It all started when I turned one-year-old. In South Korean culture, the first birthday symbolizes an important milestone in one’s life, and it’s a day filled with food, family and games. Perhaps the most important aspect of the festivities is the “doljabi,” in which the baby of honor is placed in front of an array of objects meant to represent different paths the baby may take in life. For example, a string equals a long life, a stethoscope represents a career as a doctor and a dollar bill entails a future filled with riches. Basically, it’s a long-term horoscope reading for babies.
When I was placed in front of the vast array of items, I immediately reached my grubby hands toward a book, according to my mother. At the time, my family was overjoyed because they took the book to symbolize a future as a highly intelligent scholar. Growing up, I understood it to represent my love for reading. But since I began working at The Daily Californian as an editor five semesters ago, I’ve come to redefine the meaning of that fateful book as characterizing my love for stories — and for finding the right words to tell mine in.
Even though my work at the Daily Cal has been primarily that of an editor, I’ve had the opportunity to pitch, write and publish columns on topics I was passionate about. For the first time in my life, I was given a tangible, impactful platform through which I could talk about anything I wanted. And yet, this turned out to be harder than I thought.
With so much free rein to pitch a column, thoughts and experiences I had ruminated on throughout the entirety of my childhood suddenly rushed to the forefront of my headspace, clawing over each other in hopes of pushing past the mental and emotional walls I had spent so long constructing and making it onto paper and out into the world.
Writing for the Daily Cal gave me the push to finally start confronting and taking a deep look at my various identities, most notably as a first-generation Korean American who spent most of her time growing up ashamed of her heritage and painfully aware of the ever-complex, systemic power dynamics defining her every experience, every interaction, every thought. In brainstorming and writing columns, I began to navigate and break down the ways in which my individual experiences growing up have informed my worldview and how I see myself taking space and making space in the world. From concepts of beauty to mental health to even an apology letter to my inner child, I’ve been able to explore the messy, magical expanse of my identity and my story.
One of the most personally meaningful stories I’ve written is “Anger was never the answer,” a column examining my relationship with and understanding of my parents, both of whom immigrated to the United States to raise their two children, and how they sacrificed much of their own stories in the hopes of granting me and my brother extra chapters in ours.
The columns I write are filled with words that used to get painfully stuck in my throat when I tried to tell them, and they still, at times, get stuck in my head when I try to write. But I’ve come to realize that these are the ones that most need to be told and released. To me, writing for the Daily Cal means letting out the story even if no one listens and nothing else changes — at the very least, I’ve been given the chance to tell my own story the way I wanted.
There is a substantial amount of power to be found in words. To be able to harness this, to use words to name yourself in the way that you choose, is an act of resistance in itself. I am grateful to have a public platform through the Daily Cal to tell these stories.
While much of the writing I’ve done has centered around personal healing through internal, turmoil-filled journeys toward cultural understanding, I recognize that it is not possible to heal oneself without true concern for the healing of others.
To seek self-love and healing without simultaneously thinking about how they are connected to the broader context of social justice and the health of others is, to me, self-centered dysfunction. When I write about my experiences, I am also writing about the ways in which these pains, sorrows and trauma are inherently born out of systems that continue to affect and damage the lives of my community and beyond.
The book I picked up on my first birthday represents my story as expressed through my writing, writing that documents my journey to love all that I am and have endured as part of a larger community. Self-care has become community care that seeks to break the multigenerational legacy of unaddressed trauma.
My story demands to be told, whether I have an audience or not.