I distinctly remember when I woke up ‘different’ shortly after my family and I migrated to Aotearoa from Korea. I was confused, for nothing about me had changed from where I stood. I ‘found out’ that I was ‘Asian’, a ‘FOB’, a ‘chink’; all the words I did not know I was until I arrived in this foreign land. Having no one to share this experience with, nor having the insight as an 11-year-old that this was something I could reject, I internalised these thorny words and saw myself as ‘Other’. Such meant that I grew up rejecting the rich, enduring culture and language of my whakapapa (cultural lineage) of Korea.Coming across the book ‘The Day I Woke Up Different’ as an early career academic teaching and researching in the field of ‘race’ and decoloniality, it was a lyrical moment of rapture and healing. How it broke my heart and nourished my soul to read of the racialised experiences the children of the Asian diaspora go through in the global West. It validated my experience as a child. Through its beautiful words and illustrations, it showed me there were ways to transcend the reductive labels minorities are pressed with.
What is most powerful about this book is that it articulates so clearly the painful experiences of racialisation, and at the same time, the journey of liberation that can be followed thereafter. Dubbed as the ‘model minority’, our stories are often silenced in the dominant binary discourses of ‘race’ of Black vs. White, Pākehā vs. Maori and so on. It concretises and speaks up about our experience, and most important and radical of all, offers a vocabulary to express those experiences that is accessible to our children. Academia has a lot of these vocabularies to make sense of our experiences but these are often hidden away in the ivory towers and when shared, are seldom digestible by the public.
The Day I Woke Up Different is a source of validation, empowerment and transcendence beyond the oppressive forces that we experience, enveloped in the enchantment of its illustrative metaphors and words. An absolute honour and privilege to have come across this book, and I hope its gentle charisma rings through the hearts of many more readers.
이혜지 Hye Ji (Erica) Lee
Professional Teaching Fellow and Researcher
Department of Sociology
Te Whare Wānanga o Tāmaki Makaurau (The University of Auckland)
Aotearoa (New Zealand)
Uni Directory: https://unidirectory.auckland.ac.nz/profile/erica-lee