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Hi! I'm Wendy

Me (on the top row) and my brother

I think I was a happy child.  But to be honest, I don’t remember much of my childhood.  My memories are made up of other people telling me how I behaved, what I did, what I said, and where I was.  My earliest memory was maybe around 8 years old, but before that, it’s a blur.

From the photos above, I looked happy.  And in my darkness days, I cling on to that hope.  I think memories are a funny thing.  They serve as vehicles for us to reflect, and on the opposite end, without them, they serve as a mental wall to protect us from trauma.  My therapist told me that when I was 15.  And I fully understood what she meant 10 years later.  I have two prominent memories as a child: 1. being accidentally kicked between the legs while swimming in a river by my grandfather’s house in Vietnam, and 2. feeling the cold tiles against my cheeks while laying on the ground with someone hovering over me saying – don’t tell anyone about this, even grandma.  I was around 5 years old (sharing my survivor story).

My family and I immigrated to America when I was 8 years old, and from this point, my memories are vivid and bright.  I saw a squirrel for the first time, tasted cherry tomatoes for the first time, and fell in love with sour string candy.  I remembered my walks to school, my corner seat next to a carousel of hardcover fairytale books, and a boy in my class who looked like Superman.  I learned English from school and also from watching I Love Lucy.

I always loved school.  Not only was it a place that fed my curiosity, it was also an escape from home.  At 15, the conditions in my biological home became unsafe and I was removed from my parents.  With my belongings in a trash bag, I went from a home I knew very well to a group home.

At the group home, our rooms had windows lined with metal bars and we all wore gray uniforms labelled ‘AG’ for adolescent girls.  The staff called us by numbers, and we knew if we cried or had an emotional day, they would put us in the “padded box” which was a small room with a lightbulb and walls lined with padding.  I had two roommates and we grew very close.  We always joked and called what was beyond the walls of the group home the real world.  We just felt like we were living in between worlds and escaping the conditions of one world, we were waiting to be placed in a better world.  Or at least that was our hope.  I was at the group home for 6 weeks and 4 days.

After the group home, I was placed in a foster home.  My foster mother was kind.  She made sure all of us (she had 3 foster placements total) had food and that we understood the rules and curfew.  And one of the rules is that we had to leave the day we turned 18.  We got a visit from the foster care agency once a week and I saw my social worker about once a month.  On one of the visits my social worker said, 30% of you will become homeless, 30% pregnant, 30% incarcerated, and only 10% of you will make it. Of that 10%, only a handful will go to college. Who do you want to be Wendy?  After hearing the statistics, I desperately wanted to be in the 10%.

To be honest with you, I was set on college not because I wanted to pursue higher education.  I wanted to go because I didn’t want to be homeless.  I knew some colleges offered dormitories and that was my path out of foster care.  I held three jobs in high school and applied to every UC college.

All of the colleges operated on a quarter system with their first day of school in late September.  Except UC Berkeley.  They were on a semester system with their first day in late August.  University of California, Berkeley start date that year was August 28.  My birthday is August 28.  I emancipated from the foster care system and went straight to UC Berkeley on the same day.

In my foster home with my foster sisters and foster mother
The day I graduated from University of California, Berkeley
30% of you will become homeless, 30% pregnant, 30% incarcerated, and only 10% of you will make it. Of that 10%, only a handful will go to college. Who do you want to be Wendy?
With over 42 million views, this video launched my career as a style blogger and content creator. After college I became a banker and after 5 years in the finance industry, I quit. Without a back-up plan, I knew I wanted to do something different. I always loved fashion, and thus the beginning of Wendy's Lookbook.

25 Ways to Wear a Scarf

Wendy's Lookbook Foundation

After college I became a banker, and after work, I spent nights inside the San Francisco Juvenile Detention Center in the maximum security unit.  I taught the high school curriculum with the goal of helping these youth pass the high school exit exam.  I became one of the longest serving teachers there.

After San Francisco, I moved to Los Angeles.  While working on Wendy’s Lookbook, I remained involved with community organizations that advocated for foster care and incarcerated youth.  I became a volunteer mentor at InsideOUT Writers, a Los Angeles-based non-profit organization that conducts weekly writing classes inside Los Angeles County juvenile halls and jails, and supports formerly incarcerated young people with mentorship programs.  After 7 years of being with IOW, I’m now a Board Member of InsideOUT Writers.

I feel as though I’ve been a juvenile justice advocate all my life.  Being in the foster care system made me realize how broken it is.  It’s a gateway to trafficking, homelessness, and incarceration.  And unfortunately, my social worker was right.  All of my foster sisters became pregnant, half of them were incarcerated, and all of them struggled with homelessness.

In 2015, I established the Wendy’s Lookbook Foundation, providing emergency housing, medical, educational, and financial support to young adults impacted by the juvenile justice system.  For as long as I can, I will fight for those in the system and support those in and out of foster care, and young people who are currently and formerly incarcerated.

If you were born with the weakness to fall, you were born with the strength to rise - Rupi Kaur

Thank you so much for being here and for your kindness.  Thank you for giving me a platform to share my story and to talk about fashion, beauty, cats, and juvenile justice issues.  Words cannot express how grateful I am for your support and love.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you so much for reading!