As I’ve been navigating my summer job working with Cleans Coastal Restoration Project, and loving every second of it, it’s made me reflect on who I am as a person. As a woman in the STEM field, as a musician, as a visible minority, as an Asian-American, as an adopted person, and as someone who was born in Cambodia/Khmer—these different facets define how I conduct myself daily, including when I meet people. These things also define how people perceive and treat me.
Before coming to Canada for University, I lived in small rural town in Maine that had little diversity. Growing up, it wasn’t hard for me to get the same opportunities (such as education) as others, since my parents are both white. After leaving my bubble in Maine, I came to Canada and had several realizations within the first few months of being at school. People didn’t know if I could speak English well. Someone asked, “What are you?” instead of “Where are you from?”. Many were surprised when I told them I was adopted. These things happen from time to time. A student journalist stopped me on the street once to ask about how I was coping with Nova Scotia’s weather and was surprised to find I grew up in Maine where the weather is virtually the same. People I had just met tried to guess my ethnicity as a “fun game”. Through different work engagements, people have made it known that they thought I was Indigenous. While I have had some uncomfortable and angering instances, I’ve also had many more amazing moments with people who have let me define myself to them without them making assumptions about me.
As a woman in the stem field, I looked up to a few female scientists who had a pretty big mark on me. The first was Rachel Carson, who led the fight of banning DDT in the US. She inspired me from a young age and continues to be the first name that comes to mind when someone asks about my role models. The other was Jane Goodall, who is a force to be reckoned with! She is a passionate lady, who at the age of 85 is still traveling the world to speak for the chimpanzees. I had the pleasure to see her speak this past spring in Halifax on the Dalhousie Campus. As I embark in the environmental field, it is a comfort to have such strong pillars of guidance.
Living in Maine, I had little access to Khmer culture or people in my life, except my parents who could share their experiences with me. As a musician growing up, my parents often tried to get me to listen to Khmer music or Khmer-American music. Nothing really stuck except the Cambodian Space project. The music was fun to listen to and fun to share with my dad! It was heartbreaking when I learned the lead singer Kak Channthy died in a car crash. It was nice to see such an outpouring of love for the singer and band.
People often thought I was Chinese growing up, since my best friend during that time was also Chinese and people thought we were sisters. In terms of Asian-American or Khmer role models in STEM, I don’t really have any. There are plenty of other Asian-American woman making waves in society. For example, in the film industry there is Sandra Oh, who received the first Emmy nomination for someone of Asian heritage. Crazy Rich Asians made huge waves with a predominantly Asian cast and provided so many people with visible representation on screen.
As someone who is on the journey of reducing waste, my role models or people that share their journey on social media in various ways aren’t usually Asian. They are usually woman, but white. I realized this pretty recently and tried to widen my net for people to follow. Some of my favorite Instagram accounts are hippiemoji, kategoesgreen, and anagoeszerowaste. I love following their journeys and how accessible they make it seem. Around the time the Tare Shop opened in Halifax, another zero-waste store was opening in Waterloo, Ontario called Zero Waste Bulk. The owners are Asian, and in a sea of white people making waves in the zero-waste world it was cool to see this couple opening a shop! If you live in Halifax or Waterloo, please check out the Tare Shop and Zero Waste Bulk. They are both super cool spaces, run by fantastic people, and supporting local business is important!
Finally, I’d like to end with my inspiration for this post. I recently started listening to the Podcast All My Relations, which you can find on most platforms. This podcast was created by two Indigenous women: Matika Wilbur and Adrienne Keene. The title of the podcast is central to every discussion and each episode, which I think is truly important. Throughout the podcast, they explore Indigeneity and the many relationships in the world that exist today. This idea is shared among most Indigenous groups. The Mi’kmaq have a similar concept, as well as an Indigenous group in Cambodia I spent some time with while studying abroad. I was listening to Episode #3: native Mascots: Really, Still? where they discuss with their two guests, Amanda Blackhorse and Stephanie Fryberg, the effects of how misrepresentation on Indigenous people throughout the US. They talk about how uplifting it is to see yourself in the world. I highly recommend this podcast because of how inspiring it is and how much it makes you think. After listening to this podcast, I had to question who I really looked up to. My identity is always changing, and I think the need for role models I feel represent changing self is important. I think it’s important for everyone, to feel heard and seen in every facet of their life.
Who are your role models? Do your role models changed frequently?
Latest posts by Sophie Boardman (see all)
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