Whitney Meilan Yang

Meet Whitney Meilan Yang, a graduate student at Arizona State University whose work focuses on researching racial injustice and media-based strategies for resistance. Whitney opens up to us about her cultural pride and the importance of filial piety.

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.  

My weekday self (although never limited to weekdays) is deeply embedded in the fuckedupedness of humanity - last year I took a hopefully permanent break from working as a non-profit fundraiser to be a full-time graduate student of social justice and human rights. Now I spend hours researching racial injustice and media-based strategies for resistance. My weekend/semester-end/whenever-I-can self spends as much time as possible in nature, cuddling with my sweet, floppy-eared rescue dog, and her smart(mouthed), handsome dad/my partner. I also travel as often as possible to explore new (to me) parts of the country and the world, and familiar parts where I can reconnect with the beloved but far away females in my life. One of my most important sources of strength and stability has always been the handful of female friendships I’ve had for 10-15+ years in most cases — they’re mostly mixed-race and third culture kids — lucky lucky me ️. I think TCK culture is a lot about being adaptable to the cultures around us, and being able to feel rooted wherever we are. That in itself is something to be proud of.

2. Tell us more about filial piety--why are you most proud of this and why is this important to you?

Filial piety has been modeled to me by both of my parents since I was a kid. We lived across the world from my grandparents and relatives but my parents always prioritized visiting our family every year and would send whatever financial support they could. Growing up in Asia I got to witness how elderly people maintain strong community ties and are taken care of by their family and neighbors. Every morning I used to walk through my local park, I loved seeing the neighborhood’s grannies and grandpas dancing, singing, playing cards, exercising in bizarre ways that no American 90-year-old can, and gossiping...oh, the gossip. It broke my heart to watch my own Chinese grandparents in the US grow older and more fearful of falling victim to crime, to the point of rarely or never leaving the house. Unfortunately we don’t provide the same kind of caring community for the elderly in the US, and suburban infrastructure isn’t elderly-friendly, or even human-friendly. But my grandparents had the amazing support of their children. I witnessed the total selflessness of my aunties who took 24-hour care of my grandmother in the last years of her life, allowing her to live her last days in the comfort of her own home, around the people she loved most, and maintain her dignity as much as she could, which was so important to her. 

The other thing I love about Chinese culture is the way we care around food - eating is always intentional and taken very seriously. Food, cooking for each other, and stuffing each other (and ourselves) to the brim is another way we show love and appreciation. East Asian cultures are often characterized as cold and unemotional — supposedly our parents don’t tell us they love us and don’t hug us, which is obviously true for some Asians and not for others. But love and care is shown through generational gestures like filial piety and like always asking each other if we have eaten yet. This is making me hungry.