David has always been an active voice around NYU’s campus for LGBTQ rights and “Allyship,” especially at Stern. One aspect of David’s personality that I admire is his ability to stand up for himself in situations that call for it. Whether it be a misunderstanding, ignorance, or blatant discrimination, he will always be ready with a hilariously witty and thought-provoking response.
While I was studying abroad in Maastricht, he and his roommate, Michelle, housed me in Berlin for a few days, where I had the opportunity to learn more about his experiences throughout Europe as a member of both the gay and the Asian communities. After coming back from Europe, I got to know him even better because we were in the same Professional Responsibility and Leadership (PRL) course, in which we were constantly ranting or stressing out about our coursework. Always around to greet you with a hug and his signature excited smile, he has a way of making you feel loved and appreciated.
From this interview, there are three new reasons why I’m grateful to call him a friend: 1) the personal struggles that he has overcome to become the more self-assured person he is today, 2) his mindset about never being “done” with personal growth, and 3) his willingness to question his own privileges.
Occupation: Investment Banking Credit Risk Analyst at J.P. Morgan, hopeful returning cellist.
Hometown: Superior, Colorado.
Favorite Coffee or Tea: I like both coffee and tea—my favorite coffee is the La Colombe iced latte with a bit of that brown syrup that they have, or their cold brew. My favorite tea is English Breakfast.
Photo Source: La Colombe
Who would your alter ego be?
It’s a comedic shtick amongst my friends that I’m the angry one—always screaming at someone and being super tough—but I’m actually a softie at heart. My alter ego would be an angry person, exploding all the time.
Who would be your dream graduation speaker?
Viola Davis, the actress. She embodies what it means to fight against a system that’s inherently stacked against you and to never give up while doing so. I tend to be pretty pessimistic, so if something is not going my way, I find it easy to beat myself up, self-deprecate, and internalize it, but she represents the victory over that.
What is a secret talent that you have that nobody knows about?
The Asian man squat. I can assume that pose and move around really quickly by rapidly oscillating my knees up and down.
Where did you see yourself four years ago?
I didn’t expect that I would get as involved on campus as I did, and I didn’t expect that I would learn so much about political correctness and social justice. I had an idea that I wanted to get involved with LGBTQ organizations on campus, like NYU Stern Pride Corp. However, I never anticipated the degree with which I would get involved. I’m on the Stern Diversity Task Force, and everything I’ve suggested, they’ve said, “Okay, let’s do that.”
So for example, Edith Cooper, the head of Human Resources at Goldman Sachs, was brought to speak about diversity. In early Task Force meetings, I said, “Hey, we should have more mandatory diversity discussions for freshmen,” and that was one implementation of that. I never expected that I would be able to have that kind of impact in university, and I think that is something to be proud of, even though it seemed quite obvious at the time.
What is one misconception that other people have about you?
I do try to give out a very relaxed, easygoing first impression. If you didn’t know me, you wouldn’t know that I’m actually a very intense, type-A person. But I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.
What is one obstacle you have overcome?
Growing up in Colorado, there wasn’t so much discussion about race, micro-aggressions, and homosexuality. What was really challenging here in New York was the intersection of being gay and Asian. The Asian community can be fairly homophobic, and the gay community can be fairly racist. Therefore, you would think that the only nurturing community left would be the “Gaysian” (Gay Asian) community, since we have so much in common.
However, I was so shocked to find out that I would have some of the most toxic interactions in my life in this community. The combination of all these identities created a self-hate complex, riddled with self-deprecation and insecurities. The past four years taught me to recognize it. I’m trying to work on it now—it’s hard.
How do you try to work on these issues?
I don’t try to solve the community’s issues singlehandedly. I’ve learned this year that I need to start with myself. Once I have resolved that inner turmoil, then I can entertain the idea of going out there and talking to people about these issues. If you try to make a difference when you’re not prepared yourself, the experience will be more negative. Work on self-love and then go out there and make a difference.
What is one societal problem that we still need to work on?
Fetishism of Gaysians is a huge problem because it is so widespread. The hate in the Gaysian community is largely caused by fetishism, which objectifies and commoditizes us in competition with each other. It is very sinister too—the intentions of offenders aren’t inherently bad, but the net result is.
In general, when people think they don’t have work to do and that they’re all-aware, then issues become overlooked. “Racism is over”—no it’s not. For example, the civil rights movement. We still see problems, but do we talk about it? Not as much as we should. Society may have gotten rid of some concrete problems, but there are people who still call themselves liberal, while simultaneously refusing to acknowledge micro-aggressions and subconscious biases.
One criticism that I have for the Asian-American community is that we don’t participate in discourse as much as we should sometimes. There are a lot of prominent Asian Americans out there who do speak out, and I hope to be one of them. There should be allyship between all groups of people, too.
Yeah, you were a big advocate in leading that in Stern. Can you tell us more about what “allyship” means?
The main message we had at Pride Corp was that “Allyship” is a verb, not a noun. You shouldn’t say, “I’m an ally,” and be passive about it. Allyship is an action, in which you actively help other people and listen to them, whilst also actively questioning yourself and your own privileges.
For example, I was approved for my new apartment within two business days, and it was great cause for celebration. One thing I challenged myself to do was to question it. I got it really quickly, but why was that? Was it because I had secured a high paying job? Was it because I went to NYU? How did I get to NYU? Because my parents instilled in me certain values and paid for my tutoring? Where did I get tutoring? At a prestigious public high school. How did I get there? Being able to afford to live there. How did I get the opportunity to live there? Just by being born there, etc.
You can’t help people without understanding what your privileges are. In the eyes of someone less fortunate, my cause for celebration must be quite condescending. Understanding these privileges puts your life events in perspective, even when bad things happen to you. Once you start to be considerate of other people’s struggles, you can start to frame your own struggles in a better way.
Can you tell me about a formative experience?
One is somewhat cliche: coming out, but that experience changed and altered the course of my life forever. I know that to the day I die that it will be one of the most important things I’ve ever done. I was born Christian. I’m from Colorado, which is fairly liberal, so most people our age had no problem with my coming out. My sister was fine with it, but my mom did not receive it well at all. She wasn’t hateful about it, but she was more worried about my future.
Colorado is seen as this very liberal, open-minded state because it has done things like legalize marijuana, but it’s actually not. Much like Europe, they like to pride themselves on being super liberal, cosmopolitan, and open-minded, but they aren’t entirely. They have micro-aggressions and everyone has work to do, but they don’t see that—I think that’s more sinister in a way.
When I came out, especially to guys, they would be accepting about it, but at the time, I was a lot less feminine than I am now. I was a lot more normative to being male—more masculine. At the time, I remember hearing this a lot: “That’s great,” “Good for you,” and “That’s a relief to know that you’re not like that flamboyant guy over there.” For them it was like “you’re normal, so therefore it’s cool that you’re gay.” At the time, I was kind of proud of it because I felt that I was being accepted for something. As you know, I’m not that much of a risk-taker so going against societal expectations was scary, but obviously I don’t care about them anymore. I’ve changed a lot in these past four years.
Another formative experience was when I started dating Derek last September. Since then, I’ve learned so much about myself, insecurities, privilege, and oppression, just from dating each other and seeing how we think about things, react about things, and judge things because it’s so different.
What drew you to Derek?
Other white guys that I dated were very non-receptive to what I had to say about race relations in gay dating. But from the get-go, Derek was very aware and if he didn’t know about something, he would be openminded and would listen. He never shot down what I said and if he did question something, it came from a place of curiosity, not of trying to prove me wrong or being defensive.
What were some things that you learned from living abroad?
I’ve lived in Korea on and off from ages 10 to 17. Because I’m Korean and because I fit in the physical mold there, it wasn’t so negative.
Europe taught me a lot about privilege. Even though people were saying “ni hao,” squinting their eyes, and assuming kung fu poses, I understood that as an American university student, we had a lot of wealth to be able to fly around and travel. For example, the German people I met would look at my spending habits and be mind-blown. For New Yorkers, it’s comparatively cheaper in Berlin. On the one hand, studying abroad in Berlin taught me about racism being prevalent everywhere, but it also reminded me that I still come from a well-off background to be able to study abroad.
What is one lesson that you learned recently?
Very recently, I was hitting a low in terms of self-deprecation and self-hate, and my sister taught me one thing. She told me, “all your feelings are valid. No one should tell you what you’re feeling is wrong or how to feel. If you react to something in anger, jubilation, or sadness, that’s your body’s reaction to stimuli. You should be allowed to feel how you feel. Once you understand that, you can recognize that your feelings are valid.” There were many times when I would feel jealous or sad about something, and I could now tell myself that I feeling that way is okay.
What is one principle that you live by?
Balance and recognizing that this should be the golden mean. There’s never a situation in which something is wholly good or wholly bad—it’s always gray. In those situations, you can’t say something is completely bad. To paint it as such is completely missing the whole picture. For everything in life—whether it’s your job prospects, your career path choices, the people you meet, and the people you choose to love—you have to figure out what the pros and cons are. Then, you have to figure out if the pros outweigh the cons enough for you to accept or if the cons outweigh the pros to fight.
Another principle that I live by is that you’re never done learning. To the day you die, you’ll learn something new every day because life isn’t something you just “complete.” Time is also a function in this equation—time changes the world. To think that you’ve got it all figured out is not okay—you have to listen to people because the world changes around you. It’s not a good idea to assume that you’ve got it all figured out.
What is one thing that your closest friends have in common?
Loyalty, because I’m a pretty guarded person. I’m generally an open book, but it takes a lot of time for me to trust and invest in people. Trust is so instrumental in building a relationship with someone, friendship or otherwise.
List 3 words to describe yourself.
Adaptable, learning, determined.
List 3 words that you wish people would describe you as.
Listening, balanced, assured.
What would you want to be your legacy?
My hope is that by the end of my lifetime, I will have moved beyond self-love and hopefully, made concrete steps to eliminate hatred in the Gaysian community because I see so much pain in that community—myself and my gay Asian friends included. I’d like to incorporate all of those elements of listening and learning from each other, having self-love, and loving yourself enough to not be threatened by anyone else.