It has taken me a long, long time to understand that I both have a voice and that God wants for me to use it.
Part of the reason for this might be cultural. Growing up as the daughter of Korean immigrants, I lived in a home retaining strong Asian influences. Confucius taught that women’s lives were to be about lifelong subservience to men, first to their fathers, then their husbands, then their sons, and even though we were a fully American family in many aspects, these longstanding Asian influences persisted.
My role at home was to support my mom in all manner of household tasks, while my father and brother never had to lift a finger to do any cooking, dishwashing, laundry, or housecleaning. Needless to say, the injustice railed on me, but I felt powerless to change anything; my complaints went unheeded.
My father further shaped my view of my ability to have influence by telling me, multiple times in my life, “You’re a minority and you are a woman. You will have twice as hard a time as others will around you.” In hindsight, I think he was telling me this as a motivational technique, so that I would work hard and persevere in all circumstances. But I took it to mean that my voice had twice as much reason not to be heard.
I felt the reality of my father’s pronouncement when I began working at a well-known Christian media company, one in which all but one of the executives were men and none were minorities. My initial job required that I make coffee, open mail, discard mail, deliver mail, xerox, and fax, then blend into the background while being subservient to the endless flow of white, male leaders and visitors around me. On the surface, it may have seemed like a perfect fit given my background.
But I had finally started to grow into the knowledge that God had designed me for a different vocational role, and to his credit, my (white, male) supervisor also sensed that I had more to offer. By the end of my first year, I had been given a promotion to become a news reporter, then soon after, an editor.
It was the beginning of a career in Christian publishing that has continued in one fashion or another for nearly 20 years, during which time I have slowly come to realize that yes, I do have a voice of value, and not despite the fact that I am an Asian-American woman, but because of it.
I still struggle with moments in which I distrust myself, in which I doubt myself, in which I would rather disappear into the background rather than put myself and my ideas forward into the public arena. Moments in which I can still hear my father’s voice echoing in my head, triggering a response of passivity within me. “Play it safe, Helen. Don’t say anything. Who will listen, anyway?”
But I remind myself of the larger truth I did not understand when I was younger, that the whole reason my parents came to this country was to not play it safe, but to give me opportunities to speak my mind and reach for my fullest potential in ways they never could have. And I try to embrace the reality that just because it may be harder at times for my voice to be heard, for my words to have influence, that is no reason to stop trying. If anything, it’s a reason to work twice as hard.