May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. According to asianpacificheritage.org, the month pays “tribute to the generations of Asian and Pacific Islanders who have enriched America’s history and are instrumental in its future success.” In recent months, a larger topic of conversation has been brought to light following the the uptick in racial attacks on Asian Americans. As these stories increase in the news cycle, Sounds Like Nashville has invited country star and American Idol winner Laine Hardy to share his personal thoughts on the conversation. Hardy, who is of Korean descent, is embracing his blended heritage publicly and showing that the diversity that flows through his DNA is truly what makes him an ‘American Idol.’
Someone shared a quote with me recently by the writer Ralph Ellison that said “America is woven of many strands. I would recognize them and let it so remain. Our fate is to become one, and yet many. This is not prophecy, but description.” Hearing that, I can’t help but see America as a large blanket. I’m not talking about one of those “store bought” ones. I’m talking about the one your Mamaw’s Great-Aunt made. The one that the kids fight over because it’s the warmest on a cold night. The one that warmed a crying baby during their first days and a parent during their last. You know, one those blankets.
At first glance you may not notice it, but next time you’re wrapped up in it, take a closer look. You’ll see as you follow the trail back that it’s more than just one piece of yarn. It’s an intricate dance of woven strings, joining and exiting the path, marrying together over time with a system of knots to form one piece. Each thread bringing in its colors and textures to build upon the strands before. You’ll even find some mistakes, but also see some corrections with a bright new piece brought in, that strengthens the overall look. As you keep chasing it back you lose track and can no longer make out one from the other. They blend and become one thing to make something beautiful, and long-lasting.
As I look at my life and follow my thread back into this American blanket, I can see in the yarn the flavors of the bayou. I can trace my roots back to South Louisiana before statehood. There is so much Pastalaya and Etouffee running through my veins that it could be found in a blood test. I know it to be fact that Tony’s does go “Great on Everything” and Geaux is what you say when rooting on the Bayou Bengals. I grew up running in the pines and skimming across the rivers. I am proud of this.
But those things are a part of me as much as my grandmother carrying me in a Podaegi or the smell of Kimchi coming from my Mom’s kitchen. These are pieces of me. My story that says a girl from Seoul can one day watch her grandson become the American Idol. I am only one of the 1.8 million Americans who carry the culture and experience of Korea into our country’s great story (and according to one test Japan and South India). I have learned since the show that I have a responsibility to represent our culture for the young (and old) who may be watching, to be an example of our shared Asian heritage. I am extremely proud of this.
I ask that for a moment we all stop and think about the blanket. Think about how we’re all individual threads bringing in all our stories, culture and experiences to this fabric we call America. You can’t separate one part from the other without losing the whole thing. I think that’s the beauty of it. Everyone can look at the blanket and see themselves in it.
- Laine Hardy