Culture and IdentityHomeThe Creativity Issue

How I Let Go of Fear and Embraced My Creativity

By March 15, 2019 71 Comments

By: Alice Ko

 

“You never leave your bubble, Mom. You’re afraid of everything.”* As my scene partner uttered these
words to me during rehearsal, I was reminded of my own mother and all those times I told her that I’d
do something and she’d look at me and say, “Are you sure it’s safe?”. My mom is lovely and caring
and she’s supportive of my choices for the most part but sometimes I just want to tell her to stop
imposing her own fears onto me. I already have enough of my own doubts and don’t need to take on
someone else’s.
Her doubts and fears are not unfounded. I am a performer—an actor/singer who likes to play piano,
paint and take pictures in my spare time. Even though I don’t have a degree in fine arts or
performance, I’ve always felt that I was meant to be out there sharing my craft with the public. When I
was 17, I came home from my piano lesson one day and told my mother that my piano teacher
suggested I consider being a music major and I wanted to try it. She looked at me and said, “Music
teachers say that to all of the kids. What would you even do with a music degree?”. As any good
Asian daughter would, I listened to my mother and picked chemical engineering as my major. It’s
much easier to fit into the family narrative than to venture out into the unknown even though chemical
engineering is one of the hardest fields of study. I went along because I didn’t want to be the black
sheep of the family.
We all know that one, the one that all the relatives talked about behind their backs …”Oh, did you
hear? Cousin Mei’s daughter dropped out of school…to become a hairdresser… in Greece!” (I can’t
live without my hairstylist, by the way.) Being a creative is kinda like that in Asian families so I can see
where my mom’s doubts came from. Go ahead and count how many people in your family works in a
creative field versus how many are doctors, engineers, and accountants. I can tell you that in my
family, we have 1 doctor, 1 nurse, 2 optometrists, 1 accountant, at least 4 engineers, and 1 rocket
scientist. Yes, an actual rocket scientist! Even strangers have an opinion about my profession. One
time I was performing as the lead of an early music play and an elderly woman came up to me
afterwards. I thought she was going to congratulate me or say something nice because that’s what
you do after a concert. Instead, she asked me, “I see that your last name is Ko. Are you by chance
related to the famous neurosurgeon Dr. Ko at UCSF?” I said no, to which she replied,” Oh… don’t
worry, there’s already a famous Ko in your family.” and walked away. What? Didn’t she hear that we’re
not related? Wait, did she just give me an off-handed insult? That got me thinking: Is that how my
family truly feels about me being a performer?
In a culture that values community over individuality, fitting in and conforming are so engrained in us
that it’s as second nature as breathing. Even though my parents are outwardly supportive of my career
as a performer, I always wondered how they truly felt. Even though I don’t think that’s important in the
long run because at my age, I don’t need their validation to feel good about myself. But as someone
who loves her parents, I want to be sure that I do them right by the career path that I’ve taken. I don’t
want them to become the parents of the black sheep of the family that the relatives talk about. I want
to be the best that I can be and make a good living, so everyone will see that the way to a good life is
not limited to just one path. I want it so badly sometimes that I wonder if I’m “doing it right”?
So much of the Asian culture is about doing things the right way. My parents once said to me that
Asians don’t make as good actors as Westerners do because Westerners are able to be more free
while Asians are uptight. While they recognize the symptoms they don’t realize the cause. Creativity
itself requires a person to experiment and find her own voice. It often involves trial and error. If you are
always thinking about whether you are doing it right or not, how can you be free to explore and
express yourself? Asians are not better or worse actors than Westerners, they just go around with
more cultural history that might hinder their path to express freely and creatively.
As I see more movies and TV shows with Asian story lines and Asian cast, I am hopeful. Not only
because it is important to have representation and role models for the next generation of Asian Americans, but it is also a huge nod to Asian creatives–that being an actor or a writer can be a
legitimate livelihood. If we can normalize a creative career within the Asian community, parents will be
more open to their children going into the creative field. We will no longer be seen as the eccentric
black sheep of the family or the one who doesn’t conform to the community norm. We can relax and
not put so much pressure on ourselves to “do it right” and explore our creativity fully. It is only then,
that we can be truly proud of our work. I can finally be proud to call myself a performer and be certain
that I am making my parents proud and *that* is a very Asian thing.

Alice Ko is a performer: actor/singer living in Los Angeles. Originally from Hong Kong, she grew up in Northern California and received a degree in Chemical Engineering from UC Berkeley. Eventually, she found her way to her true calling of performing. When Alice is not working, she enjoys the beach, a good meal, reading, and of course, watching a good film

Find Alice here:

Twitter: @ActressAliceKo

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