Trigger warning: This article covers sensitive content involving suicide.
When you imagine an angry person, I’d be the last person you’d think of. I’ve always been the most zen of my friends and have the self-control of a saint – I’ve held myself back far too many times to count and never needed to apologize because my true self always hid behind the blanketed safety of my “meek, docile Asian girl” persona. No need to say sorry when you’ve said nothing at all. Right?
But after seeing my favorite Presidential candidate Andrew Yang speak for a measly two minutes and 58 seconds on MSNBC and watching him being cut off by less qualified candidates repeatedly throughout the whole Democratic Debate, I felt a surge of rage at the deliberate injustice I’d just witnessed. Shortly after, a video went viral on Twitter, showing proof that Yang’s mic was muted throughout much of the debate, so he couldn’t interject whenever he wanted to, and though it sounded like a crazy conspiracy theory, it was confirmed by my next favorite candidate, Marianne Williamson.
And in that moment, every traumatic memory I’ve repressed suddenly resurfaced and I was awash in bone-chilling rage again. And because Yang’s voice was heard much less than the others, that meant mine would be too. As it has always been.
Growing up, I was told that my voice didn’t matter. That Asian Americans in this country were treated unfairly by both the Left and the Right and that even if I tried my hardest to help myself, I would always get passed over and ignored by other people time and time again. The far Left didn’t view us as oppressed enough to be worthy of help, while the far Right only hostilely dubbed us as “slitty-eyed chinks” and “Tojos who took away American jobs.” I’ve been told that Asian Americans must become doctors or engineers to make it in this country, never raise their voices when they’re being treated unfairly or exploited, and always work themselves to the bone while utilizing their “innate” intelligence in math and science to get ahead but not too far ahead to be viewed as a threat to existing powers. The fields of politics, media, and the arts were permanently closed off for me and I was shut down whenever I dared to raise my voice and veer off the traditional path.
But the trifecta of my personal identity – individuality, dissatisfaction with the status quo, and my inclination to dissect apocalyptic visions of the future – took me on a more unpredictable and precarious path. And I started breaking down the doors, trying to make myself known because all my life, I was told that my voice wasn’t worthy of being heard.
I wanted to be an artist with a purpose. I wanted to become one of the influential champions of mental health. I didn’t want to hide behind degrees, prestigious job titles, or a commendable IQ to make my worth known. I didn’t want my worth to be dictated by my blind obedience or willingness to silence myself and keep myself smaller and less burdensome just to please everyone who viewed me as unworthy of being heard anyway.
Instead, I wanted to show up in life as who I am – a rebel hungering for justice, an unapologetic creator with visions for a better future, a healer of broken souls, a destroyer of mental oppression, an excavator of self-awareness, and a silent but deadly force that can turn her lacerations, bruises, and gashes into a simple yet rare masterpiece that defies all definitions and labels.
But I was silenced every time I tried to speak for myself.
I was told that as an Asian American female, my struggles were trivial in contrast with what other people had to face in this country. I was told that as a very bright Asian nerd, I didn’t need anybody to advocate for me because I had the privilege that came with everyone assuming that I’m a very smart and obedient hard worker who would never complain and could take on additional pressure no matter how much it cost, even at the expense of my mental and emotional health. Even when I want to lash out at authority figures who view me as an alien-like, expendable robot – apparently, not human enough to be acknowledged or cared for.
And there are two things I vehemently hate when it comes to talking about the relationship between my place in the world and privilege:
1. Those who hold influence in politics and media will only ever view me as dirty Chinese rat in contrast with those ideal, charismatic people who were born into the upper echelons of society.
2. So many other people are much more oppressed than me, and therefore, even when I feel traumatized and operate in panic mode almost every day, people think that my struggles are frivolous in comparison and not even worth hearing about.
I realize that I am caught in between privilege and under-privilege. I’m a straight, naturally slim, and well-educated “model minority” who grew up in a middle-class family. I’ve never had to struggle the same way my queer and African-American best friend did (yet she’s so incredibly strong for making the best out of the bad cards she’d been dealt with). I’ve never had to work an additional job to make ends meet. I’ve never been looked at with fear or suspicion, simply because I had the privilege of being a docile, soft-spoken Asian woman who always kept her head down and her mouth shut.
But even if some have it worse, I am, by default, still oppressed. As a woman, I have to work twice as hard just to prove that I can be as powerful as a man, just to make up for my lack of exhibiting the highly prized “virtue” of toxic masculinity. As an Asian American, people from both ends of the political spectrum would find a way to silence me and others like me. As an Asian American woman, I would be fetishized by creeps and reduced to nothing more than a scantily-clad anime character. As someone who’s extremely passive and introverted, I would be overlooked by my more aggressive and outgoing peers. As someone who’s in the middle class, my chances of sinking into poverty is much higher than the chances of joining the ranks of the upper class in America. As someone with chronic fatigue, I can’t work as much as someone who’s able-bodied and on top of that, my depression keeps me in an energy coma every day and I still cannot get the therapy I know I need. As a highly sensitive empath, I’ve been constantly told to “toughen up or die.” As an artist, I’ve been scrutinized for not being as “productive or useful to society” and even the sleaziest of salespeople are somehow perceived as being more favorable than me.
And this is why I feel infuriated whenever I’m judged for “having it easy.”
And this is why I feel wronged whenever I’m pushed aside because I’m not the “ideal, social, carefree, and stunningly beautiful and Instagrammable all-American woman.”
I think about all the pain I’ve felt early on in my childhood when I had to endure my father raging around the house, yelling about horrible injustices he faced as an Asian American who had no choice but to work at a cutthroat job, and even smashing fragile objects around the house. He’d yell at me for not being “acceptable enough to Americans” and that being an engineer was the only way to protect myself from injustice – never mind that I desperately wanted to do more in life than be ordered around doing impossible tasks I could barely keep up with. But the worst of it erupted when I failed an engineering class and bombed an interview for an internship, which ended horribly with one of the condescending employees saying, “If you can’t pass the polygraph, why don’t you work at McDonald’s?”
And when I heard about Andrew Yang entering the 2020 presidential race, his Freedom Dividend appealed to me because I strongly believe, down to the core of my shaking bones, that people in authority have absolutely no right to threaten people with destitution to get them to work hard, and while I do like Bernie Sanders for addressing socioeconomic inequality more than the rest, Andrew Yang has the statistics to back up his policy of giving every American $1,000 a month and building a Humanity-First capitalistic society where opportunities for people to pursue their passions and leave exploitative situations were highly prioritized more than keeping the current works-based system (which is rooted in a scarcity mindset). His future-oriented and humanity-centered ideals strongly resonated with me, and they were the only ones that made sense when addressing dire economic problems.
I hated being yelled at by my father and being forced to do what crushed my soul (and wasn’t even good at anyway), but at the same time, I could sympathize with him – it was either that kind of lifestyle or being homeless. He really had no choice as an immigrant. But my upbringing instilled a victim mentality and a scarcity mindset, which I’m still trying to break free from every day. I hate the guilt-based scarcity mindset that I’ve been indoctrinated with, and I hate it with a rage-fueled passion of a thousand hellfires.
And I realize that my mission is to fight fiercely for the right to be as I am and set myself up for success in my own way because if I can’t do that for myself, how will I ever do that for others?
But right now, all the emotional abuse, threats, and externally inflicted terror of the worst possible income did nothing to help me be more productive, strategic, or resourceful. In fact, it did quite the opposite. I stagnated, had frequent creative blocks, and sabotaged my own efforts. Whenever I got rejected from any typical white-collar paper-pushing position, I would ruthlessly judge the people who got those jobs as being boring conformists who had it easier than me and didn’t have to prove they were smart or hardworking enough because by default, they were social and privileged, which somehow that made them “worthy enough” without them having to do anything more to prove it.
Whenever I got yelled at for being a stupid, foolish child with dreams that were bigger than myself, I would run outside in the middle of the night, with a knife in my hand, trying to slash my wrists but failing to make any noticeable gashes because I could not bring myself to do so.
I think about death quite often and I sometimes fantasize about driving into a ditch or perhaps bringing a lighter and setting myself on fire in a car, so that others can see what irreparable damage has been done to me – my mind, my heart, and my soul. Beneath my cold, moody, and distant exterior, there was always a monstrous wildfire threatening to consume me, even when I tried my hardest to keep it from burning me whole. I’d wake up sweating, shaking, and shivering from the all-too-real nightmares of burning alive in a car.
And though I have lingering thoughts about surrendering to the magnetic pull of death, I am still here. Fighting weakly, but still fighting. Hemorrhaging, but still alive. Full of dying dreams, but still dreaming.
I realize that many times, my instinct of self-preservation has strongly kept me from doing anything rash like that. At most, I’d just ball my fists up and punch a pillow, furiously type insanity-fueled rants, and sob uncontrollably all night. I’d confide in no one, not even those closest to me. Not even my best friend.
At the moment, I’m trying to calm down. I’m trying to hold onto my dreams of fulfillment and justice. I’m trying to focus on those who have shown unconditional kindness towards me instead of getting angry at those who never did. I’m trying to realign myself with my identity and vision for the future.
No matter how many low-paying jobs I’d probably have to put up with for the rest of my life, I’m still a writer and I’ll write as much as I’m able to because I have so much to express, and I will not tolerate being silenced.
No matter how volatile political situations get in America, I will raise my voice in any way I can and support genuine, non-establishment candidates who see injustice, scarcity mindset, and brutal force from authorities as deadly viruses that must be eradicated for the betterment of humanity.
I may have it easier than most and I’m truly thankful for what I do have, in spite of the traumatizing memories. I’m not starving, and I have a place to live. And though the future is uncertain, I’m sure that if I put in more effort, I will get better, but so many others can’t say the same.
Even though I am an extremely introverted Asian American female writer with severe depression and anxiety, I will not let other people trivialize what I’ve been through. And even if there are people who have more privileges than me, blaming them for “having it easier” than me isn’t helping me move forward and everyone has unseen struggles that I may never know about, so the best I can do is show up in life as myself without playing the comparison game. I also won’t use the “they have it worse” argument to keep myself silent or to pretend that everything is okay with me. Upward and downward comparisons are both toxic and they’ve been holding me back for so long and I’m fed up with the whole “who has it better” or “who has it worse” game because right now, the only thing I have control over is what I can do to keep myself afloat.
It’s funny how I was the last person you’d expect to get angry about anything political. After sharing my political identity, I’ve met so many genuinely supportive people who are fighting for Andrew Yang (and Asian Americans) to be heard and also have shown interest in my writing.
In the wise words of Brianna Wiest, “Our tribe usually shows up after a deep period of isolation, once we’ve separated and cleansed ourselves from all the people who were eating up our time and energy and mind space. Our tribe shows up when we are willing to first be alone,” and I can say that it’s definitely been true for me. I’m so grateful for the people who do believe in me and everything I stand for. It was effortless, and I never had to jump through mental hoops to get them to like me. And it’s given me so much hope.
Right now, I’m going through the non-linear process of healing, and I know it hasn’t been easy. I still have a chip on my shoulder that I desperately need to remove, or else I’d continue swirling around this vicious cycle of self-sabotage. I need to stop playing the victim, no matter how my circumstances have sentenced me to victimhood and no matter how oppressed I may feel. I need to focus on what I do best instead of lamenting over things I’ll never master. I need to stop envying those I don’t even want to trade lives with because at the end of the day, all I have is me and the multitude of raw and vulnerable stories that I can only share in a way that’s truest to who I am, from the depths of my cavernous soul thirsting for mercy and truth.
And most of all, I need to see society’s perceived weaknesses of me as strengths and marks of authenticity.
I’m proud to be an introvert because I absolutely love spending my time in deep solitude, introspecting and harnessing the inner power I never knew I possessed before.
I’m proud to support Andrew Yang and Marianne Williamson because they have the best interests of the country at heart. In spite of them having an underdog status that comes with not being an establishment candidate (and ranking lower in the polls), I will fight for them to be heard.
I’m proud to be an Asian American writer because writing has given me a chance for me to bare my soul, save the lives of those who are immensely hurting, express truths that will catalyze change from within, and free myself from the trauma carried not only by me but the generations before me.
I’m a proud plain Jane and a quirky girl who still clings to her childlike imagination. I’m proud that even through the trauma, the stereotypes, and the unfair judgments, I am still standing and ready to raise my voice. I’m proud to have conquered my suicidal thoughts. I’m proud of being “a boring minimalist,” because purging my life of extraneous things has liberated me from a conventional lifestyle that I know I would never be able to thrive in.
Maybe I’ve shredded my reputation as the “quiet Asian girl who never raises her voice,” and this change won’t sit well with some people. I can be just as angry as I am zen, but I’ve learned that anger is a powerful propellant and releasing it is far more cathartic than I used to think, and it’s a sign that I have a beautiful strength and sense of justice that I once was too afraid to amplify, out of paralyzing fear that I’m not worthy of being heard. Or that my voice didn’t matter.
Maybe this story isn’t “good enough,” especially to those who wish to keep me silenced and obedient, but I’m not worried about that anymore.
Because this is the story that only I can tell.