Lisa Lim was born and raised in Queens, New York, where she grew up listening to magical storytellers like her Chinese grandmother and her Puerto Rican stepmother. She is the writer and illustrator of self-published graphic memoirs such as “Pots and Pans,” “My Egyptian Fortune Cookie,” and “Mi Madre.” Since then, her comics have been featured in Guernica magazine, Nashville Review, PANK magazine, and are available in the Museum of Chinese in America bookstore.
Of her art, Lim says, “Since I was a child, I’ve tried to capture their [my grandmother’s and my stepmother’s] colorful tales by writing short stories, novellas, and poems, but they always seemed to be missing that special something. That’s when I discovered comics.”
Ms. Lim just finished illustrating “Soma So Strange,” a children’s book by Carrie Rosten that came out this summer. In addition, Lim illustrated for a hip T-shirt company. While searching for her next creative adventure, Lim will continue to tell the funny and strange tales of her family. The Queens native generously took time out of her busy schedule to share her thoughts with APALA on being inspired by her family’s stories, the future of the comics industry and the importance of libraries/archives in the creative process. The article below is an excerpt from an interview I conducted in July 2013.
Dawn Wing (DW): What were your favorite books to read as a kid? What about as an adult?
Lisa Lim (LL): As a child, I was fascinated with “Grimms’ Fairy Tales.” I was spellbound by the gripping storylines and vivid imagery; how the stories blended innocence, violence, humor and imagination. The stories always elicited a strange mix of emotions in me. It was confusing yet exhilarating.
As an adult, I fell in love with Faulkner for the same reasons. Like Grimms’, Faulkner’s stories were dark, funny, unexpected, and always very visual. What I also loved about Faulkner was the musicality in his language and his use of stream of consciousness. I remember feeling I was almost in a state of meditation when reading his books. Like I was being hypnotized.
DW: How did these books and/or authors influence the work you do today?
LL: As a storyteller, they reinforced my own tales as a child. They made me feel okay about having grown up differently. Many parts of my childhood were grotesque, but beautiful and often hilarious. I found the same qualities in their tales. In my art, these authors also inspired me to think more visually and musically.
DW: What drew you to comics and writing?
LL: I was always writing stories, ever since I was a child. After college, I became a writer in advertising. During which I went to grad school for creative writing at City College. I was immersed in the reading and writing of words for so long. Eventually, words became the last thing I wanted to create. So began my creative Renaissance. I started taking every class from African dance to salsa to painting to improv theater to comics. I remember my first comics class. It was taught by Matt Madden and Tom Hart, two awesome professors at the School of Visual Arts. All of a sudden, I found myself combining stories with pictures, as I imagined them. Sometimes, words alone were not enough to fully evoke the imagery I wanted to express. Now, I had a completely new form of storytelling – comics – through which to tell my tales. This medium was liberating and so much fun.
DW: What are your hopes for the comics industry?
LL: My wish is for the comics industry to continue to thrive; that unique and experimental voices have a space in literature. While I appreciate traditional superhero tales, it is wonderful to see “alternative” comics flourishing on bookshelves. I especially hope that it continues to embrace memoir graphic novels such as “Persepolis,” “Blankets,” “Fun Home,” etc. One day, I hope to complete my own graphic novel about my family to share with readers everywhere.
DW: How does your diversity (cultural, educational, racial, gender, etc.) influence your work ethic?
LL: My melting pot family is a constant source of inspiration. My father and mother separated when I was young. My father, who is Chinese, married my stepmother, who is Puerto Rican. My mother, who is also Chinese, married my stepfather, who is Egyptian. I grew up in a family where English was drowned out by loud Chinese, Spanish and Arabic. Rituals of many cultures surrounded me: my stepmother making rose baths to cleanse evil spirits; my grandmother telling me tales of her youth in China; my father taking us to the Cypress Cemetery to burn origami money so our ancestors would have money to spend in heaven; my mother teaching me how to feed the moon gods during Mooncake Festival. My stepfather cooking fried kofta in the kitchen and all the smells of Middle Eastern food.
Since the age of 4, I lived with my father, his mother and my stepmother. My grandmother assumed the “tiger mom” role, wanting me always to do better and work harder. My Puerto Rican stepmother was the nurturing maternal force, full of love and warmth, always encouraging me to pursue my passions. So, between the cultures, I became a nice blend of practicality and creativity.
DW: Can you describe an instance when libraries and/or archives played a beneficial role in your work?
LL: Since my grandmother outlawed the air conditioner in our home, because she thought it caused arthritis, I spent most of my summers as a child in the Queens Public Library. It was an air-conditioned sanctuary for me. It was where I worked as an assistant in the Adult Learning Center for many years. It was also where I escaped to vastly different worlds from mine by reading and watching movies. One of my fondest memories as a child is watching Rocky IV in the basement library. Every week in the basement of the library, they would feature free movies. I also borrowed tons of movies from the library and became a student of film in this way. Immersing myself in cinema really helped me think visually, and it would later help me create comics because I thought of story as cinematic scenes versus pure narrative.
DW: What message would you give to librarians/archivists/writers/artists regarding their value in the field you work in?
LL: For writers and artists, the message I would give is inspired by a recent Robert McKee lecture I attended. When asked what to do in the face of the daunting creative block, he answered unequivocally, “the library.” He said to go to the library and you research your story from top to bottom. I couldn’t agree more. No matter how well you know your subject, digging into it deeper, learning details that no one else knows about your subject, that kind of curiosity is what makes your story authentic. You must know the world you create inside and out. And the library in all its resources can help you discover this world.
For librarians and archivists, thank you for being the nurturing bridge to this information. Without you, our stories would be less, in every way.
DW: What advice would you give young professionals, especially those from diverse backgrounds, who are interested in a career in comics/illustration?
LL: My biggest advice is to find multicultural authors whose works inspire you. Take a trip to your local library and research works that spark your imagination and interest. Then turn to your family for their own stories. Ask your grandparents, father, mother, aunts, uncles, sisters–anyone and everyone–about their lives. Their stories will surprise and inspire you. Remember that your cultural perspective is what can make your story unique. Through narrative and illustration, you can give readers a glimpse into your own world. Be part of the growing number of voices that represent multicultural storytelling. Be brave, curious, and always have fun.
To see more of Lisa Lim’s work, visit http://chineseladybug.carbonmade.com/
Her illustrations in the new book “Soma So Strange” can be purchased here: http://www.amazon.com/Soma-So-Strange-ebook/dp/B00ENNU8PM
Editing assistance provided by Melissa Cardenas-Dow and Jeremiah Paschke-Wood.
Dear APALA members,
APALA will be turning 35 in 2015! To celebrate and commemorate this milestone, we are planning to hold the first ever APALA conference (there was a joint APALA/CALA conference in 2001) in conjunction with the ALA Annual Conference in San Francisco, a very appropriate location considering the deep history and strong presence of Asian Pacific Islanders in this city known by many names including, Gam Saan. And we need your help to make this a success!
Many of you may remember the grand time we had when we celebrated APALA’s 30th anniversary in Washington, D.C., where the activities included a tour of the White House and a gala dinner. In San Francisco, we will not only have tour(s) and a dinner, but we will hold a day-long conference that specifically focuses on the information needs and issues of APA communities.
The planning committee has met a couple of times to begin brainstorming ideas and hammering out the details, and we have formed the committees that are necessary for this event. We have listed below the main committees that will work to plan OUR conference. If you are interested in serving on one or more of these committees, please contact one of the chairs of the planning/steering committee below.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Planning/Steering Committee Chairs:
Committees for APALA 35th
Annie Pho is currently the Resident Librarian in the Research Services and Resources department at University of Illinois at Chicago. She received her Master’s in Library Science at Indiana University’s School of Library and Information Science at the IUPUI campus in Indianapolis, IN.
Annie recently joined APALA a few months ago!
I joined because I was inspired by the tight-knit community that APALA seems to have. I was the only Asian American student in my library school program, and I wish I had joined APALA when I was still in school. I also attended JCLC (Joint Conference of Librarians of Color) and got to meet so many APALA members there. I just joined the Web Committee and look forward to working with them in the upcoming year.
When we asked about her about her cultural heritage and background, she shared a lesson she’s learned from living around the country:
I’m a first generation Vietnamese-American. My family moved around a bit when I was growing up, which gave me this sense of always trying to live in new places. I spent most of my childhood in Orlando, FL, which was a pretty diverse place. Then we moved to the Bay Area in CA where I have lived most of my life, although now I live in Chicago. All this moving taught me to be open to new experiences and to give everything a chance. I would say that having this approach to life has helped me get to where I am in my career.
Annie and librarianship seem to be a perfect fit:
The fundamental aspect of librarianship that satisfies me is the ability to help people. Ultimately, this is all I ever wanted out of a career. I just wanted to do something with my life that would have a positive impact on society, and I think helping people connect to information is very important. Some of my professional interests lie in library instruction and technology. I’m interested to see how technology can help students develop research skills, especially in this increasingly digital age. I’m also interested in learning more about critical pedagogy and want to try to incorporate that into my own library instruction sessions. Overall, I’m a really curious person, and I love learning new things– which is why I love being a librarian.
Annie stays active on her bike and in social media and is a self-professed cat lady. She says:
In my spare time I like hanging out with my two kitties and riding my bike. After participating in Cycling For Libraries in 2013, I have become more interested in international librarianship. Find me on Twitter as @catladylib or on my blog (http://catladylibrarian.wordpress.com/).
Welcome to the APALA community, Annie!
Article written by Alyssa Jocson, with editing assistance by Jeremiah Paschke-Wood.
This article featuring an Asian/Pacific American library leader highlights Dr. Kenneth A. Yamashita, former APALA president and author of the article “Asian Pacific American Librarians Association: A History of APALA and Its Founders.” The article is available in the About section of APALA’s website. Most recently, Dr. Yamashita served on the Steering Committee of the Joint Conference of Librarians of Color 2012 as the Treasurer.
Between late August and mid-September 2013, I corresponded with Dr. Yamashita about library leadership. This article is an edited version of our asynchronous conversation, focusing on the questions I sent that emphasized his library experiences and career.
Melissa Cardenas-Dow (MICD): Could you please give us some detail about yourself and briefly describe your career path to date?
Kenneth A. Yamashita (KAY): I was born Akira Yamashita on Sept. 11, 1945 in Topaz, Utah, a WWII Japanese American incarceration/concentration camp. I spent my youth in Berkeley, California, Bergenfield, New Jersey, and Montclair, New Jersey. I graduated from Rutgers University with a BA in English Literature, Indiana University with a MA in Fine Arts History, Rutgers University with the MLS, and Simmons College GSLIS with the DA in Library Management. I worked at several different libraries across the country, including the Montclair (NJ) Free Public Library, Decatur (IL) Public Library, and the Chicago Public Library. I also worked for Computer Library Systems Inc. (CLSI), a company that developed an early integrated library system, in Newtonville, MA and Anaheim, CA. I spent some time at the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners in Boston and the New England Library Board in Augusta, Maine while I was studying for the Simmons College DA program. Since 1981, I worked at the Stockton-San Joaquin County (CA) Public Library (S-SJCPL). I retired as the City Librarian of S-SJCPL in January 2010.
MICD: When we talk about diversity, we often discuss the differences that are immediately noticeable—ethnicity, gender, age, culture, etc. Can you describe the ways in which you see yourself as a diverse professional?
KAY: I’m a third generation (Sansei) Japanese American, gay man. I was born in an American incarceration/concentration camp in Utah. Both my parents were second generation (Nisei), born in California as U.S. citizens. I was raised in the East Coast, in New Jersey. My library career is predominantly in public libraries set in rural, suburban and urban environments. I also have marketing and staff training experience in an early ILS company and have state library agency/interstate cooperative experience.
MICD: Can you describe an instance when your diversity played a beneficial role in your library work?
KAY: At the Chicago Public Library, I helped the Assistant Commissioner and the Commissioner with interviews of Librarian I candidates for the branches and the Commissioner’s office staff. I had the ability to personalize the formal interview process to ease the candidates’ nervousness and to encourage them to talk about themselves. I was particularly effective with candidates of color who had no prior interviewing experience. This skill was greatly appreciated by the Assistant Commissioner and the Commissioner, as well as the candidates.
MICD: Please describe how you progressed from your first professional position to the next step. What positive or negative role did your diversity play in attaining the next position?
KAY: My first professional position was as a reference librarian at the Montclair (NJ) Free Public Library (MFPL). After the MFPL director Arthur Curley called the dean of the Rutgers University library school and got me enrolled, provided a trustees fellowship and a part-time job as Librarian Trainee, I decided to continue working at the MFPL after graduating with the MLS. Curley’s philosophy, “an excellent librarian working anywhere is a benefit to libraries everywhere,” encouraged me to apply for an Extension Services Supervisor position at the Decatur (IL) Public Library (DPL). The DPL director at that time, Robert Dumas, had actively recruited and hired new, younger professionals to develop and mentor. I presume that my Asian American ethnicity may have played a positive role in my hiring (I was the only librarian of color out of the 5 librarians hired) but my age, beginner’s level experience, and readiness for mentoring and developing were more compelling reasons for it.
MICD: In your experience, have you found it significantly more challenging to move higher up the leadership ladder? How did you make the move from middle management to upper management?
KAY: When the Deputy Director of Library Services at the Stockton-San Joaquin County Public Library moved on to a County Librarian position in another county, the Director of Library Services decided not to conduct a national search for her successor and chose to appoint me to the position instead. I had been a Library Division Manager for 16 ½ years, had worked with 4 directors, and had applied for the DD position once before. The fourth director, a younger, progressive African American woman who had been hired “to bring the S-SJCPL into the 21st Century,” provided the opportunity for advancement.
MICD: How does your diversity influence your leadership style?
KAY: Inclusiveness and consensus-based decision making are very important to me. These qualities might be characterized as my Asian American (emphasis on “American”) leadership style.
MICD: As someone who currently occupies a leadership position, what would you say are the attributes you look for in future leaders?
KAY: Demonstrated leadership skills and/or potential. Future leaders should have a passion for their work and out-of-work-time activities. I also look for the ability to work well with subordinates, colleagues, and administrators and the ability to see the whole picture as well as the details. Demonstrated ability to make connections and work effectively with library constituents and their communities, especially constituents/communities of color, are other attributes I look for in future leaders. Effective oral and written communication skills, a healthy sense of humor, technological competence (if not expertise), membership and participation in professional associations, and commitment to continuing education for themselves and their co-workers are other significant hallmarks.
MICD: What skills or talents do you recommend that diverse professionals might develop as they seek new leadership positions?
KAY: The sorts of skills, attitudes, and activities that I mentioned earlier.
MICD: What advice would you give young professionals, especially those from diverse backgrounds, who are interested in attaining their first leadership positions?
KAY: Do your homework before you apply and interview for a position at a library. In addition to perusing annual reports, financial statements, five-year plans, etc. and learning about the library’s community, talk to librarians on staff, make a site visit to see how well (or not) you might “fit-in” and assess the potential for advancement in the organization. Ask colleagues about their knowledge of the pros and cons of working in the library in question. Volunteer for committee assignments and request the chair responsibility in your new job. Join professional associations, including but not limited to your own ethnic librarian/library association, attend their library conferences, on your own time and dime if necessary, to develop your leadership skills by chairing committees, running for elected offices, serving on executive boards, ALA Council, etc. Find a mentor to guide and support you and your career.
MICD: What advice would you give mid-career professionals, who may already have some supervisory responsibilities or are in middle management and are interested in moving into higher management?
KAY: Demonstrate exemplary work in your current position that can be reflected and acknowledged in your performance evaluations. Quickly bring any “Needs Improvement” areas up to standards, even exceeding them. Let your supervisor or director know that you are seeking advancement and ask for his/her advice on the most effective way to achieve your goals. Talk to mentors and outside colleagues who can offer more personalized/authentic advice and counsel. Be willing to relocate yourself and your family if advancement opportunities are not locally available or obtainable.
MICD: What message would you give to library administrators regarding the value of diverse leaders and how they might grow or urge those leaders within their organizations?
KAY: Capitalize on the diverse view/talking points and strategies to fulfill the Library’s Mission and achieve the common goals that diverse staff bring to the table, when they are allowed to sit at the table. The diverse leaders should be encouraged and developed because they are typically connected to (an) un/underrepresented segment(s) of the constituent population. They can bring trust, credibility, and a sense of inclusiveness to the library as a public service provider. As such, they are valuable human assets for the library who deserve all the development and support that administrators can provide.
MICD: What final thoughts would you like to express to APALA members?
KAY: I entered the profession in the early 1970s, when many seasoned librarians were retiring and the recruitment and retention of new librarians was a national priority. At the same time, the African American civil rights and women’s equality movements’ activists were clamoring for changes in society, libraries, ALA, and the profession. I had the good fortune of working for Arthur Curley, Betty Turock, Ella Yates, Robert Dumas, and David Reich—all activist library directors and leaders—in the first 10 years of my professional career, of being taught outreach and social responsibilities by Robert Wedgeworth at Rutgers University library school, and of working with Eric and Ilse Moon, E. J. Josey, Jana Varlejs, Helen Wright, and Jean Coleman at ALA. All of these library leaders felt that it was an honor and privilege to mentor and develop future leaders, particularly but not exclusively, future leaders of color. My finest and final mentor was Dr. Ching-chih Chen, who generously provided personal, as well as professional advice, coaching and support through the Simmons College DA program and my Stockton-San Joaquin County Public Library career.
For more information about Dr. Kenneth A. Yamashita, please visit his profile at Simmons College.
The day I took my U.S. naturalization oath five years ago, I was disappointed by the judge’s demand that everyone should speak English. It was like being asked to willingly leave an important part of your identity behind. When I was younger, I may have agreed with him, but the idea of losing a language that shaped who I am was devastating. I still remember that moment from time to time when I think about language and identity.
A few weeks ago, a friend posted on Facebook an interactive map from the Washington Post titled “Mapping where English is not the language at home.” The map illustrates the growing number of non-English language households in the United States. The 2011 American Community Survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, also the source of the Washington Post map, reported that more than 60 million of the U.S. population spoke a language other than English at home. This information reminds me of my parents’ house, where we communicate in at least three different languages in a single conversation. Instead of speaking completely in English, my dad and I sometimes talk in Tandaganon, a language that my mother does not really speak. At the same time, my mom and I will converse in Bisayan and English. My siblings and I talk in English since they do not know either languages. All the language switching is confusing to other people but it all makes sense to us. It is normal. Basically, we are a normal immigrant family household.
In this essay, I write about my own language journey through some of my life stories. I ask, “Who am I?” in the Tandaganon, Tagalog, Bisayan, and English languages.
Sin-o sa ako? When I was five or six years old, I moved from Davao City to the town of Tandag, Surigao del Sur with my lolo and lola (grandfather and grandmother). Tandag is on the Pacific side (Eastern) of the second largest island of the Philippines, Mindanao (blue pin on map: http://goo.gl/maps/XYNXp). Coming from Davao City (green pin on map), also in the island of Mindanao, where Bisayan and Tagalog are widely spoken, I had to learn Tandaganon to be able to completely understand the people around me. In a way, I was learning a new language at an early age. Tandaganon has a lot of similarities to Bisayan. “Good” is maayo in Bisayan and madayaw in Tandaganon. Some words are unique to the area. “Tomorrow” is ugma in Bisayan and silom in Tandaganon. In case you are wondering, in Tagalog “good” is mabuti and “tomorrow” is bukas. I consider Tandag as my hometown. So, I have a great affinity for Tandaganon. I definitely do not want to lose it.
Sino ba ako? Many people in the United States assume that the Philippines has only one language, Tagalog (or Filipino). This is completely far from reality. There are at least 181 languages and dialects spoken in the Philippines. With that said, I think Tagalog and Bisayan are the two dominant languages in the country. With all the languages I learned and studied, Tagalog is by far the most difficult for me to learn and speak. Hindi ako magaling mag Tagalog (I am not good in Tagalog). I still remember the time I received my report card that had my Tagalog class as the lowest grade. Ugh! I guess I am a little disconnected from Tagalog. Once in awhile, I do wonder why I find Tagalog difficult. Maybe it is because I grew up in southern Philippines where majority of the people speaks Bisayan. It could also be an act of pride not to speak Tagalog, a language mainly spoken in the northern Philippines. Historically, there is much political friction between the northern and the southern Philippines. I do remember that some television stations in Cebu City, a southern city, played the Bisayan version of the Philippine national anthem. It is definitely an interesting thought that I would like to explore and understand, especially the dynamics of language, politics, and identity in the Philippines.
Kinsa man ko? I studied high school in Cebu City (red pin on map: http://goo.gl/maps/XYNXp), a few islands away from Tandag, north of Mindanao. Cebu City is the second major city and oldest city in the Philippines, after Manila. Bisayan is the language of Cebu. As a student at the University of San Carlos Boys’ School (Go, Carolinians!), all of my subjects were taught in English, except for the Filipino (Tagalog) language class. I remember the school implemented a policy that all students should speak only in English or Tagalog while on school grounds with the intention that we should all be “professionals.” Bisayan had no place in school. Yes, my beloved native language was not and, possibly, still not considered professional or acceptable in school. Well, wa na nadugay (that did not last long). All of us students did not follow that rule, or if we did, we made fun of it. We pretty much continued with our daily conversations in Bisayan. I am sure the school administration gave up enforcement at some point.
Who am I? English is a required language course in Philippine schools. In fact, it is now an official language of the Philippines, together with Tagalog or Filipino. Since the very first day of school, I have been doing my A-B-C’s but that did not make me a perfect English speaker and writer. When I immigrated to the United States after high school, the move brought me new challenges with the English language. Even though I learned English early in my life, I was so self-conscious about how I sounded, how I phrased words, that I ended up timid most of the times. I was definitely afraid of sounding stupid. I do not say this often but I still am very self-conscious about my writing, even with simply updating my Facebook status. I, or someone else, always find mistakes with grammar, spelling, etc. Yes, I know English but, of a completely different sort. I remember learning English in the Philippines, where long, complicated sentences are considered better. But then, when I was in college here in the United States and taking a rhetoric/composition course, I was taught to be succinct and concise. I still struggle.
One of the many questions that I often get asked as an immigrant is, “What is your native language?” I always find this question difficult to answer. I think I find it difficult because I don’t have just one. Both Bisayan and Tandaganon are very significant to my childhood. These two languages shaped the way I think about my hometown, my culture, and my identity. If I have to choose just one, I will probably choose Bisayan as that is the language I learned first, but only because it was the first. However, Tandaganon, a language I learned from an early age, is much closer to how I define myself as a Filipino. Does your native language have to be the one you learned first? Or could it be the one that you associate with the most?
When I look back at all the moments when language made a significant impact on my life, I smile at the good times and cringe at the bad ones. Mostly I smile at all the memories language has given me thus far, good or bad. Questions about language and identity are common to have and experience. All of us, whether monolingual or multilingual, have journeys in many languages.
Until next time, y’all! Now that I live in the southern state of Georgia, I expect to learn a new variation of the American English language. I am looking forward to it.
Paolo P. Gujilde
Coordinator of Collection Development/Assistant Professor
Zach S. Henderson Library
Georgia Southern University
Commission on Filipinos Overseas
Ethnologue – Philippines
US Census – Language Use
SIL Philippines; Partners in Language Development