Vietnamese-American Star Jeannie Mai Jenkins: ‘I Have Such Peace around Me’

An interview with the beautiful, inspiring and kind-hearted Vietnamese-American TV host

Jeannie Mai Jenkins is an Emmy Award winning TV host, fashion designer and philanthropist. She has been on many popular programs, including the makeover show How Do I Look? and the daily talk show The Real on Fox Television Stations and in national syndication with a rebroadcast on cable network Bounce.

Born in San Jose in 1979, the Vietnamese-American TV host began her journey in the entertainment industry in 2003. Due to her cheerful, exuberant style Mai Jenkins garnered many early fans. She has also been successful on YouTube. Her channel Hello Hunnay with Jeannie Mai covers many lifestyle topics and introduces viewers to Vietnamese cuisine and culture. She now has 656k subscribers.

Besides her work in the entertainment industry, Mai Jenkins is also a social activist. She is an ambassador for the Pacific Links Foundation – an organization that rescues and helps underprivileged women and girls from sex trafficking and exploitation in Vietnam. She was also featured in the 2017 documentary Stopping Traffic: The Movement to End Sex-Trafficking, where she hoped to raise awareness and expand anti-trafficking campaigns.

At the end of March, she tied the knot with American rapper Jeezy in Atlanta. In September, she revealed that she and her husband are expecting their first child together. Currently, the The Real’s co-host is living in Atlanta and Los Angeles.

Recently, Culture Magazin had a chance to catch up with the busy Mai Jenkins.

Can you tell us how your career as a TV presenter began? You were a makeup stylist first, how did you transfer those talents?

I love making people feel beautiful. First, it was through makeup, then styling. Now, it’s by using my voice to remind people of their worth. My mom was a major influence in teaching me about beauty. Beauty comes from the way we feel, not always from what we have on our bodies or our faces, although those things can help. I’m blessed to know how to crack the beauty code from any angle I need to.

What shows are you working on now?

My ongoing YouTube show, Hello Hunnay, is my baby.  It’s the time when I get to sit down with my fans and really get into what’s up. Being on ABC’s Holey Moley is when I get to be a kid again, it’s the zaniest miniature golf show, where I get to meet the craziest people who remind me of myself. And The Real is coming back to Fox in September, and I can’t wait. It’s where we women can get together and break out the real stuff that needs to be said.

What have been some of the best moments in your TV host career so far?

The best moments hands down are every single day that I get to do what I love. I mean seriously… I’m a girl from the Bay that built a career from being me. Keeping it real is the hardest thing for many people to do. Every day you are discovering yourself, and whether or not you really own your truths is how you will find your voice.

And the most surprising?

What’s surprised me the most is what I have come through, to love myself the way I do today. I’ve had some dark times and I’m proud of the person I’m becoming today. I’d be friends with me now.

How have you been lately? Please tell our audience about your current life.

Whatever is better than awesome, I’m that.  Mainly because I have such peace around me.  I always say if a flower doesn’t bloom, do you blame the flower, or its environment?  It took me a while to learn what aspects of my environment made me unhappy, and kept me stuck on useless worries.  When you start “clearing the weeds,” (social media addiction, bad relationships, unhealthy habits or friends), the best choices for you can finally come to light. I feel both emotionally and mentally clear right now.

Congratulations on your wedding in Atlanta at the end of March. How is married life?

Married life is the best. I married the coolest, funniest, smartest and most romantic man. He’s also the luckiest, because his days are full of kisses and endless stories from me. We do the dopest things together, like having picnics or reading to each other. He’s my favorite person in the world.

Can you tell us about a memorable moment on your wedding day? Are you planning to hold a traditional Vietnamese wedding after the pandemic?

The most memorable moment of our wedding day was the reciting of our vows. We were both so anxious and excited. Every word was carefully chosen and spoken. We could feel one another’s hearts beat. I’ll never forget it. And yes, we do hope to have a traditional Vietnamese version sometime in our future. It ain’t a Viet throw down if there’s no Hennessy, karaoke and red envelopes!

Is there anything about your husband, Jeezy, that surprises you?

Every day he still makes me laugh. He is so adorably funny and lovable. Especially when he slides into the room with his socks and break-dances for me. You would think it would wear off at some point for a newlywed, or after the ‘honeymoon stage’… but nope. I don’t see any chance of my laughter fading yet.

How do you define true love? Are your thoughts on love now and in your 20s different?

True love is healthy love. Love isn’t being scornful of one another, nor wishing ill will upon, or punishing one another. Love shouldn’t hold resentment, or be about winning. In my 20s I argued, fought, used profanity and played games with partners. Today Jeezy and I don’t tolerate that kind of behavior in love. We seek ways we can better ourselves to be only the best towards one another.

Your YouTube channel is growing and it seems that your mother’s appearance, Mama Mai, is also receiving a lot of love. How does it feel to work with your mother?

Mama Mai is the star. I’m just her hype woman. For real though, there is nobody in the world that will make you feel the way Mama Mai does. Nobody can make you laugh like she can, or feel as loved. She deserves every bit of love she gets and I’m her biggest fan.

On your YouTube channel, you often talk with your mother about Vietnamese culture. And you even go to the kitchen to learn how to cook some Vietnamese dishes. Can you tell us about that?

Vietnamese food means family, respect and quality time. There is no Vietnamese dish that you eat straight from the plate. You either garnish it, season it, roll it, share it or dip it. It’s meant to allow you to spend time with your thoughts or loved ones. I am so proud of my culture and how it’s made me the woman I am today.

What element of that culture do you feel is the most important and cherished?

What Vietnamese culture has taught me to cherish most is family, and quality time. Time is something you can neither stop nor gain. And in life, you only have family. In Vietnam, you will see people just sitting together and having coffee for hours, or cooking broth over the stove for even longer…because everything’s meant to be done for or with family. Time is our love language.

Talk about your current job. Have you experienced difficulties as well as unexpected opportunities during COVID-19? Does your life motto change after the pandemic?

The pandemic has dramatically changed our lives and taught us many life lessons.

One of the hardest things about the pandemic has been losing our elders. Our elders should always be protected and respected, because they are the reflection of our history and progression. It was painful to see how we couldn’t even save them. That made me more conscientious of including more time for elders in my everyday life: both with elders in my own family, and with the elders of my surrounding communities.

Like many others, I also had a massive awakening during the pandemic. I realized the scope of injustice and systemic racism that targets the Black community of this country, a fact that still majorly affects politics and people today. As a minority race myself, I’ve always known that racism exists. But until the pandemic, I hadn’t seen just how dark some of the ways of our world still are. Then events occurred that revealed how little our society has changed since the days of slavery. What I learned from this is just how active I have to be today, to move in anti-racist ways. From my actions, allies and efforts to self-educate, to my thoughts and choice of peers, there are so many habits, big and small, that make me more aware of the daily work that’s needed towards establishing equality.

As one of the few Vietnamese-American artists who achieve recognition in the entertainment industry, is there anything you would like to advise Vietnamese-born artists pursuing this pathway?

Keep going. Literally…that’s the only thing you can do. When it comes to pursuing what you believe in pursuing, there will be so many obstacles and naysayers that do nothing but waste your time if you pay them any mind. Keep going, make a plan, execute with intention, and repeat.

Do you have any upcoming projects that you want to tell our audience about?

My first ever clothing line is launching this October. Looking good is what motivates me to take on the goals I have every day. If I want to feel good to pursue a new job opportunity, I need to feel inspired and look unforgettable. If I need to feel good to sit for twelve hours and brainstorm my next project, I want to feel good in the loungiest, most comfortable fabrics. Every outfit sets the tone for your intentions. My collection is going to show you the many ways you can use fashion to help conquer your world.

Is there anything else you would like to tell the readers of Culture Magazin?

Own you before they do. You got one life. Don’t let anyone else tell you how to live it.

This post is also available in: Tiếng Việt

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