Interview with Katie Quan

  


 

Introduce yourself! 

Hi! I’m Katie Quan. I am a San Francisco native – born and raised. I grew up in a predominantly Chinese American community. Everyone was caring and supportive, but it was filled with strict rules, strict etiquette, and no room for straying. I learned how to be a “good girl” very quickly, but often found myself in trouble because staying in the lines wasn’t always something I resonated with. I went to Ithaca College in upstate New York and had a fantastic support system to navigate identity and cultural exploration. Upon graduation, I went to San Francisco State University for their Asian American Studies MA program. Long story short, I am currently teaching at City College of San Francisco in Asian American Studies and San Francisco State in Health & Social Sciences. 

 

How did you first get into art?  

I started at a young age. My parents enrolled me in traditional art classes at the age of five – so, every Saturday morning, I went to class to learn all about pastel, watercolor, acrylic, and oil.

In high school, I was introduced to the art of comics by my teacher, Mr. Whiton. As a bit of a misfit in school, I gravitated more and more into writing, visual arts, and the world of imagination. I had a group of wonderful teachers who taught me to not only embrace my own oddities, but enhance, make them bigger than life. And coming from a relatively conservative Chinese school where memorizing was the go to technique for learning, that was huge. 

 

Tell us how @ThisAsianAmLife began!

I’ve been doing comics since high school. In 2016, I made it my new year’s resolution to draw a comic every week and share them online. I loved NPR’s This American Life and never could understand why they didn’t have the alternate Asian version of it. Upon release, I was surprised at its reception. It turned out that there were many people who understood the trials and tribulations of culture and heritage. My comics were really an opportunity to appreciate the humor and awkwardness of everyday life as an Asian American. 

In 2020, with the help from my partner, we decided to expand @ThisAsianAmLife’s mission to supporting Asian American emerging artists to create self sustaining careers in art while giving back to their communities. Our goal is to really connect culture and heritage with the business of art and entrepreneurship. We are currently in the process of just talking and connecting with emerging artists through all social media, referrals, and any way possible. If you would like to connect, definitely hit me up on IG or Facebook!

My comics have been renamed Generasian and can be found exclusively on our Instagram (@thisasianamlife).

 

What inspires your art? 

I am third generation Chinese American so that means my grandparents were the ones who immigrated. My grandparents came here to the United States at different times – mainly in the middle of the 20th century. In most parts of the country, they weren’t welcomed. I began learning more about their story when I was fifteen. For this reason, my comics and illustrations pertain to doing their story justice. My hope is to make history and social justice accessible and inviting for dialogue. 

 

Who inspires you?  Do you have any role models in your life?  As an artist? 

My family most certainly inspires me every single way. I’ve been so fortunate to have so many role models growing up – I have a close relationship with my Popo and Gungung (my mother’s parents) and by learning about my history and my family’s role in that timeline, I’ve grown to have an incredibly emotional relationship with my Mama and Yeye (my father’s parents). It just so happens that for both sides of my family, art was an outlet, a gift. My Yeye painted for a hobby, my Diey (aunt) designs massive interior work, my Popo sews intricate designs on clothes, and my Eypo does beautiful, delicate jewelry that museums fight over. (Apologies to anyone in my family who I didn’t add!). It runs in my blood and that pushes and motivates me to work harder, work smarter. 

 

What’s your go-to coffee shop order? 

Has to be a chai latte – or soy latte! To be honest, the foam milk is what makes the drink. I can drink the foam all day! The world needs more foam. Foam is happiness. Drink more happiness.

 

What advice would you give to your younger self? 

Always be kind to yourself and to others. Live life with a sense of humor. You know yourself best and sometimes, jumping first into a situation is the best way to not overthink. You got this.

 

We love that you focus on lifting up Asian American artists – anyone you are obsessed with right now that we should check out?

Who am I not obsessed with at this moment? In college, I absolutely looked up to Tak Toyoshima’s Secret Asian ManGB Tran (Vietnamerica), and Thi Bui (The Best We Could Do). Francis Wong, acclaimed musician, is an icon – there’s only a handful of Francis Wongs in a generation and never take that for granted.

The next generasian (get it?) of Asian American artists are just as talented and have so much to say. Angel Trazo (@weareinspiringbook) is one of my art role models – she’s doing amazing things with her children’s book, We Are Inspiring, about Asian American women who have made a difference. EK (@ccsfcollective) is making a huge difference with her art and leadership in City College of San Francisco as they fight for students and for accessibility to diverse classes. Diana Li and Hanna Chen (@taiwanesenoodles) are also doing amazing things for the Asian American arts community.

If you ever get the chance, definitely check out the artwork of Ahran Lee (@ahranmakes), Lillian Liu (@pencilandpost), Kristel Bugayong (@kristelbugayong), Lulu Tang (@luluspicedesign), Clarize Yale (@sourmouthsweetheart), Niki Waters (@kneesandkeysart), Addi Miyako (@amiyakom), Kathy Chang (@aubluvion), Yellow Girls Poetry (@yellowgirlspoetry), Emily Lin (@emilylin.design), Caroline Truong (@carolinetruong_artist), and so many more! They are making a difference in their fields and breaking stereotypes, assumptions, and social standards all on their own. That’s a real hustle. 

 

How can you show support to artists or art organizations?

I actually learned this answer through a number of artists! Artists always have illustrations and pictures to buy. Commissions and projects are fantastic as well. Many freelance and are looking for opportunities to really dive into jobs. Artists typically have their own stores and donations, of course, never hurt anyone.

For those who are financially limited, fear not! There’s a space for you too. Please share people’s art through social media or word of mouth. People love likes, but even more so, love comments and personal messages! The more engaged you are with the art, the more support you’re giving to the artists. Trust me, artists really hustle to make a living for themselves and that’s definitely not an easy gig.

In addition, make sure to support local artist groups who help bring resources and opportunities. You may not know they exist, but they are there and are hungry for new passion. In San Francisco, I’ve been involved with the Asian American Women Artists Association, A PLACE of Her Own, CAAMFest, and Kearny Street Workshop. They are all geared towards Asian American artists as artists of color do face particular cultural and often financial barriers. Showing your love in any way to them is always very special and very personal.

What is next for you?  For This Asian American Life? 

On a personal level, I’m currently still teaching, trying to keep my plants alive, and attempting to maintain a balance between self care and life. On the art side, I’m working to learn more about how to create a successful and prosperous art business. I’ve spent the past few months connecting with artists and really building true friendships through art and heritage. This Asian American Life is my first real business endeavor and so I’m excited and jumping head first into everything. For my comics, I’m working to rebrand Generasian into a series of comics where each book can expand topics like boba and Korean dramas to Asian American historical moments. My current illustration project series is titled Secrets and Freedom, aimed to capture the stories and struggles of Asian American women. I think being in academia, there’s a need to make these topics accessible and so that’s the ambition of Generasian that I hope to continue sharing with the world. 

 

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Born and raised in San Francisco, Katie Quan (she/her) is a third-generation Chinese American. She is an illustrator, comic artist, essayist, and artivist.

As a descendent of a paper daughter, doctor, grocery store owner, and librarian, her life work centers around Asian American narratives, moments, and spaces. Her comic web series, GenerAsian, has been exhibited at SF Zinefest, Kearny Street Workshop, and Chinese Historical Society of America. Her collective, This Asian American Life, gives emerging artists creative resources and opportunities to thrive.

Katie currently teaches Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University and City College of San Francisco.

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