How did you first hear about the #makenoisetoday “Letters to …” contest, and what inspired you to enter?

I actually saw this on a website from North Carolina Asian Americans Together. I was a senior in high school, so I was applying to colleges and thinking about how this was a pretty good scholarship opportunity and how I like writing, and the prompt of writing a letter to somebody who had impacted your identity stuck out to me, since I’d thought a lot about my identity during college applications. So I ended up applying.

Tell me about your letter, “Mama”? What does the letter mean to you?

I wrote a letter to my mom, or my mama, which is how I call her in Chinese. She’s raised me as a single mother since I was in kindergarten, so I’ve grown really close to her. It’s just been me and her for a lot of my life, and there’s been a lot of ups and downs, especially since she’s an immigrant mom from China and, you know, she has an accent and she grew up in a different culture. So there was kind of a lot of tension as I grew up, once I started going to American high school and was surrounded more by different aspects of American identity and whiteness and everything. So it’s like a love letter to my mom and to kind of apologize for some stuff I’ve done and then also just say that we’re going to be together until we can’t.

Do you think this contest gave you and other students a place to amplify your voice and share your perspective on racial inequities?

I couldn’t be there in person, but I was there virtually for the readings, and I also read through the actual online essays that other people wrote, and it was nice to hear people from across the country share these vulnerable feelings. And I even connected with a girl, I think from South Carolina, who was also Asian American, and we kind of just connected by talking about our identities and we related a lot to each other. But even just with people who weren’t Asian American, who were other ethnicities or races, a lot of our struggles are intertwined and so it was just really nice hearing everyone and reading everyone’s work.

What was the hardest part of this experience? The most rewarding?

The hardest part of this experience was, when writing, I definitely had to be pretty honest with myself and some of the things I’m actually pretty ashamed of doing. I mentioned some of the stuff I would do when I was younger, like feeling embarrassed when my mom would talk or [about] the food that she packed. A lot of people go through that, but that was pretty hard to actually admit to myself. But I think it was really rewarding, because after writing everything I could come to terms with how I grew and just like how this is kind of part of my journey and part of who I am, and now I can grow from those experiences. 

Where do you think you will take your powerful words and writing talent from here?

No matter what space I’m in, I can always use my writing. Whether that be like, just an Instagram post or a text message, but it could also be in life through work or as I join college and beyond, in different magazines or newspapers. But no matter where I go, writing will always be a safe space for me and something that I always want to share with other people.

Did your mom, friends, and teachers support you through this? Did your mom read the letter?

This essay was kind of like an accumulation of a lot of different stuff I had written throughout my senior year of high school, but a lot of people definitely read different parts of it. I would say that I didn’t really have my mom read it until actually after I had gotten the scholarship award, because it was kind of vulnerable and I was honestly kind of scared of my mom’s reaction, but she was very happy, and we had a nice heart-to-heart.

If you could tell someone who’s considering entering this contest one thing, what would you say?

You should definitely try and enter—try and be as vulnerable as you can and just look back on your own experiences. Just the experience of writing is really rewarding and it’s something you can always have and share with people and that’s a really great thing itself. But even further than that, being able to have this connection to a bunch of other people your age around your identity is something kind of hard to come by. So this is a really great opportunity for that and I would totally recommend it to anyone who’s interested.

Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle. 

Comment on this story at