When I was born, my parents wanted to name me Athena, after the Greek goddess of wisdom and war. Eventually, the settled for Sophia, the Greek name for “wisdom,” for my first name, and 勇 or 詠慧 for my middle name. Both characters are pronounced similarly, and when anglicized, turn out to be “Jung,” which unintentionally also means “young” in German. The former comes from the Chinese word, “soldier,” in hopes that I would have strength. My mom says that the latter, more feminine, means something like “singing.” In summary, it seems that my parents wanted me to grow up to be intelligent, strong, and with a bit of grace.
Why am I bringing up the etymology of my names? Sure, I have been called many names – some affectionately, and others with resentment – but these are the ones I align with most closely. It is also times like these, following the 2016 presidential election, that I feel the expectations of my names and identity lie heavily. How can I live up to them? How can I claim my place as an American, which I identify with first, and then as Taiwanese, to honor my family’s history? How do I find my place in the world?
It was easy to grow despondent after the results came out – admittedly, I’m still processing the barrage of political news that have been flooding my feeds. I had surrounded myself with mostly people like myself: Asian-American and left-leaning. Together, we watched half of America vote for a man they thought of as unconventional, exciting, and played to their concerns as a mostly white, working class majority.
Living in California, and especially Los Angeles, it is easy to get caught up in the bubble and be naïve. Our state always votes blue, and the amount of diversity is incredible. So, it was heart-wrenching to read news that Asian-Americans were being harassed, that kids chanted, “Build a Wall” at school, and that there are rampant instances of intolerance and outright acts of racism, some so close to home. They are far from the first time these types of harassment have occurred, but they seem to be fueled by a growing, firm belief that this behavior is now acceptable – and that is more daunting than the soon-to-be 44th President of the United States. So, when someone says that we’re being too sensitive, or that racism doesn’t exist anymore, it’s like a slap in the face.
I feel anxious for my friends, for the many minority groups (black, Hispanic, immigrants, refugees, LGBTQ folks, etc.) that could be and have been affected, and for the future of the United States. At the same time, I am more motivated to support my communities in the ways that I know how. Though it is challenging and I am still young, I strive to fulfill the optimism behind my names: to be stronger, to grow wiser, and to amplify more voices. Let us listen. Let us rise.
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