Notes from the Panda-Emic
Proud Usahacharoenporn dealt with isolation through art
Published in 2023 Southern California Rising Stars magazine
By Erik Lundegaard on June 2, 2023
How much of a time warp did the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic put us through—when every day in March 2020 seemed like a week?
Proud Usahacharoenporn is trying to recall when she wrote her book, Panda-Emic!, and thinks it was right in the middle of the 2020 lockdown. “Probably in summer—around June,” she says. Then she searches for the answer. “Oh, looks like April, actually.”
A business litigator at Rutan & Tucker in Irvine, Usahacharoenporn is a social person who’s normally involved in a lot of networking, but the early days of the pandemic obviously shuttered all events. Pregnant at the time, she couldn’t even have a drink at home. “I was incredibly bored,” she says.
But she had a good support group. “We had a lot of Zoom calls between me and other female attorney friends, just to try to keep each other sane. … This was also around the time that there were a lot of Asian hate crimes in the news, and me being from Thai heritage, that was upsetting. It wasn’t the type of world I wanted my child to grow up in.”
So she wrote a children’s book about it all. “I came up with the idea for Panda-Emic! as a way to send a message to my kids, and other kids, that you can get through hard times by having good friends and by being kind to one another. And to help parents have a way to explain what was going on to their kids.”
The pandemic in her book is nonspecific. Posie the Panda gets sick and becomes ostracized, but her friends rally around her and make her feel like she belongs.
“Each of the characters is based on one of my friends that I had regular Zoom calls with,” Usahacharoenporn says. And each got to choose their own animal counterpart. “Kelly was the rabbit, Lucia was the panda, Lauren the monkey, and Andrea the hummingbird. … I thought they were all pretty fitting of their personalities.” Usahacharoenporn went with a unicorn for herself. “With my daughter—everything was unicorn.”
In the book, the disease spreads and everyone has to return to their homes to wait it out. “But they found other ways to keep connected and to keep their friendship alive,” Usahacharoenporn says. “And with the help of all the friends’ support, they were able to get through these hard times and come out through the other side stronger and better friends than ever.”
Usahacharoenporn did the illustrations as well. Then she put it out on social media. In exchange for a donation to a coronavirus aid fund, she would send them a book. “A lot of people with kids really enjoyed it because it was something new that they could read with their kids,” she says. “And hopefully it got a good message out there.”
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