The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

What it means to be Asian-American: BAAFN Essay Contest

The Asian American Essay Contest celebrated its winners with an essay reading ceremony on May 15 in the Coolidge Corner Theater. The contest highlights Asian American high school students’ voices about what it means to be Asian American.

Students, families, staff and community members gathered at the Coolidge Corner Theatre on Wednesday, May 15 to commemorate five students’ award-winning essays on what it means to be Asian American by having them read their essays aloud.

This event marked the ninth annual Asian American Student Essay Contest, hosted by the Brookline Asian American Family Network (BAAFN).

Out of 26 essays submitted for this year’s contest, BAAFN selected five winners to showcase at the award ceremony. Junior Haley Kim was selected to win the overall BAAFN Award with her essay “The Fan Dance Language.” The four other essay winners included juniors Kiran Bhatia, Geo Elasmar, Melanie Ho and Bella Wang, who won the Content, Creativity and Resilience Awards.

BAAFN essay contest co-chair Susan Park helped to facilitate the event, introducing the students before each winner read their essay to the audience. Park said that Kim dedicates her essay to her grandparents for their never-ending support.

Kim’s essay delved into her ongoing struggle with holding onto her Korean identity. She said the contest gave her new insights into her connections with her Korean heritage, specifically the language barrier between her and her grandparents, and sparked a motivation to relearn Korean.

“During the Lunar New Year celebrations at school, I watched the Baker School kids do a fan dance performance and I took a video to send to my grandparents,” Kim said.“I texted them in English for them to translate back into Korean, and that made me reflect over our connection and language.”

Ho’s essay, “Reading in Between the Lines,” is about her experience balancing her Asian and American identities, using the Chinese game of Mahjong as a motif throughout her essay to describe how her identity has evolved over the years. Ho said the inspiration behind her essay was the midnight games of Mahjong she plays with her extended family members.

“I had a lot of fun playing Mahjong with my family and I wanted to integrate that into what it means to be Asian American to me,” Ho said.

After the winners read their essays, Park introduced keynote speaker Mira T. Lee, author of the novel “Everything Here is Beautiful,” to give a speech on her experiences being Asian American. She described her move to Hong Kong, highlighting others’ perceptions of her and her fears of not being Asian enough.

“Suddenly I had relatives: lots of great aunts, uncles and cousins. Suddenly I realized my Chinese was not very good. One aunt called me a banana,” Lee said. “I went to a British International School where the kids made fun of my American accent. Suddenly, I was a Yankee.”

Lee said that she wanted to remind the high-achieving students that they have plenty of time to figure out their place in the world. She said that it was not until her mid-30s that she began to find the path for herself.

“When I was 16, 17, 18, applying to college, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I told myself I did, and if people asked, I would give an answer because I had to, but I really didn’t know,” Lee said. “Don’t feel pressure to know either.”

Ho said she is especially grateful to be honored this year, after submitting an essay to the essay contest for the past two years. Although it may be uncomfortable, she’s learned to be more open and honest in her writing.

“I felt like it was an obligation to continue the trend and submit an essay this year,” Ho said. “In this experience, I learned to write in first person and not to dance around the problem, which I did in the past years, which was why it wasn’t as good. I learned how to be more vulnerable and direct and to say things as they are.”

Kim said that the process of writing her essay and listening to Lee’s speech ultimately gave her the confidence to reconnect with her culture.

“I thought it was reflective to write about my experiences. I got to reflect on my growth with learning and forgetting and trying to relearn Korean. I had never really thought about what it means to be Korean-American before,” Kim said. “I always knew I had Korean culture but have considered myself to be more American, so considering that on a deeper level was really insightful.”

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