I‘m downloading the HD version of Star Trek from iTunes. This is the first time I’ve ever spent the extra money on HD quality, so you can tell just how much this movie means to me. I was a Trekker (I never used the term Trekkie) when I was about 9 or 10, and then I got my brother addicted. We had quoting marathons of all the films and went to a convention, where we watched Leonard Nimoy give a talk about whales and got Marina Sirtis’ autograph. A little while later, our interests started to diverge. My brother retained his love of Star Trek (before moving on to Star Wars, that traitor), but I became more of a random historical clothing recreation geek. I think this Halloween photo captures that period of our lives so well:
Though my interests changed, I always retained a soft spot for the Star Trek franchise — and for Spock in particular. Spock represented the epitome of brainy cool to me (I admired and envied his ability to take down someone’s ass using words instead of fists) and I thought Leonard Nimoy and his pointy ears were hot. But it wasn’t until I found myself growing emotional in a Taipei theater earlier this year that I truly understood why Spock resonated with me so deeply.
In one pivotal scene, Spock’s father Sarek, having lost his human wife Amanda after the Romulans blew up planet Vulcan (oh no they didn’t!), finally opens up to Spock. The two of them are vulnerable, and, for perhaps the first time in their lives, Sarek is willing to acknowledge that to his son. Sarek tells Spock:
You will always be a child of two worlds. I am grateful for this, and for you.
And then he adds:
You once asked me, why I married your mother. I married her because I loved her.
Tears welled up in my eyes and I had to fan my face to keep from bawling in a most un-Spock-like display of emotion.
As much as I love living in Taipei, one of the most unsettling things about being here is realizing that I will always be considered “the other” everywhere I go. I knew I’d stand out here, but I had the fantasy that I think many Asian Americans entertain before traveling to the country their parents or grandparents grew up in — that they will discover a novel sense of belonging. That didn’t happen for me.
At home in the US, I’m considered exotic; here, I am considered exotic, too. I am an unknown quantity for certain people in either place and they project different things onto me. I can’t always predict or even understand what I represent to them — but nonetheless I am forced to steel myself against the emotional repercussions, though I hate admitting that they get to me. They will try to tell me — often in really obnoxious or condescending ways — what I should call myself , what I should sound like when I talk or even whom I should fall in love with.
I love my multicultural heritage. But I’ve often wondered what it would feel like to be able to just live in a place, look like everyone else, sound like everyone else and be judged purely on the way I choose to present myself to the world.
But I know this is a fantasy that no one enjoys. If I were a white person living in the US or a Taiwanese person living in Taiwan, I would still be judged on myriad factors out of my control, including my appearance or weight, the economic class my family comes from or where I (or my parents) grew up.
In my dream life, however, there is a place where I truly feel at home in the world, where I don’t have to strive all the time to feel at ease and where I don’t feel like I am constantly put on the spot to explain who or what I am, like a research specimen, because of my background.
But I also wonder — would I be happy without this constant tension in my life? It keeps me thinking. It forces me to be self-aware and empathetic.
When Sarek told Spock he saw his son’s dual heritage as a gift and not a liability, I think I heard what I’d wanted someone to tell me all life. Only they have and perhaps I didn’t listen. But then again, I clearly only listen to beings with pointy ears. I mean, it’s amazing how much I let our cats boss me around, especially that little Taroko George.
But thank you Sarek and Spock, for letting me project all my issues of identity onto you and emerge from the theater feeling refreshed and validated, even if for just a little while.