To Be a Gracious But Angry Christian Asian American Woman

I’m trying not to let all of this Deadly Viper stuff emotionally hijack me. Writing helps. Talking with “Kathy Khang husband” helps (btw, that is exactly the search engine term someone used). Praying helps.

I’m trying to muster up the courage to say something else about a situation that is already heated and complex without blind-siding anyone else, without derailing what could be a conversation in the making about the racial, ethnic and faith issues at hand, without sounding too angry, bitter, or in need of inner healing.

But can someone please tell me why pink frosted cupcakes, salads, Richard Simmons and pink Smart cars are girly which is code for “not manly” or akin to being wimps and wussies, which clearly are not adjectives any real man would want used to describe men?

Deadly Viper is NOT the first, last or only leadership development that uses what some would call a hyper-masculinity to appeal to men and their leadership. There are several male pastors who are calling out for men to be warriors, man-up, go to battle, etc. There is a shift in some circles arguing that the feminization of the Church is why men are failing to lead. Jesus as manly man.

But I make the connection here in the middle of all of this talk about culture, race, ethnicity and pain because it is in these conversations I often feel like I’m choosing first to be Christian Asian American and put the “Woman” on hold. It feels too complicated to simultaneously engage people across the divide in a conversation about racial stereotypes AND gender stereotypes. I don’t want my Asian American experience to be defined by ninja warriors, but the message here is so much more nuanced because there are parts of my Christian and Asian and American culture that try to silence my leadership.

Women and men are different. Yes! How can we speak respectfully of those differences, learn from one another and affirm one another without resorting to one of the worst insults a boy can throw at another boy at the playground: “You throw/hit/punch/run/laugh/cry like a girl”?

Just last week I heard a few men at the bowling alley ask me if I had a french maid costume for Halloween. Was that a man being a man in his public man-cave? If those men were just being stupid, isn’t it possible that all of this talk and imagery about real men versus chickified church boys could add unnecessary fuel to the fire?

I’m struggling here.  I am the mother of an amazing daughter and two amazing sons. This isn’t me ranting. I am feeling deeply the brokenness of our world as my kids sleep soundly tonight. How will the church lead in teaching both my daughter and my sons to be strong, effective, compassionate, gracious, courageous leaders? Can we do it without making fun of one another, without Kung Fu warriors fighting off pink cupcakes or salads?

Is anyone else bothered by this hyper-masculinity? Am I being too sensitive?

An Example of Leadership and Apology…Deadly Viper, Take Note

We’ll have to see if an actual conversation develops with Zondervan and the creators of Deadly Viper, but I thought it a bit ironic that part of the online conversation started out on the Deadly Viper blog on a post about saying “I’m sorry”.

It’s the “I’m sorry but that’s not what I meant” or the “I’m sorry if you were offended but that’s not what I meant” that hooks me. It’s not an apology. A comment like that teases me into believing we are going to move forward together, as painful as that might be, but then it goes nowhere fast.

Recently I came across a situation where that could have happened. And it didn’t. (UPDATED WITH DETAILS NOW) I’ll update this post with more details as soon as I have permission from those involved, but in the meantime I’ll paint a picture of what a genuine apology can do to move the body of Christ forward in conversations about race, ethnicity, leadership, integrity and mission.

We get a ton of prayer letters and ministry update/reports from various missionaries, mission organizations, Christian groups, etc. and we enjoy reading them and praying about the things we read about. But one photo in Harbor Point Ministries – the newsletter for Covenant Point and Covenant Harbor Bible Camps – caught my eye. It was a photo of a young man and young woman wearing those inflatable sumo wrestler costumes. Ugh. My initial reaction was one of anger and sadness, and then I replayed a common conversation in my head – Was I being too sensitive? Was I being too reactionary? Maybe I should let this one go?

I started an e-mail, but I let it sit. I read the e-mail and while I thought I was making my points I did not like my tone, or, at the very least, how my tone could have been read. I wanted to be understood in hopes of inviting conversation not just to make a point. The e-mail is still in my draft box because life got in the way.

But at someone’s urging, I shared my concern publicly at a Sunday School class I was leading on multiculturalism at my church, Libertyville Covenant Church, as an illustration of how different people with different life experiences will see things with a different lens and to open up a conversation about how different people may have viewed that same photograph and had completely different responses. I shared about my hesitation to say something because it can be exhausting to be “that” person all the time. I shared how my children all have had wonderful experiences at both Bible camps, but I was mortified at the thought of kids roaring in laughter over the “fat costume”. Someone listened.

Monday afternoon as the boys were getting settled in after homework and hangout time, I received a phone call. I did not recognize the name or number, but I picked up and was floored.

“Hi, Kathy. This is Dave Auker and I owe you and others an apology. I am so sorry. I am in charge of that publication and I take full responsibility.”

It was a brief conversation about the Evangelical Covenant Church’s efforts to better understand diversity and the ramifications of a photograph like the one with inflatable sumo wrestler costumes. What stuck with me was that the person in charge called, apologized, took responsibility, asked if I had questions and gave me some helpful information that I planned to bring to a phone conversation I wanted to make to the director of the camp.

And then all this Deadly Viper exploded. 

Wednesday afternoon I got another call. Ray Warren, executive director of Covenant Harbor Bible Camp & Retreat Center, was on the line.

“Kathy, I want to express our apologies. We’re terribly sorry for the offense and we want to learn from this. How can we be best positioned to welcome with open arms the growing church? Could you come talk to the the staff?”

I am humbled and energized. The past four days have been incredibly draining. I have felt empty as I lean into God’s truth to find voice as a Christian who is also an Asian American woman. We are one in Christ, carrying faith and life through the lens of culture, age, race, gender, socioeconomic status. We all make mistakes. We all do things that result in a different outcome than intended. We are broken people living in a broken world. But those two phonecalls reminded me leaders continue to learn, sometimes painfully, from others and from their mistakes. I long to be transformed into that kind of leader.

If Deadly Viper needs any more examples of leadership and character, take note. This should be one of them.

When You See Someone Like Me

What do you think about this video?

How willing are we to talk about the stereotypes we uncomfortably cling to? How have stereotypes affected you?

I remember the moment Hollywood’s version of teenage angst came crashing down on my reality – the movie Sixteen Candles and the infamous Long Duck Dong. My teenage takeaway was very simple – not only could I not be Samantha who eventually gets Jake, but the guys that “should” be available to me were along the lines of the Donger, who wins over jock-ette  Marlene. I can’t get Jake, and I don’t want the Donger. I can’t be Samantha, but I don’t want to be Marlene.

Please remember that I was not-yet-13 at the time.

Earlier this year my daughter, niece, nephew and I were watching Twilight when the “Eric” character came into the scene. Many Twilight fans weren’t expecting actor Justin Chon to be playing the geek. Let’s face it. Most of us were expecting a white actor. But my it was my nephew’s reaction that said it all: “Why are the dorks always Asian?”

Stereotypes run both ways though. My freshman year roommate was my worst nightmare – tall, blonde, bubbly. I figured we would have absolutely nothing in common, and it got worse when she and almost everyone in our small dorm decided to go through rush. I was going to room with a sorority girl. (Now, mind you. I had no idea what the Greek system was until that week. When I heard “Are you Greek?” I was utterly confused at how someone could mistake me for someone from GREECE.) My interactions with my roommate were completely driven by my stereotypes of tall, blonde, bubbly girls because surely she was dumb, all about getting the guy and having fun, and carefree.

I must confess that at this point I am 17 but still so painfully close to 13.

What I learned from living in close quarters with my roommate and many other young women, who at least on the outside lived up to every stereotype imaginable, was that we had a lot in common. We were all young, often confused, trying to find our voice and way. We all had huge aspirations and suffered disappointment just as deeply as the next. Most of us had very different backgrounds – ethnic, racial, religious, socioeconomic, but when we found ways to talk about those differences there was space to learn. It’s just that those ways were tough to find, tough to prioritize, tough to commit to.

So when you see someone like me in an elevator, what do you think? Does the mention of a college education change your perception? When you find out I’m in Christian ministry what are you thinking? Does finding out I have three kids surprise you? Does a little bit of my story change what you see?

Chinese Eyes & Playground Prejudice

“Look, mom! Chinese eyes!”

Apparently that was the lesson of the day during recess.

Three years ago my son came home from 2nd grade and showed me how he could gently pull up the outer corner of his eyes. Duh. Chinese eyes.

I didn’t want to alarm him or make him feel like he was a bad kid, but I didn’t want him running around pulling his eyes back for obvious reasons. What I was able to gather was that a kid on the playground came up to Corban and said, “Hey, this is what Chinese eyes look like.”

Corban, who at the tender age of 7, understood he was Korean American but he associated that more with some of the customs we keep, our Korean names, the food and the language. He figured that he was learning something new about the Chinese, and thought his classmate was sharing fact. 

“Mom, did you see? I made myself Chinese,” he said with his one-dimple smile.

I wrote in my journal:

“I need more manuals for this kind of stuff.”

So what would you have said if your child or a child you know came up and proudly showed off her/his newly acquired skills?

I remember walking into my new 2nd grade class. We had recently moved from the north side of Chicago to the northwest suburbs. As far as I was concerned we had moved to Mars. 

Miss Thompson did her best to welcome me, but the real welcome came in the bathroom. “Amanda” came up to me and asked me what was wrong with my eyes and nose.

It was an honest question with no ill-intent, just like Corban’s re-enactment of what he had experienced on the playground. Amanda had never encountered an Asian American, and I had never encountered someone that weird. We were best friends that year.

But when you get beyond the playground, say, in your 20s, 30s or not quite 40s, it’s not quite that simple is it? Or is it?

My youngest is in second grade. I wonder what lessons Elias will bring home from the playground this year…

2% – And I’m Not Talking About Milk

I do not drink milk unless it is steamed and frothed, but I am a news junkie so the last 24 hours have been better than a double-latte. But I was feeling a bit invisible yesterday as I watched major news outlets talk about voter turnout – Blacks, Whites, Latinos, Women, Men, Protestants, Catholics, Jews, College Grads, High School Grads, etc. Um, what about Asian Americans?

Well, according to the New York Times exit polls, Asians made up 2% of the electorate Tuesday. 2%? Really? According to the Asian & Pacific Islander American Vote (APIAVote), there were 7.2 million Asian American eligible voters. I believe Asian Americans make up about 5% of the overall population, and of those eligible to vote only about 50% actually register, and then fewer actually do.

Take a look at the NYT graph. You can click to change the size of the bars to reflect percentage or change the year to compare results between election years.

This election has got me thinking about a lot of things…race, gender, faith, economics, national security and citizenship. I’m still amazed at what happened on Tuesday. I was near tears and a bit dumbstruck by it all. One of the best quotes I read was in the Chicago Tribune yesterday from an anonymous black man on the “L” headed home after the Grant Park celebration: “Rosa Parks sat. Martin Luther King marched. Barack Obama ran. My grandchildren will fly.”

My children were quite interested in the elections, starting from the primaries. My daughter and I talked about women’s suffrage. The kids and I talked about citizenship. The five us talked about the economy, about taxes, about race and gender and class, about sound-bites and what they meant or didn’t mean.

And I’ve spent some time with friends and acquaintances talking about voting and citizenship and identity. What does it mean to be American? What does it mean when someone asks, “Where are you from?” or “Where did you learn to speak English?” And I’ve wondered for a long time about what it would take for me to want to be “American”. 

I know it’s a little early to be making New Year’s resolutions, especially considering I tend not to make New Year’s resolutions. But I’ve had a copy of the N-400 form in my folder for a few months now. Maybe 2009 should be the year I finally do this.

Playing with a Full Deck

Does Obama’s race and possibly gender play into his place in politics? Does the fact that there has been a surge of support from white women for the McCain/Palin ticket have anything to do with race or gender?

I saw this post discussing racism and sexism, and maybe if I weren’t so annoyed with the fact that there is a major leak in the garage roof and several leaks in the basement I would put my thoughts together. 

There’s only time for rambling.

The question is an interesting one because personally I am tired of being asked to separate my ethnicity/race from my gender. I am an Asian American woman. You can’t take the Asian or the American or the woman out of me like you would pick the tomatoes or onions out of a salad. I can’t pick the race card or the gender card because both form my identity. I prefer to play with a full deck because that is how God created us – with race and ethnicity and gender. (Though as a mother of three a full deck seems like a rather high goal.)

I don’t fully understand Obama’s personal journey as a biracial African American man. When I walk down the street or drive through the neighborhood, no one is going to look twice at me. No one assumes I don’t belong. And I really don’t understand Sarah Palin’s personal journey as a white woman from a small town in Alaska. When my family went on our summer road trips, the small town stops were always the most unsettling for me. It was very clear to us that we didn’t belong.

But that’s me. How about you? Does sexism trump racism? Can there really be a separation of the two? Should there be a separation?

Sub-par English won’t be allowed on LPGA Tour

Sorry. I couldn’t help it. Bad pun, I know, but I just wanted to show off my effective English. Read on.

Apparently being a great golfer is not enough to keep you on the LPGA Tour. Now you need to learn English.

I don’t golf. I don’t hate golf. My husband golfs (or is it “plays golf”?). Some of my best friends’ husbands play golf. I may even learn how to golf someday.

But this isn’t really about golf, but I’m really not sure what it’s about. The LPGA is still working through exact wording of the rules (maybe they are still learning English?), but the gist is that all LPGA Tour members must be able to speak English “effectively” so they can interact with pro-am partners, give media interviews and deliver a winner’s acceptance speech. Currently, there are 45 players from South Korea on tour and 121 international players representing 26 countries. The LPGA’s spin is that the players who are affected by this change understand and agree with it because, after all, it is for their professional development and in their best interests to learn English.

So if it’s that important for professional athletes to learn “effective” English, why hasn’t MLB, the NBA and the PGA jumped on board? There are plenty of professional athletes (and coaches and fans, for that matter) whose comments are peppered with “um”, “er” and “uh” and grammatical errors to make any English teacher cry. Is this really an issue of communication? Why not continue to allow translators? 

The LPGA is feeling a little bit of heat:

“We have been puzzled, if not surprised, by some of the reactions,” said deputy commissioner Libba Galloway, who previously was the LPGA’s top attorney. “We see this as a pro-international move.”

How is making professional women’s golf English-only a “pro-international move”? Can someone please help me understand this line of reasoning?

I read this snippet on ESPN.com about K.J. Choi, a Korean player on the PGA Tour:

A few months ago, Choi had finished a brief interview when a reporter tried to say, “Thank you” in Korean, but told him he forgot the word. Choi laughed and playfully shared this thought with his agent.

“I taught him one word seven years ago and he still doesn’t remember,” he said. “And he expects me to learn his entire language?”

As someone who will never be on the LPGA Tour but speaks fluent English and broken Korean I resonate with Choi. Fluency in English is one of the golden rings children of immigrants must reach for. Many of my Korean-American peers have “lost” their ability to speak Korean because assimilation was the stepping stone to the ultimate goal – the American Dream.

The harsh reality is that even as we achieve some degree of the American Dream, many of us hyphenated Americans are still reminded that we are “other” or outsiders to what is truly American. So while I hope the LPGA Tour revisits this decision, my fear is that even if these golfers perfect their game and work on their English it won’t be enough to make them acceptable to those who are thinking to themselves, “What’s the big deal? You’re in America. Learn English”.

And it’s “Gahm-sah-hahm-nee-dah, you bah-boh.”

Sorry.

Are you kidding me?

So I’m reading the sports section over lunch when I see a story about Spain’s Olympic basketball team taking a photo…wait for it…pulling the outside corner of their eyelids upward.

Seriously?

I’ll try to give them the benefit of the doubt. I’ve never been to Spain so my understanding of Spanish culture is limited to that of my junior high and high school Spanish teacher’s attempts at teaching language and culture. They didn’t intend to offend, but that, according to Spain center Pau Gasol, “It was something like supposed to be funny or something…”

It is not like funny or something.

What do you all think? Is it funny? Offensive?