By Richard Burnett
For many years as a young girl, Kara Donovan hated to look in the mirror. Born in South Korea to a poor, single mother and adopted by an American couple, she often found life in the United States fraught with bigotry against Asian Americans. It made her ashamed of who she was.
Then came a life-changing trip in 2015 to South Korea with her adoptive parents.
“Before going to Korea, I hated being Asian,” the Beacon College sophomore wrote in an essay that was recently published in Mayday, an online magazine. “Hiding my identity became natural to me. But after the first day in Korea, I was already starting to come out of my shell. I felt this connection I have never felt in my life.”
Donovan’s life has changed dramatically since that trip: “It brought so much joy and reassurance to my life, reassurance that I’m not alone and that I now have two homes: one here in America and one in Seoul. I hated being Asian before going to Korea, but I am now proud of who I am.”
Her life reached a milestone last month when she appeared in the MTV Entertainment special “See Us Unite for Change.” The May 21 show, which aired across MTV’s platforms, focuses on the contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, against the backdrop of growing racist attacks during the COVID-19 pandemic. The show is still viewable on Facebook Watch.
Only minutes into the show, Kara appeared in a montage of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders — from celebrities, entrepreneurs and scientists, to artists, doctors and activists — who proudly embraced their heritage. In her brief cameo, Donovan, who once hid her real self from her schoolmates, openly declared her Asian roots to millions of viewers around the world.
MTV officials hope “See Us Unite for Change” made an important contribution to celebrating the Asian American experience during AAPI Heritage Month, which ended May 31.
“We are honored to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Asian American and Pacific Islander community to celebrate their incredible contributions and stand up against the rise of bigotry and xenophobia,” Chris McCarthy, president of MTV Entertainment Group, said in a statement.
Actor and comedian Ken Jeong, who hosted the show, noted the AAIP community comprises 23 million Americans, 50 different ethnic groups, and 100 languages. “We are a giant mosaic of experiences and right now we are facing one of the most heartbreaking and challenging times in our collective history,” he said. “It’s left us angry and fearful . . . but also empowered and more determined than ever to come together and take action.”
Donovan said she felt privileged to be part of the unique program, which featured the far-reaching diversity in the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. MTV producers selected her to appear on the show after reading her poignant essay in Mayday.
“I believe this show is going to help other people understand and give them more awareness of the Asian American community,” she said. “There are so many perspectives and so many different kinds of Asians. But people tend to group us all together in one category, even though that’s not right. So this show is going to shed light on that.”