This Week on One Detroit:

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and One Detroit’s AAPI Stories series shares stories that reflect the lives of the AAPI community in Southeast Michigan.

Kyunghee Kim and Leo Chen share story of resilience amidst changing careers, evolving Asian American identities

For Kyunghee Kim and her husband Leo Chen, who first met at Michigan State University in 2001 and later married in 2009, life together has included defying expectations, enduring challenges, and supporting each other when their dreams have taken unexpected turns. Chen and Kim’s relationship has spurred them on in their individual and joint creative pursuits. Chen, initially on a path to becoming a physician’s assistant, found solace from the stress of classes in cooking. One Christmas, Kim asked if he ever thought about a career in culinary arts and possibly opening his own restaurant one day. 

Encouraged, he changed his career plans and pursued his passion for food — a passion connected to memories of his Taiwanese dad’s and grandma’s cooking. He gained experience in the culinary industry, becoming a line cook at Zingerman’s Roadhouse, interviewing at Chef Thomas Keller’s restaurant, Bouchon Bistro in California, and taking on the role of executive chef at a local Ann Arbor cafe in 2014. In 2016, he changed industries, starting in financial services. Meanwhile, his passion for food endured, and a new dream emerged — opening a food pop-up showcasing Korean and Taiwanese cuisine. During the pandemic, he decided to make a go of it. 

In 2021, he started “Meogjia”–which means “let’s eat” in Korean. Since then, Chen has hosted pop-ups with fellow chefs in the Metro Detroit area, with menu items including Korean bolognese lasagna, Taiwanese 3-cup chicken meatball Italian subs, and gnocchi tteokbokki, reflecting a blend of his culinary influences. For Kim, her pivot from educator to writer came as a surprise. Grappling with challenges to grow their family, Kim turned to journaling, which led her to consider writing as another career path. Her first book, a collection of poems for children called “See Us Bloom,” was published in 2023. 

Chen and Kim continue to inspire and support each other’s creative pursuits, which now includes working on a podcast where they talk about topics important to them such as family and food. For One Detroit’s AAPI Stories Series, One Detroit’s Zosette Guir and Bill Kubota joined Kim and Chen at their Ypsilanti home where the couple talked about the resilience it took to pursue new career paths and the mutual support they received from each other. They also reflect on their immigrant experiences and evolving Asian American identities. 

​Two women create lasting bond through AAPI Advocacy, APA Studies course at MSU

Michigan State University alumna Brenda Hu never forgot the lessons she learned during her undergraduate career, or from crossing paths with Asian Pacific American Student Organization (APASO) student advisor Meaghan Kozar. Hu, a senior at nearby Okemos High School before attending MSU, would visit the university from time to time, but it wasn’t until later that the two first connected. 

Kozar first officially met Hu later at an APASO pageant, which focused on celebrating Asian American identity. Hu, who was then representing the Chinese Student Coalition, ultimately won the pageant and the title of “Ms. APASO” that year. It was the pageant’s focus on celebrating being Asian and American that was an eye-opener for Hu, however, who had grown up thinking she had to choose between being one or the other. 

In undergrad, she ended up taking “Intro to Asian Pacific American Studies”, a class that Kozar co-taughtFor Hu, the class revealed how Asian Americans have had an indelible impact on American history, even when it was not plainly visible in the textbooks she had in high school. For Kozar, she found joy in opening the eyes of her students to the contributions Asian Americans have made and to the injustices they’ve faced. 

Meeting Kozar and others within APASO, Brenda found a community that the many parts of her identity could connect to, ultimately leading her to take on leadership roles in the organization, connecting with other student organizations to advocate for others and create empowering programming across campus. It’s been a few years since Hu, now a public relations professional, graduated from undergrad. Still, she and Kozar, the Project Manager for MSU’s Inclusive Campus Initiative, have kept in touch.

They recently reunited in East Lansing to participate in One Detroit’s AAPI Stories series, which tells stories that reflect the authentic lives of Asian Americans. They talk about a pivotal introductory APA studies class, how representation for Asian Americans has changed, and what keeps them inspired when it comes to advocacy in their everyday lives.

Filipino adoptee’s search for his birth family took him across the world, inspired local advocacy

When Dan Moen, the creative director of APIAVote Michigan, and Joe Hunter, the minister of media at the Historic Little Rock Baptist Church, first met at Macomb Community College, where they were art students, it was not love at first sight. Dan was very irritated and put off by Joe’s overzealous love of Lady Gaga and Joe thought Dan was rude.

Over time, however, the romantic sparks flared as Joe’s dedication to the arts captivated Dan, and Dan’s caring for others and leadership won over Joe. Over the couple’s decade-long relationship, they have been through many adventures and creative pursuits, but one of the biggest moments of their relationship was Dan’s search for his birth mom.

Dan, an adoptee from the Philippines, grew up in the Romeo area in a loving family with a close-knit group of friends, but something always felt off for him. With Joe’s love and support, Dan kept looking for his biological family even when the search seemed futile. In this five-part series, the couple sat down with One Detroit and WDET Radio to talk about Dan’s search and what they’ve learned from each other along the way. 

At the intersection of their Asian heritage and American upbringing, Jack Cheng and Paul Pham unpack what home really means

When writer and artist Jack Cheng first met community home builder Paul Pham at a mutual friend’s house in Detroit in 2021, he took notice—mainly because he didn’t often encounter many other Asian people in the city. That meeting would be the first step towards forming their friendship. Jack, born in Shanghai, China, spent his childhood growing up in metro Detroit. Paul grew up in a small Vietnamese community in Oklahoma. Both had moved around to big cities — places like Seattle and New York for their careers — before separately deciding to call Detroit and the Midwest home. 

After getting connected and talking more, they realized they had more in common. They both had a deep appreciation for design, and both were in the process of renovating their houses and began to trade ideas. These conversations about their homes eventually led to more in-depth conversations about their identities as Asian Americans.

Throughout their time getting to know each other, each sensed the other was open to having conversations that reached beyond surface-level subjects. They were also at a stage in their lives where they finally felt ready to unpack their experiences being Asian American, experiences they hadn’t yet shared with anyone else before. 

For One Detroit’s AAPI Stories series, Cheng and Pham met up to talk about the common thread that brought them together. They share how their friendship has allowed them to introspect about their own lives, their creative pursuits and their parents’ lives, what being Asian American means to them, and their definition of home. 

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