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.

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. 

I’m Sorry: A Story

A screenshot of the email I received April 15, 2019.

My Dear Readers,

Many of you have reached out over the past two months with words of encouragement, prayers, funny memes, and lovely tangible gifts of wine, chocolate, sheet masks, and pottery. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

There wasn’t much to update you with until last week, and I’ve been trying to decide and discern what to write about the apology I received. I know I should be grateful and gracious but to be brutally honest I am tired. It took two months for the institutional wheels of a Christian university to issue an apology that is worded in the first person, carefully avoiding institutional culpability but acknowledging some proximity to the situation.

In other words, the apology is a first step and because this involved an institution it took more than a heart-to-heart “do you hear what I’m saying” conversation. Allies and advocates inside the institution worked hard to get the administration’s attention, and I am deeply grateful for the students, staff, and faculty who contacted various administrators to let them know that they/we were waiting and watching to see how a Christian institution would respond.

A timeline

February 18 – I preach/speak/talk at Baylor chapel, by invitation. Chapel is a required class and runs back for three class periods. That morning, after the first chapel, I posted a vague book request for prayer on my author FB page because a student interrupted me as I was wrapping up my time, unnerving me for a split second as I tried to figure out what to do. The student objected my example of an 11-year-old arrested for refusing to stand for the pledge of allegiance. You can do your own Google search and see how headlines covered this story, etc. A university administrator asked me to consider rephrasing my description of the news story despite the fact that multiple news outlets connect the arrest to the child’s refusal to stand for the pledge. I removed the example all together because it’s clear the administrator wasn’t comfortable with the example, and I don’t want to worry about students interrupting me. My focus is on calming down for the next two chapel services. Chapel staff told me crisis protocols were in place and that someone had considered removing me from the stage, the student had been removed quickly from the auditorium, and that I was not the only adult in the room who was concerned that the situation could’ve escalated.

February 25 – I write and publish my blog post with little to no public reaction from Baylor students, parents of students, alumni, etc. No one from the university follows up with me, despite having acknowledged that other university employees also had made split second decisions and were ready to remove me from stage, etc.

When I wrote this post about what had happened to me in February I did not name the university or the student involved. The blog post wasn’t about a single incident but how that one incident, which I do describe, got me thinking about safety, risks, etc.

March 4 – A university-recognized student organization publicly posts a YouTube video where the young man who interrupted my chapel talk names me and challenges me and the university to respond. Now it’s not just about me thinking about safety (and the university’s failure to follow-up with me about what happened during chapel). It’s about the university in a far more public way because a Baylor student organization decided to make it about me against them and Baylor and invited supporters to raise their voice. Very clever. (Next time, dear young conservatives, please learn how to pronounce my name and cite my book correctly.)

Comments on my original blog post and on my Twitter feed get, um, interesting and are an example of the pros and cons of communication in the 21st century – anonymity, gaslighting, gentleness, openness, name-calling, humility, etc. (Note: I have since closed the comments on that post. My blog, my rules.)

March 7 – The Baylor Lariat publishes a letter to the editor from the Coalition of Asian Students asking the university to respond to the February 18 incident and publishes an article about the video and interviews the student who interrupted me.

March 8 – A university administrator emails me for the first time. Staff, faculty, and students reach out to my privately. Comments on my blog continue, along with tweets and subtweets. My favorites include Christian students and parents of students calling me a racist, coward, and false prophet. For the record, I have never claimed to be a prophet, I am afraid when people get very close to threatening me, and reverse racism isn’t a thing no matter how many times people try to make it a thing.

While some commenters refer to chapel speakers being more liberal than what they would prefer at a Christian university, no one I have talked to at the university can name another speaker who has been dragged on social media or interrupted. Commenters would call it keeping me accountable.

April 2 – I have a one-hour call with Driskell, two other university administrators, and a faculty of color.

April 15 – Robyn Driskell emails me with an apology.

A reflection

Just because an organization or institution is lead by Christians or calls itself Christian doesn’t mean the systems and structures reflect and act with those values. Many of us have seen this in our churches, and close friends of mine have brought to light similar institutional and leadership failures in Christian publishing and conferencing.

Sometimes the failures are blatantly racist and other times they are “racially charged” which is a longer way of saying racist. Sometimes the apology and “fix” don’t ever come, not in a way that actually brings about learning and restoration. Sometimes an apology comes a decade later, but it can’t undo the damage nor are tangible steps taken to ensure those same mistakes won’t happen again.

In the past I have offered suggestions, ideas, and feedback only to find that nothing will change. Having the conversation and listening is mistaken for repentance and change.

Not this time

This time I refused to offer those suggestions and resources as a free will offering.

If an institution like Baylor wants its administrators, faculty and staff to grow in cross-cultural communication and is committed to learning how to better host diverse speakers and prepare the Baylor community to not only tolerate but welcome and learn from and with those speakers, Baylor can do more than issue an apology. It can invest in diversity and inclusion training at all levels (think Revelation 7:9-10 and no, not everyone is crying out in English), communicate institutional failures and lessons learned to its internal and external constituency, and because it is an institution of higher education it can decide on learning outcomes and design programs around those goals.

This is my blog, but the ending to this story isn’t mine to write. I accept the apology but if Baylor has truly learned valuable lessons from this experience, as Driskell writes in her apology, we will have to wait to see what changes come as a result. The Coalition of Asian students has a few ideas I bet, and to those students I say #sicem.

Split Second Decisions

Last week I posted a vaguebook request on my author Facebook page:

My Dear Readers,
I’d love your prayers. I am speaking two more times at chapel… I had something that happened at the first chapel that has shaken me up a bit….

There wasn’t enough time to elaborate but as a Christian brought up to believe prayer and the covering of prayer by your community is important I asked for prayer. I couldn’t type more. I couldn’t think about it too much because I wanted to cry, vomit, and scream.

Last week I was speaking on a Christian campus at the morning chapel services. I was preaching/speaking/talking using Mark 5: 21-33 as my text. I love this passage about Jairus and his 12-year-old daughter and the bleeding woman who had been bleeding for 12 years.  I have part of the passage tattooed on my right forearm as a reminder of what Jesus does for this woman.

I used the words menstruation and menstrual blood because that why the woman was bleeding. As a woman who was taught to be ashamed of her body and the things it did in order to one day bring forth life just like Mary did for Jesus, I believe it’s important to be beautifully explicit. I joked that it was probably the first time a chapel speaker talked about periods. I didn’t get much of a laugh. Whatever, I thought I was funny.

But the call to prayer was because as I was wrapping up I talked about a few things that are broken in this country, things that break my heart and make me desperate for Jesus. I mentioned the mass shooting that had just occurred in Aurora, IL and the arrest of an 11-year-old boy in FL who had refused to stand for the pledge of allegiance.

That’s a lie!

That’s when things got tense.

I believe my wording was along the lines of: “An 11-year-old was arrested for refusing to stand for the pledge of allegiance. I don’t know what you thought about Colin Kaepernick, but an 11-year-old being arrested breaks my heart.”

And then a male voice from the audience yelled back: “That’s a lie. He made terrorist threats!”

I have never felt so unsafe as I did in that moment.

In a split second I had to:

  • decide if I would respond to the man. I did not. I paused, caught myself and went on.
  • decide if I felt safe enough to stay on stage or trust the school would remove me from stage if someone else felt like I was in danger. I stayed but learned someone had moved quickly to get to me just in case.

Two more times

And then I went back up and did that same talk two more times. But I did it differently because after the first time I was asked about the Florida boy’s arrest. I was asked how I was feeling and if I was ok, but the conversation quickly shifted to the news story and one response was to point out that technically the boy was not arrested for refusing to stand for the pledge. No, technically no one can be arrested for that because it isn’t illegal to sit during the pledge. But the point was indirectly made clear that the particular example was now in question.

I just wrote a book about raising your voice and speaking up about the things we are most passionate about, and I am writing this as an example of when I chose to back off. I decided that for the next two talks I would not use the example of the 11-year-old being arrested, in part because his refusal to stand for the pledge angered the substitute teacher. I decided that I could not count on the school supporting me, a paid outside speaker, if and when concerned students, parents of students, and alumni emailed the school.

I decided that even though the man yelling at me was lying (the boy in Florida did not make terrorist threats) I didn’t want or need to put myself in that situation.

But it got me thinking

I’m not sure what I said the next two times I got up to preach/speak/talk. I did not feel great or even good about what I said and how I said it. I was unnerved, shaken, and scared. I did not know where the voice was coming from or if that young man was going to approach the stage. It didn’t matter which school it was, which state I was in, what the laws are. I didn’t know.

As a woman of color who talks publicly about things that are considered political (Jesus should get under everyone’s law and order skin because he didn’t care the woman broke the law by being in public while she was bleeding and unclean), I am not new to controversy. For all of the public speaking events I have done I have never once asked about crisis protocol, but this experience got me thinking about what I need to be asking event planners in the future.

It also got me thinking about imposter syndrome because in that moment of fear was also the fear that I had failed and couldn’t do the whole speaking in public thing even though that was exactly what I was doing. I told a friend of mine later that I felt like a failure, that as a WOC I can’t just be good enough or average. I have to be better than my best because so few of us get invited to preach/speak/talk that I feel like if I mess up event planners will be less likely to invite me again AND less likely to take a chance inviting another WOC they do not know or are less familiar with than, say, a white man or woman who has more platform than I. Does that sound absurd? This is what imposter syndrome operating in white supremacy sounds like. It tells me and other WOC that we have to actually be better than the average white woman or man to have a chance because we don’t get the same chances to build platform and audience.

It also made me angry. I have been asking for the past 10 years for an additional plane ticket to public speaking events so that I do not have to travel alone. I would’ve loved having a friend or my husband with me to pray with and cry with after this was all over. There were good people on campus with whom I could talk with, but no one I could just be completely honest and vulnerable with. I held it together like a professional Christian and waited until my husband greeted me at the curb and then I cried.

For all the conservative values around women and ministry and marriage, etc. you’d think I would’ve gotten at least one additional plane ticket in 10 years but maybe it’s because I’m a woman or a WOC with a smaller platform and less pull? Whatever. I’m still mad.

Welcome to the Christian Industrial Complex.

What’s next

The man was removed from the auditorium. I was told that it was swift, and I didn’t hear or see a commotion. I’m grateful. Rumor has it he was told that he should know better than to use the words “terrorist threats” these days in an auditorium, but the young man most likely would never be considered a terrorist, maybe a lone wolf at worst.

I’m grateful I’m safe and that he was removed without incident. I’m grateful he didn’t have a gun. I’m angry that I have to worry about this. I’m angry that I felt like my choice of words were in question and would not be supported. I’m angry that people may think this happened because of the specific campus or state. Nope. It’s all broken, it’s heart breaking, and it makes me desperate for Jesus.

This all came on the heels of my leaving InterVarsity Christian Fellowship after 21 years of ministry. This chapel talk that shook me to the core was on the Monday after my last day with an organization that helped shape my leadership and confidence. The devil is a liar but a sneaky one at that.

I’m not sure what’s next. I do know there aren’t any chapel talks or public events until May. There is time to cry some more, rest some more, pray some more.

My Dear Readers, thank you for praying, for the messages, for the texts. Thank you to the students who reached out via IG. No, that man doesn’t represent the whole of your community but he does represent a part of your community. His community patted him on the back and will use it as an example. What will you do with that knowledge? How will you love and correct siblings like that? And for that matter, that man isn’t just on a college campus. He’s in our churches and communities. My Dear Readers, how will be love and correct them when some of us are put in risky situations? How will thoughts and prayers cover us?

Turning 21, Again

I am taking a trip of a lifetime next month. My daughter called me up and asked me if I would meet her in Paris and could we tack on Iceland.

“YES!” I screamed with no hesitation. “Oh, wait. Hold on. Let me talk with Dad (my husband, her dad, not my dad).”

I’ve never been to Europe. My miles and money went to Paris a few years ago for Bethany’s study abroad, and I have all sorts of ridiculous fantasies about traveling abroad and a clean bathroom and a perfect paper planner. Her question, while it could’ve waited for a few days, felt pressing, urgent, and important. I didn’t ask my husband. I told him. I told him our young adult daughter asked me, her mother, to meet her in the City of Lights, and I told him I wanted to go.

So we said yes.

But getting to yes also meant making some other decisions about how this almost empty nest stage of life would be, what needed to stay and what needed to be let go. Before deciding on this trip to Paris was one other decision to be made that had been hanging around like the last dumpling at an Asian gathering. I didn’t want to touch it. (Yes, I’m looking at you, Asian American/Canadian Lounge at Urbana18. Y’all know exactly what I am talking about.)

Before saying yes to Paris, I knew it was time to say yes to a different invitation into uncharted waters. I said yes to leaving InterVarsity. My last day will be February 15.

Milestones are a chance to shift

This month my staff career with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA turned 21 years old, barely legal and ready for new things. I sent out the following words in an email to a few colleagues after I had given official notice:

There has been a cost that I no longer want to carry, do not feel called to bear, or have the influence to change – a funding system that was designed for white men in a completely different cultural context, the human sexuality rollout that left our LGBTQ staff vulnerable and inconsistently asked for belief and behavior, and an affirmation of women in leadership that falls short of calling the Church to do the same. 

As I’ve wrestled with those concerns I’ve also sensed that it’s simply time to leave and explore options to write and lead in another context. I do not have another job lined up except for the two yoga classes I teach on Thursdays. I am asking God what the invitation is for this next stage of leadership and life with the privilege of stepping away from IVCF without a plan.

I tell people I am a product of InterVarsity’s training and development – my deep love for scripture and manuscript Bible study, a commitment to mentoring and discipling, integrating my values into action. IVCF has been one of the few spaces in the Church that provided a Korean American married mother an opportunity to learn and be mentored by the likes of Jeanette Yep, Lisa Espinelli Chin, and Paul Tokunaga. I can only hope I will have left staff with a fraction of their wisdom.

I don’t know

That’s still my answer to the question, “So, what’s next?” I do not have a job lined up. I have not talked with an agent or a head hunter. I’m looking for a new spiritual director, preferably a WOC. I’m looking at the first three months as a sabbatical and, in some ways, a detox and untangling of my identity from an organization I’ve been a part of as a student, volunteer, and then employee for almost half of my life. I don’t know what’s next in terms of employment, but that’s OK.

For having worked most of my adult life in ministry I am finding that question funny because in it is an implicit request for certainty, and as a person of faith the older I get the less certain I am and the less certainty I require. My children are young adults. They have taught me that humility, failure, and uncertainty are essential and critical in parenting. My husband and I have been married for almost 26 years, and that friendship and relationship has taught me the same. We screw up on the daily, and more often than not I am not sure how we will fare the “till death do us part” part of our vows.

I don’t know what my next job will be. I know that uncertainty is a privilege and one I do not enter into or carry lightly, but I am carrying it.

Yes, I’m scared

No, I’m not totally OK with all of this uncertainty. Why do you think I am still searching for the perfect paper planner system (right now I’m loving my very basic bullet journal)?? I am a planner. I like making lists and checking off to-do items. I love setting goals. I love the friendships and community I have had the honor of being a part of on staff, and I will miss seeing colleagues who have become friends. I’m scared of losing friends and losing a sense of identity. I sat on making this decision for a LOOOOOOOOONG time, in part, because of the uncertainty and the privilege to say, “I’m quitting” without a plan to replace that income. It feels incredibly selfish, and as the daughter of immigrants all you know and are told is about the unselfish sacrifices our elders made/make for us to live better lives.

And just to drive the point home even my parents were worried about my non-plan even though for the past 21 years they haven’t been convinced that working in ministry where you are required to raise your own salary is a real job that one could really quit. How do you quit a job that isn’t a real job? See? It’s weird.

But I quit, with some financial planning because I’m not that selfish or stupid, and I’m scared. I’m scared my dreams are too old or faded. I’m scared I’ve become risk-averse and practical. I’m scared my imagination is too limited. So why did I quit? Because I’m scared of being stuck because of my fear.

My Dear Readers, are you stuck? Are you scared of staying stuck? If you could “do” anything or make a career change what would you do? If you’ve taken that scary leap of faith, what advice do you have for us newbies who are free falling?

When Hashtags Intersect on #InternationalWomensDay

It’s #InternationalWomensDay – perfect timing to crawl out of my current winter depression/anxiety cycle and work out my fingers to celebrate my sisters!

A few weeks ago a group of my Asian American friends and I posted a photo of ourselves with a nameless white man to start a slow awareness campaign of the power of women doing gospel work. It was a tongue-in-cheek take at another conference featuring one black man in a sea of white men, and personally it was a moment to consider how much boat-rocking I was actually willing to do knowing that a photo like ours would raise questions about exclusivity because instead of all white men we were sharing a photo of all  Korean American women.

On the surface it can look like two sides of the same coin but actually it’s not that at all. We don’t exist on the same coin. White men (and women) still hold much of the power in the Christian Industrial Complex so comparing our motley crew to a promotional photo for a well-attended, well-funded, organizationally-backed and branded conference isn’t the same as our photo. I will mention, however, it sure was fun figuring out if we were going to do this and how we would pull it off because what are the chances that all of us would actually ever share the same space as presenters, speakers, and leaders?

The follow-up? Removing the anonymous white man (stock photo) to present this:

From L to R, back row: Helen Lee, Erina Kim-Eubanks, Erna Hackett, Grace Ji-Sun Kim, Gail Song Bantum and front row: Sarah Shin, yours truly, Irene Cho, Angie Hong, and Jenny Yang. We are writers, authors, pastors, theologians, artists, worship leaders, ordained and not, activists, and incredible. We all love Jesus and do incredible work and ministry together for the gospel and because of the gospel. And we also recognize that while we don’t carry the same influence and power as some of our white sisters and brothers, we do have influence and the ability to elevate and cheer on one another.

My list of women to celebrate on this #InternationalWomensDay is long but for now I want to celebrate this short list of #WomenForTheGospel #WFTG #W4TG because we share both “han” and “jung” both of which I will have to explain later.

Who are you celebrating and elevating today????

 

 

Platforms and #RubyWoo Lipstick

I’m not actually a high-maintenance woman (you can ask my husband), but I can look like one. I love doing my nails and applying sheet masks, and I always have on eyeliner. Red lipstick has always been my fav so if you follow me on Twitter you might have caught wind of the #RubyRevoWootion. #RubyWoo is my new favorite red lipstick and it’s less about lipstick and more about connections, platforms, voice, and sisterhood.

And it all started with me trying to not think about my book. My book manuscript is in the hands of my editor. He told me to mentally put it away and not think about all the things I already want to change, add, delete, etc. so I could come back to the editing process with an open heart and fresh eyes.

So I jumped right into dreaming about launching the book, about holding the finished product in my hands, and sending it out to a group of trusted friends and “influencers” who will leverage their “platforms” or circles of influence (which I write about in my book!) and cheer me and my book on by posting Amazon reviews, writing blog posts about my wise and winsome words, and sharing stylized photos on Instagram of my book on their table with the little freebie I give away.

(Insert sound of screeching brakes.)

In the world of Christian publishing I have generally only seen white female authors do what some call the “influencer box” – the box with the book, a lovely note, and a lovely gift packaged with the pretty crinkle-cut scraps of paper that make me want to order french fries in a color to match the cover. It wasn’t until my friend Deidra Riggs, who also is Black, sent out her first book “Every Little Thing” with a beautiful bracelet and matching set of notecards had I been the recipient of an influencer box and learned another nugget about the Christian Industrial Complex and marketing to Christian women (and by Christian women it’s usually geared towards white Christian women).

So I dreamed and vented with friends Deidra, Jo Saxton, and Amena Brown launching off of a Twitter thread about giving up platforms to return to the “work” of discipleship.

Building or obedience? Or both?

I don’t see building up a platform or giving it up as inherently good or bad. I do believe that if God has given you the talent and gifts to teach, preach, speak, and write and you don’t do it you will probably have a conversation with God about what you did with those talents you chose to bury. Personally, I have not set out to build a platform for myself. This space, my “voice” and influence has been 25 years in the making, maybe longer, and it has been a call to discipleship and obedience sometimes at great cost and indescribable blessing. This work of writing and speaking and in the process building a platform is about discerning what God’s invitation is to me, my family, and my community. How will I steward the gifts, talents, connections, and influence I have?

And in talking with my friends we agreed that the journey is very different for women of color. VERY DIFFERENT.

That is probably a blog series or a book alone. Just trust me, My Dear Readers. The journey is different for women of color no matter how many similarities all women have.

Back to the lipstick

So we come back to my soonish-to-be-published book and my hypothetical influencer box. I wanted “the gift” to reflect me and my voice and, though the book isn’t a “woman’s book,” I did not want to shy away from the fact that the power of my voice comes my living into my female voice.

My hypothetical influencer box would include a single-serving bottle of champagne (because launching a book is a celebration, and I love champagne) and a tube of lipstick.

But as My Dear Readers who wear makeup already know, makeup is tricky and lipstick colors get trickier. Women of all skin tones grow up with different messages about wearing makeup – when you can, if you can, what it means, etc.  And how do you find a lip color that looks good on a group of racially, ethnically diverse women? Because if an imaginary donor or book launch fairy godmother was going to help pay for a tube of lipstick for my influencers it better work for my dark-skinned friends as well as my light-skinned friends because I am not color blind. And, I am that friend who would tell you that that color doesn’t look good on you.

And that’s how and why I started tweeting and asking around about MAC cosmetic’s #RubyWoo. I think it was Jo who mentioned the specific color to me around the time I had Googled “is there a universal red lipstick” where the first article was about #RubyWoo.

And then Deidra started this Twitter thread about “Women I’m for:” with an ever-growing list of amazing women with their own circles of friendships and spheres of influence. I’m no marketing genius, but that thread of women have opinions so I asked if anyone had a connection to MAC or wore #RubyWoo. Maybe I am a marketing genius (where is that commission check, MAC?) but now that thread includes about 50 very diverse women trying on red lipstick for the first time, posting a photo of themselves wearing #rubywoo, and feeling like they are a part of something big and new and fun and beautiful because we are part of what I’m calling the #RubyRevoWootion.

So if you want to join the #RubyRevoWootion just put on that bold red lipstick (or put on whatever makes you feel empowered and fierce and speak up. Love one another boldly. Cheer on one another fiercely.

 

Rage Writing

Yesterday was a very bad day. I got some disappointing news about a thing. I got some more disappointing news about another thing involving a friend. Then I got some more frustrating, disappointing news about another thing. Someone did give me some whole bean coffee as a gift so that was good. And then I went to a local candidate forum and was reminded about how white my community is and how dangerously invisible and present I am. At the end of the day, I still came home to two teenage man-children who tell me they love me, a spouse who sat down for a drink with me, and friends who tried to cheer me up.

But I went to bed like I’ve been doing for the past few months – anxiety tightening my chest and thoughts starting to race so fast that it’s exhausting just to keep my eyes open. I canceled another social engagement, which I’m starting to track because it’s probably my anxiety and depression, and went to sleep.

I WOKE UP ANGRY

Does anyone else do that? No? Well, I did. I woke up with thoughts of writing – rage writing about all the things. Like local politics. WHY DOES BEING BORN IN A COMMUNITY AND LIVING THERE YOUR ENTIRE LIFE MAKE YOU QUALIFIED TO RUN FOR OFFICE? I was amused and then annoyed at how many candidates said a variation of “I was born and raised here. My kids were born and raised here.” as if being a lifelong resident of ONE place makes you better qualified to engage in a community that hopefully looks different than it did in 1950. I did look up the youngest candidate running for school board and the first thing that popped up was his underage drinking arrest. I might vote for him.

But back to the “I was born here” rhetoric because it started to make sense. That is how the United States got to where some of us are counting the days of this administration and amazed we haven’t made it yet to 50 days. You have to be born in the U.S., have a lineage that was born in the U.S. or plays along with the white narrative of loving the once upon a time U.S. to be worthy of running the country, living in the country, allowing others entrance into the country. The problem with President Spray Tan isn’t just his own inability to not angry tweet. The problem starts in our communities where we listen to local politicians create the narrative that only the native-born, never intentionally choose to be displaced, privileged to have the security that allows for deep generational roots is worth entrusting into public service. And if you’ve only known this place as home, no wonder why you are afraid of change let alone progress that would erase what you have always known and are comfortable with.

I also heard several candidates, who weren’t born and raised here, that they moved here because they loved the diversity of the community, and I was like WUT?!?! What are you talking about? I live in a community that according to the most recent census numbers is 90% white, 5% Asian, 4% Hispanic or Latino, and 1% black.  As a woman of color when I hear the word “diversity” those are not the statistics I’m looking for but again I stopped and thought maybe this is exactly the diversity some people are intentionally looking for. We didn’t move here for the diversity. We actually moved here because we mapped out work, family, and our church community while avoiding other communities with bigger schools. Oh, and I wanted a house with a basement because of tornadoes and an attached garage because I am lazy. I also wanted a room on the first floor because I am actually prophetic and KNEW one of my in-laws would need a place to live for awhile because that’s just the way some of us are raised to live. Who knew that would actually be as tricky as it was at the time we were moving. Anyway, local politicians and hopeful politicians should really think about what comes out of their mouths as much as we critique national, higher profile politicians.

Also, candidates should consider what they put in their mouths. One candidate chewed gum while he was up on the candidate panel discussion and no one loved him enough to tell him to spit it out. It was so annoying.

The other thing that made me mad this morning is the Day Without Women thing. Google it on your own. I’m rage writing. No time for links. I get the idea of solidarity, etc. but I am not so sure. I went to the Women’s March on Washington and let me tell you there were plenty of white women who had NO IDEA WHO THE MOTHERS OF THE MOVEMENT were. If you don’t, go Google it and be ashamed. They loved on Ashley Judd (who should not try to do spoken word evah) and all the talk about reproductive rights (btw, I love Jesus but please stay out of my contraception choices and uterus because safe abortions and access to reproductive health care is also about pro-life) but I am still skeptical because it was white evangelicals and white women who put the walking spray tan in office.

So this Day Without Women thing. Am I supposed to walk out on my job? Why? Is some man going to make sure I have a job to come back to?? I live in a privileged bubble, working primarily from home in the comfort of loungewear. If I opt out of the work call tomorrow who will bring up the fact that women of color are missing from the new hires? If I and the other women opt out of the call what exactly happens for women, and more importantly, women of color? Or if I “opt out” and tell my family I’m on strike, though truly tempting only if I could disappear to a day spa, what is accomplished? How does that help my Korean American family? Oh, it doesn’t. You know why? Because they already hear me rant and speak about gender equality, life skills, and being an adult. However, if any of my Dear Readers want to cover the cost of a day spa let me know.

My friend Angela has been a lifeline of sanity for me, and she suggested staying silent on social media tomorrow. I may do that. I’ve been told that my feed on FB and Twitter is a place to go for recent commentary, etc. which I provide for free because it’s mostly fun and a labor of love. Maybe that is the labor I opt out of tomorrow. Are you participating in the Day Without Women?

What are you angry about today??

Marching While Asian American

I feel sick to my stomach. Walls. Immigrants. Refugees. Native lands. Silencing federal agencies. If any of My Dear Readers think they are going to be OK because, you know, God is in control, let me gently suggest you read the Bible. There is hope and deliverance but there also is a lot of suffering. We don’t get to skip out on the suffering because we go to church or are documented citizens. I’m also sure that Enoch is the only one lucky one who was “taken up”.

With that, I’m going to write about marching at the Women’s March on Washington. I’ll probably write more, but it’s in process. Thank you for indulging me.

First, me checking my privilege:

  1. I was able to be away from home Thursday-Sunday with little financial impact to my family, including carpooling with a dear friend the ride to and from D.C. from my safe little north suburb of Chicago and staying with friends while away.
  2. This was only my fourth protest march in the US, and I’ve never been arrested. (A little known fact: I marched against US military presence in South Korea as a college student where I learned about tear gas, exiting protests when things look a little iffy, and how to make and throw a molotov cocktail. My people know how to protest.)
  3. For now we live in a democracy where we have the right to protest. I have the energy and the cultural value of swallowing suffering. I didn’t have to worry if my wheelchair or cane would be problematic.
  4. I’m not a black or brown woman whose mere presence can threaten some #notallwhitewomen.
  5. As an Asian American woman I am often perceived by some #notallwhiteowomen as “safe” and quiet and practically white, practically invisible. I’m not. Because of that some but not all black and brown women don’t know what to do with me. I get that. We all have some learning to do. I do not experience the physical threat black and brown women face. WOC, however, all experience a dehumanizing through hyper-visibility and invisibility that as a Christian grieves me to the core. I’m still learning.

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Me in process:

  1. The experience was better because of the 24 hours in the car with my friend Tina and my daughter. There was something about the adrenaline rush and crash, the expectation and the different experiences that filled in some blanks for me.
  2. The experience was better because I was able to prepare for, be present, and recover from the march with a group of Asian American women – my adult daughter, two former colleagues, and one current colleague who all have been a part of my journey for the past 21 years. (Add that to the list of privileges.)
  3. Why did that older white man feel like he could come up to my daughter and ask her to define intersectionality when he made clear he had seen it on other signs during the day? (I was so proud of her and her answer. If you don’t know what it mean, please Google it and know a black woman coined the phrase and developed the area of study.)
  4. From where we stood (for almost 6 hours) the crowd was sort of diverse. There were WOC present but my unscientific observation is that the diversity of the rally speakers was greater than than of the crowd. Again, I HAVE NO ACTUAL PROOF except for the SMALL FRACTION of the crowd I could see. But WOC were there, with our signs, with our friends and signs.
  5. When the Mothers of the Movement took the stage it seemed to me that many of the white women there had no idea who these women were and why we were asked to chant “Say Her/His Name”. Again, I don’t know this for sure, but I’m sorry. You don’t walk away and start marching because you’re tired of standing and listening to speakers when it’s the Mothers of the Movement.
  6. I wondered if Asian Americans would be represented up front. My friends and I joked that when ScarJo took the stage she might be the closest we get to a celebrity. I think she was. I was relieved to see Sen. Tammy Duckworth speak (she’s Thai American and a decorated war vet) and thrilled out of my mind to see my friend Sung Yeon Choimorrow, executive director at National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, took the mic wearing her “Not Your Model Minority” hat. Again, I found myself wondering if non-Asian Americans in the crowd understood the importance and implications of that phrase.
  7. The programming reflected a desire and need for representation but honestly we didn’t need to hear from Michael Moore, ScarJo, Madonna, Amy Schumer, and several other speakers. We didn’t because we hear from them when we don’t want to march. We meaning me/I.
  8. There is a lot of talk about how “peaceful” and arrest-free the marches across the country were. I’m not gonna play respectability politics. Reality is that with that many white women marching there was no way police were going to come out all militarized with riot gear like they did just the day before for the inauguration. However, I also wrote down the legal aid number in an inconspicuous place because I’m not white, because I protested against the U.S. government in another country, and because the government also has all my info, including biometrics because I went through the naturalization process. Paranoid? Maybe. But I can’t help but remember Executive Order 9066 and the incarceration of Japanese and Japanese Americans especially under this current administration.
  9. I went because I could, and I also have many (many, many, yuge numbers) of friends who couldn’t go because of work, family, health, self-care but wanted to march or wondered if they should march or could march. I marched for them and for myself. Marching isn’t for everyone. Protesting by marching, chanting and carrying signs isn’t for everyone. It’s for me. I can’t represent all Asian Americans but I can show up as one Asian American woman.

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My personal action steps:

  1. Self-care. This is not about eating my feelings, avoiding the exhaustion and pain, or home spa treatments. It’s about making sure I am physically, spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically healthy and well. It means drinking more water, sleeping, praying, worshiping, laughing, crying, reading, and exercising. It means recognizing my body is a temple but I can’t hire people to clean, maintain, and feed said temple.
  2. Sign up for monthly volunteer opportunities that will make an impact locally.
  3. I’m a Christian and I might even still call myself an evangelical, and I haven’t been to church in months because it has not been a place of hope. If you are a person of faith, stay rooted in a faith-community. I am finding myself missing communal worship and prayer.
  4. Making at least one phone call each day to a politician or organization involved in this mess. Today I called the White House Correspondents Association to ask them to stop reporting lies and “alternative truths”, aka lies.

Here is a sample script for the WHCA: “My name is —– . I am a resident of the —– congressional district in (state) and there is no need for a return phone call. I am calling to ask reporters to stop repeating the lies and alternative facts of Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway. The American public deserves to read and hear truth, and if this administration is unable to communicate actual facts please stop quoting them.” Call 202-266-7453

So, I’m wondering. Did you, my dear readers, march? Why or why not? Are you glad you marched???