The Miseducation of Meta-Theresa

I am a small, young, Asian, female immigrant. My exterior is expected to match my interior. I am expected to take up as little space as possible, while I bow my head in submission to your maturity and masculinity.

I learned these things and am burdened with the hyper-awareness that comes with constantly feeling subjugated. I learned.

When you are diminutive, you learn.
When prejudices against your generation affect how people perceive you, you learn.
When stereotypes of your race affect how people treat you, you learn.
When you have strengths, and it is “despite” your gender, you learn.
When you have weaknesses, and it is “because” of your gender, you learn.
When your life path did not start in the country you now live in, you learn.

When that is your reality, you learn.

This is not the education I wanted to partake in, as a child and now as an adult.

I have a full-blown world inside me; do they know this?

Fortunately, I have also learned how necessary it is to take up space;

to take dominion over conference tables and conference calls alike; to let my hand gestures and words consume physical and mental space —

to pull my audience into the world inside me.

This is me, eliminating doubt. I have learned to pick up a paintbrush and start painting something beautiful and badass over it.

ღ, ts

* * *

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Daily post prompt: Doubt

Carry me home

Carry me home, sweet salty tide
I never knew your strength after all
And in this anguish, I release it to you
So you may enter my pores 
And make me one with you 

Bring me back to the minute sands
Upon which I lay my innocence 
Like a trusting fool, a jester of the seas
I forgive you in my weariness
Oh, lover of the breathless seas

So carry me home, driftwood docking
Upon your frills of froth
And make me a jester once more
In your court of longing and love
Bring me home once more

________________

Daily Post prompt: Carry

A raisin drowning in milk

“I feel like a raisin drowning in milk,” the black woman said. “White, white, white all around me. I’m drowning in a sea of white.” Thus was the statement that captured the essence of the People’s Institute Undoing Racism workshop.

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There were about 50 of us in a circle in that room, the room that laid our souls bare and dissected our biases for two and a half days. White people, black people, and every shade in between — hearing each other’s stories. Listening to the words, I got a sense of each person having left something behind; their soul fragmenting piece by piece for every year they have assimilated into our white-dominated world. It may have been a family. It may have been their values. It may simply have been that elusive, once-in-a-lifetime feeling of home.

I struggle to write this because I straddle the line between those who have privilege and those who do not. As a young Asian woman who grew up with a North American mainframe, I have the ability to be ‘diverse’ enough to be edgy and different, yet Caucasian enough in culture and language to navigate this Pacific Northwestern sea of white. I am a crossover, a music album accessible to many audiences.

The most tangible indicator of this was when it came time in the workshop to compare the everyday experiences of white people to those of people of color. My immigrant background made me nod my head at stories of hardship and loss; my lifelong privilege made me bow my head in shame as I related to my white counterparts.

I teared up in horror as I heard a half white, half black woman repeat what her transgressor said on a bus to her one day: “You’re a nigger, but you’re worse than a regular nigger, you’re an UPPITY NIGGER!!!” I heard her humanity shatter in half as she told us in a cracked, raw voice that nobody, nobody said anything to her—not even after the fact—to offer words of comfort. And I thought to myself at that moment, would I have stood up and said something? Would I have, at the very least, stopped at her seat afterwards to see if she was okay?

The workshop has opened my eyes to the madness and blindness of our society. We may not think we are racists. We may think that just because we work painfully hard not to offend anybody, we are not racists. We may think that because we even try to be diligent about reserving judgment on people, we are not racists. But the fact is, we all harbor biases and prejudices formed from childhood, from the minute we could think in structured thoughts.

This is why we go around hurting people without even realizing it. This is why, when encountering a person different from ourselves, we shy away and stay at the shallowest level of interaction, because we don’t know them, and we’re afraid of what we don’t know. And in the meantime, while we’re over here freaking out about this “different” person, (God forbid) experiencing some discomfort over someone new, that individual is suffocating in a place that shuts them out and makes them feel unwanted and unwelcome. That person is then forced to shed their skin and don a new one, a more palatable one, just so they can survive and make it through the day. And then, day by day, year by year, they lose themselves in this quest of assimilation.

This is why it is not enough to make sure you say the right thing, or don’t say the wrong thing. We have to engage each other in painstaking, but meaningful conversation about our experiences in a safe environment. In these conversations, we may stumble across each other’s ignorance and accidentally offend somebody, but because we’re coming from a place of love, we apologize, ask to be corrected, and move on. We move on and embrace our differences in the hopes of reaching common understanding.

I’ve changed. I can never be the same again. But at least my sense for empathy is sharper, and I am one step closer to helping enable the change that we all so desperately need in a world as needlessly cruel as ours.

To my mother: An explanation for my behaviour

Dear Mama,

A couple days ago, I told our story. And it made people break out in tears.

May is Asian and Pacific Islander (API) month. My company wanted to hold a tribute of sorts to it, and so, asked me and two other Asian and Pacific Islanders to speak about our experiences. And I thought to myself, this is something I could finally own.

To prepare myself, I latched on to the word “experience”, thankful it was not something more structured and contextual like “culture” or “heritage”. “Experience” — less defined, and more open to the sense of not feeling tied to any one country. After all, I am a Filipino-Canadian who grew up in Micronesia and lives in the States. The phrase “where I’m from” means almost nothing to me.

I say it’s our story because all along the way, it’s always been you and I. Sure, there were other family members, but they were either born into the family or they had their own lives prior to rejoining us. We were always in the core, the Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks of our group.

tumblr_l3dtypNLFz1qa4s0qo1_540I’ve been attached to you all my life — I am, in every sense of the word, your child. Your values taught me what was important, your reprimands taught me right from wrong, your strength is the one I try to mimic.

I told the crowd of the immense sacrifices our family had to make.. That you had to make. And right then and there, in front of 100 people, that’s when my voice cracked, because I knew I would not be standing there if it weren’t for you, bullying me every step of the way, and forgiving each and every one of my mistakes.

You had to be a single mom for five children, three of whom you were away from most of their lives, and you had to bring them all to a strange country where we knew no one. Because of all your sacrifices, I stayed quiet in my anger, of being displaced frequently, of your criticisms, of having to grow up quickly. I was very Asian in my teenage rebellion. Though I didn’t have the right to be angry, I was.

You and I, we never had the kind of friend/confidant relationship some mothers and daughters fondly speak of. You were never my friend. You were my strongest critic; your tsk-tsk-tsk was the sound of my childhood. Your words were never of encouragement and support; they were always words of warning, of caution, of chastisement, taking my hope and enjoyment hostage in return for my obedience.

I understood, even back then, that your roughness was a byproduct of your will to control the outcome of our family’s success. I understood that back then, and I understand that still now. The difference is, back then I resented you.

Our relationship today, as amicable and pleasant as it is now, skirts around our lack of closeness. There are elephants constantly occupying the rooms we talk in, and as much as I enjoy visiting you, it’s always business as usual. I can’t hug you without mentally squirming in my seat.

No, we can’t get past this stage. Too much has happened. We have bruised each other too much. We are reduced to the friendliness of acquaintances. You now respect my autonomy and I now respect that you did what you thought was necessary. The restraint and fondness you now display with my brother was not shown to me. And that’s fine. I am a wilder, more contemplative breed because of it, constantly aware of the emotional dances people partake in.

I know someday, I’ll understand the type of creature you are even more. Our journey as enemies is over. You are no longer the antagonist of every obstacle in my life, just a bystander. I’m caught in the strange middle ground of acknowledging all we’ve been through together and yet, feeling like you are a stranger to me. I hope one day, you and I can begin to open up, finally start processing all that has gone on between us.

Sincerely,

Your ‘inday’