Korean Adoptee Portrait Series - Monica Mingo

Monica is a talented and amazing Korean adoptee I’ve known for years in Metro Detroit. She shares her aspiration of being an actress in Detroit and part of her adoption story


Where did you grow up? What was growing up like in your hometown?

I grew up in Farmington Hills, MI and was very fortunate.  My parent’s provided me with a very enriching & diverse environment my whole life; whether it was school and multi-cultural classes or going to Korean camps.  For me, adopted kids was not foreign as I had three others in my grade and 4 family friends that were all Korean adoptees. I think it helped that my family overall is very accepting and liberal when it comes to thoughts and ideals, despite generational differences. 


Do you want to travel to South Korea? If so what would you be excited about? What are you nervous about?

I do want to travel to South Korea but it isn’t necessarily at the top of my list.  I LOVE Korean food and the street food is really, really appealing. I remember though, growing up, hearing from friends who are 1st or 2nd gen, they would travel to South Korea and would almost be made fun of for their accents or the fact they don’t smoke. I would say I’m nervous per se but I’d rather go to a country that truly excites me and that I don’t know about their prejudice or racism. 


What are a few things you wish more people understood about (Korean) Adoptees?

That our parents are our parents. We may have biological fathers and mothers from whom we received our physical features and what not but we are who we are, just maybe a bit more grateful. 


What made you want to get started  in modeling/acting?

I was at a weird transitional period in my life. I had danced and played piano my whole childhood so being in front of people or on stage was nothing new.  I graduated from the University of Michigan with a French degree and was just lost. I was trying every job under the sun and finally discovered Michigan Actor’s Studio. I took my first acting class and was hooked. I love the ability to be someone different, create a character from scratch and hopefully the ability to influence people like actors have done before. 

As a model/actress in Detroit, how do you feel about the Asian representation in the media?

Ha! Is there one?! I think things are definitely shifting in Hollywood, I can’t say that for Detroit.  I think in Detroit, from the professional level to the student-film level, majority are still stereotypical roles or race specific to time period.  I’m really excited for “Crazy Rich Asians”. Constance Wu, Aja Dang, Awkafina, Sandra Oh, those are some prominent Asian women who I really respect, admire, and aspire to work with. I think for Asian men, they’re still being seen as geeks or best friends instead of leading men.  That’s why I really loved when someone put John Cho’s face on the face of the leading man of big Blockbuster movies.

Have you ever been asked if you can do an accent? Have you ever turned down a part because of this request?

Most recently I was offered to audition for the role of Bun Foo in “Thoroughly Modern Millie”.  They also mentioned that I would have to sing in Mandarin & Cantonese.  I pick up languages quite easily but it still makes me feel uncomfortable.  Just like I saw “The King and I” and it made me feel uncomfortable because of the over-exaggerated accents mainly.  Having these older plays and musicals around makes me happy but it’s giving work and opportunity to Asian Americans but where’s the line? 

What advice would you give to an Asian American who wants to become a model/actor/actress?

DO IT. First, follow your passion. Second, you could be part of a movement where we reshape the image, of Asians and Asian Americans, and create a strong voice among our community. 

There’s a lot pressure after high school to go straight to college and that’s what I did.  I can’t say I regret it, I’d probably do things different now but things are what they are. I start U of M thinking I’ll become a physicians assistant.  That’s changed to a nurse.  By the time I reached organic chemistry,  I knew my abilities and it wasn’t in a science degree or career so I ended up just getting a BA in French.  My goal was and still is to teach French someday.  I’m very passionate about the language and culture.  Once I graduated, I continued to work at a doctors office in supplements.  I started to look around for potential careers.  I diligently emailed multiple companies and started interning for a woman who focused on trinkets and products for companies.  Next came interning at an event planning company.  It was small and the feeling, as much as I love to put things together, wasn’t there.  I left the doctors office and took a position that required me to basically be a door-to-door solicitor.  NOT FOR ME.  I then transitioned to a manager-in-training program at Abercrombie.  At the end of that program I would be able to run my own store.  Then I moved on to becoming a nurse assistant; getting certified, relentlessly trying to please my parents and submitting applications, then being a nurse assistant in a hospital.  I realized I have great bedside manner, I love biology, but it wasn’t for me.  That’s when I stumbled on Michigan Actor’s Studio.  I think all of these different jobs definitely wraps into why I love being an actor: creating characters and being something/someone else.  It’s definitely glamorized compared to the real world but that’s the fun of it. 

Creating and reshaping Asians and Asian-Americans in the media is huge.  I’ve seen CRA and I got teary-eyed on multiple occasions.  Not only is it a rom-com but it’s a film that incorporates so many different Asians and AAs but that come together in this culture and family.  It showed tradition and heritage yet with contemporary and modern themes.  A strong voice for our community is so important.  There’s a difference between Asians and Asian Americans; our experiences are different this they have to be represented that way.