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…”

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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?

 

Everyday Dismantling #4

What are some practical, everyday ways we can work to dismantle privilege that both are simple, clear things to do and don’t burden PoC (people of color) with the expectation they be our (unpaid) teachers?

It has been one hell of a month – 11 days in Pacific and Eastern Standard Time and what feels like a relentless stream of violence against black people and examples of white supremacy, white privilege, and American racism. (I am using “American racism” because I am freaking tired of people pointing out there is racism in other countries. That’s fine, but like I often hear: WE ARE IN AMERICA!)

So to end this month there are three just two things, dear readers, I would like to suggest as practical, everyday ways to dismantle privilege:

1. Leverage your privilege in a mundane, boring, non-savior sort of way that doesn’t involve asking a PoC for anything. As a Korean-American woman who is in great health with reliable transportation, I have made a small, tiny commitment to donate blood.

What does blood donation have to do with dismantling privilege? What did you think dismantling privilege was going to be? Saving poor people of color and being their saviors?    Nope. Jesus already has that spot in my life, thank you very much. Dismantling privilege in part is taking stock of where privilege lulls us into thinking our money, our platforms, our influence are the best and perhaps only ways of breaking down systems instead of considering how our entire embodied lives can impact the world and people around us. If I can’t do the little things, I have no business trying to do any heavy lifting of social injustice.

I don’t particularly like giving blood, and the finger prick, IMHO, is the worst. But I live in the “safe” suburbs where kids and adults don’t generally get pulled over for a missing license plate or arrested for drug dealing and abuse. But I also live within walking distance from a Level 1 trauma hospital where we regularly hear medical helicopters coming and going. Broken systems in a deeper sense mean we all experience death and brokenness in a way God did not originally intend. People are suffering and dying everyday, spiritually and physically, right in front of our eyes. It’s not just in the news. So as an act of worship I barely inconvenience myself to willingly shed blood for those who need it, because my health allows me to do it freely. That is part of dismantling – acting freely, without strings attached, to help right something that is wrong.

2. Care for the PoC around you. Now, this doesn’t mean going up to PoC you don’t know and giving them a hug and asking to get to know their story, and I say this because this was suggested at a conference I attended where the last thing I needed was another random white person asking to get to know me. I am assuming, dear readers, you have friends who are not white. Send your friends an actual note of encouragement or a text. Check in with them when the poo poo hits the fan. Tell them how their engagement and unofficial role as unpaid teachers of social justice has made an impact in your life. Treat them to coffee. Send them a care package or a gift certificate (I am not even kidding you on this!) and encourage the PoC, especially those who are deeply engaged in the work of dismantling privilege, to care for themselves. We are TIRED.

Honestly, I don’t know how some of my black friends walk out the front door anymore. Does the car have both license plates? Do I have my polite voice? Will I make eye contact but not too much eye contact? Will my friendliness be perceived as disrespect? Can I reach for my license and registration or do I need to point to my purse or wallet first? Again, to point out the obvious (maybe it isn’t that obvious since many of you don’t actually KNOW me), I am a Korean-American woman. I don’t think being pulled over by a police officer is a threat to my life. But life in America as a non-white person can be exhausting, a series of microaggressions – daily reminders of my otherness – that I choose to ignore or engage. Some examples of the “easier” ones:

  • The random stranger who greets me with a phrase in her/his choice of Asian language, usually a man saying “konichiwa” or “ni hao” because clearly all Asians speak all Asian languages and not English.
  • The “where are you from” line of questioning that is rarely satisfied by my answer: Chicago.
  • “Where did you learn your English? You speak it so well.” 
  • Conversations about “minorities” or “black people” but then being put at ease by being told, “but you’re not like that”.
  • Reading Yelp reviews about nail salons and the rudeness of employees speaking another language in front of customers (‘cuz you know the nail techs are always talking about you, lady) or the language barriers mono-language Americans face when ordering at their favorite authentic Asian restaurant.

We can only ignore things and let them roll off our backs for so long before we begin to pick up the message that we don’t fit the standard of American. This happens not just on the street but in our churches and places of worship, our schools, our favorite coffee shops. Turn on the tv or open up a magazine. Go to the movies. Look at the speaker line-up for conferences or at the attendees at the next conference or meeting you are at. Look at the list of recommended books. Glance at the patrons in your favorite restaurant. I usually make a scene when my family and I aren’t the only ones. Why do I pay attention? Well, because white people don’t have to. And because you don’t have to, your energy doesn’t go into managing all of the possibilities of every encounter, every post you put up on Facebook, etc. You aren’t tired the same way we are tired so care for your friends of color.

Invisibility. Once Again.

11393618_10152914895818372_3855429072813440040_oI wanted to really like Pitch Perfect 2, and I didn’t want to start analyzing the casting of the musical “Once.” But I have eyeballs and vision/astigmatism correcting contact lenses, and my hearing is pretty awesome when it comes to racist and sexist subtext.

I have a vested interest in the arts – music, movies, visual art, dance, literature, etc. My daughter is a dancer. My husband not so secretly hopes to write a screenplay.  My sons aspire to be professional gamers, which in my book requires some ability to design visually pleasing platforms that do not objectify women or bring more unnecessary violence into the world.

So I can’t seem to not pay attention to the names, credits and faces on stage or screen. Call me sensitive. Or, I dare you to accuse me of playing the race card. I’m wearing yoga pants. I have no pockets for a race card.

But I have eyeballs and vision/astigmatism correcting contact lenses. Why did they ruin Pitch Perfect 2 with those horrible racist jokes that I think were supposed to help put the “international” context of the movie into the humor but failed. Why did it fail? Because this is not a post-racial America. Yes, I know Germans were stereotyped with accents, black clothing, and blonde hair. I don’t have the energy to explain fully why those still support a white dominant culture that affirms all things “white” (aka white supremacy, but that may feel too harsh or scary), but those clothes, except for the man-skirts, were “cool” while the blonde hair and accents do not separate them from being white or accepted in America.

However, Latino or Asian accents, fake or real, mean you’re stupid. They mean you need to learn proper English. They mean you don’t belong here, that you must be the landscapers or the nail techs, are you are the nanny or do you love me long time, where are you from, no where are you really from, I mean where were you born, or maybe your parents or grandparents, that’s amazing because you almost speak perfect English, you are not what I thought you were, saw you as.

We code switch. We assimilate. We change our names, our faces, our accents. We melt.

When I am visible in those ways I want to be invisible. It’s not a super power as in a hero. It’s wanting to disappear for self-preservation.

But then last week my husband and I saw the musical “Once,”  and I scribbled notes in my Playbill in the dark as I watched an all-white cast…again.

  • Why were people of color invisible?
  • Are there no people of color in Ireland?
  • Or were there no qualified actors of color who could fake an accent and/or play the piano, guitar, Cajón, mandolin, and/or sing?
  • No one on stage actually spoke Gaelic or Czech. The entire play is in English with native English speakers, some with what sounded like faux accents. (Well, I don’t actually know but the accents faded in and out very unlike my grandmother’s and my parents’ accents.)
  • Why is Billy saying “hi-ya!” and karate chopping, saying “comprende” and fist bumping while referring to CSI?
  • Why is “American” culture being integrated into the show if the all-white cast is supposed to be Irish and Czech and Ireland?

Why were people of color invisible?

“My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.”  Psalm 139:15, 16a

I don’t want to be invisible. I don’t want who I am to disappear into a stereotype or into generalities. I want to be seen as fully human, embodied.

Thank God I am seen.

Playing the Critic: A Review/Reflection on Keys of the Kingdom

photo credit: "T"eresa

photo credit: “T”eresa

What happens when the pastor of a evangelical megachurch in Iowa commissions a mural from a lesbian artist from New York City?

Well? What do you think will happen? Is it a doomed binary between conservatism and liberalism? Is the scenario too contrived and limited to stereotypes? Does religion win? Or fail? Or both? Or does it sound like a bad joke?

Sometimes those are the questions that make for an unexpected date night for me and the husband so despite a blizzard warning set to go in effect around the second act we headed out to see Keys of the Kingdom (now playing at Stage Left Theatre in association with Theater Wit, Chicago, through February 15). If you’re local, you want to support the arts, you like proposing different endings or changes to plays/movies/books, and you have a little cash and time to spare this is one of those shows you might want to catch.

It’s not The Book of Mormon kind of laugh out loud irreverence (actually I am going on hearsay because we have not yet seen that musical) but I appreciated that playwright Penny Penniston thought enough of evangelicals and lesbians to create characters instead of caricatures. Ed, the evangelical megachurch pastor came across utterly sincere if not a little weird in his conviction and faith while being open to the possibility that God would ask him to do something that seemed outside of the rules of conservative behavior. Christians can be weird because some of the stuff we say and say we believe in and do in the name of beliefs can come across as weird. Irene was an artist who also happened to be a married lesbian. Her sexual identity and marriage are important to her personhood but are part of an integrated whole just like I am not “just” Asian American or a woman.

The evangelical v. the lesbian is what I would call low-lying fruit for misunderstandings, politicizing, and proselytizing; thankfully that was not what this play was about. I walked away appreciating that there were things Ed and Irene could not fully explain but believed in deeply enough that they were open to new possibilities, relationships, and risks. If only we could reproduce that in real life a thousand-fold. Imagine what could happen.

The story also touched on how even good intentions can fail miserably, and my mind automatically went to the missteps taken by fellow evangelicals and allies who echo Irene’s line and say, “I was trying to help.”

The response (and sometimes my response)? “That’s what a child says when they make a mess of things.”

In the myriad of misunderstandings, good intentions with bad results, and disagreements we agree will never be bridged but by a work of God, there is grace. I was thankful it made an appearance in this play. I’m hoping to make more room for it in my heart, my words, and my actions.

The play was a wee bit long for my taste, and you could hear noise through the walls (two other plays were running at the same time in this multi-stage theater. I would’ve changed the ending, shortened the play, and allowed for some time for the audience and the actors to interact because I kept wondering if Peter and I were the only evangelical Christians in the audience. What was everyone else thinking? 

#FreshOffTheBoat? I Liked It

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Vitamin L Diary: It’s Not Hidden. It’s Ignored, Excused, Shameful, and Silenced. No More.

No more.

Jiwon Lee. Kevin Lee. Andrew Sun.

The 52-year-old Korean vice-principal of Danwon High School hung himself after more than 200 students remained missing after the tragic April ferry disaster.

University of Illinois student Hye Min Choi, 19, remains missing after his luggage arrived at its destination but he did not.

A Huffington Post article by Andrew Lam starts out declaring mental health issues and suicide in the Asian American community is a hidden tragedy.

It is not. It is out in the open. It’s on television, in the newspapers, in the stats. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among Asian American women ages 15-24. Did you read that and let it sink in?

SUICIDE is the SECOND-LEADING CAUSE OF DEATH AMONG ASIAN AMERICAN WOMEN AGES 15-24.

Why and how is this hidden? When I look at my own life I cannot ignore the impact of mental illness and suicide among Asians and Asian Americans.

My cousins. My aunt. Me. A college girlfriend. A friend from my high school youth group. A freshman at Northwestern University during my years on staff with the Asian American InterVarsity chapter. Countless students struggling with depression and anxiety. They were not hidden even as some of them tried desperately tried to hide what they thought was failure, shameful, a burden, a sin.

I have written about my own life with depression and about being on an antidepressant. The decision to “go public” was not an easy one. My husband initially was reluctant about it for the same reasons I was as well. I waited a year, all the while under the care of doctors and taking Lexapro, before writing and speaking publicly about it because I wasn’t sure how my extended family and those connected to them would respond.

Asians and Asian Americans are communal and that value has its good days and its “need Jesus days” and when it comes to mental illness the Church needs to speak Jesus loudly and clearly. The fear is that a diagnosis of mental illness, made worse if it goes public, will not only reflect poorly on the individual but on the entire family. And if the family and the family’s network doesn’t understand the physiology and science behind the illness, fear drives people and their families into hiding.

I am writing this as a Christian who is deeply aware of my cultural lenses and privileges, and I’m willing to beat the drum on this. Asian and Asian American Christians, we need to get out heads out of our butts. We need to talk about mental illness, about our questions and fears. We need to pray and invite doctors into the conversations. We need to ask for help, and we need to get help for ourselves and for the ones we love. We need to stop talking about this in hushed tones and whispers because we live in the now and not yet – in the tension of cultures and brokenness and hope, and we cannot let the Enemy keep telling us lies and letting our brothers and sisters believe the lies.

We have to stop the insidious message that failing to be the perfect fill-in-the-blank means we are worthless, a burden, an embarrassment.

We must stop shoving God to the side and replacing faithfulness with GPAs, test scores, and academic achievement.

We must identify the brokenness in our families, stop the cycle of honoring the American Dream over following Jesus, become parents who fiercely love our children by naming our mistakes and apologizing for them when we are jerks.

We must learn to talk about mental illness like an illness and not a sin. I repeat. Mental illness is not a sin. And neither – mental illness OR sin – should be left hidden in our Christian communities.

We have to face the music. We have sinned by not identifying the broken patterns of parenting and relating to one another that fuel the false narrative that material and academic success=faithfulness and health.

We have to break the model minority stereotype because it isn’t a compliment. It isn’t positive. It doesn’t help our community or make it easier for us to be Americans. A stereotype is a broken image that is used by and against others to demean, degrade, and reduce others.

And I write this with the weight and fear that my depression could be genetic and that the many years I parented while untreated for my depression has already left a mark that will take equal measure of prayer and medical & psychological intervention. I worry and pray that my depression isn’t passed on to my daughter and sons. I do not want this kind of suffering for them, but I also cannot pray away suffering. The Christian life isn’t about running away from suffering, and I am afraid our silence has been exactly that.

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage month, and I have almost gotten away with not talking about it because frankly I’m a bit ambivalent about it for reasons I may blog about later. But this year the theme is #IAmBeyond and personally that evokes anger, strength, voice, hope, and action.

#IAmBeyond silence and stigmas

#IAmBeyond the lie that depression is a sin

#IAmBeyond hiding

#IAmBeyond keeping our stories silent to save face

#IAmBeyond the model minority myth

#IAmBeyond believing silence makes it go away

 

 

 

 

Hearing and Speaking “Ching Chong”

I am always a bit stunned and saddened to hear children speak Ching Chong, especially when they do it in the presence of their parents without fear of being corrected or stopped.

The other day as we were trying to enjoy a windy 65-degree day at the beach we could not but overhear three families sitting in front of us discuss the uselessness of spending time to learn a second language. As if on cue, one of the kids started in on the Ching Chong with at least one other child and one adult chiming in. Gotta love those everyday racist experiences.

I cannot tell you how tired I am of having to bite my tongue when really what I want to do is approach the offending parties and explain to them how ignorant, short-sighted, and limiting their attitudes and action actually are. I sat there, staring at my husband while practicing mindful breathing when in reality I wanted to say as they passed by, “Oh, how good you Engirsh and Ching Chong speak. Almost perfect for Haole like you. Welcome to America.”

As you can see, I need Jesus because I have practiced this conversation for too long.

The irony is that language immersion programs and second language programs are growing because America continues to slip behind not only in math and sciences but also in its ability to train multicultural, multilingual skilled workers.

The irony is that I grew up bilingual, lost much of my Korean language skills as I immersed myself in my academics, learned enough Spanish to help my kids through high school Spanish, and hated the way my parents spoke English with an accent when I was younger.

It was bad enough that I looked so weird compared to the beautiful, popular girls at school and church. It was hard knowing that my home smelled weird because of the pickled, fermented cabbage and radishes and that I probably smelled weird, too. It was humiliating and terrifying to walk home, ride the bus, walk the halls knowing that there were boys and girls who threatened to beat me up, screamed obscenities at me, and made elementary school worse than it needed to.

I loved and hated being who I was. I fiercely loved and hated my parents for their broken English and flawless Korean. And I didn’t understand until at least a decade later that regardless of the Ching Chong American kids would use to taunt me and my family it was our very ability to speak in two languages interchangeably that put us squarely in the lead of the American dream.

My parents may speak with an accent but they speak two languages. Ching Chong be damned.

But like I said, I need Jesus.

I don’t need the American dream as much as I have needed to plunge into the pain of being an outsider and embrace my multifaceted identity as a Christian Asian American/Korean American working married mother of three in the suburbs as a gift to steward not for revenge or self-righteousness but for Kingdom purposes. I have continued to appreciate the gift of language(s) and culture, and while I struggle with the anger that too quickly bubbles up inside at the Ching Chong comments I also quickly fall into a deep sadness for those who do not see the diversity and beauty of all God’s people.

There is such a limited view of God if we only know Him through the eyes of one language, one culture. Just like meaning gets lost in the translation between languages, no single culture or language can fully express, explain, proclaim the fullness of who God is and what the Gospel is. We can get a glimpse, even a blurry yet beautiful picture but it’s not complete.

So I must also correct my image of those families, children and adults who think speaking Ching Chong is funny and harmless. They are not my enemies. They are the neighbors I am called to love, and if they can’t speak my language I must learn to speak theirs. Sigh. Love your neighbor. Love your neighbor. Love your neighbor.

Which leads me back to those families on the beach. They are back today. Pray with me that my scowl softens and that maybe a day at the beach will be the perfect opportunity for me to stretch my multilingual skills.

Intention Isn’t the Point or the Problem

“I’m sorry if…”

“I didn’t mean to offend…”

“I didn’t intent to hurt anyone…”

“I’m sorry, but…”

“I’m not racist. My best friend is (fill in the blank)…and I love eating (fill in the blank)…”

It’s not your intention. It’s how messages are received and interpreted in the present and later as history. If intention was the problem, sins of the father and mother like slavery and genocide wouldn’t be an issue because I’m told folks back in the day really, honestly, truly believed with no malice that White was right. And some slave owners were doing what was required of them to make a living, right? They didn’t intend to create an unjust, unequal system that generations later remains broken. Lots of harm, but no foul because they didn’t intend harm, right?

No. NO! Wrong! WRONG!

Yet the defense of  ignorant – if not racist, racially-insensitive, questionable, unwise, or just “interesting” – comments, reactions, behaviors, etc. often go straight to intent, as if that covers all sins.

Take for instance Madonna, who posted a photo of her son on Instagram with a caption using the “N” word. Madonna didn’t intend to cause controversy (though at this point in her career it can only help, right?) but that’s not the point. Who uses the “N” word as a term of endearment for her White son? What kind of endearment did she intend? What world does Madonna live in that has blinded her so completely from the racial, political, and cultural issues surrounding the “N” word and excludes her from paying the consequences?

She lives in a majority culture world that is changing and giving voice and space (or perhaps voice and space is being taken up) by those who are tired of being told that intent is all that matters.

How is this for a change: I know that some of the things I say and write will offend some of you. My voice, my perspective, my point of view, my tone may cause some dissonance, confusion, and defensiveness because it’s not what you expected, different from what you believe or see or feel. I know that sometimes we will agree, but I also know that sometimes you will be offended because sometimes I am going to call you out on your stuff. And, if you are in relationship with me, you will do the same.

As a Christian, I often am told in so many ways that my outrage over issues of race, ethnicity and gender should be tempered and quieted because my first posture should be of understanding and listening.

But as an Asian American woman, my entire life has been about understanding, learning, adopting, and adapting to the ways of the majority culture. I was born into a world that awarded me when I assimilated – when I untangled my tongue and learned to speak English at the expense of twisting my Korean tongue, when I brought peanut butter and jelly sandwiches instead of rice and soup to lunch (but now sushi and pad thai are cool so we’re all cool), when I despised the smell of my home even though it was the only place to go when I was chased down the street by boys screaming, “Chink, go back to where you came from!”, when I learned to sing the hymns in English and stand respectfully in the pews.

Dare I say I wouldn’t have made it this far if I had not been such a good student of understanding and learning?

And yet over and over, I and others, who don’t have the luxury to be colorblind because we have paid the price for other’s blindness and whitewashing, are told to learn, that our taking offense is actually our fault, our lack of information and intelligence.

Christianity Today/Her.meneutics contributer Anna Broadway does exactly that in her recent piece, “Picture This: A Closer Look at Mindy Kaling’s Elle Cover” when she tries to quell the outrage and educate the outraged.

“I can only imagine how much richer and more intelligent the conversation might have been were visual arts education more widespread.” (my emphasis in bold)

Picture This: A Closer Look at Mindy Kaling's Elle Cover

I’m not as educated in the visual arts, but I do know the difference between Instagram and film, thank you very much. I bristle at the tone and the assumption that understanding the visual arts happens in some sort of cultural and social vacuum completely void of racial, cultural, ethnic, social and gendered impact and influence.

And seriously, (unless you are younger than I am) am I really the only one who would look at this series of cover photos and not start singing:

One of these things is not like the others,
One of these things just doesn’t belong,
Can you tell which thing is not like the others
By the time I finish my song?

Sure, maybe it wasn’t the intention of the cover editor at Elle to let all the White women stand up and have both face and torso photoshopped into perfection and have Mindy cut down to a glamour shot. Maybe it wasn’t their intention to raise the eyebrows of more than one outraged critic to wonder why the one woman of color is the only woman whose photograph is not in color.

But at some point, the student observes and learns to question and speak. We see patterns and gaps. We see the repetition or the absence. And I don’t know about you, but some of us are tired of being told to forgive based on intent, to keep learning about visual art or about what other people intend.

I am all for learning but I don’t think I’m the only one who needs to learn.

A Day in Three Parts: Progress, Prep & Packing #flymysweet

Progress:

After almost a decade after having published a vacation Bible school curriculum titled “Far-out Far East Rickshaw Rally – Racing Towards the Son”, LifeWay Christian Resources president and CEO Thom Rainer issued an apology for the company’s decision to use offensive stereotypes in the materials. I wasn’t at the Mosaix conference where the video apology was shown but thanks to social media I heard about yesterday…

Rainer never refers directly to the Open Letter from Asian American community to the Evangelical Church, but folks closer to the decision have said that the letter brought the Rickshaw Rally controversy back into present-day discussions.

I’ve been laying low on blogging about the letter and the events that preceded the letter, in part, because I was just tired of emails asking me to withdraw my criticism, questioning my commitment to Christ, and accusing me of all sorts of shenanigans. Speaking out isn’t the most comfortable thing, EVEN FOR ME, but not saying something, not speaking out and drawing attention to the brokenness in the Church in those recent situations wasn’t a choice. And to hear that Rainer, who was not the president and CEO at the time of the Rickshaw Rally decision, chose to look back at the organization’s past, acknowledge the offense, and publicly apologize for it is reason enough to continue to encourage me and others to speak out. I’m writing this not as an “I told you so” but rather as a “Come and see what God has done, his awesome deeds for humankind!” (Ps. 66:5)

As Asian American Christians, we have all sorts of cultural nuances and baggage that perpetuate self-silencing in the name of maintaining harmony and perceived peace. Sometimes that “peace” has been at the cost of identifying and celebrating the unique gifts and blessings our cultures bring to the diverse Kingdom of God.

The Open Letter and the many voices it helped amplify and release is progress. The apology is progress.

Prep:

So I should really be focusing on prepping for a set of national leadership meetings for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s Asian American Ministries. I have a book to finish reading and a few folks to contact about my visit to NYC. I also should be practicing my talk for the Q Focus: Woman & Calling event I will be presenting at next Friday, but I am still finishing the prep for my talk. (By the way, there is still some overflow space and streaming options.)

I’m anxious. I am trying not to worry about how I will do and focus on the message I have on my heart, the message God has been pushing and pressing into my heart and into the shredded margins of my day-to-day. I don’t think ambition is wrong. I think many of us are afraid of what ambition will do to us, bring to us, how it will challenge us in what we believe about and value in the world, God, and ourselves.

And I’m thinking a lot about ambition because my oldest has gotten her first college acceptance, and she has her first audition tomorrow. She has dreams, goals, hopes, and ambitions. She is a dancer. Dancers want to dance. My heart and mind are distracted by her ambitions, and as her mother, not as a speaker, I am trying to embrace the moment, face my fears, and prep, which leads to the third part.

Packing:

We leave in three hours or so to Kalamazoo. Bethany’s audition is for the dance program at Western Michigan University, and I am incredibly nervous. And I don’t have to do anything! And as I try to finish this post and make my mental packing list there is a lovely sense of convergence.

My daughter is a “good” student and she is an artist. Last year she choreographed a piece that took my breath away and left many in the audience reflecting on the power of dance. She doesn’t become a different person when she performs. She becomes more of who she is. And every time I tell someone she wants to major in dance she is breaking the model minority stereotype that doesn’t seem harmful or hurtful until you are the one either in the teeny, tiny box of what is acceptable or outside of that box being told you are failure. She hopefully will do with her art what I have been trying to do with mine – creating opportunities for progress, pushing fear aside, identifying God-given gifts as something to exercise and explore.

And just like that, it’s time to go.

What are the things you faced today?

Me, Ambitions, Q & What Happens When You Get What You Secretly Hope For

When I was in high school I wanted to grow up and be a journalist. I wanted to write for a major metropolitan market daily and be a section editor by the time I was 30 years old, to be precise.

I imagined what life would be like, considered the possibilities, didn’t rule out marriage or children but tried not to worry about it too much. I did the internships, collected the clips & recommendations, and utilized the career center like a boss. I was disappointed at the rejection letters, and then I started collecting them & correcting them for errors. I posted the rejections and numbered them. My apartment-mates agreed with me that editors who misspelled words on rejection letters weren’t worth working for, and those same apartment-mates greeted me at the airport celebrating what would be the first of two job offers.

And in all that time I never doubted my ambitions were part of my faith journey. Following Jesus meant dreaming, trying, failing, dreaming some more, and stewarding the gifts and talents I knew I had. There was always doubt, but there was always faith. I also knew that my ambitions were never completely my own. My parents and I immigrated to the US when I was eight months old. My life as the child of recent immigrants would never be “my own”, and I understood that before I understood what giving my life to Jesus meant. Sacrificial living is part of my Asian American DNA.

But somewhere between the age of 21 and 43 the doubts went deeper. Was being ambitious selfish? Could a faithful Christian woman still claim ambitions? How could I reconcile surrendering my life to Jesus and pursue my ambitions? The books I have read on leadership, discipleship, and parenting have all mentioned goals and achievement, but for some reason it began to feel less safe, less feminine, less godly like Mary and more like Martha to be ambitious.

Somewhere along the way my voice changed, and somewhere along the way I recognized the difference….and I didn’t like it. But to find your voice can be dangerous because you have to choose things and take risks and speak. Sometimes it has been clear as day; some opportunities were a “no” without a doubt.

But some opportunities are the ones we secretly hope for. Some opportunities are the ones I secretly hope for. The hopes are secret because who in their right mind tells anyone, “I’d love to be the speaker at a conference”? I don’t. Well, actually I do. Indirectly. I have a page on this blog with testimonials, my schedule, and my contact information. I’ve been told I should have a speaker request form plug-in. I’ve secretly wanted to speak at conferences, churches, and retreats.

A secret ambition becomes reality next month. I’ll be one of 12 presenters at Q Women & Calling next month in NYC. Well, how was that for burying my lede?

I’ve been waiting to write about it because:

  1. I got caught up in writing about Asian American stereotypes and evangelicals;
  2. Elias, Corban and then Bethany all took turns coming home with different germs;
  3. my day job keeps me busy; and
  4. I am terrified. And that’s OK.

I’ll be speaking on ambition with a voice that I pray is mine, embodying my Asian American Christian woman/friend/wife/mother/daughter/sister/neighbor thing. So as I finish prepping, fretting, and prepping some more (18 minutes is not a lot of time for a woman who grew up in a Korean American church) I would appreciate hearing from you.

What, if anything, is wrong with ambition?

How can Christian faith and ambition co-exist? Or can it not?

What are your secret ambitions? What keeps you from pursuing them?