The Complexity of Being and Becoming Hmong American #AmplifyMelanatedVoices

My Dear Readers,

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



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

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

 

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

I wanted to immediately disown and disassociate with him.

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

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

I wept for George and then I wept for Tou.

 

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

 

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

 

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



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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

My Dear Readers,

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

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



Dear Hmong Christians, A Love Letter #AmplifyMelanatedVoices

My Dear Readers,

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

 

To my Hmong Christian family,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

My Dear Readers,

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

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

Who Decides When Hmong Americans Are Asian Americans? #AmplifyMelanatedVoices

My Dear Readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 



I’m Sorry: A Story

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

My Dear Readers,

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

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

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

A timeline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 15 – Robyn Driskell emails me with an apology.

A reflection

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

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

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

Not this time

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

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

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

Photographs, Microaggressions & Choosing Silence

“Take a picture. It lasts longer.”

I don’t remember saying this to the white strangers, but my younger sister swears up and down that this was my response to white strangers staring at us while we were on a family vacation somewhere in the U.S. There were so many times our family of four would pull up in the Oldsmobile to find ourselves clearly out of place. We were Americans but we mine as well have been purple because we always saw people stare as if they, the white Americans, have never seen people who looked like we did. And apparently during one of those stare-downs I made eye contact  and said, “Why don’t you take a picture. It lasts longer.”

My parents couldn’t afford plane tickets but they could drive us anywhere and so we did – Florida, Vancouver, Maine, and so many national parks. That also meant finding ourselves in places even less diverse than “home,” and decades before I would hear the word “microaggression” I had already cataloged a lifetime of them through the Smokey Mountains, Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Tetons, and even Wall Drug. Maybe it was because my parents were stunning (and still are because Asian don’t raisin, which if you aren’t Asian you might not want to say out loud because some jokes and phrases and words aren’t yours to use) or because my sister and I were and still are stunning. But POC’s know when were are “the first” or one of the few. We know that look, that stare as if we ought to be caged animals in a zoo up for display.

It has happened when my spouse and I walk into a predominantly white space. It happened when my spouse and I were actually at a zoo and the white woman near us mentioned how interesting the Japanese snow monkeys were while trying to engage us in conversation by repeating, “Japanese snow monkeys” in slightly slower speed. It happened when we first moved into our current home. It happened yesterday when my friends and I were visiting the Quad Cities visiting one of “the kids” at college.

There were five of us, and we had just read on a historical marker about a public swimming pool in the area that would be opened to African Americans only to be drained and cleaned before being reopened to whites. All of this in the 1960s. It made me mad and sad and we talked about how things had changed and hadn’t and walked on at some point noticing that several people – white people – were staring at us, us meaning the two of us Asian Americans. M and I both knew it. We both saw it. We both looked at each other and finished each other’s thoughts out loud about being stared at, and we were both thinking about that phrase: Take a picture. It lasts longer. And we both knew it wasn’t safe to engage those people.

We chose silence for survival.

We did mention what was happening to the others. T asked if we would point it out if it happened as we retraced our steps to the car, and we said it wasn’t worth it because who knows what could happen.

I chose silence because I am not a brazen child but a grown woman in 2018 fully aware that one of the few things that have changed in the past few years is that there is permission and acceptance of public displays of racism and violence against POC. I am aware that engaging someone for a microaggression could actually put me and my friends in danger and in the public eye at fault if violence erupted.

We chose silence for survival, but as I wrote in Raise Your Voice there are other ways than your physical voice to raise your voice. So here I am back at the blog to remind my Dear Readers to keep fighting the good fight, open your eyes and remember when you get stared at like a caged animal in a zoo on display choose love. The older white couple, the younger white woman, the white man sitting alone all staring at me like you’d never seen beautiful, confident, strong Asian American women – you also are made in God’s image. I see you even though you cannot yet see me.

 

When a White Girl Wears Vintage “Chinese” Dress to Prom

There was a white girl from Utah who wore a “vintage Chinese dress” for prom. There was no indication on her post that she knew it was a qipao (Mandarin) or cheongsam (Cantonese). She wrote (and no, I will not link it here) that she found it at a vintage clothing store, was told by the store owner that it was vintage, and bought it because she liked it. She comments that it was an act of appreciation of the Chinese culture.

And then the internet blew up. She got a ton of followers. White woke people called her out. Asians thanked her. Asians told her, “BOOOOOO!” Asian Americans said they don’t care. Asian Americans said, “BOOOOOOOOO!” White people said people of color look for things to be offended by.

Good golly. It’s only Tuesday. Fullish moon anyone?

I have a lot of thoughts because cultural appropriation is complicated because it cannot be discussed separate from the social construct of race and how non-white bodies are policed, commodified, objectified, and regulated. Cultural appropriation also cannot be discussed without addressing the impact of colonization (historic and present-day), internalized racism, and social location.

Again, I’m not going to provide all of the definitions because I blog for free and you can Google it.

This is not an exhaustive post, but here my thoughts after a morning yoga practice (where I am also having lots of conversations about cultural appropriation) and half a cup of coffee.

“She can wear whatever she wants!” screams of, wait for it, western white privilege. Yup. There are many of you who are upset that people are upset. There are many people out there in the interwebs upset that people are upset. You believe no one has the right to be upset about what an individual white girl chooses as an individual to her prom let alone face the public consequences and backlash should she choose to post it publicly on Twitter. There are so many people telling me I have no right to be annoyed because it’s her right to wear what she wants. What? She posted the picture on TWITTER. Yes, she can wear whatever she wants AND be prepared for the consequences.

The consequences for a white girl wearing a qipao to prom are different than when an Asian or Asian American woman/girl wears a qipao in public. (Notice, Asian is not the same as Asian American.) Again, the girls writes that she found the dress liked it, so dammit she was going to wear it. Do you know what happened when I, as a teenager, wore my hanbok (tradition Korean dress)? I didn’t even have to post it on the internet because it didn’t exist back then. People to my face and to my back and called me lots of names and none of them were, “Hey, she looked beautiful in that dress that honors HER OWN CULTURAL HERITAGE!”

And, as my wise friend Cindy Wang Brandt wrote on a mutual friend’s FB post: “If I went to prom wearing a qipao, I would experience racism – Asian women are fetishized and stereotyped. The high cut on the thighs would make me subject to perverse associations because of that fetish. A white woman wearing it is just a cute schtick.”

I’m also reading comments from white people who have family or friends or some connection to ASIA or China (y’all know Asia is a continent and not a country, right? Just like Africa is a continent and not a country.) and that’s why it’s ok to wear a qipao. Sure, your family lived as expats (also a privileged term) and you love the culture. Cool. Take note that you are also consumers of the culture and do not have to pay the price and face the racism when you wear that qipao here in the US. Yes, it’s getting better, but no it’s not really that much better. It doesn’t matter whether or not I ever wear a hanbok to honor my own cultural heritage. I still get asked where I learned my English and where I am really from because even though I am a US citizen who wears yoga pants religiously I am not seen or approached as an American.

Non-Asian and non-Asian Americans say they wear clothing or eat food or collect art or cultural kitsch in appreciation but get all defensive when asked how exactly is eating at Panda Express or the local Chinese restaurant appreciating culture? I actually asked  the white girl who wore the qipoa to prom on her Twitter feed if she knew anything about the style of the dress (Don’t forget fashion is often political.) or what her Chinese or Chinese American friends thought about her dress choice. If you are going to claim appreciation, you better do some homework. Don’t throw “cultural appreciation” out there as if to equate consumerism as the same. It isn’t the same thing though related.

Don’t forget colonialism. I am always amazed and amused at how the US education system fails its people on the daily. One commenter (never read comments, never read comments) wrote about her grandparents living overseas, etc. My grandparents could not just come over to the US to live here for a bit for work and then go back. Immigration laws and restrictions actually limited the number of people from Asia because we weren’t desirable until the flow from eastern European nations slowed down. White business people, heck even missionaries, can go into another country with limited understanding or fluency of the language and still manage because of the economic and political force the US traditionally has wielded. My grandmother? She was told to learn English. I’ve been told to stop speaking my foreign language in public.

And then there is the “if people in other countries are wearing jeans is that cultural appropriation?” line of commenting. No, it’s not. Appropriation involves power. When my cousins in Seoul wore western-style clothing it was considered modernization. Why? Because only backwards people don’t wear western clothing. Again, it’s the impact of colonization. Non-western countries adopt western cultural practices, adopt new technologies, westernized clothing, learn English on top of their mother tongue, in order to compete globally. Think about the recent summit between Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-Un. They wore suits. Kim’s suit had a Mandarin-style collar, again politically-influenced fashion, but they both wore suits. For those of you who watched beyond the handshakes and crossing of the border, you saw men wearing traditional clothing specific to the type of occasion. As if people in the US don’t make fun of Kim as some sort of emasculated communist puppet, imagine if he and President Moon appeared wearing hanbok. No, most of you wouldn’t have had a cultural appreciation moment.

Things are slowly shifting with more school districts adopting language immersion programs alongside ESL programs, but we here in the US generally don’t see a need to change and learn. We just take what we want and call it appreciation.

Also, and this is another blog post entirely but sometimes POC will fall in line and say stuff like this ok because of internalized racism. It happens in all communities of color. We approximate whiteness in different, destructive ways.

Michael Eric Dyson writes in Tears We Cannot Stop,“The ventriloquist effect of whiteness has worked brilliantly; black mouths moving, white ideas flowing. What your vast incuriosity about black life keeps you from knowing, and this is heartbreaking to admit, is that we black folk often see ourselves the same way you see us.”

And I have to add that this is a young woman wearing a dress with a slit that rides up to her boy-short panty line. I like to think I am all for female empowerment and feminism, but many of us know that if a black or brown girl (heck, even an Asian American girl) wore a dress with a slit that high people would be calling her names that rhyme with bow and thut because issues around race and ethnicity intersect with gender.

So, what do you think? Have you ever worn a qipao or thrown a Cinco de Mayo party? Have you ever dressed up as a geisha or though Long Duck Dong in Sixteen Candles was hilarious? Is there anything you’ve done that you now see as cultural appropriation? What made it shift from appreciation to appropriation? Or maybe vice versa?

 

 

 

 

 

No Justice, No Peace of the Gospel Conference

 

My tweets and Facebook post brought down the Peace of the Gospel conference and this is the story. It’s not a new story, but it comes with some specific questions for all of us whether or not you are religious.

The Timeline 

I don’t actually have the time to sit at my computer and call out every Christian conference with a line-up of all white platform speakers. There are variations on the theme – all Black male speakers, all Asian American male speakers, all white female speakers, etc., but most often it is the sheer lack of ethnic and racial diversity on stage and in the planning.

So when yet another such conference was brought to my attention by a white male friend, let’s call him Brad, who actually had not noticed the all-white keynote speaker list, I was humbled by his reaction. Brad apologized for not noticing and asked what he could do. We both agreed that contacting the organizer(s) of the conference as well as any of the speakers would be a good start. Brad did his thing, and so did I.

That was in mid-May when I invited my Facebook and Twitter community to contact the organizers of The Peace of the Gospel Conference for this blatant oversight, regardless of the specificity of mimetic theory. Peace of the gospel that doesn’t include people of color, especially indigenous voices, isn’t gospel peace. I am often asked, particularly by white allies, “What can we do to fight against racism and white supremacy in Christian spaces?” so I invited folks to contact the organizer(s) through the conference website and have their concerns registered.

It was unclear to me at the time who the organizers were. There were no names on the contact form so I filled out the contact form, heard back from their web person and then heard from Michael Hardin. He asked if I wanted to speak by phone and suggested a time. I responded asking for other options since the timeframe he initially offered up didn’t work for my schedule. I never heard back from him. I write this because this is not my first rodeo in raising my voice and trying to speak truth to power – Deadly Viper, Rick Warren, etc.

Every time I am asked why I didn’t handle things privately (try calling up Rick Warren privately), which assumes we are all on an equal, level playing field. Newsflash. The playing field was not created with equality and equity in mind. The playing field, even if we pray at it or read the Bible at it, was created with certain power dynamics in mind. A publicly advertised Christian conference does not allow for or require Matthew 18:15-17 treatment. However, when asked for a phone call I tried and never heard back. I have the receipts.

A diversity statement was issued. I tried to offer any help I was told in so many words that things were being handled. Cool.

And then I found out in September the conference was cancelled.

Why Now

So, I am not always known for my patience but I am growing in that area. Please take note that it is now the end of October. I found out about the cancellation in September because Brad contacted me about a disturbing email he had received about the cancellation. I am named in the email, blamed for assassinating the conference. I sat on this because I had never been singled out in that way and later realized that the email had been sent to conference registrants. I have no idea how many people received that email. All I know is that I didn’t feel safe. My posts about things like this often are public. My husband worries about that but supports me and agrees that this is part of what I am supposed to do, my “calling” in Christian-ese.

So I focused on editing and rewriting my book, Raise Your Voice: Why We Stay Silent and How to Speak Up.  Yes, it was time to do as I say.

I hesitated to include the email because Asian American Christian women aren’t supposed to be confrontational, etc. and being abrasive or accused of assassinating anyone or anything doesn’t feel good. However, I decided to include it because the words and context matter.

PeaceConference email

Take Note

  1. The Blame Game – Perpetuating racism and more specifically white supremacy is apparently never any one’s fault except for the people who dare to call it out. In the email there are two of us mentioned by name (I was Ms. Nasty on Twitter, not FB, but right now I am Pres. Virgin Islands because I think I’m funny). WE ARE BOTH WOMEN OF COLOR and we were blamed for the demise of a conference and personal ruin because we had the audacity to ask the question, “WHY in 2017 is a Christian conference only featuring white speakers?”
  2. Diversity Statements – Corporate America was the blueprint for the Church’s diversity statements because too many of us Christians wrongly believed the gospel is separate from social justice and diversity. Apparently Genesis, Acts, I Corinthians and Revelation to name a few books of the Bible don’t actually speak to God’s intention behind diversity in nation, tribe, people and language. In that vein, issuing a diversity statement means about as much as a New Year’s resolution. You can put one out there but let’s see where you are at in a few weeks.
  3. Power and Money – My husband and I have some money socked away for retirement, but I predict we will die before we pay off the loans we have taken on to help our kids pay for college. Never mind the embarrassing amount of credit card debt we carry. So it is worth noting that Hardin’s email includes financial details, details that are not my problem but remind us that even in the Christian conference world there is money to be made and lost. It truly is the Christian Industrial Complex and the sooner we are wiser to it all the sooner we can be more critical about the systems out there and our own personal finances. Hardin also writes about his faithfulness to a call to sacrifice but appears to be displeased with his current financial situation. I can relate to the tension of living faithfully and wanting a vacation, and I am not always faithful or excited about raising my salary through individual donors. But that isn’t the point. The point is that we can’t claim to be faithful to Jesus’ call, cry poor when you say you chose that life, and then blame two women of color without ever examining your own privilege and power.

Take Action

Justice and peace are not achieved by tweeting and posting but both can be activated from whatever space we inhabit. I hesitated to write anything about this because it is exhausting – spiritually, physically, emotionally, mentally. Raising your voice is also dangerous. One of the more discouraging things is I find myself wondering who can I really trust? I don’t know if there were others who received this email and are connected to me virtually or IRL. All I know is that only Brad contacted me and for that I’m grateful. This isn’t a personal fight. This goes much deeper to embodied faith and theology, integrity, and witness in public and private spaces and how what we do and say in different spaces do or don’t align.

So what does this have to do with you, my Dear Readers?

  1. The Blame Game – Please remember this actually isn’t about one person or a personal issue to be dealt with privately. How we chose to live out our personal beliefs in the public say more about us than about whom we claim to follow. If you received this email or know of others who are in this mimetic theory/theology crowd, how will you talk about the inherent racism and misogyny expressed in the fallout of the conference? When you see FB posts or tweets what will you do or say? Will you raise your voice or stay silent? Also, this isn’t a single incident. This will happen again. It probably happened today, and it’s not just conferences. Did you hear an offensive joke and let it go? Did you repeat an offensive joke and tell someone to get a sense of humor? Do you actually know why people are kneeling during the national anthem or boycotting the NFL?
  2. Diversity Statements – Words have meaning. Words are cheap. On a personal level you can say all you want, post all you want to look like an ally but at the end of the day your relationships and actions out there at work, at church,  when you’re angry, when you’re tired and the line isn’t moving fast enough, etc. will tell the truth. It’s the same with churches and organizations. All are welcome just means you opened the door. It doesn’t mean you made the doorway or what people encounter inside actually welcoming. Ask me how I know.
  3. Power and Money – Do you go to conferences? Read books? See movies? Before you plunk down registration fees take a close look at the speakers, and, if you can find out, the planning team, the leaders, etc. Do they represent your personal values? Do they reflect the diversity of the kingdom of God? Does the way you spend money align with your values?

Any other suggestions??? I could use some help here, and I’m still learning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#DefendDACA

Things you can do instead of sitting and seething over yet another debacle initiated in the name of law and order:

This HuffPo piece has links so you can send an email to the White House, contact your representatives and senators, and a nice little script to help you communicate your displeasure with today’s action to stop DACA.

You can text RESIST to 50409 and it will walk you through a process to fax your senator. Yes, I know. Faxes?? Whatever it takes to #DefendDACA and if that means faxes, so be it.

Do you live near a college or university campus? You can check this list to see if that campus is a sanctuary campus and connect your church with student leaders: https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/viewer?mid=1LcIME474-lYWbTf_xQChIhSSN30&hl=en&ll=36.20397974434343%2C-113.89148150000005&z=3

Not near a college or university campus? How about the high school district you live in? Give the administration and your local government offices a quick call and let them know you are concerned about any actions ICE (U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) may try to take against DACA recipients because their names are all in a database and there is no promise from the current administration that the list will not be used to initiate mass deportations.

Consider attending a demonstration to participate and learn. Better yet, take someone with you. You can make a quick sign by flipping USPS priority mail boxes (they are free at your local post office) and turning them inside-out or taping white paper or posterboard to them for a sign that will withstand some wind. Home improvement stores like Lowes will also give you a few free paint stirring sticks for a nice handle.

Educate yourself on DACA, what your representatives and senators have said or voted on past immigration reform bills, etc. For example, did you know Chinese, Koreans, and Indians are among the fastest growing segments of undocumented immigrants?  Or this chart that shows us who was eligible to apply for DACA until today.

You can read and then sign the Theological Declaration On Christian Faith and White Supremacy and invite others to join you.

Why do I care? I care because I am a Christian who happens to live in America.

I care because I had the privilege and unearned advantages of being a documented resident who could afford the time and money to go through the naturalization process.

I care because these are human beings, created in God’s image, who jumped through arbitrary hoops and now are being told “too bad, so sad” with threat of deportation if in six months Congress doesn’t pass the Dream Act or some other bill to protect their status and give them a path to citizenship.

I care because my call has been to the college and university campus where thousands of DACA recipients and hopeful dreamers are living out their academic dreams and where I as a campus minister hope they will encounter Jesus’ Good News and also be my co-laborers in sharing the Good News with other students. They can’t if in six months they are deported to countries they do not know.

There is plenty of time for sitting and seething. This is not the time. #DefendDACA

 

 

 

 

 

What a Holy Week

It’s Holy Week. I am a Christian, an evangelical, no less, and this season is the holiest of seasons. I grew up with Palm Sunday and fasting on Good Friday. It is a week of triumphant entrances, anointing, betrayal, friendship, communion, and mourning.

I feel like I was pushed out of the palm branches a little too soon. Watching the video of law enforcement agents dragging Dr. David Dao off of a United Airlines flight from Chicago to Kentucky rattled me. It was violent. It also was painful to watch the video and see so many white passengers seated with their seatbelts buckled. Sure, folks whipped out their phones so thankfully there are videos from multiple angles, and we all know the importance of visual evidence even when it doesn’t actually result in criminal charges. However, it was deeply unsettling to watch the inaction. It was proof that no matter what we say about injustice or violence, obeying equates survival. I suppose that is why some of the people who welcomed Jesus into the city of Jerusalem would later demand he be killed or be absent days later at the crucifixion.  I have seen posts from people of all races and ethnicities saying that passengers did the right thing Sunday by staying seated and that Dao should have complied. Everyone who did nothing made it out alive, but at what cost?

What is more difficult for me to process right now is the execution and murder of Karen Elaine Smith, 53, and Jonathan Martinez, 8, on Monday at North Park Elementary School, San Bernardino. The news brought me fully into mourning.

Smith was gunned down by her estranged husband who entered the school armed. He walked into the classroom for special needs children after following school protocol (aka following and obeying the rules) and opened fire at Smith. Martinez and another student also were shot because they were standing behind Smith, their teacher.

We may never know why the students were where they were, but I will tell you my mind went straight to protection mode. She was near her students because that is what teachers do – stand near students, and when that man she recognized walked in with a gun she and the kids did what instinct tells them to do – she shields the kids nearest to her and they stay close to her or take cover. That’s the scenario that plays out in my mind because this has happened before. This scenario has happened before.

Again, we may never know exactly what happened in the classroom of 15 children with special needs or how the 500 students and their students will ever recover from the terror. I just know that the parents and families of those children, of every child in that school, and of every employee of that school started Monday believing in some degree of safety and normalcy.

This isn’t a normal week. It’s Holy Week.

I wanted to  I felt like ducking for cover because the primary story Tuesday is about Dr. Dao and as an Asian American who has documented her own travel wins and woes on social media I completely understand why people would assume I care about the story. I care.

But right now, I also care about Karen Elaine Smith and Jonathan Martinez. I’m a woman of color. I’m a mother. I have children who right now are at school in a building that added a new, costly layer of security – front doors are locked, admittance gained via camera and a buzzer into the first vestibule, entry gained into the main building after identification is checked, etc. I have a child on the verge of adulthood in another city. I am also a woman who in college was in an abusive relationship. I am no statistician but I’m going to guess My Dear Readers that you are more likely to know a victim of domestic abuse than a victim of violence on an airplane.

The violence that was recorded on cellphones and shared on social media matters, and quite frankly it is DOMINATING my social media feeds. However, the violence that happened in that classroom and perhaps the violence and abuse that happened behind happy Facebook posts also matters. It matters that the narrative is the murdered walked into a school armed because this country now has a secretary of education who will not go on the record about banning guns from schools (Google “grizzly bears” if you are confused). It matters because they are connected. If the rule “every person for herself” stands as it did on the airplane, then we really aren’t going to do squat about domestic violence if it doesn’t impact us personally. We aren’t going to do squat about gun control until someone we know personally is killed because someone who shouldn’t have had a gun or a stockpile of guns gets caught with said gun(s). We aren’t actually going to do squat except post things and sit in our seats.

We may wave our palm branches on Sunday but we will be absent by Friday. I don’t want to be absent. I want to be like the three brave women who kept watch over Jesus on the cross. I want to be like Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and Salome who witnessed the injustice and then went to work. In the wise words of my friend Donnell Wyche, “I want to be present.” I want to be present.

So what can you do?

  1. Educate yourself. Read about gun control and local ordinances regarding open/concealed carry. Ask your neighbors, friends, parents of the children your kids hang out with whether or not they have guns in their home, if the guns are locked, etc. You might be surprised. Let’s hope not.
  2. Educate yourself. Learn about domestic violence. Learn about the signs, the questions, the support systems in your community, church, etc. Don’t blame the victim.
  3. Decide if this is one of the issues that you care enough about to prioritize in your life. Is this something you want to give your time to? Money to? Expertise to? What are the options? Volunteering? Serve on a board? Raise awareness? Some combination?
  4. Practice a script. What you will say to the children and young people in your life the next time there is a public shooting or act of violence. My children are older (15, 17, and 21) so they are watching the news and sometimes aware of things before we are. We talk about facts. We answer questions. We do not tell them not to worry, but we do walk through what they are worried about and address their fears, concerns, and questions.
  5. Practice a script. Do you know the signs of an abusive relationship? Do you know how to ask a friend about her relationship? Do you have the courage to ask? What kind of help can you offer? What resources would she need to get out and stay out of an abusive relationship and be safe? Maybe that is too far-fetched for you to imagine. I get it. How about if you see someone in public being verbally abused?
    1. Make eye contact with the victim, and, if you can, put yourself physically in between the perpetrator and the victim. Talk with the victim.
    2. Try to make eye contact with others in the area to see if they also will get involved and diffuse the situation.
    3. Don’t engage the perpetrator.
  6. Practice a script. I will be the first to admit that in the case of armed law enforcement showing up like they did on the airplane, I’m not sure what “the best” course of action is because guns, violence against POC, etc. makes for a complicated situation. However, you can still practice.
    1. It’s a good think people knew enough to whip out their cellphones, so let’s start with that. Know your damn phone works so you can, on a moment’s notice, whip out that phone and start recording.
    2. Practice what you would say as you are recording said incident. Booing is fine. Narrating what you see while asking for names of LEA, recording badge numbers (if you’re on a plane you know you are THAT close to people), the time, flight number, location, etc. is better. Is there any way to engage the victim? Ask her/him, “Are you OK? Have you been injured? What is your name?”
    3. Practice what you would do and say. My kickboxing instructor would call this “muscle memory” – repeating actions so that your body remembers the combinations so that they come instinctively. Jab, cross, cross, upper cut, upper cut, knee, roundhouse. My friend Nicole Morgan came up with the following:

This is turning out to be quite a Holy Week. I suppose that is the point. My Dear Readers, let us walk gently with one another this week. I don’t want to rush to Sunday. There are lessons I need to learn along the way. I have the script. We have a script. Let’s be present.

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??

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