I have always known that language is a huge part of my life, but it wasn’t until I made the self-love video about my experiences as an immigrant and ESL student that I realized the gravity and the layers of meanings attached to the word “language”–and how those things weighed down on my psyche.
Naturally, language is one of the many if not the primary ways in which express ourselves. We voice our ideas with words. We communicate to others with words. Words carry incredible power because they carry our voices, our thoughts, our ideas, our feelings, our memories…words are so many things.
I was first and foremost a lover of words. Then, I was an ESL student. You can see the conundrum I was faced with. I was always in a love-hate relationship with words. When I was growing up in Canada, words represented a vacuum–they were something that I severely lacked, or felt that I severely lacked. They represented my incapability of speech and personal expression. They meant that no matter how hard I tried to be myself, I couldn’t–thanks to the language barrier. Needing to piece together my voice again with a completely different linguistic system was quite hellish. In fact, that was one of the biggest hang-ups when I was a teenager: I wanted to be myself, but I couldn’t.
I dreamed of the day when I would become “myself”. I prayed for that day to come. In my imaginary world populated by ideals, I was funny, social, fluent in English, eloquent, quirky, and unafraid to speak up for myself. I was the girl telling jokes that made everybody laugh, and I was the girl who strung words together like magic and delivering punch-line after punch-line in regular conversations. In my dreams, I was perfect. And how fiercely and fervently I hoped to become this person.
Sounds familiar? The brightest of our dreams sometimes cast the biggest of our shadows.
On top of being an ESL student, I was also going through body image issues. Similar to North America, Asian culture also has an obsession towards being skinny. One of the things I became really upset about was how hideous my elephantine legs looked to myself. They weren’t long, flawless, shapely, or perfect. I would look like a disgusting creature trying to be someone I wasn’t if I ever attempted to wear a mini skirt. The Japanese anime culture probably played a part in my perception of myself, as well. Those unrealistic and disproportionate leg-lengths impressed themselves upon my innocent mind by force. In addition, I thought I had a ginormous butt. Unlike the popular butt-trends these days, having a non-existent behind was all the rage in Taiwan back then.
And perhaps because of my body-image issues and my desire to be perfect, I also carried around an irrational fear of harsh judgement. I still do sometimes. Honestly, this is the one thing I cannot solve and do not have a story for–yes, there have been times when I was judged, and perhaps unfairly, but I never really figured out were this overwhelming fear of judgement came from. Maybe it was because I grew up in a highly conformist Asian culture. “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down”–remember that? It’s not too far from the truth. Maybe I overly attached the validation of others to my own sense of self-worth. No matter how much I mulled this over, I have yet to identify an origin that bears meaning to my personal narrative.
Maybe I am just trivializing my experiences. I tend to do that often. As I am typing this blog post and running through some of the ideas in my head, I kept thinking to myself: my story seems like nothing compared to the folks who really went through shit in life. Gosh my life just isn’t shitty enough to make an insightful story! How bloody ridiculous!! Man I still have work to do.
In many ways, I feel fortunate and grateful that my ESL experience hadn’t been a blatantly racial one. In my video I talked about how sometimes I have this reluctant and irrational avoidance-behavior towards white people because as a person of colour, I am scared to be labeled as such. I am scared to be labeled as an ESL student–scared of being labeled as “other”. But other than my own insecurities, I feel like I am one of the lucky ones. I have never experienced my Asianness as a negative thing. I’m aware of some of the challenges that I have had as an immigrant when it comes to finding myself, but throughout my life I have never really been discriminated against based on my race. The people I encountered in my community, regardless of their skin colour, have never made “race” an issue. Because of this I rarely felt the need to declare myself as “Asian Canadian”. Sure, I’m Asian, and I’m also Canadian–but I’m mostly just me, you know. Kimberly Ming Tsan.
But yeah, as I consider the various chapters of my self-love journey, I am starting to recognize just how much weight or “karma” I have been carrying. For me, karma isn’t essentially good or bad–I like to say that karma is the weight we carry within our souls. It’s the patterns that we carry unconsciously into our daily lives and into our relationships. Lessons we have yet to learn. It defines our tendency to make certain choices and to think certain thoughts. I believe the karma we carry is an interesting cosmic mixture of what we have experienced in our current lifetime, as well as our previous lifetimes. It is our responsibility to be aware or seek to be aware of those patterns so we can be free from them. It is our duty to try our best to resolve our karma with ourselves and with other people because doing so is the grandest declaration of our love to our “selves”. It is honestly the most important gesture of self-love that we can make.