Chinese American from Boston, MA
An UMass Amherst Alumni, Eleanor is an artist entrepreneur working as a marketing business professional. Eleanor is full of positivity and instantly elevates you as soon as you meet her. Her current passion project is Stay Grounded MMXI, which is a clothing line that promotes positive thinking through everyday street wear. I was able to catch up with Eleanor to talk about her experiences growing up with a ‘Tiger Mom’, her identity as an artist, and her outlook on life.
“It’s kind of weird because I thought I had my whole life set. I thought I was going to pursue my dreams of going to an art school because I had always enjoyed art and design so much. I prepared my portfolio all throughout high school. When it came to college, I applied to UMass Amherst as my safety school and along with one art school. I had also applied to Parsons School of Design for interior design and I didn’t think I’d get in. When I actually received my acceptance letter to Parsons, I was ecstatic and I didn’t want to think about anything else but to take the opportunity. But in reality, my final decision of not choosing to go was because I didn’t get a good financial aid package and my family wouldn’t be able to afford it. I also wasn’t sure if I was ready to take on the commitment of graduating with a large amount of loans either. That really scared me. That was the first time I turned down an opportunity and I would always come back to wonder ‘what if’ just because I didn’t take the risk.”
“Growing up, I wished my mom had let me decide on what I wanted to do and be supportive in whatever I chose. Instead, I ended up going to UMass Amherst and majored in Marketing because my brother informed me it would be a field that I could still be creative while focusing on the business aspect of things. I decided to do it also because my mom finally approved.”
Eleanor recalls her experience living and attending preschool in Hong Kong . . .
“My mom came to the USA because my dad and his family had immigrated here. Her transition was very tough and she often lived between Hong Kong and here to support us while my dad worked here permanently. I was still very young so she had to take me along for the first couple of years after I was born. I recall going to what would be equivalent to their preschool there and I remembered it being really intense. My mom would test me and check my homework daily and I would not be able to sleep until everything was correct. The teachers were strict as well. It was an environment of constant pressure and constant studying from teachers and my mom. There was no naptime like they have in the states. There was always something to learn throughout the day.”
“On the other hand, my brother spent most of his childhood without my mom or my dad. It wasn’t easy for him either as my dad worked long hours and my mom being half way around the world. We are also ten years apart so communication between us wasn’t always easy, not until recently when I began to open up to him more now that he’s moved away. He was always hard on me, more like tough love. I always felt like I never got it easy like some of my other friends. But this is the life you’re given. You can only make the best of it. I can’t imagine his struggle because I know it’s more than I have endured. He had to do a lot of growing up on his own. My brother also had the pressure of my mom wanting him to be a certain way so he worked hard to try to make her proud.”
“Ever since I could remember until the end of middle school, my mom would continue to check my homework and make sure I study for my exams. I was so paranoid of having to come home with a bad grade and needing her to sign it. In certain ways she was a Tiger Mom in that she had high expectations for me and wanted me to be a certain way, and often compared me with other daughters as if I was never good enough. It’s crazy how polar opposites my parents are. My mom is very stern and constantly worries whereas my Dad is very relaxed and takes each day one at a time.”
“During the recession, my mom got laid off. It was a tough year for her as her mother had also passed away. Worried that she had to wait to find another job, she left her family behind, and went back to Hong Kong for work. It was my senior year in High School and I had planned to move away for college the following semester. That period of time was a big change for me in having to leave my dad behind and also living without my mom for the next five years. I would only see her once or twice a year during this chapter.”
During this time, Eleanor’s father became her rock and inspiration . . .
“My dad was always great in my eyes, but I never told him. It wasn’t something I would say or do. Just a silent thought in my mind. We never showed affection. It didn’t hit me emotionally until I had to leave for college that I shouldn’t take my relationship with him for granted just because I felt weird about something so stupid like not showing affection to my own family.”
“My dad was diagnosed with emphysema the year I graduated high school. This was another turning point in my life in which I would have to live with. My dad is my rock. I’ve come to cherish this time as our relationship grew and deepened. It was the first time in my whole life that we started to talk about things. He never pushed me to do things. He always said, ‘Don’t force yourself to like something if you don’t like it. Don’t make life so stressful that you can’t think things through. It’s never that serious.’ He accepted who I was and reassured me to go do what I wanted to do. For example, if I didn’t like to study then I didn’t have to because not everyone is made for it. I never thought about dropping out or anything but it was relieving to know I do have a parent who is supportive of whatever I choose to do with my life. That only made me want to work harder.”
“I get a lot of my positive outlook on life from my dad along with my grandma. My dad has worked his whole life and never complained about his long shifts or anything. He’s doing his best. But in my mom’s eyes, it’s still never enough. My dad has a demeanor of Buddha, when you see him you feel this sense of comfort. He has a smile so big that it lights up a whole room. In being understanding and compassionate like himself, that was enough to push me to be a better person for myself and for them.”
Eleanor’s side projects allow her to tap into her creativity as an artist outside of work . . .
“Stay Grounded MMXI was inspired when I came across another apparel company known as Illthreads. The founder had really nice design skills but it was also his story that pushed me to start my own business. He was also young and I thought if this person could do it, I could do it too. I wanted to be able to have something of my own and do design as this was something I’ve always enjoyed. I didn’t want to lose my passion just because I had to take another route in life in the meantime. My brand serves as a reminder for me to stay true to my roots. If I ever make it big, it reminds me to be stay humble and remember where I came from. But that also goes for anything. Don’t lose sight of who you are and how you got there. It is because of your struggles, your accomplishments and everyone who was there to support you at one point in your life that has helped to shape who you are today. I focused a lot on typography and design. I want everyone who wears my brand to have these inspiring messages so that they can empower themselves and others along the way.”
And some thought she would like to share with others who are struggling to balance family expectations and their dreams . . .
“My mom accepts that I’m out of college and old enough to make my own decisions now. It’s strange how absence can help change perspective and find middle ground. In having that time away from my mom, I’m able to recollect myself and find peace. The generations are much more different now and my mom is still stuck in her old traditional ways in some sense, but it’s a lot more different now. My advice is that you’ve got to be able to break free from living how people expect you to be. My main thing now is that I focus more on the positive rather than negative experiences. I don’t blame her anymore. What’s done is done. She has her own reasoning like every parent does because they only want the best for their kids. Parents just sometimes show it in a poor way.”
“Now that I’m older, I know I have the power to change it and I’ve got to figure it out on my own. Every experience that I went through made me who I am and I wouldn’t be the same without it. I feel more free now. I look back and I’m thankful rather than bitter. Communication is key but perspective is important. I think that with every person that comes into your life, they all bring something to the table where you can choose to learning from them. But if there’s something that you want to do, you need to just go for it. There’s really no better way to put it out there. There’s so much time but when the time comes it also goes away so fast.”