BENEATH THE WAVES: Steph Nguyen
Updated: Aug 12, 2021
Social Media Manager
One of the newest members of the Tiny Staff, Steph Nguyen grew up in Saudi Arabia before moving to the United States where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Music Production from Full Sail University. Steph is currently pursuing a second degree while working as the Tiny Waves social media manager. I decided to take an in-depth look at her personal experiences in a conversation focused heavily on diversity, representation, and being heard.
Let’s just briefly get the boring stuff out of the way and then jump into the deep end. So you’re the social media manager - what does that entail?
I handle all of the scheduling and managing for media content that goes out on all of our social media platforms. I also edit and manage our new website.
How did you first find out about Tiny Waves?
I met one of the founders, Ben, while he was DJing at Otronicon in 2017. We started up a conversation, and he told me about Tiny Waves and their live shows. I never realized that there was a whole community of people centered around video game music remixes and EDM. It was really exciting!
Did you have any apprehensions at first when you were considering applying with Tiny Waves?
When I was first looking around at different jobs, I knew I wanted something remote. I saw that Tiny Waves was hiring with one of the core requirements being a love for gaming. I thought it would be a great opportunity for me. That said, I did have some apprehensions. As we know, Tiny Waves’ mascot Tiny Chan is an anime girl. As an Asian woman, I’ve dealt with so much fetishization and sexualization since high school and have been objectified. My concern was that a lot of anime and K-Pop fans are really drawn to Tiny Waves. And a good portion of that audience tend to fetishize Asians, women in particular.
I had to deal with that a lot in school. Kids would see that I was Asian and then be “disappointed” when I was Vietnamese and not Japanese. So knowing that those fandoms were likely to have crossovers with the Tiny Waves audience was concerning. I brought it up with Ben when I was interviewing for the role. He made it very clear that Tiny Waves has a zero-tolerance policy for racism, discrimination, or fetishization. He said if anything ever happened at a live show, he would immediately kick people out. That was a big factor in making me feel safe.
I’m glad that you feel safe with your role at Tiny Waves. You’ve certainly been doing an amazing job with everything! But now let’s dive into some deeper waters because I’d really like to make sure your voice is heard on some topics that too many people in this industry avoid. First up: what are your thoughts on the representation of women in the music / gaming industries?
We’re in there; we exist; we’ve been there for a long time. There have been improvements over the years, but we still don’t have as much visibility as we deserve. If we do have visibility, it’s not always in a respectful way. I have profound things to say, but that’s not what the world will look at first.
How do you think that can be changed?
I would like to see more allyship. Men dominate this industry. Women try to pave their way in. I think one of the big reasons why we never saw women entering this industry from the beginning is lack of visibility. Society tells us what we can and can’t do. If we never see women presented in this space, then we think it isn’t for us. If we’re told we’ll never make it in an industry, then we won’t even try. Seeing is believing. Representation and visibility can be the biggest game changers. Just seeing women in these spaces can encourage others to try because they can see themselves in those other women – they can genuinely see themselves existing in these spaces. Men being allies and ensuring that women have a place at the table can help change that.
Do you think that burden of creating change too often falls on marginalized communities?
Absolutely. Being oppressed and marginalized is a burden. We are often burdened with the role of an educator when it shouldn’t be our responsibility. Activists are so often people from marginalized backgrounds because they are motivated and moved by their frustrations. Our lived experiences are what drive our perspectives on privilege and thus impacts our desire and passion for change. If you take a cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied, white man, his lived experience will be one of so much privilege that he won’t even realize it. The more privilege you have, the more blind spots you have. You can’t see your own privilege until it is brought to your attention.
That’s not to say that people with privilege have never struggled. It just means that they do have power – an invisible super power. The power of being listened to and respected. If I say something and then a white man says the same thing, HE is the one people will listen to. Having privilege doesn’t make you a bad person. Having privilege and not using it to be an ally, however, is a problem. You either use your power to uplift others, or you abuse your power to oppress others.
What do you think is the best way for someone to be an ally?
Shut up and listen. Mostly shut up. Many people forget that as a crucial part of listening and thus truly understanding others. Too often allyship becomes performative. People will ask “what can I do to help” and then before you can even answer, they talk over you and continue to make it about them. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. The conversation is uncomfortable, but imagine how much more it is to actually live it. Just shut up. Listen. Learn. Let’s work together.
Is social change something that hinges on key leaders, or can social change be influenced on an individual level?
For social change to happen, everyone needs to do it. Practice makes permanent. Whether you have a big or small platform, you can always be educating yourself and your community and the people around you. That said, big platforms mean power. You can absolutely pave the way in any industry by using your platform. People tend to follow by example, so you should always try to lead by example. Especially when it comes to discrimination, it’s all learned which means you can unlearn it. Actively work to unlearn those things and encourage others to do so as well.
And make sure to practice allyship – true allyship. Don’t do it because it’s “trendy” or because it will get you a ton of views or clicks or followers. Allyship can be harmful if it isn’t sincere. Of course, it can be sincere but misguided or ignorant. But if that happens and you make a mistake, accept the criticism and use it to improve. Don’t focus on the fear of getting it wrong. Just keep learning and making the effort to do better. There’s no such thing as “arriving” at allyship – it is a continuous effort.
Do you think the industry as a whole is too performative with allyship?
It’s slowly becoming less performative but…it’s still a major issue. Allyship can be well-intended but still lack education and then come off as tone-deaf. You can be sincere in your intentions, but still be sincerely wrong. Again, don’t focus on the fear of being wrong. That’s one of the biggest things that needs to change. We worry so much about being wrong and then get so defensive when someone tries to help or correct us. It can be hard to accept that you are wrong, but you need to learn not to be so defensive. Making mistakes doesn’t make you a bad person. Knowing that you made a mistake – particularly a hurtful one – and refusing to change, that makes you a bad person. As I said, allyship is a continuous effort. Just be sure that you are always learning and, again, always listening. Seriously, just listen.
In regards to Tiny Waves, specifically, do you feel that your voice is heard? How about the work environment and the team? Are there any changes you would like to see?
I definitely feel like I have full agency with sharing ideas and being heard. With Tiny Waves, and especially with Ben, I have never felt “othered.” A lot of companies like to promote how diverse and accepting they are, and then act completely different behind the scenes. Again, it can be very performative. But when I’m in a meeting with Ben or in a team meeting with everyone, I’ve never felt that I was hyper-aware of my gender or the fact that I’m not a white man. I’m respected for my work and my voice. The same can't always be said in this industry. I’ve had to deal with microaggressions in male-dominated spaces, mostly sexism, as well as some racism, or a combination of the two. “Othering” and gender-based language is a problem. I’m very observant. I notice tone shifts and then start overthinking and then get told that I overreacted. But not with Tiny Waves. As for changes, I would like to see more marginalized people brought on to the team in the future. We can all benefit from more diverse perspectives.
Very good point. Since we’ve talked quite a bit about representation and visibility, I’m curious if there is anyone you view as a role model.
I really admire Zozibini Tunzi, Miss Universe 2019 from South Africa. She strongly advocates for young girls and women to take up space in leadership and to cement themselves in society. She wanted young dark-skinned girls to see her face reflected in theirs, succeeding on such a high caliber platform. As I mentioned earlier, seeing is truly believing. Her voice and visibility really inspire me to take up space for myself and to be a good representative for the next generation of young women of color.
Do you have any words of advice for other women, particularly young Asian women, who are interested in being a part of this industry?
Don’t be afraid to take up space. You have every right to take up space, and you deserve to take up that space. Try to surround yourself with the right people. I learned the hard way by being surrounded with the wrong people… You may be discouraged by discrimination, but it’s so important to be here and to be visible to others. You can be that motivation that lets others know that they can do it too. If I had seen myself represented in these spaces when I was younger, I may have figured out what I wanted to do in life much sooner. Seeing is believing.
Awesome. Last question: what are you most looking forward to? Or rather, what is motivating you these days?
Seeing other people being so outspoken about advocacy and allyship. I think during the pandemic we all had more time to just think and evaluate those things. I’ve grown a lot as a person during the pandemic. Simple things like realizing that “normalized” behaviors like microaggressions are in fact NOT normal and that I should speak up more. Getting to see other people stand up for marginalized people is a reminder that I want to keep working to be a better person, both for myself and for others.
Bringing much needed diversity and insightful perspectives, Steph Nguyen has been an incredible addition to the Tiny Waves team. Representation truly matters to so many people, and we hope that those of you reading and following along can find motivation and inspiration from the wonderful work that she is doing. Be sure to support Steph on her social media and support her work on the Tiny Waves social channels as well. And be sure to stay tuned for more of our “Beneath the Waves” staff interview series, artist profiles, live shows, and upcoming releases.
-Charming H. Thomas