Joan came to LeeAnn’s mind as someone to refer to participate here because they had worked together on the Town Hall on Racism last fall and then met again over some follow-up KPOV radio interviews. When I met Joan she told me she had become familiar with this project through my short and sweet (my words not hers) Mayoral campaign - nice to know somebody was paying attention! Anyway, I am so grateful to LeeAnn for connecting us as I’ve had an interest in involving some younger folks in this project, but as a 36-year-old man, I have found that particular crowd to be rather inaccessible. It was a joy chatting with Joan and I am happy to introduce her to you here.
ACT: Who are you and how would you describe yourself?
JS: My name is Joan Song. I'm a Korean American senior at Summit High School. I'm involved in the newspaper - so journalism - as well as music. And I'm passionate about developing more relationships with people within the community and within different groups that I'm involved with.
ACT: What concerns you or makes you sad or breaks your heart that affects you personally about things that are going on in the world today? And then what motivates you to do something about that?
JS: I think maybe apathy is what what makes me feel worst about what's happening - this total kind of lack of caring about the situations of others. I think we see that a lot in our news cycle. Where if a mass shooting happens in a different country, it stays in the news cycle for, I think, a lot longer than in our news cycle and it kind of jump starts this conversation. Whereas, in America, it almost becomes so commonplace that people are apathetic to it and they don't - when this kind of tragedy happens - they don't relate to it as much. And they don't see it as much of a problem affecting them. Even though any kind of bad thing that happens, we shouldn't just kind of brush it away and say, Well, it doesn't concern me, so I don't have to worry about it.
I think we see that in terms of climate change and how we contribute to that. Or how the things we say can be hurtful to other people and not acknowledging that, you might be perpetrating some kind of vitriol against others. And I would say that motivates me to just reach out and try to spread awareness of certain situations, I guess.
ACT: Do you encounter apathy in your own social circles, with your age group, your peers? And how does that affect you?
JS: Yeah, I would guess so. The biggest situation where you might see that kind of attitude is definitely when tragedies or these violent events happen and we talk about it for two minutes and then we just accept that that's just how it is and there's nothing we can do to change it.
And it's very inspirational to see people that recover from this tragedy and do something about it - like how the Parkland survivors started that big movement. But, for the most part, it's kind of hard to see that level of caring until it happens to you, you know? I think I've been very lucky to have been involved in some projects at our school with the Town Hall Symposium on Racism and the KPOV interview and trying to do my part to shed light on some of the diversity issues that Bend faces. But I still feel like we could all be doing more to hold ourselves accountable for our own behavior.
ACT: Have you had experiences where you've been affected by racism here?
JS: Yes. I think when people think about racism, they think of, you know, very graphic or violent physical confrontations, but there are also smaller instances that kind of permeate through your daily life as well. Like, one time I had a teacher hold me back after class and he told me, Your English! You speak such good English. You don't really speak like someone from around here, but when you write I can hardly even tell you have an accent. And that was very hurtful to me because if it was another student that said something like that, I would have just brushed it off and been like, Oh, they're just an immature student. But to hear that coming from a teacher - you know, an English teacher who's been reading my essays all year and stuff - it makes me wonder - has he been really reading my essays without bias and viewing me as a whole person? Or has he been seeing me under this impression of Well, she doesn't speak very good English 'cause she's not white and she must be from an immigrant family, so I'm going to go easy on her. You know?
And, you know, there are like the basic instances like, Oh, go back to China or slurs and epithets. Those kinds of things are just... I don't know... I think having the support of my family and our own little Korean community in Bend makes it easier to laugh those things off. 'Cause those things kind of just... when they happen you have to realize that it's because of the ignorance of the person who perpetrates that. And you can't take it personally. You just kind of have to forgive and forget. So, it's easier to just kind of laugh it off and be like, Oh, that kind of thing happens all the time. It's fine.
ACT: What do you we mean to each other - individual to individual?
JS: In Korean culture there's this kind of belief - a traditional belief - that there are red strings connecting you to the people that you meet. And these red strings of fate bring you together. And even if you dislike somebody or even if you don't necessarily get along with someone, there's still a reason that you met them and you can grow from your experiences and learn how to live together with other people that you might disagree with or that you just don't get along well with. And, you know, you can accept that and embrace it and realize as people, everyone else is also just a person and you have to come together. Or you could kind of reject that notion and say Well, I disagree with this person and I don't like them, so I'm just not going to engage with them. And I just feel like there's always a reason you meet someone. And individual to individual, there's always a connection of just being human together. And you can grow from those people.
ACT: Going out from there, what does community mean to you? And what does it mean to you to be a part of a community - and I don't mean the geographic place - with so many different opinions and value systems or lack of value systems?
JS: Living here in Bend as an Asian woman, community means two things to me. First one is the Bend community of, you know, hiking, going outdoors, the sun, paddle boarding - the classic Bend community. But also being part of an ethnic community - at Christmas or at Thanksgiving - because immigrants don't have other family in the United States, all the local Koran families in Bend come together and we celebrate these holidays together because that's our community and that's our family here - our proxy family, I guess - since we don't have our blood family here with us. So, because Bend is such a majority white population, being an ethnic minority means that you're constantly a part of the ethnic community.
And I guess with the spread of social media or, like, if I travel to go to music events and I meet all these different people, I find myself gravitating toward other people that have had similar experiences to mine. And so, in that way, inadvertently, we form an ethnic community there, as well. Because, you know, if you're also a minority, there are just certain things that you relate to each other better and you understand more about each other because you've gone through similar things. And so, wherever you go, it always feels like you have the support of that ethnic community with you.
ACT: What are your thoughts on coexisting with people who have very different agendas that might be perceived as negative and what's your mechanism for handling that? And how does it factor into your future plans and how you want to live your life?
JS: It's really easy to get angry. If someone says something insulting or ignorant to you or if someone just expresses a belief that you definitely don't agree with, it's easy to pop off on them and get upset and express hatred. And I think I'm definitely guilty of that because while I might sound very quiet and soft spoken now, I definitely can have a temper. While I think I definitely retaliated more when I was younger, as I grow older I find it easier to just block it out. You know? There's always going to be someone who has a viewpoint that doesn't align with yours. Even if it's not something that should really be an opinion thing. It's not just an opinion that white people are better than other races - that's just bigotry. But, at some point, you can't change everybody you encounter. And you can't always convince someone to act or think a different way, especially if that's just been their upbringing and the culture they've been raised in. So, I think it's important to be aware of that and to act with that in mind - that no matter how much you yell, sometimes you just can't change someone. And it might be better sometimes to just try to have a more... I guess a calmer conversation even if it what they say angers or upsets you. If you have to work together with that person, then you just have to deal with that.
ACT: Do you feel a sense of purpose or a compulsion to be a certain way? And do you feel a sense of responsibility to affect positive change?
JS: In a way I would say I do. I think when I was younger, because I lived in Sisters - which is even less diverse than Bend - I felt this need that I had to represent my race and I had to represent my ethnicity and I had to act in a way that would portray my background in a positive way so that people wouldn't think back and be like, Oh, well, all Koreans are like this or All Asians are like this because of the way I acted. But now, more recently, I think the purpose that I act with is to bring more awareness, I guess, and still to represent, but with a more positive connotation. Not kind of worrying about how my actions might reflect on my race, but more concerned about how can I contribute to making the lives of other [people of color] in our community better. And that's kind of why I was involved with the Town Hall so much and why I did the interview with KPOV and Source Weekly and even just recently attended a little committee meeting to see how we can improve the next Town Hall that we have. Because I just want to leave a positive legacy, I guess. And I want to make it better for the people that follow me in this town - in this local community.
ACT: What would you say is your biggest motivator as you graduate high school and go off into college and enter the working world?
JS: (Laughs) I don't know. I guess my biggest concern right now is money and affording college. So, the biggest motivator now is making sure I can find a good job after college and pay off any students loans or debts that I have and be able to successfully begin the rest of my life. I think financial concerns definitely plague many people in our generation because, you know, college is just getting so expensive. But I guess the bigger vision behind that is I would hope to do something that increases diversity. I guess an example of that would be in Fenty Beauty and how they made make-up more accessible to women of all different shades, which hadn't really been seen in the market before. I think that's a way of contributing to a positive change. And if I could do something similar to that, whether it's making an industry more inclusive or allowing more female business owners to get access to the capital they need to start their company, if it's something that's contributing to that kind of positive change, I would feel that that would be a fulfilling career.
ACT: I give everybody I interview and opportunity to ask me something - do you have anything that you'd like to ask me?
JS: Doing this project and meeting all these different people, was there any one person that made you really take a step back and be like, Wow, that changed my worldview or something?
ACT: I can't single anybody out.... even if I wanted to. I don't want to do that. But I can say that the majority of these conversations - I think this is number 123 - leave a mark on me. And if we want to go back to that red strings attachment that we all have to each other, I think I have quite a few red strings through this. And I think that all of those strings matter. I tend to enjoy deconstructing how we all come together anyways and how one thing leads to another. I enjoy thinking about that and I think it also induces a little but of anxiety in certain situations where you just try to figure out how this thing came about - how you met this friend. If you've made your best friend, for example - how much they've affected your life and how much you've potentially affected theirs and what would it be like if you hadn't. So I show up to each of these interviews I guess kind of fully expecting to have my life changed, you know, or at least being aware that that's a possibility. And I think I become a better, wiser, stronger, more encouraged, and more well-rounded human being after every one of these. And I have had specific conversations where someone's offered a different perspective that I think that I can use in my day-to-day in a way that will make life better for me and those around me. Is that a fair way to answer that?
ACT: Do you have any closing remarks?
JS: Actually, I was thinking back on what I was saying earlier about representation and things like that - this is not super related, but this October I was voted as one of our four homecoming princesses. And, you know, Summit is a very white school and even if we do have minorities, we're not usually at the forefront of school events that happen. But I remember I got voted in and this other Asian - like a freshman or a sophomore, I think - told his mom that seeing another Asian involved in something like that made him really happy and really proud to see that kind of thing happening and to think that, Well, Asians have a spot at this school, too. I guess that's kind of what I mean where I feel like I have to represent something. Because in one way, that can be a bad thing where I have to carry this burden of like, Oh, I have to act a certain way. I have to be a certain way. But in another way, it can be good, too. Because I can bring that kind of positivity to someone's life. Well, if she can do it, so can I. You know?