Lean In

As we wrap up our time here in Greece–although I’ll be staying on to sightsee with my mom (Hi Mom!)–it’s a lot of crunch-time stress and reflections upon this trip. I touched upon this in my first post on this blog, that this is an opportunity to elevate the voices of those I meet with. That could be indie game developers, who I met with Cody. It could be volunteers working to ensure women have access to contraceptives, with Suma. Or refugees and migrants who choose to share their stories in the hopes that it would make a difference.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Katherine Boo’s essay, On not ‘giving voice to the voiceless’.** In it, she writes,

Even people who can’t speak have their own voices, and they have them whether or not we reporters pull near. The problem (then, now) was not a lack of voices but of listeners. But becoming more patient in my reporting helped me write more urgent, convincing sentences, in the hopes of drawing those reluctant listeners in.

The people we speak with are not voiceless. But as Boo points out, there are a lack of listeners, especially in the U.S. Unfortunately, isolated as we are, Americans often don’t follow international news much. And I say this as news-obsessed American–I realized once I got here that I knew nothing. cared and still I knew nothing. So how, as journalists, can we expect people to care when they have no stake in the game? This isn’t about proving people’s humanity–though countless people have said this to me, that the refugees and migrants could be you or me. But doing the work to influence our circles back home. And it’s not just “back home in my liberal bubble” either.

For example, I look at the stats my blog had when I published Chios Pt. 1 (which I need to follow up on). I had visitors to the blog from the U.S., Canada, Greece, Argentina, the Netherlands, Australia, Chile, Bolivia, South Africa, Botswana, Mexico, Poland, Kenya, the U.K., Brazil, Peru, and Spain. That’s 17 different parts of the world. This isn’t to say that I’m so popular (honestly I’m very confused about where all this traffic came from, I can only think of people I know in seven of those countries). But think about that influence. It is our job to pull in those reluctant listeners, if for no other reason than because the people who spoke with us went out of their way to trust you with their lives, their stories, and in some cases, their trauma.We can’t lose sight of the trust that we’re granted every time a source tells us their story.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t here for selfish reasons too though; I wanted the bylines and the reel material. I wanted to better myself as a journalist and I am so lucky and so grateful to have gotten that experience in a setting designed for me to grow in. This seems like an appropriate point to say thank you to Carlene, Mike and Danny for putting in so much hard work to make this trip happen. I am eternally grateful to all three of you for everything you do, day in and day out to make all of this possible. This experience was invaluable and life changing to say the least.

Sure, it’s been tough at times. This trip has made me question myself and my reasons for being here. But the reality is that I need to do this work. Maybe it’s because as an Asian American who never heard my story told in the U.S., I feel this need to bring other’s voices to the table. Maybe it’s because after all this time, reports of horrific human rights abuses in South Korea from the 1980s were only brought up in 2016. Maybe it’s because even a year after the A.P. published it, people still don’t know of our violent history. Maybe it’s because I’m still angry this “ugly secret” wasn’t a secret even back then, even in the United States. My own American grandmother knew of this, knew the potential fate for my mother had she not been adopted from Korea in the 1960s. Yet Americans, as a whole, did nothing. I can’t do nothing. And while I can’t save anyone, I can go out into the world and make good trouble. 

Before I left Boston, I got some really helpful advice from my sister, who’s lived a far more impactful life than I have, working in a rural South African hospital and in an abortion clinic in Georgia, and documenting indigenous women’s reproductive healthcare in Mexico. (I know, she’s really cool. After all these years, I still look up her and the work she does. She’s still doing incredible work, but I don’t know if I’m allowed to talk about her current project just yet.)

She told me I might see things that alter the way I look at the world, and when that happens, to lean in. Manic Pixie Dream Girls do not exist; no one here is living their life in the hopes that an American student stumbles upon an epiphany. But when they trust me with their story, I’m going to fight like hell to make sure that story is told.

**It seems fitting to end my career at Northeastern with Katherine Boo, since her book Behind the Beautiful Forevers was the book we had to read as an incoming freshmen class.

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