It’s Easy to Forget Privilege When It’s Always Been Yours

I’m tired of reading blogs from my White Christian brothers about why they are choosing to vote. There. I said it.

I’m all for being a part of the democratic process, but it seems a bit odd to me that so many of these bloggers are coming from a position of power and privilege they themselves have always had. It seems a bit arrogant to choose something that was always theirs.

The way I see it, they had better vote. The vote of the White male is what finally allowed people like me – a woman, an immigrant, a non-native English speaker – to have the right to vote. I didn’t have a voice. I didn’t matter. Neither did my ancestors, who immigrated here under quota systems developed by people in power for the benefit of the country and the powers-that-be.

And there still are people who have no voice, who have no right to vote, but they are directly impacted by the politicians, referenda, judges, and local officials as well as the “agendas and policies”. As a Christian who is new to the process, its a privilege and responsibility I don’t take lightly because it isn’t a given. I’m not American born. We are not post-racial America, and the fact of the matter is the church isn’t either. We are working on it, but we aren’t there.

Did you know that in 1882 Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act denying citizenship and voting rights to Chinese Americans? Yup, they can build the railroads but they can’t vote.

It wasn’t until 1920 that the Nineteenth Amendment is ratified giving women the right to vote, but in 1922 the Supreme Court rules that a person of Japanese origin is barred from naturalization, effectively shutting Japanese men and women out from the democratic process. The same happens in 1923 to Indian immigrants.

In 1941, U.S. citizens of Japanese descent are rounded up and interned in 10 concentration camps here in America under executive order 9066. It isn’t until 1952 that first generation Japanese Americans have the right to become citizens.

In 1943 The Chinese Exclusion Act is repealed, giving Chinese immigrants the right to citizenship and the right to vote, and in the same year Koreans in the U.S. are declassified as enemy aliens.

In 1946 Filipinos are granted the right to become U.S. citizens.

And all of these important moments in history did not include the voting rights of people like me. It’s easy to talk about whether or not you are going to vote when the privilege has always been yours without question.

So vote. Do your homework. Check out the ballot. Find out what your state or local bar association has to say about the judges who want to stay on those benches. Read the annoying brochures and check out what the entire article the candidate quoted actually said.  There are more than two names on the ballot for president, btw.

Yes, the political ads are annoying. The robo-calls are a nuisance. Turn off the tv. Turn down your ringer or shut the phone off for awhile. Ask your kids what they think of the process; I learned a lot by listening to what my three kids were hearing in the hallways!

I haven’t answered any of the phone calls from unknown phone numbers, but I did appreciate the one and only message left for our household. She was a community organizer getting out the vote for her candidate. She reminded me about Election Day and about the importance of voting as U.S. citizens – all in my native tongue.

How perfectly American indeed.

 

Voting:Responsibility or Privilege?

Next week I will vote for the first time in a presidential election. I became a naturalized U.S. citizen two years ago, giving up my Korean passport, my (not)green card, and pledging allegiance after having lived in the  U.S. since the spring of 1971.

I actually studied for my citizenship exam out of fear and habit – fear that the wrong answer would mean restarting a process that had cost money, time and emotions, and habit because I grew understanding not studying was not an option. The process actually took years for me, wrestling through ambivalence, frustration, grief and gain to get to a point where the privileges, advantages and necessities of becoming a citizen and my faith as a Christian pushed me over the edge.

At the heart of my decision wasn’t the right to vote. It was an issue of integrity. As a writer/blogger/speaker who addresses issues of justice, culture, and faith I have a desire to understand and learn from others about policy and politics as it connects with living out my faith as an individual and as a part of a community. But it was one thing to talk about “the issues”, to take a stand, or to share my opinions. It was another thing to consider what responsibilities and privileges I had or could have at my disposal to steward well.

So next week will be my “first time” (I thought Lena Dunham’s ad was funny). This decision hasn’t been an easy one. Neither major party had me at hello. I am tired of my sons being able to repeat the script for multiple political ads. I do not believe Christians must vote with one party over the other.

But I am wondering if other Christians believe that Christian U.S. citizens must vote or should vote as a matter of stewarding the power and privilege they have in a process that impacts those who cannot represent themselves.

Will you be voting? Why or why not?

Chicken Feet Taste Better Than My Own: Random Thoughts on The Social Network, Immigration & Imago Dei

I haven’t had the energy to sit down in awhile to blog. Somewhere between the multiple google calendars and multiple modes of communication life over-shared with me.

But fortunately I have had several opportunities to put my foot in my mouth, regret the way I communicated my thoughts and feelings, and ask for and receive forgiveness for a recent misstep, which has made me want to slow down again and write. Writing, it seems, is one of the disciplines I need to keep in my life. Writing compels me to pause, reflect on my day-to-days and interact with Jesus and  in helpful ways. The optimist in me hopes that it all translates eventually into fewer moments of foot-in-mouth.

A few weeks ago I convinced a group of friends to entrust my daughter with all of our children so that as adults we could go out and enjoy dinner and a movie without kid menus. We went to see “The Social Network” having gotten wind of all the rave reviews.

I must confess that I was enjoying the movie quite a bit until I saw Brenda Song. Ah, the Asian sidekick reappears. Her character is a sexy groupie who morphs into a crazy, jealous girlfriend. I was saddened to see that once again a “young, female star” lands a more “grown-up” role, which simply means she shows some cleavage and leg and then does not have sexual relations with one of the lead male characters. We wonder why girls want to grow up too quickly and wear makeup, low-rise pants and thongs? Because we show them that growing up is just that.

But then I got angry. Every Asian woman was a sidekick or a waitress. And then every woman, with the exception of Rooney Mara’s character, was really just a body to drink with, sleep with, get high with, stare at, etc.

The word “misogyny” came to mind. And then versions of the word escaped from my thought bubble into the conversation. I don’t regret bringing up my opinions. I do regret how and when and even my tone and posture in the delivery of my opinions. Sometimes, it’s OK to leave a movie a movie until later. It really is.

And then it happened again at staff meetings when the issue of immigration came up.

Immigration reform is highly politicized and misunderstood by all sides, but it is one that as a Christian who lives in America and is now finally an American by documentation I continue to wrestle with. What do I say to a student who wants to go to a conference but can’t fly because he is undocumented? What do I tell staff to do when a student confides she is undocumented and can’t consider certain job opportunities? What is my role in the conversation as someone who has had access to and the ability to navigate a rather complex system, which included paying hundreds of dollars, having my fingerprints entered into a national database before I’ve committed any legally punishable crime, and being essentially asked “DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?” ?

But how do you say that without putting your foot in your mouth? I don’t know because my first attempt was this rant that seem a bit disconnected from my update, and as soon as I sat down I had that pit in my stomach which is the result of pedi-indigestion. I enjoy well-prepared chicken feet and pig feet. The last time I enjoyed sucking on my own feet was in my baby days.

Anybody share in my pain? I’ve been told that I can be indirect. I’ve also been told that my bluntness can be liberating but off-putting. I don’t reject those observations. I want to learn from them because as someone called to teach and preach and lead and learn for the sake of the gospel I have to communicate well. It does nothing if it’s clear as day in my head but clear as mud coming out of my mouth. Worse if it’s mud slung out of my mouth.

So I continue to struggle to develop this “voice” because at the end of the day  I don’t want to be the angry religious Asian American woman who can’t just enjoy a movie or let something slide until there is a better time. Perhaps the woman doth protest too much, but I really don’t take life so seriously all of the time. I have a lot of fun, and I often think I am fun…or funny. Ask my kids.

But seeing women portrayed as sexual objects grieves me not because I think Hollywood should know better or that movie critics don’t know what they are talking about but because we women are created in God’s image – imago Dei. Seeing God’s image bearers portrayed as objects, valued for their bodies giving pleasure to others angers me. This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.

Wanting to create space in meetings to talk about the tougher things isn’t about being politically correct but about understanding how our theology shapes our interactions with people and our engagement in policy-making and policy-changing. I may be documented but that isn’t the image I bear. I’ve been told that my ethnicity and gender isn’t what defines me, but I need to know how to respond when documentation determines and defines how we speak about others. A person may be undocumented but she is equally created in God’s image and how we as Christians interact with her matters.

So I keep thinking, talking and keeping my feet clean for those foot-in-mouth moments. Thank goodness for pedicures and grace.

 

 

Reasonable Suspicion

My college girlfriends and I had considered Arizona as a spot for a 40th bday bash, but I’m not sure we’d pass muster. We’ve all been questioned before. We’ve all been told one way or another that for some reason that surely has absolutely nothing to do with race, color or national origin that we just don’t look like we belong.

It usually goes something like this…

Someone trying to make conversation with me: “Where are you from?”

Me: Oh, I’m from (fill in the blank  – Chicago, Seattle, Columbus, Portland, Phoenix, Flagstaff).

Same Someone: No, I mean where are you REALLY from.

Me: Huh?

Still that Same Someone: You know. Where are you FROM?

The only place I knew as “home”, as the place I was from, was Chicago. Why wasn’t that answer enough? Because I don’t look or sound like a Chicagoan? Just ask me to say “hot dog” and “beer”. I’ve got Chicaaahgo.

Being told in so many words in so many ways that you don’t belong, that you couldn’t possibly be from where you say you are actually from can make you reasonably suspicious of people who ask the “where are you from” question.

But now the “where are you from” question takes on an entirely different level of fear, intimidation and distinction. Will all American citizens living in Arizona or traveling through/in Arizona, as a precautionary measure and to be in full compliance will the law, carry proof of their immigration status? You’re not an immigrant so you don’t need to carry identification? Prove it.

One of the provisions in the Arizona law “requires police officers to ‘make a reasonable attempt’ to determine the immigration status of a person if there is a ‘reasonable suspicion’ that he or she is an illegal immigrant. Race, color or national origin may not be the only things considered in implementation. Exceptions can be made if the attempt would hinder an investigation.”

Help me understand what are the other things to consider in implementation? If the person speaks with an accent or can’t speak proper English, is that enough to raise reasonable suspicion? Jeez, I know plenty of folks who had better laminate their birth certificates or carry their passports if they are going to be in Arizona. How can you tell national origin by looking at someone, listening to someone?

I’ve been following the reactions to the new law, and the responses that confuse me the most are the ones that argue the only ones who are worried or angry or concerned about this law are probably illegal and already undocumented. Obviously, citizens who are here legally should have nothing to be worried about. But doesn’t the law apply to everyone? Anyone’s immigration status could come into question, but it’s not really “anyone” we’re talking about here. Not just “anyone” is going to have their immigration status questioned because not just “anyone” gets asked “where are you from?” more than once. Not just “anyone” gets pulled over in certain neighborhoods and communities. Not just “anyone” gets followed in certain stores. Not just “anyone”. Just those who raise reasonable suspicion. Right?

I am trying to make a reasonable attempt at understanding how this law will be implemented but I’m reasonably suspicious.

Virginia Tech

This morning, the phone woke me. “Did you hear the Virginia Tech shooter was Asian?”

The first phone call I received in my office this morning, “Let’s pray for Virginia Tech, but
also that there will be no backlash against Asians.”

As I read the newsposts, its striking to me. I was searching more facts about what happened,
explanations, analysis. But I also felt a bit nervous about how race would be brought up, and what it would be used to support.

I’m not sure what to make of the fact that most of the journalists mentioned that the man from South Korea was a resident alien. It might just be accuracy from a journalistic perspective. But as a man who immigrated to the US in the mid-90s, I wonder what they were trying to say.

I was a bit upset that several of the articles went to the Department of Homeland Security and cited their data as “His point of entry in the US was…” It felt like they were tracking the port of entry for a terrorist–as if “people from this country don’t do these types of things.” Somehow, I felt like a stranger in my own country. Perhaps I’m being a bit sensitive–but I feel a strange identification with the young man. It’s the whole, “What will they think of us (Asians)?” mentality.

The JACL and the Asian American Association of Journalists have highlighted this. Here’s a statement from the journalists.

“As coverage of the Virginia Tech shooting continues to unfold, AAJA urges all media to avoid using racial identifiers unless there is a compelling or germane reason. There is no evidence at this early point that the race or ethnicity of the suspected gunman has anything to do with the incident, and to include such mention serves only to unfairly portray an entire people.

“The effect of mentioning race can be powerfully harmful. It can subject people to unfair treatment based simply on skin color and heritage. “

This morning, I’m filled with sadness for this young troubled man. I’m also grieving for the students on the campus who went to bed not knowing that was their last night. I’m grieving for the parents who cannot get the information and answers that they need. And for a campus that is stirred up, cloudy, and soaked in this violence.

But I’m also very sad for Asian American men on the campus. And I wonder what it is that they go through. If I were to walk, for one day, in their shoes, would I be strong enough to absorb what they go through on a daily basis?

Lord, have mercy on us all.