The Citizen Unit

How can I represent others through an abstract work?



For this unit, I created an essay and two design projects based off of what it is like to be a part of a marginalized community. I chose an Asian-American person, and interviewed my peer who identifies as such. I learned more about empathizing with others and what it means to be a part of a community other than my own.


Lyrical Essay:

“The math teacher calls time for the test. You take out your sheet, you studied for hours the night before. The curly haired guy next to you nudges you,

Can I copy?

He hasn’t ever said a word to you before this. Tom? Todd? You nod, go ahead. The next day the teacher hands back the test. 85. Nice. The guy next to you, he asks you

85, really? I thought you were supposed to be Asian.


Years ago you looked out the window from your desk. Your mom told you to go study, go to Harvard, go to Stanford, go to Yale. Get a good job, be a doctor, be a lawyer, be an engineer. The other kids played outside. You wondered why you couldn’t too. Today you’re at your desk again. Studying,





The words buzzing like bees in your brain


Your heart


Your lungs


The other kids are going to whatever college they want. Some aren’t going at all. Why can’t I be like them? You will spend the next 4 years getting perfect grades behind your desk to get to the perfect school to get a good job. Why wouldn’t you want that?


You sit down for lunch. Your friends are loudly joking, you overhear the words: small eyes, math, meek. Hey, guys, you know I’m half-Asian, right?


One says sorry, I didn’t know. The other says hey, come on, it’s not that bad, it’s good to be good at math. What about all the other things they said? They say it’s ok, it’s not anything bad, they say. At least they’re not calling people like you criminals or drug dealers. How is it ok to reduce people like you down to a couple of stereotypes? They’re not necessarily bad things to be, is that it? What happens when you can’t live up to the stereotypes, when you can’t be good enough to be the perfect Asian person? Who are you then?


Your green eyes, brown hair, and white skin let you blend in. Every day you go to school and you look just like your friends. When they visit your house they see what’s inside. They see the chopsticks, the dumplings in the pot, the noodles on the counter, your grandmother hustling around the kitchen, the smell of ginger. Sometimes they say I had no idea you were Asian! That’s crazy! You don’t ask why.

Sometimes they say, oh, I could totally tell you were Asian. You ask why. Oh it’s because of your eyes, you know? You don’t ask why any more. It doesn’t always stop everyone from sharing.


Your grandmother is making dumplings. She puts a spoonful of seasoned meat into the pale wrapper, pleating it 18 times for luck. She puts them into the bamboo steamer and closes the pot. When they’re ready, she serves them to you. You take your chopsticks and lift one to your mouth, looking at the white exterior. You open your mouth and chew, tasting the unmistakable notes of nutmeg and sesame. The water chestnuts dance across your tongue – it’s an ingredient your grandmother never forgets.


At school the principal says ASB has organized a lunar New Year event. You think about ASB. Isn’t there only one Chinese person in it? The principal encourages everyone to participate. At lunch, they are selling dumplings. You decide to pick one up. These are folded in half like potstickers, but boiled. They have ketchup to serve with them. When you bite into this one, the flavor is very Korean. It seems they’ve made mandu. You wish they would just leave your culture alone if they can’t be bothered to get it right.


Your mom tells you about how when she was a kid she studied hard to get a good job so she could have you in America. She says she wants you to work as hard as she did, harder than she did, so you can get into a good school. You wish you wanted to be able to.


You sit down in the cafeteria. With one hand, you open your textbook, with the other you open your lunchbox.

You don’t understand

You don’t understand

You don’t understand

You don’t understand

You don’t understand

You don’t understand

You don’t.

You close your lunchbox.



Two people sitting on a bench, and text near them.
Citizen diptych

I chose to create a diptych based off of my lyrical essay, which represented a person struggling with their identity as a Chinese-American, and how the pressures associated with that identity lead to a cataclysmic questioning that may haunt a person. I chose two quotes from the interview I based the essay on, “You don’t get it, you’re not Asian”, and “I feel more accepted when people ignore that I’m Asian”.

I chose this photo to exemplify the acceptance my subject wants to feel, while also showing the rejection they can feel at times. I tried to take photographs of people who were either looking melancholy or happy; I felt like the couple, in their matching clothes, showed this. They looked happy together, and seemed to be having a good time. I chose to make it seem like they are having somewhat of a conversation using my two chosen quotes. One could be saying that the other does not understand them, and the other may be interpreted to be saying that it is sometimes better that way.

I used Adobe Photoshop to edit the photograph, and used a black and white filter to change it to black and white. I used gradient mapping to add the yellows back into their clothes, and add their skin tone back in. I wanted them to look warm at a glance from the yellow, but I added hints of blue in the gradient map to represent the sadness they feel at a deeper level. The two people are both saying a quote, each in a slightly different font, but both still match. I warped the text to fit as well as I could inside their bodies, as their thoughts can consume them at times.


Stab bound book:

I also created a book using a Japanese Stab-Binding technique. I used different words in Japanese, quotes from the essay, illustrations, and photographs to represent the identity in my lyrical essay.


Street Photography:

A girl at a stand getting cookies
Market Street Photography

In design, we were also tasked with using street photography to take pictures of others. I chose a lady at the farmer’s market because I felt like the photo I took of her represented the end of summer and beginning of fall. I enjoyed learning about how to use other people as subjects in a photo to tell a story.


Research Paper:

I also researched about an issue that is prevalent in today’s society. I chose to research on how consumerism is connected to the 40 hour work week.

Research Paper