From the day I was born until my early teen years, I lived in a white, upper middle class community. I was one of three Filipino kids in my grade, and because my grandfather was half-white, I was the one with the lightest skin and biggest eyes. I never learned to speak Tagalog, and I hated when my mom cooked Filipino food — I preferred eating American and Italian cooking, or going out for Chinese.
When I was asked about my background, sometimes I would jokingly reply, “I’m white.” I liked to call myself as a “Twinkie” — yellow on the outside, but white on the inside.
So when I fell in love with with Japanese anime and manga as a preteen, I felt alone, ashamed for being interested in something that was not mainstream, something that wasn’t considered “white.” Only my childhood best friend, who attended a different school, shared this passion. Eventually, I instead embraced the alternative bands of the ‘00s (Gerard Way is still bae). I was thoroughly whitewashed.
Little did I know that watching Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD would change that.
Funnily enough, I was born four days after SHIELD actress Chloe Bennet, who plays the hacktivist Skye, part of an Anonymous-esque collective set on exposing the government’s secrets. Bennet is a Chinese pop performer-turned-actress — you might also know her as Chloe Wang. But maybe not. In a recent interview with the Daily Beast, Chloe recounts seeing an instant change in the way she was accepted in Hollywood once she changed her last name from Wang to Bennet. It’s a move that people with “foreign-sounding names” (read: names that don’t sound white) have been encouraged to do if they want jobs.
“Oh, the first audition I went on after I changed my name, I got booked,” she said. “I just wanted to be known as me and let my personality define who I was, rather than my ethnicity.”
Later, she got the part for Skye in Agents of SHIELD.
Within the first half of the season, Skye joins Phil Coulson’s operations team and trains to become a full-fledged SHIELD agent herself. In the two seasons since, Skye has discovered her identity as Daisy Johnson, an Inhuman with seismic powers (she can create and manipulate earthquakes), founded a group of fellow Inhumans working with SHIELD called the Secret Warriors, and is now in hiding after the events of the third season’s finale.
As a young Asian-Canadian woman growing up in a predominantly white community, watching Chloe’s challenges as an actress and Daisy’s discovery and acceptance of her true identity and heritage is helping me to embrace my own identity.
In the first season, Skye joins SHIELD with the intention of covertly finding information on her parents, knowing that she was left at an orphanage as a baby by an unknown SHIELD agent. This ulterior motive is quickly discovered by Coulson, and Skye works to earn his trust back by throwing herself into her training, becoming a fully-fledged agent, capable of holding her own in combat and also using her hacking skills to support her team during missions. By the end of the season and into the first half of the second season, Skye grows into her identity as a SHIELD agent, and finds a family in her fellow agents.
The latter half of the second season explores Skye’s identity as a daughter – she’s introduced to her birth parents and discovers her identity as Daisy Johnson and awakens as an Inhuman. After her transformation, Skye feels isolated from her team, and joins Afterlife, a community of Inhumans led by a woman revealed to be her mother. While hesitant to trust her murderous father, she bonds with her mother quickly, and eventually connects with both of them over dinner. These relationships are severed quickly, and she loses both of her parents once again. By the end of the season, Skye fully embraces her birth identity by adopting her original name as Daisy Johnson.
Throughout the third season, Daisy seeks to use her powers and position at SHIELD to find, train, and protect newly awakened Inhumans during a massive release of Terrigen into the ecosystem. She struggles with her responsibilities as a leader of the Secret Warriors, and her identity as both a SHIELD agent and as an Inhuman – this puts her into conflict when Hive returns to Earth and brainwashes her, turning her against her team, and making her hellbent on destroying humanity. By the end of the season, when she’s no longer under the original Inhuman’s control, Daisy is changed irrevocably, and abandons SHIELD in favor of vigilantism.
Daisy pushes through every challenge thrown her way in the past 3 seasons, and has become so much stronger as a result. She’s determined to use her powers and position to help and protect other people like her. On top of the fact that she’s half-Asian (her mother was Chinese, her father Caucasian) and physically represents me on a major network show, Daisy’s character arc gave me an opportunity for introspection. It’s not hard to guess why she’s my favorite superheroine.
But there’s another important shared aspect of our identities. As a survivor of sexual violence and a vocal advocate for survivor rights, I see myself in her, too. While Daisy, to the audience’s knowledge, is not a survivor of domestic or sexual violence, Hive takes away her agency over her mind and body. As her family, Daisy would never willingly harm the members of her team — under Hive’s control, however, she nearly kills her former partner while fighting to “better” the Inhuman race.
Often with survivors, we want to forget that this trauma ever happened to us. We want to lock away the memory forever, we never want to deal with it again. Somewhere in my healing process, I realized not only that I would have to live with this pain forever, but I was in a position to help others. I needed to use my position, my strength, my pain for good, even if some of the closest people in my life didn’t approve. There was a fire inside of me burning brightly, and I wanted to stoke it to help eradicate the insidious rape culture we live in. As a woman fighting to improve the lives of a vulnerable, marginalized community, I recognized this fire in Daisy too in her quest to protect and help her fellow Inhumans.
By the end of the third season, Daisy is right back where she started – a young woman on her own, fighting for her cause. But this time, she’s so much stronger. She lives with the pain caused by the losses she’s endured (for example, losing her parents), and she lives with the memory of her agency being taken away from her. What I love about Daisy is how she leverages that pain to drive that strength, and uses a negative experience to fuel her desire to create positive change. It inspires me to do the same.
Seeing Chloe Bennet portray a complex woman who looks like me kick major ass on television is helping me accept both my Asian heritage and identity as a survivor of sexual violence. Her presence validated my own existence, and showed me that I, too, can be an Asian woman who is strong and can fight and overcome any challenge that comes her way. Daisy has shown me that it’s okay to look the way I do – that it’s okay to be unapologetically me.