Filed under: WTFlux
I can’t remember which event we were watching. Maybe it was gymnastics, their bodies flipping over themselves to land on a 3.9 inch surface of the balance beam. Or it was springboard diving, women launching into a pool and carving small splashes.
“When you watch this do you root for the Chinese?” DanE asked. I think he may have even asked if I secretly rooted for the Chinese, as if I worried that he and the dog would judge me for not being patriotic.
“No, actually,” I said. In fact, I’m always interested when the Medal Count chart comes onscreen and I see USA in the first slot. Sometimes I think I am secretly patriotic.
I think I root for the American athletes because I know their stories, at least I know the stories featured in the short segments shown in between competitions about their trials and tribulations. I’m a sucker for stories, especially about underdogs on their road to gold medal glory. In comparison, the Chinese athletes mostly look like two-dimensional somersaulting, diving, table tennis whacking, volleyball lobbing robots with short unflattering haircuts.
Even though I might not be cheering them on, there is a part of me that identifies more with the bowl-haircut Chinese robotrons. When I was a kid, when my brothers and I would get into trouble my dad would sometimes threaten to send us to China for the summer. I didn’t know it then, but there was no way my family could have afforded that kind of punishment, but at the time it seemed like a real possibility that we would have to live in a small village without electricity, McDonald’s, or WCs with holes in the ground in lieu of toilets- which is a first-world child’s version of a work camp.
The notion that my folks would ever pay for me to flop around a mat in a magenta leotard so that I could pursue my dream of being on a Wheaties box was never possibility. While the likelihood that had I been born in rural China, and had been vetted and tested to show promise in table tennis with my cat-like reflexes, I could see my parents sending me off to ping pong camp to bring honor to my family.
While I’m rooting for the folks in red, white and blue; I can partially see myself in red with yellow stars. But thank goodness I have zero athletic abilities because I’m a sore loser and a crybaby and the world doesn’t need to see that.
Filed under: WTFlux
I am at that age where you can feel yourself shedding a part of who you once were so that you can grow into who you are.
It’s different than when I “became a woman” because that was pure biology. Bleeding from my crotch didn’t make me feel more mature, it just annoyed me. The transition from middle school to high school was so painfully awkward that it didn’t feel like evolution as much as it felt like being a square peg being shoved through the small round hole of adolescence.
It’s different than when I “became an adult” because that’s just legalities. Sure, I could vote and decide who would lead us, but I was more into the idea that I didn’t have to obey my folks anymore.
It’s different than when I floated through my twenties, like I was the first person to ever experience anything worthwhile and I had my singular experience that no one else’s experience could even touch.
This time it’s for real, I feel mature.
With this maturity, I find myself really considering questions about what I ought to do with myself for the years of impending joint aches and gray hairs. I think about all the cliched things I think I’m supposed to think about, the least of which is in finding a life partner and subsequently having a family.
I sit and think about how it must feel like to have someone there for you, who knows you, who you know better than yourself. I think about how easy it is for heterosexual couples in America to get married and the privileges that come with it. I think about how sad and frustrating and terribly unAmerican it is to not lawfully consider same-sex marriages. I think about what it means to commit yourself to another person like that. I think about what it means to be a woman married to a man. I think about how I never considered changing my last name for anyone.
I think about where I’m supposed to be and how I’m supposed to be spending my time. I think about how I’d like to move beyond thinking about the supposed things I’m supposed to be doing and just do what I want. I think about how forty hours a week morphs into forty years and how all those weekdays outweighed all the weekends. It makes me look at everyone in the eyes, to see if they are happy where they are, handing me my change at the cash register or taking my blood pressure. I wonder about what we are all working for and if its worth it.
It better be.
I think about how being at this age, floating somewhere between the stubborn righteousness of early adulthood to the weary settling of mid-life, is difficult and challenging.
Above all, it makes me think that I’m thinking too much.
Filed under: WTFlux
KCET, my old stomping grounds, is rife with amazing stories. I’m spending much too much time on their website, sometimes with memories of when I used to be on the other side of the screen.
This story about Jess Espanola, a Filipino immigrant who came from poverty only to become an animator for one of the longest running television series and win an Emmy might make you teary-eyed. You’ve been warned.
And then there’s Mike Roberts, a man with a minimalist lifestyle wherein he has fewer than fifty possessions. My volume of my sock and underwear drawer would probably sadden him. He’s inspiring nonetheless.
But the story that’s got me going lately isn’t from KCET, it’s a link to HuffPo, entitled “Top 5 Regrets of the Dying.” You won’t regret checking it out (nudge nudge, wink wink). Not surprisingly, folks don’t mention regretting that they didn’t floss more often.
My friend Tommy has got a thing going on. It’s an art thing, with music and peace and cosmic vibe-a-tude. His project is being featured at kickstarter.com/projects/1111967869/the-peace-speaker, and alls he wants to do is to send totally rad vibrations by trucking along a gigantic 12″ peace speaker to remote locations and host a concert for all- fauna, foliage and folks. It’s called the 2012 Anti-Apocalypse Tour and its reminding us that keeping our heads in the clouds can sometimes be magical.
When I was a kid, I hated history class because I felt like all the people (mostly men, mostly white) we learned about were nothing like me. I’m a quasi-radical now, but I can’t imagine who I would be if I would had known about Grace Lee Boggs when I was a kid. I’ve just donated a few days worth of lunch money to help fund this awesome documentary about an American revolutionary who is someone I can aspire to be.
From Razorcake #60, originally published January 2011.
Quite often, almost on a minute-to-minute-basis, I am reminded of how little I understand of the physical space and contemporary culture that I live in. My small brain has trouble understanding abstract ideas, like the notion that everything that we can see—and even things that we cannot see like gas and odors—are made up of atoms. I have never seen an atom, except for science-book renderings that depicted them as miniscule glossy spheres. I’ve never been able to reconcile those tiny balls and how they form water, dirt or fish sticks.
Apparently, lots of kids ask ‘Why is the sky blue?’ though I don’t remember asking that myself. Some things just seemed obvious in its answer, the sky is blue because it’s the sky. What color would the sky be if it wasn’t blue?! I have seen the a thick layer of clouds cover the sky so that it was a muted grey that stretched far beyond the horizon, and I have seen marbled swirls of fire orange and deep lavender that glowed at sunset. I have seen night skies that looked like a mauve brown painted against black, a night sky that is the result of clouds absorbing the lights of a city. The first time I distinctly remember seeing a brown night sky was when I was in high school, on the weekend of my grandmother’s funeral. As Buddhist ceremonies dictate, all of her kin were dressed in white robes and sat on a straw mat for three days of prayer for her safe arrival into the underworld. On the second night, after a full day of mat-sitting, I looked into the sky and didn’t see the infinite expanse of space and stars. It was heavy and brown and felt like closed thick curtains hung above us. By then I was too old to ask, ‘Why is the sky brown?’ though I don’t think anyone could have answered it for me.
What is brown? How do I know it’s not orange? Why is orange named after a fruit? Or is it the other way around? How come green is called green and not peas? Maybe folks who are color-blind are the ones who are actually seeing colors as they are intended to be seen. Why are some eggs white and others are brown? Why do we eat eggs? Is it because eating the unfertilized unborn is so delicious? What came first, the scramble or the omelet?
Why do high school students need to learn math beyond algebra and geometry? Is it really that practical to study calculus and trigonometry, especially in this economy where the vast number of university graduates can’t find work and end up shopping at the dollar store anyway? Doesn’t it make more sense to teach them how to fill out food stamps applications without feeling shame?
How come ‘Communications’ is still a valid field of study? It’s so vague and non-descript and it makes me feel as though universities are awarding degrees to students merely for showing up, paying tuition and ‘communicating.’ And what’s ‘Business Administration’? I know plenty of immigrants who are functionally illiterate in English and have been successful in owning small businesses without being tens of thousands of dollars in debt for a piece of paper. My mom is the general manager of two busy restaurants and she’s just learning how to send e-mails. And me? Well, with almost a decade worth of post-university experience, I’m still earning less than I did from my first big job after school,
Why do humans have memories and insight and inner monologues? How is it that these relatively small organs that sit insides our skulls can perform such complex tasks like recalling memories from decades past or being able to function on 18-hour workdays without my head rolling off my shoulders? But at the same time my brain isn’t able to parse away some space to remember the majority of my own birthday dinners or the name of my best friend from kindergarten who used to get into trouble with me for talking too much. I remember having mock elections in second grade and voting for George Bush (Sr.) over Michael Dukakis, I don’t remember why I chose him because my parents didn’t vote and didn’t discuss politics around the house. I remember voting for Nader in 2000 because I was emboldened by youth and naiveté and this foreign notion of change. I remember being seven-years-old and specifically wanting to be the first Asian-American and woman president, but I can’t remember when that dream dissolved. I remember loving the rain when it came occasionally during our southern California winters, and I remember my first day after I had moved to Portland and crying in frustration in the unrelenting downpour. I can remember details of all the places I’ve lived like the Chinatown apartment with the broken tile in the kitchen that I used to pretend was the porthole into Adam West’s Batcave or the studio apartment I had in Van Nuys where I heard police helicopter buzz overheard everyday, but I cannot the specific addresses. I remember life before the internet and kinda feel bad for kids who will never know that. I can’t remember who I thought I’d be when I grew up—I’m not sure I have an idea now either.
Why do people have children, knowing full well the gamut of hurt and pain that can befall these small people created? Why do I consider having my own children knowing the same thing? Is it narcissism or a biological drive? How does DNA look? Am I really to believe that my blood stream is swimming with interwoven double helix, floating about determining the color of my hair and the shape of my earlobes? Why are we taught to believe things we can’t see? Why do I even care? Oh wait, I care because when my dad blames me for being short because I didn’t sleep enough and insisted on staying up late during my adolescence, I don’t have to carry around the guilt of being a midget but understand that I am short because he’s short too. Why didn’t I pay more attention in Biology? Why aren’t I fascinated by quantum physics? Is it because I feel like the less I know, the better? Am I just trying to run out the clock?
Why can’t we be more like all the other animals—naked, primal and without desires beyond hunting, eating and fucking? Why do I find myself yearning to be a dog? Sometimes I’ll look at my friends’ dogs and be envious of their lives, laying about and sleeping all day. They want nothing more than a w-a-l-k and perhaps a few crumbs from that sandwich you’re eating. All they want is affection and to protect you and to snuggle up against your warmth on a cold night, I mean, really, that’s all I want too. We want comfort and isn’t that why we work so hard? Isn’t that why we spend more waking hours at our workplaces than we do at our homes, so that we have a soft spot to sleep in?
I remember being a kid and looking at the clouds in the sky and day dream about living upon them like the Care Bears did. I remember being on my first plane ride when I was 18-years-old and thinking how amazing it was going to be above the clouds. A couple years ago, I hiked through Nepal and literally walked above a cloud and it was anticlimactic and satisfying at the same time. Why am I so obsessed with the sky and whatever it is that inhabits the sky? Why do I want to be up there when its blue, or grey or brown? Even though birds get to soar high, do they even enjoy it? Is it better to not know than it is to wonder endlessly?
“New Orleans East is home to the most-dense ethnically Vietnamese population outside of Vietnam. The BP oil spill hit them hard. Majora Carter meets with fisherfolk, youth and community organizers to learn about how the community has rallied to support their fisherfolk.”
I was completely enthralled with this Promise Land story about the effects of the BP spill on the Viet-American population in New Orleans. I was unaware that such a large population of Viet immigrants had settled there and this story about a community, and how their community organizers, are working to rebuild and continue on with their lives and livelihoods was another reminder that surviving can be a challenge and living is overcoming that challenge.
That was me in fourth grade- nine little years on this planet. It was my first year at a new school that wasn’t in a predominant Asian-American immigrant neighborhood.
There was this kid, Richard Sanchez, who tormented me. He called me every Asian-related slur his ten-year-old brain could remember. I spent entire lunch recceses hiding in a stall in the girls bathroom rather than face him. I sat on the toilet, with my pants at my ankles so that it looked like I was using the potty, and just stared at the metal stall door as I waited for the end-of-lunch bell to ring. The confusion and anxiety that I held inside my small body was compounded by the fact that I didn’t tell my parents because I didn’t think they could help. I was in the fourth grade, learning about fractions at school and calling utility companies to ask about billing questions at home. If my parents couldn’t settle an odd charge on our phone bill, how would they stop Richard Sanchez?
Even though the bullying hurt terribly and I was just a kid- I never questioned why I was who I was. Even though I had never felt such blind vile hate shot right at me- I knew that I was worthwhile. Even though I would watch TV sitcoms and daydreamed about how lovely it would be to live with a white suburban family- I knew that I belonged where I was. Even though I didn’t think my parents could make it better- I knew that if they survived the Vietnam war then I could survive a kid who made me cry every day.
I had a type of strength that only a child could have, the type of strength that comes from truly believing in fairy tales and the heroic deeds and historical legacies of the folks who existed before us. Fourth grade was the year that I learned about Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King Jr. and about altruism and character. I learned about how a single person can inspire social change even if they are made to feel powerless. I learned about how people build movements—one mind and one heart at a time. I learned to let Richard Sanchez get it out of his system, because he was just another kid of immigrants too, probably frustrated and confused about the two worlds he lived in.
Now, 20 years after fourth grade, I find myself working for an organization whose mission is to build a progressive movement from the ground up—with people power. Our organization, Western States Center, supports the work of other orgs and individual community organizers who fight for social justice in the region.
We have a program here called WILD (Western Institute for Leadership Development), which is a year-long intensive training for emerging community organizers. Through WILD, participants gain invaluable leadership, management and community organizing skills. They also deepen their understanding and analysis of social justice issues such as gender justice, LGBTQ equality and racial justice.
Taj Suleyman a graduate from our WILD Class of 2006-2007 said “If it’s not for WILD I would continued to feel lost and isolated in the U.S. I wouldn’t know how to advocate for my community and for what we need.”
Folks like Taj are continuing to lay the foundation for progressive change within our communities that can help to build and inspire a larger movement. Our WILD grads may not be written about in history books, but they are working toward creating history.
I think about the folks who arrived in America long before my parents walked through the LAX terminal, toward the Social Security administration office to receive their refugee status, about all of the work that community organizers had to do to create systems that offered multi-lingual and multi-cultural services to my mother and father. I think about the folks who organized and protested the war in Vietnam- to end the brutality on both sides. I think about the grassroots movements, and the people who worked tirelessly within them, that shaped policies that we take for granted- policies for inclusion and diversity. I think about how I can support the work of community organizers, to ensure that we can continue to pay it forward and forward for future generations.
I think about who I would be if I didn’t have Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King Jr. to look up to, if I didn’t have those two community organizers to ignite my own belief in myself- who would I have become?
This is why I am asking you to join me to support the upcoming WILD class of 2011-2012, which starts this fall. The work of community organizers is only as strong as the community that supports it. Folks like you, who support the progressive movement, keep the momentum going to build stronger communities where everyone can thrive. Your support is just as essential as the training that the activists receive at WILD.
Please visit my fundraising page for the next WILD class and considering supporting the work of community organizers and activists. The grassroots movement toward building a more just society is propelled by people power. Will you be one of those people?