Lately, I’ve been feeling like a little fish living her life in a great, round fish bowl. Now I know that sounds far-fetched and strange, but let’s say I’m a fish. I know I’m not; I’m a fine, living breathing human. But for metaphorical purposes let’s pretend I am a little, turquoise-colored fish with glinting, silvery scales and fluttering gills that open and close as I swim in my glass bowl. My swimming is confined to the rounded, hollowed insides of this watery, translucent cage but life is calm; there’s no real danger, and all I need to do is float and swim calmly and life is good. As long as I swim in my bowl as I always had, I can ignore the recent headlines that almost seem to exist in a sci-fi novel. Headlines that create a story of racial tensions, death and disease, hopelessness and confusion, and a world where terror and change threaten our perception of a “normal” life.
I grew up in a mid-sized town in Massachusetts and after graduating high school attended my first year of college in Boston. Unfortunately, like the rest of the world, once March hit, I was asked to leave my usual daily schedule of school and work and had to hunker down and stay indoors while a deadly virus raged on outside my window.
I had already come home for the first time from college for the holiday season but this time felt different, and perhaps it was because I was here for a longer period, but that wasn’t the only reason.
I guess I always grew up a bit caught between two worlds as a half-Korean girl in a predominately white town. During some of our summers, my parents would take me back to my mother’s hometown in South Korea and I would resume my ‘other’ life speaking Korean amongst my friends and cousins there, eating traditional spicy soups and dishes, and even attending concerts to my favorite Kpop artists. But, I also grew up in a world of Cape Cod vacations, Diet Coke and Mcdonald’s hamburgers, and trips with friends to the mall shopping at Brandy Melville and American Eagle.
I’ve always felt a disconnect between these two halves. There were these two worlds I had that seemed to me like two balloons, held in my one hand, but floating apart from each other. I attended my high school as the only Korean and the only half-Asian girl in my grade, and while I was friends with several of the other Asian Americans at my school, I still felt a slight disconnect with trying to connect with my Asian culture in a conformist high school environment. Most of my close friends were white and I felt a bit strange oftentimes talking about my Korean culture even though I couldn’t really place why I felt that way. Perhaps it was because I didn’t like talking about a part of me that set me so blatantly apart from my other peers.
After Breonna Taylor’s, Elijah McClain’s, and George Floyd’s deaths and the BLM surge, I started reading other POC’s messages about unpleasant racist experiences within my town, and I grew depressed and angry. Never before had I felt so aware of the societal meaning placed upon the colors of our skin. Never before did I truly start to realize that POC’s existence was threatened because of the shape of our eyes, the melanin in our skin, the different languages that we spoke from our lips that were passed down through our ancestors’ tongues. This depression grew into a fiery seed of anger inside that I had never felt before.
I began to question my own racial and personal identity after learning more about the BLM movement. I became more aware of the world’s harsh realities. I started wondering if I could be ‘white-washed’. I wondered if I actually chose the clothes and style I had because I genuinely liked them or because I was trying to assimilate to the style of most of my white peers. I started asking myself why I felt uncomfortable talking about my culture and why I would even sometimes make jokes about being Asian. I re-examined all the times I just let things slide: a teacher commenting about my exotic look or a driving instructor asking if my mother is Oriental.
Once I started to hang out with my friends during the summer, I felt like that fish in her fishbowl who watched the world she used to know. All the places and people that once felt so familiar with now felt so disconnected from her. While the wall was thin, it felt like even if it eroded away in the future I would never forget the wall was once there. The bowl I swam in allowed me to stand back and gain a shifted perspective – – more demanding and inquisitive, no longer assimilating or accepting the world neutrally. How will I come to terms with my own racial identity and do my part to change a world that I wish would be more accepting of my BIPOC brothers and sisters?
Color is important. Representation is important. And most of all justice is important. This time we live in may seem scary, terrifying, and uncomfortable, but I believe that without it I would never have truly started to really question the world I live in or see it in a new harsh light. Now is the time to not only take action and gain perspective, but especially for POCs to be reminded to love ourselves for who we are and to be gentle with ourselves. Never forget that our beautiful skin was passed down from countless men and women that came before. So while we continue to live in this strange new reality, I urge us all to hug ourselves and love our unique beauty, and to keep looking forward to a future that we must hope will be different from yesterday.
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.
You can find announcements, more news, and get to know our staff on social media: give us a follow, and learn how you can get involved today!
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.