East Meets West Club Builds Bridge to Cultural Understanding

Photo courtesy Annie Brassard Board members for the San Marino-based East Meets West Parent Education Club include Helen Gunnoe (front row, from left), Queenie Ng, Annie Brassard, Flora Wang, Sandra Chen and Julie Scott. Back: June Song, Christine Tung, Isaac Hung, Molly Woodford, Sophia Chan, Marilyn Fritz, Susan Jakubowski, Matt Scott, Rick Politte, Paul Brassard, Ron Gunnoe and Ambrose Chan.
Photo courtesy Annie Brassard
Board members for the San Marino-based East Meets West Parent Education Club include Helen Gunnoe (front
row, from left), Queenie Ng, Annie Brassard, Flora Wang, Sandra Chen and Julie Scott. Back: June Song, Christine Tung, Isaac Hung, Molly Woodford, Sophia Chan, Marilyn Fritz, Susan Jakubowski, Matt Scott, Rick Politte, Paul Brassard,
Ron Gunnoe and Ambrose Chan.

Moving to a new community is challenging for anyone, but moving from one country to another is in a category all its own.
This struggle, experienced by many residents in San Marino — a community built largely by Taiwanese and Chinese expatriates — prompted some of them to coalesce into a group spanning the East-West divide. Appropriately, they called themselves East Meets West Parent Education Club.
“When most Asian immigrants arrive in the U.S., they have dreams of freedom of speech, better-quality life and excellent education for their children,” East Meets West President Annie Brassard wrote on the club’s website. “Joining the mainstream and enjoying a relaxed lifestyle is usually not the priority. However, the longer we immigrants live here, the more we realize that we need to assimilate into American society and balance the two worlds — Asian and American cultures.”
Formed in 2016 by a group of San Gabriel Valley families with one kind of international link or another, the organization is active largely in San Marino, where it strives to help new families in town integrate and assimilate into their new community, breaking down the cultural barrier most often represented by a glaring linguistic difference.
“These families have ‘East meets West’ whether they like it or not,” said Paul Brassard, Annie’s husband and one of the club’s board members. “Probably one of the common things about our board of directors is that we all have some sort of international connection or background.”
Those connections and backgrounds are varied. Annie Brassard, born and raised in Shanghai, was educated in Tokyo before moving stateside and marrying Paul. Another board member, Marilyn Fritz, once had a nomadic lifestyle in the United States with her family, which includes four adopted children — one from Vietnam and three from the Philippines. Sophia Chan, a Taiwan native, raised her children in San Marino before she empty-nested in nearby Monrovia.
The club boasts the appropriate professional credentials among its membership as well. Several work in real estate. Others are high-level members of other local civic organizations. One board member, Susan Jakubowski, serves on the San Marino City Council.
“I thought it was wonderful to have this awareness of East-meets-West culture,” Chan said. “It really helps with communication and understanding within the community. The East-meets-West idea is really exemplified in San Marino, and even though I’ve moved out to Monrovia, I see the benefits of this outside the community in surrounding areas.”
Since its inception, the club hosts monthly events that aim to build community and emphasize directly reaching out and connecting with newer residents. Those events include student concerts, observances of holidays and a variety of outreach activities for area homeless services. As the name implies, there also are a number of seminars centered on educating parents and students on cultural differences.
“By becoming cemented with such an organization, they’re engaging with other people who are open-minded and not just interested in their own world,” Fritz said. “This area, I think, has a lot of people like me, and they just didn’t have a platform to find each other.”At the annual Lunar New Year Gala coming up in February, East Meets West will be donating proceeds to support relief efforts from last year’s wave of California wildfires that displaced thousands. Items to be auctioned off at the event include the original blueprints of the Enchanted Storybook Castle at Shanghai Disneyland Park and an original oil painting from a renowned Beijing artist.
San Marino’s mayor, Dr. Steven Huang, plans to share his story of moving to San Marino from Taiwan as a boy, and Congresswoman Judy Chu also will attend and recognize the organization for its community service. This holiday celebration will include a lunch buffet and a presentation of cross-cultural art produced by young area artists.
Cross-cultural identity is mounting in importance, the Brassards pointed out. They said around 20% of San Marino Unified School District students are, like their own families, of a multiracial background.
“Coming to San Marino, it was a wonderful place with a top-notch school district,” Annie Brassard said, adding that the schools tend to be a primary factor in why families move to the city, “but there were some areas that needed improvement. It’s very hard to get connected with the local residents, even your neighbors, without a deep understanding of each other.”
Taking an active role to be inclusive is a key function of East Meets West. It is a staple practice for organizational materials and events to be produced in both English and Mandarin, and that alone is effective in generating interest from new residents whose language barrier might preclude them from being aware of other things happening in town.
“We’re conscious about it and we’re proactively welcoming,” Paul Brassard explained. “A lot of people will say they’re welcoming, but what are they actually doing about it?”
Another way to build cross-cultural relationships, board members said, is to present the different music, cuisine and entertainment as part of the educational outreach. The idea is to promote mutual understanding and appreciation of, and collaboration across, different cultural backgrounds.
“A lot of parents come to San Marino because of children,” Chan said. “It’s not just about East meets West, but it’s also how to be better parents for your children. This is really the core spirit and function of [the club]: educating the parents to be better parents.”
“We have some people who don’t have kids who are still members,” said Paul Brassard. “They’re interesting in connecting with the next generation and building the community.
“If parents don’t reach out, then their kids probably won’t, either,” he added. “Set an example that it’s fun to reach out, that there’s a place to reach out, and you’ll increase your familiarization. I’ve noticed that some people who first come out are quiet and apprehensive and, after getting into activities around town, you’ll see them being more involved and active. They’re just totally different people.”
For tickets or information about East Meets West or its Lunar New Year Gala, visit emwpec.org or contact Paul Brassard at (626) 437-9985

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