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My Asian American Experience – Designer/Therapist, Anita Yokota, Talks About Her Life And Resources To Start Creating Change

Where are you really from?

Wow! You speak such fluent English.

So, what’s your real name?

I’ve been asked these questions all my life.

Last week’s news about the murder of six Asian women by a mass shooter in Atlanta has really shaken me to the core. The gunman had targeted Asian spas, killing eight innocent people. When I first heard, I immediately called my partner Travis, then my mom. It’s the first thing we do in moments of crisis: you go to your loved ones and make sure they’re okay. None of us were okay. 

I was really struck by the thought that we were better than this. A naive part of me thought we had made more progress. I was shocked and scared. I thought of my elderly parents and my uncles and aunties. The first instinct is to protect the ones you love… then you get angry. How can we stop this? I can’t help but think: what’s my part in this? 

To be transparent, it’s taken me a week to really process everything. And of course, no one is ever “done” processing racism. I’m reeled back into the plethora of emotions each time the aggression of hate is made against my AAPI community.

As an interior designer with a background as a therapist, I have always wanted to inspire people to feel safe in their spaces. But getting to a place of safety means speaking up, setting boundaries, and seeking change. This is an emotional and isolating time not only for me but the entire AAPI community, and we need all the support we can get. 

Growing Up As An Asian-American

My parents came to the U.S. as exchange students in the 1960’s from Taiwan straight to Arkansas. In recounting her time in Arkansas, my mom very matter of factly told us that her host family asked her to do their laundry by hand and it was without pay.

It wasn’t always easy for my sister and me growing up in our neighborhood in the 80s and 90s, either. Even a simple thing like a school lunch could be a source of stress. Because our parents were first-generation, we often did not have the same lunches as our peers. Our friends may have had peanut butter and jelly while we had char sui in a bun. One time my sweet grandma attempted to make a sandwich with peanut butter and lettuce. We wanted the traditional American lunch so badly, mostly to stop the daily questions and teasing from everyone around us. The need to belong was so intense, especially at such an early age.

My mother and grandmother were wonderful in empowering us as females and they were strong role models for us. But it was harder for them to relate to our identity crisis of being American-born living a very different culture at home than at school or the homes of our friends. Learning to embrace both cultures took time and many ups and downs for us to land in an emotionally balanced place. 

design and photo by me

Dismantling The “Model Minority” Myth

Most older Asian Americans feel pressure to be the “model minority.” As a result, they raised their children like me to uphold that value. There’s an unspoken pressure to be perfect: to try to fit in. 

We’re often taught that if we keep our heads down and work hard, it’ll pass. Society isn’t used to Asian Americans speaking up. But now is the time to amplify the AAPI community. We need to be heard, seen, and respected. 

I am committed to unlearning the harmful myth that I need to be silent and obedient. In my own way, I’ve stopped being a “model minority.” I don’t think I would have gotten this far in my career if I hadn’t overcome the perfectionism that keeps you playing small.

As I began to pursue my passion for interior design, I quickly realized I was once again needing to find my voice. It was starkly clear that my physical appearance was very different from the majority of designers in the interior design world. And that I would have to work a lot harder to prove myself in the industry.

 In the beginning as a newbie design influencer, I was surprised to find that I was the only Asian American or Person of Color present at many design events. It takes a lot of emotional strength to constantly break through barriers, speak up for yourself daily and not give into your own fears and judgment of others.

I remind myself that my feelings of anger are valid. I give myself permission to stand up and speak about my experience. We need to stop this violence against Asian Americans. Now. 

How To Be An Asian-American Ally

Let a friend know you’re here for them, without expecting a response

I’ve had some friends ask me how to approach their Asian American friends from a communication perspective. Honestly, questions like “How are you doing?” may not receive a reply. 

Remember that it really depends on the person, but a lot of times we are so overwhelmed, we don’t even know what we are feeling, let alone what to say. It can be a hard question to answer. But that shouldn’t be the end of a very important connection and dialogue. Whatever relationships you have with them, continue it, and let the dialogue flow naturally. 

As a therapist, my emphasis in my practice is on connection and empathy. If you want to be a true advocate, it’s simple. Just reach out. Don’t hesitate. Culturally, it’s not always easy to be vulnerable and open. We may not overtly say or show our pain but believe me, it exists every day of our lives. So knowing that we have someone in our corner can make all the difference.

And the first step towards empathizing is acknowledgment.  

If you think about it, it is truly a human need that we all desire. We just want to be seen, heard, and acknowledged. 

The feeling of being invisible and the lack of recognition over a long period of time can be psychologically very damaging. 

The most lovely message I received was: “Anita. I’ve been thinking of you. Sending lots of love and strength to you and your family.” And that was it. It made me feel so good, like I was going to make it through all of this because my friend acknowledged what was happening. But I wasn’t required to make a big response back. She acknowledged me but also gave me space to process and not necessarily respond right away. 

design and photo by me

Learn the Asian American impact on American history and culture

I encourage you to educate and learn the multitude of ways we’ve contributed to the success of our country—and continue to. Learn to pronounce Asian names correctly, and acknowledge the talents of Asian Americans around you. We work really hard, and it helps to know our efforts are seen and valued!

A few of my favorite books written by Asian American authors are 

For a more complete list of Asian American Authors check out this link

And here are three truly talented Asian American artists that truly are inspiring:

Please check out their beautiful work and join me in supporting their creativity. 

Don’t Be Silent

Our boundaries don’t have to be abrasive or abrupt, but they need to be clear and firm. (I’m still learning to do this every step of the way!) This happens in practical, everyday situations.

Whether they are microaggressions that frankly are sometimes harder to confront or heinous violent acts like in Atlanta, we need your support to amplify our voices and stand beside us against hatred. 

We all have ways that we can share our thoughts and show support. Find your avenue of support. It doesn’t have to be through social media. It can be through volunteering at a non-profit organization that supports the AAPI community like Asian Americans Advancing Justice or reaching out to your Asian American friends and offering any support that will help them consistently. Don’t give up. 

design and photo by me

For my AAPI friends, Here Is How We Cope:

As a designer who marries interior design and therapy, I find it healing to set my home up so that it can help me process my emotions. Here are some design strategies from my Home Therapy method to help you feel grounded:

  1. Create a spot or corner just for yourself and dedicate time every day to meditate and write out your thoughts. A cozy invitation calls for a comfy seat, a relaxing scented candle, and a journal to invite you to open up and reflect. Remember, flushing out raw emotions and thoughts is essential to your mental health.
  2. Organize your home to give you a sense of positive control. When the environment outside of our home is chaotic, it can leave us feeling hopeless and helpless. But if we keep our pantries, closets, and entryways tidy, we automatically feel more safe and secure. And that increases our self-esteem in a significant way.
  3. Learn to express your anger appropriately, which is not always easy. Paint your living room or dining room in calming colors: whites, blues, and greens. This visually cues you to de-stress. Designate these rooms to be a neutral place where you can express and communicate in a relaxing environment. 
  4. Prepare your home with self-care zones in your bedroom and bathroom. Dealing with fears and judgment from others is emotionally taxing and you need space to focus on yourself. Aromatherapy diffusers, mood lights to balance your circadian rhythm, and weighted blankets are key items for restorative sleep. For your bathroom, having a fully stocked bath caddy of skincare and bath salts for your next spa bath experience relaxes your body, brings down the stress hormone cortisol and increases your adrenalin to up your mood.  

Home Therapy isn’t just about pretty aesthetics. Case in point: I have three girls and Travis and I spend lots of time with them in our family room. It used to not be the case. But once I intentionally and thoughtfully arranged furniture to encourage communication and family interaction, I got a golden opportunity to really get to know my girls. We talk about everything and that includes what happened last week. This is proof that being intentional with your home design is truly therapeutic. 

It’s been enlightening to see my commitment to raising my girls to be fearless really shining through. They won’t stand for any kind of racism and they do NOT subscribe to the “Model Minority” myth. This gives me so much hope in a very unsettling time. I see them fighting the fight and communicating honestly about their experiences. 

I strongly believe that every small or large act is movement and progress. And if we all act together, there is hope no matter what. I liken it to styling or renovating our home–the emphasis isn’t about perfection. Things may take time and there may be delays, but we must keep going forward. Join me to stop this horrific violence against the AAPI community now.  

Opening Image Credit: Photo by Ari Michelson

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7 months ago

I am a huge fan of Anita’s and have been for a while- she’s talented and real and approachable. I loved reading about the conversations with your girls, Anita, and how they will not stand for racism or become the model minority. That statement gives me so much hope that we are raising the generation that can truly change things. Much love to you and your family, Anita. Thank you for sharing your voice on IG, and thanks Emily for allowing Anita to share here! XOXO

Rusty
7 months ago

Are the children of this generation the “Indigo Children”?

Anita Yokota
7 months ago

Thank you Cassie for your support. So grateful!

Leigh H
7 months ago

Thank you for sharing Anita. I live in Atlanta, these murders are horrifying and such a devastating reminder there is so much work to do. I appreciate you sharing your story and advice. My heart is with you and the AAPI community. I’m so happy to discover your interior design work too, IT’S AMAZING!!

Anita Yokota
7 months ago
Reply to  Leigh H

Thank you so much Leigh!

Lisa
7 months ago

Thank you, Anita, for making the time to put together this post and being willing to share it so widely. It is wonderful to learn about your daughters’ way of approaching their way in the world.

Anita Yokota
7 months ago
Reply to  Lisa

Thank you Lisa. I appreciate your kind words. I am so proud of their resilience. So much stronger than when I was their age!

Victoria
7 months ago

Thank you, this was perfect.

Anita Yokota
7 months ago
Reply to  Victoria

Thank you Victoria!

Audra
7 months ago

Thank you for sharing your story and giving practical help! Love, support, prayers, and hope going out to so many in these chaotic times.

Anita Yokota
7 months ago
Reply to  Audra

Thank you for your support Audra!

Admin
7 months ago

Thank you, Anita 🙂 I love your design + therapy approach and refreshing and honest point of view. And I can’t wait to help promote your book 🙂 thank you. xx

Anita Yokota
7 months ago
Reply to  Emily

My heart is so full Em. Thank you❤️

Molly
7 months ago

Thank you Anita – for this entire post and specifically the reminder to check in without the pressure of needing a response.

anita yokota
7 months ago
Reply to  Molly

I hope this encourages you to reach out and support your AAPI friends. Thank you!

jill
7 months ago

Thank you. I follow Anita. Much respect! It is a small gesture but we are making a point to support AAPI businesses.

Anita Yokota
7 months ago
Reply to  jill

Absolutely! Thank you for doing so. It means the world to us.

K
7 months ago

The idea of home therapy is so cool! I really enjoyed this post.

Anita Yokota
7 months ago
Reply to  K

I am so happy the Home Therapy method resonates with you! You can check out more on anitayokota.com. Thank you!

Cris S.
7 months ago

Thank you for writing, Anita.

Rusty
7 months ago
Reply to  Cris S.

It is soooo very well written, too!
Perfection!

Anita Yokota
7 months ago
Reply to  Cris S.

Your welcome, Cris. I am hopeful we can stand together and make the necessary changes to stop hate.

Rusty
7 months ago

Anita, this is powerful, much needed and salient. xx
Your girls are gonna be warriors! Yaaay!

My niece lives in Atlanta and they’re rocked to the core.

We can all be the active makers-of-change.

Anita Yokota
7 months ago
Reply to  Rusty

Thank you Rusty for your support!

Vy
7 months ago

This post really resonated with me and helped me feel more seen and comforted. Thank you to Anita for this thoughtful post and to Emily for amplifying AAPI voices. I’m also so happy to have discovered Anita’s incredible design work and have new book recs to read!

Anita Yokota
7 months ago
Reply to  Vy

Vy, I am comforted that you feel comforted by my story. Happy reading!

Kelly
7 months ago

Shout out to Windy Chien! Love her!!

Anita Yokota
7 months ago
Reply to  Kelly

Yes, she is amazing! xo

K
7 months ago

Heartwarming and beautiful writing. I am by your side.🙏

Anita Yokota
7 months ago
Reply to  K

Thank you K. Grateful.

Amy
7 months ago

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings with us and speaking out. I know that’s not always easy to do. I’m with you in this fight.

Hannah
7 months ago

Thank you, Anita, for sharing your story and such helpful advice!

Roberta Davis
7 months ago

It’s hard to speak out, I’m sure. I’m so sorry that this is happening.

Michelle
7 months ago

Thanks for sharing your story and thoughts/feelings, Anita!

Rusty
7 months ago

Hey, the same ceramic ‘bell’ that Ryann scored from the props is in Anita’s photo with guitar playing!! (Not exactly the same, but looks like it’s by the same artist??)

JP
7 months ago

Thank you so much for sharing this, I’m so glad to read more from you and see your beautiful work. Lots of love and deep appreciation for your strength and willingness to be direct and vulnerable.

Dena
7 months ago

Thank you Anita for being so open and honest! Best healing wishes and strength and courage to you and your family.
Your design style with an aware point of view is refreshing!!

Julie
7 months ago

As someone who is part of the AAPI community, thank you EHD team for highlighting the hate against Asian Americans in the last year and recently. I also very much appreciated this post by Anita! Well written and very timely. Thank you for your openess and honesty.

Addie
7 months ago

Thank you Anita and welcome. I appreciate you writing about your experiences and sharing ways for us to support the AAPI community. For me this is one of the most interesting and well written posts in quite a while. I’m also pinning your designs and looking forward to hearing and seeing more of your work. 💕

MKP
7 months ago

This was a really wonderful post. Thank you EHD for continuing to amplify more voices and experiences and thank you Anita for what you shared. I appreciate your vulnerability and your strength for sharing in such an honest way. I also really appreciate the suggestion for reaching out to AAPI friends and acquaintances. Helpful to be reminded that sending a “thinking of you and sending love” type message that doesn’t require anything back may be the most supportive and comforting right now.

A.B.
7 months ago

Thank you for sharing. Your words are powerful.

Suzanne
7 months ago

Thank you, Anita, for sharing your story and your suggestions for ways to support the AAPI community.

Carol
7 months ago

Such a beautiful, from-the-heart piece! Thank you, Anita. And I was delighted to see the shout-out to my pal Windy Chien!

KO
7 months ago

Thank you, Anita for this important and brave post. And thank you, EHD, for using your platform to continue raising awareness around these topics.

Karen
7 months ago

Thank you for enlightening those of us who would not ordinarily hear the up-close-and personal of the AAPI-lived experience. What’s happened is, and has been, dreadful. I’m so sorry for that.

Vera
7 months ago

Anita, thank you so much for sharing. This post was moving and also so full of hope and empathy. I’m so inspired by your disposition in what must be such an incredibly painful and difficult experience. I appreciate the advice here too, especially the wording of that message your friend sent. It’s very helpful to have examples.
Also, I absolutely love the idea of your Home Therapy method and would love to learn more. Each of those four strategies could be its own post or even series!
And finally, all the photos in this post are STUNNING. You are such an amazing designer! I am pinning your bathroom now.
I look forward to hearing more from you!

Joy
7 months ago

Thank you, Anita, for using your blog to discuss and educate regarding a very pressing issue for our country – not just for AAPIs. I also started following Emily because of her support for the AAPI community. We need allies like you, Emily! We need leaders in every sector of our society to speak up against racism and violence against fellow Americans.

It is truly heartbreaking to see the impact of hurtful and racist rhetoric. Words matter. I’ve been reading more stories of teenage bullying Asian American kids or the older generation. We need to counter the vitriol that is influencing this generation.

Many thanks to you both for speaking up for some of the most vulnerable in our communities who have no voice or platform.

7 months ago

This was beautifully written, and I loved the practical advice, too. Thank you, Anita!

Elaine
7 months ago

Time for Asian representation on the EHD staff?

Cindy
7 months ago

Thank you Anita for sharing your story, I can relate to so much of it! And thank you so much for including me as an Asian American artist to follow, it means the world!

Susan
7 months ago

On the linked list of books by Asian American authors, my friend Michelle Kuo’s book is #25: Reading With Patrick. I know I’m biased, but it’s a truly remarkable memoir.

Stacia
7 months ago

Thank you for this beautiful (your photos! Wow!) and enlightening post. I love that you have married your 2 passions – Home Therapy is a great term! I also appreciate that you provided a specific, helpful example of how to reach out to our friends and family members.

Lindsay
7 months ago

Thank you so much for this post!

Sarah
7 months ago

Thank you for sharing and speaking out! I’m Indian American and am trying to use my voice in my church and professional community even though it’s scary in professional spaces. I can feel very in between. I am as dark as some black people yet My grandparents are from the Asian continent. I relate to the feeling invisible and keeping our heads down to survive being in a white majority school. so cool how you connect designing spaces and therapy. Two aspects in one career like being Asian American. They are beautiful together. With you sister friend and proud of your daughters being leaders in the next gen <3

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