Cover Laura Jung by Winnie Au

The Seoul-born influencer says her current home New York City is still a place where being Asian means being ‘inherently othered’

As part of the reporting for Tatler’s August cover story, we speak to Laura Jung, an influencer based in New York City, who reveals stories untold and what really happens behind the pretty social media feeds.

Being a social media influencer almost always means your face is your brand. While this career seems to offer excitement and prestige, Laura Jung says her line of work isn’t always as glamorous as her social media posts might suggest, and that some people see her public platform as a justifiable outlet for abuse. “I get really offensive direct messages sent to me whenever I post outspokenly on racism in America,” she says. “Living in New York affords people of colour many opportunities and privileges but it is not a place where racism doesn’t exist. It is still American society and still a place where being Asian means being inherently othered.”

Born in Boston and raised in Seoul, South Korea, until she returned to the US for university, Jung was long under the impression that America was a utopia of diversity and freedom. However, she came to realise that “while that may be true in many aspects comparatively, to put it bluntly, America is founded on violence, racial inequality and the pillaging of Black, Brown and Native bodies,” she says. “The systems in place benefit certain groups of people and severely limit others. It’s only natural that racism and equality is deeply embedded in everyday, micro-interactions.” When she first arrived in New York for college, it took her some time to re-evaluate her Asian American identity in a city with such a range of cultures. “There’s nothing more powerful and more pivotal in your self-awareness and assuredness than living in a place where everyone looks like you,” she says—and so being subjected to Asian hate was something of an awakening. “My Asianness and otherness became so apparent that it made me question everything I knew about my Asian identity, for it had only existed within the confines of an Asian society.”

Jung is making it part of her mission to only accept work that supports her beliefs, and that normalises the community’s existence. “I always want to make it a point that I am not a brand or a campaign’s token Asian. It is important to me that a brand is willing to be inclusive regardless of recent public calls for diversity,” she says. “The biggest challenge is to stick up for myself in a sea of people who don’t look like me, who suggest I should otherwise be grateful to even be cast in a campaign or considered for a project. I am my own person with my own likeness and personality, and I don’t want to mould who I am to fit a brand’s agenda for their ‘Asian talent’.”

See also: Hong Kong’s First Diverse Modelling Agency Pushes Back Against Prejudice

The recent wave of anti-Asian sentiment has been a painful daily reminder of the ugliness of racism. But being an influencer with nearly 70,000 Instagram followers, social media has been Jung’s greatest weapon before and during the #StopAsianHate movement, and a way to speak out against racism and make a difference. “[Social media is] my biggest platform and if I have the power to address an issue to tens of thousands of people, I’m going to be outspoken,” she says. “Every second, every minute we have the opportunity to change the course of something, whether it’s a hate crime or a hate speech or even a small microaggression. Addressing the issue whenever and wherever possible can forever impact the course of humanity.”