Recently, there has been a parent, in a community, who has been desperately trying to drum up trouble. She has neither met me nor has seen my show, yet her fear is leading her to gossip and to slander me. I’m not afraid of this. As all those who have been my inspiration, have been people who had violent opposition from mediocre Minds, to quote Albert Einstein. What I do know about myself and the work that I do and the effect that I have can be seen in the following letter from an eighth grade student.
“Hi Dr. Fowlin,
You came to my school today and told us of your experiences and what to make of our own faults and successes. After hearing what you had to say, what I felt was more than inspiration. I felt empowered to make a difference in my own life and the lives of others. It was like an invisible weight was lifted of my shoulders, one that I hadn’t realized was there. I think I’ve always been dealing with an internal battle deep inside, but I’ve never come to terms with it and face it head on. I don’t label myself as someone who extreme self- image issues, but everyone downgrades themselves at some point in their life, and even the smallest difference matters to me, so I want to let you know this:
When I was younger, I never really focused on my differences to others. I just naively thought that everyone had different skin color, eye color, hair color, clothes, and traditions because we were just brought into this world by a higher power to be UNIQUE and SOMETHING ELSE. I really wish I’d kept that mindset. After hearing you explain why we are trained to spot the differences in people and categorize them from our own teachers and TV shows, I understand why we as a whole world, think so narrowly.
Our minds are geared to spot a splash of red out of a sea of blue, and to find the button with dots out of a stack of buttons with stripes. We are geared to notice differences, whether they are minor or major. Deep down, even before our first teachers ever taught us to cage away the ones unalike us, we knew not all of us were carbon copies of each other. It’s just the way we were taught to handle that idea that led us to this thing we call discrimination. Something that you said, “You laugh because I am different, I laugh because you are all the same,” makes me think that, perhaps if the word “race,” or the word “religion” was never created, there would be more perspective in the world. Race and religion are really just ways of categorizing different lifestyles. If there was no such thing, “same” and “different” wouldn’t be a thing, because everything we do and everyone we are would just be variety. There would be no reason to laugh or poke fun of someone just because they are simply not alike our own self.
In my early years of elementary school, in around second grade, someone said to me “your eyes are too small, and you nose is too big.” I remember exactly who this person was and I am on good terms with them now, and I thank them for what they said, because that night, I went home crying, and asked my parents why my eyes were smaller and my nose bigger. That day, they explained to me what it means to be a different race. It was then when I fully understood that I was Asian, and I didn’t look alike almost any of my classmates. I went to a place where the students and staff had fairer skin than me.
Throughout the rest of my elementary school career and through a part of middle school, I also noticed that people didn’t seem to like what I brought to school for lunch. My father made me delicious home-cooked meals that are typical meal foods in Asia. I thought they were amazing, but the students that I sat with thought otherwise. People laughed, and people made faces. I even remember one girl moving away from my seat and covering her nose when I opened up my thermos of Buckwheat noodles. It repulsed her, and she didn’t realize that what she was doing disgusted me even more. I cried again when I got home, and I stopped eating the food my dad packed me. I would wait until after school, and try and dispose of the lunch before my father came home and saw that I hadn’t eaten what he’d delicately made. I felt like a spotlight was constantly shining in the cafeteria, and I was always the star, but neverin a good way. I was angry at my parents, and angry at myself for seeming so weird to the other kids. I didn’t like being different. I didn’t like it, because it made me feel uncomfortable. Out of place.
I wished I was just like everyone else. And that, I think, was the worst thing I’d ever wished.
I am here, I am alive, to appreciate myself, and the gift of life I have been given. I am still breathing, still smiling every day because I make the best of the present. I’ve lessened my thoughts about my future, and I’ve slackened my white-knuckle grip on my grades in school. I’ve learned to gladly open my lunch to find something wonderful and delicious despite the stares and wrinkle noses around me. Life is a gift, existence is a treasure, and I value it so much. It doesn’t matter that I’m Asian, that I eat differently and look “weird.” It doesn’t matter, because I’m still me. It doesn’t matter, because the people who laugh and point and stare, don’t know me. I am who I want to be, and they’ll never understand, because they will never be in my skin. I am the only one who can fully appreciate myself, and I will do that, every single day.
Thank you for everything you have shared, and I hope you take into consideration what I’ve said here. I am and eighth grader at Lenape Middle School, and I hope to make a difference with every one of my actions.”