The Faces Behind Hyphen: Erica Jennifer Loh Jones

August 23, 2010

Who are those hardcore souls who give so much of their MSG-laced sweat and hot sauce-induced tears to Hyphen magazine? This month, as part of Hyphen’s fundraising campaign, you’ll get to know some of these ass-kicking heroines and heroes who aren’t anyone’s sidekicks or comic relief, and who live beyond the final scenes. Way beyond....

Girl has got it together. When you hear Erica Jennifer Loh Jones speak, you quickly come to the conclusion that she’s the kind of person you wish tagged along with you everywhere as your own public relations manager. She is sharp, articulate and to-the-point. No surprise, then, that she runs her own design business -- ms. loh design co. -- and calls the shots as Hyphen’s creative director. Altogether, this is the likely quivalent of working four full-time jobs.

How and when were you first introduced to Hyphen?

Until recently, my cousin Michael Loh was the marketing director for Hyphen, and he tried to get all of us cousins involved. I admired the design and writing style, and I liked the idea of being part of a progressive Asian American community. I joined in the summer of 2007 -- I came on as a graphic designer for the Transit issue (#12).  I also did editorial design for the front of the book section, marketing, and worked on event collateral. I took over as art director for the Hybrid issue (#13), then transitioned to creative director in spring 2009.

What do you think makes Hyphen so unique?

It brings like-minded and talented individuals together that otherwise wouldn’t have met -- it creates a community of these people. Hyphen also gives voice to underserved Asian Americans that are not being covered in the mainstream media. For example, in the upcoming issue [New Legacy, #21], we have a story about the Laotian American community giving back to their home country of Laos to support people going through fields collecting unexploded munitions.

What kind of impact do you hope it has?

I would hope that it made people more aware of different issues within the Asian American community -- the smaller issues, rather than just the broader issues. We also look to address the fact that we also need to be more relevant to people outside of the Asian American community to have the most impact.

How have you seen it change over time?

Hyphen started as a small grassroots organization there to address the issue of visibility within mainstream media. At this point, we are no solely longer addressing that issue, per se, since we have more visibility, similar to other minority communities. Since our starting point has changed, we have to figure out what we do now, and how we stay relevant.  

How has your relationship with/perspective of API issues changed over time?

Hyphen has made me more aware. I was pretty militant about API issues as a kid, but was not really involved in college. Talking now to more community leaders, like Chinese for Affirmative Action, has made me think more about our place and what we’re doing to further our cause. If Hyphen weren’t there for me, I wouldn’t have the means or connections to explore these ideas.

Do you tend to crave sweet or savory food more?

Savory and spicy.

If you had to choose your last meal on earth, what would it be?

A crab/seafood boil that my in-laws recently made, and a slice of my mother-in-law’s famous cheesecake. Or Banh Mi [a Vietnamese sandwich] from Cam Huong in Oakland. 

What are you most nostalgic for from your childhood?

I had a close relationship with my grandma, who passed away in 2003, so being around her. Also, my cousins and I used to play this game War: we would separate into teams, grab whatever weapons were around, and fight.

What’s your favorite guilty pleasure?

Making elaborate paper forts -- complete with tunnels and secret rooms -- for my two cats, Grendel and Radio Fanastico.

Did your parents make you go to language school?

No. Our grandma lived with us, so we spoke the Hunan dialect with her.

What are you listening to now, in terms of music?

Lately, I’m listening to a lot of Kanye [West], TI, and the Staple Singers. I listen to Pandora. Music really isn’t a big thing for me.

Do you prefer to eat family-style or order individually?


What would your superhero alter ego be?

I would want to be a superhero who has multiple arms to stretch in different directions so that I can multi-task. Also, I’d want to be able to simultaneously sleep and be awake at the same time. And be more coordinated, like be able to ride a motorcycle.

What is your favorite nickname that other people have dubbed you?

One of my Hyphen designers calls me “Chief” and “Grandma” -- the latter because I’m older, a bit of a fuddy duddy, and I wear a shawl instead of a jacket.  My younger cousins used to call me “Caca” (before I knew that that was the same word for something else) because they couldn’t pronounce my name, and one of them will still yell it up our apartment building to get my attention.

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