Botox + Anger

I had 15 units of Botox injected into my “elevens” – the two frown lines fighting to take permanent residence in between my thinning but microbladed eyebrows. I’m certain at several points in my life I swore I would never succumb to vanity in this manner, but I wasn’t 51 at the time. I didn’t wake up looking like I was angry or worried or scowling. Maybe 20 years from now I will chalk up this decision to my youth, but for now I’m just going to keep walking over to a mirror to see if I can still move those facial muscles.

Do you have a tattoo? 

It’s one of those things people think about doing but don’t want to readily admit thinking about it, or they do it but don’t put it on blast and may even deny having it done even though it can sometimes be pretty obvious to other people what is going on. Tattoos and body piercing have lost their stigma, even in religious spaces. Skincare regimens are so normal that my sons who are in their 20s asked about moisturizer and sunscreen. (My Dear Readers, if you are not using a facial sunscreen daily AND year-round we need to talk.) During shelter-in-place there were many social media threads about dyeing hair at home to cover roots and the increasing number of gray hairs popping up. I see requests for just about every personal care service on local moms’ FB pages but I’ve yet to see anyone ask about injections and fillers. Facials? Dermatologists? Microblading? Eyelashes? Aluminum-free deodorant? Bikini waxing? ALL THREADS ON MULTIPLE FB PAGES for working moms, community moms, etc.

But I noticed that the one self-care topic that was solely for word-of-mouth meaning an actual conversation or text and never publicly solicited information was around injecting chemicals into your body. (Wink, wink.) And because I am also prone to being Judgey McJudgepants why would anyone talk with me about paralyzing their facial muscles?

So why do it?

I actually think I look good “for my age” whatever that might mean to you. My mom and grandmother did not use expensive serums or get facials, but they drilled the importance of cleansing and moisturizing. I added the sunscreen years after already damaging my skin with baby oil burns. I have great genes to boot. I want to minimize those lines because they remind me of my anger and the loud inner critic.

There is nothing wrong with anger. Somewhere between Sunday School, sermons, and home I learned that emotions and specifically anger was bad. I have since unlearned that toxic lesson instead holding on to the energy and passion I feel and experience when I encounter injustice – anger. Anger has levels, stages, types and it’s all related to how we are experiencing a person or situation in relation to our safety. For example, as a Christian and as an Asian American I feel a great deal of anger when my faith community inflicts pain against another group of people or when my AAPI community is the target of harassment and violence. I am still learning how to deal with my anger in healthy ways, but there was one thing that continued to bother me.

But what about not letting the sun go down on your anger?

BE ANGRY [at sin—at immorality, at injustice, at ungodly behavior], YET DO NOT SIN; do not let your anger [cause you shame, nor allow it to] last until the sun goes down. Ephesians 4:26 Amplified Version

First, let me just say that this verse created unnecessary havoc in the early years of our marriage. Married people, if you are angry at each other and it’s time for bed, go to bed. You need to rest to think, listen, and love well. 

Second, the version I grew up didn’t explain how anger could be ok and the emphasis was on the sin. I know. Not surprising. So somewhere in there it gets translated and taught as being angry is sin so don’t be angry and if you are angry make sure you get rid of that ickiness before bedtime.

Maybe I’m the only one who internalized it that way, but there it is. And every time Peter and I couldn’t resolve our conflict before sleeping I felt like a failure and increasingly sleep deprived. That is what I had to unlearn and to honor the anger I feel at immorality, injustice and ungodly behavior. But I still struggle with what it means to not let my anger last until the sun goes down. The morning usually doesn’t hold new answers so much as a continuation of whatever it was that makes me angry.

Which brings me back to my elevens. This isn’t about looking younger. That might come later. I can’t help but wonder if it’s like getting my first tattoo, which lead to my next tattoo. The gateway.

Those lines aren’t really wrinkles so much as they are a reminder of every moment of anger and frustration. They are reminders to me of the anger I feel in my emotions and in my body, reflected outwards to those looking at me, those who might never know me. I already feel the anger, but to see it reflected back at me every morning? I am tired of the reminder. I don’t need another reminder of how angry this world makes me feel. 

Asian American woman wearing a face mask with white markings on her face to guide a nurse for Botox injections.

My face marked up for potential injections. We opted just for the three spots in between my eyebrows.

 

Vitamin L Diaries: I’m Depressed. Are you?

I’m working with my happy light just off to my right. I will let it do it’s thing – bombarding my brain via my eyes with fake sunlight minus the bad UV rays. It’s one of several tricks up the sleeves of those of us with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) where the lack of natural sunlight can impair and impact our mood and mental health. This year has felt like a triple whammy – clinical depression, a global pandemic and SAD. Oh, I forgot to add the unprecedented events including and leading up to an attempted coup so that makes it a quadruple whammy. 

Mental health talk is slowly losing its sting, but there’s still a sting. How do I know? Because whenever I mention it anywhere publicly I get public comments AND private ones from Dear Readers who don’t feel comfortable sharing in a public comment about their own depression, whose loved ones and community still do not understand that we all should care about our mental health, whose churches will encourage them with toxic positivity to pray it away. Just because you talk about mental health doesn’t mean you have a problem, but if you can’t talk about mental health you won’t have any tools to help bring yourself or loved ones back to health.

So let’s talk about mental health

I want to be clear. I have no thoughts of self-harm. We need to make statements like that normal, normal and healthy for people to say them and for questions about self-harm to be normal and healthy.

For those of us in places will actual seasons, the December, January, February and sometimes March and parts of April are not all a Winter Wonderland (I’m looking at you my Dear Readers from warm, sunny places that think shoveling snow would be fun). They are cloudy, gloomy, cold and isolating. Because of the COVID19 pandemic isolation has taken on new levels. Our family has not entertained inside our home since February 2020. We haven’t had friends or family gathered around our kitchen table, a table that has uncomfortably fit 18 people. We haven’t hosted high school pre- or post-dance parties like we did in the fall of 2019 when 30 high schoolers feasted on carbs and left a trail of glitter, sequins, and corsages (parents we need to talk about how much money we spend on flowers for these kids) and socks from when the guys in the group slept over in the basement. 

So the happy light brings fake sun to help regulate our brains and sometimes we add Vitamin D supplements for added measure. For some of us, and definitely for me, medication (10 mg of Lexapro daily) keeps the other things going, and when I’m on top of it I do the other things – exercise, stay hydrated, limit screen time (ok, I’m not so good at this). 

But sometimes doing all the right things isn’t enough. It helps us keep from sinking further, but it isn’t enough because we can’t checklist our way out of depression.

It can feel a little like falling – that split second you experience the sensation of losing balance. But that split second is split into days and weeks and months of that sensation of losing your equilibrium, of losing a sense of balance and direction, of losing trust in yourself to make the right decision that could possibly break your fall but also break a bone or two in the landing. It’s feeling like you’re moving in slow motion as you are trying to right yourself and no single movement feels like it’s going to keep you from the inevitable crash because you can’t feel your body completely, you can’t see your surroundings completely, you can’t always understand your body or your surroundings at all.

Sometimes you…

  • Start missing deadlines or forget things or flake out, and then you feel horrible about yourself and want to crawl into a hole. So then you try to make up for that but that exhausts you or you stop trying. You can’t sleep or sleep too much and that makes you feel horrible and that horrible feeling can lead to anxiety or a deeper depression. It’s a vicious cycle.
  • Hit a wall. Last week I put on make up, dressed up, chilled a mini bottle of champagne, and celebrated the inauguration of our first but not last woman of color vice president – Madame Vice President Kamala Devi Harris and her running mate Mister President Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. But for all the emotions and thoughts running through my mind and body I could not for the life of me cry. For me, that is a sign that my mental health is not tracking with my body and my emotions. And even my emotions felt numb, which I also fully recognize is part of healing from the grief and trauma of but not limited to the past four years.
  • Have to name it. I was telling myself it was a passing day of clouds, but the passing days have been weeks and months. I’ve been having trouble sleeping. Trouble falling asleep and then once I am finally asleep wanting to stay in bed for as long as I can get away with. The things that usually help (exercise usually perks me up) don’t help after days of trying and then the trying gets exhausting. I put on some extra weight during the months of sheltering in place, and that has made being comfortable in my own skin a challenge. It becomes a vicious cycle. I wanted it to just be in my head but that’s the thing with depression. IT IS IN MY HEAD. IN MY BRAIN. And I or anyone with depression can’t think it away. We have to name it and treat it.
  • Reach out. I told my husband and my friends that I’m on the struggle bus with my depression. I told them not because they were going to offer solutions and cures but because they could keep me in their actual, real, sincere thoughts and prayers. They check in, leave messages, send memes (please send all the Bernie memes, please), and text about the mundane and the daily realities. It helps me get through today’s six inches of snow and lack of actual sun.

That still didn’t make it go away

I haven’t written in months, in part because I was slowly slipping into this depressed space where the depression is as alive and present as I am. Words require patience with and for myself, and when I’m depressed my inner critic becomes even louder. Another vicious cycle. After I hit “publish” I will get back to an overdue writing project that stalled in my mental darkness. I will teach a virtual yoga class and reconnect my mind and my body. But I’m finally writing to give space and voice to those of us who keep on keeping on in a state of depression, in a small or big corner of clouds and darkness. Some of us aren’t able yet to reach out for help or who haven’t yet been able to name what it is we are going through or who are still wrestling with the stigma of depression, anxiety, and mental illness. I’m writing this to remind myself and others that no matter where we are in our journey we are still here fighting, even if it’s with a whimper, to please stay present even in the clouds and darkness.

So You Want to Write a Book.

Get ready to die a little.

Last week I received my annual royalties check from my portion of “More Than Serving Tea” (MTST from here on out) and from “Raise Your Voice” (RYV). I cannot tell you how MTST changed my life with deep friendships, an ocean of tears, and a mission to see Asian American Christian women’s voices to shape and influence the world. I am still in touch with most of the other authors, and four of us are part of a women’s group that met annually until the pandemic. We still marvel at the book that I kept as a desktop file titled “Project Snowball”. Why a snowball? We were told in so many words the book had a snowball’s chance in hell to make it to print and even then there was a question of how long it would stay in print. I still remember a male colleague, Asian American male (younger because in my culture that’s also important), told me the book would be irrelevant in a few years. 

The book was published in 2006, and last week I received a small royalty check.

But becoming a published Christian author killed my soul a bit. My Dear Readers, it’s a business. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s only a calling, an invitation from God. Yes, I have felt “called” to write, which is why I first became a newspaper reporter. I have kept a journal since the first or second grade. I have journals I have kept for each of my children since they were in utero. They are now 25, 22, and 20 and will receive those journals when I’m ready. Yes, I will write another book eventually some day in the future perhaps maybe. But Christian publishing is still a business.

Why are you telling us this, Kathy?

The royalty check last week and the signing of a new contract this week has me all in my feelings. (I have gotten very good at burying the lede.) I thought about the work put into both MTST and RYV – the emotional work before, during, and after, and the hours spent outlining, writing, editing, more editing, more editing, crying, apologizing for missing deadlines, and promoting. I thought about a recent thread on Twitter about the hurdles to getting published, and I wanted to thank all of you for your encouragement through the years when I blogged about my middle school children and being a Korean American Christian woman navigating ministry and evangelical/evangelical adjacent spaces. I wanted to thank all of you for SHOWING UP when it came time to promote and launch RYV. I wanted to remind myself that I didn’t do it for the money.

I really didn’t. Part of the problem with publishing as a whole, and I think Christian publishing specifically because it’s supposed to be Christian but it’s capitalism, is the lack of transparency. For example, I know my life looks super glamorous and amazing. I mean #jamvent and #snowglobe life on IG is pretty amazing, and my family is freaking beautiful. Writing and getting paid for my words is an honor, but it’s also work. For RYV I wrote about 30,000 in the final copy. I actually wrote many more words but many were wisely edited out, and there were several versions of every chapter. At the end of the day I earned about 18 cents per word. 

I’ll wait for you to do the math.

My new contract involves an amazing co-author and that person’s agent so the math is better because it’s half of a book, but again this is capitalism, My Dear Readers. I’ll be sure to share more details when we are ready.

But God’s economy, Kathy.

Publishers are still companies and corporations, and they don’t actually operate in God’s economy. I guess that’s why I’m writing this. To remind all of us that we need to keep imagining better, doing better when we can, and be aware of the reality. We can say God’s economy has room for all the books, but the reality is only so many books will be published “traditionally”. Publishers can only publish so many books (and with the current paper shortage it’s gotten even more complicated and frustrating), and they can only afford to lose so much money. 

And this is again where I thank you, My Dear Readers, for making sure RYV didn’t lose money!!!! Getting a royalty check means the book sold enough copies to cover the advance and get me royalties. That was what every single pre-order and sale since 2018 did. That is exactly what you want to happen as an author. It gives you a leg up when you pitch your next book because we all need to have numbers and followers and a platform. Again, Jesus doesn’t talk about platform. He talks a lot about loving our neighbors and enemies and the widows and orphans but he says squat about the number of followers and mailing lists (many of you have signed up for my non-existent email updates and that is why I keep your email, btw). 

As a Christian writer I keep God’s economy in mind, but I also need to pay the bills involving three kids who went or are currently attending college on student and parent loans. I keep in mind the privilege of writing and teaching yoga for a living and the cost of that privilege as an Asian American woman who recently was named in an email sent to my place of employment. Racism is everywhere including in Christian writing and publishing. Just ask any Christian publishers how many editors and decision makers are POC.

I can wait again.

But I still want to write a book.

So if you want to write a book and get it published traditionally you will need a few things. You will need a platform – followers on several social media platforms, an email list of people who willingly shared their emails with you for, in my case, non-existent additional material, and influencers who already have all of that who will vouch for you. If you are a POC you will need influential POC and influential non-POC who will promise to write endorsements, help promote you, etc. 

I don’t share this for pity. It was exhausting, but I LOVED promoting my book and getting my launch team together. I made maybe 100 bracelets and wrote notes. Every time I saw someone on my launch team post a photo, I cheered in gratitude and prayed for that person. 

But part-time marketing is not what I had in mind when I imagined being a published author. Even as I sit in the exciting privilege of having signed another contract, I am humbled and terrified.

I am a little hopeful because between 2018 and now there are MANY more POC and specifically WOC in the Christian writing sphere who have gotten agents, become agents, and signed bigger deals and sold more books! BRING IT ALL ON!!!! Just remember, and this is for me as much as it for you, not all of us will receive the five-figure deal with one of the big three houses. Many of us are happy and honored and smiling all silly while I type this to get what I/we get, but I will be honest. A part of me died with RYV. It’s humbling work. Thank you for being a part of it, My Dear Readers.

28 Things I Learned During 28 Years of Marriage

My Dear Readers,

The annual list is here. For newbies, I’ve been writing a list like this for the past few years, and it’s the one thing I remember to blog about. I don’t look at the lists from prior years because that’s cheating. Not really. I don’t look because it really is an “off the top of my head” list.

Backstory: Peter and I were living in the same area and introduced by mutual friends Scott and Irene. They are Peter’s youth group friends and my college friends. They thought he would make a good “Oppa” or older brother because he is seven years older than I am. We met, fell in love, and got engaged… in six weeks. As in met and then had an official engagement party/ceremony with almost 100 people present for our engagement. And then we were married four months later with about 1,000 guests for a buffet of Korean food in the basement of Peter’s church.

  1. Marriage is hard work. There is a lot of joy and heartache, and it is A LOT OF WORK. It’s good work, but it’s work. That’s why we celebrate even if it’s dinner in a restaurant, which still feels weird because of COVID and feels small because it’s 28 years. Thanks, COVID. You can also put in all the work, and your marriage may still not work out with a fairytale ending. Do you know why? Because fairytales are lies. 
  2. The marriages in your family of origin are not a predictor of how your marriage will look or be. You are not by default your parents’ best and worst patterns of relating. You can choose to emulate the best and break the worst patterns. Again, it takes work.
  3. There are some things that will make you cry in the moment that over time will make you laugh…and maybe still cry. (Remember, I was 22-year-old Kathy up against my future mother-in-law during wedding planning. If you’re lucky enough to have seen our wedding video #3 makes perfect sense.)
  4. Spend money on amazing photographs of you and your spouse on your wedding day because video formats will change. VCR anyone? 
  5. “Married a long time” sex is better than honeymoon sex.
  6. Sometimes sitting in silence doesn’t mean you are comfortable with silence. Sometimes it means I’m really pissed off.
  7. Marriage and/or your spouse will not complete you. You are a full human.
  8. If you think marriage will complete you, go to therapy first. 
  9. Marriage therapy doesn’t have to be a crisis thing. It can be a normal thing. It should be a normal thing.
  10. Individual therapy doesn’t have to be a crisis thing. It should be a normal thing.
  11. You really do marry each other’s families whether or not you or your spouse is close to said family. Those family issues and ties show up EVERY DAY in big and small ways.
  12. The way you “fill-in-the-blank, i.e. did household chores” growing up doesn’t have to be the way you and your spouse do it in your marriage. 
  13. Having children doesn’t complete a marriage. It makes your family bigger.
  14. Having sex when your kids are babies, toddlers, etc. can be challenging because one or both of you are always tired.
  15. Having sex when your kids are teenagers or college-aged can be challenging because they keep weird hours. This does not apply if you don’t care if your kids know or hear you are having sex. I am still a bit prudish. Leave me alone.
  16. Buy a king bed as soon as you can afford it. It doesn’t mean you want to be far apart. It just means that you are prepared for when you want to be far apart because you’re mad, you have kids or fur babies who crawl into bed with you, or you need the space because of peri-menopausal night sweats.
  17. Talk honestly about money. I don’t know if money is the root of all evil but remember #9 and #10. There’s a lot to learn about each other when you talk about debt, spending, time, etc. Peter knows I have fun money stashed away because I have a really, really, really hard time spending money on myself. He doesn’t have to have a stash because he doesn’t have the same problem.
  18. It’s important to have common friends and your own separate friends.
  19. Same with hobbies and interests. He had bowling and I had book club.
  20. You do start picking up each other’s best and worse habits. Case in point? For me: flossing. For him: moisturizer.
  21. When he tells me I am beautiful he means it. He may want sex, but he still means it.
  22. When I tell him he is handsome, I mean it AND I want him to finish some project around the house.
  23. After 28 years he still can’t read my mind so I’ve told him that I really love it when he occasionally buys me flowers for no reason at Trader Joe’s. I have also circled things in catalogs.
  24. This is particularly important for women because it’s 2021 and the patriarchy: establish your own credit history.
  25. It’s never too late to apologize or to forgive one another, but you also can go to bed angry. Staying up late past your bedtime to argue doesn’t make for better arguments. It makes for cranky adults who have to go to work in the morning with unresolved feelings.
  26. You don’t have to make every decision together – big or small – but you have to know you’re on the same page about which decisions fall into that category. For example, I really don’t care about the exact make and model of our next car, which actually will be my car. He enjoys this much more than I do. 
  27. Over communicate because back to #23 none of us are perfect at mind reading.  
  28. Say “I love you” every day even when you don’t feel it. Love isn’t just an emotion. It’s a decision. An action. A choice of movement towards each other. Every damn day.

Happy anniversary, Peter! Here’s to another year of learning and loving!

The Complexity of Being and Becoming Hmong American #AmplifyMelanatedVoices

My Dear Readers,

Today we have the privilege of learning from Kathy Moua, a Hmong American woman, daughter of refugees, sister, and auntie. Minister and teacher during the day, truth seeker at night. Coffee drinker on the beach during off days.



George Floyd was killed by a white police while an Asian American policeman stands by and does nothing to stop it.

 This was the headline and photo that was being passed and posted around in the greater Asian American community all week after George’s murder. My heart sank and my body shut down because though it wasn’t noted, I knew he, the Asian American policeman, was Hmong.

 

I was sad that another Black life was taken. I was angry at Tou for doing nothing. 

I wanted to immediately disown and disassociate with him.

I was ashamed and wanted to share his photo and say, “Don’t be like him.”

Yet something from my gut stopped me from reacting in that way, and instead I wept.

I wept for George and then I wept for Tou.

 

George, your humanity was taken away from you. You suffered while one of my people did nothing. You cried and no one helped you. My soul grieved for your life.

 

Tou, what were you thinking and feeling? Did you even care that George was crying out, “I can’t breathe?” Were you afraid of your White counterparts? Are you so comfortable with the system that allowed you that badge that it didn’t matter that George was being killed? I don’t want you to go to prison because of what happens in prisons, but I also hate that you did nothing to help George. What is your story? Did you think about George’s story? Why did you do nothing?! 

 

I wept because I felt a piece of me in George and I felt a piece of me in Tou. To be clear, the humanity I saw in Tou does not justify his complicity in George’s death. These complicated feelings reminded me what my friend, La, wrote in her piece yesterday; that we are all interconnected. I realized that what Hmong Americans might be feeling during this time relates to some of the Hmong/Black violence against one another. When our parents arrived as refugees to this country in the late 70s, they entered into a Black/White race binary under white supremacy. With no knowledge of the English language while working to make ends meet, a lot of the Hmong ended up in Black neighborhoods. The Black communities were rejected to receive loans for homes and businesses which lead to severe poverty. Under the pressure of these conditions our communities fought to survive and sometimes ended up viewing each other as enemies. Our communities need healing. My hope is that as we meet one another in the streets, we can change this narrative. 



As I was reading my feed on Facebook, two stories stood out to me.

The first was a post by a Hmong American woman named Tracy Yang. These are her words, “Every time I hear about a police killing, I always experience a bit of PTSD. I never talk about it much, but now is the time I tell it publicly. On September 27th, 2002, St. Paul police officer Michael Thurston shot my father, Ki Yang, 9 times in the chest and left him to die in my mother’s arms. He got to keep his job and received a two-week paid leave. Thurston claimed self-defense. Till this day, Michael Thurston walks around, living his life. Meanwhile, my family and I have had to move on with our lives with a hole in our hearts that will never heal. Justice matters. Change needs to happen. For peace, love, and unity. #NoJusticeNoPeace #JusticeforFloyd

 

The second was the story of Youa Vang, a 60 year old Hmong mother, who went out to the protests to show her solidarity in Minneapolis. Her 19-year-old son was killed by the Minneapolis police in 2006. Black leaders shared their platform with her at the protest and she cried out for justice for George and every life taken from the MPD. 

 

A ripple effect of stories like these seem to be surfacing to remind us that this too has happened in our community. As we listen to each other’s stories, may we see that our fight is not against our Black siblings. Do we not see that the Hmong community have been oppressed by the systems of white supremacy similar to our Black siblings? Hmong Americans, is it perhaps that we have been blind to this from being racialized under the Modeled Minority Myth? White supremacy says, it’s a black and white conversation when it comes to the social construct of race. It has disembodied us.

 

Our fight is against the infiltration of white supremacy in all its forms. It has us questioning each other’s humanity and dignity rather than seeing and believing each other’s realities. There is room for all the complexities of how we are related to one another. When we rely on the labels and narratives given by white supremacy toward one another, we will find it hard to stand in solidarity. 

 

Understanding our histories and identities is complex and takes a lot of work. I get it. I’m tired too. But do the work anyway. Have hard conversations. Read books. Ask your Hmong siblings who get it for help. Do it daily. Complexity is not an excuse for your anti-Black racism. 

 

Because you know what isn’t complex? The fact that Black Lives Matter. 

Do you know what is beyond exhausting? Centuries of fighting against the senseless killings of Black Lives.

 

 

My Dear Readers,

Some of you may have posted a black square on IG or used #BlackOutTuesday as a show of solidarity with the Black community. This week folks also were encouraged by @JessicaWilson.msrd and @BlackAndEmbodied to #AmplifyMelanatedVoices – 

In the spirit of #AmplifyMelanatedVoices we have the honor of listening to and learning from three Christian Hmong women. If you don’t know anything about the Hmong people, LMGTFY . Remember, you don’t have to limit your learning about the Asian American diaspora to the month of May.



Dear Hmong Christians, A Love Letter #AmplifyMelanatedVoices

My Dear Readers,

Today we have the honor of listening La Thao, a Hmong American woman born and raised in the Midwest and a sleep-deprived minister, thinker and creator.

 

To my Hmong Christian family,

We need to talk about racism and our complicity when it comes to violence toward marginalized communities, particularly in the Black community. I won’t quote a Bible verse to tell you what I’m going to say. I definitely will not quote a popular, White American pastor. Do I really need all of that just to ask for your compassion?

Last week when we discovered that a Hmong American police officer, Tou Thao, was involved in the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the Hmong community was pushed into the conversation of racism, this time as oppressors. We were called to confront the anti-Blackness in us and seek justice for George while others were afraid of backlash toward the local Hmong community and others defended Tou Thao. As I watched Hmong Americans become divided over the death of another Black man by police brutality, I am reminded of the ways we are more connected than we think to people beyond the Hmong community.

Years ago a friend gave me a new word to describe one quality of the Hmong people after listening to me share about our culture. The word is “interconnected”. Interconnected is about having multiple links or connections between multiple parts. It is more complex than “connected”. It’s a word that has stuck with me and a word that I believe describes one of the most beautiful things about us. We want to know each other and how we’re related. We all probably heard someone joke about how all Hmong people are related to each other. When we meet another Hmong person, we’re prepared to answer questions about who our parents are and which city we reside in. We do this so we can find out how we are related and to honor each other by properly using the right title to address each other. Are you my aunt, uncle, cousin, nephew, or niece? 

For the younger generation who are unfamiliar with parents, we make connections differently. When I meet another Hmong person, I tend to ask where they’re from and whether they know someone I know from their hometown, church, school, clan, etc. I feel closer to someone because we have mutual friends. I work with college students and I realized one day that a student I worked with is the niece of my cousin’s wife therefore, making me her aunt. Suddenly this student wasn’t just a student that I worked with. She was family. For others, this might seem like strange behavior. Asking about family is too invasive, especially personal details like names. For us, this is normal. This is our way of hospitality and to make each other feel seen, and I think this is beautiful. 

What is beautiful is also broken. We are so interconnected to each other that it keeps us from seeing our relations to people beyond the Hmong community. With the recent events, we are not connected to it simply because one of the officers involved in the killing of George Floyd is Hmong. If that is true, then we wouldn’t have all these divisions about how to support the protests. We have gone so long taking care of our own that we fear our pain will become more invisible if we focus our attention on others. I get it and I feel that tension, but other BIPOC communities are not against us. They are with us. Our experiences are not the same, but connecting our pain with the pain of other BIPOC will help us to see that the ones who are against us are those who support white supremacy and systems of oppression. If we embody who we are as an interconnected community of people who want to be anti-racist, we should be able to look at BIPOC communities and say we understand oppression enough to wish that none of us would ever have to experience it again. We are all connected.

For my Jesus-loving Hmong Christians, our community is even more narrow. Our churches tend to be focused on members than serving the needs of the wider Hmong community. This is why I am not surprised to see Hmong American churches doing business as usual on Sunday mornings while their neighbors are hurting. This is a corporate sin we need to confess and repent. We have a long way to go to understanding the pain of other communities. Let’s do better. Confess and repent our ignorance and anti-blackness. We are capable and should do more than saying one prayer for the Black community as if this is only their problem. We are all connected.

Let’s move on from needing theology and biblical evidence to convince us to be compassionate and to hear the cries of the oppressed. If you can’t bring yourself to protest systems of oppression and racism right now, I understand. Maybe where many of us need to begin is to remember where we come from and protest to God. Cry out that our stories are not heard. Lament that after all these years we’ve lived in the U.S., we are still unknown. Weep that we only know a history of suffering. Protest to God that this is not how it should be. Once we start to lament our own story and receive healing, we could begin to see how our relations extend further than our own people. We are all more connected than we think. I’ll wait for you.

 

My Dear Readers,

Some of you may have posted a black square on IG or used #BlackOutTuesday as a show of solidarity with the Black community. This week folks also were encouraged by @JessicaWilson.msrd and @BlackAndEmbodied to #AmplifyMelanatedVoices – 

In the spirit of #AmplifyMelanatedVoices we have the honor of listening to and learning from three Christian Hmong women. If you don’t know anything about the Hmong people, LMGTFY . Remember, you don’t have to limit your learning about the Asian American diaspora to the month of May.

Who Decides When Hmong Americans Are Asian Americans? #AmplifyMelanatedVoices

My Dear Readers,

Some of you may have posted a black square on IG or used #BlackOutTuesday as a show of solidarity with the Black community. This week folks also were encouraged by @JessicaWilson.msrd and @BlackAndEmbodied to #AmplifyMelanatedVoices – 

In the spirit of #AmplifyMelanatedVoices we have the honor of listening to and learning from three Christian Hmong women. If you don’t know anything about the Hmong people, LMGTFY . Remember, you don’t have to limit your learning about the Asian American diaspora to the month of May.

Ashley Gaozong Bauer is a bi-racial, white and Hmong American Woman. Minister, Speaker, Teacher and Coffee Drinker.

I’m upset, grieving and mourning the death of George Floyd. I’ve had to lament the death and confront my own participation in this racial and systemic injustice. What am I feeling? What are other people making me feel? Why do I feel like others are telling me what my story is? Why are others appropriating our (Hmong) story to make a stance on racial injustice? I am not ashamed of either being White or Hmong. I’ve accepted the brokenness and the collective shame of both identities.

What I feel ashamed of is how Asian Americans are responding, making the face of a Hmong man the poster child of complicity in the Asian American community. I have always struggled with fully identifying as Asian American or even belonging. Only now to be fully seen by Asian Americans for this unfortunate event.

Asian Americans, East Asians, and especially Asian American Christians who have decided to emerge from the silence and exercise your voice. I’ve heard you, seen what you’ve had to say, but your voices are projecting your own “White guilt” onto the Hmong cop involved in the death of George Floyd. 

You look at one Hmong man, call him Asian, and then project your collective shame unto a people group that has never been fully received by “Asian Americans.” Complicity and model minority myth is your own collective brokenness to bear. Our (Hmong) story is not yours, and your stories are not ours. We’ve had to share in the collective shame of the model minority, but when have Asian Americans shared in the pain and suffering of the Hmong refugee narrative and threats of deportation?

I am frustrated and pained because our story is not your story; you do not get to claim it for your own benefit! Get facts straight and check yourself.

Now is the time to sit in the pain and the narratives that are not East Asian dominant. Now is the time to actually hear the Hmong American perspective during this chaos and know that labeling it as “Asian American” is painful because it’s not a homogenous identity. Our narrative is not rooted in privilege similar to East Asians. Also, learn that there are other non-East Asians as well as many refugee communities that are impacted too.

So yes, stand up for the injustice and stand up for Black lives. But own your own shame, guilt, and story. Don’t perpetuate injustice with another act of injustice by appropriating the Hmong story for your own self-righteousness or your own inaction. It is your privilege that allows you to do that. 

Use your voice and our collective identity to stand for justice but not at the expense of our multifaceted Asian American experience. Stand for black lives. Our voices are needed. Our voices have been missing. Cry out, speak out and learn. We’ve been late. 

 

 



Today Was Supposed to Be

Today was supposed to be senior prom for #Eliyasss #BabyDreamBig. He was planning on wearing the same suit he wore last year with a bow tie and socks to match his date’s dress and maybe new Vans. Maybe. Why break in a new pair when you don’t have to?

Today was supposed to be filled with a trip to the florist to pick up a lovely nosegay – a fancy word for “expensive bouquet of flowers that the date holds for photos but promptly leaves on a table at the venue.” A last-minute check to iron the shirt and make sure the tie and socks match. Lots of texts about where the photos would be taken and who was actually going to be at which after-party.

Today was supposed to be a chance for the kids to dress up like fancy adults with none of the responsibilities and a chance for the parents to see their babies on the cusp of adulthood. Fancy hair, bad spray tans, high heels they can’t walk in. Scratchy rented tuxes with equally uncomfortable rented shoes (and that is why we bought both of our sons suits for prom). For some it’s just prom. For others it’s a warm-up for a future wedding (if you know, you know). More digital photos than anyone will ever actually print of every combination of friends you can imagine and can’t imagine. AP Bio. Lunch. Coding Cats. Discord group. The boys. The girls. The nosegays that will get tossed to the side. Each couple. Those three couples. That couple with the third wheel. The group that did that thing that one year. Freshman year lunch, second semester. Sometimes reluctant photos with parents and/or siblings. And for my son and some of his friends a photo at the red doors of their elementary school. 

Today is now just like any day and by that I mean the days that are bleeding into each other with very little differentiation because four out of five of us are not essential workers. Today is cloudy, cold and rainy, which would’ve caused problems with plans for outdoor photos and some consternation for the girls and their mothers over makeup, hair, strapless dresses, and strappy sandals.

Today is just Saturday, the Saturday that would’ve been Elias’s senior prom. The night the Supper Club – our group of friends, most of whom have a senior boy “graduating” this year – would’ve sent the kids off to prom and then gathered for dinner, drinks, old and new memories. Three of the couples? We will be empty nesters. We are assuming we will be empty nesters come fall. Tonight was supposed to be a night where we talk about how we can’t believe the boys are graduating and headed off to Drake, Purdue, and the University of Illinois. Today was supposed to be a chance for the parents, for me, to collectively process this new, again, season of parenting.

I asked Elias if he  wanted to dress up in his suit and at least pose for some funny photos, even offering to take photos of him and his date socially distanced, but getting into a suit is neither funny nor fun without the community of friends to share in the moment. I get that. I’m trying to get that. I’m trying to let him decide what he wants and needs as he is the high school senior in the house while I am also trying to figure out what I’m feeling that is different than when I sent off the older two kids to their “lasts”…

I do not know how to name the grief and joy and pride of sending my youngest off to college when we are all making this up as we go along. I am trying to be grateful to have all five of us sheltering in place with a warm home and too much food while giving myself permission to be sad because it wasn’t supposed to be this way. #RunMySon is supposed to be at college stressing and enjoying the end of his junior year. #FlyMySweet is supposed to be in Brooklyn dancing and with stretch therapy and Thai bodywork clients. Peter is supposed to be with his students and patients. I am supposed to have space to be sad and remember and dream without feeling guilty for not being grateful for this unexpected family time.

I do not know how to name it right now except to say it’s ok to sit in the in between and not jump from grief to acceptance. It’s ok to be sad and not see the silver lining right now. It’s ok to wish it wasn’t this way and sit with that for a bit. It’s ok. Even if it’s not ok. It’s ok that today was supposed to be something else. 

27 Things I’ve Learned During 27 Years of Marriage

My Dear Readers,

We made it!

No, I’m not talking about making it to the end of sheltering in place. We’ll have to wait at least another month for that.

We made it to our 27th wedding anniversary, and, even though the global pandemic has been challenging for my own personal mental health, Peter and I are celebrating with our three children who have been sheltering in place with us for the past six weeks.

What have I learned? It may not be a list of 27 new things, but every year for the past few years I’ve taken some time to reflect on marriage – how the covenant, the commitment has changed me and what it continues to teach me.

Here goes:

  1. Sheltering in place makes all the small cracks really obvious. I think we were just a few days into all of this and we argued during a walk because ….
  2. It’s hard to argue authentically with all the emotion and gesturing one needs to release when you have three almost adult children under the same roof ALL DAY AND ALL NIGHT LONG.
  3. This also makes having sex very challenging and so far impossible. I think it’s been impossible. I can’t remember.
  4. Love is not blind. Romance is blind. If you believe love is blind there is this train wreck of a reality show (and really no judgment because I watched it twice and would love to talk about it with you if you want) where you can laugh out loud about losing butterflies. Love is about both partners seeing the cracks and STILL CHOOSING TO STAY.
  5. You do not need to share everything. He has his shampoo. I have my shampoo bar. He doesn’t mind plastic cups. I always drink out of a glass made of GLASS.
  6. We don’t have to share all of our interests. We are two people despite the fact that I have lived more of my life with him than without. There are some tv series, movies, books, beverages, etc. that I will just never get into. Ever. He still runs. I smile and tell him to have a good run. Sunday evenings he would go kickboxing and I would practice yoga.
  7. Sometimes we learn to love each other’s interests. We often talk about how it took me three times to enjoy Monty Python. Once I was able to stay awake I was hooked. Whenever we have to trim the shrubs we laugh. If you know, you know.
  8. Communication is key. Even after all of these years we are still learning how to communicate. I may be able to finish he sentences and thoughts more often than he can mine, but that doesn’t mean we don’t crash and burn. We do. We are learning.
  9. Over communication is key. We now have enough toilet paper to last us through the second wave of COVID19 because I didn’t tell him I had asked my sister to grab some at Costco and he didn’t tell me someone scored double-sized rolls on Amazon.
  10. It’s important have shared dreams and goals. We haven’t done much traveling as a couple, but when we eventually become empty nesters we have some dreams.
  11. It’s important to have your own dreams and goals and to support one another. More than a decade ago I wanted/needed an office where I could shut the door. As the kids grew up and started leaving home I wanted more physical space to work – write, practice yoga, read, etc. He now has my old office. I have the living room. (Although with everyone home all day every day I wouldn’t mind some doors now.)
  12. I learned Peter likes sipping tequila and mezcal. I had no idea. We have now gone from no bottles to four bottles.
  13. Missing Peter isn’t the same as being sad. This past year we both have been traveling for work (not anymore, obviously), and it was the first time I have been the one parent at home as often as he was. It was weird being the one to drop him off at the airport, and I definitely missed him but I wasn’t sad. I hope that doesn’t sound bad. I was so glad he was enjoying a new part of his job – Boston, New York, Nashville, and Antigua.
  14. Sometimes we don’t mind living into gendered stereotypes while also dismantling them. Again, a recent discovery because of COVID19 and both of us being Asian American – he does most of the grocery shopping because even if people want to be rude because they are racist they are less likely to take it out publicly on Peter because Peter is a big strong man.
  15. It’s important to say, “I love you” even when you don’t like each other in that moment.
  16. Your bad habits can become your spouse’s bad habits. I realized that slowly over the years I stopped making the bed. He never made his bed as a single man. I always made my bed. We got married. I made the bed. And then I just made my side of the bed. And then I just stopped. But since we’ve been home ALL DAY EVERY DAY I started making my side of the bed and sometimes the entire bed. Wouldn’t you know it, lately when he gets up before I do he makes his side of the bed before he goes downstairs. Amazing.
  17. Even though I can sometimes read Peter’s mind, he cannot read mine, probably because I am thinking about a bajillion things at once. And just because I tell him exactly what I want for our anniversary dinner doesn’t mean he doesn’t love me. The fact that he will order it on the way home from work and pick it up means he loves me. (I also told him exactly what I wanted for my 50th birthday. We shall see, my Dear Readers.)
  18. Sometimes when your spouse says, “I don’t have a preference.” you can take it literally.
  19. But when your spouse says, “I don’t have a preference.” you should always ask, “Are you sure? Here are some options.” just to be clear and over-communicate.
  20. Sex can still be really good and beautiful and awkward and mutually satisfying after 27 years (even if you can’t remember the last time you had sex).
  21. I’ve known this for a few years but I don’t know if I’ve written it on this annual list. My in-laws, specifically my mother-in-law, and I had a challenging relationship until her death more than a decade ago. Difficult in-law relationships strained our marriage but they were never the root cause of the strain. The ways Peter and I managed or didn’t manage that relationship with the health of our marriage as central as opposed to pleasing our parents is what exacerbated conflict.
  22. Which leads to this. Go to counseling. Everyone. Even when you’re not at your wits’ end. Especially when you’re not at your wit’s end. Get counseling before it gets really bad so it doesn’t have to get really bad.
  23. We both have been in the slow process of decolonizing our faith. I don’t know what I would’ve done if Peter hadn’t trusted me. I don’t know what our marriage would look like if he wasn’t also asking questions about his beliefs.
  24. Parenting young children AND working on your marriage is exhausting and you can’t always give both 100%. We are almost empty nesters and I don’t regret not making my children the center of my universe. They have always known they are loved. Peter and I will be sad when we drop Elias off at college (that will happen in the fall, right?) but neither of us will wonder if we have purpose left in our lives just because the kids don’t need us the same way. (I will return to this lesson over and over and over when I am sad.)
  25. Even some of the most horrible memories and moments can change shape over time. Take for example our wedding video for which we paid several hundreds of dollars and is one of the worst videos ever made for the money. We now show it freely as a way to cry laughing because it really is so bad it’s funny.
  26. We became that couple who fills their respective pill boxes every Saturday night a lot sooner than we thought.
  27. The wedding photos are more “important” that the video or the dress or the cake or the whatever, but even the photos (and the dress) are in a box upstairs collecting dust. Marriage isn’t in the memories. Marriage is in the present tense. We do. Now. Again. And again. And again. I love you, Peter.
This is 27 years of marriage in our daytime pjs.

The Price of the American Dream

She looked tired, but she put on a smile as she greeted our table, apologizing for the delay. We were a party of eight on a busy Friday night. The staff was hustling – the woman and her son.

The woman seated people, went from table to table taking orders, ran to greet carry-out customers, answered the phone to take those orders; she was the mother of the young man who filled our cups with water, cleared the tables, did what needed to be done. On a Friday night.

I found myself periodically distracted from the dinner conversations, watching the woman, watching the son.

My father has often told stories of his job a a bus boy, one of his first jobs after arriving in Chicago with a master’s degree in engineering. I waited tables in college to pay for my books and expenses. Dad talked about bringing home leftovers from the kitchen to share a late-night meal beyond their budget. I remember putting in my tithe into the offering plate – a roll of singles. Our family never owned a restaurant, but watching the mother and son serving us reminded me of my family, my parents – the sacrifices they made out of the love and the gulf between us.

My parents owned a dry cleaners. It was a drop-off – the clothes were taken to a plant where the cleaning was done and returned to our storefront on hangers. The back room where the bagging, tagging, and detail work happened was where my sister and I used lint brushes to make the clothes look as new a possible. We worked when we weren’t in school, went in on weekends when we could. In my faded memory my parents closed the store only twice in the many years they owned that business – one Saturday in 1993 for my wedding and one Saturday in 1995 for my sister’s wedding. They may have closed the store to attend our college graduations, but I don’t remember. I do remember my mom talking with customers, reminding them in the weeks leading up to my wedding that they would be closed on April 24.

My mother’s ability to chit chat in English grew exponentially during those years of handling other people’s dirty laundry. She remembered customers’ names and milestones, their preferences for dress shirts – folded or hangers, starch or no starch, and usual drop-off and pick-up times. The woman at the Chinese restaurant recognized an order from our table as a carry-out regular. One couple in our group often dine in the restaurant, and the woman had memorized their favorites. I watched her son hover to refill our water, and I thought about my sister and I in the backroom listening to our mom make small talk with the steady stream of customers. A spontaneous night out with friends at a Chinese restaurant and suddenly I can’t get my family’s dry cleaning business out of my head.

A customer once asked my mother if she hoped to pass down the family business to her daughters. I couldn’t see my mom but I could hear her polite but insincere smile as she responded, “No. I do this so my daughters will graduate from college and not have to do this.”

We did. My sister and I both graduated from college. Neither of us do the kind of manual labor my parents took on to fund our middle class lives and college education. I can’t speak for my sister, but I have often wondered and grieved over the fact that my U.S.-based college education, my fluent English and broken Korean, my penchant to think in terms of “me” as often as I do “we,” my assimilation into a culture and country where I am forever a foreigner was too costly a price. Make no mistake. I love and deeply respect my parents. They did their best. Their English is better than my Korean. They recently shared that maybe they had been too hard on me, their first-born. They didn’t know how to raise an American child. But as a 48-year-old grown ass woman, I am living the cost of the American Dream, living and breathing the distance and disappointment between us. Good enough sometimes isn’t good enough. Is that ok? Will that be enough?

I think back to the woman and her son and imagine going to the restaurant to share some words of wisdom. I thought I would have some by now.



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