In an era when we’re constantly consuming the highly curated, out-of-context, spit-shined online lives of everyone we know (and even more people we don’t), it’s refreshing and inspiring when someone has the courage to present an unvarnished reality laced with personal vulnerability. When writers suggest doing just that in the form of personal essays, I often encourage them to give it a go. But before sending them off to toil at their keyboards, I always offer the same advice: The best essays deliver emotional rawness and uncomfortable honesty, and if you can’t do that, then don’t do it at all.

In this month’s “How the Rise in Anti-Asian Racism Changed My Life”, 5280 food editor Patricia Kaowthumrong not only brings candor and sincerity to an essay about how the rise in anti-Asian racism made her re-evaluate her own identity; she also adeptly weaves relevant hate crime statistics, expert opinions, and cultural insights into her deeply personal narrative. The result is a work of prose that illustrates the unique challenges Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities have encountered since the onset of the pandemic, but Kaowthumrong didn’t stop there, historically speaking. “Yes, the past few years have been difficult,” she says, “but the racism and the trauma go back generations. I wasn’t just learning about my struggles; I was learning about the pain of my parents and of other immigrants to this state and country.”

In many ways, Kaowthumrong’s piece is as much a call for awareness as an exploration of who she is and ultimately wants to be. She puts the increasing violence in context for anyone who has somehow missed it on the evening news, but maybe more important, Kaowthumrong highlights the lack of culturally responsive mental health care available to Coloradans of AAPI descent. Even with the advantages she knows she has, Kaowthumrong says finding help didn’t come easily. Penning “A Different Me” didn’t come without effort either. But then again, the best essay writing rarely does.