by Lisa Vo, Creative Writing
When I was younger, I saw my culture very differently from how I see it now. There was no one back then like me that I could look up to unlike how things are in the present day. The world has evolved immensely in the past 18 years that I’ve been alive as far as representation goes which is great. But as a kid, I didn’t see any characters on television or famous celebrities who were also Vietnamese. I think this impacted me in some psychological way, because I wanted to be like the people that I actually saw, not who I was. It was internalized racism against myself which I feel embarrassed to even admit, but my childhood wouldn’t have been my childhood without this specific aspect. I felt very isolated and unheard by people who weren’t my own race.
Of course, I did know of some Asian characters on television and in the mass media. Albeit, mainly stereotypical or unrealistically portrayed which didn’t help much. Still, none of them were Vietnamese. I bet I’m not the only person in my community that feels there’s a significant lack of stories that are shared specifically by kids that come from Vietnamese families. I don’t know why this is. I have a few theories though. Perhaps, we get overshadowed because that’s the way it’s always been, and it’s just normalized like most things. There’s a plethora of Korean, Chinese, and Japanese people out there who gain more recognition with their stories. Maybe it’s because they’re more willing to share them.
Of course, these people do have a right to claim the representation that Asians still need. I do feel somewhat connected to stories put out there by members of the Asian community who aren’t my own ethnicity. It’s also nice to just turn on the television, go to the movie theater, listen to a song, or watch a video online and feel proud that someone who looks like me is behind these creations. I feel a bit of this invisible pressure to make whatever creation I put out into the world (specifically books) to be a top-notch, 100% accurate, revolutionary portrayal of Vietnamese people. I guess that’s never going to go away, because I can’t change who I am and the way society functions is going to affect that. But at the same time, I’d like to just make whatever genuine concoction of my own imagination I come up with as entertaining and relatable as possible to a wide variety of audiences, not just people who look like me.
There’s also a part of me that wishes for my characters to be seen just as people and not shake the media for being revolutionary in that way. And wouldn’t that just be the perfect world? As for now, I hope representation continues to evolve and blossom into something that is normalized. It’ll always be important, and it’ll always be necessary to make others feel seen.