How “Black Panther” Impacted Me as an Asian-American

Who is the last Asian-American to impact culture?

I’ll give you a minute. You’ll actually probably need 50 mins.

The best answer I could up with was: Jeremy Lin and Linsanity, Alexander Wang taking over fashion world, and the guy from the zombie TV show (no clue about his name so maybe this doesn’t count).

The fact of the matter is people who have Asian ethnic background constitute a major % of the U.S. population. Asians (as a group) are some of the highest income earners, college graduates, and achievers in our country. Yet, the impact on culture is little to non-existent.

I recently watched Black Panther, and it was a profound experience for me. One of my favorite movies of all-time on so many levels. Yes, the current socio-political situation has a lot to do with it. But moreover, I was so moved by how many of my African-American friends and other African-Americans in this country found a deep sense of identity and pride within the movie’s characters. I remember watching a LeBron interview (after he watched the movie), and he called it his favorite movie ever and how proud he was to have this movie come out so his kids could finally have a superhero they could identify with, down to the their skin tone.

I was incredibly moved and filled with fulfillment, but my mind couldn’t help but wander toward the same question for myself? Is there a superhero that Asian-Americans can identify with? The immediate answer was no, unless you count Bruce Lee (which to me he isn’t).

I’ve been going through a bit of an identity crisis lately. With the recent changes for my company, I’ve started to explore and question things I once found unshakeable. I had perceived my parents to be perfect. Infallible. But the way in which they’ve handled this situation at times (which is a herculean task) reminds me that all of us are human. We have emotions. And emotions cloud judgement and action. And no one is immune from this. I had perceived some of my friends to be true friends, only to be ignored or turned away when I asked them for support, advice, or help in a time of need. After watching Black Panther, I was also reminded of how I’ve been running away from my Asian-American identity for so long.

It’s not that I’m ashamed of who I am; I have immense pride in my Korean heritage. But as the saying goes, if you want to be like them, then you have to act and be like them. All my role models, mentors, and “superheroes” don’t look like me. They’re not Asian. And this fundamental truth has manifested itself in the subtlest details (I grow my facial hair because most Asians can’t) to the profound aspects of my life (I can’t remember the last full Asian girl I dated and I can count on my hand the number of Asian friends I have).

I recently did an interview, where I described the difference between a career in Corporate America vs. a career as an entrepreneur as a cruise vs. backpacking. In Corporate America, you have a stable salary with a clear roadmap of where your career can go if you stay the course. There’s also countless benefits and you’re riding on this slow-moving, but massive ship with hundreds or thousands of people. Cruise ships are very much like roles at companies like Google, Johnson & Johnson, and GE. Entrepreneurship on the other hand is less glitz and glamour. It’s backpacking through the country, with no set course or map of where to head next. You’re trailblazing. Charting a path that’s never been set out on before in search of something that is magical. This is why I’m drawn to being an entrepreneur. It’s what I was destined to do.

The reason I share this analogy is because for a long time I’ve been running away from embracing who I am. I used to reason that being an Asian-American is only part of who I am. It serves as a piece to the entire puzzle of my makeup. However, I used this reason to justify not embracing my background. I now recognize the tremendous opportunity and responsibility that lies ahead.

I want to become the example for every Asian-American. I want to explore new frontiers and surpass boundaries that no one of my color has been able to venture. I want to impact culture so that future Asian-Americans can see that it’s possible. This all sounds really fucking grand and audacious, and I’m almost paralyzed by how do you even start. I don’t have all the answers, but I think it starts with me just embracing who I am and leaning into that with full force with no regret or remorse.