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On Gilmore Girls and Fear

Updated: Feb 8

For years, I’ve relived a scene from the TV show Gilmore Girls. The message from this scene even became a precept under which I lived my life. I have also shared this precept with any dongsaeng (Korean term for a younger person in relation to subject, here, in relation to me) that seemed to need this kind of guidance. It happens in episode 9 of season 1, titled "Rory's Dance."

Funnily enough, the way that the scene itself played out in my mind – it was much more urgent and dramatic. But this message had never occurred to me before, and it seemed to hold a certain valid truth that might be good to hold onto as I would try to stake my own claim in this country and world.

In the beginning of senior year of high school, the state’s number one high school, I learned I was undocumented. Despite the ways in which Northside prepared me for an exciting university life, followed by a brilliant world-changing career ahead, I would not have any access to financial aid for university. Though I had applied myself academically to aim high like any good Korean Catholic immigrant girl, I would be forced to settle for a community college, and then a degree program at a state university to which I would commute.

I'd be battling my own capacity to keep my sanity while feeling that I wasn't being challenged enough, that I was being challenged in all the wrong ways. The courses, the teachers, and the pedagogy were all so disappointing and hopeless, that I felt the life sapped out of me. I'd see my bleak reflection while riding the Montrose bus wondering if I was not only the proverbial immigrant living in the shadows, but a mere ghost of myself.

Those who graduated alongside me, meanwhile, were relishing in their youth and innocence in their liberal arts colleges, experiencing great and inspiring ideas and teachers, and taking their time to explore and grow into the world. Perhaps I could have kept a more open mind , and had a kinder outlook on the world, which could have made it all a less difficult experience for myself. But I had been lied to and failed to in so many ways. I believed that I had opportunities lined up and could aspire for great things, so when I was plunged into reality, I was deeply hurt and disillusioned. I do not blame myself or regret that I was so... closed off, in trying to process.

I was angry. In an attempt to keep some vestige of what possibilities I beheld, I even dared to be self-righteous. At the end of this period, before any semblance of political empowerment, I'd observe my peers stress about getting job interviews at large accounting firms. I scoffed; I could not even apply to these jobs because I had no work authorization, because I did not have legal status. The process they worried about to me seemed a breeze. Clearly, it was all about presenting a fit into a certain molded white culture --nothing new for me there. I was so angry that by the time I obtained temporary relief through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, I had long since sharpened up all the social skills of business that my public education couldn't afford to teach me: interviewing, presenting, networking. Cover letters and resumes were written in impeccable English. My drive to prove myself and excel, having no one to rely on but myself, was fueled like a forest fire at the mere thought of how I deserved to be in small classes on picturesque campuses funded by multi-billion-dollar endowments with plenty of personal attention. Given the late timing of receiving DACA, I could not apply to the competitive Big Four global accounting firms for an internship. But my first job after (my delayed) graduation was in one of them.

Rory Gilmore, of Gilmore Girls, is a young white woman in white America, descendant of WASP New England socialites (think Yale, American Daughters of the Revolution, etc.). When doubting herself about a semi-important cultural event of her blossoming young adulthood, Rory has her mother by her side, who uses this event to teach her daughter a great lesson. What is it like to have this sort of support and access to formative life lessons early on for a socially fully engaged life in America? How could an immigrant like me get access to that kind of wisdom other than from TV shows like this?

I knew that there are reasons to do things even if you are afraid because it is necessary for survival, or because you might owe it to others for their help in your survival. And while my parents' teachings might have given me other reasons, they were beyond my capacity to take in at the time.

This show shared something very clearly with me that I did not see anywhere else: fear is a bad reason to ever not do something. Fear can stop you from taking a chance, feeling joy, and living life, in ways that are most precious, personal, and real. Coupled with the already staggering dearth of opportunities and resources, I could not let fear be another roadblock towards attaining what I wanted.

I don’t remember when my fascination with this show was at its height. It might have happened anytime between middle school and high school. Those times are foggy in my mind’s recollection, the pain of one time seeping into another. Moreover, my love for Gilmore Girls was rather timid and private, as I knew that I was catching onto this show unfashionably late compared to my white peers. Now, I not only realize how white and privileged the show’s characters were in comparison to my own turbulent urban life. Much to my chagrin, I also learned that the show is ridiculously idyllic in its portrayal of modern, small-town life in America.

I think back to the particular lesson it taught me, however, and how in moments like these, it did not matter that I did not inhabit the fantastical reality of Rory Gilmore. I was surrounded by the bleakness of a CTA ride in a cold winter evening, but lightened inside with something valuable I’d taken away from a world apart. I’d learned to get so comfortable with fear, so accepting of it, that when I would lose sight of myself, it became my most honest and reliable tell for what mattered to me.

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