In Conversation with Overachiever Magazine's Editor-in-Chief Rehana Paul

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Rehana Paul is the Editor-in-Chief of Overachiever Magazine, an online magazine that gives all Asian women a voice and platform to share their stories. Founded in October 2018, Overachiever Magazine features content relevant to Asian women— including art, culture, news, and entrepreneurship.

Rehana speaks with ECAASU about the origins of the magazine, the need for such spaces, and her thoughts on the current state of Asian Americans fighting for social justice.



The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Aishika Jennela: Tell us a little bit about yourself and what led you to start Overachiever Magazine.

Rehana Paul: Starting Overachiever Magazine was something that was a very long time coming for me. In addition to being a student, I'm also a freelance writer and I wanted to write about Asian issues, things that impacted me as an Asian woman because I felt that Asian news was not recorded on to the extent that I think is adequate. And when it was, it was very rarely done by Asian people. So I thought that that was extremely wrong.

And we talked to quite a few indie publications, as well as some large ones. I found out that while people were interested in doing my takes on non-Asian matters, no one wanted to hear about Asian issues. Publications even flat out told me, “You know, no one wants to read about this stuff. And you're a good writer, but if you keep going this way, no one is going to let you write.” I thought if I’m having this experience as a freelance writer, what experience must professionals be having?  

So I started Overachiever Magazine just to give a voice to all Asian women, or rather a place for them to share their stories, make their voices heard, and where their race would not be a stumbling block in writing. 

So I started Overachiever Magazine just to give a voice to all Asian women, or rather a place for them to share their stories, make their voices heard, and where their race would not be a stumbling block in writing. 

I also wanted to give Asian girls the experience that I never had growing up in seeing just how diverse and amazing Asian women actually are. I never saw an Asian woman as a politician or a model or an actress. And just because I did not see that doesn't mean that they don’t exist so I wanted to show the diversity of Asian women and show that there is not a right way to be an Asian woman. That's why I started Overachiever, and I hope I accomplished at least a little bit of that.

 

Sylvia Guan: And how would you say the magazine has grown since you started? How do you see it continuing to grow?  

RP: Oh, the growth has been amazing! I mean, we've gotten quite a large number of followers, we’ve got different kinds of contributors. I'm little bit stunned, of course, that we had such a huge amount of growth in such a short time. But at the same time, a small part of me knew this was going to happen; people so desperately need it.

As for our continued growth — very, very high expectations for us! But I see us gaining a larger Instagram following and starting a few ventures related to girl’s literacy, entrepreneurship, the arts and entertainment. And the goal is to keep on putting out issues.

 

SG: What kind of stories do you hope this magazine can tell? And what's been your favorite issue to work on so far and why?  

RP: Well, as for what stories I want to tell, I try to keep a very open mind about that. I try not to let my personal preference influence the magazine at all. I just want to hear about what Asian women want to talk about. For example, I'm a South Asian woman, I'm Indian, and I have a somewhat limited perspective as far as women from other parts of Asia go. I have already learned so much from my contributors about what the issues they face are, so my favorite stories to tell are the ones I've never heard of before and hope that it'll teach someone else something as well.

And as for my favorite issue to work with, probably the cultural appropriation fashion one. We put that one out in early February.  It just resonated with so many people, and it felt very right to have women of color talking about this. I mean, there were so many articles about appropriation versus appreciation, about embracing their own culture and reclaiming it, about how they felt seeing own culture —which they had been belittled for so many times — repackaged and sold by high fashion companies. It was a very inspiring, very humbling issue.

  

AJ: What are the Asian American issues that have personally impacted you and how have you had a chance to explore these through art and writing?  How have these spaces [like Overachiever] helped you heal and grow?  

RP: The model minority myth has always weighed very heavily on me. I have had the stereotypical Asian American experience, my parents coming to this country with nothing and building up an amazing life here. I saw that there was always this pressure on me to have a certain kind of life — you know, go to a top school, become a doctor, live in the suburbs and then die quietly. And that just made me feel very angry, and it was very upsetting what people expected of me. People expected me to live a certain kind of life.

That was my way of refusing to be a “good Asian.”

So I started writing, I'm very passionate about my writing. I would say that I'm a very angry writer. I found issues that really resonated with me and really made me upset, like the patriarchy in Asian American families, the model minority myth, the Harvard Affirmative action cases. And I vented; I vented everything about how I felt about having expectations put on me and got it all out in my writing. That was my way of refusing to be a “good Asian.” The positive responses from other Asian women, as well as them telling me that they resonate with and agree with what I'm saying, has really shown me that I'm not as alone as I once thought that I was.

 

AJ: There's a whole movement around civil rights again and people are pushing for more equitable justice for everyone. How do you see Asian Americans fitting into and fighting for this movement, and how can we be more intersectional and intentional in terms of our work within social justice spaces?

RP: I feel that for many Asian Americans, we've been told our whole lives to keep our heads down and not make waves. And additionally, we've grown up in — a lot of us, not trying to generalize here — but a lot of us have grown up in very tight knit, closed communities where casual discrimination is rampant. That has at least been my experience. So I think that it can be jarring to go into a space like the online activist community. I think that Asian Americans need to remember that while it is undeniable that we are still discriminated against, that many of us still come from a position of privilege that we need to factor in. The best we can do, in my opinion, as intersectional Asian women, is listen to what other minorities are saying, acknowledge our own privilege and refuse to accept casual discrimination against other minority groups by Asians. Additionally, there are a lot of very toxic things that we need to unlearn. Coming from families who are rampantly anti-Black and anti-LGBTQ, it's important to remember that what is progressive for us is not what is generally accepted as progressive and just to keep an open mind and listen to other people.

I feel that for many Asian Americans, we've been told our whole lives to keep our heads down and not make waves.

SG: You also talk a lot about creating this magazine as a space specifically catered for Asian women. So, what do you think are the major issues impacting Asian women today and what do you think we as a community can do better to address these issues?

RP: I'm not speaking for all Asian women here —but a few issues that I feel very strongly about: one is a frankly disturbing trend I've seen of Asian women insisting that we, as Asians in the West, are not discriminated against. To say that you have not been discriminated against is one thing entirely, but it's something to invalidate the experience of millions of women, simply because the discrimination is not as evident.

And another thing I’ve seen that bothers me is pushing away our heritage. This is something very close to my heart because it’s something that I used to do all the time. I was ashamed of my Indian background, I was ashamed of my culture because people always implied that I should be. I'd love to see more Asian women embracing their heritage.

AJ: I relate to that a lot because I also have had a hard time navigating this hyphenated space of being Indian American and Asian American.

RP: It's a very common experience, unfortunately. Hopefully we can change that.

 

AJ: We also want to learn a little bit more about Overchiever Magazine's process in terms of its publications, such as what is the process in choosing the themes for each month? And how do you feel like these themes can include or exclude some folks in our communities?

RP: Sometimes the themes are related to major events. For example, the cultural appropriation fashion issue was released right after New York Fashion Week. And other than that, as for choosing the themes, I don't plan out the themes that far in advance. But I try to get a feel of what our followers are passionate about right now, as well as following the headlines. 

As for making space for people who have not really related to some of the themes as well as others, we've put out issues twice a month and those issues are always on wildly different topics. We talk about fashion, tech, creativity, beauty treatments. The point I always try to make to our followers who might not feel like they can relate that deeply to an issue is that we face very, very similar problems as Asian women across the board. A woman who works in a beauty salon might have the same experience as the woman who is the CEO of a Fortune 500 company -- being discriminated against because you are an Asian woman. And to keep an open mind, remember what unites us, is not necessarily our hobbies or our interests or the careers that we have chosen but rather that we are Asian women.

 

SG: While there is the stereotype that Asians are overachievers, or “model minorities,” our Asian American communities show the highest disparities in income and education level amongst all other racial groups. How would you say your magazine helps challenge that stereotype and/ or narrative?

RP: In my opinion, it goes back to the “model minority myth.” Every race has stereotypes pushed on to them and ours is furthered by high levels of income and education. Overachiever tries to break down why that is. We are given more privileges than other minorities, and our success is — more often than not, unfortunately —  is to put other minorities down. Now, this isn't to say that Asians are not hard working. The majority of us are immigrants, who came to this country with little to nothing, who have worked extremely hard for what we have now.  

I just think that there is less systemic oppression against us. We are more likely to get into better ranking schools, we are more likely to get higher paying jobs and get paid more for the work that we do. It's a cycle. We’re paid higher wages, then that generation pays for better opportunities for their children and it goes on. And Overachiever Magazine wants bring this to light.

Unfortunately, many people take this to mean that Asians are not oppressed or have had everything handed to them, and I would just say that oppression is not black and white. Just that we have better numbers than other minorities —  and those numbers are very important — that does not mean that I am saying that Asians are not oppressed. I am just saying that we have not been as deeply, systemically oppressed as other minorities in this country.

 

SG: We also notice that on your website you highlight a lot of international news events that occurred throughout the year. What do you think is the importance of reporting this international news in our domestic content and how do you think we can build a movement that works across nationalities and geographic regions? 

We also have the power and privilege to change something.

RP: Well as immigrants living in a first world country, we're in a very unique position. We understand the problems that our home countries are facing because we understand the culture and the history that has led to these present-day problems. On the other hand, we also have enough detachment to not be necessarily prejudiced against those countries.

We also have the power and privilege to change something. We can make a real impact because we are in first world countries. We just need to understand what is going on without being biased. We just need to understand what is going on and what we can do as Asian women to help. That's why I care so much about reporting on current events. It's so that we get our news completely unbiased, completely factual.

And I also want to give more women the resources to help. We actually have a new venture coming up about making a change across the world, about how we, as everyday Asian women, can make a real impact in our own countries. And that's something that I would like to see a lot more of – across the board, not just for Asian women, for everyone taking in a real interest in what is going on in the country that, at least their parents, call home.

 

AJ: You just mentioned the endeavor that you're planning on doing about how Asian American women can help. Can you speak a little bit more about that?

RP: Sure. We don't actually have a name for it right now so we can’t give you this information. But it started as a way to connect women with platforms that they could write for – not just Asian women but all women. And it evolved into a girl’s literacy initiative. So, girl’s literacy is something that I have always felt very, very strongly about. I have always recognized that my education is a privilege and that many girls do not have that privilege.  

So, there are a lot of small charities that are doing excellent work in third world countries, and there are lots of ways to get involved that are not just spending the charity’s money because I know many people aren’t comfortable with doing that. For example, you can sponsor a girl and send her books, you can Skype with a girl and teach her how to read, you can be email pen pals. There are so many amazing ways to help girls literacy in third world countries. And I feel that, especially Overachiever’s focus on Asian women, we would love to give girls the opportunity to connect with girls across the world in the interest of raising literacy rates.

To learn more about Overachiever Magazine, find them on instagram, twitter, facebook, and tumblr.