refuse to remain silent #notok

A call from Peter Lim on Facebook for our voices to be heard! 

When I was a child, while leaving a mall with my mother, a group of white young adult males drove up next to us in their red pickup truck and hurled water at us, literally spat at us, and began calling us “nips, chinks, go back to where you came from.” I was afraid then as a child but no more. When my sons are teased and harassed at school and on the baseball diamond because they are Asians…no more…I will not stay silent because this is #notok

As Asian Americans, we are seen as model minorities who simply remain silent, laugh things off, and don’t rock the boat. I say no more! I am tired of being the subject of people’s bigotry and racism and then told by the same ignorant people, “don’t be so sensitive”, “it was just a joke”, “I didn’t mean any offense.” I’m sorry but who are you to tell me not to be offended by your asinine and bigoted comments? No more! I refuse to remain silent.

Collectively as Asian Americans, we need to let our voices be heard. Deference has its place and value but not here…we need to exert our value, our worth, and our voice as a people and let the majority culture here in America hear loud and clearly that it’s #notok for them to continue to treat us in this manner.

I challenge you to share your story of bigotry and/or racist experience and use the hashtag #notok to let our voices be heard. These pictures I’ve attached demonstrate that too many people think it’s ok (MLB only fueled this attitude with the weak discipline dealt to Gurriel) and we need to collectively let our voices be heard that “No”…it’s #notok

(please share with others and let our voices be heard)

Perpetual Foreigner or Perpetual Native?

[originally posted at https://ibelongyoubelong.wordpress.com/2017/03/20/perpetual-foreigner-or-perpetual-native/]

 

I recently went back to the States for a week to surprise my mother for her birthday. Despite the current state of affairs in America, with racial tensions running high, I didn’t expect to experience anything that would make me feel out of place as a person of color. I was going to Southern California after all, where Asian Americans can be found as easily as avocados and aspiring actresses.

But I was wrong.

My mom had invited me to come with her to an English conversation club at a nearby college. It was a new outreach ministry to international students, started by some people from the megachurch she attended. We were the first to arrive in the student lounge, and sat on the hard plastic chairs for a few minutes before an Asian girl came in, asking around about the English club. Her name was Yan Min, from China, and she had just started classes there. We were deep in conversation when several other volunteers from the church arrived—all white. My mother and I briefly introduced ourselves to them and were about to dive back into our conversation with Yan Min when one of the volunteers said, “So… should we each take one?”

I was confused at first, not understanding what he meant. There was only one student who needed a conversation partner. And then it slowly dawned on me that he wasn’t speak to me and my mother, but about us. He had assumed that we were also there to practice our English.

My mom immediately jumped in and explained that we were also volunteers, and that her daughter here had actually graduated from Berkeley and majored in English. I was embarrassed for the man, and embarrassed that my mom felt like she had to list my credentials to prove that we were qualified.

Perpetual Foreigner

This incident would have been amusing if it were isolated; something to brush off and laugh about. But it happens more often than I’d like to admit—the presumption that I am a foreigner simply because I am Asian.

I remember the time I attended my friend’s church in North Carolina. The church was hosting a group of Japanese exchange students that week. When the pastor urged the congregation to greet the foreign guests, my body stiffened as I saw several people home in on me. Assuming that I was an exchange student, they warmly welcomed me before my friend could interrupt them and explain that I was visiting from California, and not from Japan.

I sense it whenever I visit a white church and have to introduce myself. I can see their eyes carefully considering me, their speech deliberately slow and simple while their minds are racing to figure out where I’m from. I can feel the urge within me to speak fluent English, dropping slang or using sesquipedalian vocabulary just to make it obvious that I was born and raised in the States.

It’s curious how these memories I have are all in the context of church.

Outside the church, my experiences are much more confrontational: chants about slanted eyes, threats telling me to go back to where I came from, sing-song gibberish that mock the Chinese language. These racist encounters are so universal among East Asian Americans as to be almost banal in their unoriginality.

Inside the church, I am not told to get out. In fact, I am invited to come in… but as a guest. I am received, but as an outsider. I am welcomed, but still as the perpetual foreigner. It does not occur to them I am home, that I am not a visitor.

The jagged pill of outright racism makes me mad. But this saccharine-sweet “othering” that’s coated with good intentions just makes me sad.

Perpetual Native

And then there’s my experience of living in Asia for the past 14 years. While I am perceived as a perpetual foreigner in America, here, I am the perpetual native.

When I first came to China to teach English in the 90’s, I was on a team with three other ladies: two blondes, a redhead, and me. Whenever we went out together, I was automatically pegged as the translator, even though I could barely get by on what I learned from my one semester of Mandarin in college. I recall one time when we all went out to a park, and a group of school children gathered around my teammates like hungry birds, chirping at my poor friends with their chorus of “Hello! How are you?!” They obviously did not notice me, for I was just another Chinese face in a city of 15 million other Chinese faces. When the kids asked to take a photo with the Americans, I wasn’t in the picture. I was the one behind the camera.

Nowadays, I still get a lot of confused looks when I tell people that I’m from America. “But you look like us!” they say, baffled that I don’t have a big nose and blond curls like the stereotypical image they have in their minds. “Where is your hometown?” they press further, and I dutifully respond by telling them, “Chao Zhou, in Guang Dong province,” even though I have never stepped foot there in my life. Their minds are eased that I am still Chinese, after all. In their imagination, America is a land of white people, and an American person of color is oxymoronic (something that a good portion of America seems to agree with right now).

Here in China, I’m not the foreigner. I’m the local nanny, the translator, the teacher who isn’t white enough to teach English (even though my mom would like to remind everyone that I graduated from Berkeley as an English major).

Sometimes, the assumption that I am part of a group is as toxic as the assumption that I am not. Sometimes, inclusion is as destructive as exclusion.

Both invalidate the complexity of my identity. Both cause shame. Both deny me of agency and true belonging. I am simply who people imagine me to be because of the color of my hair, my skin, my eyes.

But the reality is, I cannot be boxed into the false dichotomy of either foreigner or native.

I am both/and.

Otherness and Likeness

Jesus was the embodiment of this both/and paradox of otherness and likeness.

Wholly divine and fully human.

Son of God and Son of Man.

Alpha and Omega, yet Emmanuel.

He lived in a world that could not seem to reconcile the two. He was too foreign to be considered one of us, and yet too familiar to be considered “The One.” Instead of receiving Jesus in the fullness of all his deity and humanity, the world rejected him for both.

Yet for all the times we treated him as other, he continued to reveal his solidarity with us. He made his dwelling among us. He shared in our humanity and suffering. He laid down his life for us. He loved those who wanted nothing to do with him.

And when we believed him to be just like us, he continued to reveal his distinctiveness. He offended those who couldn’t see him as anything other than the hometown boy. He didn’t play by the social or cultural rules. He commended outsiders over his own ethnic community. He challenged the expectations of those who wanted to use him as a poster boy for their own causes.

Like Jesus, I want to embrace the paradox of my likeness and otherness, instead of feeling like I must choose one or the other.

I want to expose the exclusion that shames and distances, and call out the inclusion that enmeshes and limits.

I want to engage the world in loving but uncomfortable ways; not writing off those who would reduce and reject me, but inviting them to accept me with all my similarities and singularities.

Because at the end of day, I’m not the only one who is both perpetual native and perpetual foreigner. We are all native to one another in the shared humanity that makes us connected and compassionate. We are all foreign to one another in the diversity that makes us intriguing and beautiful.

We are all alike and we are all other.

We are all both/and.

 

Progressive Asian American Christians Facebook Group

An article by Liz Lin original posted at The Salt Collective, “The Loneliness of the Progressive Asian American Christian,” got featured on The Huffington Post, “It’s Lonely Being A Liberal Asian-American Christian: Finding a church often means making a choice between theology and community.

Soon after, the Facebook Group named “Progressive Asian American Christians” reached 1,500 members in the span of 4 weeks. The group has progressively grown to over 2,800 members (at the time of this blog post). Here is its description is handcrafted by Lydia Suh and Liz Lin:

A place for Asian American Christians — of East, Southeast, and South Asian descent, as well as Pacific Islanders and Native Hawaiians — to share progressive views on theology and how we understand the world and faith through it.

We love how this community is growing and how we’re supporting and encouraging each other. You can find our community guidelines here: https://goo.gl/a5CUJR

We see this space as two ministries: A place for progressive Asian American Christians to be able to talk openly without having to constantly explain or defend themselves, and a place where people can ask questions. Usually we’re able to do both at the same time; occasionally, we hit some bumps. 

***

So… what exactly do you mean by progressive?

You’ll find a wide range of perspectives in this group; there isn’t a certain theology or set of beliefs to which everyone ascribes. If you want to get a sense of the kinds of folks who are here, many of us:

  • are politically liberal
  • affirm women at all levels of church leadership
  • identify as feminist
  • care deeply about justice — racial, economic, environmental, educational…
  • are LGBT-affirming
  • identify as LGBTQIA+

If that sounds like you, hooray! Welcome home. We’re so happy you’re here and we hope you find this group to be a place for support, encouragement, and growth. If you’re on the fence about a few of these things, you’re welcome here too. We’re happy you found us, and we hope this is place where you can listen and learn and ask thoughtful questions. And if you were added to the group but don’t think it’s for you right now, you’re welcome back anytime.

We also welcome folks who aren’t Asian American or Pacific Islander but are here to listen, learn, and support.

***

Sign up for our monthly newsletter, which highlights events, meetups, and resources from this group: http://eepurl.com/cxAyyz

You can also check out the other Facebook groups that have grown out of this one: https://goo.gl/WmnsQF

Here’s a list we’re compiling of progressive churches that are inclusive of Asian Americans: https://goo.gl/3wLqPN

And here’s how the group got started! https://goo.gl/Gp79sI

The Deafening Silence of the Asian Immigrant Church

[originally posted at https://ibelongyoubelong.wordpress.com/2016/09/27/the-deafening-silence-of-the-asian-immigrant-church/]

 

Alton Sterling.

Philando Castile.

Terence Crutcher.

These are just three of the 165 African American men who have been shot by police in 2016 alone, according to the Washington Post.

Protests and riots against this epidemic have reached a fever pitch.

Out on the streets, I hear wails of pain, shouts against injustice, and cries for a response.

Within the Church, I hear weeping together, rallying together, dialoguing together.

But it’s been amazingly quiet in one corner.

My corner.

The Asian immigrant church in America has been silent.

And the silence is deafening.

 *  *  *

In William Barber II’s New York Times piece about the Charlotte protests, the African American minister writes,

“Charlotte’s protests are not black people versus white people. They are not black people versus the police. The protesters are black, white and brown people, crying out against police brutality and systemic violence.”

There is no mention of Asians.

Not only at this particular demonstration, but within the general movement towards racial reconciliation and social justice, we are—more often than not—conspicuously absent.

I have been in Chinese immigrant churches all my life, and never—not one single time—have I ever heard a pastor addressing issues of racism from the pulpit.

I cannot recall one single Sunday service where there was a time of communal lament for a tragedy that did not directly affect our ethnic community.

On social media, I hear very little from my Asian American community about the injustices that we see happening around us all the time.

And I have some suspicions about why.

Culturally, we are taught not to rock the boat.

Relationally, we value non-confrontational communication.

Emotionally, we are trained to subdue and suppress.

Socially, we are insular and content to play the part of “model minority”.

Regardless of the reasons for our silence in the past, something needs to change. The Asian immigrant church must “learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Isaiah 1:17). If ever there was a group that has been oppressed, widowed, and made fatherless, the black community is it.

But before we start trying to correct this oppression, we must deal with the plank in our own eye. We must confront our own prejudice. There cannot be any denying that we have been handed down deep-seated biases and preconceptions about other people of color. The immigrant generation before us came from countries that were mostly mono-cultural, and the attitudes they had towards those outside their culture reflected that. My generation has inevitability inherited and internalized some of that xenophobia, so we must become aware of it and own it so that we can bring it to the light.

We also must acknowledge our own apathy towards the suffering of other people of color. We Asian Americans have generally done pretty well for ourselves. According to a 2015 Pew Research Center article, Asian men and women both have higher hourly earnings than their respective white counterparts.  We also lead in educational attainment, being the demographic that has the highest percentage with a bachelor’s degree or more. This wealth and education affords many of us a life that distances us from the plight of other minorities. We can’t seem to relate to the overt discrimination, the closed doors, and the disgruntled protests because we have studied at top tier schools, have well-paid jobs, and live in affluent neighborhoods.

Yet as Christians who follow a Jesus who seeks out the marginalized and notices the forgotten, I think we must seriously examine what it means to identify with the hurting instead of disassociating from them. We must question our quest for greater success and privilege and consider what it might look like to stand in solidarity with those oppressed by systemic injustice.

Because the reality is, there is no us and them.

We are one.

The reality is that not too long ago:

  • Asians were depicted as apes and primitives, a threat to the American way of life.
  • Asians experienced prejudice and earned the lowest, not the highest, wages as railway workers and gold miners.
  • Asians were not allowed to become American citizens, let alone study at its universities.
  • Asians were prohibited by law from owning land, much less reside in middle-upper class communities.

The reality is that we are not so different after all.

But like in the story of Moses, perhaps we have been sheltered from the suffering of our own people. Perhaps we’ve lived among wealth and education and privilege too long, and we identify more with the dominant culture than the oppressed communities we originally came from. Maybe we feel like we’ve overcome our own obstacles and seek to simply live a quiet life away from all the turmoil and injustice.

But I hear God saying,

              I have indeed seen the misery of my people…

              I have heard them crying out…

              I am concerned about their suffering…

And regardless of our race, God is inviting all of us into his compassionate heart, redemptive work, and vision of liberation. God is calling us all to speak up and take action.

Now we as the Asian immigrant church can choose whether to remain in our place of relative peace, or to enter the pain and the fray.

As for me, I’m jumping in.

I’m going to declare alongside my black brothers and sisters,

               Let my people go!

I’m going to show up. I’m going to listen. I’m going to use my voice to plead the cause of the oppressed.

For I am fully convinced that by replacing our disengagement and silence with solidarity and protest, we end up reflecting more of God—

A God who shares in our humanity,

sympathizes with us,

advocates for us,

and stands in solidarity with us.

 

 

The Economics of Asian American Privilege

Students at Monta Vista High School in Cupertino

[also posted at http://breadbeforerice.blogspot.com/2016/08/the-economics-of-asian-american.html]

 Age group competitive soccer in the San Francisco bay area is essentially comprised of two social classes: the affluent, predominantly white families that at away tournaments eat at nice restaurants and stay at expensive hotels and the non-white predominantly Latino immigrant families that bring their own food and extended family to games. At a recent tournament, I made small talk with one of the dads as we attempted to fit into the first group. He’s a middle-aged Russian immigrant and I asked him what he did for work. It turned out he’s a data scientist who works for a large insurance company. He creates data models that predict things like bay area housing price trends.
He in turn asked if I was a programmer. I told him I was a pastor but it was a good guess. He agreed. After all his algorithm had calculated the probability was high. I love immigrant candor.
This question encapsulates why I live in the bay area. Where else do I get mistaken for a software engineer? In the bay area, I can walk into a nice restaurant wearing outdoor performance gear and because the wait staff will presume I’m a stock option baller who works at Facebook or Google or some start-up company with a clever-sounding name that has a tenuous relationship with the product made, I will be seated pronto. They treat me well because I’m a nerd and in the bay area, nerds rule the world. If I lived in some rural town in the Midwest, people would see me and think “Who are you? Why are you here? Are you bringing me Chinese take-out?”
Asian American privilege, in its highest form, exists in major metro areas with a high rate of professional employment, a prestigious university, and a large immigrant population. In my new church, we have white people moving out of the area to quaint places like Shingle Springs, CA and Bend, OR. Educated Asian Americans don’t move to those areas. We have no privilege there. What kind of work would we do? More importantly, how would we eat? Who is going to seat us immediately when we walk in wearing a Patagonia 100% recycled fleece pullover? Who is going to serve Japanese noodle soup that we wait two hours for and then post pics of on Instagram? Where are Asian women going to dine with their white boyfriends? Where are Asian guys going to congregate? That stuff is important to Asian Americans like me.
My wife’s cousin from Taiwan can tell if someone at first glance is an American, including Asian Americans, not based on their attire but by their body language. There’s a difference in posture. We stand up straighter and we strut. We tend to look down on people rather than look up in submissiveness. We take up more space. If you’re a male, it’s called man-spreading. Our facial expressions are more expressive and we use expansive hand gestures. We are louder in public – not just louder in groups but louder in public as individuals. An American is the only person in the world that can be as loud solo as in a group.
I have British-born Chinese friends in Scotland. Their parents were Chinese immigrants (mainly from the Guangdong area) and came over to open restaurants. I observed their body language. When we were in public, it felt like they crept around the margins – not quite fitting in and feeling sort of invisible. That doesn’t happen very often to me in the bay area. When it does, it’s when the white to non-white ratio is worse than 10:1 like at an Irish pub in Los Gatos. And then I’m only invisible because everyone is taller than me. You’ll never see anything approaching a white:non-white ratio of 10:1 in any high-tech company except perhaps in the sales or HR department.
Therefore, body language is a proxy for the degree of privilege you enjoy. The greater the privilege, the more expansive the body language. That’s another metric for Asian American privilege. You’ll see it in the way bay area Asian Americans move. We strut around like we own the place. Because we often do.
Claire Jean Kim, a political science and Asian American studies professor at UC Irvine, writes:
Asian Americans are not, as they are often labeled, a “model minority” whose cultural endowments have allowed them to outstrip other less equipped minorities. However, like whites, they do enjoy a priceless set of structural privileges and immunities, as evidenced by high educational and residential integration and intermarriage rates with whites.
She doesn’t provide support for the first claim. And her second statement contradicts the claim of the first. I agree with her second statement but the adjective I want to challenge is Kim’s contention that Asian American privilege is “priceless”. That’s inexcusable hyperbole coming from a professor because it is simply not true. Privilege is quantifiable and it is bounded. The price of Asian American privilege in the bay area is between $1.5 – $2M. You can come straight from China with a boatload of cash and your suitcases of money will buy you an older three bedroom, two bathroom house in a predominantly Asian (or significantly affluent immigrant) city like Cupertino or San Jose neighborhood like Almaden. For the money, you will receive social cachet and the privilege for your children to go to school with their Tiger Mom-raised peers. This is where the future software engineers of America will grow up. For the same price, you can buy 5-8 decent homes in rural Missouri but you will be utterly priced out of the social cachet market. That’s why affluent Asian Americans live here. The housing may be ridiculously expensive but at least there’s access to social capital. Asian American privilege absolutely has a price tag. Your dollar can buy you privilege here whereas in other places it gets you pennies on the dollar.
Let’s take the economic perspective even further. Consumer demand theory dictates people consume goods and services in order to to maximize utility. Utility is the abstract amount of satisfaction derived from the consumption of a good or service. Given a scarcity of goods and services, a consumer will spend his money in a way that maximizes utility. Now replace “utility” with “privilege”. Privilege is the social status conferred from the purchase of goods and services – specifically, the house you live in (and its surrounding neighborhood) or your occupation. I’m absolutely arguing that privilege can be bought. So with that in mind, here’s my hypothesis:
A consumer will spend his money to live in an area or pursue an occupation that maximizes the amount of privilege he will receive in return.
This explains why ethnic enclaves (or “ethnoburbs”) exist. Immigrants move to an area/neighborhood, bid up home prices, make the schools more competitive, and once a critical mass is attained, the momentum of privilege will shift in their favor. That is what has happened in cities like Cupertino and neighborhoods like Almaden. The homes are ridiculous expensive but Asian consumers understand the privilege their money is buying. It’s privilege that can’t be bought in Shingle Springs or Bend. It’s the privilege of having your kids grow up in an atmosphere of software engineer aspirations and the accompanying pressure to excel in math and science.
It also explains white flight. The author of this article about white flight from “ethnoburbs” like Cupertino and Johns Creek, a suburb of Atlanta, thinks it’s all about racism. She writes:
Somehow white parents’ liberal politics and progressivism do not inform them that the decision to relocate to avoid Asians is racism. They’ve defined the term so narrowly, their own individual acts of prejudice don’t meet it. I’ve been told, on more than one occasion, that Asians possess a sort of primal urge to self-segregate, that they choose to live in clusters, that these clusters of predominantly Asian neighborhoods make whites feel uncomfortable, so they leave. The so-called “choice” to live together ignores the very real social and economic realities of Asians who immigrate to the U.S.
The half-Indian author presumes racism is the motivation behind white flight and yet somehow when we Asian Americans segregate in ethnic clusters, we aren’t guilty of the same thing because racism. And yet if you view privilege in terms of utility and we’re all consumers making rational choices about maximizing privilege, then it all makes sense. It’s not so much about overcoming or expressing racism but consumers acting in their own self-interest. When white people complain about their kids growing up in an over-competitive (code for Asian) environment, what they’re really saying is “The privilege my money buys in this neighborhood has declined because of the influx of Asians”. Of course they’re going to seek more affordable white privilege. They’re behaving as rational consumers.
Racism means privilege costs more when you’re not white but it doesn’t change the underlying economics. On the price spectrum of minorities, it’s cheapest when you’re Asian and most expensive when you’re black. But when you view the world solely through the lens of race, you’re holding a hammer and everything looks like a nail. There are other possible ways to view segregation. So before we start whacking on all the racist nails sticking out, it might help to put on a more pragmatic lens. It will lead us to an important possibility: it may be more helpful to understand segregation in economic terms rather than solely racial ones. At least that’s what my predictive data model says. You can trust me because even though I’m not a software engineer, at least I look like one.