First things first: To overworked healthcare providers and researchers, thank you; to essential employees and delivery services, thank you; to restaurants who continue to stay open for taking out, thank you.
“You never leave your bubble, Mom. You’re afraid of everything.” As my scene partner uttered these words to me during rehearsal, I was reminded of my own mother and all those times I told her that I’d do something and she’d look at me and say, “Are you sure it’s safe?”. My mom is lovely and caring and she’s supportive of my choices for the most part but sometimes I just want to tell her to stop imposing her own fears onto me. I already have enough of my own doubts and don’t need to take on someone else’s.
Her doubts and fears are not unfounded. I am a performer—an actor/singer who likes to play piano, paint and take pictures in my spare time. Even though I don’t have a degree in fine arts or performance, I’ve always felt that I was meant to be out there sharing my craft with the public. When I was 17, I came home from my piano lesson one day and told my mother that my piano teacher suggested I consider being a music major and I wanted to try it. She looked at me and said, “Music teachers say that to all of the kids. What would you even do with a music degree?”. As any good Asian daughter would, I listened to my mother and picked chemical engineering as my major. It’s much easier to fit into the family narrative than to venture out into the unknown even though chemical engineering is one of the hardest fields of study. I went along because I didn’t want to be the black sheep of the family.We all know that one, the one that all the relatives talked about behind their backs …”
Oh, did you hear? Cousin Mei’s daughter dropped out of school… to become a hairdresser… in Greece!” (I can’t live without my hairstylist, by the way.) Being a creative is kinda like that in Asian families so I can see where my mom’s doubts came from. Go ahead and count how many people in your family works in a creative field versus how many are doctors, engineers, and accountants. I can tell you that in my family, we have 1 doctor, 1 nurse, 2 optometrists, 1 accountant, at least 4 engineers, and 1 rocket scientist. Yes, an actual rocket scientist! Even strangers have an opinion about my profession. Onetime I was performing as the lead of an early music play and an elderly woman came up to me afterwards. I thought she was going to congratulate me or say something nice because that’s what you do after a concert. Instead, she asked me, “I see that your last name is Ko. Are you by chance related to the famous neurosurgeon Dr. Ko at UCSF?” I said no, to which she replied,” Oh… don’t worry, there’s already a famous Ko in your family.” and walked away. What? Didn’t she hear that we’re not related? Wait, did she just give me an off-handed insult? That got me thinking: Is that how my family truly feels about me being a performer?In a culture that values community over individuality, fitting in and conforming are so ingrained in us-that it’s as second nature as breathing. Even though my parents are outwardly supportive of my career as a performer, I always wondered how they truly felt. Even though I don’t think that’s important in the long run because at my age, I don’t need their validation to feel good about myself. But as someone who loves her parents, I want to be sure that I do them right by the career path that I’ve taken. I don’t want them to become the parents of the black sheep of the family that the relatives talk about. I want to be the best that I can be and make a good living, so everyone will see that the way to a good life is not limited to just one path. I want it so badly sometimes that I wonder if I’m “doing it right”?
So much of the Asian culture is about doing things the right way. My parents once said to me that Asians don’t make as good actors as Westerners do because Westerners are able to be more free while Asians are uptight. While they recognize the symptoms they don’t realize the cause. Creativity itself requires a person to experiment and find her own voice. It often involves trial and error. If you are always thinking about whether you are doing it right or not, how can you be free to explore and express yourself? Asians are not better or worse actors than Westerners, they just go around with more cultural history that might hinder their path to express freely and creatively.
As I see more movies and TV shows with Asian story lines and Asian cast, I am hopeful. Not only because it is important to have representation and role models for the next generation of Asian Americans, but it is also a huge nod to Asian creatives–that being an actor or a writer can be a legitimate livelihood. If we can normalize a creative career within the Asian community, parents will be more open to their children going into the creative field. We will no longer be seen as the eccentric black sheep of the family or the one who doesn’t conform to the community norm. We can relax and not put so much pressure on ourselves to “do it right” and explore our creativity fully. It is only then, that we can be truly proud of our work. I can finally be proud to call myself a performer and be certain that I am making my parents proud and *that* is a very Asian thing.
Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.
Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.
We have grown since then, putting out bimonthly issues (we are contributor powered: apply to write for our next one!), and weekly reviews of culture, and news that is important to us.
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We do not claim to speak for all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. We are just here to give them a place to speak for themselves.