The necessary work

hari kondabolu quote

I’m tired. And not muscles-are-achy-tired, or took-care-of-a-newborn-tired, or couldn’t-sleep-last-night-tired (well, maybe that a little bit). Update: I’m self-correcting. I’m not tired, I’m learning. 

The sea is relentless, and when I mean the sea, I mean each drop that represents a moment of racism in my life.

  • I think about the time, a couple years ago, I talked with a white friend, who said they don’t believe systemic racism exists. Now they’re posting about the injustices that people of color face.
  • Or the time a white co-worker told me the best sex he ever had in his life was with his Filipino ex.
  • Or when I was 12, and my family immigrated to Canada, and not knowing any better, I imitated Chinese accents for the better part of 6 months in class, during recess, during lunch time, before I realized there was something wrong in doing that.
  • Or when I accidentally called the custodian at my work place “Jose” even if his name is Pedro.
  • Or when I heard a non-black-person say the n-word while reciting song lyrics and I didn’t say anything.
  • Or the time my voice got shut out in favor of a white person’s.
  • Ugh. And so much more.

I’m auditing my life in the context of racism, and I’m definitely finding myself lacking.

In the last few weeks, and even few years, I would say, I’ve been examining my implicit anti-blackness. And it’s so hard, so insidious, so against what I explicitly believe and try to live by, because it means airing out ugly things like the memories above.

Asian communities can be racist, even explicitly so. I find myself trying to find faces that look like mine in the context of Black Lives Matter, thought-leaders that are Asian and have a strong stance on anti-racism and pro-black lives.

In a time of hashtag activism (is that a phrase, I don’t even know, it should be) and online sources that deluge my feeds every day, it can be easy to participate in social justice — and convenient.

It is a good thing to join a protest, support a black-owned business, share a post, spread the word, learn the vocabulary — but I find myself asking: is it the necessary thing?

I find myself asking: are we doing the work to struggle and reflect? Are we asking ourselves how we’ve benefited from a system that hurts black people?

Are we asking ourselves when in our lives have we spoken up, when we were not in a crowd of passionate protesters, but alone with only our own voices and hearts?


Writers Write prompt: Relentless

 

Weightless in the afterglow

The best part of the holiday season this year, I am realizing, is that the afterglow — the dying of the tree; the saran wrap you put over your Christmas feast as your last guest is leaving; that moment when snow stops being this magical substance, but just frozen water — is actually the part I relished the most.

I came back home, fresh from the icy biome of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and I realized, my pain is gone. There is a weight that has been lifted that somehow got flushed away by the cold winds. I realized the last few weeks that my angst over  my past is gone, and what’s left in its place is an acceptance of what happened to me.

For most of my thinking life, I have grasped my pain close to me, like a blanket. I was desperate to retain my anger, thinking it would shield me from this thing called positivity, which was this evil, smug, smiling light that would take my blanket away from me. But in doing this, what I was denying myself was the grace and strength that comes from truly letting things go.

I don’t need to be a sulking martyr who is constantly blaming my past transgressors for my current faults. I am a human, some things have happened to me, but things happen to everybody. What is the point behind letting old wounds fester? All of a sudden, self-acceptance is feeling more natural to me.

As I sat in my morning commute, watching people board and un-board, I felt this innate sense of content; I realize my story is just one in millions. My pain is valid; but it is also heavy. Why did I carry it all with me all these years? By some perfect storm of happenings—all the tears, the unrest, the gut-churning conversations—I feel freer.

* * *

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Unpacked anger

I have been quiet these last couple months. I am trying to re-locate myself. I have not written because my axis of belonging has flipped — X has become Y, and Y has become X.

If you read my blog, you will come across the same themes: displacement, sexual trauma, the frustration of being unable to create meaningful connections, shame, a sense of longing for home, familial tensions, etc.

All of these are edges of the web that still pin me down. I am still trying to piece together the “why” of who I am, and these are major elements of that. I recognize that I am angry because there are still unreconciled pieces.

In this post, I will tell you more about myself, and highlight the parts that I am (still) angry about.

When my family moved to a distinctly different culture than the ones we grew up in, we took no time to process the transition together. I am still angry about that. We were all trying to survive. While my mother and older siblings were working night shifts at casinos and fast food places, I was forced to learn ‘ad-hoc mothering’, babysitting my 6-year-old brother and 6-month-old niece before school, after school, and until the moment I would lay down to sleep. I had to grow up quickly. I am still angry about that.

I was not taught the specific behaviors that would allow me to be more easily accepted by people my own age. Through mistake after mistake, I had to learn that on my own; none of my family knew what I was going through, or gave me the space to tell them. I am still angry about that. When I moved, I was 12. Because of my impressionability at that age, I was painfully aware of my social shortcomings, stumbling into interactions stiffly, uninformed on which conversational cues to use to continue them, helplessly unaware of how to make people comfortable with me. The question I constantly grappled with from the age of 12 to even now, is how do I make them like me? I am still angry about that. I spoke English perfectly — but I couldn’t speak “the language”. I could speak — but I couldn’t communicate. I became silent because my real voice was not acceptable. I am still angry about that.

I am now 25-years-old. Assimilation has become a science to me as a result of painfully nitpicking at myself for over two dozen years. I am angry about that. Assimilation has become my way of survival in whatever arena I am in: work, friendships, romantic relationships… I become whatever the other person needs me to be. I am angry about that. I have learned to observe interactions between people so acutely that interpersonal dynamics start resembling process diagrams in my head.

Seeing patterns between people like this has recently started weighing heavy on my heart. I am constantly at intersections where I recognize and empathize with the pain of people I care about, and find myself ill-equipped to positively influence them. Yet, I blame myself for lacking the courage to try. Every day has become an emotional battlefield. I am angry about that.

I have lost myself at the over-exposure of my heart and my soul (or is it that I never really found myself, and I’m only recognizing that loss more intensely now?). I am angry about that.

The only way I am now able to relate to someone is through their struggle; everyone else who has anything other than pain to share with me, I reject. Unpacked, unprocessed anger is such a contagious emotion, and it’s especially hard to fend it off when I harbour it within myself.

How can I be free of a habit that I have used to survive all these years? How can I accept anything positive when I have fed off of the melancholy for so long?

A close friend told me recently that I deserve to ask myself why I am so angry — why I choose to stay in that place of anger. Maybe this post is the beginning of that.


Daily Post prompt: Relocate

The many faces of resistance

Today, I write about resistance, and the many manifestations it can take. There is such a familiar image one thinks of when they see the word “resistance” — a passionate crowd wielding signs and shouting; a defiant gaze against an authoritative figure; maybe even Star Wars?

After a month of the “Reclaiming My Time” workshop, I am realizing that “resistance” can look so different from these preconceptions: a circle of crying faces mourning the loss of a community member; getting up every morning to show your face at an institution that strips you of your identity and culture; and pushing through to have a difficult conversation with a friend.

I am starting to realize that oftentimes, the strongest people are those who don’t shout, but whisper. These are the people that continually try to make themselves accessible and open, in the effort to educate and spread understanding. It takes strength to shout, but it takes even more strength to show restraint, so that the other side may still listen — so that the relationships remain intact, so that your words may live to fight another day for you.

Silence is speech. A whisper is a shout. One conversation can change the world. So just when you think I am succumbing, I am not. I am resisting.


Daily Post prompt: Succumb