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emily lu



simi kaur

what have you learned about yourself? what have you learned about someone else?

emily lu

I asked [Simi] to tell me about a time she felt represented in a book, and she told me about connecting to a character who was judged for her looks, specifically for wearing glasses, which are things that happen in her life as well. I was... very surprised by her answers when I asked her if she would want to change the people who judge her or change how others see her. She responded that she wouldn’t want to change them, because that would also change who she is, either for better or for worse. I thought that was a very insightful way of looking at it. It takes a very mature mindset to be able to so calmly let go of your own ideas of justice or control or what the world should be, and instead accept and even celebrate the ways that other people have shaped you in painful ways.

So much of what she was saying was really thoughtful and interesting, but I sensed that she was hesitant to commit herself fully to the thoughts she was expressing, and was trying to protect herself from judgement by pre-judging herself. I think I picked up on this because it’s something I recognize from myself. I often overuse filler words or put myself down, not because I’m doubting my ideas, but because I’m trying to temper how they’re being received and not seem like a know-it-all. This is something that girls do a lot, because other people (especially men) are often not receptive to women who are too smart or too sure of themselves. It’s a defense mechanism that, actually, in a logical society that valued women as equals, would be (and often is in our society too) detrimental to our ideas, because people don’t take us seriously. Even though I know how wrong that is, I can’t help doing it, which I guess is something to work on.

simi kaur 

I think that learning how to interview someone was very interesting. What I found ambitious was thinking of the appropriate question to ask my interviewee. Sometimes Emily would answer my question before I could even ask it. But then there were moments where I could make up questions with so much ease. Personally, I think that this was an amazing experience, at Kundiman, and I would love to do the interviews again!

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 Simi with Chloe Chupungco (left), reading through  Bridge  magazine! 

Simi with Chloe Chupungco (left), reading through Bridge magazine! 

interview excerpts

simi interviews emily

SIMI:
Where were you born?  

EMILY:
I was born in Hackensack, New Jersey.  

SIMI:
Does your family have any special sayings or expressions?  

EMILY:
Um...I don’t know. Well there is one that my grandparents say, there is a phrase, in Chinese, I don’t know what it is. We are just getting started. Sometimes when we are having dinner, they will say Tchaikovsky, the composer, because it sounds like the phrase in Chinese. It’s like a joke. But we don’t say it that often. 

SIMI:
How did it come about?

EMILY:
I think it was my grandpa that said it.

SIMI:
Is there any traditional or nicknames...?  

EMILY:
When your family is Jewish, they have to be dead [to name a baby after them], because it’s bad luck to name them. My mom’s dad is Sheldon. His name is Sheldon. When you’re Jewish it just has to be the first letter. And my middle name is Serena. And my brother’s name is Sheldon. 

SIMI:
When someone asks ‘what are you’ how do you respond?  

EMILY:
It’s complicated. Usually when someone asks me that, I don’t answer, because it’s kinda rude. It’s also kinda complicated because I am bi-racial, I am Taiwanese, and but I am also white, Jewish and Asian. I am an American. I was born here but my dad is also an immigrant.  

SIMI:
What places have you been to?

EMILY:
Umm… Well I have family in Texas and Indiana, so my aunt and my grandma on my mom’s side live in Texas. And my aunt has… like a husband and two kids. And then my other aunt, also on my mom’s side lives in umm… Indiana. So we visit them kinda often. Um… their kids are like little so it’s always fun to play with them cause they’re all younger than me. I think the oldest one is ten or nine. So yeah...

SIMI:
Where do you want to go?

EMILY:
I really want to go to Taiwan because my dad is from there, and I’ve never been. My grandparents are from there, and I’ve heard stories about it and they go a lot, but I’ve never been. I think my mom is planning a trip there in March which will be really exciting. But I really don’t know what to expect because I have never been there.

SIMI:
What’s something you would do when you get there?  

EMILY:
I think something I am looking forward to is the food, because I always have Chinese food in New York, which is really good, but I don’t know. It might be different when I actually go to Taiwan. Yeah. There are a lot of foods that I have in New York, but I’m not really like, I don’t know, I am just so curious to see how it is different there.

SIMI:
What kind of food have you had?

EMILY:
Like the dumplings. The pork buns. Things like that. I am actually vegetarian so I don’t eat half the stuff anymore. But when I am there, I’m planning on not being vegetarian when I’m there, because I just wanna experience the food there. Just stuff my grandmother made.

SIMI:
What other things do you want to see, besides where they take you? Anything you expect when you go there? 

EMILY:
Honestly no idea. We have a lot of family there. Like distant aunts and cousins and things. When my mom went with my dad before I was born, apparently the family there took care of them the whole time. We are doing this! Like they planned out the whole trip for them. They didn’t have a lot of free time to wander around. So I expect a lot of that, talking with the family I never met. Which is going to be kind of interesting because we do have a language barrier. Because I do not speak Cantonese or Mandarin and they probably speak a little English but not a lot. I think my grandma is going to do a lot of the translating for us.

SIMI:
Would you like to learn it?

EMILY:
Yeah. I would like to. I know two words. I can count to ten. But yeah, I really want to learn Mandarin or Cantonese. One of the two.  

SIMI:
How distant do you think you are?  

EMILY:
With my family in Taiwan, basically who I never met, so I think pretty distant. But in America, my closest family I am pretty close with them. My grandparents on my dad’s side, I see them every week. We go to church together.
 

emily interviews simi

EMILY:
What are some of the books you’ve read recently?

SIMI:
Recently... okay, I know this is so dumb, but like, I actually— I’m reading a book right now, but I forgot what it’s called. It’s actually in my bag right now!

EMILY:
Can you describe it?

SIMI:
It’s like— I suck at describing. Or explaining, whatever. Um, basically it’s about, um, a girl, her name is Ciara, and she’s a princess of Myde, that’s where she lives, and um. She has this special power, to control people’s minds. And, well, this is like, older, like, when people used swords, so not now. So basically, she has to— her kingdom has enemies called the Northmen, and basically, um, they’ve been going to war for a while, you know, enemies and all that. And, um, basically there’s this crow, and it basically tells her when the um, somebody’s gonna try to raid their kingdom. So she knows when something bad’s gonna happen and she’s gonna go attack them before they can get closer. Anyways this one time, when she was on the battlefield, she was gonna kill someone, and basically, the crow told her, “Not him.” So basically that’s where the story starts. And the guy is another person with powers, which he got from gods, and basically, they um, they both found— well, the guy is going on to a quest where these are— these Frost Giants, or Giants, whatever, they are taking- they’re gonna take over the world in the future. The crow showed the— um— Ciara the future, so she knows. And, um, basically they’re trying to stop it from happening, so they are on the quest to stop it. And it’s kinda weird ‘cause she’s going with her enemy, who is now her ally, her only ally left. ‘Cause she told her father, that um, “I’m not gonna kill him”, because, you know. She tried to explain the whole thing about the crow, but her father didn’t believe her and just, you know. [sighs] She’s not allowed to come back to the kingdom anymore, and yeah. She’s on the quest too. Yeah, okay. [laughs]

EMILY:
What about the story is appealing to you? What parts of it? Or, what parts of books in general?

SIMI:
Books in general, I like— I like things that are close to fantasy, ‘cause, I don’t know, I feel like, when I read those books, I just— I forget the world around me, and I feel like I’m in that book, and I’m that person, I’m watching these people, I’m experiencing what they’re experiencing. Because when it’s, like, realistic, I don’t know, the realistic books that I’ve seen so far are either history books, which, like, it’s not really a new point of view, and it’s always about what happened in the past. But when it— and in, like, other books, like, uh, this girl in high school, blah blah blah, meets a guy, blah blah blah. It always ends up in romance. So, I don’t know. I think I just— fantasy just makes me feel like, I wish, maybe just once, I could live like that. Just a world with mystery, and like, journeys, and stuff like that.

EMILY:
Do you ever see yourself represented in books you read?

SIMI:
Um, sometimes I feel like, I could like relate to the characters and stuff like that.

EMILY:
Can you tell me about an example?

SIMI:
Um, well, there’s a lot of examples, so I don’t know which one to choose. [laughs] Um, an example, of a time I was able to relate to a character was obviously when people would stare at her— this is a different book— when people would stare at her and say that, “You’re different.” And like, they—they would just judge her by her looks, ‘cause [points to her glasses] she’s wearing glasses, or something like that, and... it’s just... I’m just like, “I know how that feels,” ‘cause people in my school are, well like, always judging you by your looks. They never really wanna get to know you. So, it’s just— I feel— I know what they’re feeling. I know what they’re going through. And it’s just, I wanna help them, but obviously they’re just characters in a book and they’re not real. You can’t really help fake people!

EMILY:
The feeling of being different or being judged, how does that affect your daily life?

SIMI:
Um, well, obviously, I have this bad habit of acting, tough around people, mostly guys, because guys are always the ones to first judge by— judge you by your looks, than girls, or at least that’s what I’ve experienced. So I always try to act tough. It’s a bad habit, I’ve been trying to stop, but like I can’t. So basically I’ve been getting— I used to get into a lot of fights with guys, but now I try to calm myself down, by, like, ignoring them. So, yeah.

EMILY:
Do you feel like that experience of being judged has given you a different perspective on life?

SIMI:
I guess, yeah, because some people don’t really get judged. Or at least, don’t care what- about what other people think. So, they would feel like, I guess, higher up. But the fact that I care about what people think makes me feel, you know, like, sort of low, and like, cautious of myself, in my— throughout my life. So basically, I’m always just trying not to do things, or trying to fit in, or things like that.

EMILY:
If you could change those people, how would you change them, specifically?

SIMI:
I know this is gonna sound weird, but I wouldn’t change them. ‘Cause if they change, then I wouldn’t be the person I am right now. I’d be a complete different person. I don’t even know who I would be. If I were to change them, I would change myself. I mean, some people would be like, “Yeah, I’d change this about them, I’d change that about them,” but they never think about the fact that if they change, it would affect them too.

EMILY:
How do you think it would change yourself, if they didn’t judge you?

SIMI:
If they didn’t judge me, then maybe I would think that I’m higher than them. Maybe I’d be the person who judged them. Maybe I’d be the bad person. Maybe I’d be the person to hurt other people’s feelings, or maybe I’d be the person who isolates myself from other people. I don’t know. But it’s— I don’t know, maybe I’d be a good person. Maybe I’d be like, a really famous person! [laughs] Yeah, right. But like, who knows?

EMILY:
So do you think it’s been a positive thing, having a different viewpoint because of the way people treat you? Or do you think...

SIMI:
I don’t know how to answer that question. I don’t know. That’s a good question, though.

EMILY:
What are some ways you think— or do you think you treat other people differently because of this experience? In a good or bad way?

SIMI:
I guess, like I said, with the guys and all that. They’re always judging, so... And also the fact that there’s a lot of guys in my family, so when we were little, it would be like, “You have to be tough to fit in, ‘cause if you’re not, you get kicked out, nobody talks to you, you’re a loser, you’re in the corner.” Now they’re not like that. Now they’re all nice and buddy-buddy, but like, I have that habit now, of thinking that if I’m not tough enough nobody wants to be there with me. Nobody would wanna talk to me, and stuff like that.

EMILY:
Do you see differences between— like a persona you put on, to people who don’t know you, versus how you act with people who are close to you?

SIMI:
Yeah, there’s a huge difference, trust me. For people who don’t know me, they probably think I’m a shy, quiet person. Well, that’s sort of me, but like, that’s when I’m with a bunch of people I don’t know. When I’m— when I’m with an adult, or when I’m talking to someone, or if I’m, like, talking in front of a crowd, that’s me. But they don’t know the other me, the me that’s, um, this is gonna be weird, but like, I’m weird. I’m— I’m very hyper, I’m really energetic, people call me annoying sometimes. Sometimes I’m just too much. Sometimes I’m so mean and harsh, ‘cause obviously I don’t like people interrupting me while I read. Um, there’s a lot of different things, like, people at my school think I’m just a tough, mean person, who doesn’t, like— who doesn’t care about anybody’s feelings, but really, I’m just like... I’m an energetic person! Like, I don’t know, I’m weird. [catches Chloe looking at her from another table] Don’t give me that look!

EMILY:
Would you want to at all change how people see you?

SIMI:
I don’t know. ‘Cause... That’s a really good question. Okay, um, if I were to change how they see me, then, I’m pretty sure they would think I’m even more weirder than I already am.

EMILY:
How so?

SIMI:
Well, people think I’m weird, ‘cause I like different things than they like. I like, I don’t know that much about celebrities, as much as they do. I really don’t know anything about celebrities, like, at all. Um, so, yeah, if I were to change their thoughts about me, I don’t know. I don’t know what would happen, like— I actually don’t know! Okay, um, yeah. I just don’t know.

EMILY:
You mentioned yesterday that people mispronounce your name. Can you tell me a little more about that, like some specific examples of that?

SIMI:
Okay, um, some people say [white accent] “Simmarandip.” [laughs] This is so funny. Okay. Some people say, like— like as in... it’s [white accent] “Seemrandip,” like “seem.” And then, like, some people just go like, “Suh- suh-” like they can’t even finish. They just stop at the “S”, ‘cause they can’t even, like...

EMILY:
What do you feel about your relationship with your name and how people see it? Does it change how people see you?

SIMI:
Um, not really.

EMILY:
What do you know about your last name, your family name?

SIMI:
Oh, okay. So now I have to explain a whole thing. Okay. So, males and females don’t have the same last name in, like, Sikhism. See, males have Singh. And females have Kaur. Singh means “lion” or “king,” right? And um, Kaur means “princess.” So, yeah. My last name means “princess.”

EMILY:
So is your dad Singh then?

SIMI:
Yeah. So my father is Iqbal Singh, my mother is Harvinder Kaur.

EMILY:
Do you have any siblings?

SIMI:
Yeah, I have two brothers. I’m the middle kid.

EMILY:
So are they both Singh?

SIMI:
Mhmm. [as in, yes]

EMILY:
Do you know what your first name means?

SIMI:
Simrandip?

EMILY:
Yeah, does it have a meaning?

SIMI:
Yeah, uh, simran means, um, “pray,” and dip means “light,” so it’s “pray light princess.”

EMILY:
Do you know how your parents chose your name?

SIMI:
Okay. This is complicated, sometimes I get confused myself. So basically, they go to the gurdwara, which is our temple, and, um, they read a book, a special book. And when they finish the book, the last word they stopped on, it’s either the first letter or the last letter of that word, is the starting of your name. So they stopped for me, “S.” So basically, then they start searching up random names that start with an S, and they just picked that. Yeah, that’s how it is.

EMILY:
If you ever have kids, do you think you’re gonna do the same thing for them or something different?

SIMI:
I think I’m gonna do the same thing. ‘Cause, the— like— I can’t pick my own, like, it’s too many names, at least, like, tone it down! So doing that will just make it easier, I guess.

EMILY:
What languages do you speak?

SIMI:
Languages?

EMILY:
Yeah, like, besides English, obviously.

SIMI:
Besides English? Well, I’m a Sikh, so I speak in Punjabi. I could speak a little Hindi. I could speak a little, um, what’s it called, Chinese, ‘cause of Mandarin Chinese class I have.

EMILY:
In school?

SIMI:
Yeah. Um, what else? Okay, I can speak— well, I can’t speak Spanish anymore. I learned it in, like, elementary school, so... Um, there’s something else, I forget. Oh wow. I don’t remember the last one.

EMILY:
Do you speak different languages in different settings? Like, at home or at school? I mean, obviously English at school, right?

SIMI:
Yeah— oh, yeah. Well, obviously in Chinese class I speak Chinese. Um, at home, it depends who I’m talking to. Like, my mom, she came to America when she was, like, I think, going to middle school, so she knows English. My dad, on the other hand, he came to America after he got married— at least, when he— after he got married, ‘cause he had to get the card. So um, yeah. I speak English with my brothers, my mom, my dad. Sometimes in Punjabi ‘cause I don’t know the word in English, or sometimes in English ‘cause I don’t know the word in Punjabi. It’s— it’s weird.

EMILY:
How did your parents meet?

SIMI:
My parents? It was an arranged marriage.

EMILY:
So, their families, or...

SIMI:
Yeah, I don’t really know the story, but I think it was— it involved my cousin’s parents, basically my mom’s sister, or something like that. And then like, I don’t know... They knew somebody, and something happened. I don’t know. I don’t know. Whatever that word is.