An Open Letter to My Dad

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I wish I could say I remember our moment that has now become family lore. The moment when baby Cassandra wouldn’t shut her wailing and crying no matter how many times you rocked me back and forth. The moment when another piercing scream would break your eardrums. The moment you couldn’t take it anymore and tossed me (a defenseless baby!) onto the bed.

To both our surprise, it worked. Baby Cassandra gaped at the gall of the man who dared to do that.

I suppose this isn’t the best way to begin what is supposed to be an open love letter to the first man I loved, but looking back that moment is quite definitive as to who you are. You find a million different ways to show your love, and just when I think you’ve run out of ideas you pull a million and one. You never give up on family or give up in your work, and though your ways are unconventional they somehow always work.

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You chanted rhymes of moons and rabbits until I fell asleep. Stood in long lines at Disneyland to see your daughter meet characters she had no interest in meeting (back then). Threw me into the pool before I knew how I learned to swim.

Perhaps you are why I tell stories even in my sleep. Why I so dearly love meeting Disney characters now. Why I don’t look before I leap. You’ve shown me that the distance to reach my dreams is only a heartbeat away. You’ve taught me to say yes to things I have no experience in and trust that I’ll figure it out along the way. After all, you had to navigate a whole new world with me when I was 11, one filled with A-listers and world-famous influencers.

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Attending premieres at red carpets can be very time-consuming. I couldn’t have done this without the support of my dad who drives me to the event, waits patiently for the press line to open, and captures all my moments with the stars on camera.

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Dad risks injury to ensure we get the best shot of the stars.

I first started calling myself “kid reporter” when I was 11. Without missing a beat, you went to Fry’s and picked up a video camera, a Nikon and a microphone. You learned when to zoom in on me and zoom in on the stars. You set up the tripod like a pro, and sacrificed hundreds of hours playing the waiting game like a true journalist. Together we’ve pilfered hotel tea bags, food, and press gifts at junkets. We’ve sweet-talked our way around grumpy security guards and memorized studio lots like the back of our hands. We’ve braved stormy weather in the name of a red carpet closing shot. 

Sometimes, my happiest moments are with you on the long car rides to these sometimes frivolous, sometimes deeply meaningful, and often heart-pounding fun events. I practice my questions with you, bounce them off you like handball.

“In the movie, your characters support and teach each other different things. What’s something you’ve learned from working with each other?” I’d ask, as if you were Chris Evans or Octavia Spencer or Mark Ruffalo.

You’d toss your head like a diva. “I don’t learn anything, I’m already the best,” you’d say. “Next question!”

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You’ve taken chances. Sometimes that means asking for a selfie with a celeb, which often works out in your favor. But sometimes taking chances doesn’t turn out too well.

Once you gambled your diminishing number of gallons in the engine against a forty minute drive to Segerstrom Hall for my most important performance of the year (in front of an audience of 3,000). You lost that bet, leaving me in a prom dress standing on a sidewalk midday, three blocks away from the theater. Luckily, a fairy godmother must have been watching and clucking her tongue, as a taxicab appeared out of nowhere. Now, you always make sure to get gas before a trip down the highway.

Only a couple weeks ago, you explained to me how street signs worked. That the sign facing our car was the street that ran from left to right, not the street that we were on. How I managed to get my license without knowing how to read signs has escaped me; but through it all you’ve patiently taught me how to navigate the roads of Walnut, the game of Mahjong, and life.

I may not know a single thing about freeway geography but I do know that you’ll guide me through it all. You may not know a single thing about fashion but I do know I’ll always be looking for that nod of approval on a new dress.

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Like you’ve done with Baby Cassandra, thank you for holding me so close even during the times I’ve become unbearable. Every passing hour draws us closer to the heartbreaking moment you’ll have to let go and toss me into this new life, but at least this time, it won’t take either of us by surprise. Instead, I’ll be smiling at the gall of the man who raised me to be everything I am today.

💕 💗 , your favorite daughter, 

Cassandra

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Flowers in Fashion

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Woodlands

No matter what time of the year it is, flowers are a must-have accessory–in both hair and clothing! Floral prints have always been a sweet and elegant touch, suitable for school and star-studded events, and most importantly, fairy-esque photoshoots.

1. Trail BLAZER

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Into The Woods Press Junket

Who knew stripes and flowers were a thing? This look certainly impressed the stars at the Into The Woods press junket. A blazer is the perfect touch to take a floral print to the professional standard.

Black and White Striped Blazer: Charlotte Russe

Blue and White Floral Skirt: 109 Love by Star Couture

2. Belt It Out

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Pair the same blue and white floral skirt with a black button-down and a 2-inch wide belt and you’ve got another look for another event. This combination is both fresh and appropriate for a professional setting.

Black Button-Down Short-Sleeve Top: Ralph Lauren

Blue and White Floral Skirt: 109 Love by Star Couture

3. No Sweat–Floral Got Your Back!

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Tomorrowland Press Junket, with Raffey Cassidy

With a sweater, collar, and floral skirt, this look is no sweat! Even in the fall/California winter, it’s possible to wear flowers and get away with it. (And always fluffy socks. Always.)

Red Exo Hat: Amazon

Coral Collar Sleeveless Top: Papaya

Sweater: Uniqlo

Colorful Floral Skirt: Charlotte Russe

4. Tink Again. You Can Never Have Too Many Dresses

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Tinker Bell and the Legend of the NeverBeast Press Junket

I wore an abundance of flowers to cover Tinker Bell and the Legend of the NeverBeast–I simply couldn’t resist! What else could I possibly wear to an event centering around my favorite fairies?

Floral Brown and White Head Wrap: Boutique

Yellow Floral Cardigan: Forever 21

Red White and Blue Floral Dress: Forever 21

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Tinker Bell and the Legend of the NeverBeast Press Junket

 

5. Practical-ly Perfect

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At the Getty Villa

I wore this dress to a simple outing at the Getty Villa. It’s easy to breathe in, allowing for maximum movement–the perfect outfit to walk acres in.

Black and Pink Floral Dress: Forever 21

Key Necklace: Forever 21

6. Nature Hikes

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Colorado

Okay, I didn’t really go on a hike. I just embarked to a nearby river when I was at a playwriting camp in Colorado. But this outfit was perfect for the nature I did experience and was comfortable enough to criss-cross-apple-sauce on a rock and free-write. Feeling one with the flora helped me produce a play that heavily featured nature.

Sunglasses: Kahoy (my favorite pair of sunglasses–got them as a gift, thank you Kahoy!)

Blue and Purple Dress: Papaya

7. And More Hikes!

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On the Set of Bunk’d

Psych! This is actually the set of Disney Channel’s Bunk’d, and not a real lake! Props to the production and set design teams for making this look so real! (I would never wear heels to hike. Or would I?)

Floral Headband: Boutique

Blue and White Floral Dress: Papaya

White Wedges: Forever 21

 

8. Make Way, Make Way!

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Moana Press Junket

 

This was a no-brainer–of course I had to wear flowers to the Moana press junket. In fact, Auli’i Cravalho, the voice of Moana, always wears a flower behind her ear–that’s her signature look! I wore a flower crown that day instead.

Flower Crown: Forever 21

Denim Jacket: Banana Republic

Blue, White, Purple & Pink Dress: Windsor

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Moana Press Junket with Auli’i Cravalho

 

9. SHEER Spring

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This look adds a bit of dimension to the whole outfit. It’s actually two layers: a sheer floral print fabric over a longish spaghetti-strap cami.

Blue LA Hat: Amazon

Sheer Floral Print & Long Cami: 109 Love by Star Couture

 

10. BONUS! Baby White

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Neverland

A stretch, but there are blue flower patterns near the top. The point is, it’s always acceptable to hide out among flowers and be a forest fairy.

White Flower Crown: Handmade by Yours Truly

White Cotton Dress: Papaya

Stars & Stripes: 4 Ways to Rock Black & White

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Workplace casual, school-appropriate, & star-friendly all at the same time.

Recently I was asked how I choose and buy my clothes to attend fancy events and go to school, so this is the first in a series of posts about my style!

Follow my fashion account on Instagram for more pictures @secondstarstyle.

Where do I get my clothes? My favorite section of any store: SALE! There’s nothing like the feeling of accomplishment walking away with discounted dresses and marked-down tees that make a killer wardrobe. Or, I wait until prices drop in the online store.

This post is all about the times I wore bold stripes to meet the stars. Take a look below at 4 different ways you can rock a zebra pattern, matching the same basic long-sleeve shirt with different jackets, hats, skirts, and accessories.

 

1. OVERALL, It Was a Good Time

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Circa 2014, in front of the Disney Animation Building!

Throw on some overalls with knee-high stockings and you’ve got a look that’ll make heads turn. This combination certainly worked for me when I attended the Big Hero 6 Press Junket on the Disney Studios Lot.

I’ll never forget the time when Ryan Potter said he loved my outfit. So did Damon Wayans Jr. During the press conference/roundtable, he looked in my general direction and said, “That’s an awesome outfit!” I wasn’t sure if he was talking to me, so I turned around. Then everyone laughed and he said, “I’m talking to you!”

Striped Snapback: Amazon

Black Leather Overalls: Forever 21

Striped Long-Sleeve: Bebe

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Ryan Potter (voice of Hiro) and me, circa 2014!

 

2. Stripes & Plaid & Black Denim?!

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Circa 2015.

Twas a cold and rainy day when I stepped onto the carpet for the Radio Disney Music Awards. But this look made sure I survived the elements and completed my job as a reporter!

Plaid and stripes? A daring combination. But it’s one that works.

Also, black looks good with red.

Batman Snapback: Amazon

Black Denim Jacket: Papaya

Striped Long-Sleeve: Bebe

Red & Black Plaid Skirt: Papaya

 

3. An Even Warmer Look

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Circa 2017.

Come to think of it, I should have worn my Batman snapback to this event! But this scarf-skirt combo makes up for it.

Red Scarf: Macy’s

Striped Long-Sleeve: Guess

Red Flare Skirt: Express

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Me with Director of the Lego Batman Movie, Chris McKay, circa 2017.

 

4. Sleeveless Crop Top

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Circa 2017.

Octavia Spencer said my outfit was on point. I said, “You look good too for 10am on a Thursday,” and she said, “Yeah, but I got a team! You don’t!”

Get your A game on with a simple crop top over your striped long-sleeve.

Oh, and don’t forget to put on a hair accessory! In my case, it was a Captain America bow!

Sleeveless Black Crop Top: Forever 21

Striped Long-Sleeve: Guess

Red & Black Plaid Skirt: Papaya

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We look good. Me and Octavia Spencer at the Gifted press junket. Circa 2017.

She Doesn’t Even Go Here: An Immigrant’s Experience

Many of you have read my Common App essay, one part of my applications to the Ivy Leagues and beyond. I’m overwhelmed, humbled and deeply grateful for all the love and support I’ve received from across the world. I never expected so many people would be able to connect to my essay.

Beyond the struggles of learning English enveloped in the so-called “immigrant experience,” I think people are responding to the theme of feeling like an outsider. My essay isn’t about someone showing hatred to my face—rather, this is about the subtleties of assimilation, or integrating cultures. It’s about finding my voice even if what I say may sound funny to some people’s ears.

It’s interesting to see the varied responses from different countries. Comments from America have turned my story into a political one (cue the emphasis on legal, immigrant, affirmative action, and sheathed variants on the good ole’ “Go back to your own country”). And while I have received so much love and encouragement from my “own country” Malaysia, numerous people say I can’t claim it as my home country. Not American enough to be American, not Malaysian enough to be Malaysian.

One tweet in particular from Malaysia made me laugh. It said, “Me when Malaysians glorifying Cassandra Hsiao” attached with this gif from “Mean Girls”: “She doesn’t even go here.” While funny and apt for my generation, the questions still sting: do I even belong anywhere? Can I truly call anywhere home?

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For most of my childhood in America, I was blessed to never feel out of place. My tiny suburb in SoCal is filled with people like me. They look like me, talk like me, and go back “home” across the ocean every couple of years like me.

It came easy to write about the culture back home in Malaysia and Taiwan. Too easy. Include descriptions of your typical Malaysian fruit and it sounds exotic. But could I write about the culture in this way, as if I grew up there? Or was I just an impostor capitalizing on the poetry I found in the foreign? I had even lost touch with my first language. Could I be considered true Malaysian, Taiwanese, or Chinese for that matter?

So I stopped writing about my culture thanks to the guilt that gnawed at me. But even outside my writing, I sensed it. No, I’ve never been told straight up to go back to your country. I’ve never been called chink or gook or coolie, or had people pull up their eyes to mock mine. But I have witnessed discourtesy towards people of my color at school, in an apartment complex, and on the subway. I’m not sure if it is “major” enough to be classified as racism, but all I know is what I’ve experienced. I will never know what it is like to not be a Chinese-American woman.

My experience will always be framed by quotations and hooked by question marks.

In recent years, I’ve come to embrace that. I still write about my home culture from time to time. And home for me has come to mean many places: Taiwan, Malaysia, America, Southern California. Church, school, fantasy kingdoms that I’ve created in my own stories. I don’t feel guilt any longer because I recognize the importance of what I’m doing—I’m telling the stories only I can tell. I’m just one voice out of many, hoping to dispel the blanket narrative of “immigrant” and push for Asian American representation in Hollywood.

I want to create characters and stories that inspire, comfort, and say, yes, you may be a fish out of water. But look around, there are so many fish flopping on the shore with you. All different types of fish too: catfish, salmon, sharks, guppies, carp, swordfish, angler—every species possible. This feeling of displacement may last your whole life. But after flopping around a little, after running out of breath and energy, maybe you’ll grow legs. Maybe you’ll learn how to walk and swim, and experience the best of both worlds. Whatever happens, you’re not alone.

I don’t even go here. But what does it matter? I’ll never quite belong, but that’s not going to stop me. The girl from “Mean Girls” didn’t let that stop her from making her inspiring, deeply moving, legendary speech we all still quote today, and she did it because she “just had a lot of feelings.” So what if you don’t go here? Tell your story. Make your speech. And say your feelings loudly, so all of the world can hear.

On Being Chinese and the United Planes of America

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“Chinese Flying to United,” illustrated by Cassandra Hsiao

On the verge of 18, my father boarded his first airplane to America. Wide-eyed. Spectacled. Messy black hair sticking up in all directions—an Asian Harry Potter, if you will. He checked in his giant suitcase, boarded the plane, and looked out the window as the engine started. Felt the telling moment of weightlessness as the wheels left the ground, watched all the buildings and roads shrink, watched until Taiwan became what the world had always known and what he saw for the first time: a tiny island.

So comfortable he was on his first flight that he felt soundly asleep and did not wake until he felt the plane land. Excited, he grabbed his carry-on from the overhead compartments and exited the plane.

At the baggage claim, he waited for his suitcase to tumble down the rubber road. Outside, the skies were grey and everything was blanketed with white. It was my father’s first snowing. Delighted, he went outside and played, catching snowflakes in his palms, feeling the snow crunch beneath his shoes. When he came back inside, the baggage claim had stopped rolling. All the bags had emerged—still no sight of his. No sight of his brother or sister to pick him up, either.

When he showed the baggage claim employees his suitcase receipt, he could tell something was wrong.

He had gotten off one stop early. He was in Minnesota, nearly 400 miles away from his destination.

He panicked. But it’s not too late, they said. They made a couple of calls, hurried him onto an airport baggage cart, and drove him onto the runway, where the plane he had just disembarked was waiting. Everyone was waiting. My father boarded the plane, shuffling his feet, avoiding everyone’s eyes.

Until he heard applause.

The passengers were cheering for him. People from across the globe had watched through their windows as this young man rode shotgun in a cart going full speed across the runway. They had stalled their international flight for him, and yet they clapped and whistled. He had made it.

“Welcome to America,” said the captain as they touched down in Iowa. Welcome, indeed.

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Dad and I.

To Hear a Chinese Man Play America’s National Anthem

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“Train Abstracted,” illustrated by Cassandra Hsiao

It is crowded here. You know the feeling better than I do, bodies like swaying grass as the train rolls to a stop. We pass 86th street under cement tunnels of Manhattan. Sweat-soaked business suits and fanny packs press together in a city I consider foreign—I am unused to red brick buildings trapping slivers of the sky, your home a jungle of concrete.

The train is in motion yet you plant your boots and seek friction to hold you steady. Fingers wrapped around a black tuba. Fill your cheeks with air and kiss the tuba’s night lips. Sound waves shake our car. What is the sound of tunnel light?

Ballooning notes. Living instrument. Breath caught behind my teeth. There is a white man with a poorly shaved beard hanging onto the railing, eyes like black seeds. Is it racist to say I had a bad feeling about him the moment he stepped onto the train? He opens his mouth. Is there a sound control on that thing? I want him to feel the weight of a hand clapped over a mouth. What it is to hold silence like a cherry pit at the back of a mouth. 

I wish I could help blow louder your love for this country deemed not yours. End, ending. The song decrescendos into screeching wheels and empty wind. I imagine claps bouncing off the walls. Instead, the man in front of me mouths off again. People should pay you to stop.

You move towards the end of the car, bag open: Xie xie, xie xie, God bless you. And though you say it in Chinese, your God is the same as mine, same as the God we trust on green bills tucked tightly in that man’s wallet.

 

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This experience left a bad taste in my mouth. I said three words to the loud-mouthed man: “Can you not?” He said something snappish to me but was silent after that. When he got off the train the black lady next to me said, “What an a**hole” and the white lady across from me said, “Good riddance.”

After getting off and overcoming the strange unexplainable urge to cry, I wish I had said more. But now, looking back, three words was enough to shut him up and make his girlfriend look reproachfully at him. The smallest things can make a difference.

 

My Mother’s Voice

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The first day my mother loses her voice, it is as if there were suddenly no more rules or regulations. No commanding voice bouncing through the halls, no lively conversations, no late-night talks. Dinner is a quiet affair.

We move slower to her whispered commands of “come downstairs,” or “don’t forget to do the laundry” or “give your brother your calculator.” We get the job done—it just takes us twenty minutes longer. It’s much easier to pretend you didn’t hear your mother after her fiftieth call to come eat when she does not have a voice.

By day two, her voice comes back in a scratchy husk. Still at ten percent volume, but with it comes an exponential increase in authority. We move quicker to her requests. Our conversations are still one-sided; my laugh seems empty without hers to buoy us on.

There are advantages to my whispering mother. At a restaurant, when we are served half-cooked chicken wings, she can only point at the red meat and let my father do the explaining. When the waiter explains that this is the texture of the chicken, that the red meat is actually a sign of well-exercised muscles, that the kitchen cooks the wings three times in three different ways, my mother can’t raise her voice and say, I am a mother. I have been cooking for almost twenty years. I know cooked when I see it. This is not cooked. Instead, she whispers something and I catch the words “picture” and “Yelp” but before she can reach for her phone and turn on the camera, the waiter has already whisked the wings back to the kitchen. My family breathes a sigh of relief.

It’s one of the things I’ve always admired about her: a complete boldness to stand up for what’s right, whether it’s demanding properly cooked food or championing a charity or telling us again and again, “All is well. You can do all things through Christ. You are greatly blessed, highly favored, and deeply loved. Follow your passion and chase your dreams. You are more than enough.” Even without a voice she conveys that to us in the way she prepares food, prays for us, and tucks us in at night.

I come home that Saturday after a defeat at a competition. As the story pours out, she listens with open eyes and nods. As disappointment steals over me, I begin to cry. Without a word she leans over and rubs my back, and with that, I know all is well again.

Do you have stories of your relationship with your mom? Share them below!