Finding Myself Through IPAAFF by Priscilla Lee

I’m not one to talk about myself, especially about my feelings, experiences, and stories. However, after the Ithaca Pan Asian American Film Festival event this past week, I feel compelled to share what being a part of this film festival has meant to me.

My story has always been difficult for me to tell to people, not because of tragedies or hardships (although those reasons add to the fact), but mainly because I feared, and believed, that my many layers and factors would become non-relatable and further isolate me to feel like a foreigner wherever I went.

I was born and raised in Kenya for the majority of my life, living a few years in the United States here and there. At first, I would tell people I am American by citizenship, Korean and African American by blood, but essentially Kenyan, even though I never really felt like I belonged anywhere. Analyzing how I felt for many years as I lived in Kenya, I felt like a foreigner. When my family lived in the United States for a few years, I looked like “a foreigner.” When I visited Korea as a child, I was treated as a foreigner. I struggled with finding where I fit in, constantly changing myself to blend in with different groups of people and letting others define me based on how I looked and acted. To many people, I was referenced as a “bruised banana,” meaning that I am Black and Asian on the outside and “American” on the inside.

It wasn’t until I came to college when I really started to dig into my history and decide what and how I would identify myself as and to find my agency in that identity. Throughout the past three years at Ithaca College, I have grown, and I now contently self-identify as being Korean-African-American, although I still have a long journey ahead of me in growing more and more confident in my identity. There are still hard days when I struggle with trying and wanting to blend in with other Koreans or African Americans, and to a certain extent, looking for their approval. Other times, my own acceptance in the fact that I am mixed race and to belong is not for other’s approval, but my own.

I became a part of IPAAFF through the promotion and encouragement of my advisor, Changhee Chun. He kept insisting we would make history together through this class. Being Asian American and in Ithaca, I felt, in a weird way, a small sense of duty to be a part of the festival. Throughout the semester, I worked day in and day out, with some days being on fire for the festival and proud that we are creating this event and other days questioning what the whole point was. Regardless, the event started and ended.

In the end, no matter how much work I did or didn’t put into the film festival, I am delighted and especially honoured to be a part of the first Ithaca Pan Asian American Film Festival for three main reasons.

First, it allowed me to meet so many great individuals in the class who have not only encouraged me, and each other, throughout the semester and event, but also allowed me to feel like I have a community of members who have my back when I didn’t have the energy to go through the day. Second, watching the films that were submitted and screened made me realize that “Asian American” is a much broader term than I ever thought about and creating a film about Asian American identity can be just another narrative film. And finally third, it allowed me to realize that my story too, just might be able to reach out to people, so I should not be afraid of sharing it. My many layers that I was once afraid of is now something I am learning to embrace and appreciate about myself and encourage my agency.

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