I used those techniques to deal with my own fractured identity. Some days I felt more Asian than others. Other days, I had no clue what it meant to be Asian. I lived according to how I felt or was perceived in any given circumstance. Eventually, I realized—I am both Asian and not Asian. I was raised by a strict Korean mother and a super traditional American father. This made me different, but it also makes me more global. So I went out into the world to test these identities out there. In particular, recent trips to Asia created a unity in my sense of self and in the world. I began to see that we create boundaries to feel safe and secure, but that somewhere else, we are all Others. Therefore, there really is no Other.
Now I feel really happy to simply be both. Or neither. I can rest in that which is.
AE: Can you elaborate more on how you ‘rest in what is’? This evokes to me the philosophical concepts of being in the present moment as elaborated in Taoism or Zen Buddhism. How does that relate to struggling with racialized experience in the United States?
Sophia: Okay, you got me. While I have studied Taoism and Zen in the past, recently I have been deep into the study of traditional Tibetan Buddhism. (Notably, with the Venerable Dzigar Kongtrül Rinpoche and his own teaching organization, Mangala Shri Bhuti.) That philosophy has definitely seeped into my consciousness. I was raised in a strict Christian context (Lutheran, church every Sunday, youth group on Tuesday nights), but Eastern ways of thinking definitely resonate more. Most of them inherently operate from a viewpoint of openness.
Much of our suffering comes from submitting to dualistic modes of thinking. Things are either good or bad, right or wrong. Really, it is our attachment to believing that this is how things truly are that causes suffering. Once we start to think this way, we close down on the thing we are considering. It cannot possibly exist at its true potential with such a limited view of it in place.
I find this incredibly illuminating within this specific context. Because “Asian” and “White”—those are labels, right? I am pinning myself down to an ethnic identity. However, it’s not the labels themselves that are problematic. We need those to communicate and it’s amazing that we created these arbitrary sounds we can use with one another to describe otherwise indescribable phenomena. But I have a light-heartedness about my identity, no matter what challenges I have endured, because I know that’s not the true essence of all that I am. If someone projects something on me, I am aware that is their own attachment to ideas and concepts that are just not real. I find that liberating. I can play with that, to return to the metaphor of acting.
I want to clarify that I’m not minimizing racism on any level. I have experienced flat-out racism, as well as microaggressions on a near-daily basis. I don’t think anyone should be pigeonholed into anything less than a full expression of who they are. Furthermore, no one should be subject to violence on account of these limited beliefs.
I categorize myself for the sake of communication with other human beings. But do I believe I am one static identity? No way! So call me what you want, but I feel completely free of that.
Part two continues here.
AE is a multi-ethnic migrant artist who has lived in New York City for the last few years & is originally from the tiny, highly-militarized island city-state of Singapore in Southeast Asia. See more artwork at their website.
Sophia Remolde is a nomadic artmaker largely based in NYC, Japan, and various locations by the sea and trees. Her work can be found at her website.