If you attended the Women’s March on Washington, D.C., you may have stumbled upon an ethereal chorus of voices rising from the crowd of 500,000. If not, you probably saw a it retweeted onto your timeline: the group of 26 women (including a capella groups DC Sirens and Capital Blend, who had previously never met and had only rehearsed over Skype) harmoniously avowing the simple yet potent declaration:
The iPhone-captured video has since swept the internet, garnering over 15 million views and deemed the “unofficial anthem of the march” by distinguished outlets such as NPR, Rolling Stone, and VICE News. Behind the frenzy stands MILCK, the fortuitous hero and self-styled voice for “the relentless, the vulnerable, and the brave”. MILCK calls “Quiet” her thesis, birthed out of years of hushed and repressed tribulation, which “Quiet,” was written by MILCK (Connie Lim) and Adrianne Gonzalez.It’s a symbol of arrival, a manifestation of pain into proclamation, one that’s strikingly personal yet widely echoed.
As a daughter of immigrants and as a Chinese-American woman, MILCK has experienced firsthand the pulling discord between two cultures. When I mentioned this to her while we discussed her journey, MILCK spoke impassionedly about her background and its influence. It’s not something that she has always considered extrusive to her becoming, but a factor she has come to realize as a deep-seated part of her person.
“My father lived the classic American dream: he came to the states with $1000, nothing more, nothing less. He worked his way through pharmacy school and med school as a burger flipper and a custodian,” she explained. “He really ingrained in us this work ethic. He would tell us that we would have to be three times as bright and three times as hard working as, say, a typical American to get the recognition that we deserve. To get the same spots. That’s how he viewed the world.”
She described her father as a feminist in one sense, as he agreed that women should work to make their own living, to be smart and powerful contributors to society. This is a remnant of Chinese culture that she considers amazing; other examples include being family-oriented, respecting elders, and consciousness in regards to money. But like most things, there exists a shadow side; one that, in this case, has played a huge hand in shaping MILCK’s story.
There are the expectations held in terms of the appearance of the quintessential delicate Asian woman: “Thin, like a classic, demure and docile Chinese beauty,” according to MILCK. “I think Asian-American females are kind of objectified as these attractive, ideal girlfriends. We get put in these weird positions like we’re supposed to be these amazing partners to somebody, and it doesn’t give us space to be these amazing warriors on our own.”
And then there are the career choices that are either praised or scoffed at in disdain. “Being a creative, it scared them,” she said. “My dad’s a doctor, my sister’s a doctor, and my mom and my brother are in finance. I was just the black sheep.” MILCK described her personality growing up as quirky, goofy, and “unlike what they were used to”. She spent her teenage years up until her mid-twenties wrestling with the tension between following inclination or sinking into conformity. “I grew up in a way where I had to question my actual instincts all the time, like any time I let loose and just showed my true self, I’d get punished,” she stated. The trained habit of believing she didn’t know best inhibited her art form, creating an unstable foundation of self-doubt and apprehension. At 27 years of age, she finally grew weary of getting in her own way, and with a tip of the hat to Obamacare, was able to afford going to therapy. “I worked hard and mined all those demons out of there, some regarding my upbringing and some regarding the domestic abuse that I went through when I was 14 in a relationship with a guy,” she said.
Thus began the inception of a brave new uprising for her: the era of MILCK. “I did music under my name (Connie Lim), for a long time. There’s so much baggage and there’s so much weight with my name and so many things I wanted to take space from,” she stated. “I gave myself permission to make my own identity. I took my last name and turned it backwards, MIL, and my first two initials, CK. MILCK. And I was like, ‘Oh, that’s cool,’ because [milk] is also the life of nourishment that females of all different species provide to their young.” It was then that MILCK began writing music out of a place of raw sincerity, “Quiet” being the most notable yet. According to MILCK, the emblematic nature of her moniker and the song parallel in essence.
“I didn’t write ‘Quiet’ for anyone but myself to really heal and take back my voice from all those years feeling silenced.”
With the rapid growth and spread of the message of MILCK’s art, she’s no longer cowering in the quiet, but she’s reaching a hand out to the fearful, the oppressed, and the silenced, beckoning them to stand with her and start a revolution. When I asked her why she thinks honest art is even worth creating in the midst of such societal and political turmoil, she exuded a sure sense of conviction as she responded, “I am a perfect example of one voice making a difference.” The viral success she is picking up was completely unexpected, but it rings powerful. “I am an artist. And I feel this pain. And I can either let it make me crumble, or I can make something beautiful out of it.”
And that’s what art is for MILCK – a reconciliation, a pushback. An act of love. “I just think that because there’s so much fear and scarcity and competition in our news dialogue, it’s the people’s responsibility to continue sharing stories of love and abundance and overcoming and healing. It all makes a difference. This little song of mine that I used to heal myself, people have now made it into something greater. It wouldn’t have happened if I kept thinking it was useless to say something in this crazy time.”