The Other Side: Vania Myers
Talented, passionate, and courageous are a few words I'd use to describe my friend Vania. I'm excited to share her story of how her ethnicity and background have brought her to the person she is today. Visit her work at vaniamyers.com
Vania Myers is a visual designer based in Brooklyn, NY.
On her name
I am 100% Korean as far as I know. My mother moved to New Jersey after I was born. A couple of years later my mother had divorced my father, and then she remarried an American, which is why my name is so different. I had adopted his last name. My first name used to be Eun-ji, but people have called me Vania ever since first grade. In high school it finally became legal. My name became Vania Myers.
My mom picked it. I remember when I was super little, like kindergarten, my mom and my birth dad at the time put down a newspaper and wrote down the name and told me, "You're just going to be known as that." Which was Vania. They had to rewrite it over and over again. I looked it up later and it means "God's gift." It's Jewish and Russian. Obviously there's Christian or at least religious undertones, which my parents were really inspired by that. They didn't know it was not an American name. [They wanted me to have an American name] just to make it easier for me to fit in. I have a weird memory of my parents saying it was just easier on college applications if they see an American name, or at least what they see as an American or English name, rather than an Asian name. Then I won't be stereotyped as an Asian-American applying for college. They thought it was more advantageous for me to be thought of as everyone else, an American.
[My name] still feels foreign to me because no one can get it right, and I don't blame them. It's this weird dichotomy because they thought I was this Russian or Jewish person and they see me but still can't say my name. So there's still this weird foreignness to it.
On her grandmother
My grandma has been illegal the whole time [she lived with us]. She moved back to Korea my sophomore year of college because of her health issues. It was really hard when she left. I grew up with her all my life and she was pretty much like a second mother to me. My mom worked so much. She was a single mom and I didn't see her as much, except late at night when she'd come home. [My grandma] would wake me up for school, cook me breakfast, wait for the bus with me. Knowing she had a stroke and her speech slurred, it was a really hard time for me, to see that, and to accept that she had to go back. I haven't seen her since.
I was very naive [towards her status]. When I applied for college I remember my parents telling me to not mention my grandma because she was illegal. So when they asked me who I lived with, it was just me, my mom, my dad, and my brother. It was all very hush hush. But I never felt like it was a big deal. Obviously I'm very empathetic towards [undocumented immigrants]. I was very lucky because when my mom applied for citizenship I was under 18 so she did all the heavy work for me. I didn't have to take a test or anything. But it took years, it was insane. I guess my stepdad is very conservative, and I was so naive back then. I grew up in a very Jewish neighborhood, very white. So I used to say "We came here the right way, why can't everyone else do that?" But no, I am very empathetic towards the immigration process, especially nowadays with Trump trying to block off certain people from coming here because of their skin color and what they look like. It's horrible and racist. America is supposed to be where the weak and the poor come to get the American dream, but it's just so hard for that.
People assume I'm very quiet, and I'm just going to do whatever people tell me to do at work. I look like I fit that stereotype. When people get to know me I can be more outspoken, I'm not as shy, I'm very political. They see a different side of me. I'm not the stereotype people want to box me into.
I wish people knew that [even though] I can be quiet at times, it [just] means I'm a good listener. I prefer listening and dissecting what people are saying to me. I may be a small person but I have a big heart. I'm very opinionated, especially when [it involves] caring about people and I want to make sure they're protected and everything is ok.
I'm not this typical Asian girl. I can see where the stereotypes come from. My mom raised me to be like that. She said always be grateful for what you have, don't ask for more, keep your head down. I'm not blaming her for anything, but that's what she grew up with. I've been trying really hard to fight that struggle. If I feel like I should get paid more, I'm going to say I want more money. If I don't agree with something, and it's worth fighting about, I will say something. I'm trying to fight that initial feeling I have to be quiet and not say anything. I want my voice to be heard.
I want people to be more empathetic to everyone. You don't know their stories, you don't know why they act the way they do. I believe if people are more understanding they realize that we all grow up in different environments and [that is] why they act this way or that way. [I want to tell people to] be open minded and listen to the other side of the story. Don't make assumptions about someone who you have no idea what their lives are about.
On being a minority
It's a struggle. I'm the outsider trying to fit in. I'm a sore-thumb. Growing up I never thought of myself as different based of my skin color, but it's funny because when it came to my best friends I was automatically drawn towards 2 Japanese girls. I never really thought of us as being different other than cultural differences, but I also heard racial slurs. Not vicious, but people would ask me "what does ching chong chang mean" and I would just laugh it off and say "I don't know what you're talking about." It's weird because I didn't realize how much I tried to fit in until I grew up and realized they were racist back then.
I think [the most difficult part about being a minority is] the pressure of fitting into the majority. When I was growing up I didn't want my mom to bring in the typical Korean food that she would make because people would think it smelled or is weird; so I had her bring me Lunchables. People get double eyelid surgery because they think the Western look is more beautiful. People want to dye their hair, which is fine, but why do people take an hour to put on makeup just to have Western features? Why do Asian women prefer dating white men? It's just something to think about. There's this pressure of trying to fit in and be more what is considered "white." But then you would be criticized for being too white. It's this double edged sword that is always at your neck.
Since I didn't grow up with all these privileges I can be more empathetic towards other people who too didn't grow up with many privileges. Issues like people of color, LGBT, women, etc. I went through some struggles being an Asian American woman, [and even though] I don't understand what it's like to live life, let's say, being a black male, I can be more empathetic.