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What's Reflecting Back in the Media Mirror?

By Alyssa Shapiro

Who are we? We don’t need the media to tell us, but it’s nice to be seen from time to time, because what we read and see in the world expands or even limits our views of ourselves. We asked our team: what piece of work, whether literature or TV/film got closest to mirroring who you are in terms of outward identity or inner emotion? Did it hit the mark perfectly, or is there a piece missing? 

Here are media recommendations to help you get to know part of the YTTP family a little bit better.

Twenties on BET, created by Lena Waithe

“Nearly every beautiful memory of mine from college features my friends, Jalyn and Jaida. We spent four years working hard, having fun, eating, traveling, laughing, sitting silently, and enjoying our own company. We split rideshares, groceries, and even apartments. Twenties is us—three Black best friends chasing our dreams and figuring out the rest.”

—Manna Zel (she/they)

Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War, by Leymah Gbowee

“This book helped me understand how to be seen and heard in a positive light.  I drew my understanding of my power from Leymah Gbowee and how she started her life living in a wealthy and affluent household, lived through homelessness, went back to school to get her degree, and ultimately aided in stopping the Liberian war. After reading the book I watched the movie inspired by the book called Pray the Devil Back to Hell to gather a visual understanding of what actually went down with the women in Liberia. I drew strength from these women that withheld sex from their husbands and sat every day at the government building to stop the war.  I learned to search for my voice of reason, to find ways to simply use my words to resolve issues. I found the small voice within me.”

—Krystin Phillips (she/her)

PEN15 on Hulu, created by Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle

“The TV series is about two teenagers growing up in the early 2000s. It was able to capture and show me a part of myself that I had forgotten about. I’m in awe of the creators and how they found a space for it. The show makes me fond of the mental space I held in my teenage years. I feel like I am part of a group who grew up during that time and are looking back with a similar feeling. But I struggle to recommend a piece of work that makes me feel seen for who I am now. I have not experienced it yet, but it inspires me to continue working on figuring out what it is and creating it.” 

—Teresa Hu (she/her)

"I have a complete fascination with comedy that is written in the perspective of women, and especially by women of color. Growing up, I never felt seen or heard as a first generation Korean American. I love how Maya Erskine is able to shed some light on the microaggressions that we face growing up as Asian Americans in this country and how it shapes our childhood experience—but she delivers that message in the most cringe-worthy comedic way, by which it’s easier to understand and digest from all perspectives. I think it’s just the type of comedy we need today."

—Su Lee (she/her)

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, by Ocean Vuong

“This book, by author and poet Ocean Vuong, is written in the form of a confessional letter to his mother who can’t read or speak English. It recounts his real-life experiences growing up Asian and gay in a mostly white American suburb. Spoiler alert: it’s not a fairytale filled with rainbows and sunshine. It’s actually extremely sad. The way he expresses his emotions of feeling othered while trying to acclimate to a heteronormative white culture is similar to my experience growing up. Although heartbreaking, it was refreshing to read about QPOC experiences that I could relate to, specifically the feelings of guilt and fear for loving someone I’m told I’m not supposed to, and the want to escape to bigger and better places. To feel so seen through a piece of literature is something I have never experienced before in all my 30 years. 

The way Vuong’s story differs from mine is through his family dynamic and upbringing. His personal experience is directly tied to the impact of war, and I can’t relate to the aspect of having an immigrant mother and never knowing my father. However, that does not take away from the mirrored emotions tied to our queer identities. The part I love the most about the book is Vuong’s eventual success as a writer. Through expressing his emotions and telling his stories via poetry he was able to own his identity and experiences (the positives and the hardships) and turn it into art that has touched so many people, especially myself.”

—Matt Brooks (he/him)