Volunteering Pt. I

December 28th, 2013

Gordon Bay, South Africa


Oh. My. God. I still cannot believe I’m actually here in South Africa.


I am so thankful for all the opportunities I have had because of my parents. Not being able to spend Christmas and New Year’s with them is weird and makes me miss them very much.


The past few days have been crazy. First of all, I found out on the 23rd that my team’s Qatar 2022 Women’s Soccer Challenge submission was chosen as one of the top 3 finalists, and we will be flying to Qatar on January 11th. By that time, I was already in New York City, enjoying my time and not expecting to go to Qatar at all. I did not have my laptop with me, or any of my presentable clothes for such a setting. Because of that, I had to bus it back up to Syracuse at 6am the very next morning to re-pack for my trip since I was going to be volunteering in South Africa until January 11th. Took the bus back to New York City on the 26th, spent a few hours with amazing friends in the city and went straight to JFK Airport for my 7pm flight. My flight had a 13-hour layover in London, so I was able to walk around the city and re-embrace my memories for a few hours before another 11-hour flight to Cape Town, which I basically coma’ed through. I was only awake for the food…until I finished it. The girl sitting next to me said to me: “I couldn’t believe you slept the entire way here to Cape Town. I was so jealous of you!”


The customs were not as strict as I had anticipated considering how difficult it was for me to obtain a volunteer visa. The drive from the airport to Gordon’s Bay, where I’ll be staying with the rest of the volunteers, was pretty easy. The driver, a local South African, patiently answered all of my questions as I acted like a 3-year-old boy who had just seen the world for the first time. What really stood out to me was the township (a common phrase used here in South Africa; usually refers to the underdeveloped areas that house the colored and the black communities**) on both sides of the road on the drive out of the airport. The driver explained to me that in each of the small houses (I really wouldn’t even call them ‘houses’ since they are about the size of an average living room), it has, on average, a family of five living in it. While one side lives the black community, the other lives the Muslims. I really could not believe my eyes. They literally live right off the street, and you can see their public bathrooms. I wondered how they could live in such condition, but then I thought if I had grown up in that township my whole life, I really would not know to compare it to. How will I ever be able to go from what I know, how I am living to no running water or electricity? Even such details make me feel so blessed yet spoiled… my volunteer work hasn’t even started yet and I am already changed…



**Just to clarify, words like “black,” “colored,” and “white” are used very commonly and freely here in South Africa; I am using these adjectives to give an authentic feel of South Africa through my blog**





December 29th, 2013

Gordon’s Bay, South Africa


Today is yet another beautiful day here in Gordon’s Bay. I sweated from 7am to 7pm, and I feel like I am getting so fit! Today was an orientation day for the newbies – there are three of us: one girl from the U.K., one girl from Kansas, and moi. In the orientation, we talked about what the project (the orphanage) is like and what the possible weekend trips are. They are beyond my imagination – wine tour, shark cage diving, safari, sky diving, 3-day trip in Cape Town, etc. – am I on vacation or am I volunteering?! Just two days ago, I was terrified of getting on that plane in JFK because I had absolutely no idea what to expect, but whatever I was expecting, this is definitely not it.


I started to think that being here for 2 weeks is definitely not enough for me to fully understand everything… it just means I’ll have to come back!! 😀


We went on an orientation walk today, and we walked by Gordon’s Bay beach, which was super packed because of the good weather! I also tried a Savanna Dry because Maddie Kelly insisted that I try out this cider of heaven (hey girl hey!). At first I thought it was too sweet for my taste, but when the buzz started to kick in, I started to enjoy it (“it” in this sentence can be either Savanna Dry or the buzz). I looked around and saw all these tourists enjoying their family vacations here, and it made me ache inside thinking about the children at the orphanage and all the other children out there who are dying for some care and love.


Working with the children starts tomorrow. I have heard so many exciting and funny stories from the current volunteers already that I absolutely cannot wait till tomorrow when I actually get to meet them!


Ps. I’ve been having the weirdest short dreams since I got here. I hope this continues forever.










December 30th, 2013

Ikhayalethemba (the orphanage), South Africa


Today was my first day at the orphanage!

Before we left our apartment, we had a quick Xhosa lesson where I remember nothing now. Thank God I took notes!

“ndiyakuthanda” means “I love you”

We went on a quick tour around the townships of Zola, where the orphanage is, before actually going into work this morning. We are prohibited from taking pictures because of South Africa’s Child Protection Act, so that is a bummer, but I will be able to get pictures from the organization at the end of my trip in 2 weeks, so that’s when I’ll show my cliché “I’m a volunteer!!!” pictures later.

These kid, oh my god, they are the sweetest little children I have ever met. They embrace new volunteers with open arms, and they are genuinely curious in your stories. When I first walked into the orphanage with the new volunteers, some of the kids ran up to the gate and greeted us. One of them pointed at me and shouted “TEACHAH CHINA!” and that was my nickname for a few hours haha! Now they know me as “TEACHAH FLYYAN”… almost there!

I have never been this tired my whole life; playing with these kids is the most tiring yet the most rewarding experience I have had so far!!


I am so excited for the remaining time that I have here, both exploring Cape Town and exploring myself with these kids. I came here to do some good for the orphans, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they are going to change my entire life from here…





Unfolding “Female Empowerment” in KPOP


Girl’s Day is a four-member South Korean girl group that debuted in 2010 under Dream Tea Entertainment (girlsdaydaily.com, 2013). On June 24th 2013, they released a repacked album “Female President,” and they won their first number one rank in a music broadcast program since their debut with a title song with the same name (allKpop, 2013). The song also did very well domestically in South Korea as it peaked at number 6 on the Gaon Weekly album chart, a system that tabulates song and album popularity on a weekly basis in South Korea (Gaon Chart, 2013).

Like the title of the song, “Female President” speaks very strongly of female empowerment, questioning why a female has to be the passive one in expressing their romantic interest to an opposite sex. With a catchy beat, it tells the audience, presumably girls, to “come up to him and kiss him first” and that “now is the time, [they] can start first” (kromanized.com, 2013). The song alone has a great message, and with a catchy beat, it can very well empower females in the South Korean society. However, the music video tells a whole different story.

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The video starts with shadows of the members’ bodies onto a screen, dancing in a provocative manner, and the scene quickly cuts to the members dancing to the choreography of the song in identical outfits. The outfits have minimum clothing with the members’ midriffs showing, where it is been “portrayed in advertising and elsewhere as the primary source of women’s capital” (Gill, 2009).

4 5

The exposing fashion continues as the scene cuts to the members singing dancing on a different setting of the stage. The lyrics go on and question the listeners: “our country has a female president, why are you so serious? What’s the problem? If a girl kisses first, does she get arrested or what?” while the members dance daringly in short dresses and outfits. While the lyrics empower and embrace female sexuality, the music video puts female in a objectified way where they are viewed as male pleasure, exposing themselves and posing with fancy vehicles, for male pleasure.

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(YouTube, 2013).

A part of their choreography is with the members facing the camera and the audience with their backs and shaking their butts to the beat. The camera work cuts back and forth between the dancing and silhouettes of the members dancing. While the lyrics repeat itself, the message that the video sends changed: it now eliminates the members’ individuality, personality as nothing but their bodies. They are filmed and viewed as females who have their bodies as their best asset, and they are now using them to gain maximum attention. The audience is now viewing the performers’ butts shaking and bodies curving in aggressive ways with a male gaze, where the performers become nothing but visual pleasure to the audience.

By sexualizing the music video, Girl’s Day failed at attempting to empower their female fans but rather, they send another message that the only way to “empower” female is to by conforming into female objectification. They are telling their fans that by showing off their bodies with provocative fashion and movements, they can achieve “female empowerment” where they have the attention of the males. This is a dangerous message to send because freely expressing sexuality is not an empowerment for females anymore, “where once sexualized representations of women in the media presented them as the passive, mute objects of an assumed male gaze, today women are presented as active, desiring sexual objects who choose to present themselves in a seemingly objectified manner because it suits their liberated interest to do so” (Gill, 2009). In other words, despite the lyrics, “Female President” still serves as an evidence for female objectification in KPop.

With over 6 million fan club members world wide, Korean music awareness and influence have been increasing in the past decade (Koreaherald.com, 2012). They have the ability to influence the entertainment sphere not only in South Korea but potentially the world. Sexualizing a female empowerment message for chart performances is a marketing technique, not a socially responsible decision. Therefore, Girl’s Day and their agency have a big social responsibility of what messages they are sending out.


Princess Bry



allKpop (2013). Girl’s Day win their first ever music show on canceled July 7 ‘Inkigayo.’ Retrieved from: http://www.allkpop.com/article/2013/07/girls-day-win-their-first-ever-music-show-on-canceled-july-7-inkigayo

Gaon Chart (2013). Retrieved from: http://gaonchart.co.kr/

Gill, R. (2009). Supersexualized Me! Avertising and the ‘Midriffs.’ In F. Attwood (Ed.), Mainstreaming sex: The sexualization of Western culture (pp. 93-99) . New York: I. B. Taurus

girlsdaydaily.com (2013). Retrieved from: http://www.girlsdaydaily.com/

Kromanized.com (2013). Girl’s Day – Female President. Retrieved from: http://kromanized.com/2013/06/23/girls-day-female-president-%EC%97%AC%EC%9E%90-%EB%8C%80%ED%86%B5%EB%A0%B9/

Koreahearld.com (2013). Riding the ‘Korean Wave.’ Retrieved from:  http://nwww.koreaherald.com/common_prog/newsprint.php?ud=20120924000627&dt=2

YouTube (2013). GIRL’S DAY – FEMALE PRESIDENT(여자대통령) M/V. Retrieved from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xF3MC8PWgJE


The Real #GrindrFail

Grindr started out as a geosocial networking app specific for gay, bisexual, and bi-curious men, but it has become so much more in the LGBTQ community since its release back in 2009. Grindr uses the GPS system embedded in smartphones to connect with other Grindr users based on your location. After 4 years, Grindr has become the most popular all-male location-based social network with 4 million users in 192 different countries around the world. The app is still growing with about 10,000 new users downloading the app every day (Grindr, 2013).

Some Grindr users, however, have taken this social app to a different level. While some users still genuinely look for friendships or even true loves on the app, most users use it as a “hook-up” app, where you can find someone you’re attracted to or is attracted to you without having to even leave your apartment. All you need to do is go on the app and start chatting. If you find someone like-minded, you can go for a drink or go straight to the bedroom. With this kind of fast food-like hookup lifestyle, it comes as no surprise that some users’ biography becomes a little forward in terms of criteria for chatting with them in order to get straight to the point in terms of what they are looking for, and this is where the internalized hatred within the LGBTQ community comes in.

The following are a few examples:


(Photo credit: http://stopracismandhomophobiaongrindr.wordpress.com/tag/grindr/)

The first picture’s bio reads: “Masculine guys only NO Fairies thanks. Would be nice to meet a decent guy 4 a change.Lol.Where has all the romance gone?” In The Limitations of the Discourse of Norms – Gay Visibility and Degrees of Transgression, Jay Clarkson discusses the internal discrimination within the gay community by introducing ActingStraight.com, a website created by “straight-acting” gay men who “seek to normalize a particular set of gender performances as acceptably gay, and the expense of other performances perceived as more transgressive” (Clarkson, 2008). They believe that gays need to act straight-like in order to be more accepted and more welcomed while flamboyant gays become a stereotype of the gay community that ultimately hurts the progression of homosexuality acceptance in the society.

They are wrong in many ways. One, this messaging implicitly suggests that they also believe the acceptance of their own gender identity is more important than the overall acceptance of the entire LGBTQ community. They are willing to sacrifice other LGBTQ members’ social acceptance for their own, forcing them to act a certain way because ultimately, they benefit from this homosexuality normalization. Secondly, more media representation and visibility of masculine gay and bisexual men will not positively correlate to “straight-acting” LGBTQ members’ social power. Almost-naked young white women would run the Western culture if media visibility translates directly and positively into social empowerment (Phelan, 1993, p.10).

        The second profile’s headline reads, “not too into the gays.” Again, being on a gay and bi social network app, this user still feels the need to separate himself from the rest of the users because he is “not too into the gays,” putting the rest of the gay community below him. This shows how the hegemonic ideology, where the society generally teaches and celebrates heterosexuality, is still taught and celebrated within the LGBTQ community. If you are straight acting, that is good because you follow the heterosexual hegemonic ideology. If you are flamboyant, that is bad because you challenge the society’s teachings and acceptance. What this Grindr user fails to realize is that his actions feed to homophobia both from the society and within the LGBTQ community. By condemning a certain group within the LGBTQ community, this user actually becomes a contribution for the lack of homosexuality acceptance.

The third profile says, “if you need to have weird wrist movements or talk with a chicks voice keep on prancing fairy.” The weird wrist movement refers to a specific feature of some flamboyant boys. Again, this profile is an example of how “selective homophobia is alive and well within gay communities. It suggests that some gay men feat the gender performances they see as flaming, not only because they do not like them, but also because they fear what those performances may mean to straight people” (Clarkson, 2008). This describes how influential the hegemonic ideology is on the society, that even within the LGBTQ community, there is still a hierarchy where if you’re as close to being heterosexual as possible, you still have a higher social status. This also means that flamboyant gays still “remain among the most marginalized members of society,” where even within a lower social-acceptance class, they are still viewed as undesirable or as non-hegemonic ideal.

        What started out as a friendship kindling and love finding social app ends up feeding back into internalized homophobia within the gay and bisexual men community, Grindr serves more than an app but a social norm to the community. Therefore, Grindr has the responsibility to influence the LGBTQ community, acknowledging that some of its users may be contributing to homophobia in ways they do not even know.


Clarkson, J. (2008). The limitations of the discourse of norms: Gay visibility and degrees of transgression. Journal of Communication Inquiry, 32(4), 368-382. Published by Sage Publications, Inc.

Gindr (n.d.). Retrieved from http://grindr.com/

Phelan, P. (1993). Unmarked: The politics of performance. London: R


Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” vs. Feminism

“Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” is a number one single on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 by Katy Perry on her third studio album Teenage Dream (Calfield, 2011)[1]. Since its release on June 6, 2011, the song has been a domestic and international success as it sold 3 million digital copies in the US and over 5 million worldwide (Grein, 2012)[2]. The music video is also a production success as it has over 230,000,000 views as of October 13th (Perry, Katy Perry – Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)) [dayum girl][3].

The music video tells a story about a “nerdy girl” who gets disturbed when she is trying to read on a presumably Friday night. The story continues as Kathy Beth Terry, the main character played by Perry, goes to complain about the noise from the party. At this point, the character is dressed in a pink long-sleeved turtleneck with a jean jumper. She is also wearing headgear wired braces, big glasses, and sneakers. She gets introduced to the party, and right when enters, the desirable football captain ignores her presence and says hi to a fashionable blonde girl. Seeing Kathy upset, Rebecca Black, played by herself, volunteers to help transform Kathy. Black leads Kathy upstairs in order to change her appearance: she gives her a short neon skirt, she helps Kathy shave her mustache, and she removes Kathy’s headgear. After the transformation, Kathy walks downstairs in heels, a neon green tight skirt and a neon pink crop top with her midriff showing. She also has a noticeable amount of makeup on, stylized hair, and no more headgear. The crowd, especially by the football captain, instantly notices her transformation. All of a sudden, she becomes the center of attention: everyone watches her play video games and watches her dance.


This is how Kathy Beth Terry (portrayed by Katy Perry) is presented to the audience at the very beginning of the music video. She looks geeky, nerdy, and socially awkward. God, I mean, look at that facial expression.



This is how Kathy Beth Terry is presented after the “transformation.” I mean, hey, girl looks good.

Source: http://www.thecampuscompanion.com/svelte/files/2013/02/katy_perry_last_friday_night_video_young_party_dance_company_joy_54442_1680x1050.jpg

Some may see this story as female empowerment where women are able to manipulate the male gaze with their outfits. This is not the case. The ultimate goal here is to gain the male attention, and as Rosalind Gill states in her article Supersexualized Me! – Advertising and the “Midriffs,” “young women are presented not as passive sex objects, but as active, desiring sexual subjects.[4]” The media and in this case, Katy Perry’s music video, is sending messages to young girls that they need to dress in tight clothing, wear heels, and show off their “midriff,” the part of the body that is between the top of the pubis bone and the bottom of the rib cage[5], in order to gain attention from the opposite sex. The midriff fashion can be traced back to Madonna in the 1980s, and because it became widely popular, advertisers and marketers soon employed it as apart of their strategies[6].

A woman’s body is perceived as her best asset, and her choice of clothing should compliment her body in order to be noticed and pursued by men. This mentality changes a woman’s social role from a passive sexual object to an active one. By embedding an empowerment message within the midriff advertising, women perceive possessing and showing an attractive body as feminism. However, this attractiveness remains purely physical, as no psychological tributes are valued in these messages. As Gill says in her article, the every definition has shifted and “it is now defined as a bodily property rather than a social or psychological one.[7]” In Perry’s music video, her studious identity is never valued nor appreciated. It is even discouraged because the story shows that she is alone in her room, studying, while all of her other classmates are at the party. Once Kathy Beth Terry, portrayed by Perry, changes into “sexy” clothes, not only does the crowd notice and compliment her, she also becomes more confident in herself. This gives the public two messages: one, society has an expectation of who can enjoy the party and who cannot. Kathy has to go through her transformation in order to fit into the crowd to party, play games, drink, and dance with them. And the crowd accepts her very easily, too, after she puts on a tight neon skirt, of course. Two, the woman is supposed to enjoy this transformation. The video explicitly shows Kathy’s content face expressions as she enjoys her time with her newfound friends.

The lesson of the music video is: if you want to have a good time and enjoy your party, you have to wear tight clothing and show off your body. Through different media channels (i.e. Katy Perry’s music video), this message can be packaged in a pro-feminism way where women are shown in authority, independence, and high social class positions, the core message is still that women, especially young, heterosexual women, need to dress and act a certain way in order to be noticed by men. If we unfold the packaging of these messages, we realize that media are still telling our daughters, younger sisters, and friends how to dress and how to act. This is a step back in feminism, and we should not and cannot pretend the media are sending correct messages.

[1] Calfield, K. (2011). Eminem & royce da 5’9″ debut at no. 1 on billboard 200 with bad meets evil ep. Retrieved from http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/470157/eminem-royce-da-59-debut-at-no-1-on-billboard-200-with-bad-meets-evil-ep

[2] Grein, P. (2012). Week ending feb. 12, 2012. songs: Luv for madonna. Retrieved from http://music.yahoo.com/blogs/chart-watch/week-ending-feb-12-2012-songs-luv-madonna-012009756.html

[3] Perry, K. (Artist). (2011, June 12). Katy Perry – Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.) [Web Video]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KlyXNRrsk4A

[4] Gill, R. (2009). Supersexualized Me! Advertising and the “Midfriffs.” In Dines, G., & Humez , J. M. (2011). Gender, race, and class in media. (3rd ed.). New York: SAGE Publication, Inc.

[5] Gill, R. (2009) p.256

[6] Quart, A. (2003). Branded: The buying and selling of teenagers. London, Arrow Books.

[7] Gill, R. (2009) p.257


Affirmative Action, Ugly Betty, and Bryan

         In Chapter 12 of Gender, Race, and Class in Media by Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez, the authors discuss a particular episode from the sit-com Ugly Betty “When Betty Met YETI,” which spotlights affirmative action decisions based on race (2011). Affirmative action is defined as when factors such a race, color, religion, sex, or national origin are taken into consideration to benefit an underrepresented group, according to National Archives (1965). In this episode, Betty, a Latina, and her co-worker Marc, a gay white male, both apply to an internship called YETI where magazine assistants are trained to become editors. Betty and Marc are competing against each other for one position, and while Marc has worked on his presentation for three months with two celebrity sponsors for his application and interview, Betty only finds out about the opportunity forty-eight hours before the interview. Betty ended up getting the internship, leaving Marc upset and frustrated. When confronted, Marc tells Betty that the real reason she got the position over him was because she helped YETI “meet their quota…because [she is] Latina.” He then calls her a “token ethnic girl (2011),” leaving Betty not only upset but also self-conscious as she starts questioning if her abilities really qualify for the position.


Betty and Marc from the series Ugly Betty

Source: http://blog.zap2it.com/frominsidethebox/ugly-betty-series-finale-marc-main.jpg

       According to the book, affirmative action “became policy in the 1960s under President Johnson” where it was “launched to help improve the employment and educational access of ‘minorities (2011).’”Additionally, affirmative action also caused a lot of debate on a candidate’s qualifications over another’s in education, employment, and business. In education, for example, colleges now consider an applicant’s school grades, SAT scores, extra curricular activities, and on top of that, race and ethnicity. During my senior year in high school, my advisor for college applications told me that I should look for schools a little higher than where my SAT scores stand. I applied to Syracuse University, where the average SAT score is 1,738 (Find The Best, 2012), and other universities alike. With an SAT score of 1,600 at the time, I believed Syracuse was a stretch for me. I was beyond excited when I received my acceptance letter, but the excitement soon became a wonder, as I could not bring myself to believe my admission was because of my luck.

        In the episode, Marc tells Betty that she got the YETI offer because she is a minority; during my senior year, I was told that I got the admission letter because I am a minority. Like Betty, I started questioning my abilities as a prospective student at Syracuse University. I thought I was admitted to meet the university’s diversity quota, which, as explained in Gender, Race, and Class in Media, is “a word indelibly linked in popular discourse with race-based affirmative action policies (2011).” Affirmative action was created to provide additional help to those minorities in need, but it now has been “charged with creating ‘reverse discrimination’” as it “enables people of color access to education and employment” which were “preciously reserved as the ‘property’ of whites, according to Harris in his publication Whiteness as property (1993).” However, the book does not discuss Betty’s perspective extensively. I, like Betty, wanted to believe that my qualifications were deserving enough for my enrollment, but trying to believe that is very difficult. Each college’s admission decision is a product of very complicated formulas, and very few of them are objective. When multiple students’ applications are products of intersectionality, simple affirmative action does not suffice college admission decisions. Based on the definition given by the Center for New Racial Studies in University of California, intersectionality is defined as the interactions of multiple systems of oppression or discrimination for different disenfranchised groups, especially of minorities (2011). Betty is a female of minority, which means her intersectionality is based on two systems of oppression and discrimination. Realizing this, Betty would be lying to herself if she believed that her YETI internship admission was solely based on her hard work and passion. This is especially true after YETI doesn’t “exactly deny it” when Betty calls and asks if Marc’s accusations are true (2011).

        I do not have an answer to the questions raised and the problems caused by affirmative action. While many may see that affirmative action takes away white privilege, not all the minorities who are supposed to benefit from it do. It may cause a qualified candidate such as Betty to question her abilities, and it may also raise some unanswered concerns where an individual will never be able to reconcile. When and where does affirmative action come into the formula leaves minorities wondering how they can present themselves so that their disadvantages become their advantages. While this provides greater opportunities for minorities, it also takes away the pure qualifications of a candidate for education, employment, or business.

I choose to actively accept that my race background influenced my admission to Syracuse University, and I also choose to reinsure myself that my grades, my hard work, and my passion are also strong factors in the admission decision as well. I cannot change my race; neither can I change the fact that I will be judged whether positively or negatively on my race. Therefore, I choose to simply work harder than everyone else so that I can always be sure my accomplishments are because of what I earned and not what I was given.

National Archives. 1965. Executive Order 11246 – Equal employment opportunity. http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/codification/executive-order/11246.html

Harris, C. I. 1993. Whiteness as property. Harvard Law Review 106: 1707-91
Dines, G., Humez J. M. 2011. Gender, Race, and Class in Media. What does Race Have to Do With Ugly Betty p.97

Center for New Racial Studies. University of California. 2011. “Race/Gender/Class ‘Intersectionality’” http://www.uccnrs.ucsb.edu/intersectionality

Find The Best. 2012. Department of Education http://colleges.findthebest.com/q/2983/2549/What-is-the-average-SAT-score-for-Syracuse- University-SU


“If you ever forget the fact that you are Asian, someone else will remind you.”

This post is inspired by a paper for a my Race, Gender, and Media class where I wrote on a self reflection where how I view myself changed because of a certain exposure to the media. The stuff I ended up with was very interesting to me because I never really realized how I felt or thought about myself until I started to look back into myself. I would suggest you all do the same and maybe even write about it. I promise you will not look at you life the same ever again. Anyways, without further adieu (I just Googled how to spell this), here’s the post:

To be honest, I have always tried to shy away from talking about race or ethnicity. I believe there is more to me than the fact that I was born and raised in Taiwan. Please don’t get me wrong, I do understand and accept my roots and upbringings, but there are times where it feels like that is all I am. This kind of self-reflection and examination didn’t start until I came to the United States to pursue an education 7 years ago.

“If you ever forget the fact that you are Asian, someone else will remind you.” I forgot where I read this quote, but it really speaks to me. Going from being the majority of the population to the minority was a slow yet dramatic change in my lifestyle, and I will attempt to explain what I mean with the following paragraphs. In Young Adolescents in Television Culture by Fisherkeller, published in 1997, he explains that young people learn their social goals and what they want in their future lives through personal and physical interactions while they learn how to act on those dreams and hopes through television (Fisherkeller, J. (1997). Everyday learning about identities among young adolescents in television culture. 28, 485). By his definition, my social goals and my strategies to reach these goals all changed when I started my high school education in a small boarding school in the suburbs of Chicago. I knew I wanted to be famous, and I really believed I could, too. In elementary school, I was in the choir, in the orchestra, and on the dance team. I was determined to be famous and to make a lot of money. My goals became really short term oriented, however, when I realized there were more immediate problems. The first one was the language barrier.

I struggled a lot when I got here, and it was the kind of experience you would not really understand until you’ve gone through it yourself. I realized that language was something I needed to improve dramatically and very fast in order to be a part of the crowd, but why did I ever want to be a part of the crowd? Was it because I was not confident enough? Was it because I was not content with myself or with my social status as a F.O.B.? Looking back at myself, I now know that it was because I wanted to be White. Being White means more than just your skin color – it comes with social status, privileges, and most importantly, in my opinion, less negative first impression from others.

America has a wonderful entertainment industry ranging from world-famous Hollywood stars to singers that dominate music charts even on the other side of the planet. Watching shows like Friends, Gossip Girl, and Desperate Housewives where the cast is mainly, if not all, White while trying to learn English, I became obsessed with this “White” image. It seemed as though hanging out at a coffee shop, being catty with your peers, and getting dramatic with your life became a “White thing” whereas if you’re Asian, for example, you’re a supporting character in the back with a line or two every now and then. Remember when I said all I ever wanted was to become famous? This is when I started becoming obsessing over being White because, in my mind, that meant I would finally be able to get the spotlight.

I have grown out of the obsession, fortunately, but my experiences still raise an important question concerning our media exposure. We all know that entertainers of color are very under represented. When there is one famous Latino, Black, or Asian entertainer, he suddenly becomes the token for that race. For example, Ken Jeong and PSY were the most recent and most interesting entertainers I have been compared to. Just in case you’re wondering who Ken Jeong is, he is Mr. Chow in The Hangover trilogy. Honestly, asking me to reenact Ken Jeong’s “so long, gay boys” in the movie The Hangover is very racist and unpleasant. Talking to me about PSY’s Gangnam Style is all cool and fun until questions about the lyrics and asking to dance the famous horse dance. It is very insensitive considering I’m from Taiwan, not South Korea.



At the same time, however, I do not want to become too politically correct and too ready to jump out and call people racist evey chance I get. I understand that, for someone who is not exposed to other cultures too frequently, talking to me about Gangnam Style is probably the closest to “knowing” my background, and it could be a conversation starter. Usually, I just go with the flow because I was there myself. When I first came to the United States, I had such a difficult time distinguishing White people – especially the blonde girls – apart from each other. Separating Asians apart was, on the other hand, a simple task, and I have almost always been correct on guessing their ethnicity as well. I understand how difficult it must be for those who grew up without having been exposed to Asian ethnicities to “not be racist” and be able to distinguish our cultures, ethnicities, and sometimes even names. I will defeat the purpose of trying to raise awareness of race and ethnicity issues if I make others too uncomfortable to talk about it.

I believe that with the world getting smaller metaphorically, people with different races and ethnicities are becoming physically closer to each other. We often criticize others and ourselves too harshly on the topics that interest and are important to us that we forget to recognize our accomplishments and achievements. I can honestly say that, despite some of the issues addressed previously, America is still doing better in terms of racial and gender movements than most other places. The difference is the dialogue – in America, issues like race and gender are publicly discussed through various media channels unlike some other places where even provoking such a thought could result in severe punishment. Education is key, and we can all contribute to a greater cause of race and gender equality by simply having an open conversation.

Bryan “I don’t understand why there’s so much homework in my senior year” Eric