Tell me a bit about your background. Where are you from, where have you lived/grown up and what do you do?
My name is Coira! I'm Korean by blood & I'm a professional dancer, model, content creator. I mostly grew up in Singapore but my family moved around quite a lot across Asia as I was growing up, so I'm very much a third culture/multicultural woman.
How much exposure did you have to your own family’s history and roots growing up? Is it something you talk about openly with your family?
I'm very grateful that my family maintained the Korean traditions in my upbringing. My family is definitely very traditionally Korean, my mother's side doesn't even speak English, so as much as people never expect it when they meet me, I come from a very traditionally Korean background. I wouldn't say we talk about the culture per-se in our family because it's so deeply ingrained in them, but I'm definitely a new evolution of Korean, & I've also been raised in Singapore where the culture is a little different so I've had moments of cultural clashes within my own family.
Did you see yourself working in a creative field when you were younger? Did you face any pressure to pursue something that was more stereotypically "Asian?"
I've been dancing since I was 3 years old, and I really have my father to thank for keeping me so disciplined & trained in that. In my own way, I felt kind of boxed into their version of success for me, like the pressure of becoming a company dancer or a ballerina at ABT. I often had family members ask me when I was going to give up and live a normal life, as if being creative wasn't a lifestyle for me. There was definitely a deep underlying current of disappointment & shame in me because I wasn't fitting the mold, and for a long time I had trouble stepping into the full unique version of myself because I wasn't sure if I was "allowed" to. My mom would always ask me about being a lawyer, and as much as I think I would kill it as a lawyer, lol, I couldn't suppress the creativity that was flowing out of me. Sometimes in my culture, people would reject me for being unique and label me as weird or strange. But I have a deep inner knowing that I was meant to express my creative gifts in this world, and as I reap my treasures, my parents & my people will begin to truly see why.
This shoot was inspired by my own trauma growing up in my own Asian heritage. I was tired of hearing comments that people would make about myself and other Asians that were not necessarily the truth. I wanted to portray the "dark/toxic side" of different cultures that people may not know.
We captured shots of you in your culture’s traditional wear. How did you feel wearing it for the shoot?
What I'm wearing is a traditional Korean dress called Han-bok. Han - is the word to represent 'of Korean descent'. This was my Momma's when she was young, and she sent these to me all the way from Korea. It's very important for me to maintain & preserve our culture so wearing these dresses that have been passed down to me really makes it feel like I'm representing the culture full circle.
How does your cultural identity and upbringing influence your life, emotionally, mentally and spiritually?
I would say the key things that have influenced my life from Korean culture are mental discipline, emotional sensitivity, and ingrained spirituality.
In what ways do you embrace your culture?
When people see me, they sometimes don't expect me to be so traditional, but deep down I am quite traditional. I believe in a deep system of respect, definitely a respect for nature, our elders, our ancestors, respect for leaving the space cleaner than you found it, & to watch your energy & what you say because you're respectful of how it might be received. All of that is very ingrained in Korean culture and definitely still exists in me.
One of the things I love most about Asian culture is that spirituality & energy is so deeply ingrained in our culture. Even in certain words and phrases we use, it's ingrained into the word that there is a larger power bigger than human beings, life force & belief in the unseen. Like Ki, for example, means the life force within any living thing/breath -- a concept that is very hard to grasp for many Americans. We also have this word called Noon Chi, which I love, that I don't think quite exists in the English language. I would best describe it as - the ability to read the room, read another person's emotions & energy, and the skill of being respectful of how your energy or what you say is being received. It's considered a highly honorable part of your character that makes you a respectable person. (Even though Koreans always told me that I don't have too much of it, lol,) in the US I feel like people really lack it sometimes.
In what ways do you reject your culture (if any)?
If I had to mention two things that I don't love in my traditional culture is the way that individuality and sexuality feels repressed. I definitely grew up feeling like the odd one out, for always speaking my mind unapologetically & fully expressing my femininity. Sometimes it would make me feel like I wasn't allowed to have any opinions if they went against the masses or went against the grain. I also often felt that I should not express my feminine sensuality in a strong way. And that feels a little rigid for me for my lifestyle. At the same time, I also understand the thinking behind it, it's just a different culture. Korean culture is not an individualistic society like the US, it prizes community & togetherness. Importance is placed on how well you can play a part in the whole society, versus how authentic you can be to yourself. So as much as I understand it, I personally think there are ways that we naturally fit amongst each other & our place in the world just by embracing our naturally given gifts, without forcing everyone to fit one mold.
What does it mean to be an Asian-American to you?
My version of being Asian-American is that I am a sexually empowered female with an unshakable value system, someone who is unafraid to speak her mind, but in a polite & respectful way. Someone who pays respect to every human, every room, & the universe at large. I still bow down in respect to my culture, but in an empowered and aware way, not as a repressed or an ashamed woman. I'm doing my best figuring it out as I go, aligning to my divine purpose and my ancestors everyday to guide me. I know that I'm part of creating the mold of what it means to be a truly empowered Asian American, because for the generations before me, they had to adapt to the existing culture here in the US. I think if I had to say anything to all my Asian Americans out there, it would be the affirmation "your version of yourself is always valid". There is no one or right way to be "Asian". Do you, and fully embrace you, and where you come from and be respectful -- that is enough.
What makes you get out of bed every morning?
Honestly, my family & my divine purpose. I thank the universe every morning for waking me up and giving me another chance to pursue my ancestors' dreams and goals! I try to align every single morning to my divine purpose to guide me -- Koreans have gone through war, poverty, slavery, and have struggled & worked very hard for us to be here now where we are at, and it definitely doesn't stop here!
Photographer / Creative Director: Crystal