Wow! I can’t believe it’s been a decade since I began my career in media. I remember transferring from NYU to UCLA at the age of 19. Moving across the country as a freshman and “balling on a budget” was not easy. I didn’t know anyone in California at the time but I did know that somehow, it was the place I needed to be in order to get started on my career. From the celebrities to the red carpets to the palm trees… I was hooked!
When we are aligned with our passion + purpose, the stars align with us.
Growing up, I was glued to the television like a moth to the flame. I remember running home as soon as the school bus dropped me off to catch the beginning of the biggest hit on MTV at the time – “TRL”! Ah, yes. The stable of every kid who grew up in the late 90s/early 2000s! When Suchin Pak, the first South-Korean born TV host joined MTV News as a correspondent in Spring 2001, I cried. When she was bumped up to be the VJ of “TRL”, I
I was 20 when I scored my first major meeting with a huge broadcast agent in LA. I remember walking in all doe-eyed, thinking my life was going to change overnight. Within the first 5 minutes of the meeting, the agent glanced at my headshot and goes, “How do you pronounce this? Is it Zizi? Gigi?” After I corrected him, he replied, “If you want me to represent you, you gotta change your name to something a lot more Americanized – Jennifer, Tiffany, something… anything. Take a note from Julie Chen or Connie Chung. The American audience won’t trust a name they can’t pronounce!”
I walked out feeling extremely conflicted. Do I really have to change my name to get gigs? But nothing really feels more like me than the name I was given since birth. And even if I were to change my name to something more “Americanized”, I still can’t change this Asian face.
Needless to say, I decided to stick with my name. Although I didn’t find my voice as a host back then, I knew deep down inside that if I were going to follow my heart in pursuing an unconventional career path, I had to follow it all the way. I won’t be able to get to where I want to be without understanding my culture, my upbringing, my heritage. At the end of the day, these are all elements that make up who I am and if I couldn’t be authentic to my own DNA, I really wouldn’t be capable of delivering any type of message truthfully to the viewers.
Throughout the past 10 years, the face of television has changed so much. Asian-Americans are more accepted on a mainstream level, but it is still an uphill battle. I get messages every day via social media from young diverse kids all over the U.S., telling me I’m their “role model” and they want a career just like mine. Truth be told, although I never really look at myself as a role model, I knew since the beginning of my career that I had a calling that was much more bigger than my own journey. Due to the platforms I was given and the followers that I have, I feel 100% responsible for fighting for my own dream and help be a guidance to those kids who look up to me and see a face that is relatable to theirs.
I’m forever grateful to have been able to work with some of the most amazingly talented people in Hollywood media. My mentors and friends are a diverse group of individuals who have believed in me enough to take a chance in me by opening the doors for me at some of the biggest media organizations in the world.
They believed that this little Chinese-American girl with a name no one can pronounce should be given a platform to tell her story too.
Welcome to Chapter 1 of “XiXi by XiXi Yang”… will you join me in the journey?