The Essence of Life by Geraldine Zialcita
The Essence of Life by Geraldine Zialcita | Foto: The Essence of Life by Geraldine Zialcita

Mama Mai, The Essence of Life by Geraldine Zialcita

Por: Diego Cerón

21, September, 2022 en Business Concept

Olivia TuTram Mai otherwise known as Mama Mai is a woman who celebrates life with zest. She amuses you with her wit, enchants you with her charm, and is pure at heart.
Mama Mai was born and raised in Saigon, Vietnam where she spent her childhood dolling up and visualizing her flamboyant outfits as part of an upscale fashion brand. “I dreamed of becoming a fashion designer and had hopes of migrating to America, but during that time, my family didn’t have the means to provide for a fashion degree,” she shares.

Little did Mama Mai know that her childhood dream would serve as foreshadowing for what was yet to come. In 1977, together with her family, seventeen-year-old Mama Mai escaped Vietnam by boat and made it to the land of the free, leaving everything behind to start a new life in the hopes of achieving their American dream. “With the assistance of the IRCC organization, we arrived in Dallas, Texas from the Hong Kong Camp. I was only there for a year when I was swept off my feet, got married, and eventually moved to the San Francisco Bay Area.” She smiles.

The Essence of Life by Geraldine Zialcita
The Essence of Life by Geraldine Zialcita

Without a word of English, Mama Mai struggled to find a job, but she worked hard and enrolled in ESL classes at community colleges. Inch by inch, Mama Mai learned the ropes and navigated her way to adapt to the American lifestyle and culture while raising her kids. “As an American citizen, I always find it interesting how much I try to assimilate into American culture while hanging onto my native Vietnamese roots. When my children were growing up, I spoke English to them because I was trying to learn English. Now that they’re grown up, I consider my English very good but their Vietnamese is almost laughable. Luckily, my first granddaughter, Monaco will not share the same burden because I continue to speak Vietnamese to her as much as possible.” She winks.

Mama Mai is best known as the mother of American TV host, Jeannie Mai Jenkins who appeared on Jeannie’s YouTube channel, Hello Hunnay. The show features fashion, fitness, finance, and ways to increase one’s confidence. What initially started as Mama Mai being a guest on Hello Hunnay, transformed into an overnight sensation for Mama Mai. She managed to keep her viewers glued to the set and laughing out loud―she stole the limelight and made a name for herself. “Never in a million years did I foresee the impact Hello Hunnay would have. When my daughter Jeannie was conducting her first episode, I happened to be observing and casually throwing ideas or critiques like I always do. The director, Paul chimed in and said, ‘Why don’t you join us and see how it works.’ Since I’m not gonna stop at the chance of being in front of the camera, I definitely agreed, and the rest is history. Our chemistry was amazing and I had no idea how much this show would bring us closer together,” she narrates.

Hello Hunnay has continued to strike a chord with its viewers showcasing the candid, whimsical, and loving relationship between a daughter and her mother. “I think people enjoy the mother and daughter duo and they may not notice that Jeannie is already crazy and her perspective is often different and challenging. Yet, as soon as they meet me, they realize I’m even crazier which makes Jeannie the normal relatable person. That makes for a wild, yet fun, and natural partnership. Sometimes you need someone to calm you down, sometimes you need someone to build you up, and sometimes you need someone to allow you to be crazy insane. That uneven balance is what makes our show truly different,” she laughs.

The Essence of Life by Geraldine Zialcita
The Essence of Life by Geraldine Zialcita

Mama Mai’s presence on the show unfolded naturally, and her passion and love for the craft are evident in each episode. “The one thing I pride myself most on is being true to myself. I love showing my fans how I truly act daily. I think people nowadays are too afraid to express how they feel or how they think. When they see me act silly, serious, or crazy, they know it’s from the heart. Despite putting on a show, deep down, they know I do feel that way. This could encourage them to be brave and not afraid, knowing if I can do it, so they can they,” she informs.

After many years of being in the spotlight, Mama Mai has always practiced authenticity and professionalism. “I remember my first appearance on my daughter’s show, The Real where I was so excited, but right when they started to film, I got so nervous. Luckily, Jeannie’s hairdresser, Noogie told me in the dressing room, ‘Don’t worry. Be yourself. Say whatever you want, and if the producer doesn’t like it, they’ll cut it out.’ I realized right there and then that I’m not trying to please anyone and I’ve been given a chance to show the world what some people already enjoy about me. To me, that’s the best kind of freedom. When you can be yourself, make people laugh, and let them decide for themselves how they want to see you,” she states.

Creative by nature, Mama Mai finds inspiration from peculiar or out-of-the-ordinary things or situations. “Oddly enough, I am drawn to things that stand out or go against the grain. I always like to capture the smallest details that make the biggest difference. Presentation to me is the most important thing you can place value in. If I’m eating at a restaurant, the decor, lighting, and ambiance can set the tone for the entire meal. At times it might even change the way the food tastes. Fashion goes the same way, I’m often accused of dressing a little too crazy,” she quips.

After decades of setting her childhood dream aside, Mama Mai established the ideal time to develop her creative expression by launching her fashion and accessories line. “I’ve always considered myself fashionable and love when people compliment my outfits. However, I’m very frugal when it comes to shopping. My family didn’t grow up wealthy and even though I try to make every outfit stand out and look unique, everything I buy doesn’t cost much. I applied the same principle with my brand which will allow you to look good without breaking your pocket,” she briefs.

Mama Mai believes that fashion should define a story that echoes from within. She sells kimonos, dresses, jumpsuits, earrings, necklaces, scarves, and sunglasses. She shares a deep fondness for headpieces and glamorous sunglasses that frame her face which exudes her signature look. “My favorite part about designing is using materials from old curtains and clothing. I love vintage shopping and finding things to repurpose everywhere I can,” she expresses.

Mama Mai considers her three kids to be her greatest achievements. Yet, not many people know that Mama Mai used to be a professional singer back in the day, but juggling a career with three small children proved to be challenging. “I’m fortunate to have amazing kids, grandkids, a terrific show, and my fashion and accessories brand. I don’t think I’m done achieving everything I want in this world, but I’m so happy and blessed with everything I have so far. The best thing about my work is that I get to spend it with family. If I’m not working on the show with my daughter Jeannie, I’m taking care of my granddaughter, or cooking for my family. We love to laugh, tease each other, share advice, or converse about whatever is happening in each other’s lives. Although sometimes I drive them crazy if I or Jeannie have to pull out our phones and record whatever we are doing at the moment,” she relays.

Never forgetting her humble beginnings and coming full circle to where her life has taken her, has provided Mama Mai with substantial wisdom that can be practiced and applied by all. “Always be honest and be true to yourself―believe in yourself as well. I learned a long time ago, that no matter what type of lives we live, we are all the same people inside. There’s no time to waste thinking we have to live by the approval of others. Has I spent my life afraid of what the next person thought about me, I would never have achieved anything. I encourage all of you to work hard, be happy, and do the best you can without worrying too much about what other people think,” she advises.

The Essence of Life by Geraldine Zialcita
The Essence of Life by Geraldine Zialcita

As she continues to blaze the trail, Mama Mai emphasizes the importance of staying healthy for herself, her children, and grandchildren. “My goal is to stick around long enough to watch my grandchildren grow and become the stars in their own lives. When I was young, I could barely imagine traveling to America. Now I’m blessed to have a career in the United States, be famous for speaking English as a second language, and be fortunate enough to travel around the world. I hope to travel more and spread love, joy, and laughter to everyone I meet,” she imparts.

Whether she’s in front of the camera or up close and personal, Mama Mai values the interactions she engages in daily and how she treats everyone in the present. Her goal is for people to always remember her for the happiness she has brought to their lives. “I want my loved ones to always smile when they think of me. As for my children, I hope they share my wisdom and live a meaningful and joyful life,” she concludes.

Olivia TuTram Mai―Mama Mai truly defines the essence of life with love, laughter, and joy.