Sierra Burgess-YeoFounder of The Kore DirectiveBarista at Timberyard/Department of Coffee and Social Affairs at FacebookBrixton, London, UK
I came to the UK five years ago to go to university in York. I grew up in Singapore, and Singapore was and is incredibly different. On the whole, it’s more conservative. Obviously, I didn’t fit in–that’s why I’m here. When I started out being newly independent and living abroad, I was desperately grateful to be leaving someplace I’d been for nineteen years, having never fit the mold back home anyway. I was so excited to reinvent myself entirely.
But during university I was forced to inspect race, ethnicity and identity so closely through all the things I experienced as a womxn of color. That made me realize my heritage and history was something I’m immensely proud of, even if I’m not “textbook Singaporean.” I used to try to hide my heritage, especially when I’d just started uni, but five years on it has become a defining part of the way I negotiate the public sphere, and unapologetically so.
I feel like I don't fit in. Not in the UK, nor in Singapore. But I'm coming to terms with never belonging anywhere.
I want to do something for the womxn who don't have a voice.
I graduated and realized I didn’t want to do anything with my degree in linguistics. I was already working part-time in coffee and I realized that this is something that I actually really enjoy. I then started doing that full-time, and I moved down to Manchester after I got married and was living there for a year before I decided to move down to London to progress my career in coffee. And the rest is history.
I created The Kore Directive because I wanted to address the disadvantages, overt or otherwise, that womxn face in the specialty coffee industry here in the UK, and to give us all a way to progress from that. I want to do something for womxn who don’t have the inherent privilege to avoid finding themselves in situations where they’ve been at the receiving end of gendered discrimination.
Earlier this year I left a job that compounded a lot of the issues I’d faced in my time in the industry–lack of staff welfare, mental health support, resources for a POC, progressional opportunities and further training and certification. For a long while I festered in the resentment and anger at my inability to do anything about it, until I questioned if I could. That was how The Kore came about–out of my desire to affect individual and intersectional change to combat what I perceived as widespread, systemic gendered discrimination. The danger is that it’s so subtle and ingrained and most people don’t question the things that come out of their mouths when speaking to say, myself, as a WOC.
I grew up in a family of strong single womxn. I think that’s always subconsciously informed the way I see the world. The person who has influenced me the most and given me not just my dysfunctions but also my greatest strengths would be my mother. We’re very different in worldview and values, but have the same temperament and headstrong personality.
She never entertained the idea of me quitting anything–she’s not a quitter, and a lot of my insecurities and attitudes towards needing to “always grit it out” regardless of context stems from that. This is sometimes detrimental and sometimes beneficial, and telling the difference is hard. There are aspects of my culture I don’t want to give up (even though I now live in a space where this integrity isn’t required of you to lead a successful and fulfilling life) because I fear the erosion of the traits that have made me.
It seems that we have so much more personal freedom to explore nomadism and living abroad and meeting people we would never have met a generation ago, but increasingly paranoid and restrictive borders, which is sheer irony. I would not wish what I had to go through to get my visa to remain here in the UK on anyone.
People should, on principle, be able to live wherever they want in the world with only a reasonable amount of expected difficulty.