I can’t exactly pinpoint when I wanted to start writing. But I do remember as a kid growing up on the coast, I would grab driftwood and write entire messages into the sand just before high tide came. When the waves approached, I watched them wash over my words, dragging them into a vast blue vault where no one could see them again.
I wrote like that for years — in journals, sticky notes, my Nintendo DS. Then I joined my high school paper and realized what published words could do. When I got to college, it only made sense to apply for The Daily Tar Heel.
In my four years on staff, I’ve pursued stories that have left me breathless and written columns I was afraid for the world to see.
My parents never particularly enjoyed me writing on my identity. It’s a fear I can’t blame. Asians in this country are seen as passive, hardworking, obedient. We are taught to believe that our entry into this country is conditional. It’s an unspoken price to pay for your place here.
And the price? Accepting the xenophobia, racism and Islamophobia thrown at us.
Through everything — standing in the pouring rain waiting for student body president election results, holding administration accountable in editorial board meetings, publishing Elevate for the first time — I decided I wasn’t going to pay the price. Always, the DTH has shown me what it means to raise hell, from the University’s handling of COVID-19 to the sexual assault records lawsuit.
As much as I love the DTH, it has been an unrelenting place to work as a minority. As it is in many major institutions, I was never able to shake off the feeling of alienation. And when you become too used to feeling othered, it can start to wash away not only your words, but your presence too.
The DTH is where I found my voice, but it’s also where time and time again I’ve felt as if I was adrift in the middle of a storm. My biggest regret is staying quiet — like when a colleague told me the desk I was the editor of was only successful because of the work of the mostly white newsroom, not my own talent. Or when, year after year, I found that it was Abbas, my Muslim colleague, and I who had to push for coverage of Our Three Winners.
All these years, and I thought if I kept my head down and got my clips, I could eventually find my place at the DTH, cliques and all. Turns out some behaviors can be generational.
The DTH has to be better. And it’s starting to. I only wish I could have done more, pushed more — maybe then we could have encouraged one more brown girl to apply or even prevent one from quitting, as I was close to doing so many times. But the solution is not up to one person; it’s up to the entire institution. I’m tired of reading the same farewell column from people of color every year.
But the DTH is also a family, and I’ve formed some of my strongest relationships there. Paige, Nathan, Abbas, Praveena, Lilly, Brittany, Heidi — I am so excited to see where y’all go. Erica and Dana are the greatest role models. And I’m still in awe of the work this year’s editorial staff has done.
My senior year is ending on a bittersweet note. I’m home in Florida, for one, not in Chapel Hill celebrating as a senior should. Over this year, I’ve been jaded by the institutions failing us over and over again.
The post-pandemic future is unpredictable. But I do know that after these four unforgiving and special years, I’m leaving knowing my words will never be washed away again.
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