Dear Asian Youth,
“Just like Daddy,” six-year-old me wanted to be an electrical engineer.
My dad has been working with computers for most of his life, similar to my mom, who is also an engineer. My cousin, three years elder to me, wanted to be a road engineer - his parents work in engineering too. Many of my family members and family friends were engineers. And if it was not engineering, it was medicine.
As a little kid, I only saw two avenues in my future: engineer or doctor. My parents never pushed me toward either path, but I still held myself to the expectation that I would pursue one. Watching shows like Phineas and Ferb and Jessie, I found nothing weird about the awkward, nerdy stereotype that Baljeet and Ravi perpetuated. That’s how it’s supposed to be, I thought to myself.
In fact, I had no idea how heavily my environment and the media I consumed influenced my perspective until I read Paul Kalanithi's When Breath Becomes Air, in which Dr. Kalanithi is an author as well as a doctor. The book was not even about South Asian culture. Instead, it was Dr. Kalanithi’s pursuit of an English degree that flipped a switch inside my head. At that time, the only Indian-born authors and poets I knew were all from the 19th and 20th centuries, and all their works were translated into English. Dr. Kalanithi’s book- in which he is the main character- portrayed his Indian-American experience in a way that I could relate with my own childhood.
It was then that I realized I wanted to be something “unusual.” It took fourteen years for me to question my beliefs about what my future “should” look like to understand that my ethnicity or background should not dictate my career choices. This is the reason why I am writing this letter- to tell you that representation matters.
Maybe if I grew up with Devi, the main character in Never Have I Ever, on Netflix, instead of Baljeet and Ravi, I would have wanted to be an actress. Maybe if twelve-year-old me saw Rishi Sunak elected to the British premiership, I would have known that politics was an option for me too. The truth is, I am not bitter about being unable to experience these milestones at a younger age, rather, I am excited. I am proud of the era of change we are currently living in and I am ecstatic that my twelve-year-old cousin can watch Simone Ashley and Charithra Chandran on Netflix’s Bridgerton and feel the confidence Kate and Edwina exude on the show.
It is important that we diversify our workforce, not just to bring new cultural perspectives into different industries, but to inspire our future generations to make choices based on their personal interests, rather than the interests of others. Seeing people who look like me succeed in diverse roles in the media opened my eyes and made me realize that Asians exist and belong in all kinds of industries, and that no field is “unusual” for us.
Editors: Marie Hong, Lang Duong, Hailey Hua