Creating the New Normal
“Everyone is equal, no matter what,” says Janel Parrish – who was born to a father of European descent and a mother of Han Chinese origin – of her upbringing in Hawaii. “Our family is very close and so supportive. Hawaii definitely is the Aloha State, and you feel like you’re constantly accepted by everyone and surrounded by love. Growing up in a very diverse place, you see how wonderful it is when people are truly colorblind.”
The 30-year-old actress is probably best known as Mona Vanderwaal from Freeform’s biggest series Pretty Little Liars and its spin-off The Perfectionists (“Mona is always the smartest person in the room. She’s cunning and snarky, but learning to be vulnerable. The only thing, I think, we have in common is our fierce love for the people we care about. Mona would do anything for her true friends, and so would I”) but her career started when being cast in the Broadway production of Les Misérables as young Cosette after winning a state-wide singing contest at age 6 (“I would love to go back to Broadway as an adult. It’s a dream I’ll never stop pursuing”). Since then, she’s worked in music, acting and theater. “The busier I am, the happier I am. I love what I do. Every outlet whether it’s music, acting, theater, or dancing, if I’m working hard, I feel creatively fulfilled, and that makes me so happy,” Parrish shares. (On a side note, while her career continues to evolve, she would like to “get into producing or directing” in the future.)
While juggling various projects, however, Parrish has always been staying true to her roots and fighting the good fight: human rights. For instance, last summer, she starred in the Netflix film To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before (based on a 2014 YA novel by Jenny Han, which became a New York Times best-selling series) where Asian-American actors would take lead roles in film for the first time in 25 years. “First of all, the fact that this was the first time a film had Asian-American leads in 25 years is sad. We are so proud of it and happy to be a part of the change but this should have happened a long time ago,” elaborates Parrish.
“When Hollywood and the world are truly colorblind to the point where seeing an Asian-American lead, or any ethnicity, is normal, that’s when I feel we’ve made progress. We all have a voice and a right to tell our stories – it’s time that diversity became the new normal.”
Additionally, she was recently seen in Tiger based on the true story of Canadian Sikh boxer Pardeep Singh Nagra, who was barred from competing in the 1999 Canadian boxing championships because he refused to shave off his beard and fight clean-shaven (Nagra eventually had to go to the Canadian courts to overturn the ban in 2000 on religious discrimination grounds). “You should always fight for your rights, no matter what they may be. They are yours, and never give up on that. Just because you don’t understand something, that doesn’t mean it’s scary or a threat,” Parrish explains of the movie focusing on religious/cultural bias and discrimination. “The world has been a scary place lately, and we can be stronger by standing together and spreading positivity and love. Tell people you love them. Reach out and spread kindness. You never know what someone is going through, and it costs you nothing to be kind.”
Since Parrish has supported March On, a non-profit organization that grew out of the Women’s Marches of January 21, 2017, I mention that some young people think they wouldn’t make any change or difference in the realm of politics (and in society at large) for a myriad of reasons. “Now, more than ever, it’s so important to use your voice for your beliefs,” she says, in hopes of empowering the sleepy portion of the youth of America. “Even if you aren’t always vocal about your political beliefs on social media, voting is our rights as an American. Use your voice!”
It’s maybe worth mentioning, moreover, that Parrish has a comrade, Chris Long, who she married in September. “It just makes me so happy knowing that we found each other in this crazy world and that, no matter what, I have a partner to walk this life with me. I couldn’t feel luckier,” she says.
Writer: Eiko Watanabe
Photographer: Seung Lee (www.kokumastudio.com)
Photographer Assistant: Andy Kim
Stylist: Linda Medvene
Stylist Assistant: Camry Passey
Hair & Makeup: Glenn Nutley
Videographer: Wanhi Lee