Cecilia W. Yu Exclusive Interview – ‘Success Surpasses External Victories Or Outdoing Others It’s An Authentic Alignment With My Creative Essence’


Cecilia W. Yu was recently interviewed by RootsAndRoutesMag.com and below is the Q&A session we had with her.

Cecilia W. Yu As Cover Story Interview – February 2024

Could you provide a summary of yourself, including your background, interests, and any significant life experiences?

I’m Cecilia W. Yu, a globally acclaimed artist renowned for my five-year art tour in Japan and participation in Olympic exhibitions at the Beijing and London Olympics. Collaborating with esteemed graffiti artists, our collective work was showcased at the Google headquarters. Recently, my art and writing were featured in collaboration with Nobel Peace Prize-winning Ukrainians in 2022.

Apart from my artistic endeavours, I proudly serve as the Executive Director of the SDG Sustainable Development Goals action hub in Kenya, a project funded by Nobel Peace laureate Professor Okemwa, who co-received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for Sustainability research with former US Vice President Al Gore.

My philanthropic work spans two decades, aligning with UN civil society projects and Nobel Peace Prize initiatives. The NGO I founded in San Francisco played a pivotal role in launching the Nobel Women Initiatives, providing fiscal sponsorship for the Inspiring Women Summit globally.

Beyond my involvement in arts and sustainability, I confront lifelong challenges with genetic spinal issues. Prioritizing meticulous care for optimal spinal health, I adhere to a regimen of minimal alcohol, limited partying, and consistent engagement in swimming, yoga, and stretches. These efforts are crucial for preserving my ability to paint at the zenith of my artistic capability, embodying a challenging yet integral facet of my life’s journey.

What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your life and how did you overcome it?

My primary hurdle revolves around genetic spinal challenges, discovered in early adulthood after enjoying robust health during my formative years in Australia, actively participating in state-level tennis competitions. University entry heightened my responsibility for stress management and well-being due to this condition. My family’s rich background in Chinese traditional medicine, traced back to a renowned doctor in Hong Kong, granted me access to invaluable resources. Benefiting from this heritage, I learned specific Shaolin Qigong techniques and received Hatha Yoga training from a teacher with a direct lineage to Guru Iyengar and traditional masters in Ashrams.

Despite earning a 500-hour yoga teacher certification, I’ve observed the intricate connection between physical and emotional health, particularly in managing stress. A significant aspect of my journey involves distancing myself from toxic energy, magnified by recent encounters with toxic academia, including bullying and gender-based abuse in STEM fields. Drawing strength from a supportive community of female Nobel Prize and Peace laureates, I’ve navigated through these challenges, recognizing the importance of cutting out toxic influences.

While grappling with grief and difficulties from such experiences, I’ve turned to yoga, meditation, and a deep appreciation for the generosity of those upholding higher values in humanity, such as the Nobel laureates I’ve been fortunate to meet. These practices serve as my anchors in overcoming adversity and maintaining mental well-being.

Can you share a significant aspect of your cultural heritage that has played a crucial role in shaping who you are today?

Identifying as Chinese Australian, I draw from a cultural tapestry spanning 6,000 years, encompassing Chinese medicines and lateral intellectual development. Yet, my Australian upbringing significantly influences my perspective. The Australian connection to the land instils in me a deep respect for nature, fostering collaboration rather than confrontation and shaping my appreciation for the environment. This fusion of Chinese and Australian influences moulds my worldview and artistic expression.

The Australian spirit of rebellion, seen in challenging authority and questioning human actions’ consequences on nature, profoundly influences my life and art. Despite external perceptions, my demeanour carries the influence of Australian defiance, emerging when faced with attempts to impose conformity or bullying. This resistance against authoritarianism, ingrained in Australian culture, deeply shapes my identity.

Moreover, the Australian inclination for exploration, reflected in the concept of “walk about,” fuels my love for travel and eagerness to explore the world. This enriches my understanding of multiculturalism, contributing to a broader perspective on humanity. In essence, my cultural roots intertwine with Chinese ancestral traditions and the Australian ethos of harmonious coexistence with the land and nature, crucial in shaping my identity and guiding my artistic expression.

What motivates and inspires you on a daily basis?

Recently, a distinguished medical practitioner involved with UN ECOSOC, UNDP, and various UN agencies asked me about my primary motivator. Upon reflection, I recognized that my driving force boils down to a simple maxim – “I love to subvert bullies!”

I find it challenging to stand idly by while bullies’ triumph, whether they’re oppressive dictatorships committing genocide or toxic individuals within academia suppressing new research or marginalizing others based on differences. My aversion to bullying, coupled with a desire to counteract power dynamics targeting perceived weaker individuals, fuels my actions. Subverting dictatorial forces and creating consequences for bullies bring me immense satisfaction.

Though encounters with personal bullies are infrequent, I remain an unyielding target. The support I receive from the United Nations civil society and allies fortifies my resolve against bullies. My rebellious education, guided by Constitutional judges and a Nazi hunter in law school, has contributed to this resilience.

On the other hand, my artistic pursuits offer a contrasting motivation to my sustainability work. Born with an inherent artistic inclination and formal training since age two, being an artist is a profound honor and integral to my identity. Art, as a universal language, inspires and draws out the best in people in ways defying easy definition. Ultimately, the dual motivations of combating injustice and creating art contribute to a dynamic and fulfilling daily drive.

How do you balance work, family, and personal life?

Recognizing early on that the life of an artist would heavily shape my daily routine, I’ve been fortunate to have unwavering support from both my blood-related family and those connected by a shared soul path. Their understanding of the substantial time commitment required for my artistic pursuits has been crucial.

Balancing personal life remains somewhat elusive, as the energy of art permeates every aspect of my existence. The creation process integrates art into various facets of life, challenging the notion of conventional balance. I place trust in the transformative power of art to manifest the highest vision for our lives. The art we create becomes a lasting testament to our existence, embedded in the genetic and cultural DNA of humanity.

Engaging with UN development goals in the pursuit of sustainability adds a layer of balance to my perspective. It goes beyond the propagation of my personal creative DNA, prompting consideration for a healthy life. The effort extends not just for my sake but for those who genuinely care for me and my art. The sacrifices made by these individuals, contributing to the equilibrium necessary for my artistic pursuits, deserve my heartfelt gratitude. To all those who have shared my life and journey, thank you for your integral role in supporting and maintaining the balance essential for the pursuit of my art.

Can you describe a turning point in your life that helped shape who you are today?

Certainly, a profound turning point in my life occurred during the transition from an elite kindergarten in Hong Kong, where my parents’ enjoyed prosperity as an educator and entrepreneur. At eight years old, my parents’ divorce prompted a significant change—I permanently moved to Australia, abandoning the previous arrangement of commuting between Hong Kong and Australia.

Having witnessed my family’s success in international cinema in Hong Kong, I suddenly found myself in Melbourne, Australia, transitioning from a bustling metropolis to an ordinary suburban primary school life. Dealing with hay fever, playing with friends, and embracing nature’s daily interactions were monumental shifts. This experience exposed me to diverse lifestyles, navigating cultures, languages, and adapting to varied terrains, transitioning from monsoon seasons to experiencing droughts and bushfire seasons in Australia. This pivotal moment profoundly influenced my appreciation for life’s diversity.

Can you share an experience where you felt a clash of cultural values and how you resolved or navigated through it?

A significant clash I encountered revolved around deeply rooted gender roles within my family, steeped in traditional values. My grandparents, who adhered to these norms, exemplified a long-term commitment, staying together for 65 years and raising six children. However, this traditional view clashed with my experience as an Australian teenager, where dating and exploring relationships were considered a normal part of growing up.

The clash stemmed from the emphasis on long-term commitment at home, contrasting with Western culture’s acceptance of dating for compatibility exploration. This clash was magnified by the modernity shift in Hong Kong, where even my parents, initially following a similar path, grew apart, leading to divorce.

In Australia, I encountered acceptance and diversity, forming friendships and relationships with LGBTQ individuals. This challenged the traditional Chinese cultural mindset significantly. The clash of values was evident in relationship understanding and acceptance of different orientations. Despite conflicts, education and open dialogue facilitated a nuanced understanding, bridging the gap between conservative traditional Chinese values and the more liberal Australian perspective.

Have you faced unique challenges as a diaspora individual, and how did you overcome them while maintaining a strong connection to your roots?

As a teenager with a dual multicultural upbringing, navigating diverse cultural perspectives became integral to my identity. Embracing the traditions of my new land, I valued its secularism, New World attitudes, and emphasis on personal growth and purposeful exploration in relationships. Unlike traditional Chinese culture, the British-influenced Hong Kong my family came from offered a more egalitarian approach, free from strict gender roles and empowering women.

Admiring the democratic values of the free world, particularly Australia’s commitment to UN humanitarian values recognizing women as equal and independent individuals, I aligned myself with these principles. Grateful for the UN Values instilled in me, I chose the freedom to explore relationships without familial, societal, or economic constraints. My hope is for all girls worldwide to experience the same freedom in discovering and defining themselves in the realm of dating and life partnerships.

How has your cultural background influenced your personal and professional aspirations?

A significant challenge I’ve faced centres on “perceived biases” linked to external characteristics. Despite my unmistakably Far Eastern appearance as a Hong Kong Chinese individual with a lineage spanning 37-plus generations, my upbringing has been deeply rooted in multicultural experiences. From attending kindergarten in Hong Kong to completing my education in Melbourne, Australia, amidst rich diversity, I was fortunate to live in an affluent neighbourhood resembling the United Nations.

Growing up, my neighbours hailed from diverse corners of the world – Hungary, Ireland, Scotland, Turkey, Armenia, Russia, Sri Lanka, India, Greece, Italy, and friends with roots in Ghana and Indonesia. Playing tennis with the mixed-race Indonesian American children of a NASA scientist exposed me to unique cultural perspectives. For instance, I learned about Ramadan rituals from a friend who observed fasting during our tennis matches. My tennis partner, Fred, introduced me to different cultural festivals and rituals, from Greek name days to Russian Christmas and Armenian coming-of-age ceremonies.

In this culturally diverse neighbourhood, we celebrated Multicultural Day at school, sharing our cultural heritage. From presenting Chinese New Year traditions to learning about French cuisine from the father of a primary school boyfriend who was a cordon bleu chef, the experience was a kaleidoscope of traditions.

The inclusive and peaceful environment fostered a sense of appreciation for diversity. Multicultural Day presentations allowed me to showcase aspects of my Hong Kong Chinese culture, like dragon boat races. I credit my open-mindedness to Australia’s multicultural policy. The genuine commitment to inclusivity in my surroundings played a crucial role in shaping my progressive cultural perspective, affirming that children aren’t inherently prejudiced – it’s a learned behaviour influenced by culture and nurture. My good fortune lies in being born and raised in an environment that truly embraced multiculturalism.

What is your definition of success and how do you measure it?

In my perspective, success surpasses external victories or outdoing others it’s an authentic alignment with my creative essence. Genuine success, to me, lies in the satisfaction derived from crafting art resonating with my inner self. While financial prosperity, leadership roles, and public recognition are noteworthy, I see them as avenues for personal development, not ultimate benchmarks. Holding the position of Executive Director for a research foundation, linked to Professor Okema’s Nobel Prize-winning achievements, is meaningful, yet my primary criterion for success remains faithful to my core identity and artistic vision. Despite external opportunities, as an artist, self-contentment arises from creative pursuits. Success, even in challenges, is inseparable from the freedom to express one’s true self and navigate one’s path without compromising genuine identity.

Can you share a situation where language presented both a challenge and an opportunity in your personal or professional life?

Australia, despite its renowned outspoken nature, harbours a darker side characterized by overt racism, which significantly influenced my upbringing. Developing a genuine intolerance for bullies, this trait has driven my motivations and actions. Conversing with a WHO-affiliated entrepreneur recently, I realized my commitment to humanitarian work and involvement with Nobel Prize and teaching hubs stemmed from Australian schoolyard experiences. Despising bullies, I derive satisfaction from countering their impact.

My Australian upbringing instilled a profound appreciation for nature and its link to art. Growing up in Australia’s vast expanse allowed me to immerse myself in the Anthropocene, shaping my identity and work as a sustainable oceanographer. Despite the Australian perspective on nature setting it apart, challenges arose due to my unmistakably Asian appearance, leading to clashes and assumptions about my linguistic abilities. Facing biases in both English and Chinese contexts, I confronted stereotypes, challenging preconceived notions and gaining a deep understanding of cultural biases through linguistic abilities.

Additionally, how do you actively contribute to and give back to both your first and second homes, be it through community involvements, philanthropy, or other means?

My connection deepens with my third residence, currently in Scotland, technically my fourth home after time in Nepal and India. Scotland holds a special place due to its vibrant community, distinct regional language, unique linguistic expressions, and diverse English accents. Grateful for Scotland’s understanding and charm, I actively contribute as an artist. Debuting at the Edinburgh International Art Festival two years ago marked a moment of pride, contributing to the creative landscape of my third home.

Scotland has nurtured my artistic endeavours, offering encouragement and opportunities. Focused on fostering sustainable culture and creative development, my primary contribution to my adopted home aligns with these values. Scotland has significantly supported and inspired me, and I appreciate the opportunities it has provided. Thank you for inquiring about my experiences in Scotland.

Add your Social Media handles and website links.

  • https://www.ceciliayu.com
  • Linkedin.com/in/ceciliawyu
  • https://nobel.academia.edu/CeciliaYu

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