Song and I meet during Yellowjacket Weekend. She is beautiful in person, with her bangs clipped back and a brown smoky eye. She has a cast on her right arm, yet when she introduces herself to me, she extends it. I am careful when I shake her hand. She lets me know that it’s alright, that it just happened by accident while she was playing with her kids.

In person, she is smaller than I expected. London Tipton was just such a big presence on “Suite Life” that I almost expected her to be larger than life as well. I expected her to fill up the room somehow. The fact that she is so small yet seems larger on screen immediately allows me to understand the depth of her comedic talent. Because of her, I still call my gearshift a “PRNDL.”

I am nervous. I smell of chicken grease and vanilla; less than an hour ago, I was making milkshakes at Chick-fil-A. When she sits down right next to me in the auditorium chairs, I cross my fingers and pray that she doesn’t notice the smell.

“I’m Sunahra,” I say, realizing that I did not introduce myself earlier. Then, without thinking, I blurt out, “You’re just so pretty.”

She smiles. “Oh my God, you’re so sweet. I feel like such a mess. I just flew in. My plane got in at like five. I was a mess. So I appreciate it! I got on the plane this morning in LA, which left at 7:01. So I’ve been up since, like, 5 a.m., L.A. time. I’m a little delirious.”

With her words, I am immediately put at ease, and I soon transition to conducting the interview (rather than just being starstruck).

 

Tell me about your experiences as a child actress.

Acting shaped me. I could not imagine doing anything else. I think there are pros and cons to everything, but I have no complaints.

I was really young and I used to watch Star Search all the time.  I also used to practice modeling. I was three years old and all I would talk about is acting. I was such a little brat. Eventually, we were in a mall and the mall was doing an actor search. It was not a legit actors’ school. They still gave my mom the whole spiel but we had no money. But a few weeks later, I got really sick and wasn’t taking my medicine. My mom told me that if I took my medicine, I could go to the acting school. She thought that since I was a kid, I would forget but I didn’t.

I just wouldn’t let up. Eventually, my grandma took everything in her bank account: $527. And they took me to this acting school, which, again, is not legit at all. However, through the school, I met a real agent. I slowly moved in the right direction. And I loved it.

Obviously it was very unconventional, but I was really lucky because my parents never looked at this as a career. It was just an after-school activity. We didn’t even move out to L.A. until I was six. Even after I began booking commercials, we would just go back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. We only moved to L.A. after I booked my first series.

(She speaks of this time so fondly. It is so different from how I have seen other child stars recount their early years. I think about Jennette McCurdy and Alison Stoner and their accounts of their struggles and hardships.) 

 

Do you think you were relatively protected and kept safe?

1000%. That all goes back to your parents and the people you surround yourself with. They didn’t let this even become my career until I was 16. I booked ‘The Suite Life’  and got accepted to college. This was when my mom got breast cancer and so my dad sat me down and told me how I had to make a choice. My parents could no longer afford to take me to auditions anymore.

My dad is a second-grade school teacher and he always told me that if I wanted to do acting, then I have an amazing opportunity. Usually, college is where you figure out what you want to do for the rest of your life. So, if acting is what you wanna do for the rest of your life: here’s your opportunity. That’s when acting became a career for me. I have always felt protected and I’ve always felt very, very lucky to have such good people around me all the time, people who are very willing to be honest with me.

 

How are you so certain about it? (As a college student full of doubts about her future, her certainty shocks me.)

Well, I’ve had more doubts about acting as I’ve got older. When you’re younger, you feel like you can jump off a building or fly to the moon. The world has not beaten you down yet. As a kid, I didn’t care what anyone else thought. I knew what I wanted. It was in my 20s, after I finished ‘Suite Life,’ when I was at the crossroads. I have a psych degree. I love psychology. Do I go into that? Or maybe, I could do behind the scenes for work? Like, is acting really what I wanna do?

That’s actually when I had the most questions. It was about the time where people usually finish college, but I graduated college early. So for me, I had a postgraduate crisis when I finished ‘The Suite Life.’ I felt like that was the beginning of my young adulthood. And I think it’s perfectly normal to question what you’re doing because people make such a big deal about what someone is doing next. And it feels like your next step will be your forever. But that’s so misleading. You don’t have to know what’s going on. You don’t have to know what to do. And you can change it at any point in time.

When I was questioning everything, one of my best friends told me that I could change my career now. I could change it in 10 years. I could change in 15 years. It didn’t matter. Life doesn’t end when you make that choice. You don’t have to stick to something if you don’t like it.

One of my other friends just turned 42 and two years ago, she left her successful, comfortable corporate job to start her own vintage business. It’s now where all your favorite celebs, like Gigi Hadid, get all their vintage clothes. She was over her career and wanted to follow her passion and knew that vintage clothing was huge. And she just changed her career. And at 42, she’s so happy. If you’re unhappy doing something, try your best to change it. Life is too short to be unhappy.

 

Did any of your doubts stem from the fact that you were entering into a very white, male-dominated field as an Asian American woman?

Of course. I still think it’s hard. But I am so grateful for how much this industry has changed in the last five to 10 years. It is leaps and bounds better. You see Asian leads now. You see Asian-led projects. This is huge. I didn’t have that growing up. I had Jackie Chan. I had Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh, Ming Na Wen, and then eventually, we had Lucy Liu. But those were much later in my life. I grew up just watching Jackie Chan. And it was hard to feel represented. I’m not a 40-year-old Asian man doing kung fu.

I think it’s been incredible to see these changes happening. We still have a long way to go, but it’s beautiful to see that process and wonderful to see that the media is starting to reflect what the real world actually looks like. But yes, it’s still always a struggle, of course.

 

I know you have kids now. Do you think you would let them go into the acting industry?

Not until they were adults. Both my kids’ parents are child actors. And it’s not that we don’t love it. We had very different experiences, but also vastly different parts, and a lot of differences in our careers. And because of that, we had different outlooks on it. And the thing is, because of our careers, our kids are gonna be surrounded by this industry regardless. We just wanna make sure that it’s their choice to fully enter it. They can do it for fun, but not professionally until they’re 18. I want them to be kids.I didn’t even feel like an adult until I had my son at 33. I have worked since I was three years old. I have traveled. I am in a serious relationship. But I truly did not feel like an adult until I had my son and truly began to feel responsible for something.

 

How has it been being a mother?

Incredible. It is the most life-changing, exhausting, hard, but the most rewarding and beautiful thing I’ll ever do in my life. No matter what I accomplish in my career, nothing compares to being a mom. It just changes you. It’s changed my perspective on life. It’s changed my perspective on myself. I feel like I’ve grown the most since I’ve had my kids. I feel like this is the next phase in my life. I [have been 22 for] my whole life. Even when I had my son, I felt like I was just a 22-year-old with kids. But eventually, a sense of adulthood really began to set in.

 

Have you guys tried to raise your kids bilingual?

Yes, of course! Dakota speaks Hmong, which is my language. He also does sign language. And he’s in the process of learning Spanish and French, which they teach at his school. We’re total overachievers. I really want him to learn.

I would love to learn French because his dad, my fiance, lived in Paris for a long time. It was for five years. That’s where we spent most of our dating life together. So Paris means a lot to us. We really want our kids to speak French. I did it in middle school and I regret not taking it more seriously or continuing it. Because I can read it and understand bits and pieces, but I just don’t have the dialect.

 

It’s such a pretty language. I went to a Canadian International School and learned a bit of French there. But I don’t remember anything. In high school, I learned German. Everyone always thought I sounded so aggressive but I loved it. It’s not a pretty language but it’s fun.

I love German. I loved Berlin. We got to spend a few weeks in Berlin, and I loved it. It’s such a beautiful place.

 

Yes, I’ve been to Munich and that was gorgeous.

I love traveling abroad. It’s one of the things that I tell people to do all the time. Especially to young people, if you have the means to do so, travel. I know the flights are exhausting but when you get there, the best way is just to go out and explore. We don’t really have plans when we travel. We have some points that we want to hit, but we keep everything very flexible. If we fall in love with a place and want to stay longer, the flexibility really helps

I love to travel and I feel like you need to culture yourself to really see how the rest of the world lives. It’s one of the things that we want our children to do and to see and to feel and experience. I want them to know that in so many places around this world, they are so happy with so little. The US is so different. I love living in the land of the free, but one of the things that is really hard about it is just that we’re such big consumers. In this whole country, it feels like everything is about getting more and more. It’s hard for me to express. I can’t even really get into it.

But especially since I have kids, I’ve really [begun] looking at this stuff. I’ve been thinking about their quality of life and where we want to raise them and what values we want to instill in them. That’s why I think traveling is so important. It just really teaches you to culture yourself and see that the world is bigger than this little bubble that we live in.

 

What’s been the most impactful place you’ve gone?

It sounds cliche, but going back to Thailand. I’m half Thai and it’s such a beautiful country. But it was also seeing how people can be so joyous and happy. It helps me learn how to live a full life with whatever I have. Costa Rica was also similar to that. Because there, it’s either poverty or extreme wealth. There was no in-between. It was so heartbreaking. But at the same time, it made me look at my life and the privilege I have and how grateful I am for all of it. Realizing that physical things are not going to bring happiness. It taught me that money doesn’t buy happiness, it buys convenience.

I think those were two places that I found very beautiful. Spiritually, I thought it was incredible. But it was also just so rich culturally. I think they have so much more community there than we have here. Because everyone cares and everyone takes care of each other. Like the one thing about here and especially in LA, it’s all very isolating. You get in your car, you drive someplace, you get out of your car, you do one thing, you don’t talk to anyone, and you get back in your car.

One of the things that I love about living in New York is that it’s still isolating, but you’re still surrounded by people. You have to talk to people and you have to walk around. That’s what I love about Europe. I love that everyone walks. I love walkable cities. I think it just makes you look at things. It makes you look at your surroundings. It makes you appreciate things. Because when I travel, you look at everything. You look at the buildings, you look at everything.

I never did that in LA. Not until I came back from a long trip and started talking to my partner. I wanted to look at LA. We’ve never really done that before. And we started looking around and the place seemed horrible and disgusting. But it’s home, you know?

 

Yes. I feel the same way about Rochester. I have so much fondness for it for basically no reason. Final question – what’s one piece of advice that you have for girls my age?

You don’t need to know what you’re doing next. It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to still figure things out. I’m 35 and I’m still figuring it out. Also, don’t let anyone tell you what you should be doing because you know yourself better. If I listened to all of the people around me, I would not be where I was. Especially when you’re a woman, a minority woman, you need to believe in yourself. If you believe in yourself and surround yourself with people who believe in you, anything is possible. You should keep pushing. Don’t take no for an answer and keep on believing in yourself while also being realistic. Just keep pushing.



UR Softball continues dominance with sweeps of Alfred University and Ithaca College

The Yellowjackets swept Alfred University on the road Thursday, winning both games by a score of 5–4.

Dinner for Peace was an unconventional way of protesting for Palestine

The dinner showcased aspects of Palestinian culture. It was a unique way of protesting against the genocide, against the Israeli occupation, against the university’s involvement with the genocide.

Time unfortunately still a circle

Ever since the invention of the wheel, humanity’s been blessed with one terrible curse: the realization that all things are, in fact, cyclical.