With everything going on in the world, especially this year, it has forced me to take a step back and self-reflect.
It took me a long time to realize how poorly I’ve been treating myself for years and how I allowed others to do the same.
I remember the first time my mom made me lunch to bring to school. It was one of my favorite Laotian dishes. I remember being so excited about it. In the cafeteria, one of the kids looked at my food and said, “Ew, that looks weird!” Others chimed in and told me how terrible it smelled. So I threw it away. I even told my mom to stop making any more lunches for me.
I was ashamed and embarrassed.
I was only six years old.
From then on, I began to hide parts of myself: my culture and my identity. I became the “token” Asian friend, the “whitewashed” Asian. I’d shrug off all the jokes and comments my friends made about Asian people.
They were my friends, so they couldn’t be racist, right?
I’d tell myself over and over: They didn’t mean any harm. I shouldn’t be so sensitive.
The more excuses I made for people, the smaller I became.
I’ve encountered so many peers, teachers, coworkers, and authoritative figures who would take a quick look at my last name and dismissed it by saying things like, “Oh, that’s so long! I’m not even going to try to pronounce that!” or “Can I just call you ‘Nancy T.’ instead?” And I’d comply. Before I got married, several people expressed how excited they were for me to finally change my last name to something shorter. It was almost like they were relieved, as if learning how to say my last name was some kind of burden to them. But again, I laughed it off and agreed.
For years, I suffered in silence and kept shrinking myself for the comfort of others.
I’m not going to do that anymore. I’m so tired of feeling small and insignificant. Every day I’m slowly learning, healing, and growing. I’m learning how to forgive myself for being so unkind. I’m learning how to heal my inner child by reminding her, You deserve to be heard and seen. You are allowed to take up space. I’m learning how to show up for myself, to love and honor every part of me, both my Laotian and American cultures.
I’m learning to speak my truth, no matter how terrifying it is.