Chinese-American group celebrates gala

Filmmaker Georgia Lee and Acorn Publishing chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans.
Filmmaker Georgia Lee and Acorn Publishing co-owner Holly Kammier of Carmel Valley appeared recently at the second annual gala of the San Diego chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans.

(Michael J. Williams)

Filmmaker Georgia Lee featured as speaker


Like many Chinese parents who have immigrated to the United States, the father and mother of Georgia Lee wanted her to pursue a profession such as science, medicine or law.

Though she went on to obtain a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and a master’s in business at Harvard, Lee decided to go in an entirely different direction.

Today, Lee is a noted filmmaker, most recently directing the Netflix series titled “Partner Track,” the story of an Asian-American woman determined to climb the ladder at the law firm where she works.

As keynote speaker at the second annual gala of the Organization of Chinese Americans’ San Diego chapter, Lee told the story of how she defied the wishes of her parents and became an award-winning writer and movie maker.

“I think honestly the hardest part was psychological — making the decision to do it,” she told the audience of about 70 gathered at West Highlands Pacific Recreation Center. “I had to believe in myself and take a leap of faith and understand that what my parents would have wanted was what was best for me.”

The May 28 affair included remarks by outgoing president Brocade Wu Harmon and new president Leah Tsao; the presentation of certificates to Harmon and board member James Chow; awards to students Katelyn Wang and Maryam Mohamed for winning the organization’s essay contest; performances by Rhythm of the Sea dance group; a Kung Fu demonstration by students Ryan Yin and Bruce Xian; a short reading by author Hans Yang; a fashion show; raffle; and food and refreshments.

Carmel Valley resident Eileen Lundquist
Carmel Valley resident Eileen Lundquist, author of the novel “Wings of Silk,” speaks in her role as organizer and emcee of the second annual gala held recently by the San Diego chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans.
(Michael J. Williams)

Carmel Valley resident Eileen Lundquist, author of the semi-autobiographical novel “Wings of Silk,” was the main organizer and emcee of the event. It was held in conjunction with the national celebration of the Organization of Chinese Americans’ 50th anniversary.

Lundquist, who was born in China, said she had been involved with the organization in Chicago when she lived there and she now has more time participate in the San Diego chapter.

She said she was able to connect with Lee, a Los Angeles resident, because her husband works with Lee’s boyfriend in San Diego.

“She is a really good example for youngsters because, you know, Chinese culture is geared to doctors, lawyers and engineers,” Lundquist said. “She pursued her passion just like me. I was an engineer, too, but I wanted to write. We pursued our own passion rather than what the parents tell you to do. It’s a good role model as an alternative for our culture.”

Lee spoke in response to questions from a panel that included another Carmel Valley resident, Holly Kammier, the co-owner of Acorn Publishing LLC, which put out Lundquist’s book.

Members of Rhythm of the Sea dance
Members of Rhythm of the Sea dance group perform at the second annual gala of the Organization of Chinese American’s San Diego chapter. The event was held recently in Carmel Valley.
(Holly Kammier

Lee’s parents, she said, came to the U.S. from Taiwan when they were in their early 20s and knew little English.

“What they wanted for their kids was security and stability and what that meant was a good job, so education was absolutely everything,” Lee said. ”They wanted me to be the classic doctor, lawyer, scientist ... so I studied biochemistry. I love science and have always loved science.”

Yet, Lee, who was raised in the Northeast, said she grew up with a “passion for storytelling.”

“I’m the oldest of three girls,” she said. “I remember I read stories to my two little sisters. I would dress them up and they were my actors and we would do that for fun. And that was really what I loved doing.”

Following in her father’s footsteps, Lee studied biochemistry and then pursued her master’s degree in business.

However, at one point, Lee explained, she devised a spreadsheet to measure the happiness she would attain from a career in business versus the arts.

“I realized the worst case scenario of being an artist had a higher happiness score than my best case score of being (a corporate executive).”

Lee began creating her own films, one of which caught the attention of renowned director Martin Scorsese.

Scorsese chose Lee to serve as an apprentice on the set of “Gangs of New York,” which required her to travel to Rome, Italy, where part of the movie was shot.

“I literally sat by Marty’s side or right behind him on a little bench and watched him direct. So, that’s an amazing education.

“He’s an amazing filmmaker obviously, but he’s an amazing spirit, human being and teacher. He would give me books to read. He would tell me things to watch. Just watching him work with Daniel Day Lewis and Leonardo DiCaprio, and the cinematographers (was inspiring).”

Subsequently, Lee wrote, produced and directed her first feature film titled “Red Doors,” which won the best narrative feature prize at the 2005 Tribeca Film Festival among other cinema awards.

After working on several productions over the years, Lee landed as executive producer of Netflix’s “Partner Track,” which Lee developed based on a novel by Helen Wan. The series follows main character Ingrid Yun, a merger and acquisitions lawyer who strives for promotion to partner in the firm for which she works.

Lee said she believes she was hired because of her experience in the corporate world as well as her identification with the main character.

“I understood why Ingrid wanted so desperately to be a partner and what I thought the theme was. ... This was a girl who had at a young age would try to do everything except be true to herself to try to get that brass ring, until finally she realized that it’s not worth it. Just being true to herself was much more important.”

Now, Lee said, she is working on another film project, but is not yet cleared to elaborate on it.

In answer to a question from an audience member, Lee said she believes she receives opportunities that stem from her ethnic background. Her personal preference, however, is science fiction.

“I am often presented with projects about Asian-Americans or with Asian leads, which I’m excited about, but I would also like to be able to create the next ‘Battlestar Galactica.’”