NAME: Claudia Leung
TITLE: Communications Manager
PREVIOUSLY: Program Associate, San Francisco Arts Commission; Digital Communications Specialist, Oakland Museum of California
GUIDING QUOTE/TAGLINE: “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth.” – Muhammad Ali
CURRENTLY READING: The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
FAVORITE MOMENT OF CALIFORNIA HISTORY: The student-led effort to create the first-ever Ethnic Studies program at San Francisco State University in 1969.
What was it about California Humanities that first appealed to you?
Is it cheating if I say everything? Naturally, I love California, since I grew up here, and after over six years working at the Oakland Museum of California, I really can appreciate all of the different ways we think about, talk about, create culture around, and live in this state. I majored in Humanities in college, so I’m drawn to the academic discipline, but it’s always been the public humanities that have meant a lot to me—they help us to see each other as all connected.
Coming from a municipal arts funder, is your approach to your work at a smaller nonprofit different?
Yes and no. Because I am focused on communications, that is definitely a change from when I was doing grant management. But overall I find that the values that drove my work at the San Francisco Arts Commission and the values behind what I do at California Humanities are the same: a real commitment to equity and supporting creative, community-engaged work, with the understanding that our culture not only reflects our reality, but also helps to shape it.
What are you most looking forward to in the coming year?
It’s exciting and challenging working at an organization that serves the whole state. While we can’t be in every community at all times, our work really does impact everyone in California. We have two staff based in Los Angeles, and it was great to be able to visit them and do a few site visits while I was in the area. I am looking forward to visiting more of the communities where our grantees and our programs take place throughout 2019, and helping to share their stories through our blog, social media, and other communications.
At California Humanities, we strongly believe that the humanities are a relevant and meaningful way to connect us to each other. How do you see this coming across in our everyday lives?
Just because we don’t know that something is humanities, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. When you go to see a movie and then discuss it with your friend afterward, that’s the humanities. When you and your family are sitting around a dinner table sharing stories about cultural traditions, that’s the humanities. People are constantly practicing the humanities without even realizing it. Our goal is to help people access more high-quality public humanities experiences, and that hopefully helps them feel more connected to each other and this incredible state we call home.
Tell us one thing that you would like people who don’t already know you to know about you?
I love food but I don’t consider myself a “foodie” because I feel very egalitarian about it. I don’t stand in long lines to be the first to try a new trendy place or obsessively photograph every meal, but I do love every aspect of a meal – from planning to shopping to cooking to setting the table, to eating. I love talking about food. I’ll be in the middle of having an amazing meal and I’ll be talking about another meal that I had recently or that I am looking forward to eating. I enjoy leftovers in the fridge, snacks from a vending machine, and Mission hot dogs just as much as (and probably more than) a four-course meal at a Michelin-rated restaurant.
I come from a mixed family—my dad is Chinese and my mom has a mix of European ancestry—and I love talking about foodways and histories, and debunking the idea of “authenticity.” My sister is a dietitian, so I have learned through her about the ways people link food consumption to other things in our lives, like emotions and control. I like food because it can be so extraordinary and so everyday. The relationship that I—and so many people—have to food is really very humanities (if I’m allowed to use that word as an adjective). I have been really excited to see the food-related events (Halal Tacos, anyone?) that happened this year through our programs and grants and am looking forward to more of them in the year to come!