By: Katie Hui
To some people – most people, actually – we all look the same, eat the same thing, speak the same language, and come from the same place.
My parents both immigrated from Asia to America – my father was born in Hong Kong, while my mother was born in Vietnam. Both, driven and extremely hard working individuals who worked all their lives to get to where they are today. Growing up as a first generation Asian-American, I have been exposed to many common misconceptions about my race and earned a fair share of insecurities as a result.
Throughout my childhood, I have always been the outcast at my school. Being the only Asian in most my classes, I was the minority. I never really noticed that it was an issue until one day during lunchtime, I was sitting down with my Caucasian friend, my third grade year, when I was called “ling ling,” by this Caucasian boy. At first, I was a bit confused since no one had ever called me that name before. Me, being the fragile child I was, I just stood there with a vague expression. He looked at me and just laughed, along with his other Caucasian friends.
“You don’t get it?” he asked.
“No…” I said firmly.
He then began to use his index finger and stretched out the outer corners of his eyes to make them more narrow and slanted to imitate my Asian eyes. Him and his friends began laughing hysterically at me. I can feel a rush of blood through my head- my face getting hot red like a fever; I was embarrassed. It hurt me because there was no one just like me, to stand up for me, and being the shy little Chinese girl I was, did not help. I was naive and helpless, so I believed him. I was the only “yellow” one out of the whole white palette. When I came home, my mother asked me what was wrong. I did not tell her. My mother was always protective of me; I did not want to worry her. So, I just never spoke up about it.
In middle school, things got a little better for me. I went to a school with more diversity, but still consisted of mainly Caucasians, Latino/as, and a sprinkle of Asians in the mix. Even though there were some Asians in my classes, I noticed that we just made up only about two out of thirty students in the entire class. At the age of thirteen, I had many insecurities build up inside of me. I felt lost in my own community. I hated reality, people, everything.
Fast forward to highschool, things changed a lot for me. My school was extremely diverse with a mix of different races. However, Asians were still one of the minorities within the school. During my freshman year, one of my friends asked me to be a model for him since he wanted to practice photography and I wanted to help. It was a lot of fun so I kept doing it. The results turned out amazing and my face was able to get out to the media faster than I have ever expected. However, it was not always rainbows and sunshines. A Caucasian photographer reached out to me through Instagram and asked me to shoot, so we planned it. On the day of the shoot, everything was fine until he began to make racial comments on my physical appearance, specifically my eye shape.
“Maybe if your eyes weren’t so squinty, you’d look prettier. You look like every other Asian.” he told me.
These little remarks regarding my “Asian” appearance really took a toll on my emotions. I did not know how to act, so I kept quiet again. Seeing all these girls on social media that looked nothing like me made me feel like what he told me, might’ve been true. There wasn’t much Asian representation in the media anyways. But, as time went on, I started modeling again in January of 2018, with an Asian American photographer who shared his personal story about being an Asian American in the photo community which inspired me to continue this journey. I wanted to prove all of the people that doubted me from the start, so I began shooting ever since and never stopped. Over time, there has been nothing but growth and positivity. I have accepted my differences and used modeling as a platform for me to showcase that I am not like what society perceives me as.
Fast forward to December of 2018, I decided to create a big collab project called Exposure 19 which consisted of 25 Asian American models/photographers from different ethnic groups. I called this project “Exposure,” because I came to the realization that many people are not truly exposed to the Asian culture and I wanted to change that. This shoot was to showcase the unique features of the models since there is a common misconception that all Asians look the same. I wanted this shoot to inspire and empower the Asians out there who may feel like they don’t belong. This project will be turned into a self published magazine which me and my team are working hard on and will be out in May of 2019. Being one of the youngest people on the team and setting this up was extremely draining, but knowing that I can make a difference in my community, made it worth it. It taught me to be strong and taught me that I can be a leader and not like the same naive Chinese girl I once was. I am more than that, and so are you.
Katie Hui is currently a social media influencer. She works with online companies to boost their revenue through advertising and marketing.