I have to admit, the first time I’d ever heard of International Women’s Day was only three years ago, and it was because I had some female fans in Vietnam wish me a happy International Women’s Day on my Facebook.

This year, while I’d like to honor women everywhere, I also want to highlight five specific women whom have left impressions on me. Whether I know them personally or from afar, in no particular order, here are the five women I admire.

Yon Suh, my mother-in-law

My hubs’s mama (whom I affectionately refer to as my “umma-in-law”—umma means “mom” in Korean) came to the U.S. From Korea, had two sons, and raised them to be hard-working, loyal men. Because I was also first-generation Asian-American, I’ve seen the challenges that come with moving to a new country, seeking employment, and raising a family. And to do that with two boys? She deserves kudos for that!

Since I don’t speak Korean and she doesn’t speak much English, my umma-in-law and I can’t communicate very well, but we get along (maybe we have the language barrier to thank for this!), and I am so grateful that I don’t have a single negative thing to say about my in-laws. She respects our space, advises us but never lectures, watches our pups when we’re traveling, and makes us yummy food.

Kamsahamnida, Umma, for giving life to my hubs.

Michelle Obama, former First Lady of the United States

Michelle is someone I’d want to hang out with. She’s eloquent, intelligent, and driven. Whenever I’m asked which job would I least want to have in this world, I always instantly answer, “POTUS.” I think being the President of the United States bears immense responsibility and stress, and it cannot be easy being married to the POTUS. You’re under constant scrutiny, and your life will never be the same. After MasterChef, I missed anonymity, so I can’t even fathom how much Michelle and her family miss it.

Thank you, Michelle, for being a role model to women everywhere.

Jill Aufill, my 12th grade English teacher

When I first entered Ms. Aufill’s classroom, I was shocked to see no desks. Instead, there were wicker furniture, bean bags, a round table, rugs, and floor lamps. I knew instantly that Ms. Aufill wasn’t going to be your ordinary senior class English teacher.

When we studied The Canterbury Tales, Ms. Aufill made us dress up as the characters and march around the school, just like in the tales. When we read Beowulf, we had to act out scenes from the story. Ms. Aufill’s projects stretched our imagination, and it is largely because of her that I decided to pursue a degree in creative writing later in life. And while, yes, Ms. Aufill’s curriculum was whimsical, by her teachings, I still scored a 5 out of 5 on my English literature AP exam!

Thanks, Ms. Aufill, for teaching us to think differently and creatively, not just in English, but in life.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Mother Teresa doesn’t need an introduction—everyone knows who she is. I admire her resilience and determination. And even though she was constantly making big waves in the ocean, she still took the time to acknowledge little fish like me and my mama.

I once prayed with Mother Teresa over the phone—yes, THE Mother Teresa. I write about the experience in my upcoming memoir, so you’ll just have to wait for it to be published to find out what led to the call from Mother Teresa.

Thank you, Mother Teresa, for being a role model to humankind.

Cindy Rueda, my aide on MasterChef

I met Cindy when she was hired by the producers of MasterChef to be my kitchen aide throughout my season. Because I am vision impaired, the playing field wouldn’t be level if I didn’t have someone to act as my eyes and legs per se. Yes, I had to do all the cooking myself, but if I needed a stand mixer from the pantry, for example, it would take me much longer than a sighted person to find my way to the pantry, locate the stand mixer, and bring it back to my station and plug it in. And that’s where Cindy came in. She was never allowed to taste my food nor give me cooking advice. She couldn’t even tell me if my food was burning. I had to ask her objective questions like, “Is this piece of meat red, pink, brown, or black?” From her answer, I could deduce if my steak was raw, slightly cooked, medium rare, or burnt. Cindy told me after we wrapped shooting the whole season that there had been dozens of times when she was dying inside because I’d overcooked food or dropped ingredients on the floor, and she was never able to tell me.

We first met at the beginning of MasterChef, and we had to quickly learn how to communicate and work together. Because competing on MasterChef was one of the most difficult things I’d ever gone through, I felt like I shared the tough experience with Cindy by my side, cheering for me all the way to the end.

We’ve become great friends since the show. Cindy is a terrific mother, devoted daughter, and amazing chef herself. Check out Cindy’s Instagram to see what she’s got cookin’.

Gracias, Cindy, for having one of the biggest hearts I’ve ever known.

And to all the women out there, I salute you. Happy International Women’s Day!

Suh family photo at Griffith Observatory in L.A.

With the in-laws


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