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Expanding your Worldview by Jennifer Bak

In 2021, we asked many of our local Toledo, Asian and/or Pacific Islander women to share their story as we celebrated Asian & Pacific Islander Heritage month. One of those women was Jennifer Bak and this is her #419herstory.

Jennifer owns J. Bak Studios and is a portrait and creative fine art photographer, a bellydance teacher and performer with the Aegela Centers for Middle Eastern Dance, a fire eater and dancer, the featured bellydancer for world music band Calico Cabaret, and the Office Administrator at Verdantas LLC. In her free time, she enjoys fixing up her historical home in the Old West End, practicing difficult recipes, doing yoga, learning new things, reading, and geeking out on various nerdy fandoms.

Jennifer explained that Asian & Pacific Islander heritage month is more than just learning about a limited list of historical figures and events. "For some of us, it's about connecting with our families and our personal history. And for people who aren't Asian or Pacific Islander, it's an opportunity to open their worldview to cultures and practices that they're not familiar with. The more people learn about cultures with people outside of their own, the more they can see that the things they take for granted as standard or normal are actually just another variation and not "Just the way things are." Our ways are just as normal, valid, and deserving of being here without threat of hate or prejudice" said Jennifer.

When asked what advice she would like to give others, this is how she answered. "Don't let other people determine who you are. People often try to slot everyone into limited, pre-set categories based on what they're familiar with, but you are so much more than that. Just keep going and you be the one to define yourself. If there's not a category for you, make one. It took me a long time to carve out my place as a half-Korean, bisexual, geeky, goth/punk-hearted, vintage-loving, bellydancing, fire-eating, brainy, sparkly, flamboyant, outspoken creative. Whatever you are -- Be. All. Of. It. It's awesome. Don't let others try to cut bits off because you don't fit into the box they've created for you."

And of course, we had to ask her how she stays empowered. "Find your power in being true to yourself. Own all the quirks and idiosyncrasies that make you the wonderful unicorn of a human you are. One of my favorite phrases is "It's not a flaw, it's a feature." I also highly recommend finding an activity you love and diving into it. We live such sedentary lives, which is terrible for us physically and mentally. Whether you choose bellydance, spin, lifting weights, circus arts, yoga, walking, whatever -- do something physical if you can. It's wonderful for the body, mind, and spirit."

Jennifer, you have such a beautiful story! Thank you for sharing it with us, and inspiring women everywhere. To learn even more about Jennifer, make sure you visit her website here.

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