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Breaking Stereotypes: I Am An Asian Teen With a Love For Theater

I am a 16-year-old Korean girl living in Seattle. Looking at my life, I’m in the type of circumstances that you might find amongst what society considers the “stereotypical Asians”.

Let’s rewind for a second and take a look at the course of my life. I spent the last eight years of my life thinking about college. I spent a huge amount of my life overly stressed and freaked out over my grades–I still do, to an extent. I participated in various educational summer programs before high school. I experienced a large amount of pressure from my parents to get straight As, which I only really did for one semester in all my years in school. I play a stringed instrument. I constantly stress over my future, and I’ve been taking advanced math and science classes since middle school. Naturally, I’m expected to do and want to do the usual–go to an Ivy college, go to law or medical school, and/or pursue a stable, STEM career.

And that’s where I veer off from the norm, whatever that’s supposed to be. Despite the fact that I do pretty STEM-heavy coursework, my true interests lie in social justice/change and theatre. In my experience, these are areas that most don’t associate with Asian people, at least with theatre. My passion for creating social change is the reason why I created my own magazine a year back, and my love for acting is the reason why I want to major in theatre in college and pursue it full-time afterwards. From the people around me, I get mixed reactions. Some feel like I’m bold and a major risk-taker–they’re not wrong, in some sense. Others encourage me, but are still skeptical. No one has outright told me to not pursue it, but all have shown me a layer of skepticism–which is understandable.

Wanting to pursue acting as a profession isn’t just something that is hard for Asian people to pursue, everyone struggles with it–regardless of your race. However, even without the numbers, it’s clear that whitewashing is a huge issue in Hollywood, and not just with Asians; it affects all people of color. But, the fact is, Hollywood is so dominated by white people that it just makes it impossibly hard, as an Asian person, to even have one foot in the door. When I talk to some of my peers and tell them that I want to be a theatre major, they ask me what I specifically want to do. “Acting,” I tell them. As a second thought, I add “screenwriting” because that usually gets more respect and acceptability amongst people I know. In fact, one of my classmates responded, telling me “you should go for screenwriting. It suits you better”. It was a baffling sentiment, considering he had never seen me act before, nor had he viewed any of my screenplays before. People have this mindset that Asians don’t fit in the Hollywood or theatre industry, which is a product of stereotyping and whitewashing.

My desire to pursue acting is based mostly in passion for the craft. However, I have also recently become motivated by my wish to play my part in helping to diversify and change the faces of how society commonly perceives Hollywood.

I refuse to force myself into the mold that is the inaccurate stereotype of the “model” Asian in America. Being Asian, it becomes hard to go for fields that aren’t typically pursued by Asian people–such as the modern music industry, acting, journalism, politics, and visual art–and when we do try to go for these fields, discouraging remarks are thrown at us. I don’t want to stop myself from living the life that I want because of these inaccurate, racially based, preconceived ideas. I’d rather work the ten times as hard expected of me and push back against prejudices and these racial boundaries.

Yes, perhaps this is a naive sentiment. But, in my mind, taking the risky, more enjoyable path seems better than confining myself to an unhappy, generic life.

If you, a person of color, find yourself in a similar predicament as me, allow yourself to take a few risks in your life, and do what you love, regardless how whimsical. At the risk of sounding painfully cringey and cliché, follow your dreams because after all, you only live once.

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Written by Deborah Kwon

Deborah Kwon is a 16-year-old from Seattle. She loves singing, writing, and acting.

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