On Running and Representation
"When you don't feel like running, run anyway. When you don't feel like writing, write anyway. When you don't feel like getting up in the morning, get up anyway. When you don't feel like showing up, you must show up." I tell myself these words sometimes to keep me going because I know my actions have an impact. For myself, for my team but also for my community and people.
Last week, my friend Nour brought me the Runner's World Magazine and I saw my friend Aimee on the cover. Aimee and me had a 3hr phone conversation the week before where we talked about representation and when she said, she wasn't sure if she'll end up on the cover, I said to her 'It doesn't matter, you being even considered means a lot! Not only to me but to so many others because now we know: it is possible.' Right after our phone call, I sent her Rupi Kaur's representation poem:
Thus, I shared her cover on Instagram and wrote '..because when I see you, I am able to see me.' There is no need to fit in, but being yourself. Aimee is now the youngest Filipino woman to grace the cover of Runner's World Magazine. Congratulations woman!!
Then, the following Friday morning, I went to my first Creative Morning talk and it was with @missinfo aka Minya Oh, the first Asian American woman on NY radio. Listening to her story and learning from her experiences really inspired and empowered me to keep doing what I am doing as well. It was another example of an Asian woman who tackled on her industry and made space for herself by being herself. By 'knowing her shit backwards and forwards', by being resilient, by staying curious and by trusting her work. She is passionate and obsessive, brave enough to work her way through. So, here I want to dive a little bit deeper into representation:
Two weeks ago, I logged into Facebook to check a few messages (these days I am rarely on it but it is still an important tool to stay in touch with my friends and family in Germany), and saw that my dad posted my images from the Berlin Marathon. I scrolled through his post and the comments, translated them and a few sparked my eye. One came from a woman and it said 'Congratulations to your daughter and your family. This is an honor to our Vietnamese community and country.' Another comment from one of his friends said 'I checked your daughter's record and our national record, I want to invite her to run a race here.' I was on the phone with my dad in that moment and he explained some more comments to me. 'Dad, what is this friend asking?' 'He is curious how you signed up for this and I told him it is just your hobby.' I was beaming, full of joy and I think my dad was very proud, too. It was a weird feeling..
As a Vietnamese woman growing up in Germany, I never really felt proud to be Vietnamese, mainly because I was different. I didn't come home eating Abendbrot (evening bread) for dinner. When the only thing my brother and me wanted to do was to speak German to each other, my parents made sure that we spoke Vietnamese, out of respect. We ate, moved and lived under a Vietnamese roof. My parents mainly spend their free time with Vietnamese people. It is a Vietnamese bubble within Germany and so there I was, being a Vietnamese, but born and raised in a Western World. I would leave the house, hang with my friends, go to a German school until I came back home to feel restricted, constrained.. and really, I didn't understand until much later.
Sports? My parents never encouraged me nor showed me how. My dad played soccer, my brother tried, but it was never a thing for a girl. Other hobbies? I was allowed to dig into books, and drawing but of course 'Don't become an artist'. As in most Asian families, it is about education: good grades, a stellar degree, become a doctor, or lawyer, or banker, marriage, children, support your family and make them proud. Conservative.
So when I received my high school degree and saw the chance of leaving home, I did. I've been traveling (living) between home and New York since 2011 and since day one in the U.S., the friends I made here had various backgrounds. Still, I didn't think much about it until I came back and one of my friends pointed it out to me. 'Did you ever realize that you're the only Asian in your hometown (in Germany)?' 'What do you mean?' I asked back. He said 'Well, look around.' That moment, I started to think.
The more time I spent living and learning about people here in New York, I slowly realized that everyone has a very unique story. Thus, when I struggled with the term 'home' both in Vietnam and Germany in the past, I've been feeling the most comfortable here in the city. Here, I am able to show my 'uniqueness' and don't have to try to fit in. I can utilize the best of both worlds. This brings me to last year, in February 2016 when I said to my mum 'Hey mum, can we buy a traditional dress for me for New Years?' Believe me or not, my mum was the happiest person on earth and I felt good about it, too. It was the first time that I was proud to be a Vietnamese woman in Germany, and I was ready to show it.
So, what do all these things have to do with running and representation? Hmm.. first of all, find who you are by digging deeper, by asking questions, by being uncomfortable with your past and your roots. This is obviously a life long task, but getting to know the Vietnamese history better, getting to know my parents and my family better, it brought me closer to myself. I accepted the fact that I am part of two worlds. Sit with this. In addition, I've learned to understand that I am my ancestors' hope and that I am their future. Knowing the fact that I am carrying Vietnamese history inside me changed my perspective. As uncomfortable as I was as a child and then a teenager growing up, I am very grateful now that I was gifted with the languages, the traditions, the cultures.
Then, maybe next time you go on your run, tomorrow morning or the day after, take a look yourself. I don't see any Vietnamese people in the park, nor on the street, neither at races, nor training in my team. And here we are only referring to the running community. So, what's my point? When I received my university degree, a younger Vietnamese friend came up to me and said 'Huyen, you're the first one from our community to receive a degree, that's a big honor for us here as Vietnamese immigrants in Germany.' I didn't really understand what it meant, but since then.. there are a few more of us with a degree. A few more of us out there, studying, working, chasing their goals, and even running. Use what you have, whatever it is that you're into, sports, engineering, design, hiphop, tech.. etc. etc. keep doing it, and keep representing. Know that your actions are bigger than you and your purpose will manifest itself. You being You means that there are girls and boys, women and men, a whole community, a whole country looking at you and seeing 'Wow, what she (he) can do, I can do this, too.'
That is important.
P.S.: For everyone racing the beautiful city of New York this Sunday, be loud and be proud, show up and show out. This is your day and I am so so excited to celebrate with you!