October 22, 2017

REDDY | Why Asian-Americans Should Love Themselves

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I asked a boy out on a date for the first time. I knew I caught feelings when I wasn’t just jealous. He’s a vision of my inner self-image, and I guess all this self-love has been working since I just think he’s so sunny and dreamy and extra.

I asked him out real timid-like in a text because I got a 40 on the first prelim, but I wouldn’t have done it in person even if I was still enrolled. As soon as I pressed send, I instantly regretted it. He only had an insufferable Cornell Crushes post and a sanitized Facebook profile picture and wall to go off of. He doesn’t know the “real” me. The firebrand. If I had it my way, caked-on mascara and painted-on jeans would sell sex. My columns would sell wokeness. He doesn’t know that I have lashes for days or enlightened thoughts. He probably thinks I’m gasping for air. And he’d be right.

My profile picture isn’t just of me. My sister stands to my right. Despite never usurping my “golden boy” title, she has been my fiercest defender — and makeup artist — since literally day one (a little later for the latter). Having the courage to write and ask him out makes me feel like I’m becoming my best self. If it weren’t for my family, however, I couldn’t dream of doing either. Unfortunately, living my truth also makes me feel like I’m becoming the worst brother and son. There was a time when I thought I fell in love, and later realized how disrespectful I was for abusing that word. I can’t be a firebrand because I love my family.

This truth rips me apart. At one extreme, I am tied down by nothing except a burning desire for freedom. I remain frustrated at oppression as it continues to desecrate lives, and feel unapologetic fierceness is the only means of survival.

At the other extreme, I am awash with guilt. It comes with the humanity that coldness forces me to erase, including that of the people I love. It’s easy to view people as subjects of an oppression built and strengthened over ages and across lands. It’s harder to accept that each individual lives the best that they can during the localized decades of their life, if they’re lucky. I am aware that being “split” is every Asian-American identity, but that’s not our fault. It would still be suffocating if I kept trying to be as non-stereotypical as possible, making myself into a stereotype in itself and supporting the notion that people of color are not capable of embodying the complexity of the human condition. We don’t have to sacrifice everything we were to become who we are.

Instead, I choose to confront my splitness. This requires the centering of the people in my life, starting with my loved ones. My greatest fear is being forced to play a supporting character in my own life, an injustice most Asian-Americans have experienced but are not necessarily aware of. I struggle against it by publishing the radical act of reflecting on what it means to be a gay brown boy, brother, son and maybe boyfriend someday; I don’t know. My mother, father and sister will probably never get to tell their stories in the same way I have perceived and erased theirs to tell mine. In doing so, I have dragged them into my own nightmare. To make matters worse, it’ll never be the one my parents thought would complete theirs. Instead of ignoring or relieving this tension, Asian-Americans should embrace it.

This may seem counterproductive, but it would actually bring the multiple dimensions of our identities into a public that has defined us all by one. Consciously engaging with our interconnectedness and intersectionality would strengthen our relationships and inspire new ones as we take up increasingly more space to exist. Existence compels individuals to accept their own humanity and, in turn, define their larger purpose within it. This wouldn’t be defining ourselves by oppression, but in awareness of, in spite of and in resistance against it. This is the first step towards establishing a real, reclaimed Asian-American community held together by love and support for one another and ultimately ourselves. Who am I to think I know her because she told me she’s pre-med? I expect other Asian-Americans to empathize with me in the same way that I’d do for her. They must look further into these seemingly polar narratives and see the similar structures between them and their own.

Two columns ago, I declared my wish to be reincarnated as a rich liberal, gay white man. In my last one, I implied it. By seeing more of the beauty in complexity and struggle, I have since felt more comfortable in my skin. I’m still dark though. Especially when I write.

If you get the now ironic theme of “Reddy, Set, Go!” then it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he initially said yes — a surprise — then went dark. It didn’t help that the status update breaking my Facebook fast was really out there. Apparently, being a two-faced rakshasa is a dealbreaker. Oh well. It was still a big step for me, and I’m still me. Anyways, back to the Google Doc.

 

Narayan Reddy is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at nreddy@cornellsun.com. Reddy, Set, Go! appears alternate Mondays this semester.