By Nina Huang
Northwest Asian Weekly
When Doris Jeong was four years old, the doctors diagnosed her with “unknown skeletal dysplasia,” which is the medical term for dwarfism.
Today, she is 26 years old and 3’8”.
Jeong was born in South Korea, but her parents immigrated to the Pacific Northwest when she was six months old. She grew up in a “traditional and typical” Korean American household, and described her parents as very traditional, but liberal at the same time.
“I never experienced the scary Asian parents, they weren’t crazy strict and they didn’t expect less or different from me,” she said.
She hopes to see a geneticist soon to find out exactly what she has so she can learn more about the potential complications.
Currently, Jeong can control some of her pulmonary complications with an inhaler and regular medication.
Interestingly enough, Jeong’s younger brother is 5’11”, and she said that her family is considered tall for Asians.
But height aside, Jeong is a regular young professional who has friends who are average height. She goes to work, comes home to eat, watches Netflix and on the weekends, she’ll go out to parties and hang out with her friends.
But despite her seemingly normal life, over the years, she has experienced social challenges. Jeong said that people sometimes unintentionally and subconsciously discount her as being a normal 26-year-old.
For example, she will be having a conversation with friends and they’ll talk about a male friend who is moving to Seattle, but that person would casually mention that they don’t have any single girlfriends. In reality, Jeong is single, and gets frustrated when people assume those with disabilities are asexual.
There was a recent incident at a local Chinese restaurant in the International District late at night where several Asian American males pointed and laughed at Jeong, and that really pushed her over the edge.
“I deal with it on a daily basis my whole entire life. I just don’t have time to confront them; if I did, then I wouldn’t be able to get anything done. It’s like picking my battles, if someone gets me off on a bad day, then I will confront them,” she said.
Writing helps get her frustration out. Usually, Jeong is talkative and opinionated, often giving unsolicited opinions, but when it comes to her own disability, she tends to keep those feelings hidden.
But recently, a conversation with a friend spurred a strong reaction. Jeong didn’t want to hold it in much longer, so she started a campaign called #NoMoreWhispers along with a video documenting her struggles. The goal was to share her feelings about being a little person because Asians don’t tend to talk about this.
“I want to be loud about the injustices that I face as a little person. I want those jerks that point and whisper to stop. Asian guys are some of the worst perpetrators to me, I want to change the attitude and impact the future generations. I’m doing this because it’s not just for me, but the fact is that people are born with dwarfism every day, 1 in 20,000 births, and Asian people aren’t excluded,” she said.
Her advice to others who were born different is, “Don’t keep it in, you need to let it out, whether it’s through a blog or talking to a friend, it’s not guaranteed they’ll understand but I learned this year that it doesn’t matter if my best friend doesn’t understand, she never will, just the fact that she’s always wanting to understand. Also, find your faith, whatever that may be, mine is Jesus, but for others it could be traveling or whatever,” she said.
“Remind yourself it really doesn’t matter what people think of you if you know who you are, and it’s so cliché but the older I get, I keep realizing it’s so true. You just have to do you,” Jeong said.
“I want people to understand that it’s not OK to be rude, that shouldn’t be the cultural norm to anyone that looks different. If I’m out and you want to point and laugh, that’s how your brain thinks and I can’t do anything about that, But you don’t have a right to act on those jerk thoughts by making a rude comment because I have a right to be there, period,” she emphasized.
She would love to be a human rights lawyer and work with vulnerable populations such as people with disabilities or disabled women in oppressed countries. Jeong has also been dedicating her time to volunteering with a Tacoma-based nonprofit called Life Provision Organization that provides resources and assistance to low-income foster children. And when she’s not busy working or volunteering, she loves fashion design, photography, cooking, and traveling.
“I’d like to see attitudes change towards little people before I die; that is a big goal but that’s my interest,” she said. (end)
To learn more about Jeong’s campaign, visit her blog at www.iwearshirtsasdresses.com.
Nina Huang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.