are “hard” to pronounce.

Continue reading “Having a Hard to Pronounce Name: Does it Make a Difference?”

Remembering Asian and Pacific Islander Veterans: US Army Profiles

Asian Americans have had a long history with US Armed forces, as we have written about before. I grew up surrounded by Filipino American Navy Veterans and their families, and I lived the Navy Brat lifestyle. When looking for stories about veterans, I found this profile on prominent and historic Asian and American and Pacific Islander Army veterans.  It is notable for acknowledging the long history of Asian American veterans and for having one particularly notable omission.

A description of Senator Daniel Inouye was not surprising – I definitely expected someone from the 442nd regiment to be included.  Also not surprising was the inclusion of Senator Tammy Duckworth, who lost both legs in the Iraq War.  I didn’t know about Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who is still serves in the Hawaii Army National Guard.

The picture above is of that Edward Day Cohota.  Born in China, he fought in the American Civil War.  That surprised me – I didn’t know that there were any Chinese Americans who fought in that war!  He went on to serve in the army for 30 years.  Cohota thought his long years of service would grant him citizenship, but he didn’t get his papers completed before the Chinese Exclusion Act and never became a citizen, a story echoed today of what has happened with some current immigrants in the military.

Conspicuously missing was any mention of Major General Antonio Taguba.  Taguba, as you may recall, was responsible during the Iraq War for compiling a report on prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison which was leaked in 2004.  He was asked to retire in 2007.  Lou Sing Kee, a WWI War hero, was not listed. I also learned that he was even mentioned (as Sing Kee) in a Stevie Wonder song called Black Man.

Despite a few omissions, I still think it is a list worth reading (see the other Chinese American who fought in the Civil War).  For other Asian American veteran stories, I suggest checking out Koji Sakai‘s graphic novel 442StoryCorp’s Military Voices project has many moving Veteran stories, such as this one that we that highlighted on a Memorial Day and this one on a past veteran’s day.