I'm 9 years old. My mother is dressed in her Sunday best. The glass doors of the church open, greeting me with a brisk gust of wind. She looks down at me.
"Did you know doctors earn lots of money?"
This was the first hint she dropped.
I shrug. I don't care. I am in fourth grade. What I care about is making friendship bracelets and fooling around at recess.
"No. That's cool."
I can see the glimmer in her eye. "Do you want to be one?"
I purse my lips. "I guess. Sure."
I'm 12 years old. I'm being interviewed by my school's newsletter. The redheaded boy beside me speaks, his brown freckles moving with his mouth. He asks me what I want to be when I grow up. That simple, innocent, benign question coaxes every bead of sweat in my body to whisper their hellos. I had managed to dodge that question for twelve years by answering with the career my mom envisioned for me. My body becomes cold, and my mind is a blank canvas. I have no paint to answer that question.
I'm 13 years old. I reunite with an old friend I had bid adieu to when I was seven. He has soft bristles on his head, a tough wooden body, and a metal neck. His gentle brown hair imitates a selfless chameleon, lending itself to a perpetual spectrum of colors. He dyes it often. I see him with pastel yellow locks in the morning, then a deep, magnetizing blue at night. All he has to do is shower in a murky hybrid of colors and it washes away. When I hold him in my fingers, he paints me a whole new world. A world I hadn't breathed in for millenniums. Last time I visited this place, it smelled of wax crayons and felt like sticky hands and wrinkly parchment. This time, it smells of acrylic and oil and feels like cool water. I spend the next two years reconnecting with my old friend, catching up on things I'd missed experiencing with him and sensations I had once forgotten.
I'm 14 years old. My paintings are still, watching me from my walls. There are so many of them I had created with my bare hands that I've forgotten the lavender and the hue of dandelions I had once painted my bedroom walls. I find comfort in it. This was my passion. My joy. I could make life with my two hands.
My conscience breaks the silence in its deep, raspy voice. She tells me I will not get far. Not with a future in something like the arts. She laughs at me, at my foolishness; telling me that I knew deep down I wasn't going to make it. She keeps repeating herself so much I start to believe it. Before I could shake my thoughts out, she screams.
"You know it's true."
I'm 15 years old. My English teacher preaches the same thing he does everyday. To follow our dreams, you must pursue your dream career because if you don't, you'll wake up unhappy every day, driving to a job you despise. He's monotonous, but his repetitive words stain me. I'm in the car with my mom, driving back home, to a house that an artist could never afford with their low income.
I wince, rambling about different kinds of doctors. I can see my mom's eyes light up. I talked about these tiresome things to see that reaction. She didn't know that making her blithe had me crestfallen in return. 
I tried so hard to believe it. I tried to convince myself that this was my purpose in life. I told myself this is what I had to do. I knew my English teacher was right all along, but I'd sunk so low that I'd rather chase a career I didn't love than a passion that didn't promise me financial stability or my mom's happiness.
It had always been like that. My mom's always wanted me to get a financially promising job. Coming from a poor family in the Philippines, she wanted the best for me. She wanted me to be the most astute in my class. She wanted me to be a lawyer, a doctor, or anything that promised me money and status. She never realized I only agreed to a future full of scalpels and stethoscopes because I was scared. Scared to let her down. Scared that I'd be a resident of an apartment close to collapsing and struggling to fix up a proper meal to eat.
I'm on my way to 16 years old. I look back to when I was nine. I now remember when my older cousin, Jamie, asked me if I wanted to be a doctor because I actually wanted to be one or if my mom wanted me to; I remembered how toxic this culture could be. Even at the early age of nine. My passion for art prospers like a flower. The reality of the life I wish to lead is disguised as a weed, and it's growing too. I have three more years of high school. Three years to figure out my future before I throw a black square academic cap with a tassel up into the air. Every day comes with a realization. I want to go to a university that welcomes the arts with open arms. I want to paint. I want to choose my happiness over someone else's for once; to put myself first. I want to realize that passion is persistent; that passion is stubborn and it refuses to be ignored.

Text and Visual by Faith Sumastre

Every person of color deals with their fair share of racism. However, each person’s experience is different. As a person of color, I acknowledge that I cannot speak for all races, and I personally do not think I have the right to speak about anyone’s struggles with it except for my own.

I have gone through my entire life being expected to be something or someone, and I think every single person has, to some extent. I’ve been expected to be good at this and good at that. While this is the basis of plenty of stereotypes targeted at Asians, and while it seems to hold no detrimental value, it does. It does, and it does, and it does. All of these stereotypes do. Each Asian experiences those stereotypes to a different degree.

Asians have been depicted as the “model minority” for as long as we can remember - and maybe there is truth to that statement. All of the stereotypes associated with that give us standards to live up to: we’ll be successful, we’ll be good at math and science and all things that are the standard definition of smart, we’ll be whatever, because we grow up listening to the same things over and over again. But they make us sound smart! They make us sound great! Yeah, they do. And that’s why the world tends to dismiss it. Because 'positive' stereotypes can’t be rude! No way! We’ve become accustomed to the way that these comments are thrown at us (almost casually), and the amount of Asians that aren’t bothered by it amazes me.

We have standards in our own culture, and standards here. We’re expected to be both simultaneously even when they contradict. Do I compromise my culture for the sake of being accepted here in America? Do I shove my family and my history behind my back for the sake of being the societal norm here?

Recently, there’s been an increase in the number of teens embracing their passions - the internet has made the world so much more accessible, and everything we love and hate exists on the same screen. But on the other hand, there’s still a growing amount of pressure on teens to compromise those interests because of money. I think the people who most often fall victim to that ideal are Asians and Asian Americans. (Again, I’m sure everyone deals with it.) We grow up believing that in order to be even acknowledged, we need to be better than every other person we know. More specifically, we have to be better than all of the other Asians. We trade in passion for AP classes, art classes for SAT prep up to five years in advance, we compromise who we are and who we want to be for who we’re told to be.

By Ry X

1 comment

  1. I loved that first segment by Faith, and the visual is just as powerful! It's a very personal take with a beautifully captivated turning point. The second segment by Cath seems to pose a lot of questions that seem to unfortunately be ignored in the mainstream. However I sort of feel like the two segments are disjointed from each other; as if they aren't the same article? They have very different narrative styles to me. They're both amazing, to be sure, but they don't feel like they belong together except for the topic.