In celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander American Heritage Month, LaDuca is honored to spotlight five inspiring performers whose work in the Entertainment Industry has greatly impacted the field and continues to inspire creativity, conversation, and change both on and off the stage.
Christine Sienicki was born and raised in New Jersey where she started dancing at the age of 6 at Dance World Academy. She joined The Radio City Rockettes at the age of 18 and has been performing with the legendary line ever since. Additional credits include the Superbowl Halftime Show, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “Fosse/Verdon,” The Tony Awards, “Project Runway,” “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin Eve” with former Mayor Bloomberg, and as a special guest for both President Obama and President Bush at the White House.
My name is Christine Sienicki. If you saw my name on paper, you would never know that I am of Asian descent in any way. ‘Sienicki’ is Polish. My dad is a first generation American from Slovak and Polish parents and my mom was born and raised in the Philippines. Growing up as a mixed individual, I always felt accepted but definitely felt moments of not fitting in. I remember as a small child, going to the grocery store with my dad and wondering if people thought I was adopted. But when I went with my mom, I never felt that way. I grew up going to a predominately white grammar school and clearly remember being home trying to make my nose pointier by squeezing it together with my fingers so that I’d look like more of the kids in my class. There were moments where I even daydreamed of having blonde hair and blue eyes like my dad.
Luckily, those thoughts left my mind rather quickly and I lovingly embraced my Asian side thanks to my mom, who brought me up to be proud of my Filipino heritage. She also enrolled me into a dancing school that was filled with other Asian individuals. She always kept me connected to my Filipino roots and involved in the community through multiple organizations whenever possible. Growing up, I rarely saw anyone of Asian descent doing anything in theater or Hollywood, so I felt very lucky getting to be a part of a super diverse dancing school and getting to dance with others who resembled me.
When I was approached by LaDuca shoes to be featured in a blog post as an AAPI performer whose work has impacted the Entertainment Industry, I was honored. But as I sat here trying to find the words to share about my experiences, I was also a little disheartened.
I have been fortunate to have been a Radio City Rockette for the past 20 years. I have been on the line as one of the only people representing the AAPI community for the majority of my time there. There have been a few others in and out, but sadly, not many. Unfortunately, the AAPI community is underrepresented in theater and Hollywood. Asians make up 60% of the world population and yet only 1 percent of all leading roles in Hollywood are represented by Asian-Americans. (As shown in a study by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.) In theater, on average, less than 4% of roles have gone to Asian Americans in the past 10 years. Perhaps that is why I feel like I have to be a hundred times better than someone else in an audition just because I know that they weren’t even considering the part to be for someone of Asian descent to begin with. While at the same time, also being turned down for roles for not being “Asian enough.” When they’re looking for someone who isn’t Asian, I have to stand out a million times more to just be looked at, let alone considered, but when they are looking for an Asian character, they are solely looking for a stereotype.
I have to ask myself why these stereotypes that make one person Asian enough and another not, even exist? The exoticizing of Asian women, yellow peril, the ‘model minority,’ are just a few stereotypes that dehumanize all the beautiful Asian cultures that are out there. Being polite, respectful, smart, focused and hardworking doesn’t “make” me Asian. I was raised by both my parents to be a good person, it’s not just part of my genetics. I don’t mind being polite. I don’t mind being respectful of others. I love working hard. It means I had a good upbringing and that shouldn’t be considered a stereotype. We’d be in a much better place if more people were polite and respectful!
This month is important to me because it is a month to showcase the talents and minds of the AAPI community and all of their accomplishments and contributions to society. To open the minds and hearts of others to recognize the AAPI community in ways that aren’t your stereotypical mindset of what an Asian person is or isn’t. Everyone is hyper aware of the AAPI community right now, sadly not for all their accomplishments, but for a lot of hate that has been rising recently. I feel so very fortunate for all I have accomplished thus far but I hope to bridge the gap as a half-white and half-Asian individual—To connect both my white side and my Filipino side with others so that they can be more understanding of Asian cultures and to help open more opportunities for the AAPI community.
Follow Christine @clheekz.