Peering into the Glass Exterior

For a moment, I imagine myself made of glass.
I imagine every other individual as made of glass.
I open one door and collect an idea.
I open another door and intake an experience.
I open a different door and learn from my mistake.
With every door I open, my glass form fills up
With decisions I’ve made across time.
And when I look around,
I see other glass beings for what they’ve chosen to become.
We enter into each other’s space,
We affect each other’s substance
And together, crossing each other’s paths, we help build a community of choices.
We dream of possibilities,
Of how to shape each other,
Of how to shape our community
Of how to shape ourselves in the process.

“Who are you?” is a question that glares daringly at me and frankly makes my palms sweat. Every time. It’s a question that forces me to distill years of complex personal history into a simple, relatable answer, and that’s tough.

I am one in a billion and more free-roaming individuals living in a million and more cross-sections of this infinite space and time. I am also one floating between the idealist and realist, trying to make sense of this incomprehensible world and pulling down the abstract into more tangible systems and processes to ground myself into normalcy. On a closer spectrum of identity, I am a cumulative being with a history of twenty something years behind me and an individual who maintains ties with the East Asian peninsula through regular Kimchi eating, occasionally drowns two hours of her week into Korean dramas as a mode of cultural education, shakes her hips to 4/4 Reggaeton beats, keeps Pico de Gallo as a staple food item in her fridge, dreams of sinking her feet into California’s white sand dunes, remembers the humid, 25-degree mountain breeze that brushed against volcanic rock, the leaves of the Ceiba tree and flowed under the wings of the long-tailed, majestic Quetzal, and jolts with excitement upon first snowfalls collecting on top of blue peaks overlooking the Northern lands. So if you ask me who I am, I’m like any other person at the macro-level, but I am also not like any other person beyond what you see at first glance.

I grew up in a traditional and mostly-conservative Asian family, with parents who strived to understand North American and Latin American culture at the same pace my mind adapted to it during my childhood, adolescence and into adulthood. It required me to balance a trio of cultures with finesse, but growing up, it took years of practice and skill to stand as a minority with inner comfort and confidence. There were certainly days when, for example, my inability to understand Spanish or observing my parents struggle with a language barrier created a sense of shame that overtook my confidence to truly be myself. There were those other days when my parents and I would struggle with disagreements over the social norm differences in the Western culture I was immersed in, and the East Asian culture embedded in their lifestyle and way of being. Up until the end of high school, these tensions caused by a mesh of cultural identification often made me question myself and frequently made me tread in a sea of uncertainty. Not to say that fast-forwarding six years to the present, I’m now completely certain about myself. With the concept of identity being more fluid than rigid, I still continue to ask the “Who am I?” question everyday as it is formed and molded by the people, places, stories, and experiences that enter my life. What’s changed between now and then, however, is a shift in perspective that I’ve learned to practice: to embrace my cultural upbringing and to not feel shame in expressing my identity in the light of others’ judgments. Looking outward, it’s become an ongoing lesson to try and see past the shortcut labels, which the human mind has a natural tendency to rely on, in order to understand others’ underlying stories.

I am attached to art because I think it ties in well with this lesson. In a broad sense, art is any form of expression of the human mind and it sets the stage to express (for the artist) and uncover (for the art consumer) a story, a meaning, or intention beyond what’s been displayed. This is why I like creating art, whether it is through words, paintings, sketches or photography. Art has been my way of expressing my inner thoughts and perspectives, mostly for symbolic diarizing, and maybe partly to reassure myself that there is, indeed, a deeper inner substance to the 5 ft. 2, Korean female that I am.

– isabel lee

Isabel blogs at