I have always loved the humanities. I love and appreciate my parents for supporting my interest in the humanities. I also notice that there are fewer Asian-American people in the humanities than say, math or science.
Sure, I got the occasional joke in my co-op groups as to why I wasn’t great at math. Sitting in Kumon sessions improving my math skills in preparation for the SAT made me painfully aware that I did not possess the stereotypical aptitude of every other kid there who looked like me: deep black or dark brown hair, glasses – head down in concentration.
As a homeschooler, my love for writing, history, art, literature and logic only grew. My sport was forensics! This activity opened up a whole new realm where my interests collided together into something strong, loud and personal. I recall another Asian girl in a different club coming up to me at one tournament. She looked me in the eye and shyly asked “How did you learn to speak? Asians, we, we are not loud people.” What do you mean? I thought. You’re here, I am here, at a speech and debate tournament! You’re wearing a suit and blouse just like every other student here: if I can speak.You can too! That’s what I thought. What I said instead was a true, but pat answer that my speaking ability was a gift from God which my parents always encouraged me to use. I wish now that I had chosen to respond to both questions: the one about my speaking ability and the other about how being Asian does not mean you have to be a “quiet person.”
Still, the girl’s hesitation echoes what much of society still thinks about us: the quiet Asian.
I look first to my parents to counter this idea. My parents: second generation, Christian Asian-Americans who dated long distance. They love food, fashion, the artsand are not afraid to speak up. When my mother dated my dad, who became a lawyer, and met his family of six: she thought she was having dinner with Italians. My mother worked for Levis after college. I have yet to see her lose in an exchange with a retail customer service associate over whether a sale still applies.
With their support behind me, I began my college journey in elementary education. While studying diversity in the classroom, it occurred to me that I could be a model for the Asian students in my class who are creative and loved to express their thoughts. Despite their parent’s desire to steer them toward the stable careers afforded in math and science, I could encourage them to explore and express via the humanities and arts.
Yes world, I am a Chinese-American with an English degree! While I don’t aspire to be the next Amy Tan, I’ve started to realize there there is more beyond the primarily European lit canon I was taught. All kinds of great written work is out there by Asian-Americans that are spreading awesome ideas. They are breaking ground in graphic novels and perhaps coolest of all: translating science fiction from China. You all should check out Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet series, Ken Liu’s Paper Menagerie and Invisible Planets as well as Kao Kalia Yang’s poetry. It’s gorgeous. We’re getting there, but there could be more of us.
When I first found PAAC (Progressive Asian American Christians) I was a little hesitant at first. Not having grown up around many Asian-Americans and having a third generation separation from my Asian identity, I wasn’t sure how I would fit in. But, then I started to enjoy what I was learning from the questions, conversations and occasional rants. Soon, I was invited to join the Write On, PAAC writing group. I was in wonder during the first writing workshop we had: there were free verse poems, myth adaptations, memoirs and social critique essays.
I had found Asians who loved the humanities. Asians who loved and pursued their love of writing.
In college, I never had that community. While I felt encouraged and supported in my own writing efforts, I didn’t know what I was missing until I found this community. It still feels uncertain. I worry I don’t have enough critical reflections on my own identity as third-generation Chinese-American Christian. It’s new, but percolating with possibility.
That possibility is what made me want to be a part of As I Am which grew out of the PAAC Writer’s Collaborative. Here were wonderful people who want to adapt their cultural myths and legends into plays. People who want to examine their faith graciously in its complexity. People who want to explore their questions and doubts with beauty and clarity through the written word. It is a space to not only examine what stories we have believed to be true about ourselves, but also a space for redemption.
Stories are powerful and the story we write together is equally important.
This feels like a new chapter for me as a writer. Finding PAACs who love humanity and the humanities is exciting, like learning something new for the first time. We started As I Am to give voice and platform for those who have witty words, searing satire and smart social think-pieces to hurl at the idea that we will ever only be scientists, doctors or people who work with numbers. We do those too (many of us do). We write to show how wondrous and multi-faceted the image of God is. We put our words on the page and say: here am I, as I am. See, read, know and be known.
Created by: Katherine Kwong
About the author: Born and raised in Southern California, Katherine is currently an intern with The Moth, an organization dedicated to the art and craft of live storytelling. There, she helps with numerous kinds of back-end work while trying her best to draft stories she thinks of quickly, but writes slowly. You can find her listening to podcasts while cooking, watercoloring or trying to make a little corner of Brooklyn feel like home.
Picture: Nam June Paik, Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, 1995, fifty-one channel video installation (including one closed-circuit television feed), custom electronics, neon lighting, steel and wood; color, sound, Smithsonian American Art Museum, © Nam June Paik Estate, Gift of the artist, 2002.23