By Mirfie Chan | 7 Mar 2022
You know the saying “you can take the girl out of the island but you can’t take the island out of the girl”? This perfectly describes me. I’ve lived in New York for over 2 decades now which also means I’ve lived in both places for almost equal amounts of time. In fact, I’ve lived most of my adult life in New York. I’m often asked if I still feel or consider myself a Singaporean and the answer to that is always a resounding yes!
Like many immigrants, I wasn’t always sure of my place or identity here. Where do I fit in? Why does my food and cultural practices sometimes offend others? How do I find my voice in the vastness that is this city? Social Media did not exist in the year 2000. Perhaps it did in some form or other, yet it still is not the thing it is today. There was no network of Singaporeans going through the same experience for me to tap into. The Overseas Singapore Unit was formed in 2006 and SGN was born in 2019, almost 2 decades after my flight landed in New York where I was to start a whole new life.
‘The struggle was real’ as they say! For the first few years, home sickness, the loss of my entire personal network and support system all played into the feeling of displacement and loneliness I felt it so acutely despite having a very supportive partner in my husband and in laws who made it their mission to help me feel like this was where I belonged.
Like most transformative work, it had to begin from the inside out. The thing I missed most about Singapore was the incredibly immersive and rich cultural experiences I shared with my childhood friends, neighbors and family. I slowly started introducing my new friends to the taste of South East Asia through food and created traditions during festive celebrations. My in laws would even dress up and eat the spicy food I made even though they’re not fans of the heat from chili.
For Singaporeans, multi cultural living is a way of life. It’s so much a part of who we are; so organically infused into all the things we do that we don’t even truly recognize this until we’ve been uprooted and planted in another country. The events of recent years have shown us what a rarity it is to have a love for all fully integrated into your being. I often find myself feeling an immense sense of gratitude for having been fortunate enough to have this appreciation, respect and love for other cultures nurtured into me since birth. Here, most conversations around diversity and inclusion are often led, publicized, talked about and championed by big corporations and politics. While this is most certainly necessary, my childhood experiences clearly demonstrated a critical differentiator – the constant presence, education and nurturing of this love for diversity at home. In hindsight, it is no surprise that my passion was centered around this.
Fast forward to 2020 after building a successful career in Corporate America, I found myself launching ‘Love, The Chans’ a social enterprise focused on helping others find simple solutions to normalize the presence of diversity at home. Knowing we are all so busy, I wanted to make sure we were not adding to the already full schedules but rather integrating joyful experiences and activities in the things we already do daily – what we see and hear, what we eat and what we wear.
Having met several chefs on my travels, I now share these beautiful humans and their family recipes with our community on our social media page as well as our blog. For those looking to add culture into their home and wardrobe, we offer heritage rich pieces lovingly made from fabrics by artisans in Indonesia and India. The dream is to build a community of global citizens who are champions and lovers of world culture while creating even more opportunities for the artisan communities around the world. They are the heritage keepers whose trade and talent are increasingly at risk. In the spirit of global citizenship, a portion of our proceeds goes back to communities at risk locally in the United States as well as globally.
Today, I feel so much gratitude and confidence in where I am rooted. I’ve come to realize that is possible to love all – even countries – with equal passion. This is why both the Lion City and the Big Apple are my home.
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Mirfie Chan is the founder of Love, the Chans, a social impact-based artisanal textile brand. Born and raised on the beautiful tropical island of Singapore, love led her to a magical winter wonderland in New York City. An unexpected plot twist in the love story and she found herself moving to NYC permanently. Her heart refuses to choose so she call both these amazing cities home!