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Sunny Side Up Goes to Washington, D.C.

By March 8, 2018 No Comments

“Flight attendants, please prepare for landing…” I’m heading to Washington D.C. with my best friend and fellow actor Parvesh Cheena.

We are invited to host the 22nd Annual Gala for The Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS).

Sonal Shah, Parvesh Cheena, Washington DC, Julian Castro, Congress, the Surgeon General, Aziz Ansari, Alan Yang, Judy Chu, Xavier Becerra, Hilary Clinton, President Obama, APAICS, Asian Americans, inspiration, believe in you, Saag Paneer recipe, Ready Player One, Ernest Cline, WomanScape

As we prepare to land, I suddenly turn to Parvesh nearly shouting, “WHAT ARE WE GOING TO SAY TOMORROW?!” There would be over 1,500 guests, including a lot of important political people and God knows we are not Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. How were we going to be funny and politically correct and compelling!!??

We deplane, and a fancy man takes us to a fancy car to take us to a fancy hotel.

I am still freaking out about our speech but so happy to be in D.C., a land that is a 180 from Los Angeles.
Everyone around me is wearing nice suits, the men are so attractive, and did I mention that they are all wearing nice suits?! We each have our own schmancy hotel room, and I will never forget the moment I walk into mine.

I look into the mirror and it laughs back at me. How did I get here?

I have no idea. Here’s the thing, we may not be able to predict the “how” of why things happen. I mean, we can’t control the future, right? I feel like a lot of what happens in life is a result of planted seeds.

I’m living a creative process and actively chasing my dreams, and I know I’ve worked really hard. I realize that in the end, I may or may not get what I want but if I remain steadfast in my my goals and surrender my expectations, good things may happen! Even with setbacks, I always try to remain truly grateful for where I am.

I go to bed only to lie awake and stare at the ceiling for the next 7-ish hours. The next morning, we receive a skeleton script of points to cover, but this definitely does not include the jokes! What are we going to say?? I know I need to relax, but I can’t!

Sonal Shah, Parvesh Cheena, Washington DC, Julian Castro, Congress, the Surgeon General, Aziz Ansari, Alan Yang, Judy Chu, Xavier Becerra, Hilary Clinton, President Obama, APAICS, Asian Americans, inspiration, believe in you, Saag Paneer recipe, Ready Player One, Ernest Cline, WomanScape

We zone into focus-mode and pow-wow for a brief 30 minutes. We go through the script and come up with some bits. With this short preparation, I’m starting to feel a little better, but then all of sudden, it’s time to go! I put on the most elaborate Indian outfit I own (because what else am I going to wear to meet the President?!)

I am still nervous, but I start to think, “Okay, these are our guests. Let’s welcome them and make them laugh!” No, these are not our guests, however, this thought process shifts my mood from scared to strong. I transfer the focus from me to them. I start to feel ready. I take a deep breath to get present and…here we go.

We walk out on stage and stand behind the podium, the next few hours feel like a dream. Everyone we meet is so kind. We stand behind the podium and improvise, joke, do impressions, and honor politicians.

APAICS is a powerful organization DEDICATED to promoting Asian-American representation at all levels of the political process.

Toward the middle of program, we exit the stage and stand in the front row as President Obama gives the keynote where he addresses the importance of voting, equality, and human rights. He does a meet and greet down the first row.

And…then it happens. I MEET PRESIDENT OBAMA AND WE SHAKE HANDS!

Sonal Shah, Parvesh Cheena, Washington DC, Julian Castro, Congress, the Surgeon General, Aziz Ansari, Alan Yang, Judy Chu, Xavier Becerra, Hilary Clinton, President Obama, APAICS, Asian Americans, inspiration, believe in you, Saag Paneer recipe, Ready Player One, Ernest Cline, WomanScape

He takes a long moment and holds my lil’ hand in both of his, and really connects with his eyes.

I’m fangirling so hard that I forget how to breathe. I squeal out, “Thank you for your service! Thank you for everything! Chicago!” He says, “Thank YOU…” I don’t take a selfie. I just know I’m never going to wash my hands again.

I feel empowered because, in this moment I was able to overcome my anxiety and to do something I will cherish forever.

We never know what we’re capable of until we push ourselves beyond our comfort zone. Maybe you’ve had a similar experience? Was there a time when you achieved something you didn’t think possible?

I’d love to hear from you. I’ve failed many times in life but one thing keeps me going: we will always have wins and losses so why not embrace them and shoot for our best version of “sunny side up”?

Sunny Side Up Recipe

This particular recipe is one my mom makes and it’s Gujarati-style because…we’re Gujarati! I used to eat it all the time growing up. Saag Paneer literally translates to spinach and cheese! You can find it at most Indian restaurants, but why not try making it at home? Best of all, it’s yummy and healthy! Um, did you know spinach has protein in it?!

Sonal Shah, Parvesh Cheena, Washington DC, Julian Castro, Congress, the Surgeon General, Aziz Ansari, Alan Yang, Judy Chu, Xavier Becerra, Hilary Clinton, President Obama, APAICS, Asian Americans, inspiration, believe in you, Saag Paneer recipe, Ready Player One, Ernest Cline, WomanScape

Recommended Book

Sonal Shah, Parvesh Cheena, Washington DC, Julian Castro, Congress, the Surgeon General, Aziz Ansari, Alan Yang, Judy Chu, Xavier Becerra, Hilary Clinton, President Obama, APAICS, Asian Americans, inspiration, believe in you, Saag Paneer recipe, Ready Player One, Ernest Cline, WomanScapeI read this book in my book club. And now we are all making a movie about it! Wait, what?

Just kidding. SPIELBERG is making a movie about it. So cool. It’s a really great read!

 

Sonal Shah

Sonal Shah

Frequently dubbed a ray of sunshine, Sonal Shah is obsessed with making people laugh. Unabashedly charismatic and shamefully insecure, Sonal is an Indian-American actress, comedienne, and vegetarian. A Hollywood Hill-ite with roots from a big family in Chicago bursting with culture and tradition, her definition of success is raising the frequency of the planet by loving yourself and others in a constantly evolving journey. Sonal celebrates living life to the fullest. A warrior of amour, perpetual learner, and (self)certified badass, she seeks to inspire and be inspired by creative, authentic dreamers. Sonal is an alumnus of Second City Chicago and has appeared on such shows as Scrubs, New Girl, Spaced Out, The PTA, and Transparent. Currently, she recurs on animated shows, The Powerpuff Girls and Costume Quest (which has made her niece and nephew very happy.) She earned her BA in Theatre from Loyola University of Chicago and studied with The Moscow Art Theatre School at Harvard University, The Groundlings, Upright Citizens Brigade, and Improv Olympic. Sonal was selected to perform in the NBC Diversity Showcase and teaches acting at John Rosenfeld Studios. Also a standup, she has hosted such events as the Asian American Institute for Congressional Studies Gala where she welcomed President Barack Obama.

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