Against The Grain Updates

Congratulations to 2014 ATG Scholarship Finalists

After weeks of reviewing and deliberation, The ATG Scholarship Committee is proud to announce the 2014 Scholarship Finalists. We scored them based on GPA, leadership/community involvement, portfolio/video submission, essay and letters of recommendation. This group in particular is one of the strongest groups we’ve ever had. They are brilliant, shining examples of what it means to go Against The Grain means. Drumroll, please…

Vanessa Agovida

Vanessa Agovida


20 years-old, 3.9 GPA, Filipino; Attending Fordham University majoring in English/Communication and Media Studies

Vanessa is a first generation Filipino-American, actress, and romantic from Linwood, New Jersey. She graduated from Mainland Regional High School in 2012, ranking third in her graduating class and winning Departmental Honors for both English and the Performing Arts–funnily enough, her two biggest areas of focus at college. As a rising junior, she studies within Fordham University’s prestigious honors program, which accepts just thirty-some students from each entering class.

Vanessa’s passion for performing began with a simple love for stories, and her years as a bookworm provided the foundation for her acting pursuits in high school and beyond. At Fordham, she continues to perform in various student groups. With The Mimes and Mummers, for example, she has gotten the opportunity to act under the direction of New York City professionals in roles like Annabella/Margaret/Pamela in The 39 Steps and Vivienne Kensington in Legally Blonde. Vanessa is also a tutor, an admissions ambassador, an executive board member for her a cappella group, the Fordham Hot Notes and a founding member of Fordham’s first slam poetry club. (In other words, she keeps busy.)

One of her most recent projects was Mine, a short film that she helped write and act in for a national student film competition called Campus MovieFest. At Fordham’s festival, she won Best Actress out of over 100 film submissions. A few weeks later, Mine became one of four Campus MovieFest National Wild Card finalists, earning it a screening in Hollywood. The film has also been featured by and several domestic violence prevention groups such as The White Ribbon Campaign and End Violence Against Women International. This experience has motivated Vanessa to continue looking for ways to create compelling stories that both entertain and inspire.

What does it mean to go “Against The Grain?”

Going Against The Grain is all about discomfort. Humans tend to seek familiarity, and for good reason: it’s comfortable. There’s nothing wrong, of course, with wanting to be comfortable. But the people who make a tangible difference in society, the people who inspire, the pioneers–none of them got to be that way because they did what was expected of them, or what others wanted for them. To get anything done, and done exceptionally well, inevitably entails “going against the grain”–that is, doing what no one else has the courage or patience to do all because you believe in yourself and in your work.

How do you go “Against The Grain?”

I go Against The Grain by seeking out creative challenges that scare me, even when they don’t appear to set me up for a traditional career path. For example, this fall I’m studying abroad at an acting conservatory in London, despite the fact that the program contributes very little toward my major course requirements. I ultimately decided to join the program–a program filled with actual acting majors who know far more than I do, because I know it will help me become a braver, more confident person.

As an Asian American actor, it’s hard not to become discouraged before I even get to an audition. When I go for certain roles, part of me tries to psych myself out because I don’t look the part. The fact is, the characters I grew up with on television and in the movies have very rarely looked like me. I go against the grain, however, by continuing to fight for (and sometimes win) roles that Asian women do not traditionally get to play and by striving to someday create stronger, more complex roles for Asians in mainstream media.

Sara Chan

Sara Chan


18 years-old, 3.9 GPA, Japanese/Chinese; Will attend New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts to major in Theatre/Acting

Sara Emiko Chan was born in Sacramento, California and has always had a passion for acting, music and theatre. Her interest in the performing arts was partially influenced by her father’s fascination in learning American culture from films after immigrating from Hong Kong and also by her mother’s childhood experiences with dance, piano and guitar.  From a young age, Sara enjoyed dancing around the house and singing songs from movies and was often reciting entire scenes from television and film.  These natural talents led her towards finding a place in local companies such as River City Theatre Company and Studio24, where she could develop her acting and performance skills further.  Sara’s passion for the performing arts was so strong that she wanted to share this love with the younger generation. This led her to becoming a production assistant her senior year of high school in the local children’s theater company, Young Actors Stage, where she was able to combine her love of working with young children and the opportunity to teach dance, vocals and acting.

Not only is she serious about her time spent performing, Sara is also a very dedicated student.  Having graduated with high honors from C.K. McClatchy High School in the HISP (Humanities and International Studies) program and achieving a ranking in the top 5% of her class, Sara has always been devoted to working hard in the classroom as well as outside of school, volunteering her time in the community.  She has received lifetime membership in the California Scholarship Federation, was treasurer of the National Honors Society and co-president of the CKM Make-A-Wish Club.  She also was awarded the title of January Zonta Girl from the Zonta International Club’s Sacramento Chapter and is also a recipient of a Tisch Scholarship from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.

Sara wants to continue pursuing acting and the arts, looking past the obstacles that the competitive entertainment business may pose for Asian Americans.  She will be majoring in theatre/acting at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University in the Fall of 2014, and cannot wait to take on the adventures that New York and the larger world of theatre has to offer!

What does it mean to go “Against The Grain?”

For me, going Against The Grain means to have the confidence to stand up for what one believes in and be willing to fight any obstacles that are stacked against you with complete and total confidence.  I believe it means I must be strong and truly believe in myself if I want to change something for the better, even though it may involve going against the norm.  Believing that I can make that type of change will not only help me to succeed but will also make a positive difference in the lives of others.

How do you go “Against The Grain?”

I’ve always faced the criticism that because of my Asian heritage and how I look, I’m not going to make it in the entertainment industry as an actress, or at least I won’t get very far.  But I don’t see my heritage as a hindrance; rather, I see it as a trademark, and something that will help me stand out uniquely amongst the existing pool of actresses. Regardless of what others might have to say, I have always pushed through cultural stereotypes to get to where I am, both as a person and as an actor.  I have been chosen for acting roles I could only dream of, achieving praise that has not only helped me personally but has also helped others push past the barriers of seeing only my ethnicity.  Being an actress that happens to be Asian has helped me realize that it is not how you look or where you come from that gets you the part, but how dedicated you are to your craft and how much you are willing to work for it.  This attitude has helped others see me differently, and it has changed how I see and believe in myself.

Clare Davis

Clare Davis


18 years-old, 3.9 GPA, Korean; Will attend Florida State University to major in Studio Art

As a young girl, I was a maverick child, full of wildly creative energy and set on doing things on my own. I was going to accomplish the fifty tasks I had set for myself in one go, and what’s more, I was going to be the center of attention while I did it. In my early teenage years, I became more thoughtful, more focused on my academics and on what was happening around me. I began to understand how the world worked, or at least how other people seemed to think it worked. I had a logical solution for just about everything, and I became known as the girl with whom it was impossible to have an argument. Later in high school, it became clearer that everything was not as black and white as I had previously thought. I settled somewhere between the abundant creativity of my younger self and the infallible analysis of my middle school years. and from this spot, I realized that there was a lot more that I had to understand. So, in short, much has changed. But there is one thing that has remained consistent over the years. And it is this:

I am a doer. I am not one to sit around and wait for opportunity to waltz its way into my lap. No, I get up, and I go out, and I look for it. After all, while I may not be successful at everything I do, I will most certainly not succeed in something which I have not even tried. And genius being 99% perspiration, I often find that the important things get done, once I put in some effort. But then the question remains: What is important? When I was younger it was having fun, and I surely did that. Later it was getting good grades, and in this too, I invested my fullest energy, entering the Academy of International Cambridge Examinations (AICE) and pouring hours and hours of time into my studies. It paid off, and I graduated with the insignia of the National Honor society and three pins on my AICE stole that said ‘National Art Honor Society President,’ ‘National Merit Commended Scholar,’ and ‘Eighth in a class of six hundred.’ I carry two diplomas now, one from my high school and one that came from overseas, delivered for successful completion of the AICE program. In my personal life, my art was the most important thing, and I practiced every day for four years, and for my pains I came away with two Silver Keys from the National Art and Writing Regional Competition. They sit on the shelf in my room, identical bits of metal that twinkle next to a plaque that awards me the Yale Book Award from the Yale Alumni of Northeast Florida.

And now, I am older, and what is important to me is suddenly not just important to me anymore. Because now I am an artist, and as such I have a special ability to influence and change society and to speak out Against The Grain. So I am going to Florida State University, and I am learning even more about myself and about other people, and I am acquiring the tools and knowledge to affect change. If life were a video game, this is the level right before the first boss, where the game is set to easy mode and I’m stocking up on equipment. It’s only going to get harder from here. But I am ready and I am capable; the world should keep an eye on me, because as it turns out, maybe I didn’t change as much as I thought, and this is one maverick child that won’t be stopped.

What does it mean to go “Against The Grain?”

To go Against The Grain is to be different but not separate. It is to be unique and unconventional but not isolated. Going Against The Grain means more than just being special; it means setting an example and setting a goal: to change society, to change minds, to change people and their notions about what is acceptable and about what can be achieved.

How do you go “Against The Grain?”

I go Against The Grain in my mindset and in my actions. I am an individualist who believes that a person’s worth cannot be judged by their appearance. I am a feminist who believes in the importance of equality for all. I am a minority who knows that the media needs more diversity and not just in race. But above these things I am also a storyteller and an artist, someone who is working towards changing society and its ideals. I am a part of the voice that speaks out and say that it isn’t right for girls to grow up with stories that lack diverse characters and to think that they have to be pretty or thin or fair to be the protagonists of their own realities. We need new stories, and I aim to tell them. And if I can convince even one little girl or boy that he or she is worth more than what the television set says, then I have succeeded in making a difference and in going Against the Grain.

Megan Dung

Megan Dung


18 years-old, 3.7 GPA, Japanese/Chinese/Korean; Will attend Chapman University to major in Vocal Performance

My name is Megan Hi’ilani Dung, and I am a recent graduate of Punahou School in Honolulu, Hawaii. I have been a part of 21 productions in the past six years and am in love with the stage. I started performing with my church, New Hope Oahu, and slowly expanded my repertoire through performing at school and within the community. I have been a recipient of the Actor Award from Punahou School in 2013 and 2014 and was a part of the musical theatre troupe, the Diamond Head Shooting Stars, from 2010 to 2013. I started training intensively for voice in 2009, acting in 2010 and dance in 2012.

Aside from my theatre life, I am your average eighteen year-old, keeping busy and living a fun-filled and successful life. On top of dance classes, I enjoy keeping myself in shape through figure skating. I have been figure skating for the past ten years and have loved every bit of it. It’s a great way to have fun and get in shape without sweating a whole lot. Currently, I am working at Kate Spade Saturday and will be attending Chapman University in the Fall.

What does it mean to go “Against The Grain?”

It is easy to go through life accepting society’s rules and regulations, while disregarding our own thinking. Going Against The Grain is having the confidence to live out your dreams. Being an Asian American performer in the world of musical theatre has its challenges, but I have been blessed with abundant opportunities and an incredible support system to help me succeed. When auditioning for a musical, there are different requirements set for each character. There are requirements for vocal range, dance ability, acting ability and often times ethnicity. Many musicals call for people of other ethnicities other than Asian American; yet, I still audition, regardless of the ethnicity requirement. This mindset of going Against The Grain has allowed me to push past my own fears of being turned away and awarding me with incredible roles from timeless musicals.

How do you go “Against The Grain?”

Hawaii is filled with amazing performers. Our “melting pot” of a community allows people of all different ethnicities to succeed in the theatre world. It is common to see Asians, Filipinos, Latinos, Europeans, Hawaiians and African Americans sharing the stage. Living in a community like this all of my life has helped my confidence grow as an Asian American performer. Even as a little girl, when I saw someone on stage who looked like me, my confidence level would sky rocket. As I grew up and started to audition for roles, I soon realized that when it came to being cast in a show, being Asian American was not easy. Knowing that my particular “look” may not perfectly fit in certain roles, I try to keep myself in tip-top shape through taking voice lessons, dance classes, acting classes and getting involved in as many productions as I can. I definitely call myself lucky as I live in a beautiful community of confident and talented people who are willing to go Against The Grain.

Daniel Kim

Daniel Kim


18 years-old, 3.9 GPA, Korean; Will attend Columbia University to major in Music

Daniel Kim is a graduate from the Elizabeth Mandell Music Institute of Crossroads School in Santa Monica. He has been studying the piano since the age of five under the instruction of Mary Ann Cummins.

Over the years, Daniel has received 1st place in the Music Teacher’s Association of California State Concerto Competition, Grand Prize winner of the Korea Times Music Competition, Grand Prize winner of the Palisades Symphony Alfred Newman Memorial Scholarship Competition and First Place winner of the Brentwood Symphony Artists of Tomorrow Competition. Daniel has also soloed with numerous orchestras including the Palisades Symphony, Brentwood Symphony and Doctors Symphony. In 2012, Daniel Kim performed in concert with the Chung Trio (Kyung Wha Chung, Myung Whun Chung and Myung Wha Chung) in Seoul, South Korea.

What does it mean to go “Against The Grain?”

Going Against The Grain means forgoing the common path and marching to one’s own beat. Though doing so may cause discomfort and create questions (from within and without), choosing to go Against The Grain promotes a happier, more fulfilling life.

How do you go “Against The Grain?”

My teacher once told me, “God has given you a talent in music to be a blessing to others; it is up to you to develop that talent to its fullest potential.” I have taken these words to heart and have strived to develop and hone my musical ability — painstakingly practicing five hours daily, entering countless competitions and participating in numerous music festivals and studying the greats to gain a breadth of musical knowledge. I could choose the safe route and pursue a reliable, secure career in a common field; I am actively choosing to travel the proverbial “road less traveled” in becoming a musician.

Lauren O'Brien

Lauren O’Brien


18 years-old, 4.0 GPA, Chinese Adoptee; Will attend Montclair State University to major in Dance with a minor in Arts Management

My name is Lauren O’Brien and if you look at my name, I’m not what I appear to be. Instead of this red-haired, freckle-faced girl, I have the polar opposite traits, because I’m an adoptee from Shijiazhaung, Hebei, China. For the past 18 years, I have been here in America. I’ve spent 15 years pursuing my passion: dance. But I started my dance career only because my mom wanted me to get involved with something. Well who knew that dancing recreationally would become a passion that would lead me to regional and national competitions winning first place awards, overall titles, and invitations and scholarships to national competition?  And after I was done with the competition life, I was offered a chance to dance with the Koresh Youth Ensemble, a secondary company to the prestigious Koresh Dance Company in Philadelphia. I have been trained by many of the company members including the artistic director, Ronen Koresh. Even with all this dancing, I manage to keep my grades up, and I have been recognized on the Principal’s List since sixth grade. I also graduated high school as a member of the National Technical Honor Society and the National Honor Society and received the President’s Education Award for Outstanding Academic Excellence.

While balancing a rigorous dance schedule along with my honors school work, one would think that my schedule is packed to the maximum and I couldn’t add another thing. But I did. This past year I found a new passion of volunteering with Quixote Quest. For many years, I’ve had this dream of inspiring someone to do their best in everything, and I was offered the chance to do that. Every Saturday during the 2013-2014 school year, a group of South Jersey teens and I mentor and tutor inner-city children. But this group of teens doesn’t stop at just helping under-privileged children; we go beyond that by also volunteering at animal shelters, nursing homes for patients with dementia and helping children with disabilities on horses. I created a bond with these teens and children unlike my relationship with friends. We are all trying to improve the world for everyone and the kids have given me a responsibility like no other. We are helping these kids realize their fullest potential by not only helping them academically but also with cognitive skills they will need for their future. Volunteering has offered me so many new experiences, and I have been lucky enough to have been awarded the President’s Gold Volunteer Service Award for 200 hours of service for the 2013-2014 school year, the Pat Tillman award dedicated to the fallen soldier for going above and beyond, and many other little awards for participation in the club. I plan to keep in touch with both the volunteer group and the teens and children I volunteered with during college.

I’ve been very fortunate to be a part of two top quality organizations, like the Koresh Youth Ensemble and Quixote Quest, while earning high honors at one of the top rated high schools in New Jersey. I’ve worked very hard to excel at everything I do and I’m very gratified to receive the rewards that my hard work has produced.

What does it mean to go “Against The Grain?”

Every day, young adults are challenging the norms that have been set by society. With these stereotypes you can either follow them like everyone else or be different and stand out from the crowd. Going Against The Grain means that you are choosing to be different but more importantly, choosing to be yourself. One doesn’t need to follow society’s rules to live their life, and one shouldn’t have to let that be the deciding factor on what their life should be.

How do you go “Against The Grain?”

By following a career in dance, I am going Against The Grain not only because dance is a strenuous career but also because I’m a minority. In my previous training, I was the only minority in my dance group. However, I didn’t let that stop me from dancing. The number of Asians in the arts during 2011-2012 was “3% and only ¼ of those roles were on Broadway” (Maier, 2013). When you look at pictures of ballerinas and other dancers, they all look the same. But sometimes, you’ll find the dancers who look different and challenge the original look of the dance world. Over time, more dancers who do not look the “normal part” are starting to appear in professional dance companies and other dance related events. They probably faced dilemmas where they did not look the part and turned down, but did that stop them from doing what they love? Dance is an art form that shows the audience what the dancer and choreographer feel need to be showcased. When the dancer is able to captivate the audience with the emotion of the piece, then the true job of a dancer is done. With my dancing, I want to show people my love of dance and how I use it to express myself. While many dancers choose to follow the traditional styles or techniques of classic choreographers like Graham, Balanchine or Humphrey, I strive to create my own style by sampling from the masters and my teachers. I hope to inspire a new generation of dancers. Everyone deserves the chance to follow their dreams and shouldn’t let hindrances like race and ethnicity stop them.

Michael Madrid

Michael Madrid


21 years-old, 3.93 GPA, Filipino/Caucasian; Will attend University of Cambridge or Stanford University to obtain a Masters of Philosophy in Technology Policy

Although born in Los Angeles, California, I grew up in Zambia, Africa, where my parents served as missionaries. My mother began homeschooling me there and continued once we returned to the States. Having her Ph.D. in Molecular Genetics, she provided me a superb education, balanced with plenty of athletic and social activities, so that I grew up well-rounded.

After graduating high school, I attended the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. I majored in Aeronautical Engineering and minored in the Arabic Language. Thanks to my mother’s training, I performed well academically, making the Superintendent’s List, Dean’s List and as a senior receiving admission offers for Master’s programs at Cambridge and Stanford Universities. When not focusing on academics, I was active in many extra-curricular activities, including the Japanese-American Club and the Officer Christian Fellowship. I rowed for the varsity lightweight crew team (freshman year I stroked my boat through an undefeated season to win the gold at championships). I also spent a lot of time in the Midshipmen community service organization, heading up several volunteer projects in the local area.  The summers were also full of learning and opportunity, from a cultural immersion program in Oman, to a training cruise in Japan; from driving submerged nuclear submarines to flying in the backseat of a Super Hornet fighter jet.

This past May, I graduated from the Naval Academy in the top 10% of my class. I received the Navy Burke Award which guarantees me the opportunity to pursue graduate education after several years at sea.  My service within the Navy will be aboard ships, and I selected a destroyer home-ported in Yokosuka Japan for my first duty.

What does it mean to go “Against The Grain?”

Going Against The Grain cannot be just a catchphrase; rather it must be a mindset—a life mission statement. It is a commitment to taking the proverbial road less traveled, to deviating from the pack. It is a lifestyle of staying hungry and foolish, consistently challenging the status quo as Steve Jobs did. Living Against the Grain requires a consistent refusal to listen to “that’s how it’s always been done,” or “that’s just the way it is.” Against The Grain is responsible for true innovation, for cultural revolutions, for industrial disruptions.

How do you go “Against The Grain?”

As a junior officer in the United States Navy, I am often given instruction and expected to fall smartly in line. Following orders is the backbone of the military hierarchical structure. Obedience to orders from a higher rank or from someone in a leadership position is critical to accomplishing the mission and protecting lives. In fact, the enlisted oath reads in part, “I do solemnly swear… that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me…” In times of great stress or imminent danger, it is critical that orders can be given and followed explicitly.

Yet I see it as dangerous to maintain a mindset of accepting what one is told unquestioningly. Rather as service-members and professionals, we are responsible for thinking for ourselves. There is no place in the military for insubordination, yet my attitude must be one of critical thinking and a healthy curiosity which will hold the system and those around me accountable. As a Division Officer aboard my ship, it is my responsibility to foster an environment in which an enlisted lookout on the bridge feels comfortable reminding me that I have ordered a turn without noticing the tanker to our stern. It is my responsibility to study the nautical charts and respectfully suggest a shorter route to the Navigator. It is my responsibility to turn any dissatisfaction with the system into a constructive proposal for reforms that I submit to my Department Head. To quote a Navy fighter pilot and good friend of mine, “the military needs more disruptive thinkers.” In order to remain the finest fighting force the world has ever known, our military needs those who go Against The Grain and reject the status quo, in order to make a better armed forces, a securer nation, and a safer world. I am committed to becoming one of those professionals.

Catherine Mai

Catherine Mai


18 years-old, 3.62 GPA, Vietnamese; Will attend the University of Southern California to major in Global Health and Studio Art

For the past four years, I’ve entered in the Scholastic Art and Writing Contest and have won five gold and three silver keys for art and writing along with being published on TeenInk. Because of my background in painting, I decided tow rite and illustrate my own children’s book, Dancing between the Wind, which was self-published around December 2012. Using nature imagery from the four seasons and an ice-cream truck, I encourage children to celebrate their differences. At the book’s end, there is an empty picture frame where children can place their own picture so that each book is personalized.

By selling this book and my art at the fashion store MaxMara, at a fundraiser in Vietnam, at farmer’s markets, even at Orange County’s largest shopping mall and at my local anti-mall, a place that does everything a mall doesn’t, I’ve been able to thus far raise $12,000. I’ve donated all of this to support two causes important to me: the fight against child trafficking and to the children’s hospital that saved my life as a newborn. I was born unable to breathe on my own, so I needed extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), to survive. I’ve always had to work hard to concentrate and get A’s instead of B’s, and since curvy letters are frowned upon in Asian culture, at times it has been discouraging. But art was one place where I could create things from my own heart, so it’s been my sanctuary and source of strength.

I remember dreaming about saving the world when I was five, and now, in some way, I feel I have started to make a small difference. I was touching up one of my paintings that had sold at MaxMara’s auction when I realized I could help people by doing what I love. I read in Forbes that 70% of people hate their job and only 5% of people enjoy it, so I feel incredibly lucky to have found one way I can joyfully impact the world.

What does it mean to go “Against The Grain?”

Going Against The Grain means doing something spectacular and unpredictable with the knowledge of things you love. It means going against what others believe I should do with my life and creating my own path based on my experiences and beliefs.

How do you go “Against The Grain?”

I go Against The Grain by doing what I love, art, and combining it with something that can help better the world and community. With my major in Global Health, I want to create hospitals around the world, so that more people can have access to healthcare, and intertwine art therapy within those hospitals.

Sarah Sullivan

Sarah Sullivan


18 years-old, 3.8 GPA, Chinese Adoptee; Will attend Maine College of Design to study Graphic Design

I was born in China and came to the United States when I was four months-old.  I live in Mount Olive, New Jersey with my parents, my sister Jenna and our dog, Daisy.  I think of myself as an artist, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a Girl Scout, a mentor and sometimes a bit of a rebel.

During my elementary and middle school years, I was fortunate enough to be selected for the Gifted & Talented Art program, which fueled my passion for creative pursuits.  In high school, I continued to take Art classes but also became very involved in the competitive Robotics team, where I learned Computer Animation and was the captain, in different years, of both the Animation and the Chairman’s subteams.  As the Chairman’s team captain I was responsible for leading all of our community outreach activities and charitable initiatives.  For the past two years, I have been a mentor for three middle school-level Robotics teams. Many people assume that my interest in Robotics is related to an affection for science and technology, but that is far from true. I love Robotics because it’s such a great way to help kids learn to use their innate creativity for problem solving and innovation.

Other awards and honors I’ve earned include selection to both the National Honor Society and the National Art Honor Society, for which I was Corresponding Secretary in my Senior year.   I earned a varsity letter for Robotics, and my Animation team’s work was the winner of an Excellence in Design Award for 3D Animation in both 2011 and 2012.  I have received several awards for my own artwork, including:

  • Morris County Teen Arts Festival – Best in Show (2013)

  • Blackwell Street Artists High School Art Show – Second Place awards for both Computer Graphics and Acrylic Painting (2013), Second Place for Digital Photography (2014) and Third Place for Computer Graphics (2014)

  • Mount Olive Spring Arts Show – First Place in both Drawing and Printmaking (2011) and First Place in Painting (2013)

  • County College of Morris Photography Club Competition – Honorable Mention (2014)

What does it mean to go “Against The Grain?”

When I first read the question, a whole bunch of cliches just popped into my head, things like: “march to the beat of a different drummer,” “swim against the tide,” “do what’s right instead of what’s popular,” “don’t be a sheep,” and “rub people the wrong way.”

Cliches, yes, but they are all hitting on the essence of what it means to go Against The Grain — which is that sometimes you have to dare to be different from everyone else, or from the “expected” way of doing something.  Whether the issue is large or small, impacts society as a whole or just yourself, it can take guts to be the one who is different because it’s usually a lot easier just to conform.  For example, there will be times in your life when someone will try to talk you out of something you really want to do.  There will be times when people will tell you “it’s okay, everyone else is doing it.”  There will be times when you see someone getting bullied, or people trying to cover up a crime, or an entire community standing by and letting something happen that you believe is wrong.  Going Against The Grain means that when these times come, you will have the courage to stand up for yourself and for what you believe in, no matter what society may want or expect of you.

How do you go “Against The Grain?”

It may sound strange but if going Against The Grain is about daring to be different, then I feel like it’s not so much something that I do, but more about something that I am.  I feel as if I’m forever going Against The Grain, like I’m always zig-zagging when everyone else is walking the straight line.  I guess maybe that’s because I’m a creative person, and what is the use for creativity if not to think up, make or do something differently?

I still remember the first piece of art I ever made that I gave a title to.  I think I was in the first grade at the time and while all the other kids were drawing flowers or houses or stick figure self-portraits, I was doing a picture of something I had found on our front steps that morning.  I called my masterpiece “The Bad Cat Ate The Bird’s Head.”

Yep, that was a little unexpected.  And that’s me all over.

Like the period when I decided to wear mismatched socks every day.  That may seem like it ought to have been no big deal, but you’d be surprised at how much societal pressure can be brought to bear on eight-year-olds who don’t conform on the issue of matching foot covering!  When I joined Robotics as a freshman in high school I was one of six girls on a team of 107 students.  I went Against the Grain by becoming a sub team leader in my second year; I led the way at a time when it was expected that I would just follow along.   I became a Girl Scout at the age of six, and stayed in it to this day, despite a prolonged period when peer pressure told me it was highly uncool to do so.  When I got older, I made a decision to stand up against a group of my oldest and closest friends because they were engaging in behaviors that I thought were wrong.  I knew at the time it would make me an outcast for the rest of my Senior year, which was painful, but it was still the right thing to do.   Even my choice to pursue a career in Graphic Design or Animation went against the expectations of others, including my parents, who felt that a smart kid with good grades and SAT scores ought to be a doctor, lawyer, engineer or scientist, rather than an artist.

Sometimes the going is tough; it’s easy to doubt my direction when everyone is going the other way. At the end of the day though, the knowledge that my actions are mine alone, and no one else’s, is very satisfying. The times I have changed something for the better is proof enough that going “Against the Grain” is the only way I want to go.

Lizzy Tan

Lizzy Tan


18 years-old, 3.67 GPA, Singaporean; Will attend the University of Texas at Austin to major in Dance and Economics

Lizzy Tan is the only daughter of Drs. Robert and Grace Tan. She was exposed to the arts from a young age: she began piano at age four and dance at age five. She is graduated from Lamar High School in 2014 with Highest Honors and the IB diploma. She has been named a Texas Scholar, an AP Scholar, a National Honor Society member and an Arrowhead Scholar, graduating in the top 3% of her class.  In high school she was a Varsity Cheerleader, captain of a modern dance company, student council member and President of her high school’s Interact Club, a community service organization. Lizzy received the majority of her training from the Houston Metropolitan Dance Center, the Movement Lab and Lamar Dance Theatre, where she served as a company member and choreographer. Her pieces, Absolution and 3×3, were adjudicated and selected for the Houston Choreographers: Generation Next Galas of 2013 and 2014. In April 2013, Lizzy choreographed and co-directed a full-length dance benefit named Dance for Thought: The Alzheimer’s Awareness Project for the Alzheimer’s Association. She considers her dance style a “contemporary fusion” that incorporates her cross-training of ballet, modern, contemporary, jazz, and hip-hop. She also manages a YouTube channel.

Lizzy is a recipient of the Rotary Youth Leadership Award from Rotary International. In March 2014, she was awarded scholarship from the Chinese Professional Club and a full ride scholarship, the Forty Acres Scholars, from the University of Texas at Austin majoring in Dance and Economics. Her long-term volunteer work at the Ronald McDonald House and Bayou Manor Retirement Home garnered her the Prudential Spirit of Community Award: President’s Volunteer Service Award. She was also a 2014 contestant in the Miss Chinatown Houston scholarship pageant. Lizzy hopes to one day start her own non-profit that will bring all mediums of art to the elderly, sick and homeless.

What does it mean to go “Against The Grain?”

America is fondly referred to as “the melting pot of all nations.” Her beauty is found in her sheer diversity of race, religion, creed and ideas. In any given place, the plethora of culture-crossing, -mixing and -matching is an evident marker of that well-revered nickname. America is one; unified. However, amidst this conglomeration, a sense of individuality has been lost. While daring to dream is permissible, stepping out of the box has become foreign territory to many. Going Against The Grain is not necessarily fighting authority or defying the masses; rather, it is pioneering a path less traveled so that others are given vision, direction and encouragement by which to follow.

We Asian Americans are in an awkward position: we have yet to establish a true Asian American culture niche. Growing up, I found many of my first-generation-American peers felt forced to emulate the stereotypes of their native culture or completely adopt another culture’s mannerisms. What it means to be both Asian and American is a new frontier – rather than conform to the conventions of one or the other, we are compelled to go Against The Grain of these restrictions to represent our cultural identity.

Finally, going Against The Grain is not merely being “different.” It is a lifestyle is defined by constant growth, empathy and even humbling oneself so that one may cultivate excellence in those around them. Going Against The Grain is knowing the adversity that stands ahead, but continuing forward – not only for oneself, but more so for those who do not believe they have what it takes, and by example, will experience liberation to become their truest selves.

How do you go “Against The Grain?”
Name five Asian American pop stars. How about dancers? Singers? Actors? And herein lies my point: the Asian American Artist is severely underrepresented and overlooked. The prompt asks for the essence of going against the grain, and this is mine: it is to represent a group without a voice and to be an advocate for those who feel trapped within the confines of what they should do and how they should act. It is a spotlight for those challenging Asian stereotypes, popular American standards and unpopular demand to bring a face to the forgotten Asian American Artist – I go Against The Grain by being amongst this new breed.

For most of my life, I considered fitting in the ultimate expression of worth. In my childhood, I refuted all things that made me stick out – the things that seemed “too Asian:” I was ashamed of my Chinese middle name, I pretended I couldn’t speak Mandarin and I purposely failed tests in school so that I wouldn’t be dubbed the stereotypical Asian nerd. It was not until high school that I realized I did not have to subscribe to either archetype, and that I did not have to follow any conventional path, precedent or example. I could never fall short if I defined my own standard. Because of this, I could embrace the Asian stereotypes that I was taunted with without fearing them: I was no longer ashamed of my aptitude for learning, my love for school and my grades. I also gained confidence to pursue the less-typical Asian activities that I was passionate about: I was a Varsity cheerleader, I pushed myself in dance, I became fluent in Spanish, I became an aficionado of foreign dramas. I stopped feeling conscious of being the only Asian in the room, or being one of many, because I stopped molding myself to convention altogether.

This attitude is why I do not mold my artistry after what is expected either. In the way that I embrace the variety of my cultural influences, I embrace the variety of my dance inspiration. I am not aiming to become a prima ballerina, nor am I working to become a hip-hop icon. I fuse what I have learned to create a style that is completely unprecedented and therefore, completely me. My dance style is a personal metaphor for my identity as an Asian American – not immersed fully in one aspect or the other, but blended to create something of its own.

 I go Against The Grain by neither forsaking my Asian heritage nor rejecting my American culture. I defy artistic stereotypes of messiness, lack of intellect and disorganization; on the other hand, I defy scholastic stereotypes of close-mindedness, lack of creativity and dispassion. In this way, I am bringing a face to the modern Asian-American Artist: we are smart, passionate, creative, and unexpected. We come from different backgrounds and have different talents, but we are united as ambassadors of an overlooked demographic. I am confident using the gifts I have been given, and I know now that I do not have to fit in with traditional Asian expectations, public demand for dance or American culture. I go Against The Grain with others like me who treasure our uniqueness and desire to honor both where we have come from as well as what has shaped us.

Calvin Tran

Calvin Tran


18 years-old, 4.0 GPA, Vietnamese; Will attend New York University’s Tisch School of Arts in the Maurice Kanbar Institute for Film and Television to major in film with a concentration in film directing and producing

I was brought into the world by my darling (Vietnamese) parents in Iowa, to which I moved to Jenison, MI as my father pursued his career in community work and missionary. I began making films in the fifth grade when my brother showed me how to stop-motion animate with legos and from there, my passions surrounded making lego videos, with YouTube videos reaching over 100,000 views. It was in high school that I began creating films with my friends, actually getting a cast together and making live-action films. I soon realized my talent on film and produced a number of award winners, contest finalists and some just for fun.

However, there is one thing about me that you should know; I love economics. I began studying economics on my own time in my sophomore year, as I was interested in how the world work. I was introduced to Carl Menger, Eugen Bohm-Bawerk and Ludwig Von Mises. I began reading the historical work of Murray Rothbard and Tom Woods. I saw the world through new eyes, like those of Jeffrey Tucker, one of my all-time favorites, and do you know what the world looks like now? It makes me cry tears of joy in the supermarket after realizing how far manknd, for millenia, had been struggling against poverty and starvation and now the battle is won. It makes me amazed and astounded at the simple formation of a pencil (read I, Pencil by Leonard Read for more understanding). It makes me believe the goodness of humanity as we all try making our lives better every day. That’s what economics means to me and it shapes the way I live my life, the words I say, and the films I produce.

What does it mean to go “Against The Grain?”

Is not art meant to convey a message? If so, then why have a message if it is not going Against The Grain? Why say something if everyone already agrees? No, we must go Against The Grain in order to change the way the world is or has been.

How do you go “Against The Grain?”

I look to new grounds, new worlds of thought, new ideas and new areas to be explored. It’s not surprising that those lands may be filled with groundbreaking subjects and technology that threaten the establishment and promise a better future. That’s why I’ve become deeply involved with Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies. These aren’t just digital currencies, but are ways to decentralize power and restore trust in whole parts of our busy lives. I look towards the future and all the splendors that it brings. That is why I’m working at a cryptocurrency news site, writing about the effects and changes this technology makes as well as producing media and videos to continue its progress against centralized money manipulation. My writing and my film work have a message, and it is Against The Grain.

Dalena Tran

Dalena Tran


22 years-old, 3.7 GPA, Chinese/Vietnamese; Attending the University of Utah majoring in Film and Media Arts and Entrepreneurship

I’m an Earth child with a movie camera. I study film at the University of Utah focusing on screenwriting, direction and cinematography. My favorite directors are Wong Kar Wai, Andrei Tarkovsky, Michael Haneke, and Harmony Korine. My art and work is a constant journey to sensitize the apathetic and to bring a conscious unity to our lives. This conscious unity is what allows us to understand each other as individuals and as individuals within a larger cultural landscape. I have written two feature-length films that I plan on filming upon graduation. I am currently working on a music video called Dil Se with Huxley Anne, a flower-conscious music producer. My experimental short film, Cooking With a Chameleon, has been screened for an audience at the Tower theater in Salt Lake. My projection art, Seymour, has been featured at the Black Box theater and The Science of Social Media at the Photo Collective in Salt Lake.

What does it mean to go “Against The Grain?”

To go Against The Grain means to push into new or abandoned paradigms and disrupting the status quo in order to explore the wealth of the unknown. To go Against The Grain means to involve critical underrepresented thoughts and emotions in shaping the standards of a society and an individual’s own identity.

How do you go “Against The Grain?”

Asian female perspectives are underrepresented in film.The disparity comes from the expectations society has of us. I’ve struggled to gain support in my artistic endeavors and to even get recognition from others because I was a woman writing and making films. Instead of reenforcing the same stereotypes that ultimately discourage and oppress us, I continue to make movies that present interesting and relevant perspectives that are more than ideological or theoretical, but, personal–human. I’ve made two short films and have written two feature-lengths that deal with realities of being an Asian American woman. More than political, I take an emotional and internal perspective. I have made other short films, like Saving the Collector,which is about my grandfather and his transition into a new environment.

I continue to learn about and practice different mediums. I work with old film cameras to explore how aesthetics and visual representation trigger different interpretations of realties. I challenge how and what storytelling should look like and how we as a society recognize film and filmmaking. I have over ten experimental videos that deal with light, motion and sound in its most basic form.

On top of my passion for film, I have aspired to build my own businesses that help support my local community. Back in 2010, I learned how to code and design to start developing my business ideas. In 2011, I started a magazine with three friends in Europe called 88 till Infinity where I interviewed talented artists. In 2012, I co-founded an app called Vinny. One of my crowning achievements in my life was winning $10,000 for the startup at an investor’s event. To this date, we’ve raised more than $350,000 in capital. This year, I have started a creative agency called Nomoqo. We are working at rebuilding our communities’ web presence as well as offering presentable web spaces for artists to showcase their work. I have followed my interests, even in industries where we are constantly told to stay away from.

Kathy Tran

Kathy Tran


20 year-old, 3.5 GPA, Vietnamese; Currently attending Brookhaven Community College with plans to attend Southern Methodist University to major in Creative Advertising

During my formative years, I did not lead a life that safeguarded me from hardship. I was forced from a very young age to make decisions that affected my safety, my home and how I perceive myself. And just when a stable home was so important, I found myself in an unstable home and struggling to create my own future.

I would not change a single moment of the struggle in my life. It was because of those struggles—those nights hopelessly wondering if I would find a space to sleep—that I’m the person I am today. These experiences have shaped me into a fighter on a relentless pursuit to constantly better myself. They made me resilient to the sting of failure and allowed me to keep moving, no matter the obstacles in my way.

These experiences are the reason I was able to survive this long and will be the reason I continue to do so much more than just survive.

Today, I find myself in a peer group of professionals. My passion for visual art has led me towards the visual storytelling of photojournalism, and I have won several awards for those pursuits locally, statewide and nationally, as well as being featured twice at the Dallas Museum of Art. I also work as a professional in the field, freelancing for the Dallas Observer and Central Track. In these ways, art has been a way to explore myself and cope with my past.

My name is Kathy Tran.

What does it mean to go “Against The Grain?”

The grain is what society has taught us—the norms, values and standards put forth generation after generation. Our families have traditions, our communities have expectations, and our country has preconceptions. Our whole lives are built around whether we to adhere to these expectations or defy them. To go Against The Grain means to define who you are, instead of letting your society do it for you.

How do you go “Against The Grain?”

As an Asian woman, my family pushed many expectations upon me. My family’s culture is patriarchal and expects the women to stay at the house and be homemakers or pursue a medical degree. Instead, I left home at 13 and fell in love with the arts the the cultures it revealed to me. I grew into a woman who does not feel intimidated by fields dominated by men and who constantly defies society’s gender norms. Instead of being dainty and reserved, I box and have a forward personality. The grain that my family worked so hard to press into me shaped me into the woman I am today. And because of my defiance and the success I found in it, my family went against their grain and have broadened their perception of others.

Corrine Yap


19 years-old, 3.93 GPA, Filipino/Chinese; Attending Sarah Lawrence College studying Mathematics and Theatre

As a rising junior in college, I am often mistaken for an adult who has their life figured out. Fortunately, I have at least another year during which I can answer the question “What are you doing with your life?” with “I have no idea,” partially because I’m a typical college student who enjoys academic exploration, but mostly because I study two subjects that don’t have many careers in common: mathematics and theatre.

From a young age, I loved to learn. My parents moved from Manila in the Philippines to a small town near St. Louis, Missouri. They raised my brother and me on PBS and Leapfrog workbooks and taught us how to play chess and mancala. We spent 15 years in rural Missouri searching for academic challenge in Catholic schools where my brother and I were the only non-white students for most of our years there. In the middle of my sophomore year of high school, we moved to St. Louis, and I enrolled in a public school with support for the arts, with teachers who care, and with an ethnically diverse student population. A place where I took six AP classes and received six 5’s; where I joined the math team, the scholar quiz team, the National Honors Society, and Tri-M; where I became a National Merit Scholar and a Presidential Scholar for 2012. But it was also a place where I became president of the speech and debate team and qualified for the national competition; where I acted, played the piano and clarinet, and music directed over ten productions; and where I was accepted to the Missouri Fine Arts Academy for theater and began to call myself an actor.

When it came to choosing a college, I was determined to find a school that allowed me to study both of my passions – math and theatre – simultaneously. As soon as I received the Sarah and Geoffrey Gund Presidential Scholarship to attend Sarah Lawrence College, I made up my mind and haven’t looked back. My school isn’t perfect, but the personalized education system and the opportunity to connect with professors on a personal level is something I wouldn’t trade for any other school. It gets to the heart of why I do theatre: to make connections with others. Connections with actors on stage, with the characters they play and with the audience. In the past two years, I’ve played roles ranging from 80-year-old nursemaid Anfisa in Three Sisters to Phaedra in Phaedra’s Love, Sarah Kane’s adaptation of the Greek tragedy Hippolytus. I’ve been a stage manager, spotlight operator, props designer and more. I’ve realized that even in such an open and accepting environment, there still exist unacknowledged issues of race and gender. But I’ve found that my opinion is valued and that I can make a difference, both in my school and in the wider world, as long as I continue to believe that I can.

What does it mean to go “Against The Grain?”

To me, going Against The Grain means pursuing one’s passions against all odds while remaining true to oneself. Not being afraid to take risks despite what others might think or what obstacles might be in place. Adam Joyce, former director of the Missouri Fine Arts Academy, always said, “Believe in the world you create.” Meaning, believe in what you do, whatever you do. Whatever challenge faces you, whatever risk you take, give it 100%. Don’t waste time second-guessing yourself because of other people’s opinions on how you should live your life; afer all, it’s your life, so why should you have someone else live it for you?

How do you go “Against The Grain?”

When I was eighteen, a friend asked me what I planned to do with my life. He told me I couldn’t study theater and mathematics forever. He said my dreams of being on Broadway were impractical and that the point of dreams is to be separate from reality. I go Against The Grain by not listening to people like him, by taking such comments as a motivation, a challenge to work even harder for my “impractical” dreams. I know that I’ll have a long journey, and no matter how hard I try, there will be some factors that I can’t control. I’m fighting for a spot in an industry that’s been inherently closed off to people of color, historically dominated by white plays written by white playwrights to be performed by white actors. But how can I find out if I have a chance at success without trying first? I enjoy working hard for the things I love because nothing worthwhile in life is going to be easy. I want to contribute to an environment that is aware of the racial, gender, and social issues surrounding it for not only my sake but for the sake of others like me: artists and performers who have been told to give up on their dreams, by individuals and by the industry as a whole. Going Against The Grain is not impractical; it’s a way of doing what you love.

Thoroughly impressed? Stay tuned to find out in August who the 2014 Scholarship Winners are by liking us on Facebook and subscribing to our Monthly E-Newsletter! 


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Going Against The Grain: Gauthami Vemula


Gauthami Vemula is the Founder and Managing Partner of Color Me Safe, LLC, a family crisis consulting firm committed to protecting children and families of North Texas by offering guidance and solutions for child welfare and protection issues. Gauthami’s previous experience as a child abuse investigator and department manager at the Department of Child Protective Services made her realize that working with children and families was not just part of a job but more of a calling. She was one of only three investigators hand-picked from Dallas County for a special pilot program, the Skilled Response Team, which investigated more than 40 child abuse cases a month. She was also selected as one of the few in Texas to train new CPS Investigators. In addition to her work in the field, Gauthami was integral in co-authoring Dallas County’s policy and procedure handbook used by all CPS Investigators. She also helped to create a systematic method called ‘Tips, Tools and Tactics,’ specifically utilized by newly trained CPS Investigators. After a decade of working within the system and becoming aware of its shortcomings, Gauthami invested her knowledge and expertise in founding Color Me Safe with the intention of bridging a connection between the families of North Texas and the CPS System. Now, as a Child Welfare Consultant and activist, she passionately works towards raising awareness about child abuse/neglect and advocating for families going through child protection issues.

Gauthami is actively involved in the community, serving on the boards of Hope’s Door and Empowering Women As Leaders. She serves as a mentor for high school girls at the Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School and also the sponsorship secretary for HEAL, an international organization working to provide education and health care to children in poverty. Since 2002, Gauthami has been an active volunteer/teacher at Chinmaya Mission of DFW, where she educates children and reinforces spiritual and cultural values. Gauthami has a passion for music and loves to play and teach piano in her spare time. She recently completed a children’s book and awaits publication. Gauthami also studies voice under opera singer/performer, Ronana Gales. Gauthami will be making her debut as a singer this year. She values her family who have encouraged and supported her littlest adventure to her greatest venture. In her spare time, she enjoys participating in a wide array of activities from dancing to blogging. Gauthami is the author of Wheatish; a blog that puts a satirical spin on being a first generation, Indian American woman balancing two different cultures. As an individual guided by her compassion and optimism, she hopes and strives for a commitment where all children are safe, healthy and provided a fair opportunity for a bright future ahead. Gauthami is also the recipient of the Dallas Women’s Foundation 2014 Maura Helping Women Award, which recognizes exceptional leaders who have have/are pioneering the way to improve lives for women and girls.

Full Name:
Gauthami Vemula
Born in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh, INDIA, raised in NY and Hobbs, NM as a child. Residing in Dallas, TX since 2001.
Current City:
Dallas, TX
What does it mean to you to “Go Against The Grain?”
To me, “Going Against The Grain” means to defy convention to make room for innovation and progress, to forge one’s own path, to scale new heights and expand the horizon of what it means to be human.
What made you decide to pursue a career in this industry?
I have always been conscious of giving back to society, especially being a first generation Indian American. Even as a student I actively devoted my time and energy volunteering for various social causes. During that time, I became aware of my passion for child welfare and working with families. With Color Me Safe, I had the opportunity to put my passion into action.
What have been some of the challenges you faced/lessons you learned as an Asian American in this field?
As an Indian American, there was always a pressure to follow the stereotype of becoming a doctor, lawyer or engineer. I started out with the intention of attending medical school, but life took a turn and brought me to the doors of community service and philanthropy. Service to others or SEVA as it is called in the ancient Indian language, Samskrit, was an integral part of my childhood education. And yet it was not expected to be my primary vocation. It was a challenge to pursue my career, as it was not the norm for an Indian girl, lacking financial security and prestige. But I knew my conviction and followed my heart. These challenges and experiences have taught me that my personal happiness and security was not going to be defined by societal norms and pressures.
What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment, and why?
 I believe my biggest accomplishment was/is to pursue an unconventional career and not only be good at it but also to earn respect from doing it. While I was facing my challenges, I was determined to leave a legacy for the next generation of Indian American girls that defying societal pressures and forging your own path can also lead to success and happiness.
What’s up next?
While expanding the sphere of Color Me Safe and bringing color in the lives of more families, we are currently working towards turning Color Me Safe into a non-profit organization. In addition, there are also some new projects in the works, but I can’t tell yet…
Quote to live by: “I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver” – Maya Angelou
Sign (Eastern Animal Sign & Western Zodiac): Snake and Aquarius
Passionate about: Family, friends, travel, learning about different cultures and my DVD collection of Charles In Charge
Favorite food: Whatever Mommy cooks and does not ask me to learn
Can’t live without: My baby nephew, oxygen and water in that order (wink, wink)
Posted in Against the Grain Productions, Going Against the Grain, News | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Student Attempts to Enter University with a Fortune of Only VND100,0000, 1 cat and 2 rabbits

Dung Viet Nguyen lost his mother when he was one years-old.  His dad abandoned him when he was born.  He also just lost his maternal grandmother last year.  Dung said that his assets comprised of just over 100,000 VND (about $5 USD), 1 cat and 2 rabbits.

Dung Viet Nguyen (resides at Tan Viet, Thanh Ha District, Hai Duong Province) is the high school student of THPT Ha Bac. This year, in the entrance examinations, he chose the study of Water Resources at Water Resources University (Hanoi). Farming since he was six or seven, Dung desires to learn something that would be useful for his homeland. Without a university degree, Dung will return home in hopes of finding a suitable job and a peaceful life.

We met Dung at the university hostels Irrigation.  I immediately noticed his sad eyes, full of concern. He recently arrived to Hanoi, a naive schoolboy with honeycomb sandals – a tall, thin figure.  He could not remember his room number between rows of tall buildings. First time in the Capitol and alone, everything unfamiliar with to him. Fear of robbery and fraud in the city makes him even more nervous.  Dung finally settled in a hostel room to prepare for the University entrance exam.

After a chat with Dung, I learned that he is a child with a life full of disadvantages.  His mother’s name is PTH, who died of breast cancer at the age of 43.  At that time, he was only one year-old, not old enough to remember the face of his mother or  any memories of her.  He was raised by his maternal grandmother, but she hardly talked about the sad old story of his mother.  She only told Dung that his mother was a kind and gentle woman but suffered so much when she was alive.

Dung’s mother died when he was an infant.. Because his mother had breast cancer, she could not nurse him.  Thus his grandmother had to carry him door-to-door through the whole village to beg for breast milk.  She raised him until he was 17.

When asked about his father, Dung’s sad eyes started to fill with tears of pity. “My mom is the second wife,” he said.  Thus his Dad did not care about the life of his mother and him from the day he was born. Many times when he looked at the happy environment of classmates who still have their parents, Dung could only feel sad for his destiny.

During the past 17 ​​years, his grandmother and he leaned on each other to live. In November of last year, Dung’s grandmother died of old age and poor health, leaving him to live with a tremendous loss.  Now, with his only emotional support gone, Dung tries bravely to live alone in a small house in the countryside of Hai Duong.

Enter the picture of the difference between the rich and the poor students who take the entrance exam to universities. The rich students who come to the city for the competition stay in hotels with cars shuttling them back and forth to the universities and everywhere.  The disadvantaged candidates struggle just to find a place to avoid the sun and the rain, and many need food.

Dung even attempted to quit school on several occasions, because was so poor.

Since his grandmother died, Dung lives alone at home to work and study.  He eats lunch together everyday with his uncle’s family. The story of Mrs HTS, his grandmother, is part of the memory of the good time that keeps him going.

The home where Dung lived with his grandmother was a creaking house with a dirt floor.  The old roof had holes that Dung had to fix with canvas but still leaks when it rains heavily. Dung said, “There were many rainy nights when the water poured though and  soaked everything in the house, included the rice.” He  lost sleep for worrying.

At the age of six, Dung started to helped with the the farm work, such as drying grain and straw and helping his grandmother cook meals. Both of them lived off the 3 small rice paddies, a little chicken feed and a wage subsidy for  poor households around 180,000 VND / month (less than $9 USD)  Dung’s meals everyday comprised of only spinach and tofu.   His grandmother occasionally saved enough money to buy meat to feed the growing grandson.

From the day his grandmother passed, Dung is the sole caretaker of the rice paddies, while continuing to go to school.  Sometimes, he does not know where to turn, wanting to quit school and find work instead.  However, people encourage him to continue.  They tell him, “Keep going.  Keep studying. Everything will fall into place.” Not able to know who he can trust, Dung goes to school employees resigned but motivated people. “I keep learning. Where is the story there.”

His grandmother has passed nearly a year ago, but Dung sometimes still thinks she is alive. The boy recounts his memories, “Being 70, she was still very healthy. She often carried me when I was in kindergarten.  Her back bent down, and my feet touched the ground.   Everyone joked that my legs were longer than her legs.” At 70 years-old, she still went to catch fish.  She was well-known in the area for her ability to catch crabs. He remembers the distinct flavor of his grandmother’s cooking in each bowl of soup.  Every time he cooks soup, he thinks of his grandmother.

Over  the last 17 years, his grandmother and him leaned on each other  during hard times, shared joys and sorrows. Dung never forgot the times his grandmother had to go around to borrow money so she could take him to the hospital when he felt ill, or the last portion of her life when he took care of her.

Enter University with less than VND 500,000?

His grandmother was so poor that she did not leave him anything when she passed away. On the afternoon of July 2, Dung alone went to Hanoi to take the entrance exam to Hanoi Water Resources University, with only VND500,000 dong (less than $50 USD) in his pocket. The boy who was born in 1996 said that all the property he had was more than VND 100,000, an adopted cat, and 2 rabbits raised for sale. The amount remaining is more than VND 300,000 given by his relatives and neighbors for his journey.

Dung Nguyen recounted, “I remember people’s advice that I should seek the help of student volunteers who dressed in blue colored shirts to get free shelter in the school dormitory.   I am so lucky, because I would not  know how to manage with only VND 500,000 “. [Note:  a bowl of pho costs more than VND 60,000 at this time.]

At home, his only means of transportation was an old bike assembled by his uncle. When he came to Hanoi for the exam, he carried an old malfunctioned phone that only you can hear from but cannot make calls and a few outfits. However, he always remembers his grandmother’s words. “Even the poor have dignity. Do not take things from other people.” So Dung has the courage to live in poverty. He remembers to help people in more difficult circumstances.  During high school, Dung helped carry his classmate, Nguyen Manh Duong, a boy born paralyzed but who writes beautifully, from the school gates into the classroom. Dung talk about his friend, “Duong is a good friend with an optimistic mind. I just want to do this to express the love between human beings.”

[Translated from an article dated July 2 on written by Quyen Quyen] 

Sĩ tử đi thi với gia tài 100.000 đồng, 1 con mèo, 2 con thỏ

Nguyễn Việt Dũng mồ côi mẹ từ nhỏ, bố bỏ rơi, năm ngoái bà em mất. Đi thi đại học, Dũng cho biết, tất cả tài sản của em chỉ có hơn 100.000 đồng, 1 con mèo và 2 con thỏ.

Mồ côi mẹ khi 1 tuổi, bố bỏ rơi khi vừa chào đời

Nguyễn Việt Dũng (xã Tân Việt, huyện Thanh Hà, tỉnh Hải Dương) là học sinh trường THPT Hà Bắc. Năm nay, trong kỳ thi tuyển sinh, Dũng lựa chọn khoa Tài nguyên nước, trường ĐH Thủy lợi (Hà Nội). Gắn bó với nghề nông từ khi lên 6, lên 7, Dũng mong muốn việc học của mình có ích cho quê nhà. Nếu không đỗ đại học, Dũng sẽ trở về quê để tìm công việc phù hợp, sống yên bình.

Gặp Dũng tại ký túc xá trường ĐH Thủy lợi ấn tượng nhất là đôi mắt đượm buồn, đầy ưu tư.  Vừa chân ướt chân ráo lên Hà Nội, cậu học trò chất phác với đôi dép tổ ong, quần vải, dáng hình cao gầy, không nhớ nổi phòng ở của mình giữa những dãy nhà cao tầng. Lần đầu tiên lên Thủ đô, lại đi một mình, mọi thứ đều lạ lẫm với Dũng. Nỗi lo sợ bị cướp giật, lừa đảo trên thành phố khiến em lo lắng.

Mẹ mất khi Dũng còn ẵm ngửa, em được bà ngoại nuôi dưỡng từ nhỏ. Do mẹ mắc bệnh ung thư vú nên ngay từ khi chào đời em không được bú sữa. Bà bế Dũng đi khắp làng xin từng giọt sữa, nuôi lớn cháu đến ngày thành chàng trai 17 tuổi.Trò chuyện với Dũng, được biết em sinh ra đã là cậu bé chịu nhiều thiệt thòi. Mẹ của Dũng là cô Phạm Thị Huấn, mất khi 43 tuổi vì căn bệnh ung thư vú. Ngày đó em mới tròn 1 tuổi, chưa đủ nhận thức để lưu giữ gương mặt, kỷ niệm về mẹ. Ở với bà nhưng Dũng kể, bà cũng ít khi nhắc lại chuyện buồn cũ, chỉ kể mẹ là người phụ nữ hiền lành nhưng có số phận vất vả.

Khi hỏi về bố, đôi mắt buồn của Dũng rưng rưng đầy tủi thân. Mẹ em là vợ thứ 2, bố Dũng không quan tâm đến cuộc sống của hai mẹ con ngay từ ngày em chào đời. Nhiều lúc trong cuộc sống, nhìn bạn bè xung quanh hạnh phúc vì có đầy đủ bố mẹ, em chỉ biết buồn cho số phận của mình.

Trong suốt 17 năm qua, hai bà cháu nương tựa vào nhau để sống. Tháng 11 năm ngoái, bà ngoại Dũng qua đời vì tuổi cao, sức yếu đã để lại trong em nỗi mất mát lớn. Chỗ dựa duy nhất về tinh thần của không còn, Dũng sống một mình trong căn nhà nhỏ tại vùng quê Hải Dương.

Sự khác biệt giữa con nhà giàu và nhà nghèo khi đi thi ĐH

Nếu như con nhà giàu lên thành phố thi được ở khách sạn, ô tô đưa đón… thì sĩ tử có hoàn cảnh khó khăn chỉ cần có nơi tránh mưa tránh nắng, cơm ăn miễn phí.

Từng muốn nghỉ học vì nghèo khó

Sau khi bà mất, Dũng lủi thủi một mình làm việc, học tập, hằng ngày ăn cơm cùng cậu mợ. Những câu chuyện về người bà Hoàng Thị Sủng trong em chỉ còn ký ức đẹp.

Dũng cùng bà ở trong căn nhà cấp 4 ọp ẹp với nền đất, mái ngói cũ nhiều chỗ bị vỡ do thời gian. Những lỗ thủng trên mái nhà đã được căng bạt vẫn thường xuyên bị dột mỗi khi trời đổ mưa lớn. Dũng kể lại: “Có những đêm mưa, nước chảy lênh láng ướt hết thóc lúa trong nhà, em bị mất ngủ vì lo lắng”.

Lên 6 tuổi, Dũng đã biết giúp đỡ bà những công việc làm nông như phơi thóc lúa, rơm rạ, phụ bà nấu ăn. Hai bà cháu quanh năm chỉ trông chờ vào 3 sào ruộng, nuôi mấy con gà cùng mức lương trợ cấp hộ nhà nghèo là 180.000 đồng/tháng. Bữa cơm thường ngày của Dũng và bà chỉ có rau muống, đậu phụ. Bà dành dụm lâu lâu mua thịt để bồi dưỡng cho người cháu đang tuổi ăn, lớn nhanh như thổi.

Từ ngày bà mất, Dũng một mình quán xuyến một sào lúa. Đã có thời gian khó khăn không biết trông cậy vào ai, Dũng định xin nghỉ học đi làm thuê nhưng được mọi người động viên: “Em cứ học, chuyện đâu rồi có đó”.

Cho đến bây giờ, khi bà đã đi xa gần 1 năm nhưng Dũng vẫn ngỡ như khi còn sống. Chàng trai kể lại kỷ niệm: “Ngày 70 tuổi, bà vẫn còn khỏe lắm. Bà thường cõng em đến nhà trẻ, lưng bà đã còng nên mọi người nói đùa: “Cẳng cháu còn dài hơn chân bà”.

Mặc dù ngoài 70 tuổi nhưng bà vẫn đi tát cá, nổi tiếng trong vùng bởi khả năng bắt cua, bắt cáy giỏi. Trong trí nhớ của Dũng vẫn còn nguyên vẹn hương vị mỗi bát canh cua bà nấu, để đến bây giờ mỗi khi chan bát nước canh em lại nhớ về.

Suốt 17 năm, hai bà cháu nương tựa vào nhau mỗi lúc khó khăn, cùng san sẻ vui buồn. Dũng nhớ nhất là những ngày bà chạy vạy tiền nong khi em nhập viện vì cảm lạnh hay tháng ngày chăm bà trong giai đoạn cuối của bệnh tật.

Dự thi đại học với 500.000 đồng

Khi bà sống chỉ có 2 bàn tay trắng nên khi mất đi không để lại cho Dũng được gì đáng giá. Chiều ngày 2/7, Dũng một mình lên Hà Nội dự thi trường ĐH Thủy lợi với chỉ 500.000 đồng trong túi. Chàng trai sinh năm 1996 cho biết, tất cả tài sản em có được là hơn 100.000 đồng, nuôi 1 con mèo và 2 con thỏ để bán. Số tiền hơn 300.000 còn lại Dũng được họ hàng cho chi trả lộ phí.

Nam sinh này kể lại: “Em nhớ lời dặn dò của mọi người, nên tìm sự giúp đỡ của đội sinh viên tình nguyện có màu áo xanh nên đã được ở miễn phí trong khu ký túc xá của trường. Em thật may mắn vì sẽ không biết xoay sở ra sao với 500.000 đồng”.

Ở nhà, phương tiện đến trường của Dũng là chiếc xe đạp cũ được người chú lắp ráp cho. Khi đi dự thi, Dũng mang theo một chiếc điện thoại 1200 cũ, chỉ có thể nghe, đã hỏng chức năng gọi để tiện liên lạc với người nhà và vài bộ quần áo.

Chính vì vậy, Dũng vẫn vững lòng sống giữa cuộc sống nghèo khó. Em luôn có tâm niệm giúp đỡ những người có hoàn cảnh khó khăn hơn mình. Suốt thời gian học cấp 3, chính Dũng là người cõng bạn Nguyễn Mạnh Dương – chàng trai bị bại liệt bẩm sinh, viết chữ đẹp từ cổng trường vào lớp học. Em tâm sự về người bạn thân của mình: “Dương là người bạn tốt bụng, lạc quan. Em coi đây là công việc cần làm để thể hiện tình yêu thương giữa con người với con người mà thôi”.Trong ký ức, Dũng nhớ nhất lời dặn dò của bà: “Áo rách phải giữ lấy lề con ạ, cuộc sống dù có nghèo đến mấy cũng không được nghĩ đến những thứ của người ta”.

Thầy Thích Thanh Ngọc (trụ trì chùa Cảnh Linh – Hải Dương) chia sẻ: “Dũng làm một trong những em có hoàn cảnh khó khăn. Em mồ côi mẹ, sống với bà nhưng bà cũng đã mất vì tuổi già. Trong kỳ thi đại học năm nay, tôi cũng muốn đưa Dũng đi thi nhưng vì em biết tôi còn chăm lo cho Dương nên đã tự lập”



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Sixth Annual “Fashion for a Passion” Announces 2014 Designer Line-Up


Seven Designers to Feature Exclusive Creations

Saturday, November 1 

2014 FFAP Promo

DALLAS, TX – Against The Grain Productions has selected seven emerging and established Asian American designers to join their elite roster of Presenting Designers at their upcoming Fashion for a Passion charity event, one of Dallas’ hottest must-have fashion tickets and charity events of the fall season.  Now in its sixth year, the evening showcases the talent of Asian American artists and springboard for careers, while serving as a place to bring together the entire community to celebrate up and coming talent and raise money for a worthy cause. Designers have launched careers with the event, including Khanh Nguyen of Nha Khanh, who started as a UNT graduate and within a few short years has since gone on to be featured in Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus. Hanh Dang of Lucy Dang, went on to win the title of Texas’ Next Top Designer and is now carried in Belk. The event benefits ATG’s supported orphanages, scholarships for student artists and leaders and community outreach programs to inspire, educate and entertain the community.

Fashion for a Passion will take place on Saturday, November 1st at the Three Three Three First Avenue, located at 333 First Avenue near Dallas Fair Park. From Vietnamese, to Thai, to Filipino to Chinese, this year’s diverse slate will showcase some veteran FFAP designers, as well as introduce new faces, including two firsts – a bridalwear and a jewelry designer.  Said Tammy Nguyen Lee, ATG President/Founder, “It’s hard to top ourselves each year, but we always manage to add a unique twist that keeps things interesting for our audience. This year is no different, and you won’t want to miss what we have in store.  We’re in a cool, new venue, and we’ve got another terrific line-up with some designs our audience has never seen before. Our team is hard at work to share some truly amazing talent and raise money for our many causes.”

Introducing the 2014 FFAP Presenting Designers:

Becky Hollands


Becky Hollands’ inspiration comes from her love of art, architecture, and her own bi-cultural upbringing.  Growing up in a family with both Chinese and British parents, she learned the balance of expressing her ideas liberally yet in the most exquisite manner.  You will find in her designs innovative selections of textiles, expressive clash of lines, and forms and textures which come together in a harmonious state of elegance and agility.

Becky’s work is often described as modern and timeless with a note of “effortlessness.” The Becky Hollands label is a celebration of the individualistic woman who is confident, artistic, and the ultimate “modern sophisticate.”

Becky is 29 years-old and received her Bachelor of Science degree in Apparel Design and Manufacturing and minors in Art, Portuguese and Mandarin from Texas Tech University. The Becky Hollands debuted its first collection in October 2013. The Becky Hollands label offers seasonal ready-to-wear collections. Becky Hollands Atelier launched in January 2014 specializing in custom couture designs.

Design inspiration: Her inspiration comes from her family, different cultures, architecture and her surroundings. Her designs represent elegance and effortlessness in a contemporary and versatile way. Utilization of form and movement are prevalent in her work.

Honors/Awards: She was greatly involved as Representative in Dean’s Leadership Council, Fashion Group International competitions and received the Glenna Goodacre Scholarship for Creativity.

What does it mean to go Against The Grain:  To ‘Go Against The Grain’ is not losing sight of your goal and not giving up on your dream. It takes not only an indomitable spirit but perseverance to not lose vision of the path you have chosen. To ‘Go Against The Grain’ is having the will to make it work, despite what the obstacles you may encounter.”

“For me, being involved with Fashion for a Passion is having the opportunity to have a voice. Not only will I be sharing my vision through my designs as a fashion designer… so much of who I am and my inspirations come from my bi-cultural upbringing and this is an opportunity to raise awareness and celebrate Asian American culture, artistry and identity.

I am so honored ATG has extended the opportunity for me to present at Fashion for a Passion.  I hope to represent my community, inspire others through my work, and support the arts and raise awareness while representing ATG.”

Jerry Matthews Nine MusesJERRY MATTHEWS | NINE MUSES

Jerry Matthews is the 23 year-old Filipino/Polish creative director/ designer of a Dallas-based women’s luxury label Nine Muses.  The luxury women’s label  was founded in 2012 by Matthews and his partner, Francesca Viamonte. Both designers attended and met at the Art Institute of Dallas in 2008.

Design inspiration: Simplistic, modern clothing for an edgy, fashion-forward who aspires to be chic and timeless. Each season, the collection is inspired by nine muses.

Honors/Awards: First Place in the 2008 Art Institute of Dallas’ “National Fashion Design Scholarship Competition” and “Outstanding Graduate in Fashion Design” in March of 2012

What does it mean to go Against The Grain: “Doing what you believe in regardless of what is expected of you. Going above and beyond.”

“Fashion for a Passion is such a great cause and event that holds such sentimental value to me. Years ago as a student, I remember wanting to be a presenting designer and now it’s my third year showing and my fourth year participating. It feels awesome to do what I love while giving back to a great cause and working with such passionate/ talented people.

I want to help raise awareness and help in any way I can. This particular event gets bigger and better every season and it’s an honor to be apart of.”


When it comes to jewelry, it’s personal. Whether it’s costume or fine jewelry, every piece has a meaning behind it. For Kansas-born, Hawaii-raised and New York City-based 30 year-old Vietnamese designer Brandy Pham, each design in her collection reflects her personality and her personal journey. Every little detail in each piece has been inspired by her loved ones, childhood memories, by her affinity for detail and everyday surroundings. Her creative vision can spark from the simplest details such as freshly cut ribbons, curves of scallops and beautiful intricate lace. Her love for creating clothes inspired her recent needle collection and a trip to Paris led the cylinder collection to be sculpted after beautiful door handles. She studied at Art Institute of Dallas, then received a BFA at IADT Tampa and trained in New York City.

“Made in New York” epitomizes the Brandy Pham brand. After quitting her day job as an assistant designer in fashion, Brandy started designing jewelry in her 400-square-foot apartment turned studio. Brandy’s jewelry is produced in the heart of New York City — the awe-inspiring Garment and Diamond District. Each piece is designed, handmade, and hand polished with care and love.

Brandy designs for the young lady she is and for the woman she wants to become. The Brandy Pham woman sees beauty in everything. She is positive, strong, and feminine. She is ladylike with a modern edge. She is elegant but cool. She is timeless. Brandy’s jewelry has been featured in major publications such as Lucky, Teen Vogue and Nylon; and has been worn by beautiful and talented women such as Selena Gomez. Her collection is sold in stores such as Anthropologie (US and London) and DKNY stores in NYC and London.

Design inspiration: Chic minimalist, a little uptown femininity with downtown cool, inspired by New York City and the women

Honors/Awards: Gates Millennium Scholarship by Bill & Melinda Gates

What does it mean to go Against The Grain: “I came from a very traditional Vietnamese family and I was the first family member to pursue an education and career in the arts. My parents didn’t understand or supported me in the beginning so it was very hard. I had to build the courage to put my feet down and strive for what I really wanted to do in life. My family is full of doctors, so I really had to go against the grain to fight for what I wanted and prove to my family and to myself that I was capable to succeed in fashion.”

“I think it’s a great organization as I am Vietnamese and love to support the community as much as I can; I received a full ride scholarship for college so that meant the world to me since my parents were unable to help us with finances.

[I hope to] lend a helping hand in the community and support education and the arts.”


Mai Pham is 25 years-old and was born in Oklahoma City. Shortly after, her parents moved them to Texas. Ever since, she has been a native Texan brought up in a traditional Vietnamese family. Mai recently earned her B.F.A. in Fashion Design from The University of North Texas. The skills acquired during her studies at UNT has developed her into the person she is today. She has much more to learn and is eager to do more with herself. Her philosophy in life is to “dream big, the sky is the limit.”

Design inspiration: My style and aesthetic is feminine elegance with a modern twist. My inspiration comes from anything architectural designs to music and mood. I enjoy playing with texture as well. I have always loved art as far as I can remember. I enjoy solving problems. I enjoy creating things. I combined everything that I enjoy doing and that was how that happened for me.

Honors/Awards: UNT Art Wear 2nd place Best Collection Award, Little Black Dress Designer 1st place Award, CVAD Wool design scholarship

What does it mean to go Against The Grain“Stay true to who you are, despite all the looks and whispers. There’s always going to be obstacles that you must surpass. Fight for what you believe in. Fight for your passions.”

“I feel very honored to be a part of Fashion for a Passion. To be able to present my work alongside talented designers will be amazing! To be able to help raise money to help orphans is beyond amazing! I feel so blessed to be a part of this good cause. To be a part of something so passionate is already an accomplishment.

I want to help others that are less fortunate. If I can do that while doing what I love… there’s nothing more that I could ask for.”

Hue Tran Lizzi LondonHUE TRAN | LIZZI LONDON

Hue Tran is a 29 year-old emerging women’s wear fashion designer born in Vietnam, but raised in London, England.  She is the fifth of eight children. She graduated from the University of the Fine Arts in London College of Fashion, where she obtained a Higher National Diploma in Pattern cutting degree in 2005 at the age of 20. She rapidly established a fashion portfolio thereafter in 2003 and eventually secured a highly coveted slot in the 2005 London Fashion week assisting Designer Customer’s Own Property.  She takes inspiration from surrealist artists Salvador Dali and fashion designer John Galliano, who have led her desire to observe visual, manipulated materials and mold on bodies as an alternative to blank canvases and flat drawings. Building a reputation for her intriguing gift, she credits her first big break in Houston, TX, where she established her clothing line, Lizzi London.

Hue quickly became a part of Texas’ thriving creative scene and started developing a distinct visual voice locally. The common thread that runs through her work is a no-holds-barred attitude and a penchant for bold experimentation. Crafting the whimsical, Hue became an overnight sensation to the various fashion showcased at local charity events, gala and productions. She has been featured in over 70 productions across the nation in cities such as New Orleans, Biloxi, Houston, Dallas, Seattle, Atlanta, Virginia, D.C, Providence and New York. In addition, she has experience in styling Vietnamese celebrities from “Paris by Night” and Van Son Entertainment, editorial photoshoots, music videos, coordinating runway shows, hair and makeup styling. She has appeared on ABC/KTRK TV Channel 13, HI Saigon Radio 900AM, MFC Media TV and Cognac Corner TV, Black Tie Magazine (New York), Viet BeautyMagazineYellow Magazine (Houston), LA Mode (Dallas) and many more.

Design inspiration: Femininity, romantic, sophisticated, direct, confident, aspiring, underestimated, timeless, Audrey Hepburn inspired

What does it mean to go Against The Grain:

“I believe that being a fashion designer is a beautiful gift that I can contribute. But it means so much more when you are able to give back – to be able to teach and inspire. Against The Grain Productions has a purpose, it communicate in volumes and generates that spark to know with the smallest kindness and the collaboration of others, we can create moments and changes in people’s lives. By standing up and having a voice leading to action, we are ‘Going Against The Grain.’”


Vatana Watters is an established name in the bridal world, designer of Thai descent who offers innovative and luxurious styles for brides, bridesmaids, junior bridesmaids, mother of the wedding and flower girls around the world. It all started 28 years ago in Dallas, Texas with a few dresses handmade for friends and family. Turns out, there was a niche for well designed special occasions dresses, and it caught on in a big way. By the late ’80s, her company, Watters, was a treasured name in the bridal wear industry.

Always looking forward, the company continues to evolve and currently offers designer bridal gowns, affordable bridal gowns, bridesmaids, junior bridesmaids, mother of the wedding, and flower girl under the brand names of Watters, Wtoo, Collection 20, Seahorse. In 2012 the Encore collection was launched – stylish dresses designed to go from cocktail parties to rehearsal dinners to post wedding events.

In 2013 Vatana Watters introduced Watters Veils by Toni Federici and Watters Accessories by Thomas Knoell collections to  help brides to exquisitely finish their look.

Vatana Watters continues to be at the heart of the company and is passionately involved in setting the design tone. Her inspirations emanate from her heritage, experience on both coasts and the desire to reflect the spirit of the times. Vatana recognizes that design is where it starts, but not where it ends. And that’s why Watters continues to be appreciated for being a cut above for quality and responsiveness.

Design inspiration: Vatana’s inspiration emanate from her heritage, experience on both coasts and the desire to reflect the spirit of the times. She recognizes that design is where it starts, but not where it ends. And that’s why Watters continues to be appreciated for being a cut above for quality and responsiveness.

Honors/Awards: Over the years, Watters has been fortunate to receive design awards for innovation, rave, reviews in the press and to be chosen for quite a few celebrity appearances and weddings.

What does it mean to go Against The Grain: “When I started making bridesmaids gowns in the mid ’80’s, I offered an alternative solution to the big puffy sleeves and bows. I decided to ‘go Against The Grain,’ and it paid off in a great way, due to hard work, determination and staying true to my vision.”

“I’m honored to be part of Fashion for a Passion to show that determination and hard work can shape your dreams into a successful career.”


DORA YIM | d.p.c.

d.p.c. by Dora Yim believes in“Making Timeless Styles for Day and Night.”  With thoughtful diligence, d.p.c. works hard to make sure each garment lasts more than just a season and hopefully a lifetime.  Always striving for perfection and enabling its customers to feel good about how they look, d.p.c.’s goal of timeless style is summed up in its tagline,  “Wear it today, treasure it always.”

Design inspiration: Images and colors I experience in nature and the urban jungle.

Honors/Awards: Emerging Designer featured at WWD Magic, Emerging Designer featured at the Phoenix Fashion Week

What does it mean to go Against The Grain:

“I’m proud to be an Asian Fashion Designer and honored to be part of the show. Not only can I support the organization but also through the show, it will give me a great channel to reach a bigger audience and let people recognize my brand.”

This year’s show will again be emceed by two of Dallas’ most talented and beautiful public figures — LeeAnne Locken, an actress/spokesperson and regular fashionista on the social scene, along with Elizabeth Dinh, a morning news reporter for KTVT CBS 11, who is also a former Miss Asian American Texas and Ambassador for Against The Grain Productions.

LeeAnne Locken

LeeAnne Locken

Elizabeth Dinh

Elizabeth Dinh

Event tickets range from $50 for General Admission, $75-$100 for VIP/Reserved and will go on sale in mid September. Visit for more information.  Sponsorship opportunities are available by emailing

Watch the 2013 Fashion for a Passion Highlight video:



ATG Against The Grain Productions is a Dallas-based 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to producing films, media, programs and events that promote awareness and unity of Asian American culture, artistry and identity.  A little out of the ordinary in its methods, ATG is an innovative resource that gives voice to significant, relevant and untold stories in our community.  ATG creates educational, cultural and artistic opportunities fox Asians an Asian Americans, while continually reaching out and helping those in need.  ATG is made up 100% of volunteers – no one is paid, except in smiles.  Administration and marketing costs are kept to an absolute minimum so nearly 100% of donations can be given away.


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Going Against The Grain: Nol Meyer

I was born between 1972-73 in Saigon, Vietnam. I spent the next 2-3 years in the Sancta Maria Orphanage at 279/5 Le Quang Dinh in the Binh Thanh District of Saigon. I was adopted and taken out of Vietnam as part of Operation Babylift about two weeks before the end of the war in April 1975. I ended up in Long Beach, California instead of San Antonio, Texas, where my parents were at the time, because I chewed off the identification bracelet on my arm. After three days of searching, my mother found me and brought me to Texas, where we lived for a year before relocating to Pittsburgh, PA for the next three years. In 1979, my family (mother, father, other adopted brother from Ca Tho Viet Nam) moved to Colorado, where I spent the rest of my childhood living in the mountains near Boulder for  four years and just south of Denver for another eight. After graduating high school, I enrolled in a joint program between the University of San Francisco and the Academy of Art College to study Illustration. I graduated in 1995 and was luck enough to be hired by Dreamworks just 5 months later and have been with the company ever since. I am currently working my 5th picture as Head of Layout and will be relocating to Los Angeles in July in order to complete the film project.

When I was a Junior in 1993, I took a semester off to go study in Vietnamese language, history and culture at the University of Hanoi for a semester. This was my first time back to Vietnam since my adoption and has played a hugely important effect on the rest of my life. After I finished studying, my family came, and we found my orphanage where I met the man who owned and ran the orphanage and whom after I was named. (All children who arrived without a name share his last and middle name, in my case, Nguyen Van Cuong.) I became friends with the family and stay in touch with them to this day. Over the next twenty years of my life, I have traveled to Vietnam over 20 times and  have lived there over a year and a half. I am married to a Vietnamese woman, who two separate friends of mine set me up with on blind dates on the very same day. We’ve been married since 2009 and are expecting our first child any minute now . . .

Full Name:

Nol Le Meyer


Saigon (HCMC), Viet Nam

Current City:

San Francisco till July and then L.A.


50% Vietnamese 50% Caucasian (checked it out with 23 and Me to be sure)

What does it mean to you to “Go Against The Grain?:”

Hmmm, I guess for me, it would be pursuing art as a career. Rather than go for the safe or responsible career, my mother always supported both my and my brother’s (photography) artistic pursuits. Private art classes when there wasn’t enough at school, extra “homework” at home illustrating stories while I was in primary school, art shows and a joint University program for an Illustration degree. The support has always been there, so it’s never felt like a struggle or going against the grain, but becoming an artist is always a bit unconventional, especially for Asian Americans.

What made you decide to pursue your career path?

I’ve been drawing ever since I can remember, so it did not seem like I made a decision to pursue in art. I loved animated films and comic books all the way through high school, especially Anime and the film Akira in particular, but when I started college in 1991, I decided on Illustration as a major (there were only a handful of schools in the country at the time that offered an animation degree at that time). While I was at college, I thought I wanted to be a children’s book illustrator, but that is not something that pays you right out of school, so I started working various other jobs while sending out portfolios trying to find any place that would pay me to draw. I was working at Alcatraz handing out audio tours when I took the call on the island’s pay phone for my job interview at the one year-old studio, Dreamworks.

What have been some of the challenges you faced/lessons you learned as an Asian American in this field?

Can’t say that I’ve faced any challenges being Asian American in my field. Perhaps it’s because I’m half Caucasian and don’t really look Asian, but honestly my ethnicity has never manifested itself as a factor in my work.

What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment, and why?

Professionally, I feel like my biggest accomplishment has been being able to grow and evolve with the company I’ve spent my entire career at. Dreamworks started as a 2D hand drawn animation company and slowly transitioned to a fully 3D computer animation company over the first 8 or so years I was here. I am really proud to have worked on Dreamworks’ very first picture and 18 and a half years later still happy and excited to a part of the company as it evolves and constantly tries to make better movies that have an increasing global presence.

What’s up next?

Moving back to Los Angeles to head up the Layout Department on the first [Asian] Dreamworks Feature.

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Vietnam Orphanage Update – International Children’s Day 6/1/14

This email was received from Uu Dam, one of ATG’s supported orphanages in Vietnam (which now has more than 60 children) after International Children’s Day. The following is translated from the original Vietnamese email, and names have been abbreviated for their privacy.



Dear  ATG Family:

International Children’s holidays returned again this year, warming the spirits of the orphans of Uu Dam.  This year as well as the years before, the ATG gave the Uu Dam family a large donation of money for foods and supplies and a generosity of spiritual values.  The children ​are very happy and excited to receive such a meaningful gift, especially this year’s donation that included extra encouragement for those who achieved academic honors in school from 2013 to 2014. Everyone in the Uu Dam family would like to deeply thank the ATG family.

At the request of Ms. Aileen, this afternoon PT went with the children to the  supermarket to shop for food, supplies and goodies for the International Children Day (QTTN) celebration of VND 12 million.  The remaining VND 3 million PT will purchase awards for the children who achieved the gifted/honor student certificates and also the student at University  who scored well.  Tomorrow, after the distribution of awards and the QTTN celebration, PT will send you pictures for you to see.

Attached, PT would like to send a few pictures of the youngest members of Uu Dam so Aileen and everyone in the ATG family can see.  The children are lovely, innocent and also very smart. The smiles of these innocent little angels of Uu Dam are the gift that PT would like to send to the ATG family during this fun day for the children.

Wish everyone happiness and good health!


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Vietnam Orphanage Update 6/3/14

In addition to providing aid for basic needs such as food, milk, clothing, educational tools and cultural celebrations, ATG takes it one step further with our supported orphanages in Vietnam.  We provide incentives to the orphans to work hard to make a better life for themselves by awarding those who receive an academic achievement certificate from their school district an extra “prize” of new school clothesand school supplies It is our belief that this will continue to give them motivation and inspiration, while also letting them know that someone cares about their future. 

This email was sent by one of the workers at one of ATG’s supported orphanages in Vietnam. The original email is translated from Vietnamese, and names are abbreviated to protect their identity.

Uu Dam  June 1Dear  Aileen!

On behalf of ATG, PT has provided awards for children of Uu Dam who achieved good academic results during the school year 2013 – 2014.  Within this group, XT received  both certificates for good student and also completed her thesis for four years of University yesterday.  She received 9 out of 10 for her thesis.  XT was so happy, dear Aileen.  This morning, after receiving this meaningful award, she got teary-eyed and asked PT to send her sincere thanks to you, Aivy, and all of the members of ATG. She said that she had to go to school

today to set up the completion of her school, but when she comes back at night, she will write to you all.  PT and all of the orphans of Uu Dam will always treasure the love and support from the ATG family.  The continuous concern and support that ATG has given to Uu Dam during the past several years has contributed to making our home increasingly happy and boisterous with the laughter of these children.


In these pictures, CH  and CT are brothers.  Because they had to go back to the countryside for their mother’s memorial, I gave them your awards earlier than to the others.  For many years now, both boys have achieved good/honor student status.  Their parents died when CT was 2 years-old and CH was 3-years old.  Currently, they still have their paternal grandmother, but  she is elderly and living out in the countryside under difficult conditions.

ATG Uu Dam Orphanage CHDSC04614



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Going Against The Grain: Kristen Kish

Kristen Kish
Born in South Korea and adopted into a family in Kentwood, MI, Kristen Kish showed an affinity for cooking at a young age. Her mother suggested she go to culinary school and since attending Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago, Kristen has never looked back.

After moving to Boston, Kristen has worked in many high-profile restaurants including Michelin-star Chef Guy Martin’s Sensing and Barbara Lynch’s Stir as Chef de Cuisine, overseeing all back of house operations, including the design and execution of nightly menus and demonstration dinners for 10 guests. Kristen went on to compete on Bravo’s Top Chef Season 10 where she won the coveted title after an amazing comeback, becoming the second female chef to win the prestigious competition and first Asian American female. Most recently, Kristen was Chef de Cuisine of Menton, Chef Barbara Lynch’s fine dining restaurant.

Full Name:

Kristen Kish


Grand Rapids, Michigan

Current City:

Boston, MA


South Korean

What does it mean to you to “Go Against The Grain?”:

To me it means doing what you feel is right even in the face of other pressures regardless of the outcome. It’s about doing what you are passionate about and doing what will make you happy. Staying true to who you are. Only we can determine our own paths and taking risks in order to find what that is takes strength and determination.

What made you decide to pursue your career path?

It’s what I love to do.  It wasn’t always easy making that decision but in my gut it is what I am passionate about.  With the assistance of my amazing family they helped me realize my true passions in life even when I couldn’t see them.

What have been some of the challenges you faced/lessons you learned as an Asian American in this field?

My ethnicity hasn’t had many challenges in the kitchen.

What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment, and why?

It’s hard to say… I believe that every success and failure I have endured has taught me an incredible amount and has been an accomplishment. I always strive for something greater and not ever feeling like I have “made it” allows me to keep pushing harder than ever. So I guess my greatest accomplishment in many ways is everyday when I wake up happy. The combination of everything allows me feel that.

What’s up next?

Self exploration… Finding out what it is i want to do next.  I would love a restaurant and that is something I give a lot of time and energy formulating.  But I know I need to see, learn, experience some things before that in order to give my guests the best of who I am through good and hospitality.

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Orphanage Update: Uu Dam

(translated from Vietnamese, names abbreviated to protect their privacy.)

Dear ATG family,

Yesterday afternoon, PT and the children went to supermarket to shop for the necessities and food for the children at Uu Dam. The receipts added up to 10 million VND. The children were very excited. They always appreciate and have profound gratitude towards the ATG family.

This year, Uu Dam did not have any students taking the University entrance exams. However, there will be two students preparing for University next year. The children of Uu Dam are healthy and study hard all the time. They know that the reason they have cozy living conditions is largely due to the love, care, and support from the ATG family members. PT always reminds them to live a good and useful life in order to repay the donors who have loved and nurtured them.

With this email, PT includes pictures of the youngest children (the Three Musketeers) as a souvenir to ATG. The little boy sitting in the stroller, PH, is now 7 months old. He was only a few days old when he came to  Uu Dam, and he is currently a healthy and good boy.

Once again, on behalf of the Executive Committee of the orphans at Uu Dam, PT wishes to send the members of the ATG family Health and Peace.


DSC04128 3 chàng lính Ng? Lâm

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2014 ATG Vietnamese Heritage/Culture Camp Scholarship Contest

Win $100 for Vietnamese Heritage/Culture Camp! Enter today!

Against The Grain Productions is proud to announce the 2014 ATG Vietnamese Heritage/Culture Camp Scholarship Contest! ATG is giving away camp scholarships to 10 lucky campers to help pay for the camp of their choice. Past winners are not eligible.

Here’s how it works:

Step 1: Register for Heritage/Culture Camp: 

Step 2: Email us:

Email us with your child’s picture and your child’s answers to the following questions…
1. What does ‘Against The Grain?’ mean to you?
2. How do you go ‘Against The Grain’?
Email: Attach a picture from camp to share on the contest page. :-)
Rules: Kids must be registered for a Heritage or Culture camp. Please send in your proof of registration. Only one entry per child. Past winners will not be entered into the final drawing.
Prize: 10 $100 stipends will be given away at random. The national drawing will be held July 1, 2014. Winners will be notified via email. Winners photo and answers will be posted on the ATG website in the beginning of August.

Good luck!

Check out our past Vietnamese Heritage/Culture Camp Scholarship Winners!

2013 Winners! Click here for details

Here are some of our winners from the 2013 Vietnamese Heritage Camp in Colorado.


2012 Winners! Click here for details



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