Empathy

JT Su


October 2, 2013

For the past several years of my adolescence, I have always seemed to possess bitterness towards the world around me, appalled at how people could be so judgmental of who I am. Growing up in a predominantly Asian community, where there is a lot of pressure to succeed academically, and even more pressure to attend a prestigious college, my family looked down on me for putting my education on hold. As a forthcoming global liberal studies student in college, my parents constantly tell me that I should study something “all the other Asians study,” and that my education focused on history and the great works of literature instead of the sciences or business is all part of the “white people field,” and that Asians should never attempt going to law school in the future. I have different dreams than other people. I live a different life. When people consider me to be the slightest bit “odd” or “abnormal” in the Asian community, I would always feel an unforgiving anger deep within myself. I would constantly think, “Why can’t people just understand me–understand that I have my own freedom of thought and shouldn’t be compared to others?”

David Foster Wallace’s commencement address at Kenyon College in 2005 changed my perspective in many ways. Wallace comments on an undeniable part of humanity–that we are sometimes unyielding in our beliefs–that we think everything happening around us revolves around us. It is hard for us to consider others’ ideologies, their backgrounds, thoughts, and realities as we live our everyday lives. He challenges us to reassess not how we think, but what we think. Life is about imagining the lives of others, considering their hardships and joys, and realizing that their thoughts matter just as much as yours. I had felt so resentful towards how my family felt about me because I had failed to consider that my parents came from a culture in which they did as they were told. They didn’t have much freedom growing up, and thus, it is difficult for them to set me free–for them to believe my pursuits will benefit me in the future.

The move to Guano, Chimborazo, Ecuador, has been tough. Locals here always label me as a “chino” or a “japonés” despite me being a proud Taiwanese, then claim that Taiwan is in China when I tell them Taiwan is a separate country. I’ve discovered that the kids at my school love giving me the look of “un japonés,” flattening the side of their eyes with their hands. I get asked if I was ever a child laborer in China when I lived in the United States my whole life. I get asked if I miss my chopsticks even though I never use them at home. The people here want me to speak in Mandarin more than they want me to speak Spanish. The preconceived notions of my Asian background used to be too much for me to handle, until I realized that I, myself, had many misconceptions of Ecuador. Ecuador is far more developed than I pictured it to be. They use the US dollar as their currency. The malls here are my escape to the US when I feel homesick. I find myself ashamed that I once thought of Ecuador as completely “third-world.” I’m the first Asian many of the Ecuadorians in Guano have ever met, and by putting myself in their shoes, I understand where their excitement about my heritage comes from–excitement that lacks realistic knowledge of Asian culture. I have learned to let go about people constantly confusing my identity. I’ve learned to become more empathetic, and I’m going to embrace it in every aspect of my life.

JT Su