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??

Fall 2016 in Three Acts: The Color Purple. Hamilton. Allegiance.

Act 1: The Color Purple, black women, and art as worship

When in NYC I make sure I to make time to see my daughter and to see a show. Bonus points if she and I can go together and this time it was to see and listen to Cynthia Erivo and Jennifer Holliday in “The Color Purple”. The final show is January 8 so if you have the time and $$ to see the show, do it. It’s worth it.

Despite #oscarssowhite, Hollywood and Broadway and creative spaces in between remain predominantly white spaces. Universal stories are portrayed through the acting, voices and creative direction of white people. Yes, it’s changing. Yes, I’ve heard of Lin-Manuel Miranda. Yes, I’ve also heard of Shonda Rhimes. Yes, it’s changing AND there is A LOT of catching up to do.

When I am in new public spaces I tend to look around and observe who is and isn’t in the room where I happen to be. Unlike some people, I am not colorblind so I took note that the audience for the matinee was diverse with as many, if not more, people of color in attendance. Why does that matter? Because it’s easier to stereotype POC as being poorer, less-educated, less likely to attend musical theater, etc. than to ask “Why are not more POC making it a priority to see live theater?” when n reality it’s much more complex.

Back to the musical. I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of the staging of a story I had first seen on the big screen, but in the end I was left with the experience of having been at church. Some attendees were there for the spectacle of it all (like the white man seated on the main floor, center orchestra, who whipped out his cellphone to take a photo or video of Ms. Erivo singing like no one was going to notice. Ms. Erivo noticed, called him out publicly, and went on without missing a beat. Did the man not read the program or understand the announcement?) while others were there hungry to connect.

If you aren’t familiar with the story, you can read the book or watch the movie. I highly recommend it because as we creep towards inauguration day it’s a good reminder of what history has demanded of black women – their strength, perseverance, bodies and hearts. I sat there thinking of the black women in my life who have graciously shared their lives with me IRL and through social media. The Color Purple isn’t a story about the magical negro who comes to save and touch the life of a white person. It’s the story of black women being themselves – happy, loving, angry, confused, hopeful, faithful, petty, and fully human finding themselves in their own skin and soul.

And it was in the voices of Celie, Nettie, Sofia and Shug Avery I went to church, which was important for me because it has been a long summer/fall without consistently being at church. The irony and subversive nature of non-black audience members giving the all-black cast a standing ovation for singing and dancing about the pain and beauty of post-slavery life in the South weeks before DJT was elected as #PEOTUS (#notmypresident) should not be lost. It’s exactly that tension that has made attending church regularly such a losing struggle as of late, but there I was, on Broadway, in church wrestling with God about injustice, violence against women, love, sisterhood, motherhood and the silencing of women, particularly black women not only in the church but in history.

If musical theater can communicate good news, what is the Church missing in its gospel expressions?

Act 2: Hamilton, white women, and subversive art

At a much higher price point was seeing “Hamilton” in Chicago with the family as part of our Christmas gift. As the children are in their teens and 20s stuff is less prominent on their wish lists. They don’t want toys. They want gas money. They want money for an extra plane ticket. They want a dog. They will never get a dog so we are now in the second year of going to see live theater together as part of Christmas. Lucky for them I sat patiently on two computers, one phone and one iPad to get through the online ticket queue.

The audience was less diverse though I suspect the commercial success of this production lends itself to its broader appeal in terms of ethnic/racial diversity and age. There were many, many more younger audience members who wanted to see U.S. history via rap battles and F-bombs. Other than pure commercial success drawing a whiter and younger crowd is my theory that Alexander Hamilton’s story, though actually one of an immigrant, bastard, son of a whore, is considered more universal than that of Celie’s. I would argue both tell important “American” stories through a specific social locations and constructs that are equally important, but a diverse cast that also includes white people rapping, stepping, and pirouetting is an easier sell even to my teen sons.

But again, I was drawn to the women. I wanted to know more about Eliza and Angelica – their sisterhood, their strength and resilience. I wanted to know how a woman forgives her husband not only for encouraging stupidity (the duels) but also for adultery. It also made me think of how ridiculous our collective sense of morals actually is as we saw the show after Nov. 8 and after the US watched Hillary Clinton be held accountable for her husband’s infidelity while Donald Trump’s three marriages and comment about sexual assault went broadly ignored.

I also loved Lin-Manuel Miranda’s subversiveness – casting of diverse actors to embody historically “white” people, using hip hop and rap to teach U.S. history, and choreography that includes classical, modern and hip hop dance to move not only people but inanimate objects (note “The Bullet” if you go see this show). Art is not just something to consume for comfort, and if you really consider this show it should bother you because it is beautiful and profane. It puts a mirror up to our telling of history and essentially tells us we are fooling ourselves.

Act 3: Allegiance, Asian American women, and Asian American art

There was an Asian American actor in Hamilton, but it wasn’t until the final musical theater experience of the year where my family saw a full stage/screen of faces that looked similar to mine. We took the boys to see a filmed production of the stage musical “Allegiance” at a local theater. Again, this is part of our commitment to our children to give them experiences and exposure to the arts, especially when the story is told by and through the lens of other Asian Americans.

The Japanese Internment isn’t a lesson I recall spending much time on in U.S. history, and my children remember learning about it but briefly. It’s taught in a similar manner as the genocide of Native Americans and slavery. It was a very bad thing that happened but it’s over so let’s get over it. Surely the U.S. government and its true citizens would never let something like genocide, slavery or the incarceration of its own citizens because they looked like the enemy ever happen again…unless it was absolutely necessary.

But until there is some sort of guarantee there will not be a Muslim registry ever, ever, ever there are a lot of lessons in Executive Order 9066. If you think about it, the internment/incarceration was a little bit like taking the things we should’ve learned from genocide and slavery but didn’t and then creating this new thing that waves its hand at the past from the train platform. If you look like the enemy it’s perfectly legitimate to demand you give up everything, including your humanity, for the greater good. You lose your home, your businesses, your humanity in order to prove your worth. And while you are at it, you will work for nothing with no promise of freedom.

And we will call it “camp” so it doesn’t sound so bad. I hear a lot of people really love going to camp.

This is why we took our children despite their lack of enthusiasm. We do not assume they will learn these things at school, connect these dots and apply them to our current situation. My husband and children are American-born citizens. Birthright citizenship for non-whites didn’t matter in the 1940s. That’s why seeing this mattered now.

My dear white readers, you cannot know the power of seeing the big screen full of people who look like you and your family when that is all you know. Hollywood and television. Children’s story books. Cartoons and super heroes. All white, though slooooowly changing, even when it’s a universal story about “America”. Television now has “Fresh Off the Boat” but there really hasn’t been anything on the big screen since “The Joy Luck Club” where our stories were also universal stories.

“Allegiance” is written, produced, and acted by Asian Americans and for me it was powerful because again it was the women – the story of Japanese and Japanese American women, whose stories have disappeared into the background, who kept the families together as well as organized and resisted despite being incarcerated with no due process. It was Kei, played by Lea Salonga, whose ghost connects the past life before and during the Japanese incarceration to the present where her brother Sammy, played by Telly Leung and George Takei, pushes away the memories. Kei lives in the generational and cultural gap by honoring her family while still learning to be the nail that sticks out in order to honor & protect her people and ultimately it is her choices that sets in motion an opportunity to remember and forgive.

And as we are days away from Christmas where my fellow Christians and I celebrate the birth of Jesus, I am once again reminded that women and our stories cannot be relegated the background. We are part of the narrative.

 

 

Everyday Dismantling #7 – Learn By Making Mistakes

How did you learn how to tie your shoes? To drive? To apply makeup or style your hair? To write your name in cursive? To read? To swim? To ride a bike?

Unless you are some freak of nature and succeeded in learning those life-skills in one single attempt, it took time. It took failure. In some cases, it took a combination of courage and humiliation. For example, I finally stopped perming my hair, and through the gentle coaching of a teacher/director I learned to give up dreams of acting and stick to public speaking as “me”.

So many of my dear readers have responded to my most recent post about a racist encounter in a public space with questions:

What should a bystander have done? What would have been the right response? What  were you hoping someone would do? What should I do when I see something like this happen?

But before I answer the question(s), I’ll do what I did before and throw it back to you, my dear readers.

Why are you asking these questions? Why do you want to know the “right” way to respond when witnessing a racist situation? What is the worst thing that could happen if you had actually been there and done something, anything?

I really wish there was one “right” answer so that we could teach it in schools, churches, synagogues, mosques, coffee shops, and craft beer stores. I wish there was a line or a phrase that would’ve been perfect. I wish I could tell all of you that if someone had only done this or said that I wouldn’t have walked away shaken, wouldn’t have cried this morning at the sound of my friend Deidra’s voice checking in with me or this afternoon when Deb’s kind note arrived.

But there isn’t.

My dear readers, I can hear the fear of failure behind your question. Not all of you, but some of you. Maybe a lot of you. You are afraid of saying something wrong, afraid that you will come off as the arrogant white person, the white savior.

And you might come off that way because until you practice saying and acting out what you are learning in your heart and mind it may sound scripted, savior-ish, stilted. It may come out wrong or awkward. You may be misunderstood. You may make a mistake.

But you should do something, say something. It may not be met with overflowing gratitude. You may not even be thanked. (Brad walked away and I was trying to hold it together so I didn’t seek him out afterwards. I just wanted to leave. But just in case, Brad, if you are reading this, if you are the youngish white man in the polo shirt, I think it was blue, who stepped in, thank you. Thank you.) You may actually exacerbate and escalate the situation. You may fail.

But do something because your conscience, your soul, your heart and mind told you that in the presence of injustice and hatred and confusion people need to act, not just think, the part of justice and love and peace. You should speak up and speak out when you know something is wrong not because you want to be right or perfectly understood.

This is not my first rodeo with racism. I learned I was a chink and a gook growing up in Roselle, Illinois. I was bullied and harassed. I have been told over and over in so many different ways that I do not belong, and while EVERYONE can sympathize with that, NOT EVERYONE knows the personal pain of being told in so many ways over a lifetime that they do not belong in this country because of their race, ethnicity or religion (actual or perceived). This incident and all the others I’m referring to are not the same as not being picked for the dodgeball team or being in the cool crowd or feeling left out.

I was told to leave this country because Asian Americans are perpetual foreigners. My sons, who witnessed this and have told the story to their friends, will say, “We were told to go back to where we came from.” They took the white man’s comments personally.

There is some irony in all of this. Unless you are Native American/First Nations this here United States of America is actually not “OUR COUNTRY” in the possessive ownership sense. We citizens of the USA who lack Native blood are ALL IMMIGRANTS residing on stolen land. This really isn’t “OUR COUNTRY”, is it? Let’s sit on that for awhile, shall we?

But that’s not what that man meant. He didn’t challenge the white male cashier. He saw me and my sons and assumed his white privilege and did not hesitate to tell me to “Go back to your country.”

None of us can learn a new skill in one attempt. None of us. We all fail. We will make mistakes along the way. Silence is a mistake my family and I cannot afford.

Be willing to make a mistake. To fail. Practice in your head what you might say or do and maybe whisper it out loud right now as you finish reading. And then wait for it. Don’t throw away your shot.

 

 

 

This Is My Country

****No editing here. Getting this written down quickly because I am still angry, shaken, sad. You never get used to everyday racism.

No, I wasn’t wearing this shirt today, but the image fits. And if you don’t know about AngryAsianMan.com now you know.****

The older man walked up to the closed register next to me and looked at the wretched KFC/Pizza Hut menu at the travel oasis/rest stop near Elkhart, IN. He asked about the fried chicken hiding behind the greasy cough-guard. I wondered if he was going to do what I thought it looked like he was going to do, and I wrestled with what I would do if he tried to cut in front of the line. He stands with a curve in his back, pants hemmed too short and hair disheveled. He is older, if not elderly, with white, thinning hair. I can’t take the Korean out of me. We respect our elders. Should I just let him go? I just want to feed my sons terrible fast food, get back on the road and get home.

But he goes on, putting in his order and pulling out some money, and the cashier tells him there is line that he will have to join. The line is now about 8 people deep, not including me and my two teenage sons.

The older man, let’s call him Gerald, looks back at the line, looks at me and asks, “What do you need food for?”

I’m hoping he is joking, though he isn’t cracking a smile, so I respond as kindly as I can with a smile (I have now listened to Hamilton five times on this road trip and I can’t stop thinking “talk less, smile more”), “I need food to eat, just like you do.”

Gerald looks at me and my sons and says, “You don’t need food. Go back to your country and eat the food there.”

By the way, Gerald is white. I am not.

Oh, FFS.

My first instinct is to put myself in between Gerald and my sons who are 17 and 14 and both taller and bigger than I am, but I am their mother and I will always put myself between them and perceived danger.

Remember. There are at least eight people watching this unfold.

What would you hope you would have done if you were behind me in the line??? W??hat would you hope others would have done or said as they watched this unfold?

I wrote briefly about this encounter on my Facebook page, and everyone wants to know what I said, but I want to know if you have ever seen anything like this happen to someone else? And if so, what did you do? Did you say anything?

Because that is part of why I am still upset, unnerved, angry, sad, and exhausted. I am not told to “go back” every day in the literal sense, but many Asian Americans, American-born and immigrants, will tell you that we experience this “othering” often, especially here in the Midwest.

Non-Asian Americans of all shades often seem unable to “place” me in discussions on race because I do not fit neatly into the Black/White binary and Asian American history, art, literature, etc. are not always taught in American history even though “we” have been around for centuries here in the United States.

Which brings me back to Gerald and the silent line.

My response was to first step in between my sons and Gerald. My second response was to whip out my phone camera, but I didn’t catch him. What I caught was his face getting closer to mine as I told him, “I have money. This is my country, and there is a line.”

Eventually a younger white man, let’s call him Brad, steps in between me and Gerald and de-escalates the situation.

I am exhausted. In that 90-second exchange I went through the mental gymnastics of wondering what I could do to de-escalate the situation, how I could show the man Christ-like grace, if Gerald was some how mentally challenged, allowing age to be an excuse for his racist comment, wondering if anyone else was going to step in, hoping it didn’t escalate but not ready to stand down and behave whatever behaving means at that point, wondering what my sons were taking away from this experience, hoping they weren’t too embarrassed, embarrassed as we then had to stand there and wait for our food, angry that I felt embarrassed, tired that this was nothing new because it has happened to me since I was a child.

So here is a lesson for all of you, my dear readers, who have never been told to “go back to your country”. Now that you know this really happens here in the United States, how will you prepare yourself to step in? What will you do when something like this happens in front of you?

Remember, there were at least eight other adults in that line who said nothing.

 

Everyday Dismantling #6 – Listening

Lou Ann just listened.

“What I’m saying is nobody feels sorry for anybody anymore, nobody even pretends they do. Not even the President. It’s like it’s become unpatriotic.” I unfolded my wad of handkerchief and blew my nose.

“What’s that supposed to teach people?” I demanded. “It’s no wonder kids get the hurting end of the stick. And she’s so little, so many years ahead of her. I’m just not up to the job, Lou Ann.”
 
Lou Ann sat with her knees folded under her, braiding and unbraiding the end of a strand of my hair.
 
“Well, don’t feel like the Lone Ranger,” she said. “Nobody is.”
The Bean Trees, Barbara Kingsolver

I don’t know about you but July is turning out to be a discouraging, deadly month.  I am afraid to turn on the news, read a newspaper, or look at my Twitter feed.

This week I’ve opted to watch the Republican National Convention. Strange as it may sound, it was a spiritual discipline to watch and listen. Speakers talked with nostalgia about an America I have never known nor am I familiar with. It was challenging to sit and listen and not roll my eyes at every other phrase or promise of success. It was particularly difficult to listen to people who claimed the same faith as I have in Jesus and hear them paint a reality that seems very different than mine.

Listening is one way everyone, but particularly my dear white readers, can begin the very hard and good work of dismantling privilege. Listening requires we shut our own mouths and the internal commentary long enough to allow the words, stories, and heart of someone else be the vessel of the Spirit to identify prejudices, biases, racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia in our hearts.

Listening is an act of loving submission and partnership, a ceasing of my mouth to allow another person space to verbally communicate and express whatever it is that needs to spoken, yelled, or ugly cried between the two or more of us present.

As a Korean American woman I learned as a little girl my place in the world was the listen. To speak only when spoken to. To stay silent and stay out of trouble. I spent a lot of time listening to the world around me, which to this day is so often comprised of white men and women. Their stories, their words, their interpretations of life and scripture became the norm and everything else became secondary and optional.

And as I listened this week I heard many white men and women who are afraid that no one is listening to them anymore. That sharing space and power means losing. I heard people who have been so accustomed to being the only voice screaming louder and louder in hopes of remaining the only voice.

So my dear readers, listen. If you are truly looking to dismantle privilege (that elusive white privilege some are screaming doesn’t exist but their screaming about loss and fear and destruction begs otherwise), listen. Listen to those of us who are not surprised it has come to this. Listen to those of us who have been trying to tell you that racism is alive and well and never died. Listen to some of the speeches given this past week for the code switching. Listen to the screaming and yelling about building walls and past greatness.

What do you hear?

Thoughts on “The Making of Asian America” & What I Didn’t Learn in School

It’s still May, the month of my people, and I am late to the game with my thoughts after reading Erika Lee’s The Making of Asian America.

If you are Asian American you should read the book. It covers generations of Asian, American history that will teach you what our school textbooks didn’t and what our family stories couldn’t due to gaps in language, culture, information, and access.

If you aren’t Asian American you should read the book. It covers generations of American history that will teach you what our school textbooks didn’t, mainly that Asian Americans have been a part of U.S. history since the 1500s.

For example things I didn’t learn in school:

  1. During the Japanese internment the government enacted a loyalty review program where draft-age males were asked if they would be willing to serve in combat duty with the US armed forces and if they would be willing to “swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America.” (p. 238) Our government incarcerated them and then asks them to prove their loyalty by using them in combat. (Oh, and why weren’t Germans rounded up and incarcerated?)
  2. U.S. Census data confirms Asian Americans are overrepresented on both ends of the educational and socioeconomic spectrum of privilege AND poverty. (p. 376)
  3. Did you learn about the Black Panthers in school? How about I Wor Kuen, the largest revolutionary organization aligned with the Black Panther movement.
  4. African Americans weren’t the only ones who were prohibited from giving testimony in cases involving a white person. Chinese immigrants and Native Americans also could not be believed. (p. 92)
  5. South Asians who had been naturalized citizens were also denaturalized in the 1920s. (p. 172)

I recall learning a little bit about the Korean Conflict, the Japanese Internment, and the Vietnam War. I don’t know about you but those were the units that made me a bit uncomfortable as one of the few if not only Asian American in the classroom when these were being discussed because when you’re one of a few if not the only one in the classroom people look at you like you were the reason America went to war when really America’s best interests were to go to war which included everyone in that room. And it was as if those history units gave the racist classmates permission to say ugly, unAmerican things to me.

The book made me stop to think about what I knew and thought I knew about my family’s immigration story and how that has impacted my understanding of who I am, uniquely and powerfully created in God’s image. It made me consider how I have too often been quick to judge my parents’ generation for a litany of wrongs without fully understanding the context of their journeys both here in the U.S. and “home” in the motherland. It made me think about how their stories and they themselves too are created in God’s image. Lee’s book reminded me that I ought to be quick to listen and slow to speak, especially when it comes to understanding how my parents’ and earlier generations’ stories are also part of God’s story.

The book was also published to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, the very piece of legislation that made it possible for me and my family to immigrate to the U.S. in 1971. History I had not learned in school is what made it possible for me to read this book and write this blog in English while still connecting to my Korean roots knowing what it means to be an alien, a stranger in a foreign land even when I am “home.”

Towards the end of the book there were two quotes that comfort and challenge me as one who sits in the tension of privilege as a college-educated upper middle-class, heterosexual, cisgender, married, and documented & naturalized citizen and racism and sexism I experience as a Korean American woman in Christian/evangelical circles.

“Historian Franklin Odo argues that the model minority label ‘encourages Asian Americans to endure contemporary forms of racism without complaint and to provide brave and loyal service above and beyond that required of other Americans.’…

Musician Vijay Iyer goes further: privileged and unquestioning Asian Americans have become ‘complicit’ in their acceptance of ongoing American inequality.” The Making of Asian America, Erika Lee p. 380.

For my dear Asian American readers, what are your stories of enduring, swallowing, dismissing, forgetting racism and how has that impacted the way you engage with contemporary justice movements? Do you see yourself as complicit in the ongoing American inequality? What are the ways in which you question inequality?

For my dear non-Asian American readers, what behaviors and beliefs might you need to reconsider as you learn about Asian American history and the ways in which the United States’ past greatness was built on racism? How might you also be complicit in the the ongoing American inequality? What are the ways in which you question inequality?

And for my readers of all racial and ethnic backgrounds who share the intersection of Christian faith, how does Jesus challenge our understanding of persecution, persecuting, and systemic injustice?

 

 

Before the Book Launch Comes a Million Waves of Doubt

  This is a rushed blog post because I don’t want it to run tomorrow. You know. April Fool’s. Or is it Fools’? Whatever. I don’t want to publish something tomorrow because publishing and getting a book published is no joke.

There are many avenues to self-publishing available and viable to those who choose that route. I am actually a co-author of a devotional that was self-published, and you are more than welcome to let me know if you are interested in buying a copy God’s Graffiti Devotional from me.

But the other book I co-authored with four other amazing women just entered its 8th printing. More Than Serving Tea is not going to be a NY Times best seller, though IMHO has more wisdom in it that some of the self-help stuff that makes that list, but as I posted a photo celebrating the fact that the book is still in print I was engaged in a short FB conversation with a friend about the lack of writers of color in the recent InterVarsity Press catalogue – the same publishing house that took a risk on and supported More Than Serving Tea.

The road to getting a book published is longer for some than others, and it is connected to privilege as much as it is connected to actual writing talent. It drives me berserkoid when Christian authors say things like, “God opened the door” because it’s weird how many more doors are opened for white authors. Just sayin’. I’m pretty sure God isn’t sitting in heaven waiting for more authors of color to pray, “Lord, open those publishing doors for me.” I am not saying that all white authors have those connections. #notallwhiteauthors I am saying that Christian publishers are still set up within the cultural norms that were established for and by white authors and readers and for their success and reading pleasure.

This post isn’t about all that needs to happen to dismantle that mess. I can’t do that in one post just like we can’t dismantle white supremacy in one post.

This post is about full disclosure, authenticity, honesty, vulnerability so that you, my truly dear readers and folks joining me on this ride, get the whole story, which is more than a lovely IG post celebrating the 8th printing of a book that came out 10 years ago. In the publishing world that isn’t even a drop in the bucket. But I contributed to that drop and it took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.

So I’m writing this post to share with you a secret I have been keeping because this will help people who are dreaming to keep dreaming, others to start dreaming, and maybe others to support us dreamers.

I have a book proposal.

It’s public now. Usually authors don’t share that part. We share the reprint notices. We post photos of our contracts. We invite you to be a part of the launch team. I’m here to invite you into one of the scariest parts: rejection. I just sent the FOURTH version of my proposal to my editor today, the same day I got the 8th printing notice. I won’t lie. I’m hoping that was a good omen. But I won’t lie. I didn’t think I’d be on my fourth version of a proposal when I started the first version in OCTOBER. At this rate, my daughter will graduate from college before I publish another book. Before the launch is a million waves of doubt. Do I have enough for an entire book? Will I get a contract? Will anyone read the book? Will anyone actually LIKE the book?

One of the reasons this female author of color hasn’t been published again is because I am afraid. Rejection is part of the process, and I don’t know anyone who enjoys repeated rejection. Writing and all other art requires a degree of confidence, ambition, humility, and a sense of humor. It requires more things, but those were the first things that come up for me. As a soon-to-be graduating college student applying for reporting jobs, I kept my rejection letters on the apartment refrigerator numbered and complete with corrections in red ink. That was my sense of humor. But I kept applying and that is where confidence, ambition, and humility come together. You keep trying even though it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. You keep writing because you did get some good feedback. You write because that is what you know to do.

So I’m sharing the secret of my yet-to-be-accepted book proposal to invite more of you into this journey, so that more of us can silence the fear of rejection a little bit, just enough to sit down and write and put together a proposal that has to be revised. I’m letting you know that I’m trying because I think it’s in my DNA, the way God created me, and I’m not going to wait as if the immaculate conception could take book contract form. It’s not glamorous. It’s rather tedious. It’s not waiting for inspiration to hit. It’s sitting at a blank screen day after day after day.

I’m letting you know because some of you need to know you are not alone. Tomorrow is another day in front of a blank screen, and we will love most minutes of it.

Makeup as Spiritual Formation

filtered face of mine

I have a habit I cannot break. I actually don’t want to break it.

I cannot walk past a cosmetics display without a cursory glance. Sephora stores are my weakness because of their willingness to feed my craving for free samples. A few years ago when money got tight I took on a seasonal job selling cosmetics at a department store and thorougly took advantage of free makeovers during slow parts of the day as well as sampling everything and anything the counter manager was looking to test out. My nail polish collection is amazing but leans towards bright colors with limited neutrals. I have started to ease up on collecting samples because I don’t want to be a hoarder. Koreans are serious about their skincare, and as a Korean American I want to honor my motherland by caring for my skin with the occasional sauna, facial, and massage as well as frequent paper facial masks. And the last straw was when the manager at the local mall’s Sephora store heard me rave about a product another customer was trying out; the manager suggested I should apply for a job because of my soft but enthusiastic sell.

Applying makeup is an act of spiritual formation.

If you’re laughing, don’t judge. If you aren’t laughing we might be kindred spirits.

Being a woman of color poses unique challenges to identifying, rejecting, and fulfilling American beauty standards as well as creating new standards and definitions. How many of us have been told that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”? Or “beauty comes from the inside”?

Then why did God give us physical bodies? Why not just make us spirits that float around and whoosh past one another instead of giving us eyeballs that give each other the once over?

I don’t think it’s actually Christ-like to ignore our bodies nor poo poo the spiritual work that goes into reconciling our own insecurities with our creativity and expression of that creativity and cultural norms and pressures. I don’t feel the pleasure of God when I run. I feel like I am running out of oxygen. I feel the pleasure of God when I put on clothing, makeup, shoes, and jewelry that expresses the way I feel I am made – strong and beautiful (though some days I am made of lycra and cotton – stretchy with a tendency to absorb too much). It’s not the only time I feel God’s pleasure, but darn it if on a day I don’t feel like much of anyone or doing anything a bit of lipstick (a shade of red) and a sweep of brow pencil doesn’t pick me up.

Superficial? Yes. Spiritual? Yes.

I look in the mirror and have to admit, even for a moment, and even if I might not believe it an hour later: God, you did good. Thank you for today, for this day, for this body, for my health, for my smile. I love who you’ve made me, and that includes my face. Weird? I hope not. Our faces are part of our bodies, connected to our souls. We praise God with our lips and raise our eyes to the heavens. Even if we cannot speak or see, our faces are part of our worship.

It’s a privilege. I have some extra money I will spend on paper facial masks that get thrown out. I’m not stupid. I get that what I can do in the name of self-care is a privilege of my socioeconomic status and geography. I also carry the voices from as far back as I can remember that to this day in American culture that say my eyes are too small and look like almonds or are hooded, that say my nose is flat just like my chest, my face is round like the moon because Asians are all about almonds and moons.

In the quiet moments even in my 40s it is an ongoing conversation with God about being created as an image bearer and being beautiful rather than exotic – beautiful inside and out – because that is what women of color of all ages have had to fight against. Why is it that women of color, particularly the Christian ones,  are supposed to be satisfied with being beautiful on the inside while the white girls and women get to define beauty – outside and inside.

NO.

So why these thoughts now? My Dear Readers from the beginning know that I am able to cry buckets and not have makeup running down my cheeks. What is this sorcery you ask? What kind of eyeliner do I use that does not run down my face with every wave of sadness, extreme laughter or the Holy Spirit?

It’s a tattoo. My first tattoos were on my eyelids, top and bottom, done not only with the blessing but with full participation of my mother AND grandmother. The three of us, plus Bethany as a nursing infant, went to see a tattoo artist (and that is what he was, Dear Readers – a true artist proud of his craft) to have our eyeliner tattooed. My mother and grandmother went one step further and had their eyebrows filled in. My grandmother whose face-washing ritual was like a ballet, joked that the tattoos were necessary with age because her hands were shakier, and she wanted the mortician to know exactly she wore her makeup so it had to be on when she died. (She has since passed away, and my mother, aunts, and I had a poignant moment at her casket talking about how good my grandmother looked in her casket.)

So these thoughts have rushed back into my heart and mind as I head off tomorrow afternoon to have my eyebrows done with my mother coming along. My mother and I this morning talked about making sure my eyebrows softened my face because I have a tendency to look too harsh. I used to take offense to that but over the years have understood her comments are about knowing who I am inside and finding ways to express that authentically and genuinely on the outside. Older Asian Americans will understand. My mom “sees me” and is reminding me to brush off what others may think or say and ask the tattoo artist to use her skills to express what over-plucking my eyebrows has failed to do.

It’s complicated. I’d be lying, and you would know it and call me out on it, if I said figuring this stuff is easy. But let’s be real. Being women and being women of color specifically is not easy. You’re dammed if you do and if you’re dammed if you don’t. If you don’t “take care of yourself” you won’t get a man or keep a man, even if men aren’t your thing or a priority. If you take too much care of yourself you are vain. If you are flat-chested, you’re outta luck. Padded and push-up bras. If you get a boob job you are trying to please men because what woman could possibly want any of her clothes to actually fit or not want to look like a boy or could maybe just MAYBE want boobs because SHE WANTS BOOBS?! If you wear makeup you’re vain. If you don’t wear makeup you don’t care how you look. See. It’s not easy. Add to that the whole race and ethnicity piece and you’ve got a whole lot of levels.

But bring it on.

If you’ve heard me speak publicly, you know that I love being a woman. I love that our bodies can do something that NO MAN can do. Our bodies are designed to carry, nurture, and sustain life, and with modern technology (or, in Mary’s case the Holy Spirit) we don’t even need a man. How crazy is that?! We intimately know what it means to bleed as a part of giving life, even when we haven’t given birth. We know about fear and hope and joy and dread and waiting in Advent in a way men physically never understand. (And for those of us who have given birth, how come the Virgin Mary always looks as amazing as Princess Kate did postpartum?) I love being a woman.

So, Dear Readers who also are Dear Sisters, in this time of waiting and darkness that has been rather difficult, if not truly life-threatening and draining, be kind and be strong for yourself as an image-bearer of God.

And if that means throwing on some fabulous lipstick or mascara, I’m with you in body and  spirit.

Amen!

And here is the before, during, and after.

image

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.

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?

 

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