I wish I met Cristina Yang sooner.
You know how you meet someone at a certain time in your life and you just click with that person? You're nineteen years old and sit next to the right person in class. You're twenty-four and happen to apply to the job that leads you to the person you didn't know you needed. Maybe you're fifty-nine and bump into someone at the park. It doesn't matter. This person is in your life now and everything is better. Parts of your life that you didn't even know needed improvement have improved. Whenever this happens, you can't help but think or say, "I wish I met you sooner." Think of all the times you could have had! Think of all the memories, laughs, and tears... All of the fighting, the healing, and the learning... Well, that's how I feel about Cristina Yang!
I am an Asian American woman who didn't always identify as an Asian American. How so? I would always say that I was American. Period. I was adopted when I was four months old. My parents are not Asian. English is my first, and only, language. I am an American citizen.
Growing up, I didn't realize there was anything unusual about me until my classmates started to point out how my eyes looked different. Some of them would meet my mom and ask why I didn't look like her. At the time, I didn't have an answer. This was how I looked. That was my mom. These were simply facts of my life.
Then I started to notice that all of the girls on television looked more like my classmates than me. The stars on the big screen had big eyes of color, not slanted eyes of brown. Not even brown. Dark, dark brown. And when there was someone on a TV show who looked like me, they were nothing like me. I didn't hold calculators near and dear to my heart. I didn't look at a burger and fries in disgust as I turned to my rice and dumplings. I didn't have broken English. This was how so many Asian people were represented to their viewers. I couldn't relate to any of them. My younger self was embarrassed. My classmates started making jokes to me and about me because of how their perception of my background was being shaped. So I did what any humiliated little kid would do. I lied. I wasn't Asian. I erased a part of who I am.
I am now twenty-four years old and fully understand stereotypes, racism and cruelty. I understand that the creators of those shows were looking for a cheap laugh or were too close minded to expand their characters. I understand it happened then and it's still happening now.
In walks Cristina Yang.
I started "Grey's Anatomy" much later than most people... And by late I mean that I binge watched twelve seasons in less than a month. I was so drawn to Cristina. Here was a woman who said exactly what she was thinking, who didn't care about marriage or want kids, who was fierce and loyal, and whose career was her first love. Oh, and she's Asian-American. I do not love Cristina Yang because she looks more like me than Meredith does. I love her because of who she is as a whole person. I love her because there are parts of her that I relate to and parts of her that I aspire to be like. Cristina Yang may be fictional but she's my friend. And I wish I had met her sooner.
I wish I met Cristina Yang sooner so that my younger self would have had someone to look up to. When I would write short stories as a nine year old, I would picture everyone with blue eyes, white skin, and brown hair. That was beautiful to me. That was what people were meant to look like. I cringe thinking about it now. If I had met Cristina Yang when I was little and confused and, quite frankly, alone, I would have known an Asian American woman who was so much more than the butt of the joke. I would have a friend who was Asian, flawed, intelligent, funny, who desired, and was undeniably strong. To me now, all of that simply means human. But back then, I didn't know that existed. I didn't know I could be seen as all of that and still have smaller eyes and darker features.
I love Cristina Yang. I love her so much that I think about her in my daily life. I remember the words she has spoken and they help make me a better person. If I had met her sooner, maybe I wouldn't have been so afraid because I was different, or so shy because I felt like my voice didn't matter. Or maybe I would have... But she would have taught me to have courage anyway.
I wish I had met her sooner but I can't change the fact that I didn't. What I can change is how I see people and how I create people when I write my own stories. And maybe, some day in the future, a little girl with thick black hair, a small nose, and thin eyes will read what I wrote and know that she is so much more than that. She'll know that she can be anything she wants... Because Cristina Yang says so. And so do I.