When my little sister Taye was two, I would try to hold her and she would respond with small teeth in my flesh. When she was five, she was ordered to the principal’s office almost every week. When she was 14, she would puff up her chest and demand, “Say that to my face.” I idolized her ability to stand up against mini white supremacists that pulled their eyes back and stuck out their teeth. But even the greatest fighters are not invincible. As I watched her mature, her skin became so thick from such micro-aggressions that she drew pictures on her arm with a knife to make sure she could still bleed. We both squeezed our eyes shut at night and prayed to wake up white.  

The sky dripped rain the day my little sister died, I remember vividly. It was the end of my first year at Bowdoin. She hung herself next to a short dress from T.J.Maxx and a forgotten kimono. 

Feeling endless sorrow, I now fight for Taye. So many people argue that people of color are thin-skinned, but I argue the depth of people of color’s emotions has built armor. Thick skin is not in spite of emotions, but because of emotions. I watched as peers with emotions as deep as wells courageously made themselves vulnerable by picking up microphones, speaking at Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) meetings, sitting on panels, holding up “Can we talk?” signs after the “tequila” party—making noble attempts to harmonize a microcosm of humanity. 

I wrapped myself in armor out of my grief for my sister. However, I learned quickly that having thick skin means people want to see you bleed. By the end of my sophomore year I took on a public fight with the former president of BSG to instate a multicultural representative and by the end of my junior year my voice—my freedom of speech—was marked “unbecoming of a Bowdoin student” and I was abruptly silenced. At the end of that year, I told a faculty member that I felt like someone had violently cut holes through my body and I didn’t know how to stop the bleeding. I was ashamed because I thought the holes were a manifestation of thin skin.

When I saw the reactions rising on Asian Student Association’s Facebook albums: “#ThisIs2016,” I was thrilled that different micro-aggressions towards Asians were being validated. When I held up my sign, “I guess you’re pretty… for an Asian,” I looked into a dark lens that would soon be viewed by over 7 million people. Anonymous eyes scrutinized my face before typing out, “they lied”; “you’re not pretty”; “you’re lucky someone even thinks you’re attractive”; and “most Asians are pretty, just not you.” I heard Taye’s voice, “Say that to my face.”

But I surprised myself: I cried. 

I’m beginning to believe that the tears on my cheeks are not a sign of weakness. My emotions give me the strength to step into situations that those who have thin skin may never dare to take on. The courage that’s necessary to take a stand and the inevitable repercussive stabs hurt like hell. And even though the greatest fighters are not invincible, they leave legacies. My sister’s legacy gifted me the emotions that have helped me construct an armor of thick skin. So make me bleed the Niagara Falls. My tears only make me stronger.  ​​

Kiyoko H. Nakamura-Koyama is a member of the Class of 2017.