By Keziah Lyu
When I was beginning graduate school and was finally assigned my first year practicum at a local high school counseling center, I was beyond excited. I literally ran across the house to tell my parents where I was placed while jumping up and down. I was so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed that I was going to make a difference and that being an Asian American clinician was going to be as easy as it was growing up Asian in the Bay Area.
As soon as I began to tell my Asian American friends where I would be doing my clinical work the next year, my friend who grew up on the East Coast said something that struck me and has stuck with me since. She said that she had never considered going to her high school or college counseling center for counseling, because she didn’t think they would understand and that “no one would look like her.” This simple statement fills me still with a profound sadness, and I have had to face that, outside of my little bubble, it’s true. And that’s hard. Throughout my first year, my Asian classmates, classmates of color, and I have struggled in spaces where we were the only one, where no one else understood, and where we had to be strong and be the voice for the sake of our clients and our communities. We had to be true to ourselves even when our professors, our administrators, our supervisors, and our classmates neither looked like us nor understood our cultures, our languages, our values, our experiences, or ultimately, us.
Having grown up in South Bay and going just up the Bay to Berkeley for college, I didn’t realize how hard it was going to be – how hard it was going to be to sometimes feel invisible, how discouraging to feel so conflicted on the inside, how tiring it would be to consistently show up as a person of color, and how isolating it can be sometimes to be the only Asian student. Beginning graduate school was not only beginning a career but also the beginning of a journey, a journey of locating my place in this field and in this society as an Asian American and of questioning dominant narratives written for the majority.
In my first year, I didn’t get to see any Asian American clients, only primarily Latino American students. Halfway through the year, I was referred a student that had just come over from Guatemala, and he could not speak English very well. We ended up only playing board games during our sessions, exchanging very few sentences and shy smiles. He asked once if we could play the game ‘One,’ and it took me a couple of seconds to realize that he was talking about the card game ‘Uno.’
He started to become more curious, asking me where my parents were from and asking me what languages I spoke. He asked me to write ‘how are you?’ in Mandarin and my Chinese name for him while he would sometimes offer Spanish words for English words when I asked him questions. Noticing the candy bucket in the office, he started to take a few every session but told me proudly that his favorite food was Chinese food and asked me if I knew that specific Chinese restaurant that he loved. Not long after, he decided to stop coming, because he didn’t see a need which I agreed with. In all of my nervousness and anxiety as a beginning therapist and not being able to communicate in English, it took me a little bit of time to realize and value that we did have a special sort of connection. One that did not last long, but as much as I didn’t see it, we had something unique.
I once had an Asian American Studies professor that firmly believed that our stories though full of pain, full of complications, and full of struggle were worth telling, because there was beauty in all of the complicated narratives. And I have learned to look for that beauty and to appreciate it. There is so much beauty and strength in how hard it is that others will never know and we have to tell them our stories – we have to do this work until one day there is someone everywhere, anywhere that will look like us.
Keziah Lyu is a Psy.D. student at the Wright Institute, Berkeley. She is the incoming Student Representative of AAPA Division on Practice.
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