Growing up, I didn’t always feel like being brown was beautiful. In fact, growing up I wanted to be anyone but who I was. And I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that as a woman of color it can be challenging to embrace a genuine sense of value and worth when the culture and society around you speaks otherwise. Now I’m certainly not trying to claim the experience of all black and brown women, but I can speak from my own life growing up as a 4th gen. Japanese and 2nd gen. Filipina American woman.
Being a 2nd & 4th generation Asian American it’s easy to feel quite a few steps removed from one’s culture and country-of-origin. My parents spoke exclusively English in our household. We ate what the broader society would consider to be “American” food, with an occasional Filipino dish and pot of brown rice thrown in there. But this didn’t change the way the world outside of our family interacted with me as a woman of color.
Growing up as a 90’s kid, there wasn’t a whole lot of Asian American representation in the media. Most of the images representing beauty, leadership, and influence were far from that of an Asian American woman.
Any images I did see of AA’s in the media consisted of stereotypes that felt distant from my actual experience as a Filipina-Japanese American. While the media told me I was to be either sexually exoticized or a complete nerd, I found that I didn’t come close to falling into either of those categories. This led to a whole swarm of identity issues throughout the already-tumultuous teenage years – from using unhealthy relationships to validate my sense of beauty and self-worth, to attempting to break out of any sort of “good Asian kid” stereotype via unnecessary partying and binge-drinking (*cue facepalm for my poor, stressed out parents).
Needless to say, having a stronger sense of healthy Asian American representation in the culture around me may have been to my benefit. As I’ve gotten older much of the narrative for Asian Americans and women of color in north American culture has shifted quite a bit. At a baseline level, it’s pretty awesome to have more than 2 shades of brown to choose from when shopping for foundation and makeup (tyvm Rihanna). But on a more serious note, seeing strong people of color (and especially women) in positions of influence and leadership has had an immense impact on my personal sense of identity, and what’s possible to achieve as an Asian American woman. And I know that external messaging and images aren’t the only things that fuel self-actualization; but I will say that it’s been pretty darn powerful to see people-of-color in positions of political influence, and women-of-color speaking truth from the pulpit.
And I won’t go too far into my personal opinions regarding the 2016 elections and all that led up to, and has since cascaded as a result – but I will say that it definitely took a few months recovery time to feel safe walking down the street alone as a woman – and especially a woman of color, after a man that seemed to have little regard for women’s experiences came into office. For the last couple years I’ve felt an immense sense of fear for myself, as well as my fellow people-of-color as the political climate in north America has further polarized, and blown up.
As polarized politics have taken the stage in the news and often in daily conversation; hate crimes are happening left and right (you guys, it’s 2018 and Danye Jones was literally lynched last week), history seems to be repeating itself as thousands of immigrant children and families are detained (Japanese Am. Incarceration was not that long ago), and our political leaders are turning a blind eye to women’s attempts to speak out on their experiences of assault and abuse. Being a female, Asian American, child of immigrant parents – it’s not the most empowering season of embracing how broader society views my worth and identity.
Faith has felt extra confusing as large portions of the evangelical church have identified with policies and values that seem far from the characteristics of the justice-centered Jesus I was taught by the church to embrace (but this is an entirely different post, for maybe another day).
So despite the somewhat increased representation of strong women & people of color in the media, it’s been increasingly difficult to see my place as an Asian American woman in places of political influence or within the church.
In my personal (and perhaps, selfish?) opinion, I hope it doesn’t stay this way. I believe that our country is capable of more compassion. That our churches have the capacity to be better representations of Christ’s radical and just love. And that as women and people of color, it’s possible to feel safer and further empowered as humans created in God’s own image to pursue positions of leadership and influence in the culture around us. So although voting is a very small piece of cultivating a culture where a woman of color like myself might feel seen and honored, it’s an important one. Using your own self-agency to promote the well-being and agency of others is a tangible way to express your support for the loved ones in your life that might need it right now.
So I hope you’ll take the time today to embrace the privilege of voting to promote representation of all voices – but especially those that might be underrepresented in today’s office and culture.
**I appreciate those of you who took the time to read this, and I want to re-iterate that a majority of the content in this post is made up of my personal experience. It’s not meant to fuel political debate. I ask that if you find things you disagree with — you respect that this is my personal story and experience as an AA woman, and that this story is not up for debate.