How To Shatter And Challenge Cultural Stereotypes In The Creative Sense

There are times when cultural stereotypes hold us back from going after our dreams and creative passions. As an Asian Australian of Chinese descent, I’ve often felt this way. But then there are also times when we somehow find the strength and spark of courage to challenge expectations that we have of ourselves, and the expectations others have of us.

For a long time, I struggled to call myself a writer. My migrant Malaysian parents encouraged me to pay more attention to maths and science subjects at school – and I did and was much better at them than English. Two years ago, stringing words together for posts on this blog was a struggle. Today, I’ve written a draft of a book.

I see someone out there. Florence and the Machine, Melbourne 10 November 2015 | Weekly Photo Challenge: Eye Spy

I see someone out there. Florence and the Machine, Melbourne 10 November 2015 | Weekly Photo Challenge: Eye Spy.

Culture needn’t be a barrier towards what we can achieve if we have self-belief. Finding that self-belief, however, usually means standing up to what we’ve always believed in.

To chase creative passion and overcome perceptions we’re not good at it, we need to practise. practising our art is key. Just like how Rome wasn’t built in a day, it takes time to craft art from the heart. Art can be learnt whoever we are simply by making time for it.

When I wasn’t memorising maths formulas as a kid, I scribbled words, sentences and chapters in a green leather-bound notebook. Hobby, as what my Chinese-Malaysian mum thought writing was to me back then. Hobby, which is what many whom I know think writing the book is to me today. And they leave me to it; we’re all entitled to “hobbies”. When we get engrossed in practising what we love doing, we dream and forget what holds us back in the first place. On getting lost in her thoughts, Florence Welch from Florence and the Machine says:

“I try to maintain a healthy dose of daydreaming, to remain sane.”

At some point, the artist in us might feel confident and long to share our art with the world. But sometimes the status quo might work against us. Tired of getting rejected by publications in an Australian media where non-Anglo voices are seldom heard, blogging beckoned to me. When others have a social life, I’d stay home and blog. And enjoy it. Liberation. No limitations. By starting something, creating our own opportunities and doing what others have not done, we move closer towards smashing bamboo-ceilings and stereotypical perceptions of us.

Being Asian Australian or coming from any culture that often stipulates what we can and cannot do, we have to forget what we’ve always known for one moment and simply be bold to chase that dream of ours. Being a part of a tribe helps us to see who we want to become and become them. Surrounded by others with like-minded interests, we come to think of becoming someone outside of our skin, look beyond the “barriers” of skin and realise focusing on potential rather than where we’re from helps us see that anything is possible – we find acceptance amidst positivity.

Stereotypically in Asian cultures, listening and respecting others is a virtue (see Confucianism) and growing up, I was taught to keep to myself and let others speak. Ironically, speaking out once or twice is not the end of the world and expressing emotion is what makes art convincing. Talking to other bloggers on their blogs, some have been nice enough to visit my blog and that’s inspiring: with a supportive crowd behind us, we feel comfortable to be anyone, comfortable to share our worth. By looking to others we become confident, as Florence offers:

“You can forget anything, and actually being a part of a crowd, of a group, can itself be freeing.”

Not all of us will have the privilege to live off our creative passions. Sometimes life gets in the way. It’s also fact we play many a role in our lives; we might fit the stereotype in some instances and not fit the stereotype in others.

Look up.

Look up.

Sitting at home some months back, writing my book with money on my mind. Sitting at home more recently, looking for a job late at night. Sitting at home the other day, packing my bag for work the next day…and looking forward to tomorrow. Not “losing face” and being able to provide for myself has stuck with me for my entire life as a person of Asian descent. While the past is past, at times we’ll still hold onto it and it’s nothing to be ashamed of as we chase our dreams. On moving along, Florence suggests:

“It’s important to not reject the past. It’s (about) a sense of not feeling like it defines you, but accepting it, embracing it, and then letting it go. It’s not about turning your back or pretending that things didn’t happen. It’s about trying to be in the moment.”

There’s a time for passion, and there’s a time to be realistic. “Balance”, as one might call it. To put it more simply, when we allow ourselves to live both passion and reality, we chance upon and live opportunities from the best of both worlds.

When we challenge creative cultural stereotypes often we get attention and are judged, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Countless times others ask how my book is coming along and each time I end up saying, “I don’t know” – and yet again question if I like what I’ve written. Flattering moment but also a reality check: no matter how different someone is compared to us in terms of background, what they do and the way they live, they can inspire us. As Florence says on feeling the intensity of day-to-day intimacy with those around us and humility:

“It’s good to be vulnerable in amongst the grandeur; you shouldn’t lose that sense of intimacy and vulnerability with people.”

There's more to life than focusing on our dreams. it's also about sharing these dreams with others.

There’s more to life than focusing on our dreams. it’s also about sharing these dreams with others.

The other night I leaned against the front barricade at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl watching Florence and the Machine. Florence pulled a fan up on stage for a hug. Lucky fan looked so happy as the 12,000-strong crowd cheered. Creativity, and art, lifts us when we all share it and share in it as who we are. Putting my camera down during the next song, Florence hopped in front of me. As I sang her song, she looked at me. With such a twinkling, sparkling eye. No regrets putting writing aside for a night.

At the end of the day, achievements and challenging stereotypes don’t wholly define us. Not a means to an end. Instead, it’s the simple gems of fleeting moments past and present that will stick with us whoever and wherever we may be as we chase passion. Work hard. Dream hard. Have no expectations. Have fun.

Have you made your dreams come true? Do you find concerts inspiring? (This post is my last for a while. Be good).

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239 thoughts on “How To Shatter And Challenge Cultural Stereotypes In The Creative Sense

  1. Mabel, Let me just share the following quote by ‘Steve Jobs’,

    “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

    As I am following your blog for the last two years, I know, how much confidence you have gained through blogging and I really wish it’s helping you in your personal life as well 🙂

    I could see the giant leap, in your words and the images you share.

    The kind of hard work you put in, whatever you do, is surely going to take where you ultimately want to… may be unknowingly …

    That’s been happening in my case, so I know, it works 🙂

    Wish you all the very best in all your future ventures…

    Have a beautiful weekend, Mabel 🙂

    Like

    • Such an interesting quote you shared there from Steve Jobs, Sreejith. It is thought-provoking. There are only so many things we can control in life, and sometimes the only way to move forward is to have faith and trust in what is happening around us. And the people around us too.

      Blogging and more importantly writing has certainly helped me express myself in many ways. It has become a natural extension of myself. Don’t know where it will take me, but I trust it will be fun 🙂

      Very nice to hear things are going good at your end. I am sure all your hard work in what you are doing is paying off. Good luck with all your ventures, and thank you for your support 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Mabel, you have no way of knowing it, but you encouraged me in more ways then you can possibly know. My life has been very very very challenging, to the point I felt like as of today just to throw the towel in and walk away from my Dreams, Petals being one of them. I’m in tears as I write this to you. I’ve encouraged and Loved so many yet it seems my Life just doesn’t get any easier. Just to encourage me when I text my sis, I say …. this is from your famous photographer sister. If I don’t think that of myself, who will? Bless you from the bottom of my Heart for this post. It really spoke to me!! ❤

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    • Your blog amazes me, Amy. I wish I had discovered it sooner. The photography and poems you share always blow me away, and I wish I could comment on every one of them. Through your challenging moments, somehow you find the time for Petals AND work at your passions so often, even more so than me and many of us here. That is something we can all look up to.

      Thank you for liking and reading this post. It was a very hard post to write, almost taking me a month ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      • Your post truly shines and it shows just how much you put into it, Mabel!! Some posts are easier then others to write, OH I do know that! I applaud you for seeing this one through. I say good for you and keep up the great work!!! I also really again thank you for all your kind words about Petals and what I do. Bless you! ❤

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        • Thank you for your kind words, Amy. Art matters to some of us quite a bit, and it is always encouraging to hear such positive words. I think Petals has a special place in many of our hearts. Keep up the good work ❤

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Our cultural background is a kind of base belief and we behave ourselves according to what has been described in our cultural history. Nevertheless, I believe culture is not a stable concept because human are changing over time. As years go by, we reject and redefine what we used to know in the past. Generations after generations, we write our own stories in the cultural world map and we are happy to welcome the coming dawn, Mabel ❤
    Your post is a great inspiration for me, lol

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    • So true. All of us, and our cultures and perceptions change over time. We change as the times change around us, and we might change as people too. So our dreams might change too. “…we write our own stories in the cultural world map” Such a lovely way to put it, Khan. Very well said. Glad you found this post inspiring. I really enjoyed writing it though it took awhile ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m so proud of you! ‘I’ve written a book’ stopped me in my tracks. You have to find ways to nurture that creative spirit and I’m happy for you that you make it happen. I, too, love to escape into a ‘netherworld’. 🙂 🙂 Much joy to you in 2016, Mabel. Keep those dreams alive!

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    • It’s only a draft of a book…but I am certainly on my way to finishing it. Started the editing process a couple of weeks ago and so far, so good 🙂 Keep walking and exploring the world, Jo. Always loves seeing your photos of your walks and travels. Take care and have a good year ahead!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Christmas Greetings
    from my website to yours,
    May the Season be bright
    and the year that’s ahead
    turn out to be just right.
    With warmest wishes for
    Good Health and Happiness.
    Have a very Merry Christmas!

    Like

    • Thanks, Kally. Enjoy the festive season and best wishes for the year ahead. It will be full of surprises and challenges like any other year…but let’s all focus on the little moments and cherish them for what they are.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Miss Mabel, my beautiful and crazy talented little sister, thank you for sharing your story, your words are a constant reminder to stick with my dreams and keep moving forward. Thank you! Thank you for being part of the possibility that I can be who I am. 🙂 I say…. keep enjoying the journey, because when we do that, doors open and inspiration appears. Loads of love and hugs headed your way. See you soon. xox

    Like

    • Thanks, Miss Anna. Always a pleasure to have you cheering in my corner…and likewise, I like cheering in your corner. “being part of the possibility that I can be who I am” That is such a profound phrase. There is always a possibility we can be somebody, somebody whom we’ve always wanted to be. Work hard, keep trying to reach the stars. You just never know when you may get luck 🙂 Lots and lots of hugs your way. Really hope to see you soon ❤

      Like

    • Interesting question. Ultimately our background and where we’ve been makes us who we are, and the two can be very different things. I suppose if we don’t think often about our racial identity and where we’ve from, then we can be more focused on the present.

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      • I don’t know about Australia, but I’m convinced the heart of white privilege in the USA is simply that whiteness means nothing. Blackness has expectations, Hispanic-nesd has expectations, Native American-ness has a lot of very sad expectations, but white is nothing.

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              • I’m sure that’s true and actually kind of funny for an American. East Asian last names are pretty good resume decoration …

                But I meant something a little different. Your self described racial pigeon hole, the one you don’t seem to like, is studious, shy, cutesy and wimpy. What is an Australian white person’s pigeon hole?

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                    • Good question. I would say neither. Such characters do find belonging amongst their own. Though I’d say, I’ve noticed the non-athletic kind of white Australians mixing with different cultural groups.

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                    • That’s kind of what I’m trying to demonstrate. I’m coming to believe that the racial identity of most dominant ethnic groups ends up meaning almost nothing.

                      The amorphousness of whiteness in Australia or Han-ness in mainland China seems to be a huge benefit.

                      In contrast, countries with strong racial identities seem to suck. I’m thinking of Israel, most of the Middle East and Zimbabwe.

                      Makes me wonder if one of the steps from oppressed minority to assimilated/model minority isn’t killing off the meaning of your racial identity.

                      I’ll give you an example. My last name is Spanish. My dad looks stereo typically Mexican and my grandpa even more so. None of use puts any stock into being “Hispanic” because racial identity seems much more a liability than anything else. We all describe ourselves as white because it’s basically meaningless.

                      Liked by 1 person

  7. Hey Mabel!!
    Life Is A Journey,
    But My Best Wishes Are The Milestones
    That Will Give You Hope
    And Motivation To Move On.
    Am Wishing You A Joyous New Year!
    With warmth, love and blessings from MiddleMe to you and your readers.

    Like

  8. “To chase creative passion and overcome perceptions we’re not good at it, we need to practise” this is such a perfect thought…every single person needs to do this to become good (granted, there are few exceptional talents that simply have a gift…but I do not know of any personally). All of the great people I have met in life got to their area of expertise by belief and hard work…and some with the added difficulty as you mention (and as you have personally witnessed) of culture. Culture identity does lock us in, and often as much as it gives to us – it can restrict and take away as well.

    Now to the other great parts of your post, Florence Welch. Wow, she is fantastic, and I love her quote “I try to maintain a healthy dose of daydreaming, to remain sane.” To be honest, I have never heard of her (except from you earlier this past year), and it makes me think how great art (and artists) do bring inspiration to many through their work ~ as you do with your writing. It is going to be a great year for you in ’16 I believe, and look forward to seeing/hearing about it Mabel – wish you the best!

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    • We all have to work hard to get somewhere. I too don’t know anyone who is exceptionally gifted at something. Even if they were gifted, without hard work it would be hard to get anywhere to share our talents with others. Balance is hard to achieve, as I’m sure many of us who juggle a day job and work on our passions outside of that know all too well.

      Florence Welch is certainly an amazing performer and artist, one who can run and sing at the same time. If you do get the chance, see the band perform. Very inspiring. I’m looking forward to seeing more photography and philosophical words of wisdom from you this year. Always so sharp on that front, Randy. Best.

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    • That is amazing that you’ve contributed to magazines. It can be challenging sometimes to get something published formally. Good luck with you book. Maybe you will publish a book sooner rather than later, who knows. Good luck with that. Best wishes for this year.

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  9. Im so happy i found your blog, it is amazing! Learning not to have any expectations is so stickable for me at the moment. Thank you for your thoughts!

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  10. I think your writing is brilliant, Mabel. That’s why I keep coming back time and time again. I’m so pleased you carried on with your dream of writing, and to have just read that you have the first draft of a book is exciting stuff. I think you’ve certainly followed your dream.

    It took me a longtime to follow my dream. Having dyslexia always stopped me writing. Then, in February 2014, I discovered WordPress and blogging. My dream became reality the moment I published that very first post.

    Like

    • Thanks, Hugh. It is not easy to follow one’s dreams, as I’ve found out over the last year and am still continuing to feel that. If we really love what we are doing, we will find time for it, even if it is only ten or fifteen minutes a day.

      You are such an inspiration, and I really admire how you engage your followers on WP and via social media. You are a great example of how we can anybody if we take the leap and just do it

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Keep following your dreams, Mabel, with no expectations but, also, with no limitations. Art makes us free from our daily reality and connects us, as you have said, to like-minded souls.

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  12. Living both passion and reality is one tightrope act for me. And yes, Asians (the older generations) give less credence to the arts than (those influenced by the) the Western world. So glad you got to your draft!!

    Xxx
    D.

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  13. Hi, Mabel. I’m so glad to be here. I read this post and it connected with me at so many levels. I started my book blog 2 years ago and my writing blog last year. Initially, I had doubts but as slowly I went ahead, writing and blogging every day, my confidence started building up. So much that I didn’t even write a book but also got a great deal for it.
    My book will be releasing by July this year and I’m already writing my second one… This journey of writing is a slow and tiring one, but if you keep at it, you’ll eventually get where you want to be.
    I hope that everything will turn out amazingly for you 🙂
    Have a great day dear! You and your blog are an inspiration 🙂

    Like

    • It is so great to hear that you kept pursuing your passion, and are still going at it. That’s dedication right there. Congratulations on your first book coming along. It sounds like a lot of hard work has gone into it, and you have the right to be very proud of it 🙂

      I think we all feel self-doubt at some point. In a sense that is good as that makes us question what we are doing, and sometimes helps us see outside of the box. My first book is coming along very slowly, but who knows where that will take me. Thank you for your kind words. You are very kind 🙂

      Like

  14. Liebe Mabel hab ein schönes Wochenende mit vielen lieben Grüßen hier in Köln ist es nur am regnen und der Frühling läßt auf sich noch warten ganz viele liebe Grüße Klaus in Freundschaft

    Like

    • Hope the rain over there makes the flowers bloom soon, Klaus. It is autumn in Australia but here in Melbourne, we are still having temperatures around 30’C. I like the warmth. You have a good weekend and good week.

      Like

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