A student of mine recently asked if I’ve ever been on Broadway.
“You’re a great singer and actress,” he said.
No, I’ve never been on Broadway. I aspired to that dream once, but I gave up.
But how could I tell him that?
How do you tell a kid who you are supposed to encourage and inspire that when you weren’t much older than him you gave up on your dream of being an actor? That you went on too many failed auditions. That too many times casting directors saw the shape of your eyes and gave the part to someone else.
I was offered scholarships to study acting, but I knew that all the talent and training in the world wouldn’t get me roles. Because there just aren’t many Asians on Broadway or in Hollywood.
Sure, Lea Salonga made it big, but only because the producers of Miss Saigon wanted a young Asian cast in the lead role. How many times does an opportunity like that come up? How often is a play or a film featuring Asians actually produced?
I was told so many times that I was too “ethnic” looking, that there weren’t enough Asian actors to cast as my family members.
It’s a harsh world out there for performers, especially the Asian ones.
As I got older, I realized that if I tried to make it as an actress, my chances of success were even lower than most. So I gave up. At the age of 18, I was so thoroughly discouraged by the industry that I quit.
Do I tell children that? Do I tell them to reach for more realistic goals? Do I tell them to abandon their dreams and to save their hearts the pain of rejection?
But to do so would be to tell them to be content with marginalization. To be content to be cast aside, to let white actors play Asian characters. To let their race define their actions and to limit themselves.
I can’t say I’m unhappy with the way things turned out. Instead of making it big on Broadway, I became a writer and a teacher. So if the words I write have the tiniest bit of influence to inspire other kids to stick with their dreams, to break down barriers, to not let their race overpower their talent, then my childhood dream, in a way, will live on.