To be clear, this wasn't just a regular Friday night for me. I'm not prone to doing climactic screaming during a breathwork meditation, nor am I ever in a room with that many Asian women — at least not in this vulnerable of a context, where I'm letting go of weight I didn't know I carried.
Growing up Asian-American in the Bay Area in California, I was often surrounded by people who looked like me, from pre-school until I graduated high school. And even though I didn't necessarily give up being surrounded by diverse communities when I moved to New York City for college, it was no longer a given that I could walk into a room and see at least five other Asian people.
That's why when The Cosmos, an organization devoted to creating spaces for Asian women, invited me to a wellness retreat, I wasn't aware that I was saying yes to something that I craved.
Cassandra Lam, Cosmos co-founder, described the retreat as a way to gather a diverse group of 30 Asian women "committed to exploring their identities, practicing wellbeing, and redefining what it means to flourish and thrive."
I might have some small semblance of what thriving means, but community and cultural identity has always been a fraught topic for me. I was born in California, but exclusively spoke Vietnamese up until I was 5 years old, when I went to kindergarten and my parents quickly figured out that I had to assimilate to ever succeed. Now, I can still understand Vietnamese, but I can't speak it well enough to carry a conversation (or without embarrassing myself). I guess when you grow up trying to stamp down that part of your identity just to fit in, community doesn't become a priority until you force yourself to reckon with what you've lost.
So I spent most of the weekend trying to do just that: Processing what it means to be a part of a community of Asian-American women, and what identity really encompasses. In addition to a collective breathwork meditation, we visualized our future selves, mapped out the pillars that are key to our values, and opened up about the physical objects that symbolize how we perceive our identities as Asian women (light stuff, I know).
I'll be the first to admit that the traditional self-care methods people talk about — writing a letter to my past or future self and meditating — don't usually do much for me. But there was something about doing all of this in a roomful of Asian-American women who are there to support and uplift themselves and each other. Even though Asians aren't a monolith, we often have shared or similar experiences, and being amongst women who reflected back to me some of the things I've gone through was revolutionary in and of itself. And it's the kind of feeling that makes you realize how vital community really is.
I'm still figuring out what culture, community, and identity look like for me. But I think I found a little of it that weekend, where amongst other Asian women, I started doing the work of unpacking and processing how I identify myself, and what it means to thrive — both as an individual and as part of a whole. I might not know what it means to thrive yet, but I know that for a lot of Asian-American women, it might start with having the space to put ourselves first for once.
I don't have all the answers, but I'm happy to continue being a work in progress, knowing that I'm not alone — even when I'm not letting out a collective, cathartic scream with 30 other people.
The Cosmos paid for accommodations and transportation for the retreat as part of a press trip the writer of this story attended. However, The Cosmos did not approve or review this story.