An observation by Carissa Salazar
In a space that is superficial at best, it is difficult to truly get to know someone through what they curate for an audience. Digital spaces are susceptible to falling into a monotonous routine of highlights and photo ops that give a false sense of connection in this lonely world. Yet amidst the noise, in striking fate, sometimes you hear a voice that pulls you in and asks, “Do you want to stay awhile?”
Rachel Nguyen (@thatschic) came to me during a time of personal confusion, a time I felt unsure there was someone out there who understood. After spending two weeks in Asia, Tokyo left me in a dizzying disconnect. I couldn’t understand why the place I looked forward to visiting for so long made me feel sad. I shared these thoughts with my friend Isa, who took my feelings tenderly in her own and asked me, “Do you know Rachel?”
Rachel’s Tokyo vlog was artwork. For the first time, I saw myself in someone else’s self-reflection. Throughout the video this persisting feeling of melancholy and confusion were presented in montages of what you’d think would be a fun, Instagram opportunistic time, only to be voiced over Rachel’s rumination of her time in Tokyo. Our experiences, though not identical were that of extreme disorientation, a stomach-dropping awareness of distraction, consumerism, and inescapable loneliness. But to have my feelings told in someone else’s beautifully heartbreaking perspective had me asking,
“Who is Rachel Nguyen?”
Describing Rachel is difficult since she is a multifaceted person with many sides to her: introspective Rachel, cheeky Rachel, amazingly talented and creative Rachel, and so much more. The best set of work to help get to know Rachel is her series, “The Art of Loneliness” where she documents herself traveling solo throughout Montana. The familiarity is jarring at first. We watch these intimate moments of silences and scenes through Rachel’s eyes. She is alone in a forest in front of a flowing river, she sits and looks to her left. The comfort of being seeps through the screen, and we experience her feelings through moving pictures. The thing about Rachel’s vlogs is that they are not out of our reach. Those who find connection with Rachel’s vlogs experience a reflection of their feelings and inner worlds. The recognition of connection exists in her vlogs because Rachel is the best at highlighting human experiences, even through the smallest scenes. Her car gets stuck on the road and Montana locals help her get through, a road trip pit spot to eat fruit, and monologues that come with long car rides beneath the setting sun. A simple yet powerful reminder that life is beautiful.
Rachel’s comment section is a gem in itself. Filled with thankful notes of appreciation, some share stories of their own. It is a testament to Rachel’s biggest strength: empowering a community.
Her Slack community, Warde, was born shortly after “The Art of Loneliness”. In a New York Times Article titled, “‘I Want to Be in a Crowd With Everyone’” Rachel reveals that her main goal with Warde is to create a digital safe space where members can come together to discuss almost everything from beauty, travel, spiritual growth, and so much more. Rachel told the New York Times, “I don’t want people to follow me, I want to be in the crowd with everyone.”
Her community-focused goals are highlighted in so many aspects of her digital legacy. Before Warde, Rachel’s “open book” personality shines through her website, thatschic.net, as visitors were allowed to submit questions that Rachel would answer. Rachel’s willingness to build relationships with her supporters is understated. While many internet figures can now easily create communities with their followers, Rachel’s space is more than that. It is a breath of fresh air, an open green pasture where you could lay your head down, relax, and feel safe.
The current landscape Rachel has illustrated of her life is one of deep self-reflection, transformation, and growth. In her most recent project, she created a 14-day vlog series that followed her throughout her daily life: a quiet and real Los Angeles lifestyle. The feelings of melancholy are scattered throughout the pacing of her videos, in the shots she presents herself in, and even in the music she chooses. Without words, you can still see those thoughts weigh heavy in her mind, and Rachel’s heart is undergoing a change: opening up and understanding the past.
From exploring her experiences as an Asian American teen in the white neighborhood of Orange County to singing along to Olivia Rodrigo songs and recounting her most recent wounds from a past relationship, to the dreamy sights of surfing, cleaning, and working, Rachel touches upon it all. As small as living can be, what we make of every experience is crucial to the growth and transformation we go through as human beings. She ends Day 14 recounting the things she learned during the time of intense documentation. Picking up the remains of a butterfly outside her door on the last day, she thinks about the symbolism of cycles and rebirth as this season of her life comes to an end, making room for the next.
Rachel Nguyen is a friend I’ve never met in person, but she is someone who’s helped me come to understand the beauty of being alone, being in tune with my feelings, and being unapologetically creative in every aspect of my life. Whenever I watch Rachel’s videos I get inspired to go outside and to relish in whatever I feel at that moment. I also want to create art that mirrors my soul. I want to pour every ounce of myself into my creative process and be vulnerable, because Rachel made me realize how beautiful it is to just be.