I was always fascinated by multiracial people; I find them beautiful, vibrant, attractive, and lucky to have so much inside them. To me, this is the epitome of immigration. It is magnificent.
Natasha Nguyen is one of those particular kinds. She is part Russian, part Vietnamese and part Persian. I met her while preparing for my "The Beauty Of Seven Continents" photo project. Natasha is a florist, and she is behind those magnificent flower crowns that you see in my online gallery. We chat a bit about her experience as an immigrant artist in Los Angeles, about women empowerment and the joy of everyday life.
Q. Natasha, why flowers?
A. My parents (first-generation immigrants) ask me the same question! They moved away from their parents at a young age in search of a better life. To them, this meant Ph.Ds and becoming engineers. I think, like most immigrants, they imagine their children doing better than them. But becoming a floral designer has been a journey of self-discovery for me. I feel that life as a floral designer uses all of my strengths and skills: creative, connected to nature, self-led, business-minded, and personable. And in the States, it is possible to live the abundant life as a florist that my parents had envisioned for me - but perhaps in a way, they could not imagine. How often do you catch yourself in using your native cultural elements in your work? I always find myself drawn to my native cultural elements without even realizing it. Like the ostentatious decor that Persians are drawn to. The complicated and colorful mix of patterns and sculptures can be found in my favorite floral arrangements. Rational and efficient work processes might be attributed to my Vietnamese heritage. And of course, I find that my workaholic and disciplined practices just might be reflective of all immigrant generations determined to rebuild their lives in a new home.
Q. How often people judge you by your look or name?
A. I wouldn't know when people are judging me, but I do know it happens because I am often asked about my name. I have a medium complexion skin with freckles and dark brown hair and eyes. My first name and middle names are Russian, however. And my last name is Vietnamese. I don't look like either. Haha. I do try to convince people that I am sincerely Russian by explaining to them that my Great Grandmother was born in St Petersburg and had blond hair and blue eyes. That seems to answer most questions.
Q. Do you always feel welcome in Los Angeles/ States?
A. I was born and raised here. It always feels like home, even when it's uncomfortable.
Q. Embrace yourself or to be shy?
A. I am always working on my self-love like most people, I think. I was shyer when I was younger because my family didn't do most of the traditional American holidays and practices. I was more of an observer to these new experiences. But as I've gotten older and more comfortable in my skin, I realize that everyone has their traditions and cultural practices, especially in Los Angeles.
Q. How do you pull yourself from the dark moments of pessimism, what inspires you to keep going?Â
A. Call a friend. Go outside. List my accomplishments. Take a yoga class.
My list of things to pull myself out of the dark moments is always growing. I am inspired by the people I meet everyday because everyone has a story with ups and downs, and we have somehow found each other through those stories. Life is a weird and beautiful journey when you see those stories and realize we are all doing the same damn thing.
Q. What is the funniest stereotype about your nationalities you heard from Americans?
A. Russians like chess and vodka (I don't do either very well), Persians like Beverly Hills and gold (okay, so one of my Persian cousin's Aunt was on the Shahs of Sunset), and I find that most people don't know much about Vietnamese specifically, but I have been complimented on my driving skills before! Haha.
Q. Do you consider immigrant women a voice/ force or a passive mass?
A. Immigrant women in my experience are, for sure, a passive voice. My maternal side is Russian and Persian, and many times in recent history, both Russians and Persians have been villainized in American politics and media. So it's natural to make those voices quiet to avoid prejudice. I think social media and the movie industry has given outlets for those voices to be heard and appreciated. But it can be dangerous at times to speak up. It's only natural to want to protect yourself and your family. Those who dare to speak up are looked as martyrs sacrificing a comfortable and safe life for future generations.
Beauty of Seven Continents by Alya Michelson. Flower crowns were created by Natasha Nguyen.
Q. What is the most important thing to do in your first year in a new country?
A. I wouldn't know first-hand, but from the stories that my parents have shared with me, I would say learning the language and developing a skill. This allows you to safely navigate everyday life and prove that you have something to contribute that others appreciate.