Interview with Painter Mary Y. Lee

Mary Y. Lee, courtesy of artist.

Mary Y. Lee, courtesy of artist.

As I closed out my summer internship with ACDC as the Communications Intern, I am honored to share with you a conversation that I had with Mary Y. Lee. Mary is a an artist who exhibited six paintings at the Pao Arts Center that depicted the Chinatown community, including two portraits of former ACDC A-VOYCE youth. I sat for Mary’s work titled “Dare to Challenge”, which is a painting of me wearing my mother’s blazer.

I grew up in a family of Chinese immigrants. One of the strongest people that I know is my mother. She taught me what it means to be humble, driven, and resilient and the value of community and family. She is one of the reasons why I am an intern at ACDC, serving to help Chinatown residents and the Chinatown community. By wearing her blazer, I sought to channel her powerful energy. I had never been painted before, so when I saw my portrait exhibited at the Pao Arts Center, I felt seen. I felt that my family story, which has shaped me and gave me purpose, was validated and heard. Mary painted the phrase “tian xia wei gong,” or everyone is equal under the heavens in the background. This phrase, which is also written on the Chinatown gate, pays homage to the years of oppression and resistance that Asian Americans have endured. I wanted this phrase to be inscribed in my portrait because it reminds me that no matter what happens, no matter how many people tell me to go back to china, no matter how many people discriminate [against] my mom because of her strong accent, no matter how belittled AAPI folx are systematically made to feel, we have a place in America just as much as everyone else. We will never be silenced. I am immensely grateful that Mary was able to give me and other Asian American youth a platform to share our experiences. 

Mary Y. Lee’s portrait of Selina,  Dare to Challenge , 2018. Oil on linen. Image courtesy of artist.

Mary Y. Lee’s portrait of Selina, Dare to Challenge, 2018. Oil on linen. Image courtesy of artist.

We will never be silenced.
Mary Y. Lee,  Josiah Quincy School , 2018. Oil on linen. Image courtesy of artist.

Mary Y. Lee, Josiah Quincy School, 2018. Oil on linen. Image courtesy of artist.

Thank you Mary again for having a conversation with me about your story and your experiences as a Chinatown community artist. Thank you for using your art as a tool to empower and narrate the stories of the inspiring people who compose this neighborhood.