• Red Envelope

POV: You’re the protagonist in a coming-of-age movie

In journeys of self-growth, there is always so much emphasis on the endings (the ‘I wish I knew’s), and so little on the ‘coming’ of-age (the people we wish we had to figure them out with). We hide, we put on a new shell. We take it off again, don a different style. There’s experimentation, awakening, pain. A lot of it is a blur, never crystalized into anything more than an incoherent diary scribble. But all of it has made us more comfortably ourselves. This week, we’re telling stories to our younger selves: about identity, happiness, and still choosing the words for our movie titles.

“The most beautiful part of your body

is where it’s headed.”

― Ocean Vuong, Night Sky with Exit Wounds

Dear Andrew, I know you crave for assimilation.

It flies by you. It leaves a dark, muted bruise. Please look at it. Bruises may hurt, but they slowly fade away. This is how you learn. Please stop stretching your fingers out into the wind. You won’t be able to feel the radiant warmth of blonde hair and fair skin. Look what happened. You reached too far and now your fingers are scorched. Don’t try to rip your eyes open. They are beautifully created, but they serve as a harsh reminder of your Korean heritage. You are hurting yourself. Stop seeking. I promise that you will come to accept every rough edge. Your identity is something to be cherished, so hold it tight and keep it close. Let Korea seep into every pore of your bare skin; allow it to run through your veins. Let it sing.

––– Andrew, Korean-American, 16

Saint Joseph, MI

Growing up, there was no such thing as anxiety.

That was what you got from thinking too much. There was no such thing as depression. That was for privileged white kids who were too bored with their life. Americans are over medicated and therapists are for crazy people. Don't worry, no one in our family could ever be crazy. It took moving out and getting on my own health insurance to see that it can be helpful to talk about your feelings with an external person. That regardless of what I was told growing up, my feelings are valid and they deserve respect. That even if my life is not as hard as that of someone who grew up in Communist China, my struggles were still real. The pressure to succeed in an Asian family can be immense and can have lifelong implications to how you view the world. Try to take some time to process everything, you'll be better off in the long run.

––– Anonymous, Chinese-American, 24

Princeton , NJ

I came to college intending to run away from anything to do with being Korean and with being a U.S. military child.

I had no desire to relive memories of crying myself to sleep on different beds all over the world, exhausted by the mental gymnastics of living as a military kid with a yellow face. My lifelong rootlessness was exacerbated by college experiences: suffocating in environments where I was the only Asian, but feeling just as alienated in “Asian American” environments that didn’t know what to do with me. Now, four years later, I’m a History major focusing on U.S. military and modern Korea. There are still moments, some during the past year alone, when I am overwhelmed by the nebulous cloud that is “my identity” and wonder if we will ever develop words to articulate it. But each time I resolve a ghost, I am hopeful too.

––– Karis, Korean-American, 20

South Carolina


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