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Actress / Creator of Angry Little Asian Girl
Lela Lee is a cartoonist, writer and actress whose experiences as a woman of color and as a child of immigrants in America intersect to create an identity that is layered by race, gender, culture, and traditions old and new. Her work often investigates where a collective culture creates contradictions with the new generation who want to individuate but still belong. During her freshman year of college, Lela had no idea what her major would be, but someone wise advised her to take any class that interested her. Her first year at UC Berkeley was a smorgasbord of classes; from Asian American Studies to Women’s Studies to Drama 101 to a video class she took for no credit on Tuesday nights all informed Lela to create a little video called “The Angry Little Asian Girl.” This video was cobbled together with her rudimentary editing skills but after viewing the completed episode, Lela hid it in a drawer because good Asian girls are shunned and scolded for being angry. Read More >
After graduating college in 1996, familial obligation brought her back to work at her parents’ dry cleaners where she had worked many summers and after school. The middle of the workday was the slowest, so she began to doodle and write again to pass the time. It was during this time that Lela drew four more episodes. She submitted her shorts to the American Cinemateque who screened her shorts for the first time in 1998. Critics from the LA Times and LA Weekly gave “The Angry Little Asian Girl” glowing reviews and soon people began asking to read comics that did not yet exist. Because of this suggestion, Lela taught herself how to draw comics and a website was launched as a self-publishing platform. The site became a destination for young adults to read comics about gender and race. Studios invited Lela to meet with them, but a TV executive asked Lela to take the Asian girl out, another told her there was no market for Asians. Angered by the feedback, she made a goal to publish a book of her comics so that her characters would be beloved and well-known by her fans, making it so no studio would ask her to change her characters again. She sold t-shirts out of the trunk of her car and met enough women to know that many women harbored angry sentiments. In 2000 "Angry Little Girls" became the umbrella name for the weekly self-published comic strip. During this time, Lela also became a working actress, landing small parts on shows such as Friends, Will and Grace, recurred on Scrubs, guest starred on Grey’s Anatomy, Shameless and Better Call Saul and was a series regular on the show Tremors.
Then finally, after many years of rejections, the first "Angry Little Girls" book was published in April 2005 and two months later, it was in its' fourth printing. Six more books were published and translated into Korean, French, and German and the products were sold into malls all over the US and abroad. Read Less ^
Asian women who are raised in traditional Asian households are taught to be submissive, quiet and deferential. Yet the American workplace values traits such as confidence, leadership, strength and individuality. These opposing value systems often create inner conflict. Asian professional woman find themselves walking a tightrope with opposing expectations on each side. Are they Asian enough or are they American enough? What are the solutions to feel whole and valued both at work and at home? From Lela's own experience navigating work and the expectations of two cultures, young Asian women will walk away with a better understanding of how they can navigate their future career paths.
The model minority myth is widely discussed as something that limits the authenticity of how Asians are in real life. Asian Americans blame the media, but who or what is really to blame for the model minority myth? Is the wrath one will face for bringing shame to their Asian family doorstep contributing to the larger generalization of Asians? Collective criticism and activism in Asian America is growing online, but is it really getting to the heart of the issue or is just a way to control non-conforming Asians with shame and guilt to keep the good face we're taught to uphold? A look at who's being bashed and who's being praised by online voices will show us if the collective "face" of Asians in America is really ready to break the model minority myth...
"Lela Lee was wonderful. She was thoughtful, and I believe taught us a lot about the history of the model minority and the dangers in that, as well as sharing a bit about her own experiences. So far, I have received only positive feedback from the talk."
"The presentation was very good. She was also a very interesting person and was a lot of fun to talk to. I would invite her back or recommend her to another college anytime! Thank you."
"We really enjoyed having Lela Lee at UNO. She was a great speaker."
"Our students loved Lela Lee! We had a diverse audience of women and men who enjoyed hearing about how her comic got started. What I liked the most was the lesson she imparted to the students, a lesson that they don't hear enough: do whatever you want to do, no matter how little it pays or what other people say. And at the end of her speaking engagement, half the students wanted to take pictures with her—a true indication of whether students liked a speaker or not. Thank you for working with me on this event."
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