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#RedefineAtoZ: Thi Bui, the Artist Whose Graphic Novel Debut Honors Her Family’s Refugee Story

NAME: Thi Bui

AGE: 42

HOMETOWN: Berkeley, California

TWITTER: @MsThiBui / INSTAGRAM: @teabuoy

Thi Bui
Author Thi Bui released her illustrated memoir, "The Best We Could Do," in March 2017. Paulo Chun / NBC News
How do you introduce yourself?

Usually with a smile and a "how are you?" If people ask what I do, I say I'm a writer, artist, and former public school teacher. Among comics people, who aren't confused by the word, I say I'm a cartoonist.

What inspires you?

Strong, humble, intelligent, capable people who imagine and create what isn't already there. Beauty in the world, kindness in people.

What challenges you?

Living up to my own high standards.

SEE THE LIST: NBC Asian America Presents: A to Z - The 26 Emerging Voices of 2017

Tell us about the biggest risk you ever took.

Probably the biggest risk to my life was taken by my parents when they put us in the cargo hold of a river boat and set out to sea as refugees. Any risks I've taken of my own accord since then kind of pale by comparison, you know? Maybe there's a big risk to take waiting for me in the future.

What are you reading/watching/listening to these days?

I have a pile of nonfiction books I read in fits and starts, including "From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation" by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, which blew my mind just in the intro, and "Telling True Stories," which is a collection of advice and reflections by journalists about writing. I read a lot of indie comics and listen to interviews with cartoonists and filmmakers I admire. Some days I spend hours reading the news, online essays, and opinion pieces. Most of it is, to say the least, very worrisome. My balm for awhile was watching the Studio Ghibli animated series, "Ronja the Robber's Daughter," with my son. I'm looking forward to getting back to a steady routine of drawing, so I can listen to podcasts and audio books again.

I recently started "The Water Knife" by Paulo Bacigalupi; it's fiction and thrilling and fills me with dread about the future at the same time. And I'm trying to read poetry again. I used to love it when I was a kid, but something happened. I'm trying to reawaken the part of me that loved poetry by reading a little Ocean Vuong, Bao Phi, or Warsan Shire every once in awhile.

If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, what job would you want to have?

I have this fantasy of living somewhere more remote and closer to nature. My job would be to bring people there for short stays and meaningful experiences that let them take back some of that happiness to wherever they normally live and work.

What’s your motto?

"Don't be a dick." Haha! It really is. One day I hope we'll live in a world of greater equality where that would be a sexist way to phrase it.

The G-rated version, I guess, would be: "Treat others with the kindness you hope from them."

I celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month because…

...it's my balm and antidote to continued whitewashing in movies and "foreigner"-bashing in real life. And because there are badass role models out there to be inspired by and to support.

NBC Asian America Presents: A to Z (2017) 3:46

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