a more intimate story
I was born part monkey, wolf, and bear in San Francisco, California, United States and raised in Taipei, Taiwan by my grandparents. We returned to the United States when I was four years old. Around the age of ten, my family moved from East Oakland to Roseville, California, a very homogeneous community: suburban, upper-middle class, gated sub-divisions. Instead of living in Chinatown or a city with lots of Chinese people, we moved to what seemed like the most homogeneous part of California!
I have always loved the arts since I was young. I started playing the piano and dancing ballet around 5 years old. I joined the marching band in high school to play the drums and any percussion instrument I could find. I pride myself on my advanced abilities to crash the cymbals while marching in formation. I joined the ballroom dancing team in college but found the competition process to be draining and expensive. Around the same time I started to train in modern dance, which has turned out to be my favorite form of dancing because it allows me to explore movement through space, to break from ballet forms, and to dance barefoot.
college years and the circle back to the 1996 Telecommunications Act
My love for the arts led me to study modern dance and train as a video editor in college. I started taking production classes during my senior year of college and had the opportunity to meet two inspiring video artists, Tania Kamal-Eldin and Adriene Hughes. They taught me the aesthetics of video editing and it was Adriene Hughes who made me understand that a good editor treats her timeline as if it were a dance. I went on to produce a documentary for NASA about their Earthkam program, which helped me secure a fellowship to work on their Communications Team.
In a odd way, I have always been fascinated with communications. I am a child of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. I am not kidding! The passing of the act broke up AT&T's monopoly on long-distance service. As a result, new players were allowed on the market. When this happened I was in high school, but I still left home to work for Excel Telecommunication, a reseller of long-distance land-line phone services. I quickly rose to the level of Executive Regional Director by the age of 18 years old. By that time, I was also reselling Excel's cellphone and pager services. I targeted low-income markets because it was easy to show people how they were being over-charged by the larger phone companies and that switching to Excel would lower their monthly phone bills. At 19 years old, I began to question the legitimacy of Excel's business model because it was a multi-level-marketing (MLM) pyramid marketing scheme, much like the controversial Amway, convincing people that they could leave and replace their day jobs by working with an MLM model. While I believed in the service we were selling, I didn't believe in the practice of telling people that they should get into MLM as a career choice. I stopped drinking the Excel kool-aid.
I left the company in 1998 (it went bankrupt in 2006). I l picked up some odd skills from working in a corporate pyramid scheme at such a young age. For exmple, I can convince you that you can become rich if you were to quit your job and recruit 10 people to give you $100. I can also analyze any phone bill and explain to you each surcharge at the federal, state and local level. But in all seriousness, I appreciate my time with Excel because the experience has taught me invaluable management skills. More importantly, it has given me an insider's point of view of the underworld of communication services and has allowed me to witness how policy change scan radically reshape the communication landscape and how everyday people make their phone calls. How many researchers of telecommunications can say that they worked in a telecommunications multi-level marketing company and experienced the initial changes post-1996 Telecommunications Act? To this day, I still love reading about technology policy-making and listening to people tell me about their phone bills.
growing up without the internet
I believe that my tempered approach to technology is a result of having grown up without the internet or cellphones. I find that it gives me the perspective to understand how new users react to new technologies in a more balanced way. Only a short time ago, I went through high school with no online social networking tools! How was it that without any technology tools (other than a landline), teenagers could keep up their social connections back in the days? This question makes me wonder about how people now maintain social connections with social networking tools. Are we really connecting anymore than we used to? And what happens to the quality of our connections? If we are more accessible online, than are we less accessible in other ways? A lot of these questions actually fall into the realm of psychology, a field I considered going into. But a lot of these questions I think are difficult to answer on the individual level. Rather, these questions are about groups, neighborhoods, and communities. When the unit of analysis is larger than an individual, this where the social sciences plays a larger role.
Off to New York City!
After college, I decided that I wanted to live somewhere radically different from California. The only place I could think of in the US was New York City. Even though I had never been to New York and had no friends on the east coast, I decided that it was exactly where I needed to be. I prepared myself by renting movies that took place in the city. The only one that sticks out in my mind to this day is Coyote Ugly and lots of episodes of Sex and the City. . A lot of people tried to discourage me from moving because not only had I never visited NYC, but 9/11 had just happened and people were moving out of NYC. But I couldn't ignore the urge to go east. It was the best decision I ever made. I was reborn in Sunset Park, Brooklyn! Since then, I have lived in Park Slope, Clinton Hill and Bedford-Stuyvesant.
While in New York, I was a technology educator. I provided technology consulting, created youth programs, and initiated strategic partnerships with organizations across the city. My first job in New York was as the Associate Director of Manhattan Neighborhood Network's The Youth Channel. From there, I started Hip-Hop Education (H2Ed), the first organization in NYC to formally link hip-hop to public education dialogue and standards. I worked with local institutions, community leaders, and hip-hop pioneers to create the first national summit on hip-hop and education. By the time we held our second conference at the Bronx Museum of Arts, over 1000 attendees came from around the country. After H2Ed, I started consulting institutions on how to incorporate pop-culture and technology into their programs. At the same time, I was teaching media production and story-telling in after-school programs. I worked closely with organizations to build experimental education programs that were more relevant to low-income students.
My outreach in New York was broad. I was involved with the HIV/AIDS community, serving as a grant manager for Living Beyond Belief, an non-profit that provide scholarships for students engaged in HIV/AIDs awareness. I sat on advisory boards that did coalition building across Asian Pacific-Islander organizations throughout NYC. One of my favorite projects was APICHA's Young Men Having Sex with Men subway campaign. Before I left for graduate school, I teamed up with Todd Lester on freeDimensional, a community organization in Brooklyn that connects artists in political danger with artist-in-residence programs. Todd and I also consulted for the United Nation's bureau, IRIN (Integrated Regional Information Networks) when they showed interest in embracing new media tools.
I met some of the most inspiring youth while working with various programs in NYC. Many of my students have gone on to be great community leaders and role models for their family members. I am proud of all of them and am grateful for facebook making it so easy to stay in touch with all of them.
After four years of consulting for youth-based programs, I realized that to better serve low-income communities I needed to improve my analytical skills. I never imagined that graduate school would be the answer. I never saw Asians in the social sciences and I think that this unconsciously affected me. My friend and mentor, Richard Madsen, enabled a twist in my life story. When I expressed to Richard my desire to spend more time learning about the history and the complexity of technology usage in low-income communities, he suggested that I pursue a Ph.D. in sociology. I laughed because I never imagined myself pursuing a PhD, much less in sociology, a field that seemed foreign to me. So with no post-graduate degrees or sociology classes, I dove into graduate school at UC San Diego. After fours years of grad school I still deal with the impostor syndrome; I constantly think that I don't belong in this world. But when I stop comparing myself to other great researchers, I also stop being so anxious. Thanks to my great committee and longtime friends, I have emerged out of coursework a better researcher and a more balanced Tricia. After This is now where the story ends and another adventure begins! Check out my research interests and various projects that I have picked up online the way!