By: Aria Mallare
Technology has a prominent presence in the world we live in and the world that we could live in. It’s everywhere from in our pockets to on the moon, and it continues to shape the way that we learn and communicate. My first introduction to this world of endless possibility was at the happiest place on earth, Walt Disney World. One of the first rides that I ever went on was the It’s Tough to be a Bug! ride at Animal Kingdom. The ride used 3D filming techniques, audio-animatronics, and other special effects that made audience members feel like bugs were crawling over them or like they were getting sprayed with bug repellant. Throughout the show, I would ask my parents how the bugs could fly off the screen or where the smell of stink bug was coming from. After they did their best to explain how some of the special effects were achieved, I was convinced that the engineers who had come up with everything were more magical than Tinker Bell. For the longest time, I wanted to become an Imagineer (someone who designs and implements a new and imaginative technology) and learn how to build roller coasters, create virtual realities, and bring to life what only existed in my imagination. I wanted to make magic. Even as I approached high school, I fell in love with movies about worlds in outer space, superheroes, and time travel. I was obsessed with how they did the CGI for the aliens, how they were able to make the lasers come from the hero’s eyes, and how they could animate such intricate landscapes in mere children’s movies. However, when dreams are not nurtured they tend to fade and as I got older, those ambitions seemed more like fantasies.
Growing up, I couldn’t name a single woman in tech, let alone an Asian woman. According to STEMConnector, only 26% of the workers in STEM are female, and of that only 17% are Asian. Not seeing someone who looked like me made an impact on how I envisioned who I could be and as a result of not being represented in STEM roles, I felt like there wasn’t a place for me in that field, or like maybe I was going in the wrong direction. During this time, I was getting told that as an Asian I was supposed to be smart, I was supposed to be good at math, I was supposed to be good at science. Of course, I wanted to go into STEM, I was a nerd anyway, in fact, why did I want to learn how to make lightsabers when I should be studying to become a doctor? Along with not seeing myself in the place I wanted to be, I felt like I was just reinforcing the stereotype about Asians and academics. Like I was being a “worker bee” trying to break the bamboo ceiling. Like somehow it was horrible for me to work hard so that I could invent the technologies of tomorrow.
Freshman year of high school, my younger sister and I went to see a sci-fi movie about jaegers and aliens, Pacific Rim Uprising, a just movie with only a 44% on Rotten Tomatoes that we watched to pass time on a Sunday. Yet, to me, it meant a lot more than that. One of the key characters was a 15-year old girl named Amara who was a brilliant hacker and engineer who build her own Jaeger from scrap parts. Even though she looked nothing like me, we were about the same age and I could see myself in her. Intelligent, resourceful, and capable. As I continued to watch the movie, it got even better. CEO and tech wizard Liwen Shao dressed in a white suit and heels, hair tied back in a tight bun in the back of her head, and if her outfit doesn’t express power enough, a facial expression that screams “I run the world” walks off of a private jet leading an entourage of officials. Seeing her in a lab coat and heels, tablet in hand, surrounded by scientists and engineers taking orders from her, with technologies that she created all around the lab was inspiring. It was that moment where I was a child marveling at the roller coasters at Disney World again, thinking I want to be her, I want to do that. In Liwen Shao, a fictional character in a movie about mind-controlling aliens, I saw everything that I could be.