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Awkwafina Talks About Facing Insecurity, Racism—and Her Hopes for 2021

2020 Keynote Speaker Awkwafina

There is something about famous people that can make us think they are free of the insecurity and experiences of racism that so many of us face.

But Golden Globe Award-winner Awkwafina (née Nora Lum) was willing to smash that perception at the 2020 Massachusetts Conferences for Women, where she spoke candidly about her experiences with these issues and more.

Here are some highlights, slightly edited for brevity and clarity:

What She Learned from Covid

  • “I reprioritized or re-evaluated the things that matter to me—being able to talk to my grandma, have my family. These are the things we all have to think about.”
  • “I think now more than ever in this country, we need unity. We need hope. And most importantly, we need empathy.”

Why She Took the Name “Awkwafina”

  • “When I was 15 or 16, I came up with the name not imagining I would become known for it. I had a shameless confidence, and bravery I don’t have anymore. The person I was then was in a situation where life circumstances seemed pretty bleak but I dreamed all the time. Awkwafina didn’t care as much as Nora.”
  • “I have always said that Awkwafina induces panic attacks and Nora goes through them. But now, as I’m entering my 30s, I need to find more of a connection between the two.”

Feeling Inadequate

  • “Nora today is still caked with imposter syndrome, overwhelming insecurities, worries, fears, feeling of inadequacies always.”
  • “I talk about this sometimes. It makes me seem like an asshole but years when making $15,000 on a good year, working in a bodega—those were the best years of my life because I was waiting for something to happen. It’s ironic because it was when things started to pick up, I found myself losing a sense of who I was.”
  • “Today I want to be in a mental place where I can handle my career in a healthy way and not be worrying all the time.”

“I read a book that changed my life called The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson. One thing it taught me is that your greatest love will always be the source of your greatest pain. A problem for me is I want everyone to like me. It’s unrealistic, and I can’t control it. So, now l say I want to put out kind energy, I want to treat people with kindness and respect. That’s what I can control.”

Changing Asian American Images in the Media

“The only people who can [help Asian Americans not be typecast] are the people behind the scenes. Actors have no say. We need people behind the scenes who are writing authentic characters and don’t typecast.”

Experiencing Anti-Asian Racism in 2020

“During the first couple of weeks [of the pandemic] I was yelled ‘Covid!’ I was yelled “Chink.” Obviously, that is founded in ignorance and stupidity, driven by misplaced hatred. For me, I don’t think there is room for any of that. … I hope we can gain some form of understanding as people because we have a lot of problems right now.”

Hopes for 2021

“This is unrealistic hope but my hope as a nation, as people, even as a generation, is that we start to think outside of ourselves a little bit and also look into ourselves. I hope we figure out what matters. I hope part of us becomes unselfish. I hope we give up something for the greater good at this time. And I hope when we come out of this, we can pick up the pieces and carry on.”

Check out more highlights from the 2020 Virtual Massachusetts Conference for Women!

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