By the time I was in sixth grade, I had amassed binders full of drawings and dreamt of becoming an animator. My dad even designed me a business card that read “Ana S. Knauf – Artist” under a border of purple clipart flowers.
But before long, my lola (that’s grandma to you) thought it was time to break some harsh news. According to her, art was not a real career and would never put food on the table. At 13, it was time I figure out a more realistic career path. My dream had been shattered.
According to two filmmakers from Singapore who’ve captured the hearts of many Seattleites since they moved here last year, I should have never given up my dream of becoming an artist.
Siang Hui Tay and Xinhui Tan, who go by Tay and Val respectively, say that family is one of the main reasons people back out of following their dreams.
Val uses her own experience as an example: like me, she loved creating art as a child. But her parents forced her to focus on a more practical profession, like becoming a doctor. They went so far as to throw out all of her art supplies.
“They didn’t know better. To them, a good dream, a good life was to find a good job, climb up their career, get married, have kids, be secure. It’s just a five-step process,” said Val. “My grandparents are immigrants and worked hard for the equivalent of the American dream so they could put us, the grandchildren through education. Because of that, we feel we have a responsibility to live up to their dreams.”
In 2010, Tay and Val left prestigious jobs in Singapore’s TV industry, and have since been traveling the world to spread their global community film project “I Believe That Dreams Can Come True.”
The project materialized after they traveled to Taiwan and met Luo Pa, an elderly train enthusiast who realized his dream of owning a train. The old man spent his savings on a defunct train, which he then converted into a restaurant and hotel. The filmmakers say meeting Luo Pa inspired them to take a journey around the globe, talking to other people about their dreams.
Since moving to Seattle, the duo has been hosting talks at local universities and in neighborhood libraries. On Sunday, I attended their event called #DreamsUnlimited at the Seattle Central Library.
I’m not going to lie: at first I thought the event was pretty weird. When Tay and Val asked the crowd to raise their hands if they had a dream, I was brought back to grade school – and not necessarily in a good way. It was all a little Disney for me.
Although the event started off as something like motivational speaking session, it turned into a community artist showcase. And that, I could get behind.
Between Tay and Val’s presentation points, several spoken-word poets took the stage and detailed their stories as people of color.
Through her poetry, Hodan Hassan talked about her experiences with racism and bullying after immigrating to the United States from Ethiopia as a child. These were all things she had a to overcome to begin realizing her dream.
“As a person of color and a black person in particular, my dream is to change the world and I figured that out was because … I didn’t like how I was being treated in the classroom [or] the way I was going through life,” she said after the event.
Hassan, a political science major at the University of Washington, plans to go to law school to further her interests as a social justice advocate. Her path might shift, but knowing her dreams keeps her goals present in her mind, she said.
“When people ask me why I [studied] political science, I tell them that my life is political. As people of color, we need to be as visible as possible and not be afraid to be in public spaces and talk about politics,” she said.
In a second poem, Troy Osaki talked about the hardships his grandparents experienced as Asian immigrants in the United States, including his Japanese grandmother’s forced internment and his Filipino grandfather’s being denied a promotion because of his accent. Both incidents, he said, we barriers for his grandparents as they tried to follow their dreams as Asian immigrants in the United States.
“It’s important for people of color to be represented and to be in spaces in which we take up space and can find our voice. A lot of the time, we don’t feel safe doing that. It’s important for us to hold on to [our culture] and to reclaim our voices and identities,” said Osaki after the event.
With the messages of these poems in mind, I started to realized that it’s not weird or even sappy to talk about dreams. It’s actually incredibly important.
For Millennials it’s easy to lose sight of dreams amidst financial barriers like student debt and the soaring cost of living. Barriers like these can make dreams feel impossible — like it’s almost irresponsible to have them in the first place. But talking about our passions reminds us that there is a reason for our struggles. Dreams make our futures feel a little less dark.
Besides, if Tay and Val’s message was resonating with so many creative and interesting people, there was clearly something to it.
As we get older, our dreams can shift and sometimes become more realistic. Although changing plans can be scary, it doesn’t mean losing your dream forever.
I didn’t walk away from Sunday’s event putting together my portfolio or eyeing art school applications. Instead, I’m in pursuit of a new dream — no, it’s not buying an old train and turing it into a restaurant. It’s to become an international reporter. Knowing that I might actually be on my way there makes the future feel brighter.