The ‘Model Minority’ myth is a harmful stereotype that’s often associated with Asian Americans. Here, we’re highlighting individuals who are pushing away that racist rhetoric and changing the narrative on who we can aspire to be.
Xinan Helen Ran is a multi-media sculpture artist from Inner Mongolia, China, who immigrated to Canada at 17 years old. Today, she is a sculpture artist based in New York and is currently a 2023 Brooklyn Arts Council Community Art Grant recipient.
xinan helen ran
with xinan helen ran
Q: What inspired you to become an artist?
A: When I was 17, there was an opportunity to study as an exchange student in Canada for the International Baccalaureate, where I took art classes and assisted a theater student doing stage design. Then, I attended Pratt Institute and during my junior year, I went to a residency in Michigan that blew my mind. Living and working together with other artists gave me a crash course in the reality of pursuing art.
Q: How does art play a role in your culture?
A: When I was a kid, there wasn’t much opportunity in the arts in my home country. I also didn’t grow up in an artistic family—my mom is a teacher and psychiatrist; my dad works in construction and maintenance. We didn’t even know what it was to have a job in the arts. There was a huge focus on STEM, and I think it happens in the States because these are high-paying jobs that don’t require generational connections. It’s a way that most immigrant families can make a living in the States.
Q: Did your parents influence your trajectory at all?
A: When I was about 8 years old, my mom and I set a life goal for me. We wanted to come up with something that could be pursued my whole life and decided that the goal would be broad—simply to achieve a healthy, happy and fulfilling life. Because it’s not limited to anything, I think that shows that our family is pretty chill.
Q: What are some themes you explore in your artwork?
A: Trauma, nihilism and humor. I want my work to talk about things that might be difficult to address.
Q: What is one piece of advice you have for aspiring artists?
A: Be interested in things and feel comfortable digging into them. Your interest may seem unrelated and might not be meaningful from a first glance, but once you dig deeper, they could reveal surprising forms of truth or hidden connections.
Q: What’s your current artistic obsession?
A: It changes a lot, but probably my cheat 720 kick or an L kick.
Q: What is your favorite stunt?
A: Nothing will work out unless you go for it. People believe in “manifestation,” and just say it and it’ll happen. For me, you have to go for it or nothing will happen.
Q: What’s one piece of advice you have for aspiring creatives?
A: To be clear—my parents fully supported me when I said I wanted to major in drama, so any reservations I had were definitely my own. I felt that I would disappoint them if I didn’t also major in economics or if I also didn’t go to law school. I felt this innate pressure that they immigrated here, they worked hard and they got their master’s degrees. They got stable jobs just for me to go and be an actor. My mom thinks she can’t retire until my brother and I have stable jobs, so I feel like I put the pressure on myself to be what I think they want me to be. When in reality, they probably just want me to be happy.
Q: How has the “model minority myth” impacted your career?
A: I think actors really excel at law because law is very much about painting a story for your client. It’s trying to convince an audience (whether that’s the judge, moviegoers or opposing party) of a certain story. I think that that’s what drew me in.
Q: Law and art seem like polar opposites. What have you found are similarities?
A: I finished undergrad in three years, so I took the fourth year to act full-time. But that year was 2020, so I knew my acting career wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. My parents always pushed me to go to grad school because they both have master’s degrees and they valued education. I was drawn to law because it’s kind of like theater. It’s about trying to convince a certain audience of a story, so that’s what drew me in.
Q: You also just graduated from law school. Why did you decide to pursue this as opposed to jumping into the arts full time?
A: As a child, I did figure skating and gymnastics. Once I started college, I met a friend who became my mentor and coach. He trained me in capoeira, taekwondo, karate and tricking—basically everything I know.
Q: How did you get into stunt work?
Lilla Lavanukul is a stunt person and a freshly minted law graduate based in Los Angeles. She majored in business economics and theater at UC Irvine in California. In a typical week, she’s auditioning, training at the gym and reading cases, while also getting ready to pass the bar exam this summer. Though it seems like a lot to juggle, her relationship between a practical career and her passions are more symbiotic than a balancing act.
with Lilla Lavanukul
Pulling Stunts in the Courtroom
A: Be super consistent, train and hone in on whatever you're doing.
Q: What is one piece of advice for anyone who wants to pursue something creative or unconventional?
A: I was scared to tell my parents because they really valued stability. They weren't ecstatic about it. But once I explained my choices, they realized that I’m an adult and I can make my own decisions. Now, they're super supportive. My mom loves all the beauty products and they share my content with their friends.
Q: What was your parents’ reaction when you told them you quit?
A: At the time, I was feeling really guilty because I wasn’t putting 100 percent into anything. I felt like I was being pulled in different directions. My content was really taking off on TikTok, and I felt that an opportunity had presented itself to me. I was a little bit scared because it's one of those things where the stability factor isn't there, but I also knew that if I ended up not liking it or it didn’t work out, I had experience and could always go back to corporate.
Q: Why did you decide to quit your job and do social media full-time?
A: I had the mindset that you want to make your parents proud, but also make sure they don't have to worry [about you] anymore. They've always had this worry in the back of their mind that something's going to fall through and they're suddenly going to lose the stability that they've built for so long. As I've gotten older, I can see why they put so much emphasis on getting good grades, going to a good school, just to ensure that everything that they left behind in their home country was worth it. It’s a big risk to leave a community that you've known for your entire family's history.
Q: How did your upbringing influence your career goals?
A: It was one of those things that I chose because I was good at [economics] and it gave me a secure job in the future. It's not one of those things that my parents really forced me into. I think they were happy as long as I had a safe and stable job.
Q: You also have an economics degree from Berkeley, what motivated you to pursue a career in finance?
A: During my teen years, I was really into makeup. However, my interest in skincare went a lot deeper in college. My skin started breaking out a lot more, so I started getting really into skincare and the ingredients [in my products].
Q: What inspired you to join the beauty space?
In 2020, Helen Liao quit her finance job to pursue a career in social media full time. As a beauty maven, she shares her favorite skincare products on her TikTok. She’s collaborated with brands such as La Roche Posay, Kiehls, Caudalie and Supergoop in addition to sharing beauty tips, tricks and her life in NYC.
with xinan helen ran
the career glow up
A: Laneige Cream Skin Toner & Moisturizer, Isntree Hyaluronic Acid Watery Sun Gel, Krave Beauty Great Barrier Relief Serum, Krave Beauty Matcha Hemp Hydrating Cleanser and Caudalie Vinoperfect Serum.
Q: What are the top beauty products that are always in your cabinet?
Two Asian-American Editors
Unpack The “Model Minority Myth”
(& How It’s Affected Their Lives)
From asking for permission to defining
aapi-owned brands we love
build a box
lavender sugar scrub
good common sense naturals
Pulling Stunts in the