Your College Unnie: The token Texan

When you enter a room, you’ll first notice two things: the furniture and the people. Whether accentuated by eccentric personalities or rustic chairs hand-carved from pine, the room dazzles, delights and draws you in. But there’s a key difference — people can talk, furniture cannot. People entertain you with stories of where they’ve been, what they’ve seen and who they are. Furniture stays silent and “looks pretty.” It services the people and their needs. 

Growing up in Texas, I often felt like a piece of furniture. Rather than being appreciated as an individual, I frequently found myself pushed aside. It was always “how can you help me with college apps?” never “how are you?” Often “I know Victoria, she’s a National Merit Scholar,” but rarely “let’s catch up, dinner tonight?” When it benefited them, I was invited. Otherwise, I might as well have been an armchair.

The other day, I came across a photo from my freshman year of high school. It was Halloween, and I was dressed as Olympic snowboarder Chloe Kim, someone I greatly admire. Even with my Burton hoodie and Lindsey Vonn goggles, my smile in the photo seems a bit … strained. A long press on the live image revealed why: Halfway through the shutter, someone says “ugly” and waves a hand to block the camera. And yet, I kept smiling.

For years, I pursued this vicious definition of “belonging.” I was the president of two clubs and the vice president of another, a four-year varsity choir member and had published biotechnological research. Still, no matter what I did, it was never enough. I was never enough. 

I was a token Texan — a brunette in a sea of blonde, sweatpants in a world of jeans, lambskin instead of cow hide. Whenever it benefited somebody, I was remembered. Otherwise, I faded into the brush.  

Nobody should have to feel that way. It’s a terrible headspace to be in, and if what you’re reading resonates with you, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I can’t tell you what to do or why this is happening. But I can tell you that things will get better.

One. Be patient, not only with time, but with yourself as well. You’re still growing, and it’s bound to be painful. Just because you encounter tough situations, challenging people or lofty expectations doesn’t mean the burden falls entirely on you. It could mean “right people, wrong time” or “wrong people, right time.”

Two. It’s going to be difficult to walk away from the path you had planned and from the people along it, but trust me, it’s for the best. Before you love others, you must first learn to love yourself. Accept yourself not for who you should be, who you can be or who others want you to be, but for who you are. You are enough. 

As someone from Texas, USC is as revitalizing as a spread of warm cornbread and smoky ribs. Not only am I able to pursue my academic interests, I am also able to explore my passions with fresh-minded communities that leave me feeling energized and empowered. During the week, my Google Calendar is decorated with Korean American Student Association, Trojan Scholars Society and American Marketing Association meetings. At nights, I hang out in the Daily Trojan newsroom, and on the weekends you can catch me bombing down Mammoth Mountain with the USC Ski & Snowboard team. I have the most interesting (and questionable) conversations, ranging from “grizzly bear versus silverback gorilla?” to “how many five-year-olds could you fight at once?”

But best of all, I’ve found that I can finally be. 

I may still be a token Texan, but it’s taken on a new connotation. Rather than being a cowboy hat hanging on a wall, I’m riding the bull at the rodeo. I hold the reins to my identity and belonging. And when bucked, I hang on.

So shed that snakeskin, slip on your jeans and shine your spurs. It’s time to get down to the honky-tonk.

Victoria Lee is a freshman writing about the AAPI experience in America. She is also the Wellness and Community Outreach Director for the Daily Trojan. Her column, “Your College Unnie,” typically runs every other Wednesday.