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Letter to You

Updated: Mar 26

You don’t remember me. Why would you? For you, it was just another day at school. For me, it was the day you took my voice.

2017, my junior year of college: the Honors advanced writing class. The assignment was for everyone to give a presentation on whatever they wanted. I chose to do mine on the lack of Asian representation in the media. I had never been given a chance to talk about the subject in a formal setting, so this seemed like as good an opportunity as any.

I spent hours doing my research and making my PowerPoint pop with colors and images. It was a project I was excited to work on—it was a glimpse into the struggles within my community.

During the presentation, I felt the energy of the topic coursing through me. It started as a spark. As I spoke, the spark grew into a fire that warmed me from the inside out. I was angry at the lack of positive representation and disappointed I had to even talk about it in the first place. But I was glad I had a platform to spread awareness. Public speaking made me nervous, and I was worried I would stutter or stumble over my words. But even I could hear the articulation and clarity in my voice, reinforced by my passion for the topic.

After I finished, the other students asked me questions and shared their comments. I don’t recall any of them. But then you raised your hand. Do you remember what you said? I doubt it. Allow me to refresh your memory.

You said, “That’s cool, but don’t we have more important things to worry about?”

The energy rushed out of me, the fire extinguished by an arctic gale. I froze in place. I heard your words, but my mind was still trying to register their meaning. Emotions churned in my stomach. I suppressed the bitter bile rising in my throat. I was acutely aware of the rest of my surroundings. Someone near me wore too much perfume, the cloying scent making me nauseous. The sunlight streaming through the window cast a harsh glare in my eyes. The wooden podium where I gave my presentation bit into my fingers where I gripped it.

I didn’t have the strength and the voice I do now.

So I agreed with you.

I nodded my head, more out of instinct than choice. “Yeah, I guess we do,” I said. The words barely came out, but the betrayal they held thundered in my ears. I sat back down, and the next student started their presentation.

I wish another student had spoken up. I wasn’t the only Asian student or student of color. I couldn’t have been the only one who felt strongly about the topic. Maybe they were just as shocked as I was to say anything. Maybe they hadn’t found their voices yet, either.