When I was asked to write this article, I had three initial feelings:
1. I am not a writer.
2. I am not sure if I am a good choice to write for this series.
3. I would probably start the article with an ugly, poorly-formatted numerical list that is too meta to read smoothly but not meta enough to be cute.
So, I said yes. But, why? What voice could I contribute to this passionate collective of artists? Amazing, talented people who find a similarity and familiarity with me that I struggle to see myself?
I was adopted from Korea at 5 months old by my irreplaceable Mom and Dad, whose families together have completed the entire Caucasian genetic collection. I grew up in aggressively rural Carroll County, Maryland, and I could count on one hand the kids that looked like me in town. When classmates pulled the corners of their eyes back to imitate me, I squished mine together to imitate them. I asked to go by my Korean birth name in third grade. I placed second in my high school's men's pageant on a platform of in-your-face Asianness. Shortly afterward, I was harassed and run off the road while out with my girlfriend (joke's on the bullies in the Durango, my steely resolve and stereotype-smashing driver's skills in that moment led to a very fun time in my Camry once we got away). I almost got no FAFSA aid because they thought I was an illegal alien. I got a minority scholarship to a predominantly white college. I am named Brett. I am a Twinkie, a banana; I am a PC with Mac OS installed.
Tl;dr: I have always struggled to understand how I identify. I wouldn't give up my kimchi-with-mayonnaise background for anything, but it has made certain times lonely. I'm Asian by appearance and white by culture, but I live caught between the two.
This matters because these struggles can hold people back from their potential, their dreams, and their happiness. It matters because seeing someone who looked like me on tv as a child might have painted my goals and perceptions differently, and it may have changed the world's expectations and prejudices of me. Because the energy spent on confusion and insecurity could be put to better use. Because regardless of how much love and support you receive from your family and friends, it is a totally different feeling to sit down with a group of people who look like you and have experienced the judgment of a world that decides who you are by the way you look, and to have those people say, "Welcome, Brett. You're in the right place. We understand. Let's get to work."
I didn't know why I agreed to write for this series. I often feel like an imposter, both as an Asian person and an artist, and I surprised myself by taking this request. I realized it was because I feel safe with these Baltimore Asian Pasifika artists around me. And I feel inspired by their passion, driven by their successes, and grateful for their presence. Sometimes, you don't know you need something until you have it. That's why this matters, because everyone deserves the feeling of acceptance, belonging, and hope. They might not even know it's what they needed.
When I completed this article, I had three final feelings:
1. I am not a writer, but I wrote something from my heart.
2. I am a part of this series, this collective, and this family.
3. I would probably not be able to resist ending this in another awkward list meta-call-back disaster.
Written by Brett Messoria, Artist and Member of Baltimore Asian Pasifika Arts Collective.
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