Dr. Dona Kim Murphey oral history interview and transcript, June 10 2020

Rice University

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0:00 - Background and family

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Partial Transcript: Alright okay, so today is August 10th, 2020. My name is Chelsea Li, I am here with Dr. Dona Murphey and we will be conducting a full-length interview.

Keywords: birth order; Cy-Fair ISD; doctor; Houston; neighborhood; parental expectations; Spring Branch

Subjects: childhood; community; parents; siblings

8:07 - Experience in the education system

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Partial Transcript: Um, hm. I mean there are so many different kinds of things I can talk about here. I-- I mean there are some things that I have always considered kind of trivial, I mean in retrospect I think that I ought to probably not erase those experiences in the way I did growing up.

Keywords: anti-immigrant attitudes; college; cultivating relationships; Harvard; History of Science major; Korean American; multiple perspectives; Spanish Language and Literature

Subjects: challenges; defining moments in college; discrimination; microaggressions; racism

20:16 - Experience in medical school

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Partial Transcript: Um medical school-- So I did two years of medical school before taking what I thought would be one year off to do research.

Keywords: Baylor School of Medicine; community of scientists; MD; Neuroscience; Neuroscience lab research; PhD; residency

Subjects: competitiveness; medical school; neuroscience; research

26:09 - Path to current career

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Partial Transcript: Sure um-- so currently I'm the Director of Scientific Affairs of an EEG diagnostics company.

Keywords: academic medicine; Director of Scientific Affairs; disadvantaged students; EEG diagnostic company; mentorship; neuroscience; racism; sexism

Subjects: current occupational role; EEGs; facing discrimination; facing misogyny; leaving academia; medical advisor

31:09 - Mentors and barriers in the industry

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Partial Transcript: That's a good question. I have always sought mentorship. I've never thought that that would come from a single person.

Keywords: academia; advocacy; Corticare; different perspectives; expanding networks; Ibram X. Kendi; maintaining power; shock; The New Jim Crow

Subjects: community organizing; medical academia; mentorship; modern barriers; power held over time

37:47 - Balancing work and life

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Partial Transcript: Um I-- I wish I could say that it was difficult because I think that that is the circumstance for most people.

Keywords: busy schedule; daughters; family; oppportunity; privilege; symptoms of COVID

Subjects: childrearing; COVID; residency; work from home; work life balance

44:14 - Personal and family values

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Partial Transcript: Gosh that's hard 'cause I feel like the most important value I've like learned in my life came from my parents and I think it really fundamentally informs how I raised my children and how I think about the world.

Keywords: immigrants; inherited values; kept values; Korea; paternalism; personal values

Subjects: cultures and customs as immigrants; empowering advice; values from parents

50:14 - Advocating for equal education and mental health awareness

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Partial Transcript: Um, yeah so I'm not running for Pearland ISD school board this year, I ran last year

Keywords: campaigning; immigrant families; immigrant youth; incumbents; know-your-rights training; mental health awareness; model minority; Pearland ISD; racial profiling; suicides; unethical campaign

Subjects: anti-immigrant policies; discrimination; immigration advocacy; injustices in minority communities; mental health; running for the school board

64:20 - Contracting COVID and government response

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Partial Transcript: Um it-- it's been really frustrating, right, because-- thank god I-- I'm a physician, because I-- and that I have just kind of confidence in my own ability to assess a situation

Keywords: civic consciousness; common symptoms; community COVID forum; crisis of leadership; neurological symptoms; organization; pandemic; screenings for COVID; Trump presidency; undiagnosed

Subjects: civic literacy; COVID symptoms; COVID-19; leadership in government

76:08 - Encouraging Asian American empowerment

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Partial Transcript: Yeah, no no no, but there's a lot going on. I always wish for more. I mean I think like this is a function of being progressively minded.

Keywords: AAPI identity; Asian American Pacific Islander; Black Lives Matter; discrimination; empowerment; Hispanic; institutionalized racism; Latino; manipulation; pandemic; political action; progressively minded; transformational change

Subjects: Asian American identity; motivating the community; political engagement; responsibility to take action; teaching critical thinking


Interviewee: Dona Murphey

Interviewer: Chelsea Li

Date of Interview: 6/10/2020

Transcribed by: Chelsea Li

Edited by: AnhThu Dang, Ann Shi, Sora Kim

Audio Track Time: 1:28:10

Background:​ Dr. Dona Kim Murphey is a doctor with an MD PhD from Baylor for Neuroscience, who now is the director of scientific affairs at an EEG diagnostics company. In this interview Dr. Murphey shares her experiences through her vigorous education and research from an undergrad at Harvard University, to a medical student and researcher at Baylor. Dr. Murphey also details the tougher experiences she faced throughout her career while she has been running for school board, and how she is still focused on social justice issues. She also dives into her take on the current pandemic and different facets of the issue.

Setting:​ The interview was conducted on Zoom. The interview has certain sections of silence due to connection issues with the internet.


CL: Chelsea Li

CM: Dona Murphey

--: speech cuts off; abrupt stop

--: speech trails off; pause

Italics: emphasis

(?): preceding word may not be accurate

[Brackets]: actions (laughs, sighs, etc.)


CL: Alright okay, so today is August 10th, 2020. My name is Chelsea Li, I am here with Dr. Dona Murphey and we will be conducting a full-length interview. Um so let's get started. Um so where and when were you born?

DM: I was born in Houston in 1979.

CL: Um who did you live with throughout your childhood?

DM: With my parents and my sister and my brother eventually, they're younger than me.

CL: So yeah you mentioned you had two siblings. How did this kind of shape your experience living with a younger sister and brother?

DM: Um-- that's a good question. I mean I feel like it-- it motivated me to share my experiences with them I guess and you know, kind of broadly speaking my experiences through school, what I learned going through school and my 1:00experiences with parents, being in an immigrant household-- yeah. I mean I guess maybe that was the biggest-- the biggest way in which I was influenced by being an older sibling.

CL: Um can you describe a bit about the like neighborhood and community that you grew up in?

DM: Yeah sure so we moved a couple of times. We started off in Northwest Houston in the Cy-Fair area and I would say that there-- that area was not as diverse as the area that we moved to when I was in junior high, but it was much more 2:00diverse than the area that I ultimately ended up in for high school which was in Spring Branch. But yeah we-we moved within the Cy-Fair Independent School District which was I think at the time, and even for some time thereafter, one of the most rapidly growing public school districts in the country, and it was becoming more and more diverse. So while in elementary school I was in an area where there were not, from my recollection, a large number of like-- non-white students. In middle school or junior high there were, I mean my perception was that there was a majority of "minority students". So yeah, in high school I moved to Spring Branch and the demographics there were much different than in junior high where there I think was the greatest diversity in my early childhood years. High school was again predominantly white and then there it was also pretty privileged, pretty wealthy students and families.


CL: Yeah. Could you go on a bit about maybe your parents' occupations and maybe any expectations they had for you as you were growing up?

DM: Sure, my father was or is still an accountant and has his own accounting business. And my mother basically did, you know, everything he did... [laughs] but does not have those sorts of certifications, and so she worked with him to- to run his business. Sorry, the second part of that question was what?

CL: Oh sorry, did they have any expectations for you growing up?

DM: Um I think for me it was primarily expectations I set for myself. They did, I recall, suggest very early I think when I first suggested it when I first suggested that I wanted to be a doctor when I was like five right. They certainly did pretty uncritically support that and-- and I was very self-critical about it, I mean obviously it was something that I just kind of I 4:00blurted out as a five-year-old it's not something I'm necessarily going to stick with through my, you know, older childhood years, adolescence years or young adult years necessarily; but my parents became sort of attached to the idea. So I guess it became their expectation, but it was something that I'd originally thrown out there and that was I think very similar to other things that I did in my life either as a function of my personality or maybe my birth order. I was, 5:00you know, very motivated, I took a lot of initiative so I kind of created the expectations for my siblings I think as a function of who I was and how I was. But they did not necessarily have like an idea in their heads prior to me of what their child should be like.

CL: I see. So since you created this kind of expectation from your parents for your siblings, did they follow in similar footsteps to you?

DM: Could you say that again Chelsea I didn't catch that?

CL: I'm sorry, can you hear me now? Oh-- I think you are muted. I think your audio is a bit-- is muted. yeah there you go. Sorry. Can you hear me now though?

DM: Now I can hear you, yes.

CL: Okay great okay I can hear you as well. Oh I think you were-- I think you 6:00just muted again...

DM: Are you able to hear me now?

CL: Yes-- yes this is good.

DM: I'm sorry. [CL: No, you're all good.] I just froze-- Sorry what was your question after you asked me about parental expectations?

CL: Oh right, since you said you kind of influenced your parent's expectations of your siblings, did they follow similar footsteps to you?

DM: Um my sister did, but on a very different timescale; and my brother did not at all. And I think that because my sister did but not until some time had passed. They-- I think both of them felt a bit challenged by my parent's expectations of them as a function of who I had been; and I don't know, the bar that I had set, right? And I don't want to say bar, like its higher or lower 7:00than something, but it is something. Right? [CL: Right, right.] It is some kind of standard.

CL: For sure yeah. What would you say that your experiences were like in the education system, kind of growing up before college?

DM: Sorry, um. I would say that-- Oh gosh... it's such a broad question.

CL: I know.

DM: Um I mean what part of that question would you like me to tackle? Like whether I had challenges? Whether-- I mean, what particular kind of challenges, what kind of-- What aspect of the question?

CL: Right like any challenges that you faced-- Yeah, that would be great.

DM: Um, hm. I mean there are so many different kinds of things I can talk about 8:00here. I-- I mean there are some things that I have always considered kind of trivial, I mean in retrospect I think that I ought to probably not erase those experiences in the way I did growing up. I mean I guess I could talk about that, I mean I have a number of accounts I recall of being discriminated against as a kid, which I just honestly felt was a part of life. I just felt like oh that's just how things go and I didn't let it really bother me very much at the time. I didn't really reflect on it heavily at the time growing up. But I think more and more as I have understood like racial injustice and anti-immigrant attitudes in the United States, I've looked back with a more critical lens on that, and also 9:00in thinking about how I raise my own children in the face of that kind of discrimination-- what people will call often microaggressions, and I think that honestly it does a disservice to those people who have those experiences because it is a kind of erasure. It's to say that they really aren't that significant, those are micro-aggressions. Right? I think it is unfair because those experiences can be traumatizing and certainly some communities, I think, face that in a much deeper way and a historic and intergenerational way than I had. I mean my parents newly immigrated here in the 1970s and you know, even just the 10:00history of immigration of Korean Americans to this country is relatively newer, and there are historic injustices against like indigenous communities here and people who had been enslaved here, and that's-- and they're the descendants of those who were brought here enslaved. That's a very very different I think in many ways. But in the way that I think we all tend to get erased, that our experiences tend to get ignored or minimized. That is, I think a similar experience.

So, so yeah. I mean I guess that-- those were some of the challenges that I faced which like I said again at the time I didn't really think of them as challenges. I didn't actually think of them as very distinct from like if somebody called me like-- you know, they said something that was demeaning about my physical appearance or something like that, that has nothing to do with my race, right, like "oh one arm is fatter than another" or something right or whatever kind of comment somebody might make. I at the time never considered that it would be any different, like at the end of the day they're saying 11:00something that is offensive to me. I don't know why I would receive that any differently if it had to do with my race versus my, you know, immigration status versus my physical appearance, like it's all mean, you know? Like-- and I thought a lot more about that as an adult like is it all the same though? And if it's not then why is it not? Like why do we experience that differently, particularly as we become more aware of our intersecting identities. Yeah.

CL: Okay I'm gonna move on to kind of questions about your college experience now. I see that you majored in the History of Science at Harvard while kind of on the premed track which is very impressive. What made you interested in this major?

I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I can't really hear you?

DM: --like humanities, social sciences and the sciences. And I actually-- I mean 12:00I had a lot of difficulty trying to decide between, you know, between those things, between all of those things. And-- and so I saw, yeah, an opportunity in history of science which is like a very distinct major, it's not offered at most universities. I saw an opportunity there to not have to choose basically. But you know after I had chosen that path, I very much have come to appreciate the fact that it did teach me in a way that was um-- what's the word for it-- interdisciplinary. And I think that it has actually in very profound ways influenced my world view, in kind of like a meta way, right? So I think in 13:00general, I value more than many might, the kind of polymath or renaissance person. Having multiple lenses on issues in society and on my own life I think it's been really really helpful to me, to understand myself in the world. Yeah.

CL: Yeah, kind of going back, you said there were a multitude of majors you were interested in. And so what were other subjects that you were interested in studying along with the major you ended up choosing?

DM: Oh gosh, at one time considered Spanish Language and Literature. I love-- I love literature, I love to read, I love writing. I speak Spanish better than I do Korean, because I was raised by-- in large part by a large number of Central 14:00American nannies while my parents were both working when I was younger. And that was one of the things-- And I actually did get a certificate-- [audio cuts off]

So that was one of the things I was considering. I think I was considering social studies, which I think there is a lot of overlap honestly between social studies and the path that I chose. It is, also I think, in many ways interdisciplinary. And-- Yeah, I mean I feel like the disciplines that I was looking at for the most part were, although I've never I guess explicitly articulated this really, they were a way at looking at what I had learned in the 15:00past and I think how most people understand the world around them with a really critical lens, right. Had I chosen something like Biochemistry or Physics-- I mean these things were never in my decision calculus. I was never considering doing a major in Biochemistry or Physics, although I really liked-- not necessarily biochemistry, I liked chemistry, I loved biology and I liked physics a lot as well. But I did not consider those majors because I did not think that they would-- help to cultivate a more profound understanding of the world for me, right? I think-- I thought of those disciplines as more challenging of course, like the content is challenging to learn. But yeah, I wasn't seeking to be challenged in that way. I think I was seeking to really understand the world from multiple perspectives. And so it wasn't those disciplines that appealed to 16:00me. But you know, I did-- Oh the other part of taking history of science is that it allowed me to knock out my pre-med requirements so that's the other like practical reality is that, so what would I take as a major where I don't have to take a bunch of additional electives, and I'll get my premed requirements knocked out?

CL: That's great. Um what were some also like defining moments that you had in college? Sorry that's kind of general as well but--

DM: Yeah that's a good question. I think the realization that people-- and I think for this I'm really grateful, have always been very grateful to Harvard and I'm sure a number of other schools have commitments similarly. But I was very grateful to have a really diverse set of classmates. And I think also I seek that out so it is not even necessarily Harvard per se. Like I think that if it weren't me, it might have been a student who elected to spend their time with a more homogeneous group. But I-- I'm always seeking. Again, like I mean, I 17:00think of people in my life, whether they're friendships or they're, you know, professional networks that I tend to develop. They to me are-- they're a gift, they-- they allow me to almost live multiple lives through other people's experiences.

And so, you know, being in college, where I ended up hanging out with, you know 18:00a Korean American who was from Chicago-- and actually was born on the same exact date that I was born in 1979. He was like a world travelled concert pianist, performed with the Chicago Symphony when he was 13. I mean he was just brilliant. But he was very humble, he was hilarious, he was a second-generation immigrant whose parents never really learned to speak English, and so he was negotiating like, you know, the purchase of their house when he was like, you know, in middle school. I mean it's just some extraordinary people.

Another friend of mine was a first-generation immigrant who came to the United States when he was eight, I think. They escaped from Cuba on a boat and ended up in Florid, and his parents both worked in factory-- a factory in California and he was at Harvard. Another friend of mine his parents did not complete college degrees, but his father ended up being actually one of the executives at a big oil and gas company. And he ended up-- my friend actually ended up again at 19:00Harvard, right? Another friend of mine is like Argentinian American, she had spent the summer at the presidential palace in Argentina because she won some prize at a program or whatever, and-- yeah so these people who had done really extraordinary things, but they didn't-- they didn't come from privileged backgrounds per se, yeah I mean most of them didn't. I mean I didn't really spend time with the fourteenth generation Harvard student. I knew some of them but those weren't the people that I sought to-- to cultivate relationships with. So I think that was maybe the most impactful thing, is just kind of the relationships that I-- that I had and that I cultivated with people, with my peers there.

CL: Yeah, um, yeah. So moving onto your kind of medical school and PhD experience, I see you received your MD and PhD in neuroscience from Baylor College of Medicine. What was kind of this experience of medical school like?

DM: Um medical school-- So I did two years of medical school before taking what I thought would be one year off to do research. And the first two years of medical school I think I was a decent student, I was what medical students call a gunner [laughs]. I was just rabidly competitive, right? And I wasn't that way 20:00in that, I wasn't like sabotaging people, but I was often trying to put on display my knowledge, right? I definitely was doing that and I was doing that in order to help other students as well. So like I started a website where I would drop a bunch of my notes, and I would collect notes from other students who also 21:00wanted to share the materials they had created for people to study from. So I would put it to service to help other people.

But at the end of the day, I think it was very ego-driven right? Like look what I've done and I'm so smart. I mean I think I-- there was just a bit of immaturity about me and maybe that was because I felt-- maybe it was driven by insecurity, I don't know. I mean I wasn't one of those hard science majors so I felt I was a little bit at a disadvantage when I-- disadvantage when I started medical school. So I don't know if my showboatness? I don't know what to call it-- my being a showboat had to do with insecurity, but that's certainly how I was for the first couple of years and then I took this year off in order to do some research in a neuroscience lab and really discovered that I love research; and I didn't have a chance to figure that out as an undergrad. I did a little bit of research as an undergrad, but it wasn't in the right environment. And it wasn't with the right mentorship and they weren't asking the right research questions for me to have taken an interest in research at the time. But the lab 22:00where I ended up after two years of medical school, I was really like so captivated by the work they were doing, and also by the community of scientists that were gathered in the particular lab.

So I was just-- I was really impressed and kind of questioning whether I really wanted to be in medicine honestly. So what I ended up doing is negotiating to take more time off to join the MD PhD program. So I was the first student they actually had that transitioned from this one-year research program that they have at Baylor College of Medicine into the MD PhD program. They had-- they had students before who wanted to do it, but they didn't allow it until I asked. I think I was maybe the third person who asked to do it and so they let me transition into that program and I ended up completing a PhD in that work that I 23:00started in the first year.

And I think coming back into medical school after that experience I was obviously much older. And by that time I had two children, and so I did not have the same attitude that I needed to show the world how knowledgeable I was. I mean I knew how knowledgeable I was, which-- and also at that point I understood how knowledgeable I wasn't, right? And I think that's what you do really understand pretty exquisitely if you do grad school right, it's that the more you know, the more you realize what you don't know. And so that kind of humility I think was really helpful, going back into medical school. I did have some trouble readjusting I think because I was so comfortable with, what I feel was the culture of science. I don't know if this is true or if it was a product of the laboratory I was in, because I don't think this is universally true talking to-- to colleagues of mine who ended up in other labs or in different institutions. It's not universally true that they have like this wonderful 24:00experience and they think that the community is so, you know, I don't know rich and supportive and thought provoking, and people did not uniformly have that experience in science, but I did. And so I had this notion that like science was this idyllic place, medicine was this like hyper-hierarchical, all about memorization and regurgitation of information, no critical thought. Just very toxic in a lot of ways and that's kind of the perspective, the lens that I had on medicine going back to medical school, and then starting residency-- I tried to quit residency twice. Because I just felt like I didn't belong after having done grad school and having had such a different experience, that I just wanted to go back. I was just like I just want to go back to science. I really detest this. I don't want to practice medicine, I don't want to be around these people. But you know I stuck with it. A lot of people told me I should stick with it for mostly practical reasons. They were like, "you don't want to have put in all this effort and to have basically, you know, a path to economic security at 25:00least, that you're just gonna throw away if you don't complete the training." And so I listened to them for better or for worse. I think that I would have done fine to not listen to them but I chose to listen to those voices and I'm happy with where I've ended up but anyway, so yeah that was kind of my experience with medical school and the remainder of my medical training.

CL: So yeah now we are going to kinda transition into like how did you decide to pursue your current career? And please take us through the progression of your career if you transitioned through different positions?

DM: Sure um-- so currently I'm the Director of Scientific Affairs of an EEG diagnostics company. EEG is our brainwave studies that are done principally on 26:00people where there's some suspicion that they may have epilepsy or seizures. But we do them for a lot of other reasons as well and namely right now there's been in the last decade or so an incredible interest in doing these studies on critically ill patients who are obtunded, or otherwise their consciousness is impaired or altered. We do, you know, we measure their brain waves basically to see what is happening in the brain, and we found when we've done this on a scale that, there are a lot of people that have seizures when they are critically ill, even if they don't have brain illness as their reason for being critically ill. They may be there because they have like kidney failure or something else, but a large number of them actually are having seizures that go undetected unless you are measuring it.

And so, since they've discovered it, it's become a whole industry, right? So now there are companies that are trying to offer to measure, and to-- to read and interpret-- have physicians read and interpret the studies. So I joined this company in 2015 I think as a medical advisor, and at that time I was finishing 27:00up my training in fellowship in epilepsy and EEG and then I thought that I was going to stay in academic medicine. I had really I think an unfortunate negotiation or lack thereof with the man who would have been my chairman where I would have ended up as a professor.

Yeah, I mean I guess I won't really go into the details of that right now. But I will say that it really my--opened my eyes to the uphill battle for women and people of color in academia. And I was really blind to it. I remember actually really explicitly thinking that, you know, at some level, yes we need programs to support students from communities of color, otherwise very disadvantaged students, and I was very active actually on that front. I was often participating in mentorship programs and outreach programs and things like this 28:00in science in grad school. But I think part of me also thought, at some point, you just have to be good enough and you have to work hard enough and there shouldn't be any barriers. But when I attempted to negotiate this position with my chairman where I came in, in a very favorable position, I mean I had multiple first author publications, I had an MD PhD, I had independent funding for two years. I mean I had so many things and objectively you could look at that resume and say this person is going to be very successful in academic medicine. And I was just-- I mean I felt like I was taken like a joke what I was offered, how I 29:00was treated, and realized finally in that moment, I mean I should have realized it before then, that no it doesn't actually ever go away, this problem of misogyny, of racism. Those attitudes, they-- I mean, they are at the very top of the food chain.

And so I left academic medicine, and at the time like I said, I was in touch with this company and I was a medical advisor at that time, I asked them if they could create a position for me basically. And they said yes. They created a position and I came on as Director of Medical and Scientific Affairs at the time because they were small enough, and they couldn't afford to have two different people at those position at the same time. They didn't have enough work for it, they didn't have the money to support it. So I filled both of those two roles for three years and then in 2019, last year, I transitioned out of the Director 30:00of Medical Affairs role and someone else transitioned into that role, a colleague of mine, and then now I'm exclusively focused on scientific work for the company. So I do a lot of clinical trials work, wearing my science hat, and then I also do a lot of clinical readings still of EEGs in the company. And because I've been there for so many years and since the early days I'm also just kind of-- I continue to wear multiple hats in the company, and I'm engaged with the executives in the company because I've been there for a long time.

CL: Um so yeah, that's a little disheartening to hear about like your experiences through the industry, but were there any mentors that really helped you along the way?

DM: That's a good question. I have always sought mentorship. I've never thought that that would come from a single person. And again, I think this is because my world view is just that the more information that you have, the more opportunity 31:00you have to decide what path is best for you, right? Every person is unique and we're also dynamic as human beings. So like what might have been good for me at one point in my life may not be good for me now. And so I-- I think it's important to have many many mentors. So I can't point to a single person who gave me advice. There were a number of people that I went to, to get different perspectives on what action I should take when I faced some of these challenges.

And it was pretty traumatizing for me because for about a decade I thought I would be a physician scientist in academia. And then to get such a ridiculous offer, and really no firm commitment to support my development as a physician scientist-- and you absolutely need that to be successful. I was like I'm not going to throw away five years of my life in attempting to move from instructor to assistant professor to associate professor, when I know that you're not going to give me the time or resources, to devote to that path to do [CL: Right.] it successfully. So I was just like I'm not going to do that, and then to walk away 32:00from it, yes at one level I was like "Yeah, power. I'm walking away from the situation they're really trying to pull one over on me." But on the other hand it was a real shock. It was really unsettling to who I thought I was. Like I really had to kind of understand who I was-- my identity outside of being a physician scientist in academia; because that's how I saw myself for so long, you know?

Cl: Right.

DM: but I think it was good for me. I mean it allowed me to learn how to pivot, it allowed me to extend my networks-- expand my networks beyond academia. It allowed me to become very comfortable with actually being in very different environments, which I think has served me very well in-- in the work that I do now for Corticare, the EEG diagnostic company. But I think even more importantly 33:00or as importantly, the work that I do outside my paid labor which are kind of my labors of love, and that's a lot of the work that I do in organizing-- community organizing and advocacy in our communities.

CL: Yeah, so you-- as you mentioned some of the barriers that you faced. Why do you think they still exist today?

DM: Yeah this is a good question. There's a fantastic book that I started reading by a scholar named Ibram X.-- I don't know if that's how you pronounce his name, X. Kendi. He writes often for the Atlantic and he's written several 34:00books as well, he's a-- I think he's a professor of Africana studies. The book I'm reading now is called stamped from the beginning, and it talks about racism in America but it actually starts with, like, the beginnings of Western intellectual thought, and how a lot of these problems we see with racism-- and I think that in many ways this is also true for-- for sexism, and other ism, right? Like cissexism or heterosexism or bigotry against people that are disabled, or whatever it is, right, any deviation from what somebody has established as "the norm, right? I think that these ideas are very problematic. For a long time, I thought that we could educate our ways-- our way out of those ideas or we could cultivate compassion among people, that-- I mean at some level 35:00you're born with some of these things and-- and you have-- you're more compassionate than the person sitting next to you, yes I think that that is true also, but I did have this hope that some of it was teachable.

And this book-- [audio cuts off] ideas, and actually kind of-- what's the word for it like reframing those ideas or repackaging these ideas over time, in order to maintain power. And it's-- it is true, if you look back at it, I think it's a really compelling argument that like you know he-- there's another author named Michelle Alexander who wrote The New Jim Crow which was turned into a documentary called 13th right? And she talks about how like slavery has really just, what's the word? It's-- Oh my gosh, the word is escaping me, it's like when you come back in a second life-- what is this word, I can't believe that I'm forgetting this. [CL: I have the book, but--] Yeah yeah, no no she doesn't talk-- I don't know if she actually uses this particular word, reincarnation, right? So slavery is reincarnated, right, this is my word I don't know that she's ever used it in this way, but the idea is the same. It's reinvented right? From slavery to Jim Crow to mass incarceration, right? So like, this kind of 36:00thing it started happening from before slavery, is the argument Kendi makes, and I totally buy it, right. There is something that's very seductive about power and I think once people have it, they do what they can to manipulate people through ideas and through institutions that allow them to hang on to it. And so yeah-- I mean I don't-- now I forget your original question, but I--

CL: It was just about the barriers and why they still exist, but I think that was very... Yeah, I think it addresses the original question.

DM: Yeah.

CL: So I hear that you have two daughters. Was it difficult to kind of balance the work and life balance with like children?

DM: Um I-- I wish I could say that it was difficult because I think that that is 37:00the circumstance for most people. I was very fortunate because I live where my parents are and where my husband's parents are and my husband also is like enormously supportive. So-- and he had the flexibility to do a lot of the childcare when I was going through especially my medical school and residency years. During grad school I- I think I did a lot of it because I had the time and flexibility, and I wanted to. I mean I think I always want to, but during med school and residency it was just-- it was hard to be the primary caretaker so it-- that fell to my husband. But I understand that many people are not in that circumstance. I was actually really kind of irritated when I was interviewing for residency programs, I was at the Harvard Mass Eye and Ear infirmary or Mass-- yeah. It's one of their-- it's their principle hospital for ophthalmology residency training. So originally before I went to neurology, I 38:00thought I wanted to be an ophthalmologist and actually applied in ophthalmology. And then my husband didn't want us to leave Houston, and I wanted to go to a particular program that was very research oriented-- anyways, so I didn't end up following through on applying in ophthalmology.

But I was interviewing at this program at Harvard and there was a resident there. When I asked her how difficult residency was with her-- because she had children too, with children, she said "Oh it's not been too hard because my mom 39:00moved here." And I was like, "okay well, my mom is not going to move to Boston," she's working, and like she loves me but she's not gonna moving to Boston to raise my children and that's basically what this woman told me and I was like that's really unhelpful.

CL: Right, oh my gosh.

DM: So from that perspective, I think the relevant questions here is not, was it difficult for you? Because it wasn't. It wasn't, but that's not most people's circumstance, right? And I think that the relevant advice then to peop-- to the majority of the world who actually struggles with this, for women especially because this is still-- child rearing still remains highly gendered. I think the relevant advice is don't ever be unhappy with a B+, like you're gonna be juggling many things, you know, and don't try to be that person who has an A in everything, right? Be happy that you have the privilege to-- the opportunity to 40:00not only pursue your career but to have a family, right? To-- to make a family and be okay with the fact that you're gonna get B's sometimes. [CL: Yeah.] And that's okay.

CL: Yeah so how do you kind of juggle your busy schedule?

DM: Um, gosh. I guess this is more relevant now because like after getting COVID, I've actually had to really slow down. Physically, I'm requiring a lot more sleep than I normally do. Normally, I actually only need like anywhere from like 3-5 hours a night. I actually sleep very very little, but after getting COVID in March, I've required so much more sleep that I've had to figure out what to do with less time. And yeah so I think what is important is that you just be very intentional about your time, right? And I think that's especially true now when we're working from home and the boundaries aren't so discrete, right? So it's like [CL: Right.] whereas you used to like go to school or go to work, and when we came home, we can disconnect from that at least a little bit, now it's harder for many people. Now I work from home, so it's been-- I've had 41:00this issue for many years. But I think for many people, they're kind of struggling to figure out how do you create those boundaries to make sure that you can, you know, be attentive to all of the things that you value, right? Because otherwise, you can certainly let certain activities bleed into the other activities that you also value. And you want to give, you know sufficient time to everything, right? Time is-- [audio cutting off]

CL: Sorry, I think you're frozen. Oh-- oh, you're good now sorry, for--

DM: Sorry [CL: You're all good.] where did it cut off?

CL: Uhm when you started talking about time and kind of focusing your time.

DM: Yeah, so I think the advice I wanted to give there is that it's important to 42:00be intentional about your time, to set boundaries around it and to realize your time is valuable, right? So I had the problem of saying yes to everything-- [audio cutting off]

CL: Oh, I'm sorry-- I'm sorry can you hear me? Oh.

DM: Talking about something that we wanna do together, right? Some kind of collective effort and somebody says, "Well, it would be really great if we could do this." And nobody volunteers themselves, I cannot handle that silence, I will volunteer myself. And it's awful because I end up doing things where I think my skill set, and my resources are not best utilized. But because I just can't handle there being silence, I put myself into things like this, I volunteer 43:00myself for things where I shouldn't. And I think that that is another way to-- it's another way to be-- yeah, to protect your time is to be cognizant of that kind of compulsion, maybe.

CL: Yeah so what are some values you consider important that you might be instilling in your children that may have not been communicated to you by your parents?

DM: Gosh that's hard 'cause I feel like the most important value I've like learned in my life came from my parents and I think it really fundamentally informs how I raised my children and how I think about the world. So, something that did not come from my parents is really hard. I'm gonna still stick with something-- the thing that came from them because in some ways it is actually-- because it's kind of one of these meta observations, or like a meta piece of advice, it is actually something that creates this space for things that have 44:00not come from them.

So what they told me, I remember very distinctly and I often talk about this one, when I was 16 I think, we had this conversation where they said that there are things that-- ideas that they have and customs that they have that they have brought with them from Korea which is where they came from. And while some of those things may be relevant to me and to how I live my life, some of those things will not be relevant. And the corollary to that is that things that I learn here-- customs, practices, attitudes, values that I learn here in this country may be more relevant to my life here in this country. And so I have to figure out what things to keep and what things to discard. And that's the advice 45:00they gave me, which is not-- I mean it's not the kind of advice that I think most people give, right? Most people give this very discrete advice and they have-- like, there is ego that is attached-- [audio cut off]

CL: I'm sorry. I think you froze again.

DM: Am I back?

CL: You're back, you're back. You're good.

DM: Okay sorry, where di it cut off?

CL: It cut off-- I think you were talking about-- Sorry I don't--

DM: That's okay, I-- I was in general talking about the advice that my parents gave me. I was trying to say that it was like, not directional in the way that most people would give advice. [CL: Yes, I think that's where you cut-- right when you-- yeah.] Yeah. It was more like, you know, you're gonna have to figure it out yourself, but it's not that open, right, it's not that open-ended that's not advice really. It was to say that there are some things that you inherit 46:00that are valuable, right? So you have to figure out what those things are. And there are some things that you inherit that are not relevant for the context you're in and you have to figure out what those things are. They didn't tell me what those things are. Because that's a judgement that I have to make myself. And that was very empowering to me. It was remarkably empowering to me and I think has really shaped how I live my life and how I raised my children, how I think about society and how-- I mean I'm very anti-paternalism I think because of this, right, because my parents did not raise me like that, which is unusual. I mean in some ways they did, there were definitely-- I can definitely give you anecdotes, where I'm like, "oh my god, that was so paternalistic, or they were like all over me about this or that."

But I think at the end of the day the overarching theme was like, you're gonna have to figure this out, right? [CL: Right.] And just understand that not everything that comes from your parents, not everything that you historically 47:00inherent from society, not everything is bad. But not everything is relevant anymore. So you have to figure it out and that was like the best advice--

CL: Sorry, can you hear me?

DM: Say that again?

CL: Can you hear me?

DM: Yes I can now.

CL: Okay, great. Okay, so I see that from your website you're running for the PISD board of trustees and it shows that you have a deep interest in equal opportunity of education for people of color and immigrants. What kind of drove you towards running for this position?

DM: So I--

CL: Sorry, I'm sorry, I think I can't-- I can't hear-- um-- Okay I think you are back.


DM: Hey hon? Are you on a call right now, or? Can you like not be streaming things or tell the girls not to be streaming-- like, this is super unstable and they're recording something right now. Okay. Okay, sorry what was the questions?

CL: So I see you running for the PISD board of trustees and your website shows that you have a deep interest in equal opportunity of education for people of color and immigrants. What kind of drove you towards running for this position?

DM: Right so what I was-- [audio cut off] Is it back?


CL: Yeah, it's back now. [DM: Oh my god, I'm so sorry.] -- it's okay I'm so sorry, no.

DM: Um, yeah so I'm not running for Pearland ISD school board this year, I ran last year, I just haven't [CL: Oh, okay.] updated the website, but the-- it's on the (?) I think it's about how I got interested in running for school board, right? [CL: Mhm, right.] So there were a couple of things, so in 2017 I actually had been-- become very active-- 2016, 2017 I had become very active in 50:00immigration advocacy, and had been doing a lot of work around know-your-rights training, which is basically teaching immigrant families, immigrant youth, how to keep themselves safe basically and in encounters with law enforcement. And that's just kind of acknowledging the reality that we have a lot of anti-immigrant policy and anti-immigrant attitudes even, that we have to protect ourselves from. And so I wanted to be a part of educating people on how to do that, and at the same time I was doing a lot of advocacy in parallel around changing the system that produced those kind of attitudes or rewarded those kinds of attitudes and to dismantle those kinds of laws.

But anyway, I went to the school board because I know that our school district had a lot of immigrant families here and we had just passed legislation in 2016-- 2017 called SP4, it's like an anti-sanctuary state law which allows local 51:00law enforcement to engage with immigration and customs enforcement federally, and it ends up that local law enforcement will racially profile people who they believe might be immigrants and they can pull them over, they can question them about their immigration status. And so I wanted to make sure that the families in Pearland where my children are, that they were safe. Because I was doing this work all over greater Houston, and in fact had gotten involved with work across the state and nationally, on thus. So I was like well, you know I should be active in my own community, I'm not doing anything in Pearland where I live. So I went before the school board at that time to suggest that we provide know-your-rights trainings to families, and I provided the rationale for why that was the moment to do it-- to start doing it. And it just fell on deaf ears and I could t-- I mean it was an all-- well, there was one African American man 52:00on the board at that time. It was otherwise an all-white board. And I was like, they just don't have the lived experience of like being an immigrant in this country, especially in this particular moment.

And so I need to-- Yeah, I need to maybe address that at some point. And so by 2019 I decided after in addition to having that experience, having actually personal experiences with my children, and the children of my friends, having various kind of issues with this district. I was like we need-- we need better leadership in this district and if nobody is gonna step up to run against these incumbents, and at the time there were, I think three seats that were gonna go unchallenged. And I just believe that that is bad for democracy to have unchallenged incumbents like that. At least somebody should throw their hat-- maiden hat, I mean even if you don't campaign or anything at all. So I decided I was gonna run and-- and usually when I decide on something, it's like I was, you know, super excited about it. I never really thought-- I never really cared for-- for trying to m-- [audio cuts off] it doesn't work that way.


It's-- that there is an environment externally that is forcing that organism to evolve and so it was like, I don't want to be on the inside because those people on the inside, they are not actual change agents. But then I was like, "But I don't want these seats on the inside to go unchallenged and certainly do need people on the inside to be receptive to the pressure from outside" so I decided to run. Like I said, I wasn't super thrilled about doing it, but when I commit to something-- I mean this is how I end up doing so much of what I do in my life, like I said I feel like I can't-- that space? I can't let it just go unoccupied. So I usually will volunteer for things, but what I find is that once I do it, because of just who I am, I am all in. So I raised like $30,00, I-- I 54:00mean you have to raise-- to be competitive in Texas, on average you have to raise around $20,000 [CL: Wow.] in a school board raise. So I raised like $30,000. I-- you know, we touched like-- either canvassed or called at their doors, like 20,000 people, 25,000 people, nan enormous number of people. And I hired a campaign manager, I had a campaign staff, I lived my values and paid those people $15 an hour because that's what I believe people should be paid at least right now. And yeah, and after all of that, they-- like the incumbent and the-- the political machine here that really owns local government, that they're all connected through business, through their faith communities, and they own local government. Those folks put out, I mean just a horrifying, super unprofessional, entirely unethical campaign of disinformation. I mean I had 55:00people calling me "Dr. Wonton", I had-- we had emails that went out in mass with our faces on the email and an ISIS flag in the background, trying to tie us to terrorism. And I was just like-- I mean I thought it was a joke, at first I thought it was a joke [CL: Right.] you know-- and then-- and then I was deeply offended for our Muslim community here because [CL: Right, because that's--] I mean, it's so intolerant of religious minority communities. [CL: Right right.] And I was just like, this is horrifying, I can't even believe that-- I mean I run this uber professional campaign. I put out videos like daily so that people can try to connect to who I am and not just misunderstand me because they have no substrate, right, like they have nothing to go off of. So I'm like I'm gonna put out videos, I'm gonna engage frequently, I'm gonna offer to meet people in person whenever there is any, you know, what appears to be misunderstanding. I mean I was very forthcoming, I was, I think, very professional, very kind, very 56:00compassionate, and that's what they did.

I mean they-- they said that they put messaging out there that I wanted to fire all white teachers, that I don't care if white kids get killed, that-- I mean so many absurd and just terrible terrible things because they-- I think they were scared, honestly. [CL: Yeah.] Again, it's about doing whatever you have to do in order to hold onto power. And I think that's what it was. They-- they saw here actually somebody that could unseat the people that they had put into place. And, so that, you know, went however it went, but what I was very proud of is that we-- we put in a, you know, really genuine effort to build our community, to change the narrative around a lot of the injustices that we see in our 57:00community-- that we continue to see in our community. We learned how to engage with the press very effectively to where we were able to change things even without us even being on the school board because we learned how to publicly engage to where there was political pressure on the school board members to change certain policies. So I mean that's what I want at the end of the day. I'm not seeking like fame or glory because I have my name on some plaque or something as a school board member. I mean I could care less. Most of what I do in my life I feel like-- that I feel is important, I do without acknowledgement. I don't talk about it necessarily except to maybe a few-- a very small number of people. And that is not what I am seeking to do. I-- I'm seeking for change to happen for people to be empowered, to be a part of that change-making. I'm not seeking credit.

CL: That's-- that's really scary to hear what people will do to keep their power or like when they feel like threatened, [DM: Right.] by other people. Yeah. So 58:00your website also talks about your interest in kind of mental health. What do-- what is kind of your perception of Asian Americans as this kind of model minority and therefore kind of they're told to shun away from seeking mental health support, even when there might be a need?

DM: Oh my gosh I missed most of that can you hear me right now?

CL: Yes I can. I'm sorry I can repeat that.

DM: Yeah, you said the website talks about mental health, and then I lost you. Yeah.

CL: Right, okay. So yes, I saw on your website that you have an interest in kind of mental health. So I was wondering what your thoughts were about the perception of Asian Americans as this model minority and therefore, we kind of shun away from seeking mental health support even when there may be a need for it?

DM: Yeah, I really appreciate that you framed it in that way because I don't 59:00normally think about it like that, but certainly I think that it is a disservice to all people in our communities that we inherit this myth, right? And I mean to be fair, there are many people in our communities who perpetuate the myth. So they do play an active role in that. But yeah, it is-- it is a disservice to us as whole human beings because it suggests that we are like superhuman right? But that we're-- we work harder than others, that we're smarter than others, that-- whatever the case may be, right? That-- and I think it's really unfortunate, I think that it really will take work from within our communities to address that and to dismantle that. But I think it will also take work between our communities and-- and other minority communities to-- to help dismantle that myth, because I think some of the toxicity-- some of the toxicity comes from ideas that are also perpetuated by people outside of our communities, right? Not 60:00people who invented the myth necessarily, but again people who have adopted it, and they believe it. And, you know-- for better or worse, right? They may have a positive impression of you because of that myth, or they may have a negative one because of that myth. And I just-- I think myths are bad in that way like because it denies-- It denies your individuality, right, and your humanity in a lot of ways, and it just kind of marks you as-- as a type, right? And yeah, and I think mental illness is like it's a real thing that I think people are-- are just now beginning to take seriously, you know, with parity in terms of like how they regard mental health versus physical health. When I-- Are you still with me here?

CL: Can you hear me?


DM: Yeah, where did I blank out?

CL: You didn't blank out. Your voice was there, but your video froze, but I think that's okay.

DM: Okay got it. Yeah so I mean when I ran for school board, I realized that-- I mean I was very pleased to realize this actually, 'cause it was actually an idea that I had in my head, that it did not come from-- from where I discovered it when I was running, but I discovered that the CDC at the time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they had a whole like-- I don't know what it-- what it's called, I don't know-- it's not a campaign, but it's kind of like a framework for thinking about-- for thinking about how we educate our children and that it should be holistic, right? And so that's how I ran my campaign actually, is like I am a candidate who will push for policies that are fundamentally informed by this idea of whole child health. That this-- that the way we educate children should not be exclusively about cognitive development or academic achievement, but it should very much integrate, you know, how much we 62:00value or should value the social and emotional development in children which includes their mental health, right, and well-being.

And we had a real problem with that in our district 'cause we had a number of suicides, like our suicide rate was like several fold higher than the average for the country, and so-- so yeah, that was a big deal. And we did have-- we do have also a very large Asian American community. I don't know actually the racial or ethnic identity of the kids who committed suicide, beyond a couple of them. One of them was-- there was an attempt that where the child was biracial and half-Asian. But, it is a big problem in our communities. I think also there's a lot of silence and shame about that-- those kinds of issues. And that's I think independent of the model minority myth, I think that even if you go to East Asian or South East Asian countries, there will be a lot of those same kinds of cultural attitudes. So we're facing a lot of intersecting 63:00challenges I think in terms of how we deal with mental health in our communities.

CL: Right. I'm going to shift into kind of the COVID questions. You mentioned that you had contracted COVID, what was kind of your-- that experience like?

DM: Um it-- it's been really frustrating, right, because-- thank god I-- I'm a physician, because I-- and that I have just kind of confidence in my own ability to assess a situation, and my situation. But, I got-- I started exhibiting symptoms when they were not testing widely. I went to a community where I was exposed to someone who had been exposed to a person who was a person-- what they a person call under investigation. Ultimately, when they realized, "oh this might be-- like this is the woman who works at a hotel desk where they have a 64:00lot of international travelers." And so they're like, "this might be this-- this disease that everybody's talking about everywhere" and--yeah. They were just-- it was just coming into their consciousness that this could be a problem in their community and so it never occurred to anyone to test me. Like at that time when I came back to Houston, they were not testing here any people who had not travelled internationally, right, or had very specific symptoms. And I was like I don't really get this because when I look at the literature, like the literature from Wuhan, it was like tens of thousands of people they had described such a multitude of symptoms, right, like just kind of a syndrome across many different organ systems including the-- [audio cut off] me?


CL: I'm sorry can you hear me?

DM: Yeah I can.

CL: Okay, okay. So you froze when you were talking about the organs in the body being targeted by COVID throughout the body.

DM: Right, but the screening they were doing here at least early on was very focused on like the most common symptoms, [CL: I see.] and I'm like, I mean I understand why you might want to start with the most common symptoms at like the top of your list, but you ought to have a list right? [CL: YEAH yeah.] I mean like 3 of the 20, like you should list them all and ask people, "do they have any of these?" because they would manifest in so many people in China and then also in Italy. And I'm like we have so many examples internationally of what is happening to people with this disease. Why are we like creating like this-- all of this anew?

And so I was really frustrated, so I didn't actually get a diagnosis of this 66:00from PCR testing because I didn't test-- or which is like the nasal swab test, I didn't test for it until well into my symptoms. and you know, from what limited literature exists on this, the longer you wait, the less likely it is that you're gonna have a positive test. So I had all these symptoms, but I never had a positive like PCR-confirmed diagnosis, right, or testing confirmed diagnosis. And yeah, and so I was like in the middle of having this illness. And in fact I-- I mean I knew about this illness in January because I had friends who were like freaked out about their families, I mean with good reason, about their families in Wuhan. And so I was hearing a lot about it and then I was like, "oh my gosh it's coming over here, like there was a case in Washington. We have to be prepared for it." And so I held actually the first-- to my knowledge, it was the first like community COVID forum in Pearland, in greater Houston. So I held 67:00that like on March 5th I think and so in the midst of doing all this like education and organizing and advocacy around COVID, I get COVID which was frustrating and ironic and like-- and then I can't even get a diagnosis for it right? And so then it's like well, do people even believe me that I have this illness? I mean I was like sleeping like much more than I normally do, and I had like-- I had this constellation of symptoms. It wasn't the typical stuff [CL: Right, right.] at all and I continued to have it. I had to go to-- there was-- in May, I had to go to the ER like two days in a row, they almost hospitalized me. I'd gotten two different brain and head scans. On Monday of this past week I had to go get like another brain vessel study, because I had another like sudden onset neurological symptom. I'm somebody who is a prolific writer and I have had difficulty writing. I-- I noticed that I make a lot of mistakes. At the beginning I was like, substituting words, so like I would choose like before 68:00instead of between, which just doesn't no sense [CL: Right.] in the context, right? And now I'm just making what maybe some people think are-- are typos, typographical errors, which that would be generous 'cause I don't think they're typos-- I think there's something that is not right about the way I'm thinking, that is not allowing me to express myself as-- as readily as I was able to before. I still write quite a bit, but I find myself making a lot of mistakes. I have to check my writing much more, yeah. I mean I've had-- I've had actually a lot of neurological symptoms.

And I-- I actually have had a history of a brain infection so there might be something about my brain that is just more vulnerable somehow? At that time they thought it was like a cold virus that had gone to my brain like maybe through my nose or something like that. But yeah I had like an encephalitis, like I was out for like a week, I was not-- I don't remember that week of my life. [CL: Oh my gosh.] So-- so I think that whatever is happening with COVID now, the fact that 69:00it's manifesting the way that it is in me, I think it might be particular to me, although-- although the literature does show like pretty pervasive reports of neurological symptoms, like up to like 30% of people have some kind of neurological symptom that they're reporting. And if you include things like fatigue, which you know, I don't know that I really count that as neurological, but it's much more. Like fatigue is one of the most common symptoms in COVID, especially post-COVID, [CL: Right.] so.

CL: Wow, so on the same kind of idea. What do you think about the whole-- like the way that, in which the government has chosen to handle this situation?

DM: Yeah I mean I think, so much I think in kind of the crisis of leadership in the many levels of government that I see, it's-- it's an inability to admit 70:00error. It's a reluctance to characterize in terms of like nuanced realities as opposed to absolutes. People tend to lead in absolutes. They tend to message in absolutes, and I think it's because it is galvanizing to voters often, right? Like if you say, "Well, I don't take this position exactly, like on this binary right? I'm not exactly there, I'm kind of somewhere in the middle for these reasons," like that is not as compelling as like "I am here! Because of this! I have this conviction! I mean that-- that is what you traditionally think in terms of leadership, right? Like somebody who is very-- they have strong convictions, right, and they're gonna see them through, and you know, they have just like-- values that cannot be undermined! Right? Like this is kind of what 71:00most people I think have traditionally thought of in terms of leadership, and these things are very problematic. When you have a pandemic that you do not understand, right, and you're constantly having to re-evaluate and to pivot, you cannot be operating in absolutes. You cannot-- and you have to be able to say, "I was wrong there. The reason we are changing course is because I was wrong." Because science is evolving right? And sometimes it's because you're an evil person and you made the, you know, a calculated evil error, but you know I-- I'm-- I try to be generous I think most-- mostly it's not that. I think at the highest levels, it might be some of that I think it is political posturing, political calculation, and that I think is very unfortunate, but I think the majority of Americans, that's not why they are behaving in the way they're behaving it's-- [audio cut off] and-- are you there?


CL: Yes sorry you paused at talking about why certain people are behaving the way they are behaving?

DM: Um yeah... I don't remember exactly what I said there, but what I wanted to go on to say is that-- I mean it's to kind of just like close with, it being really a lack of humility in leadership. And-- and I think it is-- I mean it's also unfortunately systems that we've created or attitudes that we've created over a long period of time where people do not feel empowered to change the lack of leadership, right? Like they-- they don't feel empowered in that, they don't 73:00know actually that there is any avenue for change, right, like they don't know how to engage the systems around them. They don't know how power masks in their communities. [CL: Right.] Who holds the power, who do you go to when you have a problem? People don't understand these things and it's been very intentional by people who have held power in the last several decades, they have very intentionally divested or disinvested from educating the populace, right, in terms of like civic literacy. And that's a real problem because then when you're in a crisis, and you have poor leadership, right, then how do you get yourself out of that crisis? But for the populace to understand how to come together and act collectively to basically rescue that-- the situation, right? That can only happen when there is enough-- there are enough people who are civically literate who can organize their communities and take collective action.

And I'm hoping that there are currently enough of us that have learned enough 74:00especially over the last four years when there's been like a super, like, strong anti-Trump reaction, that there is a way out of this. That a lot of these problems are actually long-standing problems. And yeah, that-- that, you know, we can organize ourselves out of this problem and hopefully we stay committed to it. Because you know, organizing ourselves out of the pandemic, organizing ourselves out of the Trump presidency, this is all very transient. Like we have to understand that this is a long-term investment in basically shifting the culture of civic consciousness.

CL: That was-- that was very well put, but do you think there has been enough Asian Americans, like participating in recent events related to protest for racial injustice such as Black Lives Matter, response to COVID, like racism 75:00against Asian Americans, and kind of the current administration's handling of international students? Sorry that was a long question.

DM: Yeah, no no no, but there's a lot going on. I always wish for more. I mean I think like this is a function of being progressively minded. It's like we can always do better. And I think that that is true invariably, including for Asian Americans. So yeah, I mean there are things that are disappointing to me about our communities, and that we are not as politically engaged as others are. But at the same time, you know, we haven't been here collectively as long as some of these other communities have been here right? So like Latinos have been here, some of them, before this country was founded right? In Texas, we have people who have been here since this land belonged to Mexico or Spain right? And-- and 76:00you know people who are Black in America other than Black immigrants, new Black immigrants are, you know, descendants of slaves, they have been here for 400 years right?

So it is unfair to say like that I expect us to be in the same place in terms of our political consciousness as Asian Americans. That being said, I feel like we have an opportunity to learn from like our brothers and sisters in other communities, right? To hopefully accelerate our consciousness, right? And for us to become more aware and involved in our communities. It's also difficult I think for us because-- and this was actually in some part driven by us, or maybe even in large part driven by Asian Americans, there was a decision just like for Latinos to kind of collectively identify as Hispanic right? Or-- or as Latino. 77:00It gives you political power. And so, we've done that as Asian Americans I mean there are various acronyms that describe us, the one that I most commonly use is AAPI which is Asian American Pacific Islander, but people use a number of different ones to be more inclusive typically, and to be more nuanced.

And I-- I think that it's been difficult because we're very heterogeneous, like not only do we come from different countries, but like Latinos do, we speak many different languages. And we have-- we're culturally-- yeah, there are some things that unify us across culture, but I think we also have very distinct cultures too. Depending on just which communities you're comparing within the AAPI umbrella, and so this makes it a lot more challenging for us to act collectively, right? Yeah. But all of that being said, I think that diversity is 78:00strength, you know, like again like in biology where, you know, genetically the most robust organisms are the ones that are most genetically diverse, I think the same thing is true when you think about society as an organism. So-- so when you think about the challenges that we face as AAPIs to organize ourselves and to be-- to-- to capture more political power for our communities, not in a competitive way, but in kind of an empowering way, in a cooperative way with other communities. To-- to be heard, to be represented, right? I think that overcoming those challenges will make us stronger, it will make us very strong, because there are so many challenges to overcome. So it's both a blessing and a curse.

CL: So what do you think will motivate the Asian American community to show more support for kind of these causes or politically?


DM: You know, I-- I think I've kind of come to a place where not just for Asian Americans-- [audio cut off]

CL: Sorry, oh, you're back--

DM: Where did I leave off?

Cl: Oh, you left off as, like, at one sentence in.

DM: So I think that, yeah, so what I was going to say was that, not just for Asian Americans but for human beings in general I think that, crisis is often required for change to happen; so that means that the moment that we're in right now, that is a very difficult one, also I think creates the opportunity for them to be very transformational change in our society and that includes-- with Asian Americans who are affected in very particular ways with this pandemic, and also 80:00with all of the discussions that are emerging around race, right, [CL: Right.] that are very heavily I think with good reason focused around Black Americans, but I think that a lot of the conversations that are-- that are happening are more-- more inclusive than just Black Americans, right? It's about a lot of different groups and about, yeah just anybody who is non-white basically, right, in this country. So I-- I think it does take crisis often, for us to change.

The only exception to this-- and this is why I ran for school board and this is why I continue, I maintain that if I were to run for something else I think it would have to be something that has some influence over education-- substantial influence over education, it's that-- the other thing is that you can change the way people are educated. And this is not in a like kind of a pedantic way. So 81:00getting kind of-- going back to the kind of advice that my parents gave me right, it's not giving them a directive in the way that you educate them. It's not telling them what to think about the world, but how​ to think about the world, right? And how to interrogate the questions that they have, how to interpret the data that they collect. Like these kinds of things it's like, you know, educating people in the manner of thinking, right? I think it's really critical, whether we're talking about scientific literacy, which is relevant in this moment with a lot of misinformation and disinformation on the pandemic, or whether we're talking about civic literacy. I think that people need to think-- people need to learn how to think, critically. That, I think, may change. That may change for us a lot of the injustices that we see, it may resolve those injustices in very substantial ways, when people realize that this is actually 82:00like I told you, and I've come to believe, this is about manipulating ideas for power and it's not because of the intrinsic inferiority of a particular group right? It's not-- it's not about the behavioral choices or the cultural practices of a particular group even, it's not. I mean we're all different in different ways, right, and-- and none of those ways is less or more than the others. And-- and that anybody who has those kinds of ideas whether they believe it is by nature or by nurture that any particular group is more or less than any other, this is-- that's a racist idea. And I think that there are ways to kind of unteach that and it's not just in saying, "don't be racist!" Like, that does not work. I think it is in teaching people how to think critically about 83:00themselves and about the world around them. That, I think will undo racism, and-- and that is an educational endeavor that's long-term, but I think that if people committed to those things, then-- you know, both in leveraging the moment that we're in, right, to create some transformational change, and also committing to a longer-term vision of educating people in such a way that they have the tools to interrogate this kind of manipulation that we're-- we're subject to. Then I think we're gonna solve a lot of problems.

CL: Yeah, well we've covered all my questions, but do you have any closing remarks or any hopes for the future generations?

DM: Um I-- I mean, I just want to say that I really appreciate the opportunity to-- to speak with you guys as part of this archival project. I had recently been asked by actually like two or three people. I think this week I'm knocking 84:00them all out, to do these kinds of things, like podcasts [CL: Yeah.] or interviews, and-- I always feel really weird about that because I don't-- again, I'm not somebody who tries to center myself in anything that I do, and I am very anti-cultive-celebrity, I think that also this contributes to problems with civic consciousness, is that people externalize the responsibility to take action. They say, "Well, that person is amazing, that person is a hero, I'm gonna clap for them and I don't have to do anything," [CL: Right.] right? And I think this is really problematic and-- and this is kind of-- that was my first impression by like all of these requests to do these podcasts and this project and-- is like, I don't like to contribute to that, but I will say selfishly that it-- it actually does really help me to think about what I am doing in my own life to have the opportunity, or the privilege to speak to you and to other 85:00people about what I'm doing and why I'm doing it, how I think about the world. And so, I feel in a selfish way, very grateful for that opportunity for me. I'm hopeful that this is in some way help-- of help, or helpful to other people. I don't know in what way precisely it will help other people, but I hope that it does. I imagine that you all think it will. That's why you guys are taking the task. And so-- [audio cut off] Are you back?

CL: I am back, sorry, yup. Yup. Definitely froze for a while there, but yes. Yeah no, I would just like to thank you for taking the time to do this interview and share with us your experiences. I don't know, I personally learned a lot, in 86:00this hour and a half, and you're very well-spoken so-- I mean, expected, but surprisingly nonetheless so yeah.

DM: Well thank you very much I'm glad that it was helpful to you, I hope that it is helpful to others and, you're an undergrad at Rice? Or you're a grad student?

CL: Uh, undergrad.

DM: Undergrad, okay. [CL: Yeah.] Well, good luck to you, I love Rice, [CL: Thank you.] my husband is a Rice grad.

CL: Oh really? [DM: Yeah, yeah.] Yeah.

DM: And I would've gone there, but I ended up going to Harvard, my parents were like no you need to go to Harvard, if you hate Harvard you can come back to Rice. I was like-- I did actually hate Harvard for the first semester, but they wouldn't let me come back to Rice. Anyway, I stayed there and it was fine, it was good.

CL: Yeah, yeah. I-- I mean, to be fair I hated Rice for the first semester as well, so might just be a first semester all-around thing.

DM: Maybe, yeah. [CL: Yeah.] Maybe it's an adjustment for everyone.

CL: Yeah. Alright, well we will send you up a follow-up email with more details 87:00and anything else, so yeah.

DM: Awesome, thank you so much Chelsea, [CL: Yeah.] have a great day.

CL: Take care, bye.

DM: Bye.

[Interview ends.]