on shame and possibilities

I just ate a bowl of rice topped with slices of cheese and Spam. Raw, unsullied Spam. Admitting that I enjoy eating the canned pink meat has been a thing of my late twenties. Really — what’s wrong with the occasional Spam?

I understand that its nutritional value is nonexistent. I don’t think my sheepishness comes from that, though.  I think my Spam shame goes way back, deep into my roots. Canned meat brings out my introspective nature. So does this chilly weather.

Generally, White people find it disgusting, but Asians live off the stuff. Spam kimbap, fried rice, garlic rice and pan-fried Spam, jjigae à la kimchi and diced Spam. I find myself getting anxious if I don’t have at least 2 cans in my pantry on reserve. In Robert Ji-Song Ku’s Dubious Gastronomy: The Cultural Politics of Eating Asian in the USA, Ku mentions that Spam was part of the US Army’s C-Rations and was scorned by the military. Impoverished Asian and Pacific Islanders, however, found it a luxury item and welcomed gifts of chocolate, cigarettes, and Spam by American GIs. Asians have history with Spam.

As you might surmise, it’s associated with low-class and foreign customs (even though Hormel is an American-based company).  I think immigrant parents found comfort in peeling back the dangerously sharp, stiff metal lid and sliding out a pink block of meat because it was familiar (there was a strong presence of Spam abroad, especially amongst the Allies during WWII). It was American. And it was cheap. Not only did I find out that eating Spam didn’t make me American, but I also developed some kind of lowbrow sensibility for liking it. All this resulted in tossed out sandwiches, secretly eating in the library, feigning disgust, and pretending to be someone I wasn’t.

Okay, okay. Spam melodrama aside, Asian American culture is a relatively new thing. Well, it’s a thing that is coming out on its own after some time in the incubator. Asians in America have been around for a while, but the culture has either been seen as an outsider’s thing — foreign, exotic, weird, dangerous (think “Yellow Peril”) — or it hasn’t been seen at all. We are/were the model minority. As well as the forgotten minority. Guys, the assimilation worked too well. Our parents came fresh off the, uh, airplane, and ducked their heads, doing whatever they could to get by. Most of my generation, we were born Asian, lived in a house with our very Asian grandmother who spoke gibberish and grew suspect plants and vegetables in the garden, and went to schools and lived in areas where there were a lot of non-Asians. We became well aware of our jet black hair, slanted eyes, monolids, and flat nose bridge. We gave it our best to fit in and asked our grandmothers to keep the arm-swinging-jogging-in-place-on-the-corner-sidewalk to a minimum.

And then for many of us, the pendulum swung the other way at some point, for whatever reason. Call it bullying, loneliness, fear, or having nothing better to do. Asian pride, excuse me, AP set in. We colored our hair with annoying streaks of blond and only hung out with other Asians. Maybe the pendulum kept swinging at different life stages, or maybe it got stuck somewhere, but it was always one or the other. Asian or American.

Truth is, though, we are very much of both and want to embrace both. We want to find out what being both means, looks like, and sounds like. It’s super hard to do, though, when Asians and Asian culture are still seen as a character pun. I still wonder why Psy’s “Gangnam Style” made it so big in America. And I still despise when people see me and break out into the “Gangnam Style” dance. Yeah, that has happened. I’m not even Korean. But there is a hopeful, excited part of me that catches conversations about prominent Asian Americans in the media. I’ve witnessed second-gens making big moves and digging inconceivable roots into new communities, paving the way for a new, reconciled future. And I’ve found promising stuff like this letter getting press on NPR’s Code Switch.

So, all that to say — Asian American culture may be a new thing, but oh, the possibilities. And the Spam. The Spam-sibilities. Definitely the Spam-sibilities.

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how many asians does it take?

All right. I’d really like to see this open letter go viral.

If you support it, sign it.

If you signed it out of obligation, don’t support it, or think it’s trifling — I want to know why.

The more Stan and I talk about it, the more excited we get. It may not be tantamount to MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech — I dare not make the comparison — but I think this edict carries a weight of its own.

When I read the letter, I think of my grandparents (rest in peace, lau-lau), my dad, my mom — those who had to keep their heads down for the sake of their families and communities. Assimilation was part of survival. My mom not having the words to say to correct a 13-year-old kid who he yells, “Ching ching chong!” while she waves at a school bus full of kids was part of that assimilation story. My childhood embarrassment of being Chinese, getting harassed, and then cornered for “being in America” — that was part of the assimilation story. The model minority. The silent minority. We’ve come a long way from flagrant abuse and discrimination, but all that has taken another bad turn. Systemic racism and privilege in the Evangelical Church? Yeah, it’s a real thing as seen here, here, here, and here, to name a few.

Apologies were given and received (in some cases), but the routine occurrence of these hurtful images, jokes, and mockeries are astounding. And the backlash of — “You’re overly sensitive. Get over yourself because it’s just a joke. What’s your agenda? What’s the point? Get back to being a Christian and looking after the poor.” — add insult to injury. Not to mention, those remarks miss the point by a long shot. We are the Church, and we are preparing the way for the true shalom of the Kingdom. That means turning systems of oppression on its head and calling out distortions of power on all counts, especially, especially when it comes to the Church. We hold the Church, the beautiful Bride of Jesus, to another standard.

I firmly believe that we, as Asian American Christians, have a unique standpoint in matters of racial reconciliation and harmony. I don’t know what that means or looks like, but I feel it in my spirit when I enter into conversations with different colors and classes of the Church. To engage in these matters, to be catalysts of cultural change, to give voice to the voiceless — well, our own voices have to be heard. I think of the generations before us and how they did what they felt they had to do to get us where we are. And now, here we are.

coup de grace

This and this and this brought back not-so-fond memories of Deadly Viper on a few levels.

1) I haven’t touched my research thesis, focusing on Deadly Viper as a case study, since I finished it last year. After the defense, I tucked it away on my hard drive amidst a fog and ignored it in a proper postpartum-depressed-like manner. (I feel a pang of guilt for saying that, but as my thesis committee reminded me time and time again — writing that damn paper is like is like carrying a child for 9 months. Towards the end, you want to pop. But we’ll save the guilty baby talk for another post.)

2) Why? Just why? Just, just, just…why? Just really why? Amen.

Ashamedly, I am out of touch with my Chinese heritage, a fact that I lament and try to reconcile. When I asked my husband what was going on, he managed to mutter the phrase “communist party” while he was scouring the blogosphere. I had to do a double take at the Red Guard propaganda screen capture and tap into my Highlights magazine Hidden Pictures prowess, but it really wasn’t needed. The red arm band secured over an olive green uniform. All of this took a matter of seconds to understand. Mao, the Cultural Revolution, Chinese communists, the land of my forefathers, my grandparents on the run, my parents born in Korea outside of our ancestral homeland.

What takes longer to understand is why a prominent White Evangelical chose this distressing image to display on his Facebook feed with hundreds of thousands of followers (not to mention with the impending launch of a certain megachurch in Hong Kong). And why, after people posted light concerns and extreme disgust over the image, he defended it as a funny-haha-joke and told the offended to get over themselves. What I mostly have a hard time understanding is why we can’t seem to get a decent conversation going about it. Hey, we got our 15 minutes of fame already, right? Warren gave a fragile non-apology apology camouflaged between 143 other commenters, and then another vague “I’m sorry if you” apology on his Facebook. And then nothing. And then this offended people group has to stew in their own mess that they made. This is our problem, right? We’re the ones with a bone to pick after silently sitting at the table for so long. We should just get over it. You know, laugh a little.

Getting a decent conversation about it doesn’t detract from the Cross and the Kingdom. The whole — “get over yourself, and get back to focusing on Jesus and winning souls for Christ” — drives me insane. It’s an absurd either-or scenario where Asian American Christians who decide to speak up about some harbored affliction are all the sudden less Christian or not Christian at all. Talk about undermining and discrediting your neighbors’ pain. And then stepping over or crossing to the other side of the street.

I’m not mad about what happened. I mean, I am, but I’m not. I like what Dr. Sam says about Pastor Rick: “…a good man is good not because he is right all the time, but because he owns up to his mistakes. I think he’s doing the best he can in his response.” And I do believe that Pastor Rick thinks this is the best he can do. I think that about Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite, too. I think they think…this is it.

This can’t stop at a vague Facebook “I’m sorry if you…” non-apology apology. Historically, Asians [in America] are notorious for being the silent minority, but I’m holding on to the hope that this stereotype is becoming outdated, especially in the context of Church and the Gospel and giving voice to the voiceless and reconciliation. Our narrative is twisted in the passiveness of Asian culture and the aggressiveness of American culture. To not be one doesn’t mean we have to be the other, though. I think we’ll find sure-footing somewhere. Back us up. Don’t tell my yellow skin to “lighten up” and find humor in racism, systemic or otherwise, throw out a [feeble] apology, and end the conversation.

better whole

Being a woman in a man’s world is tough. That’s an understatement. Most ideas of women — what they should be, who they are, what they like, what they look like, blah blah — all stem from a man’s world. And all reactions against a man’s world, well, is still just that — a reaction against a man’s world.

And here I am grappling not only with what it means to be a good wife, but simply a wife. A hot wife.

No, I am not going to shave my head and grow my armpit hair out. Because that’s exactly how you’d want it, huh? Or maybe I will. Or no…I won’t. Maybe I will. No…I wont. Maybe.

the real

There is an expectation that we can talk about sins but no one must be identified as a sinner: newspapers love to describe words or deeds as “racially charged” even in those cases when it would be more honest to say “racist”; we agree that there is rampant misogyny, but misogynists are nowhere to be found; homophobia is a problem but no one is homophobic. One cumulative effect of this policed language is that when someone dares to point out something as obvious as white privilege, it is seen as unduly provocative. Marginalized voices in America have fewer and fewer avenues to speak plainly about what they suffer; the effect of this enforced civility is that those voices are falsified or blocked entirely from the discourse.

-Teju Cole

t. rex

I had my first writing piece legitimately published a few months ago. It’s a chapter in one of my professor’s books, Women in Higher Education. It was exciting to receive the hardback in the mail, and it only provoked dreams of what it would be like to receive my own book in the mail, if that were ever to happen. I’ll admit that the genre of work makes me snigger. It lies somewhere in the realm of feminism, something I wouldn’t openly associate with. (The cover of the book makes me chuckle, too. My sister said it looks like a book on fertility. Why are research books so uninspiring?)

When people think of feminism, they think of things like the Chicago Diamond building symbolizing a va-jay-jay among all the phallic architecture surrounding it. I read that that was a myth, by the way. The architect was quoted saying that she never meant for it to be known as lady parts. I digress. And I think the Diamond building is a digression from true feminism, whatever that may be. You know what it isn’t, even if you don’t know what it is.

I see London, I see France…I see a vaj. I love Chicago.

I’m not really sure why I wouldn’t associate with feminism. Perhaps it’s the embarrassing mess of what it has become. Or maybe I’m of the housewife feminist brand, the feminist that believes a woman can and should do whatever makes them happy. And be empowered at the same time. And embrace silent fortitude, demureness, ladylike modesty. And look bold and beautiful however they want. And then not care how they look at all. Confusing messages. I don’t know. In any case, I’ve been thinking about these things a lot — what it means to be a woman, what it means to be a godly woman, what it means to be a godly woman who is the companion and helper of her husband, what it means to be devoted to your First Love and how that translates into all sorts of relationships. The latter of which I find to be really hard for women because of a fundamental yearning to be loved and desired.

Society has taught women to build tall structures that reach the heavens and iconically shout “I AM WOMAN! I will not be vulnerable. I will not be weak or be weakened.” Our generation’s culture has taught us to keep our act tight. It’s tough navigating through womanhood because I find myself comparing my womanliness and wifeliness to people around me. I think third-wave feminism, a strain that emphasizes empowerment and embraces female-ness, makes me feel as if I need to be in control and have my sh*t together.

Like with cooking. Our culture has taught me that cooking is fun and cute when you’re posting pictures of the labor-intensive meal you just made on a Friday night. Snap a pic with the Camera+ App, in Hipster mode, on a clean counter, and tagged with my husband. Shubbups. On Monday evening after a long, long day at work, though, no one told me that I’d just want to eat a piece of cheese and pick at crackers out of a box. No one told me I’d be giving my husband a look of guilt/pity/anger/apology/frustration, and then convince him that the both of us should be dieting anyway. He’ll offer to cook or get takeout, and while that sounds good, something inside will nag at me just a little. I want to live up to this idea of the perfect wife and woman. But I’ll also want to throw my hands in the air and just go “uggggghhhhhhhh,” and then finish my paper, respond to emails, talk to friends, eat my cheese and crackers, paint my nails, google The Muppets on YouTube, and go to bed. And I don’t want to feel bad about it.

Somewhere in there, I’ve started to emphasize empowerment and not putting the other person, no matter who it may be, higher than myself. I’ve started to focus on personal satisfaction and not on serving for the joy of serving. And while these traits and qualities are not mutually exclusive — empowerment in being able to put someone else higher than yourself, personal satisfaction in serving — they are messy when it becomes all about me.

Women carry the unique position of being helpers, having the intrinsic nature of wanting to serve and support. I think it’s just been stifled. That’s the kind of feminism I hope to explore this year. Glamour took all the honor out of humility. Bring it back in style.

***

And now a look into my everyday: I started this fitness class that has been pretty awesome. A) I know it’s working because my appetite and metabolism are like those of a hyena. B) I’m walking on my toes with my knees slightly bent like T.Rex because my calves are killing me. I feel silly. But when I’m out and about, I somehow attain enough adrenaline to counteract the pain and stand upright. Score.