I remember the day I learned that everything is personal.
I remember sitting down with my dissertation supervisor to explain my thesis.
‘What have you chosen to write about?’ He asked.
‘Well, it’s a bit personal…’ I started.
‘All academic papers are personal,’ he answered.
Huh, thought I. I was writing about the healing power of immersive theatre, after a few months of living alone in London, and finding community and comfort in repeat performances of Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man. The theatre saved me, and it must be saving others too.
I thought this was exceptionally personal. But my supervisor helped me see that everyone is led to write about what they do because it’s personal to them. And if something as theoretical as academics is personal, everything is personal.
I feel the same way about activism.
Doing good in the world is something that is relevant to each of us in different ways. Hosting meetings of The EdinBurrow (my community Harry Potter Alliance chapter) shows me how every time when we check in on ‘what matters to us’, world issues connect back to our lives.
Last month’s topic was ‘Beyond Black Panther: Representation in Film’. I have been passionate about this topic ever since I realised that growing up there were never characters who looked like me on tv (except Kiki from Kiki’s Delivery Service and the boys in Big Hero 6. They are both animated films, and the latter wasn’t released until 2014). I’m half-Korean, and there are very few Asians on screen, let alone half-Asians.
And honestly: I probably would have pursued a career in musical theatre if Hamilton had happened sooner.
As a kid, I didn’t know that a director told my mom I wasn’t cast as one of the Von Trapp children because ‘it wouldn’t look believable’.
As a teenager, the only roles for which I was considered in my high school’s productions were Chinese and Japanese.
I didn’t quite put this together until my senior year. I didn’t realise that this prejudice was at play, let alone know how to rebel against it.
These directors meant well. But the silence surrounding the issues is what hurt me the most. I wish we could have had an open conversation about casting and race, rather than a (white) director making the decision awkwardly and silently.
I didn’t know that this mattered to me.
As a senior in high school, I was on a focus group for Actors’ Shakespeare Project (my favourite theatre company in Boston, btw). I was asked whether I would be more interested in attending a production with an Asian woman in the cast.
I had never – ever – thought about this before, but I didn’t need any time to consider it. I was surprised by the instant and automatic answer that left my lips: “Yes!”
Of course I care most about the quality of the production and the acting rather than the background of the actor. But when the question was asked I realised that it was never something I had seen, or expected to see. But how freaking amazing it would be to feel connected in a way I had never experienced.
I could get frustrated and angry about being underrepresented and discriminated against.
And for many years I have been.
But I find it more productive to do something about it. Even a little bit. For the world, and for my wellbeing.
Every day, I challenge myself to make shifts on the way I talk about race and representation. Every opportunity, I challenge myself to further the conversation, and invite people in.
For me, deciding to do something – and identifying what that thing is – is self care.
Activism = Self Care.
I cry every time I watch the opening to the 2016 Tony Awards. Five little girls are onstage representing the five actresses nominated for Best Actress in a Musical. One of them looks like me as a kid.
“Don’t wonder if this could be you, it absolutely could be”, James Corden sang, as the lights dim on the kids and are replaced with the nominated actors, including Phillipa Soo, an Asian-American woman who not only played a leading role on Broadway, but that role was a white American historical figure.
I am so happy for the theatre kids growing up watching that performance on tv. I am so happy for the kids who look like me, and for those who don’t, but saw in that performance someone who looks like them.
But I am also numb with the reminder that as a society, when it comes to accepting and celebrating our differences, we have a long way to go. That Tony Awards performance happened the same day as the Orlando shooting at a gay nightclub.
The strength and grace with which so many individuals during that ceremony acknowledged the tragedy and their commitment to making change in the world is empowering.
A heroine speaks up about what she believes in.
A heroine is a conversation starter, and a listener.
Experiences give her strength, and adversary grows courage.
A heroine takes care of herself to take care of the world.
She also takes care of the world to care for herself, and to respect her past.
I would love to know: What matters to you? Have you ever had a moment when you realised that a personal issue was a political one, that you wanted to do something about?
P.S. One week left to enrol in the Rebel Heroine Retreat, a day of yoga, tea, and self development for courageous women.
Meet us in Edinburgh to rest deeply, prep for your personal kind of rebellion, and join our band of super-heroines.