Everyday Dismantling #7 – Learn By Making Mistakes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But there isn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

This Is My Country

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, FFS.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which brings me back to Gerald and the silent line.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

For example things I didn’t learn in school:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Becoming Asian American

Dear Readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Racism is Uncomfortable, Dangerous, Evil

These are uncomfortable times.

Racism, whether it is named or whispered or danced around like the elephant in the room, makes it uncomfortable mainly for white, majority culture people. It also makes some of my kin – highly assimilated, low-identity Asian Americans who do not care to rock the boat at all because a boat that doesn’t rock suits their American dream – uncomfortable. Racism forces the hand of people who want to live in a colorblind world while enjoying the benefits of a racist society. It looks you in the eye and asks, “Are you a racist?”

I am tired of making people feel comfortable.

I didn’t go to my majority white, majority culture church on Sunday because I didn’t want to sit and wonder if the Charleston massacre would be mentioned. I didn’t want to sit silently if the evil of racism wasn’t addressed. I couldn’t bear making other people comfortable by sitting through a service when in my heart I wanted to walk out (that’s how I felt after each of the non-indictment announcements). I didn’t find the nearest AME church to attend in a show of solidarity because I couldn’t bear seeing white people making themselves comfortable by showing up at a black church. These are not comfortable times.

Dear readers, please stay. Sit in the discomfort, even if it is not familiar to you. Sit and don’t wait for someone of color to make you feel comfortable. We are tired.

And read the following piece. It’s worth the time to invest in a little truth.

Dispatch from Charleston: The Cost of White Comfort

“I have reached across the aisle. I have broken bread. I fully believe we all need healing in these moments, and that night, the symbolism was clear: a white person and a black person holding hands in the face of horrific racial violence, singing songs of freedom. What could be more comforting?

But thanks to something I experienced the previous night in Charleston, I couldn’t shake a paralyzing feeling: When black people and white people clasped hands in the arena that night, the comfort wouldn’t be evenly distributed. The healing wouldn’t flow both ways.”

#FreshOffTheBoat? I Liked It

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

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

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

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

 

 

Don’t call me Fresh Off the Boat

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

Did I mention I am excited and afraid?

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

And I am hopeful but I am holding my breath.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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?