By Nicole Tansey
I often wonder what my life would be like if I was born in a different time period
If I was born 300 years before would I already be married? Would I have children of my own even though I have barely left adolescence myself?
What about just 3 generations ago? Would I be able to get an education? What would my rights as a woman be? What would my rights as an Asian female be? Would it even have been possible for me, as a multiracial individual, to have existed?
To answer what my life would have been like, I look to the lives of my ancestors.
What would my life have been 3 generations ago? If a generation is 25 years, that would put me in 1943. I’d be a few years younger than my great-grandmothers that inhabited that time.
What were their lives like? What were their environments?
It was World War II. One great-grandmother was in America, and the other in Korea.
What would life have been like in America? Maybe I’d have joined the workforce at the encouragement of Rosie the Riveter. Maybe I’d have a love in the armed forces whom I’d write letters to. Maybe I would’ve even joined the military myself because just the year before women were finally invited in. Maybe I’d question my limited rights as a woman. I know that I wouldn’t be able to go to the university I’m at now. It would be nine years before they accept a female student.
What would life have been like in Korea?
This is the tricky one. Three generations ago Korea was a colony of Japan. My great-grandmother, my jeungjo halmeoni was a— oh wait. I’m sorry. The proper term would actually be Sōsobo. Japan forced Korea to desert its native language in favor of Japanese.
So, what would my life have been like in Korea at the time of my Sōsobo’s life?
Maybe I’d be forced to be a comfort woman. Someone to “comfort” the Japanese soldiers in a time where I was not allowed the luxury of comfort myself. Maybe I’d have a love in the armed forces who would be threatened with his family’s life to become a kamikaze like so many others— forced to fight and die for a country that you are not even considered a part of. Maybe I’d watch my county’s history be burned to the ground. Ancient, priceless palaces and artwork that took lifetimes to create, destroyed in mere minutes by a country that wanted me to forget my identity. Would I get a college education? Honestly who even cares about school when you’re not sure if you’ll have enough food for dinner.
I know I am not alone in these thoughts. I have a desi friend, Sarah, who wonders the same things. What her life have been like 75 years ago?
In 1943 India was still colonized by the British Empire. It would be four more years before her citizenship would change from Indian to Pakistani.
What would her life have been like in colonized India?
Maybe she’d have a job. She’d practice her religion freely, and she’d have friends of every faith.
What about four years later when India gets its independence?
Would her friends of a different faith turn on her? Would she be one of the faceless women murdered for her opposing religion? Would she become a fallen woman like Ayah? Would she watch her childhood hometown burn at the hands of difference like Lenny? Would this newfound independence ironically leave her more voiceless like it did the other women of India’s partition?
I don’t want to think about these things happening to me, my friend, or anyone else. I don’t want to think about the denial of education, forced prostitution, and lack of voice that we would have faced — that millions of women faced. But, thankfully, it’s not 1943. It’s 2018. We don’t have to worry about that anymore, right?
No. My friend and I are lucky enough to be born in a time and place where we have opportunities that our ancestors were denied. However, that does not mean this voicelessness is gone just because we don’t feel restrained.
Today, there are children in Pakistan that sew soccer balls together for other little kids around the world to play with. This black and white symbol of fun for so many is a symbol of the oppression of others. There are children in West Africa being poisoned by the pesticides found on the cocoa beans they pick that we make chocolate with. There are still millions of women being forced into prostitution. There are still millions of girls being denied education. Seventy-five years seems like a long time. Progress has been made. However, there is still work to do. We haven’t gotten to the point where everyone has their basic human rights. We haven’t even gotten to the point where everyone can have a voice to speak of their mistreatment. What will life be like in 75 years? What are we going to do to improve it for everyone?
Nicole Tansey is a freshman chemistry major at Georgia Institute of Technology. In the poem above, she compares the subalternity of women across times and regions. She argues that the subjugation and voicelessness of women have decreased in some current contexts, however, are still prevalent. She draws inspiration from the women of colonial Korea, the United States, and India during 1940s, a time period which includes World War II and India’s partition. The poem alludes to characters within the novels of Linda Sue Park’s When My Name Was Keoko and Bapsi Sidhwa’s Cracking India. Additionally, she uses historical facts to show progress through the years, and modern examples to show the conditions of the subaltern that still need to be addressed.
*This poem’s featured image can be found here.