Mariko: I am okay with being recorded! You may record me!
Anna: [laughs] Okay, well, thank you for being willing to be interviewed and sharing your story.
M: Of course; thank you for interviewing me. I feel so flattered and, like, self-conscious but in a good way.
A: Yeah. You sounded like a very interesting person, and so I was just kind of like, yes! Her! Um, let’s say—let’s start with, I guess, your childhood, and how you were brought up.
M: Yeah, so, I am an only child. I think that’s played pretty heavily into my existence. I was born in San Jose, California—which is in the Bay Area, so Northern California—to my mom—who is a third-generation Japanese American, and her family is predominantly from the LA area—and to my dad—who is half-Japanese and half-black, and his mother is from Yokohama, and his dad is from North Carolina. And so, my dad’s… one of his, like—he’s a professor, and so one of his research focuses is Critical Mixed-Race Studies and doing a lot of academic work about what it means to be mixed and using that work in policies, like having the census—being able to check off more than one box for race on the census. That was a big thing that he was a part of and has published a lot of papers on the issue.
And so, I say all of this to the point that I think growing up, the concept of being mixed was really heavily prevalent to my identity. My parents, my father in particular, very much made sure that we talked about it, and that was something that was addressed, not in a really serious way, but just making a lot of effort to have a lot of access towards, especially books and other forms of media that had positive mixed-race representation and making sure that I felt comfortable talking through a lot of the inherent conflict and different issues that come up with being mixed. Those were definitely prevalent topics of conversation in my household. A lot of what I remember from growing up is being asked, or being told and asked, you know, people are gonna stop you at the supermarket and ask, “What are you?”, so you’re gonna need to have a response to that, or “What do you think about that?”, or just being aware that these things are happening. So that’s a big part of my childhood when I think about that.
I moved from Northern to Southern California. My family moved when I was three or four, so that was a really big thing that impacted me—just because I think the shift was really hard for me. We have some really close family friends in Northern California that I have a lot in common with and that I’m still really close to, so definitely their absence was certainly like a symbol for the larger forms of disconnectedness I felt was channeled into not being around those two friends anymore.
But I think a really good thing about growing up in Southern California, in LA, is that you have a really strong Japanese American community there. Part of the reason why we moved was because I had just gotten off the waitlist for this Japanese American Buddhist pre-school that has, like, a four or five-year waitlist. You put your kid’s name down when they’re born, basically, and hope that they get into the school. So we went there, and I think before that, I know my parents had had a lot of trouble apparently finding adequate daycare and adequate child supervision. I think both because, you know, whatever being gifted means, it definitely—being an intellectual woman of color was definitely not necessarily at the same space as other kids that age. And then also, just being in a predominantly white environment in the Bay Area made coming to LA and being a part of the community really important. I think that was definitely a really pivotal part of growing up. [I] was going to preschool and kindergarten in this space and then continuing to be involved in things like Japanese American Buddhist Girl Scouts, summer camps, sleepaway camps, and then in high school, leadership programs that talked a lot about what community was and what the history of the Japanese American experience in America has been. So that definitely played a really big role in my childhood in shaping who I would become. I was really, really lucky and fortunate to have a really good kindergarten teacher as well, so in terms of how that played in with—I say this with large air quotes—”gifted” childness; that was very helpful.
I think definitely the third thing—I remember a lot of my childhood as being very lonely and very isolated for a number of reasons. I think the combination of being an only child definitely played a part in that. There wasn’t necessarily anyone who was—I think what I’ve seen with a lot of kids here is that they have a sibling who also goes to Yale or a school like Yale that had this built-in support network of someone who gets, to a certain extent, what they’re going through. I didn’t really have that, and I didn’t really have that in the kids that were around me. When I started going to non-Asian American school at first, it was like, private school for supposedly gifted children. I really did not have a good time there even though when I think about it objectively, we were certainly learning above our grade level. It was a weird and white space, like Elon Musk’s kid now goes there; it was a weird time.
So I went to regular public school, but I was always being advanced through certain [curricula] or not in the same class as everyone else my age. I was either in a higher class, or they would bring me back down, and so there was a lot of moving around. I definitely felt a certain sense of alienation because of that. And I think a lot of my life has been figuring out how to communicate with other people in meaningful ways and how to just not have everything contained within myself. That was a lot of my elementary school experience. I know there were definitely also some complicated racial politics that I don’t know the full story about that went into that, but it’s a predominantly middle-class, upper-middle-class, good, very Jewish public school on the west side of California. I think that’s sort of the third theme that ran through—[it] was looking for intellectual companionship and looking for friends who were not just friends because we liked each other but also because they were interested in the same things. I thought a lot about that. I think a lot about that at Yale still. What do I look for in friendships and how to socialize with people because socializing is hard.
So, yeah, that was most of my childhood. I think a lot of coming to college has been coming to terms with the fact that I wasn’t happy about a lot of things, not recognizing what those things were, and having those things come out. Not in a bad way, just, “Ah. Okay. This is a more real picture of what I felt like was happening.” That being said, I’m really close to my parents. I’m on very good terms with them and very thankful for a lot of the stuff that they have done for me. I think if I hadn’t had parents who were so well-equipped to deal with the kind of child I was, that I could’ve turned out very differently. And so I am very very grateful for that. They are very cool people who I am very happy to be related to. And I think also being part of an only child is, if you’re gonna have a good relationship with your parents then it’s gonna be pretty close. So, yeah. Let’s see. What else. Childhood things. Yeah… yeah.
A: Okay, so you talked about, like, being intellectually gifted.
A: Was that something you found out as a young child? Or did your—is it kind of like, were you gifted in a certain skill, or was it just that your parents were just like, “Oh she looks smart” or “She seems smarter than everyone else,” so they put you—
M: Oh yeah. Yeah, yeah. So I was tested a lot. I think, apparently, I just developed mentally, just very different from what all the childhood development books said you should be like at this age. I think the nice thing about now being more adult is that more people have caught up. A lot of people’s maturity or intelligence, in different ways, has come out in the ways that you aren’t necessarily able to articulate or express, or even that you have experientially, when you’re like, six. But when I was four, five, and six, it was apparent that when I started talking, I didn’t talk with preliminaries. I noticed things that apparently are not normally—or like, that kids noticed, or I would notice patterns that people wouldn’t notice. I think when I started reading I was definitely reading stuff that was probably at middle school or high school level, in elementary school. Well, mitigating for appropriateness, but a lot of that, and so I think just the way that—especially [how] my vocabulary developed and things like that, it just was clearly different from other kids around me.
On top of that, the things that I was interested in, because of that, were also very different, and also not necessarily things that other kids have been exposed to, or things that the educational system wasn’t going to expose kids to. I wasn’t necessarily around a lot of Black people when I was growing up, and so a lot of the ways in which I identify with being Black was through reading things about mostly famous, incredibly intelligent black people. So I’d be like, “Wow, this concept of, you know, Ernest Just and his marine biology research is really interesting.” I distinctly remember thinking that was cool in first grade, where everyone else was like, “Let me talk about Zac Efron”—
M: And I was like, “But who is he?”
M: “What has he done for our oppressed communities anyway?” So I think that was just something that I realized. I mean, I know, yeah, I know that the test scores apparently backed that up. I have no idea what they are. I assume they’re sitting somewhere in storage. I think it was just something that I was very very conscious of. I wasn’t interested in playing the same games, I wasn’t interested in watching the same TV shows, and so, I don’t think—and I didn’t obviously, at the age of six, understand why liking things that other people liked or why being able to talk about things other people liked would be helpful in forming relationships because I just didn’t get, “Oh! If you can hold a conversation about, like, High School Musical, that gives you something to bond with other people over.” Very much passed me when I was six. So I think that was a sort of big thing. Then again, it’s evened out a lot as folks have gotten older, but when I was little, it was very discordant.
A: Did that—So, that mixed with your identity, did you have—
M: Wild-ass time.
A: Yeah. Did you have a hard time making friends?
M: I think a good part of it was—Yeah, again, I think, part of—
M: I think being that developmentally aware at a young age as a child of color meant that you were really aware of the oppression around you but not quite sure what was going on. Like, you would realize, “Oh, this teacher is treating this kid differently because they’re black,” or “Hmm, this is an example of bullying or manipulation,” or “Oh, politically-incorrect-white-female teacher, you shouldn’t say that.” And so, I think that is just very much combined with my personality of being pretty loud, being pretty honest and not being able to keep my opinion to myself, which I think, in a lot of ways, is rooted in honesty. I definitely was certainly challenging a lot of things at a very young age.
And I think there’s a lot to be said too about, like, what relation this has to being mixed, and that if you’re mixed, you’re—I’m gonna try to make this sound less academic—but basically the way you look and the ambiguousness of it, or your phenotypic ambiguity, is already gonna challenge a lot of people. Like, they’re gonna look at you and just be like, “what the actual… frick.” And so, that’s already—often that causes people to perceive you as threatening or, at least, confusing. Then that, added on top of the fact that I’m using five or six-syllable words on top of the fact that I’m calling people out on being racist or sexist or not interacting with children in a way that I thought was fair, or that I thought was healthy? I mean, I think it certainly set a lot of very interesting authority dynamics into play, and I think, in terms of how other parents perceived me, absolutely. In terms of how white male children and white males currently perceive me, absolutely, I think, what it means to be a threat or what it means to challenge preconceived notions of what being gifted looks like, and also how that manifests itself in the ways in which you speak and talk and care about things.
I know one of the big reasons my parents had pushed for so much academic rigorousness, and pushed for so much testing, and pushed for me to be really intellectually challenged at a young age, was because they were very worried that—given trends of over-disciplining or misinterpreting gifted behavior in black children—that I would essentially be labeled a juvenile delinquent, which happens a lot, so it was very much drilled into me from a young age that you need to look respectable, you need to lean on your intelligence—and brand it as intelligence—because, otherwise, if you’re not very clear about the fact that your intelligence is what you’re using to come to these conclusions, you’re gonna be seen as really loud, you’re gonna be seen as really disruptive, and you’re gonna be seen as—you’re not gonna be seen as curious, or like, intellectually challenged—you’re gonna be seen as problematic or challenging to a teacher. And so, the ways in which you talk, the ways in which you should ask questions, the ways in which you construct your argument, just need to be ten times better than a vaguely gifted white kid. So, I definitely felt a lot of pressure because of that, and I felt a lot of pressure academically to succeed because I think, I was construed as so threatening in a lot of different ways. That certainly carried through to here, but it was most prominent in high school. Yeah. It’s been an interesting time.
A: What happened in high school?
M: In high school… I think I definitely got, you know, some sort of pushback-related people. I knew, generally, sometimes white parents, especially, would be uncomfortable with me and the things I was doing, or the fact that I was doing them in middle school because I was certainly doing extracurriculars that weren’t necessarily what all the other kids were doing, in terms of publishing stuff or building projects or starting a theatre company or, I don’t know, whatever else I decided. I did a lot of random stuff in middle school. It was just sort of whatever I decided to do, and somehow I managed to get out of going to class a lot, so I just did quite a bit of things. I knew vaguely that people were gonna, you know, talk however they’re gonna talk about it, but I think, in high school, when grades started to matter, or when people thought grades started to matter, and when college applications started to matter, people—and also as people started talking more about what it means to occupy space given different forms of privilege—people definitely started getting more defensive, or a little bit more aggressive?
My school’s culture, in general, did not have one of supporting each other. Within the top 20 percent of students there, it was absolutely one of academic sabotage, like putting people down for being successful, so that the lower—like, if you drag other people down, then, therefore, you’ll be comparatively higher? That was a huge dynamic, so it was a huge thing of people separating. It was like, you wanted to be smart, but you didn’t want to be too smart. You wanted to be successful, but if you didn’t struggle, then that was considered bad. It was a lot of very performative-looking—like things were challenging, but also, yeah, again, you could do well, but you couldn’t do too well, because as soon as you started surpassing everyone else, people would get really upset.
People would get very upset about things I was doing outside of the classroom, or those things wouldn’t be given recognition to the same extent that things that weren’t as impressive were given. There’s this very specific white male student who got a lot of credit and recognition. Part of it was because I kept a lot of my stuff quiet, but they would equate a lot of the things we were doing even though they weren’t actually absolutely worth the same. Or [they] wanted to—made it difficult to accomplish things and then wanted to take credit for it. Like, the administration would make it very difficult to accomplish things that weren’t standardized, or in the normal curriculum, or the normal academic sphere of what students would be accomplishing, but if then one proceeded to do those things, then they would take credit for doing them. They’d be like, “Oh, this makes the school really good, will you let us publish a thing about it?” or “We’re gonna—Can we talk about it?” And so you’re just sorta like, “All right, okay. I’m doing these things in spite of you, not because of you, don’t trip.”
[audio recording cuts off]
A: Part two!
M: Part twooo! Everyone went to the same middle school and the same high school. Most people went to the same elementary school. Thankfully, I didn’t, but a lot of people had been to school with [each other], so like, everyone had already had all this built up beef and resentment, and “I remember what she said in this grade.” It literally was to the point where I talked to people in college, and they’re still upset about things that happened in fifth grade. So I think that, just, Culver City is really interesting because it’s in LA, but it’s its own city, and it very much, in a lot of ways, has a small-town mentality. In some ways, those things are really good. People really like their city, and people have multi-generational families here and went to their same high school as their mom and dad. All those things are really cute, and it’s really nice to be able to walk everywhere and see people you know from school outside of school, but on the other hand, it’s small.
M: It feels like a small town. Knowing that there were bigger ponds to be in was certainly something that also began to occur. The thing that didn’t help, too, was also being recruited for softball, which I ended up not playing here, but I was getting letters of interest or support in admissions from Harvard and MIT and some other places, and I know some people weren’t happy about that either. So, that was a thing. But yeah. High school was a time.
A: And so, how would that compare to your experience here at Yale? Do you like it more or less? Is it kind of the same?
M: It’s very different. Very, very, very different. I think in terms of also how I perceive myself is huge. I think when I got to Yale, I was so burnt out and so tired of feeling like I had to be perfect all the time. And so much of being perfect was conflated with being white, or at least actively just not being black, that I was just like, internally just dying. It was like—it was not pretty. I was really just not happy and very miserable by the time I left high school. When I came into Yale, I think I was very much like, “I don’t want to have to sacrifice parts of myself to feel whole or to feel successful.” That was huge for me, and coming into Yale, I knew this space [the Asian American Cultural Center] existed; I was kind of like, “Oh, okay.” I knew the AACC was a thing, but I had a tour guide that was very involved in black Yale, and then [I] had met a lot of people that were really involved in Black Yale™ activities. I knew that a big part of the reason why I wanted to go there is because of the strong communities of color here. And the strong history of resistance by students of color here in response to racialized incidents. And the fact that historically and presently, if you fight really really hard, the administration will probably maybe give you something. It won’t be a lot, but you can see progress.
And so coming in, the very first experience that I had of Yale my first year was CC, Cultural Connections, the pre-orientation program. It was so unapologetically black and brown. It was just so overwhelming and enlightening, and just so much for me to take in the fact that all of these people were secure and comfortable in expressing their blackness, especially, and didn’t compromise that to be successful. Obviously, we all code-switch; we all do what we have to do, but overall, you had all these people who were just, you know, “Yes, it’s okay that I listen to rap, and I dress this way, and I speak this way, and I do this, this, this… and that doesn’t mean that I also didn’t get a perfect score on my ACT.” That was huge for me because my high school is the third- or fourth-most diverse high school in the nation, but it’s highly, highly segregated by class, so all the AP classes are predominantly white, and then all the other classes are not. The more intense the AP class is, the fewer people of color there are. Specifically, the fewer black and brown people there are.
So I think coming into that, I was just completely shocked but then very early in on that, decided that was what I wanted to do, and the identity that I wanted to have here was [that] I didn’t want to have to compromise myself—more so than it’s probably realistic. There are certain decisions that I make here specifically that I wouldn’t make in a professional context, that I wouldn’t make in a lot of other contexts, but I think for things—in so many ways, Yale is a bubble. What I do here, while it does affect what I do in the future, certain decisions that I make are not the end-all-be-all because once you leave in four years, you’ll be all right, versus middle school/high school was like, “This is seven years of this, so you need to be… you know.”
M: And also because I think emotionally—for the sake of my emotional and mental health at that point, I was just like, I can’t. I can’t pretend to do it. I can’t do this. And so I really, really retreated into communities of color to figure out how to rebuild myself my first year, how to find a lot of actual self-confidence I’d been lacking, how to find a lot of self-acceptance that I’d been lacking, and really getting into “Why am I afraid of the things I’m afraid of? Why am I having difficulty with the things I’m having difficulty with?”
And that’s still a thing I’m working through now, but it was sort of like, “Okay, we’re gonna retreat really hard, and then slowly open it back up as we continue to explore this space.” In terms of, especially, interacting in white spaces, we’re slowly gonna open up what those spaces are and how I’m gonna navigate them here. Especially because Yale is such a PWI [predominantly white institution], in the ways that I think we often forget, that even just academically being in this space is automatically white, so balancing or engaging that with being in spaces of color is super important for me. That’s definitely been something I’ve been really conscious of. Also just having other people that are able to talk about race and to be able to talk about what that looks like here at the same level that I’m talking about it and the same level that I’m thinking about it, and having incredibly diverse and wonderful perspectives and experiences here, and also having the same standards for what is considered acceptable versus not acceptable or problematic versus non-problematic, that was really important to me too.
I feel that’s been such a huge change in college and something that I am so grateful for because I was very worried about myself in ways that I’m not now, and I feel like I’ve grown and rebuilt in so many different ways. But, yeah, so I’m very grateful to this space for that, and however begrudgingly, that Yale as an institution cultivates that culture within its communities of color.
A: Yeah. How does that blend into your academic interests?
M: Oh! So much! I had this moment the other day where I was just like, “Hmm, I wonder what I would genuinely be interested in studying if I didn’t have to study racism.”
M: Like, it was a real moment for me. And I was just like, what would I do with my life? Would I be into biology? Question mark? If I didn’t have both guilt for not studying things but also disinterest in studying things? I wouldn’t say disinterest, it was just sort of a lack of occasion for studying things, that, you know, aren’t about me. I think so much of what I’m doing right now academically has been a lot of historical research on what mixed race people look like and are conceived as. Right now, I’m doing early modern period stuff, so 1600s–1700s, and I love it because I feel like someone is able to finally tell my story. I feel like I’m finally able to know my own story, and that I’m being allowed to, and that’s the point of academics here for me, instead of “Oh, this is something you’re doing on your own or on the side.” It’s like, now I don’t have to take any more—well, like, maybe one—basically white history class. I don’t have to take a lot of math; I can use the things that apply to me and use the things that are important to me and things that I think are important and essential to our communities.
I had an interesting talk with Dean [Risë] Nelson, who’s the head of the Afro-American Cultural Center, about being called to do work, or feeling like this is work you have to do, and I don’t think it’s an obnoxious or obligatory feeling. It’s just, this is the work that you do, and this is the work that, you know—even when you just look at the transcript, that affirms that this is the work that you should be doing, as opposed to, like, linguistics, because R.I.P. Japanese. It’s really hard to learn that language. Definitely wanting to do work on disparities and public healthcare, feeling like it’s something that needs to be done, hugely, hugely impacted by that. Feeling like the historical work also needs to be done, so that people know where they come from, is huge.
A: And, I guess, how that plays into your future goals or your future plan for yourself?
M: Yeah. Well, I hope to get my MPH, preferably in the combined program, but if that does not happen, we understand, because they only accept twenty people. You can hear my nice internal monologue—
M: But if not, then in a different two-year program, maybe work for a couple years, and then work for my PhD. At the moment, I’m not thinking that it’s gonna be combined with an MD, just because having to do clinical work would require probably going back and taking a couple of undergraduate courses, which, also isn’t the end of the world. It’s just chem and physics, at this point, basically, and I think one semester of calc. So I think I can do it, but just in that, like, the MD would only be to inform the work that I was doing as a non-MD. I wouldn’t be practicing, but it would be nice to know how, so I think there’s that.
In terms of the actual work I wanna do, I definitely am really interested in community health work, like “How do we get health to people who don’t have health? How do we redefine what the standards of health are based on different cultures and different barriers?” But yeah, just basically our healthcare system is very convoluted, so how do we best serve people who aren’t being served? And I think I will end up doing some research in that; I think I will end up doing some policy in that, but I’m much more interested in working with and helping community organizations that serve underserved communities and linking them to resources that they need. Hopefully in California, because I’m never leaving there again… after this is over. We’ve learned.
A: And have you found here people who are also interested in what you’re trying to do as well and have hopefully had some enlightening, intellectual conversations with people?
M: Yeah, Carolyn Roberts. Dr. Carolyn Roberts is the most clutch and wonderful and kind and strong and magnificent and powerful undergraduate advisor that I could have ever asked for. Her work focuses on medicine in the slave trade, but she does, also, generally a lot of work with African Americans and health, and the African diaspora and health. She is amazing, and she is perfect for what I’m doing. In terms of for the major that I’m in specifically right now, it is a history major. In terms of the work that I’m doing in my undergraduate, that’s also really really nice to have someone who’s a historian. It’s also the work that I like to do; I think I enjoy doing historical work more than present work. But present work is what I want to do in the long term. She and her connected networks of resources have been amazing. I’m very, very grateful to her. She’s also the only black person in the whole department, so it worked out really well that we get along.
Then I have some older students that are also doing minority health work. One of my mentors—that I’m actually getting a smoothie with after this—is great… and wonderful…. Things that we have been able to talk about has been they do a lot more work in LGBTQ health in Europe. Just being able to talk about health, and what that looks like for various communities, and also what the intersection is—because certainly being queer is a huge thing for me, but it also is a huge thing for our community as a whole—and what it means to be POC and queer, and how you’re treated by the healthcare system, and how much more you’re gonna need it because you’re in significantly—you’re in a lot of danger. That’s been really cool, and I am very excited, if I do end up in this cohort, to meet the other people who are doing work, and if I don’t, to still meet up with other people who are doing work. It’s not an end-all-be-all.
A: Okay, let’s get into your love life?
M: Oh, wow. That took a turn.
M: This is gonna be really interesting if this ends up on the website. Okay.
A: Nothing that you don’t want up on there.
M: Oh, no, it’ll just be funny. Because I think if I look at this 10 years from now, I’m gonna be like, “Wow, she really was there right now”.
A: It’ll be your time capsule.
M: Yeah, it’s very weird to think about this discreetly. Okay, sure. Yeah, let’s talk about it. What do you wanna talk about?
A: I guess, I think for me personally, opening up to having a romantic aspect [of life] came from puberty and hormones and stuff like that. For me, if I was ever asked about my love life, I would just describe the process in which I went through from what I used to think love was—
M: Oh, okay. I got you. I got you. I think I was definitely raised in a somewhat more heteronormative household. It was like, “Gay people are great, but we’re also their allies; we’re not them.” The examples that I had of queerness were always just white and male, and I think that’s possibly because I just did a lot of theatre. Or just male in general. I had never really thought about myself as a queer person.
Then we got to high school, and I was like, “Hmm, hmm….” And I have a very, very good friend who was very outspokenly and very clearly—like, presents as queer—and she is amazing and I love her a lot, but at the time—she’s also mixed, and she’s also Japanese—and I was like, “Oh wow. This is a thing.” Getting to know her, I was like, “Oh no, queer is not necessarily what I thought it was, it’s definitely a thing [for me].” I was going and thinking about it like, “Hmm, not all of my feelings towards certain friends of mine have been platonic. What tea?”
At that time, I was in my first relationship, and my partner was a dude, a very cis/hetero/straight man. So I think I went into that relationship very much like, “This—like everything else in my life in high school—needs to be perfect,” and I was not at all good at being vulnerable and also had no idea what I was doing. That’s a terrible combination; I do not recommend it to anyone. But I think also being emotionally mature enough to say, “I don’t know if I should want this or if I do want this,” is really hard to say, especially since everything has told you, “You should want this,” all the time. And I think so much of it, for me, was going like, “Am I even lovable because I’m incompatible with all of the guys that are in my general sphere of friends?” Again, I think this sort of intellect, plus racial identity, came into play a lot there, and so, I was essentially dating someone because they liked me and not because I even knew whether or not I liked them—but did it for an entire year because we’re overachievers like that!
Meanwhile, [I] was getting to become super close with this girl who I definitely had a crush on at the time—LOL, she’s probably gonna see this—and was getting so confused, and then was so unable to ask for help about any of this because I felt like no one understood me. But also because I didn’t understand me, and I think that was big. I very distinctly remember going like, “I just need to table the queer stuff until college because I just don’t know. There’s too much going on right now; there’s so much racism, and I have to take the ACT, like, I just, I just can’t!”
Really feeling like my relationships needed to be perfect, or that love needed to be perfect, or that saying “I love you” was part of having this perfect Instagram-worthy relationship, and doing cute things, and like—but it also made me feel like the other person needed to be perfect as well, which is also not healthy and also not conducive to working on any issues in your relationship. Oh, it was a bad time. In hindsight. Grateful for the practice run, I guess, or whatever you wanna call it. That’s honestly how I think of it in my head. I think I did a lot of shit and then was like, “Oh, no. I don’t like that” or “I don’t want that.”
Also, I think dealing with men is hard because they’re just so emotionally unaware and poorly trained to deal with being in a relationship. That certainly came into play in terms of consent politics and other things. It was nothing overly bad; it was just, you know, “What are the different ways in which someone can still feel pressure even though you’re verbally saying ‘Whatever’s fine with you is fine with me’?” Also, saying “Whatever’s fine with you is fine with me” is not helpful, right, so all of these things—yeah, I don’t think being—in terms of what I thought love was, necessarily, at the time, I thought it was having this super well put-together life and having this super perfect relationship where you guys were really compatible, and everything was easy. That is just so false.
And then… continued to go through life… continued to go through life… had some minor ups and downs with briefly being into things or being into people but not really… and then, yeah, it’s just funny you’re asking that now because the relationship that I’m in now is just taking up a lot of time and mental space, I don’t think at all in a bad way. I am incredibly grateful for the experience, and no matter if or how this ends, I will always be grateful for that because I’ve learned and grown so much, but I will say that—oh wow, this is gonna be really interesting if he ever finds this—we haven’t been dating. I started dating the partner that I’m currently dating almost three months ago. I’ve been having a real conundrum about what love is. Because this is the first relationship in which I felt a person-to-person sense, very safe. I think consent plays a lot into that too. I think basic baseline personality match plays a lot into that. Having similar values despite him being lowkey a very rich boy from Boston—and being a rich white boy from Boston—and me being none of those words in a sentence. But still. Having a lot of common ground in what we value and what we enjoy, but not so much that it’s obnoxious, has been really nice.
But trying to figure out like, “Okay, what does it mean to like someone this much this fast?” and, one, how does that play into what’s already going on in my life? Because there’s certainly a lot of residual stuff that, because you’re close to each other and because you spend so much time with them, it’s like coming out, and you’re like, “Where is this coming from? I need to unpack all of my emotional baggage that I’m bringing with me that I didn’t know I had because I’ve never been in a relationship before, and I’ve never been in a relationship that’s this mature!” Within the limits of the fact that we’re both 19–20, right?
But also what does it mean to have moments where I’m just like, “Nothing is better than this. I couldn’t ask for anything more than this in a relationship.” Is that love? Or what does it mean to love someone versus to be in love with someone? I’ve been thinking about that a lot. Moreover, is there a difference between platonic love and non-platonic love? And if so, what is that? Because I say, “Oh my god, I love you” a lot to my friends, the natural inclination is like if that happens similarly, to also say that, and then it’s just like, “Woah, woah, woah… no, pull back.” I had a friend, and also a sort of ex, who described this very well, and he was like—”I think you can have moments of being in love, or of loving someone very intensely, of going like, ‘Oh, I really love that person’s laugh,’ or ‘I love the way they smile,’ or ‘I love the way that they’re always here for me in this way,’ or ‘I love the fact that when they wear this sweatshirt they look really good,’” and those moments of love in my personal opinion I don’t think necessarily need to be romantic or platonic, or just looking at your friend and being like, “Wow, she’s beautiful,” or “he’s beautiful,” or “they’re beautiful,” and just having those moments. His theory is that being in love is feeling all of those moments. It’s not just that brief flash of “Ah!” It’s like, that happens all the time, or that happens a lot. I think to a certain extent, I really agree with that. It’s like, what’s the difference between feeling love and being in a continual state of love? I think so much of it is about commitment, and so much of that is about respect and communication, and feeling safe and feeling comfortable. But also, that’s not the extent of it, right? And so, trying to figure out what else is there? Why do I feel like sometimes I can say that I’m in love? Why do I feel like sometimes I don’t think I can? How much of that is me? How much of that is him? How much of that is what happens between us, and how much of that is just outside dynamics that neither of us has control over?
I think what I’m just really mostly happy about right now is loving certain things. Like, loving a lot of imperfections that I know he doesn’t love about himself. I don’t know, not necessarily being in love with him, but being in love with those things. Being in love with the things that make him real as opposed to the things that make him perfect, or the things that I can say—that objectively make him a good fit or a good match or a good boy or whatever—being incredibly happy and proud of those things… of how smart he is, of how understanding he is, and all those things. But also really loving the parts that don’t seem to fit as well, or don’t seem to be as clean and definitely as messy, and being so willing to work through those things, and so willing to not have those things be limitations, even though it gets frustrating. And it gets exhausting sometimes because coexisting with another person in a deeply personal and intimate space is really exhausting, but never thinking that that is work in the same way—never feeling like it’s just another thing that I need to check off. Like, “Oh, develop emotional intimacy, do my laundry, blah blah blah…” right? Or “Deal with this issue that we’re having,” right, you know? I don’t know if that’s love. Maybe it is. I am unconfirmed. You’ll have to get back to me later. And I also don’t know if that’s being in love, or if that’s just being a nice and accepting person. Maybe it’s just being a nice and accepting person.
So, in short, I don’t know. We’re confused. But we’re growing. And I think that’s where I’m at with love and my love life. Yeah. God, it’s been a long three months. Let me tell you. Anyway.
A: If you were to talk about something that isn’t your race or your cultural identity, what would you say is something that has impacted you the most in life on who you are today?
M: I think arts and sports.
M: Arts and sports. I always go on and on about personal identity first because that’s something that other people make me go on and on about—well, other systems of oppression make me go on and on about first. Being queer, being black, being mixed, being Asian… and also family. But I think two big things that have impacted who I am as a person have been art—especially in the form of theatre—I spent a lot of time doing theatre in middle school. I was one of those theatre kids. It made me own public speaking; it made me own having a voice in a lot of different ways. It wasn’t like, “Oh, look, you can be really loud and talk really loudly and get really hyper about things.” That’s a skill! That’s not just you being hyperactive; that’s something we want and we look for in theatre. But also, the ability to tell a story and what it means to tell a story and what it means to connect with other people and what it means to have other people understand the art that you’re putting out. Or to purposely not have people understand the art you’re putting out. That’s huge for me. Figuring out the various ways in which we form empathy and the various ways in which we form connection and the various ways in which we express ourselves. [And] just the fact that I’m a big fan of art that makes us feel. I personally think that a really important part of life is consuming and interacting with art that makes you cry or makes you sad or makes you feel different things about yourself, and it’s not just about being happy. It’s about being impacted and really sitting with how and why these emotions impact us and how and why we’re feeling what we’re feeling. I think that was huge. Theatre brought me my first close group of friends, which was really big. It brought me a lot of acceptance that I didn’t necessarily have a lot of before that, which was really big. It’s just, it’s really fun. It works parts of your brain in ways that are wonderfully creative. I enjoy it a lot, and I enjoy the process of why we make creative choices that we make in our art.
I think it’s been nice to continue that with Jook Songs because it’s performance and poetry. It’s not just writing, and I love writing poetry as well because, again, it’s like, how do we make our feelings communicable? How do we connect to those feelings, and how do we explain those feelings to other people? Because I think so much of life being hard is not being able to explain how you feel or why you feel it. Getting to start to do that with JS and getting to start to do that with show is something I’m really excited about because it’s been a while since I’ve been able to do that in that space. Using voice and using body as mediums to do that are things I enjoy a lot. Think a lot about music. Think a lot about theatre. Watch a lot of showtunes. Go to a lot of shows. I have spent so much money on theatre. Other kids were buying, I don’t know, stuff from Forever 21. I just went to shows.
Sportswise, in terms of how sports taught me how to deal with failure and how sports have made me feel comfortable about my body, are the two big things. Water polo—which I play here in particular—it regulates my hormone cycle; it makes me much calmer when I swim. It clears my head. It gets me out of my own head. It gives me a lot of support networks and friends because if you are all constantly being drowned by people, you will bond. You don’t have a choice. My coach in high school was really really good. My team in high school was really competitive every year, so being able to play at that kind of level and having that pride and culture of pride in something that you do is really nice. Feeling like—I don’t know, being able to hone yourself and hone people around you towards a goal is really cool. I like that a lot. It’s also given me an extraordinary amount of body confidence back to me. Everyone and especially every girl struggles with body image issues and feeling like, you know. But I think my thought on that was like, “Well, I can’t be universally considered pretty, but I can be universally considered buff.”
M: And I’m just gonna work out until that happens. And I’m gonna put a lot of thought into what I’m putting into my body and what I’m getting out of my body. Even the confidence to feel like, “Oh, I can eat whatever I want” is so dependent on me working out and being good to myself 99 percent of the time. Ha, let’s be real; it’s like 65 percent of the time. But when I want that extra donut, I can be like, “You can have that extra donut.”
The hard thing was last year water polo was a bit of a mess and coaching was really bad because a coach had left unexpectedly. And so, I was feeling really out of shape, and I wasn’t working out the same way that I was in high school—I was playing two varsity sports at a college recruitment level—that severely impacted my body confidence, even though when I look back on pictures, I’m like, “I didn’t look as bad as I thought I looked,” but, boy, did I feel bad about myself because I wasn’t doing the things sportswise that I felt would help me take care of my body. Or felt made me a sharper, better athlete. This year, I am. This year, we have a new coach, and she’s amazing, and I’m on leadership this year, so I have a little more say in how practices are run. I feel so much better about myself. I feel so good in what I do and what I can do. I feel like I have things to work on, but I also feel like I have capability and potential to do things.
Also, playing softball for a number of years—I think, academically, I racked up a pretty bad fear of failure. In softball, you fail all the time. You hit the ball, like, four out of ten times. That’s literally 40 percent; you’re considered really, really, really good. Just dealing with what that meant was really helpful in something that I worked through a lot in high school. In college, I decided that the sacrifices that one has to make to do that all the time were not worth the gains for me. Softball as a game was something that I loved but not necessarily loved to play. Now I’m just a really big fan of college softball, especially because we know a lot of people that are playing, and I follow it on the internet a lot and watch a lot of games, but I’m very happy with the decision to play water polo, which is much more fast-paced, and therefore, much more stress-releasing. Those have been the two really big things. I’ve met some incredible and life-changing people through both of those things in so many different ways. I am just very indebted, if nothing else, to the people and the relationships that I’ve made doing those two things and being with those people. That panned out in some wild ways.
A: You have to leave in, like, ten minutes, so the last question is, what are some things—or something—that you wished I had asked you during this interview but I didn’t?
M: Hmm. I don’t know. Maybe a little more about family? My brain shot at two different directions at the same time. And I think one is maybe sexuality, and the second is, maybe family. I suppose that’s under love life, but I think so much of what I conceptualize as my love life is with other people, and sexuality is something I conceptualize for myself. It’s what I’m attracted to versus my love life is what I’m doing to build love, or trying to find love with someone else?
Anyway, I think so much of who we are and who we end up being and what kind of baggage we bring is so dependent on our families. My family’s personal story is a lot to that as well. I know a lot of the things that I suffer from or a lot of the things I have challenges in are due to the things that my parents have challenges in… which are due to things their parents have challenges in. Having my mom be the primary caretaker for my grandparents, who both have late-stage Alzheimer’s at this point, for pretty much my entire life, has made that very, very clear, and also because, literally, her mom is insane, so that’s part of it too. Just very much saying, “I don’t think the sins of the father is correct, but the traumas of the father certainly affect”—right? You can see that distilled within generations. So much of who your family is and what your parents value and who else you have in your life determines a lot about you and a lot about the blueprint that you’re given. Not to take away the autonomy of choice, but, you know. Yeah.
A: Cool. Thank you so much.
M: Yeah, I truly just talked.