Saying Goodbye to the Green Card – The Pause After the Hyphen

My husband asked me this question last night: “Do you think you’ll feel different after you become a citizen?”

I can’t remember when I didn’t consider myself a hyphenated American. Asian-American, Korean-American. Always something-American. Sure, there are those who will argue that it should be just “American” but I don’t believe that “American” should be a melting pot or salad bowl. There are just too many cultural gifts we are able to bring freely when we come to America. However, knowing that legally I wasn’t an American I would often hesitate when describing myself. The pause after the hyphen.

Because in a land where  “American” can be defined along lines of culture, race, ethnicity and legal status, a green card didn’t always feel legal enough. My entire life minus eight months wasn’t American enough. Flawless English and paying taxes wasn’t American enough. It was obvious enough that I was Korean or Asian, but the American part if often questioned even though no one can actually see my legal status. For some, my legal status still won’t be enough, but to be honest, I think I will feel more “secure” knowing that my vote will count, if for nothing else to cancel out someone else’s. Ah, democracy.

But I am looking forward to the ceremony and the finality of the process – far more than I anticipated. It has been fun, and quite unexpected, to be congratulated by friends and readers who have followed my journey through my blogging or private conversations. I have been encouraged by hyphenated and non-hyphenated Americans who embrace and exercise the privileges of citizenship while acknowledging that there is so much more that can be done to welcome the “other”. I am humbled by the welcome – genuine and heartfelt.

I’m also thinking a lot about my parents, who did not come to America with dreams and hopes for a life of excess and materialism. They hoped for better, and isn’t that what most parents want at some level for their children? Many helped them along the way – the building super who fixed up an old lamp no one but my parents would want (I still have the lamp); “Grandma” Marianne and her sister Jane who helped my parents practice their English; family and friends who were like family who were a few steps ahead of the process who helped make this foreign land more familiar.

So, now that I’ve rambled and released the extrovert…yes, I think I will feel different. I will not pause after the hyphen.

Asian ≠ White

Articles like this make me want to celebrate and cringe. Change can be a very difficult, painful process. The desegregation of the church and a deeper and theologically rooted understanding of ethnicity, race and culture demands current systems, institutions and communities to change. I want to celebrate the steps taken at mega-churches like Willow Creek that acknowledge and recognize the world isn’t as White as their congregations have often been, but I can’t help but feel a teeeeeny bit annoyed.

Why? Well, maybe it’s because the arctic blast in the Midwest makes me annoyed at everything because I forget how fortunate I am to have heat in a house full of food and warm clothing. And, I’m a bit prickly. How does a congregation that is only 20% minority count as being integrated? (The Time magazine article cites 20% as “the quantitative threshold of a truly integrated congregation”.) It feels like some odd application of the one-drop rule. Maybe someone out there can help me understand the significance of the numbers and specifically the 20% threshold.

And then if you read on in the article, there is this:

Call it the desegregation of the megachurches — and consider it a possible pivotal moment in the nation’s faith. Such rapid change in such big institutions “blows my mind,” says Emerson. Some of the country’s largest churches are involved: the very biggest, Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Community Church in Houston (43,500 members), is split evenly among blacks, Hispanics and a category containing whites and Asians. Hybels’ Willow Creek is at 20% minority. Megachurches serve only 7% of American churchgoers, but they are extraordinarily influential: Willow Creek, for instance, networks another 12,000 smaller congregations through its Willow Creek Association. David Campbell, a political scientist at Notre Dame studying the trend, says that “if tens of millions of Americans start sharing faith across racial boundaries, it could be one of the final steps transcending race as our great divider” — and it could help smooth America’s transition into a truly rainbow nation.

Go back. I do hope I’m reading this incorrectly: “and a category containing whites and Asians”? Um. Are we, and I think Asian here means Asian American, lumped together in a category with whites?

I’m not White.

And my parents would argue I’m not Asian either.

Sometimes words and labels matter because assumptions are going to be made. Asians are not white. Asian Americans are not white. If we were, my answer to “Where are you from?” would never be followed by “No, I mean where are you really from? You know. Like where were you born?”

My prickly response here is to get us thinking, and to remind me to think, critically about the statistics, initiatives and innovations. What are we celebrating here? And how can we appropriately celebrate, re-group, look critically and then respond accordingly?

For example, if we stop too long in amazement over the racial make-up of the congregation we forget that the up front leadership at WC, by and large, according to the article remains white (the article does not mention gender). Where and from whom are the white leaders of churches like WC going to learn about the non-white experience? How will congregations that are 80% white experience multiethnic leadership if they never see it, hear it and submit to it at their own church?

Press “publish”. Holding breath…