Before the Book Launch: (The First) Announcement

Don’t let this fool you. This photo was taken on the day I wrote this post.

Dear Readers,

I have an announcement. No, I am not pregnant.

I signed a contract. To write. A book. All by myself but not truly alone because we know writing is both a solitary and simultaneously communal act, with the prayers, support, and stories of my family and all of you!!!

This has been a 10-year journey – 10 years since “More Than Serving Tea” was published and the awkward beginnings of blogging. It also has been a decades-long journey as a former journalist who has journals dating back to 2nd grade. (“Dear Diary, I had a hot dog for lunch. It was a good day.”)

The book is about finding your voice and stewarding your influence well in a world that competes for our attention and energy. It’s about speaking up and speaking out honestly, truthfully, boldly. It’s not about building a platform. It’s about God’s invitation to all of us to discover how we are uniquely created in God’s image – imago Dei – and to live into that fully, which for me today has meant two video conference calls dressed professionally from waist up while sitting cross-legged in yoga pants and Minion socks with a sick teenager a room away texting me about nausea and the need for club soda.

Thank you for reading, for cheering me on, for commenting, and for sharing my words, my Dear Readers. I hope you will stick around for this part of the ride!!

Becoming Asian American

Dear Readers,

This isn’t a well-thought out post. Think of it as a blogger’s version of James Joyce’s Ulysses – a book I read and studied in college in a class I almost failed.

It wasn’t until college I had ever considered myself an Asian American. I grew up Korean American. Some days more Korean than others, some days resenting the Korean I wore on my face, carried in my name, emitted from the smells of my home. Some days I was American when I allowed people to mispronounce my last name up until I headed off to college, when I argued with my parents for the privilege to attend a school dance, when I embraced my teenage angst that was more foreign to my parents than the English language.

I was Korean. I waited in school to learn about the Korean War during U.S. History and was confused when it was a passing mention as a “conflict.” I knew my grandmother had a Japanese name because she was alive during the Japanese occupation of Korea. I knew the significance of the Chinese characters used in my Korean name. I was not “Asian” because the common thread of geography and religion did not trump the distinct histories and culture.

I don’t actually have a great analogy, but the closest I could come up with has to do with friends who grew up in different parts of the country. You aren’t “just” a Californian. You are from LA or San Diego or Orange County, and friends have explained the importance of the distinctions. You aren’t “just” from New York because the boroughs are unique and distinct, and don’t get me started with upstate. I was a Chicago northsider until I moved to the burbs. And anything south of Chicago was southern Illinois, aka farmland.

But I got to college and “we” were lumped together, which was actually strangely comforting because there were so few of “us” with no spaces for us, no classes for us, and maybe no awareness we could be an “us” or “we” to request, expect, demand a say and a presence though that did come later. Everyone complained about the Asian teaching assistants and professors who spoke with heavy accents and were tough graders. I never actually interacted with any of those TAs or profs because I was a journalism major. Instead, I had journalism professors ask me where I learned my English, comment on my “almost” accent-free English (what?!), and ask me where I was from. “No, really, where are you from?”  

My freshman year roommate asked me if she could borrow some of my clothes for rush and asked me if I was going to go Greek. I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about. It wasn’t until she explained sororities and fraternities did I laugh in her face and tell her to wash whatever she borrowed and return it in the same condition as she found it in my closet. She didn’t understand that system wasn’t set up for people like me. She didn’t see it as a racialized system. Never mind the black sororities and fraternities on campus, which again I had to learn were a different system entirely. And being in the Midwest the Asian American Greek houses had not yet made their way over.

I’ve said this before. It’s difficult to “see” things as racist or racialized when the systems have always been designed and created for the success and flourishing of white people – even as the category of “white” evolves.

And in the evolution of whiteness, “Asian America” is also not included. We are perpetual foreigners, lumped together for the convenience of a culture and country that doesn’t want to bother with uniqueness even as we Americans revel in our unique place in history. The term Asian American erases the need to explain the difference between East Asian and South Asian and Southeast Asian. It means a false narrative to success and erasure. Why learn about the Japanese internment during WWII when it didn’t really impact all Asian Americans? Why learn about the Chinese Exclusion Act because Chinese aren’t Americans, right? Why talk about Vietnamese, Laotian, Hmong refugees to America because that doesn’t fit into the Model Minority label? Why complicate things? Even the label of “Model Minority” reminds me of my “otherness” and our success in relationship to our behavior that is measured by the majority culture’s standards – white culture standards.

It’s always worth mentioning. Asian Americans are not white. Even when we don’t appear in stats. Even when we are called, or call ourselves, the model minority. Even when the conversations about race don’t include us, Latinos, or Native Americans. Why does that matter? Because right now #blacklivesmatter and I support the need to focus attention on what has been ignored because, quite frankly, I know as a Korean American who became Asian American, I know what it’s like to be ignored, erased, silenced.

The Vitamin L Diary: Words We Are Afraid To Speak

hands-620

“Sweetness, the only thing that has power over you is what you can’t say, even to yourself.”

—Hyacinth to Phaedra in The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson

Every six months I am supposed to see my doctor to make sure I’m doing OK, that nothing in my medical history has changed, and to give voice to things that I am afraid to think about and talk about out loud. She asks me about my mood, my sleep, my level of activity. I tell her I am doing great, that I am fine, that nothing in my medical history has changed. “Can I get my flu shot while I’m here?” I ask.

And then she asks again how I’m doing with the Vitamin L – my daily dose of Lexapro. It has been six years.  Six year since I was able to release the words, the pain, the confusion, and the power of fear by saying out loud what I couldn’t imagine saying even to myself.

“I think I am depressed.”

So on this particularly dreary October afternoon my doctor waits for me to answer honestly, to say to myself and to her what I’ve been afraid to even think about.

“I’m afraid the depression is getting worse.”

I’ve been so tired. Tired like I could sleep the afternoon away tired. Tired like maybe the back and neck spasms I was having for weeks tired. Tired like maybe my high pain tolerance is catching up to me tired (and by high pain tolerance I’m talking waiting to go to the hospital until I was about 8 cm dilated with Child #1 and #3 because I thought it would get worse). Tired like that migraine knocked me out tired but not just that day tired. Tired like I might not get out of bed tired.

The weird thing about depression is that most days I am not wandering around my house looking like there is a cloud hanging over me or hunched over as if the weight of a heavy robe has engulfed me. Depression doesn’t always look like those pharmaceutical commercials that always involved drawings and the color blue. I work out 3-5 days/wk. I get together with friends. I read books for two book clubs. I try to spend quality time with my sons but I really suck at video games. My husband and I have sex if and when we aren’t falling asleep the minute we hit the bed, which isn’t often but also none of your business how often. I smile. I laugh. I make myself laugh. I write. I laugh at what I write. That doesn’t look like depression. But, yes, I am feeling exceptionally tired these days despite, or maybe because of, the fact that I have a child in college contemplating her career in the arts, a child in his junior year of high school who is just starting to understand why we’ve been so parental about grades, and a child finishing middle school who doesn’t need to worry because it’s middle school. Yes, there are unexplained aches and pains that won’t go away and maybe that’s just because I turned 45. Yes, I may spend my days wearing varying combinations of my yoga pants and three sweatshirts because I work from home and I actually do go to yoga class, but that isn’t the depression. None of that is the depression.

Unless it is.

And that is what I am often afraid to think about, afraid to say. Which is probably why that appointment every six months is a good idea instead of an endless supply of Vitamin L with no check-in, no one waiting for me to be honest or at least give me a chance to be honest.

Every six months I have to remind myself that the truth will set me free only if I am willing to walk in the truth. Even if people judge, even if my sisters and brothers in faith judge or don’t know what to do with my truth, Jesus doesn’t judge. He says to me, “Daughter, your faith and trust and courage and Vitamin L have set you free. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

So earlier this week I went to see my doctor, got my flu shot, told her I was fine, and then once again broke the power depression has over me and told her the truth.

The truth is that very few people around me understand this Vitamin L thing and the depression and the anxiety. I don’t want people tiptoeing around me. I want people to ask me how I am doing but not in that weird “How ARE you doing?” sort of way, but I also know that the stigma is complex, deep, and ingrained. Depressed people aren’t supposed to be normal, right? How could I possibly go to power yoga, write, and bake cookies if I am depressed, right? Depression is a mental illness, and people with mental illnesses do horrible things like gun down innocent people (well, actually it’s usually younger white men who go on shooting sprees and are then casually labeled “mentally ill” so I’m off the hook). People with a mental illness are crazy, right? How can a Christian be depressed and take medication for it, right?

I told my doctor what I was afraid to say to myself.

“I’m tired, and maybe it’s that I’m 45 and the cumulative exhaustion of life is catching up to me but maybe it’s not. Maybe the depression is getting worse?”

Maybe. Maybe not. But every day I take my Vitamin L, every six months I see my doctor; each time I have the chance to say words I’m afraid to say but know in my heart are true.

My faith has healed me. I go in peace. I am freed from my suffering.

 

A Quick Primer on #codeswitching

Dear Readers,

Have you heard about the crazy that went down on the Napa Valley Wine Train over the weekend?

So the wine train is a real thing, and my husband and I were on it about 21 years ago for our anniversary, about a decade too early for my tastebuds to fully appreciate what I could’ve been drinking. It’s literally a train that goes through Napa Valley, and you can eat and drink your way through it. It is a bar on wheels. How loud do you have to be to be too loud on a bar on wheels, especially if you are with a group of your reading besties enjoying a good book discussion?

Well, apparently it’s not about being loud. It’s about WHO is being loud and WHO thinks you are too loud. This is not surprising to some of us, but that doesn’t make it any less humiliating, wrong, and racist.

The CEO has issued an apology, and here is where I brought in my love for manuscript Bible study and intersected it with … my life as a Korean American woman of color who pays attention to what happens to other women of color. I looked at the apology and started marking it up with comments, questions, observations. I’m sorry for the quality of the photo, and you may see that the text didn’t fully print on the right margin – user error. But you can get the gist of it. Public relations folks might call it spin. I call it #codeswitching  – where otherwise neutral words are used to describe a situation where more precise language connected to race, gender, sexuality, etc. could be used.

For example, when a group of women of color are referred to as “those people” as a way of minimizing the negative racial/ethnic implications of the comment without actually pointing out the obvious.

So that apology to the Sistahs on the Reading Edge Book Club? There is a lot of code-switching going on.

  • “…you would be loud, fun-loving and boisterous…”
  • “…a particularly vibrant group…”
  • “…we were acutely insensitive…”

IMG_1887

I haven’t figured out my emotions in response to this situation and to the apology. What I know is that growing up as one of the few Asian Americans in my community I had a different standard of behavior I needed to live up to – for my parents and my Korean American community and for the white community. I had to behave and respect the norm in whichever situation I was in, aka respectability politics. Many times I still believe this is true.

Such was the case for the Sistahs of the Reading Edge.

As you read the apology, what do you read? What are the underlying, unspoken messages that stand out to you? What are the questions you have about my manuscript?

 

Grief & Gratitude

Sometimes the expression of an emotion has to catch up to the spiritual disruption. Grief is a very strange, powerful, exhausting emotion, and it didn’t really hit me until I opened my mouth and said the words on the phone.

“Someone very important to me died this morning. He has been my pastor since I was 15,” I said, requesting to be excused from a retreat I was to have attended addressing the connection between body and soul.

How appropriate that in finally saying the words I burst out in tears over the home-going of Rev. Robert D. Goette, good and faithful servant, pastor, husband, father, son, brother, uncle, spiritual father, lover of peanut butter, Bears fan married to a Packers fan, church planter, evangelist, leader, and friend.

Someone said Robert may now find himself bored because there is no one in heaven to share the Good News of Jesus with, but he is healed from the ALS that took him physically away from his family and friends bit by bit over the past 5 1/2 years. He lived longer than doctors initially expected, but that’s Robert.

Robert was a missionary kid to parents called to South Korea. By the time I met him (I was in high school) he was gathering groups of Asian American kids in the Chicago suburbs – mostly but not exclusively Korean Americans – for Bible study and fellowship. He and sometimes a few volunteers would pick up these kids to meet in the basement of a family’s home and meet Jesus in the form of a tall, lanky, blonde, soft-spoken white dude. Yes, Jesus was white in those years but strangely Korean because of his missionary kid experience. Robert had a unique perspective on and personal connection with the spiritual formation of Korean American children and youth – children of Korean immigrants caught somewhere between being the first and second generation in the U.S. also known as the 1.5 generation.

Me.

Robert understood that a generation of kids were growing up in the abundance of America with parents who had just experienced the aftermath of a war – the Korean War – and the political and social turmoil that followed. Robert knew that the language and cultural gaps  would widen, that Western churches were ill-equipped to welcome us (they were happy to rent their spaces so long as we didn’t smell them up too much with our food, which really was superior to donuts and coffee IMHO), and that Korean churches would lose us because of the very gaps caused by chasing the American Dream.

Korean pastors thought he was stealing sheep even though most of us sheep weren’t thrilled to sit in the pews listening to pastors preaching in Korean, couldn’t (or didn’t want to or were never invited to) go to the white church youth groups, or weren’t going to church at all. And I have no idea what his white pastor-peers were thinking as he slowly built the foundation of a church with a bunch of junior high and high school kids.

Surely some people thought he was crazy because junior high and high school kids are not the group church planters are going after. That is not the demographic strategic, trained church planters necessarily go after when dreaming of a strong core. Kids are flaky and unreliable. We don’t have an income let alone our own modes of transportation. We bring and create drama (we were K-drama before it was a thing). We are immature in ways our non-Korean peers were not because we also did not have parents who understood America.

Yup. Robert was crazy.

I’m so grateful Robert was crazy. His investment in my spiritual formation and the formation of a generation of Korean American kids is immense. He understood that my experience as a Korean American child of immigrants was going to mean life and a journey with God would have different turns and curves and bumps and that I would need a place with peers who spoke and understood my heart language – not Korean, necessarily, but a way of understanding and connecting and expressing what our non-Korean American peers could not understand, would never experience, but at some point would benefit from our articulation and expression of it. Robert knew the Kingdom of God needed my generation before most of us cared, and his faithfulness in investing, discipling, mentoring, pastoring, and evangelizing…well, even though it had been a long time since Robert could speak on his own I knew he was still Robert. Even when he ceased to be the senior pastor at Grace Baptist and then Grace Community Church. Even when Peter and I left the church. Even as we stopped seeing Robert and Julie, his wife, on any basis. Even as ALS took away more than Robert’s balance. Robert was still Robert. He was still a missionary, a church planter and trainer of planters, a husband to Julie and father to Jennifer, Emily, and Robbie.

And because Robert was faithful I owe him a huge debt of gratitude. Before I knew what ethnic-specific ministry was, Robert and those who believe in Robert did it. They invested in a bunch of kids who grew up to become doctors, lawyers, pastors, investment bankers, traders, and designers. He followed us to Northwestern University, the University of Chicago, and the University of Chicago – Circle Campus; bible studies on those campuses eventually became Asian American Christian Fellowship chapters connected to JEMS – Japanese Evangelical Missions Society and then later affiliated with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA. Yes, the very organization I work with. See?

There is so much to be thankful for, so much to remember.

Grief is a very strange and powerful emotion. I’m looking forward to being on the other side of it someday.

IMG_1684

Robert was one of three pastors we had presiding at our wedding. He also was the only one who spoke in English, the only one Peter could understand, and the only one who knew me. Robert didn’t mind being one of three. He understood the Korean family/church politics involved in planning the wedding of two firstborns and the son of founding elders of a church. Peter and I have been married 22 years, and we still remember the gist of what Robert said to us about respecting and cherishing each other.

One Church, Many Voices

There is a beautiful liturgy that has been written as part of a movement encouraging churches to all across the country this Sunday, June 21, to participate in the One Church Liturgy written by the Imago Dei Community, as A Call To Worship for the tragedy In Charleston. People have been invited to use it in their churches and I do hope hundreds of pastors will see the liturgy and be moved to change their original plans.

I also read the liturgy and felt moved to add to it because I believe that is what powerful worship does. It moves us into deeper spaces with God and with one another. We are all in different places and spaces in both our spiritual journeys and our journeys of identity. It has taken all of my 45 years to embrace the intersectionality of being Korean, American, female, evangelical. In many spaces, those four identities do not belong together. When you add the layers of personality, skills, talent, and calling…well, let’s just say there are very few spaces that will claim me. When I read the original One Church Liturgy, my fingers spoke my heart because too often women like me, Korean/Asian American women who love Jesus have been told to be quiet.

Kathy, shhh.

So, I added to the original liturgy the names and words that came out and could not be silenced in my heart. This isn’t a better version. It is another version. It is one voice of many, and I believe that is part of the beauty and power and truth of the Christian faith. The Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in unity and yet distinct. Three in one. It is the mystery and the beauty.

My friend Misuzu was the one who encouraged this exercise because she had her own personal movement to action as a result of the One Church Liturgy. I am grateful for her nudging and her words. They are sharp, and they need to be. She and I cannot worship this Sunday without naming the sin that has pushed us to this point. #Charleston wasn’t an act of violence against Christians. It was an act of terrorism against our black sisters and brothers. It was racism in the only way it exists – in violence.

Don’t be afraid to name it, even if it is in a whisper.

Racism.

Do not give the word the power that only belongs to God.

 

ANOTHER VOICE LITURGY

[Leader]

We stand before you today, oh Lord

Hearts broken, eyes weeping, heads spinning

Our black sisters and brothers have died

They gathered and prayed and then were no more

The prayer soaked walls of the church are spattered with blood

They welcomed the stranger and their neighbor with no questions asked

And yet he is enemy at the table, the face of racism, and he turned on them in violence

While they were turning to you in prayer

 

[All]

We stand with our sisters

We stand with our brothers

We stand with their families

We stand with Suzy Jackson,

Rev. Daniel Simmons,

Ethel Lee Lance,

Myra Thompson,

Cynthia Hurd,

Rev. De’Payne Middleton-Doctor,

Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton,

Rev. Clementa Pinckney, and

TyWanza Sanders

We stand to bear their burden in Jesus’ name

 

[Leader]

We cry out to you, oh Lord

Our hearts breaking, eyes weeping, heads spinning

The sin of racism is entrenched and entwined in the history of the American church

The sin of American exceptionalism has tainted the church in America

The sin of stealing a land that belonged to another has been written into our history and into our souls

The violence in our street, the violence we export has come into your house

The hatred in our cities and in our own hearts has crept into your sanctuary

The brokenness in our lives has broken into your temple

The dividing wall of racism has crushed our brothers and sisters

We have allowed racism to change your Son into a blue-eyed, blonde man who helps win sports championships and protects America

Our silence, our apathy, our comfort has been complicit in this evil

We cry out to you, May your Kingdom come, may it be on earth as it is in heaven

 

[All]

We cry out for our sisters

We cry out for our brothers

We cry out for their families

We stand with Suzy Jackson,

Rev. Daniel Simmons,

Ethel Lee Lance,

Myra Thompson,

Cynthia Hurd,

Rev. De’Payne Middleton-Doctor,

Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton,

Rev. Clementa Pinckney, and

TyWanza Sanders

We cry out for peace in Jesus’ name

 

[Leader]

We pray to you today, oh Lord

Our hearts breaking, eyes weeping, souls stirring

We pray for our enemies who often are our friends and families

We pray for those who remain blind to the sin of institutionalized racism and who persecute those who speak out against this sin

We pray to the God in whose image we all were created that we all would see the beauty in black, brown, yellow, and red faces

We pray to the God creator, who saw we were all very good, that we could see that truth in one another

We pray that you would transform our hearts and behavior to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with you

We pray to the God of all Comfort to comfort our black brothers and sisters in their mourning

We pray that you would bestow on them a crown of beauty and protection instead of ashes and scorn

We pray that you in time would give them the oil of joy instead of mourning

We pray that you would give them a garment of praise in place of a spirit of despair

 

[All]

We pray for our sisters

We pray for our brothers

We pray for their families

We stand with Suzy Jackson,

Rev. Daniel Simmons,

Ethel Lee Lance,

Myra Thompson,

Cynthia Hurd,

Rev. De’Payne Middleton-Doctor,

Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton,

Rev. Clementa Pinckney, and

TyWanza Sanders

We pray for their comfort in Jesus’ name

 

[Leader]

We declare together, oh Lord

With hearts breaking, eyes weeping and souls stirring

We will continue to stand and cry and weep with our brothers and sisters

We will continue to learn about the evil that has found shelter in our country, in our churches, and in our families

We will continue to make a place of peace for even the enemies at our table

We will continue to open our doors and our hearts to those who enter them

We will continue to seek to forgive as we have been forgiven

We will seek to learn and listen as we have for too long been the experts while being the perpetrators

We will continue to love in Jesus’ name because you taught us that love conquers all

 

[All]

We declare our love for you, our Sisters

We declare our love for you, our Brothers

We declare our love for you, their families

We declare our love for you

We stand with Suzy Jackson,

Rev. Daniel Simmons,

Ethel Lee Lance,

Myra Thompson,

Cynthia Hurd,

Rev. De’Payne Middleton-Doctor,

Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton,

Rev. Clementa Pinckney, and

TyWanza Sanders

We declare our love as one body, one Lord, one faith, one baptism

We declare they do not grieve alone today

#FreshOffTheBoat? I Liked It

Some quick, unedited thoughts in reaction to tonight’s premiere (FINALLY) of ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat because I want to know your thoughts. I’ll go first. (THERE ARE SOME SORT OF SPOILERS…)

  • I liked it. I thought it was funny. I like the kind of funny where I laugh out loud, and I laughed out loud. And my sons who are 15 and 13 sat down with me to watch both episodes and laughed, related, and repeated lines.
  • Constance Wu’s portrayal of the mother Jessica Huang was lovely. She loves her children and her husband, but she isn’t going to take things lying down. She doesn’t mince words, but she isn’t one-dimensional. Hmmmm.
  • There were as many “jabs” at white culture/people as there were stereotypes of Asian/Taiwanese American culture. White people food, white people bowing, white suburban SAHMs talking loudly, fast, and over anyone else alongside the grandmother who doesn’t speak English, stinky Asian food, and Chinese Learning Centers (CLC, which of course my sons thought meant College of Lake County). I grew up calling white people and their food “Americans” and “American food,” which to some degree still holds true in American culture.
  • There were so many moments that sent me back to childhood. The stinky food thing. My sons started reminding each other about “the time you brought insert-some Asian food-here” to school and what reactions they received. My parents sometimes still talk about how their clothes smell after being at Korean bbq restaurant. The CLC thing never happened, but the push to excel meant my parents MADE Korean language worksheets and photocopied academic workbooks (I couldn’t write inside of them because they would re-use the book for my younger sister or make new copies of sheets when I didn’t complete them correctly) for us to do OVER THE SUMMER.
  • Yes, some of those things that rang true border on stereotypes, which is probably why I read many, many comments about how the show was good but not perfect…
  • But WHY DOES THIS SHOW HAVE TO BE PERFECT??? Why are so many of us Asian Americans adding that caveat? How many shows are perfect? I get it. This is the first show in 20 years featuring a family that looks remotely like mine so there is a lot of pressure. The pressure is real in terms of the network, etc. but it isn’t real in that the “Asian American community” does not, should not carry the burden of perfectly representing our story because there is no one story. I understand the burden in so many ways, but again I want to be held accountable and hold others accountable. How might we be perpetuating the stereotype of the model minority by expecting, even daresay hoping, this show, this ONE SHOW, would perfectly represent a multicultural community? It can’t.
  • I’m grateful the show took on double standards and the word “chink.” I was caught a little off guard when it happened because you never get used to that, and why should we. But when the parents defended Eddie and asked why the other boy, who was black, and his parents were not in the principal’s office for using a racial epithet I said, “YES!” Now, I don’t know how many Taiwanese parents would’ve done that, but as a parent and as an adult who still hears “chink” thrown at me or my family I appreciated the call out. For the record, I didn’t punch back because I wasn’t going to start something I couldn’t finish. I swore back in Korean.
  • It mattered to my sons. I was surprised that they wanted to sit with me to watch it live because who does that anymore. But there they were laughing and following along. They both agreed it will go into the DVR queue and when asked why they liked it both of them said they liked seeing Asians on tv. “The Asians. They are like us.” Yes, they are.

OK. Unfiltered, quick, off-the-cuff thoughts to jump into the conversation. I’d love to hear from all of you, Asian and non-Asian American!!

  • Did you watch it? Why or why not?
  • If you watched it, what did you think?
  • What did you like the most? What made you cringe? Why?
  • What were the things you resonated with? What didn’t you understand or get?
  • Whatever else you want to add. 🙂

 

 

Don’t call me Fresh Off the Boat

If you haven’t already heard, a new family is hitting the airwaves tomorrow (Wednesday 8:30|7:30c on ABC), and I am excited, nervous, curious, and afraid. It’s not every decade you get to see an Asian American family featured in an episode of a television show, let alone an ENTIRE television series, but that’s what we’re going to get with “Fresh Off the Boat.”

Did I mention I am excited and afraid?

The show is based on Chef Eddie Huang’s memoir of the same title, and you can read all about the show here. It is the story of an immigrant family experiencing culture shock as they chase after the American dream. I haven’t gotten a sneak peek; I’ve seen what the general public has seen.

And I am hopeful but I am holding my breath.

Eddie’s family looks like mine in the way all East Asians can get lumped together under the umbrella of Asian Americans. We look alike without actually looking alike. The family featured on the show has roots in Taiwan, which actually is an entirely different country than the one my family and I immigrated from (South Korea, which is different than North Korea). But for all intents and purposes, Eddie and his family are my family.

Why? BECAUSE WE ARE NEVER ON TELEVISION. Yes, Lucy Liu has a role. Yes, John Cho had a leading role in a romantic comedy that was canceled (Selfie, if you didn’t know). Yes, we Asian Americans can also claim Steven Yeun in The Walking Dead. Yes, there are other Asian American actors currently on network television but I would have to Google them in order to name them. If you are white, Anglo, or can pass as either you have just about everyone else. Seriously.

Even growing up in the church, God, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were all depicted as white. Think Sistine Chapel. Think felt story boards. I hear Burl Ives’ voice in the Bible story audio cassettes my parents bought me and my sister. The only time God wasn’t white was when He was Black, thanks to Bill Cosby.

No one sounded or looked like me because the underlying message I got was that no one wanted to sound like or look like me. It wasn’t all that underlying. I may be 44 years old, but the teasing, bullying, and physical harassment were memories formed well into my 20s. Classmates making fun of my name, my eyes, and my nose, and laughing at what they thought I might be eating or the way they thought my family might speak. Boys in the form of grown men driving pick up trucks slowing down screaming racial slurs at me as I walked the neighborhood, driving back around just in case I didn’t understand the first time.

“Go back to where you came from, Chink! Gook! This is America! Learn to speak English. Did you hear me? Love me long time.”

I don’t know how Eddie’s story pans out in the series, but I found solace, courage, and healing in a group of Asian American Christians as an undergrad. This thoughtful group of college students from all over the country understood me in a way other friends had not. They understood my faith in Jesus and the complicated experiences of growing up as an immigrant or as the child of immigrants. Our collective pain and our collective joys became our inside jokes. We had lived through common experiences that set us apart from the white students (and the black students), and we shared words in our mother tongues, food from our mother’s kitchens, and lecture notes and study guides when we could. We knew what it was like to be the foreigner, the stranger. We understood the enormous pressure to succeed because of the great cost our parents had paid. We understood no one wanted to be like us (unless they thought we all set the curve in the classes); that was going to be up to us. We had to learn to love ourselves as God had created us. Imago Dei. In His image.

So those jokes, those were the jokes we made about ourselves for ourselves. FOB or “fresh off the boat” was a label we applied to ourselves even after so many others had been forced upon us.

Those were our jokes, our jokes to tell ourselves in the safety and loyalty of one another.

I’m hopeful non-Asian American America will finally learn to laugh with us and stop laughing at us, but I’m still holding my breath.

Vitamin L Diary: Motherhood & #flymysweet

Tonight is the night before she leaves for college, and the dining room is filled with laughter and chatter. There are only two other young women in her incredible circle of friends who are still “in town” waiting, and tonight is a night for friendship.

I sat there with them for awhile, laughing at a Facebook post, our lack of sewing skills in comparison to Bethany, and cried a little bit. It has been such an honor to be allowed to be a part of that sacred space of friendship, and it was time to honor it even more by stepping away. It’s time.

Depression haunted me in my childhood, but I remember distinctly coming home from the hospital with this tiny peanut of a newborn who came with no instructions. I was in pain from an emergency postpartum surgery, unable to do just about anything without incredible pain and feeling quite unlike myself. Five months later with friends in from out of town I recall telling them that I didn’t feel right. I didn’t feel like myself. I wasn’t sure if I could feel anything really.

I didn’t look sad in the photos. I didn’t walk around with an animated cloud hovering around my head. I just kept moving.

Gratefully, it has been five years since I sought treatment – a combination of counseling and an antidepressant. I continue to shake off cultural stereotypes and stigma associated with depression, anxiety, and medication. There are some who do not understand how a faithful, evangelical Christian could depend on medication to fight off something that perhaps more prayer and faithfulness could overcome. There are some in my own family who do not approve of my sharing publicly that I am on (whisper) medication. Depression and anxiety do not define me, but the reality is that my mental health is part of me. It is a part of any human being – a God-ordained intersection between soul, mind, and body. We share the earth with other living things, but there is no other living thing quite like us humans.

And I realized again today, as I sat with my son at a medical appointment, that depression and anxiety are a part of my life as mother and a part of my children’s lives. We were asked about family medical history. “Is there anyone in the family with depression or anxiety? Is there anyone in the family who has committed suicide?” Yes, there is heart disease and high blood pressure as well as depression and suicide. Even as my children grow up and mature, their family history follows them and is a part of their story as well.

So as we come to this part of my story as a mother of a college freshman soul, mind, and body intersect. The tears are right there, clinging to my eyes ready to roll out at a moment’s notice. My heart is pounding in anticipation of the incredible things she will see and do in college. I can imagine her rehearsing, choreographing, learning to connect her soul, mind, and body, and I smile like a madwoman. And I know we will drive home with one less body in the car with her smile and spirit lingering. My soul is appropriately, gloriously conflicted, and my mind and body start to take over with tears, smiles, and fear.

How will my brain translate all that is going on in my soul? Will the depression and anxiety come to visit as I enter into a quieter season or will the 10 milligrams keep doing their thing? Will I have the courage to set aside fear and seek out help, ask for the company of friends or a walk with my husband?

Worse yet, will my daughter lose the genetic crapshoot and experience a new dark night of the soul? Will the transitions overwhelm her in an unexpected way? Have I given her the tools, the words, the freedom to know the signs and ask for help? Have I done all that I can do before she goes?

There is no way to know, but there is a way to cope and live. Dear Readers and friends, please hope with me. Pray with me. Pray for daughters and sons launching off into new experiences and their parents who all know there is little we can do to protect them forever. Pray that the lies of stereotypes and stigma don’t keep them from getting help. Pray for friends and mentors who aren’t afraid to offer and get them help. And I pray history and story will ground my daughter and hope and faith will shape her future.

#flymysweet

 

 

 

Five Things This Parent Wishes Teachers Knew

Dear Teachers:

1. I actually love school supplies – fun pens, crisp paper, color-coordinated file folders with labels printed out on my label maker. (Bird!) However, I hate buying or trying to find those school supplies on the school-provided list. You know, the composition notebook of which my child will only use 10 pages during the entire school year. The three three-subject notebooks with plastic cover and non-perforated pages of which my child will never use all the pages. Or the specific brand of watercolors that are not found anywhere near this side of Middle Earth.

2. You may think the extra credit for bringing in extra boxes of facial tissue or extra disinfectant wipes is a great way to restock your classroom supply, but I would rather you offer extra credit for actual academic work. Make a request for the supplies or wait for that first wave of strep throat cases and then make the request. Timing is everything.

3. By middle school I would really appreciate not having to buy anymore markers or colored pencils. In fact, teachers who tell my children that their pencil case filled to the seams with a hodgepodge of colored pencils from years past will not do go on my naughty list. The same goes for teachers who tell my children that they need to bring a NEW notebook to replace the 70-page notebook they used last year (and by used I mean the first five pages of the notebook). The same goes for any recycled/pre-used school supplies I send with my kids. They should get bonus points for reusing!

3.5. I have a teacher naughty list. Read on because I have a nice list, too.

4. If my child speaks of you with respect, admiration and teacher-crush tendencies I will send homemade granola or the occasional baked treat because my kids desperately need teachers who “speak” to their minds, hearts, and character.

5. Every year I pray for you because during the week there are many days you see my children longer than I will. Teachers and administrators like Ms. Johnson, Mrs. Jackson, Mrs. Umlauf, Mr. Studt, Mr. Ciskie, Mr. Lyons, and Mr. Benenfeld made an impact on me and my family, shaping me in profound ways. For a kid who was put into ESL in kindergarten, was bullied and teased all through elementary and high school, and couldn’t wait to get the heck out of town and never see some of her classmates ever again, it’s a hoot to be an author, paid public speaker, and minister. I pray for you teachers because any one of you  might be the teacher my children and I will talk about when my children send my grandchildren to school.

Thank you.