Shujan Bertrand is the founder and creative director of Aplat, a culinary design company based in San Francisco that makes products centered around sharing wine, food and flowers. Her products are made from organic cotton canvas and include food and wine carriers, bread bags and bowl covers.
Shu comes from an immigrant Korean family who owned dry cleaners and restaurants. As a kid she remembers doing everything from cooking to serving, and making kim chee in the middle of the night with her mom. She later married into a foodie family but in a totally different European way. Her husband’s family is French and while living in Nice she ate from their own garden patch, baked bread, made wine and harvested lavender to perfume their sock drawers.
In honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month we sat down with Shu to talk about what it means to be Asian American, who she draws inspiration from and what the future holds for the next generation.
What does it mean to you to be Asian American?
This is a good but challenging question. To be of both cultures means that you keep kimchi with your burrito and hamburgers :D. That health and wellness are both eastern and western medicine and never one without the other. That there is a common understanding to respect elders. To be responsible for your aging parents and take them into your home when the time comes. To work hard(er) than everyone else to be respected and recognized. My daughter says that it means you have a really big family and always showing love through food, and that there is a greater connection to a larger community beyond America.
Who or what inspires you? Do you have any Asian or Asian-American role models?
Issey Miyake is my design role model – for his intersection of technology and innovative approach to fashion designs that lasts for generations. I personally collect his pieces and look forward to passing them down to my children.
What do you think we need to do to inspire the next generation of Asian-Americans?
I think it’s important to travel and understand your own Asian heritage and culture. Returning back to the country or simply connecting with relatives that have stories and life experiences in the culture. As my own children are half Korea and half French, living in San Francisco, I’m only really able to share and be inspired by my own actions and stories. Luckily my parents did a good job in enforcing the Korean language and culinary skills which I find very valuable today.
Having a conversation in your own “heritage” language is empowering and I hope that my children can be attuned to Korean-American style of speaking but eventually take a Korean language course in college. Not for work but for them to connect back w/ our senior relatives who can pass down these beautiful stories in our family.
What do you think an Asian American movement might look like? What issues do you think we need to address?
The largest issue is to help non-Asians understand that not everyone is Chinese. We could start by correcting terms like “Chinese New Year” to Lunar New Year. That Asian heritage month needs to honor with great diversity that can highlight all Asian and Pacific Islanders. And to expose and hear from Asian immigrants who can share the stories both hard and heroic.
I don’t have a political bone in my body, but I’d say that the first thing is to educate people in diversity and ethnic cultures, reveal and strategize systemic racism within organizations, (EDU, GOV and Police Departments), and to hire more diversely.