As one of six children in her family in Taipei, Taiwan, Jin-Ya Huang grew up watching her parents struggle to overcome poverty. Her mother scraped together money by cooking and sewing, and her father worked and lived at a distant cement factory, where he was a mechanical engineer. When he lost his job, money became even more scarce.
In 1983, the family’s fortunes changed. Huang’s aunt and uncle needed help running 16 Chinese restaurants they owned in America, and they offered to sponsor the family for visas. It wasn’t easy to leave; two of Huang’s sisters were married and would have to stay behind. “But America represented a better future,” Huang says.
By the early 1990s, Huang’s parents had purchased their own franchise in Dallas. Huang, who had worked alongside her parents, used her earnings from the new restaurant to fund her tuition at the University of Texas at Dallas. She also took up photography and was such a natural that she secured a coveted internship at Neiman Marcus’s corporate headquarters, in downtown Dallas. Within a few years, she was promoted to art director and worked on the brand catalogue, “The Book,” a coveted position.
Huang went on to work at J.C. Penny. In 2012, she became the Packaging Manager at Fossil and, because of her Mandarin fluency, now serves as a liaison to the brand’s Hong Kong vendors in addition to the company’s other global partners in Europe and North America.
Huang is also deeply engaged in the Dallas community. As an interdisciplinary artist, her work has been exhibited in her adopted hometown, as well as galleries in New York City and Miami. And in 2016, she launched Break Bread, Break Borders, a community-based catering business that creates financial and social opportunities for local refugees. The initiative was Huang’s way to honor her mother, who died of cancer in 2015 and was the chef at their family restaurant. “This is a way for immigrant and refugee women to educate people about their culture,” says Huang. “And to empower them to have their own businesses and be able to work and be a breadwinner.”
“I’ve been on the receiving end of so much grace and generosity throughout my life,” says Huang, who became a citizen in 1997 and has a 10-year-old son. “I’ve signed up for a lifetime of service to my community. That’s where I feel like my superpowers are and where I belong.”