What is your story of strength? (What about you or your past makes you strong)?
One of the places where I get my strength or my identity is from this place of grappling with my own identity. My mom is Japanese, my dad is Jewish and while it may not seem confusing for a young child, it definitely is. I grew up in a very diverse place in San Francisco and you didn’t need to notice your identity as a difference. Then I moved to a place in Florida, where there was almost no one who looked like me. It made me really hyper-aware that I was different and that I was an ‘other’. I remember asking my mom questions like, “would the KKK like me?” or “if I were in South Africa, where would I be able to sit?”. My mom was great about being honest and saying, “you probably wouldn’t be able to sit with the white people” or “the KKK wouldn’t like you very much because your dad is Jewish.” I really appreciate the fact that my mom was blunt and honest with me. There was never really holding her cards close to her chest. My dad was really similar and encouraged me to always ask questions.
Once I got to college, I was able to name the feeling of ‘other’ and I was able to identify institutions and systems that have been set up to make people feel that way and to promote this idea that there is one way in the United States. It made me feel affirmed in my feelings and it also made me realize that there are an incredible amount of inequities that I need to fight. That’s also where I draw my strength from; recognizing that it’s not just individuals who don’t have access, but it’s on a whole society level and even on a global level if we zoom out more. There are people who don’t have the opportunities I was given and I think the word ‘privilege’ sometimes makes people recoil a little bit into themselves and identify all the hardships that they had to go over but I would be really naive to think that I didn’t have privilege and I think one thing that drives me every single day is thinking about how I can use my privilege, the opportunities that I have, and the understanding that these institutions exist and there are systems built to keep people in a certain position of power and to keep people out of power.
That’s one reason I decided to work in the education space. You have students in classrooms who are the most brilliant people in the world and you look at them and you say, “there is so much adversity you are going to have to face. Now is the time to arm yourselves with the tools and knowledge that you need to be really successful. There will be times where doors are closed for no other reason than the way you look, where you are from and the language you and your family speaks, but that now is the time to let you know that it’s not you, it’s the world and it’s on you to change the world – to provide more opportunity for other people.”
Can you tell me about a woman who you believe embodies strength?
It’s funny because if I were to ask my 16-year old self if I would say this person, I would have said “hard no”. I’m going to say my mom. She embodies strength in a way I don’t necessarily think of when I think of strength. Often times when I think of strength, one of the first things I think about are female activists and people who are actively fighting against the power that exists – and she definitely is not that person. As a female of color, that is not her path, which is also completely fine. She’s really good at looking at the world and seeing what she has control over and not letting things affect her. I think detachment sometimes sounds like a negative word, but she’s very emotionally detached and recognizes that there are only so many things that she can control in the world. She deeply cares about people around her, so there is a sort of balance of emotional detachment and deep empathy and kindness.
I think it’s very easy today to suck in the chaos and let it consume you. It either suffocates you or frustrates you to the point where you don’t know what to do and where your next steps are. When I look at my mom, she always knows what her next steps are. She always knows what to do and she always recognizes who are the people who are making a positive impact in her life and who are the people who are not making a positive impact on her life and does not necessarily dwell on that and moves forward with that positivity. Not necessarily wishing ill upon the people she’s leaving behind or the situations she’s leaving behind, but she sort of has a neutral feeling, “you’re not contributing goodness to my life so this is not a good time for you to be in my life or my family’s life right now.” I think that has helped me, especially as I think about the world today. Every time I read the news, the next tweet, or the next headline – there’s a lot of noise out there. My mom has allowed me to separate what’s noise and what’s meaningful news. I really appreciate her for that.
Can you tell me about a time you failed or disappointed yourself?
I think a time when I failed myself was when I decided not to work at a school anymore. Even though I know it was the best decision for me at the time, it felt like I was failing. Up until that moment I internalized this professional path of wanting to be a teacher and a school leader and open up a school. Sometimes as an afterthought, I would think about what’s best for kids. I think this is a common mindset that I’ve heard from friends in education.
One day, I had this moment when I was teaching, when I was looking at my students and by all metrics, my students were incredibly successful. They did all the right things and said all the right things. I thought I wouldn’t want my own child in my class. I wouldn’t want my own child to learn here; working from 7:30am-4:30pm every single day with just 30 mins of recess, 30 mins of nap, and not have an opportunity to explore who they really are and build meaningful and life-long friendships and understanding the world from a unique perspective. That’s not a place where I think whole child learning and development is happening. It was a hard decision for me to say that I’m not going to work at a school again until I find a place that really honors and values the whole child – not just academics.
It’s hard when you have a certain path for yourself to completely deviate and turn off the path and it was a really difficult moment for me personally and professionally. I had a lot of friends and family who were really supportive of the choice that I made, but it’s still hard to not feel like you failed. You didn’t achieve the dream that you thought you were going to achieve even if it’s no longer the dream that you want. I think that is a really important message for people to hear that it’s okay to give up on your dream if it’s no longer the dream that fits you. The dream that I had when I was 22 was no longer the dream that is most appropriate for me when I am 28. It’s okay to have lots of different iterations of that and to have lots of versions of you. I think it’s important to not just be true to who you are now but to be awake to who want to become.
How can women better support each other?
I’m not sure if this is a ‘woman’ thing necessarily, but especially today and especially for someone who has moved to a lot of new places…I have a lot of friends who are spread throughout the world. It’s really hard to think that there is a sense of community anywhere. This is something that I really miss and really value. Often times people need others to lean on and to support each other. This is one reason why, although I’m not religious, I envy people who are religious because they immediately get plugged into church or a temple. They have a community that is there. You come together for common purposes all the time.
For me, the more you can build a community and reach out to people who you see lacking community and who need that interpersonal connection, the better. It’s hard to feel like you are alone and even if you are surrounded by a sea of people and you are in a major city, often times you feel like you are alone. Sometimes you need to be that vulnerable person to reach out and say,”Hey, looks like you need a friend/a community. I can help you build or be part of that community.”
Male/female, whoever you are. Reach out to people and bring them into the fold.