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.

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.

tender

I am grateful for the passages in Hosea because, well, I guess they resonate with me. Passages like:

And I will lay waste her vines and her fig trees, of which she said, ‘These are my wages, which my lovers have given me.’

Because whether from my past, present, or even the things I hope for in the future, I can imagine myself firmly planting my wages, my worth, that my lovers and idols have given me. I’ll tenderly display my rings and jewelry, beaming over my accomplishments and even failures, if they’ve taught me anything. Perhaps the most twisted is when I wonder why I don’t have more in wages.

And then passages like:

Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her.

Passages like these make my chest feel tight. Because even in the fullness of lovers and satisfaction of idols, who doesn’t want to be spoken to tenderly in the wilderness where you have nothing, can bring nothing, can carry nothing. You have nothing to show for the tenderness lavished upon you, and yet there you are. Your crazy hair, dirty face, sweat-stained clothes, and someone speaking tenderly to you.

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.

remnants

I’m afraid to share some stories. Like the one about the time when a long-haired, skinny stranger opened the car door, unbuckled his pants, and tried to ruin the innocence of my youth. My big sister saved me. Or when I stole… and I was young… and he said he loved me… I hated the way I looked… I got lost. My little sister was born. My mom was sad. The whole house was dark. Except for the ethereal glow from the pink sheets that hung over the windows in my mom’s room. The sheets blocked out the sunlight, but somehow made the room look like it was on fire.

Shadows from my past and in my future. I’m afraid to share some stories. Like how guilt hangs over me. Did I get married and run away? I didn’t run away… I should call home more. I should call the in-laws more. I should see how my little sister is doing. Am I doing enough? I should make more money to send home. I feel like I’m buying Stan’s birthday gift with his own money. Ha. Happy birthday, babe. Love you forever.

I’m afraid to share some stories. Like how I’m saved and I sin. I’m a believer and I doubt. I’ll say things I don’t mean. What’s worse is that I’ll mean things and can’t say them. I’ve been redeemed by an act of complete grace, but sometimes I don’t know what to do with that.

I’ll lay down the stories I’m afraid to share, over and over again. Lay down my rights, my fears. There is a remnant chosen by grace. I don’t want these remnants of disbelief. I believe in a God who is greater than fear. I believe in his promises, and I believe he’ll see them through till the end.

aerial view

Every night before I drift off to sleep, I have all these ideas and thoughts about what I want to do the next day. I’ll make an exquisite and healthy breakfast smoothie, make this DIY craft to decorate the living room walls, cut my bangs like this, invite people over for homemade mojitos, take a photo from an aerial view of my shoes and pants while I’m walking to my local pie shop. Possibly tipsy from homemade mojitos.

What really happens? I slumber to the bathroom when I wake up, sleuth back into bed for another hour, skip breakfast, walk from the bathroom, bedroom, office, and living room 37 times, aimlessly, then stand in between the bathroom and bedroom and think, There was something I was going to do today…

This article, among everything that was said, got me thinking about how much, and how quickly, we desire things to have meaning. We’re trying to “inject the present moment with sentimentality,” as Wampole puts it. The present moment — all the posts, pins, and pictures — may, in fact, be very sentimental. But never as sentimental as an aged memory you share at the dinner table. Never as sentimental and meaningful as being present and then letting time take over.

Yesterday, after 27+ years of labor, my parents were able to/had to let the restaurant go. And with barely any business these last few years, scores of customers came to have their last meals and say goodbye to my parents and the business. One faithful patron cried, so my mom cried, and then my sister cried haha. Out of happiness and shared sentiment. My dad said those moments throughout the week made all of these years worth it. Day in and day out, sometimes with only a handful of customers to pass the time, stressing about rent and income, my dad cooking and hosting, and my mom serving — time hadn’t been wasted.

I think about how their lives, their presence, impacted the community they lived in, and it blows me away. People shed tears knowing my parents were shutting down. We want our lives to be meaningful — that’s a good thing. But can we just let meaning be what it is and take its course without forcing ourselves on it? Sometimes I feel a slight pang of anxiety when I have nothing to share, or seemingly nothing to share. No recent pictures or check-ins. Am I going to be obsolete and irrelevant? I think that’s when I start dreaming of the things I’ll do the next day. Things that can be appraised by a vast audience to acknowledge my life and give it instant, obvious meaning. I think my parents, the older generation, know something about being present. Being in God’s presence. Believing in who God created them to be, believing that alone has sweet meaning, and believing it for others. Maybe every task won’t have instant significance, and every move won’t foreshadow revelation. It didn’t for my mom while she walked around an empty restaurant, listless from the lack of customers. But that doesn’t mean purpose and meaning aren’t there. Maybe it’s just a matter of time and being faithful.

ready?

Jay Park was confident he’d debut in America in two years. “I don’t believe that the important thing is choosing which artist to work with, knowing the trend or how to promote. I think it’s the sincerity. I believe I can make people feel my sincerity when I make music in America…. Two years; and that’s looking at it long.” That was a statement he made more than a year ago. I think today was the first time I’ve heard of him through Stan. Maybe Jay Park’s name popped up somewhere in passing, but it wasn’t significant enough to remember.

Just one month ago, PSY released the music video for “Gangnam Style.” Today, it has more than 50 million hits.

Perhaps there’s something more to this phenomenon than PSY entering back into the music scene at a time when K-Pop is breaching the American sound barrier. Can America embrace the smooth, fresh, Bieber-esque qualities of Jay Park over the comedic, flamboyant, and chubby musician? Is “Gangnam Style” the work of a true musical genius? Or is America still only comfortable with the blundering, seemingly asexual, Asian male stereotype?

I don’t know. But I know Jackie Chan never got Jennifer Love Hewitt. Romeo surely died with the awkwardness between Jet Li and Aaliyah. Hiro Nakamura was like a comic book character and never got with what’s her face. Oh oh! John Cho and Gabrielle Union were slightly successful in Flash Forward. Anyone watch Flash Forward? Anyone? No? Bueller? Point is, “Gangnam Style” is kitschy and catchy and mostly kitschy, PSY is short for PSYcho, and Jay Park…well, we’ll see where that goes. Do your thing, kid.

soapbox

The following sequence of words should not exist:

You look really good! Did you lose weight?*

This sequence, and any variation of this sequence, should be banned from public speech.

*Disclaimer: It may be allowed under the circumstance that said person was morbidly obese and intentionally tried to lose weight. Maybe.

It’s no wonder why women are afflicted with distorted self-images.

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.

What’s on your mind?

[english breakfast tea, apple cinnamon oatmeal, jesus culture, simmering sullungtang, blogging]

***

Facebook and Twitter status updates. We can say so little and yet want to tell so much about ourselves, painting the perfect picture. Or it doesn’t have to be the perfect picture, but just a picture we have control of painting. It will say — This is just who I am.

Are our experiences meaningless unless they’re [over]shared? There’s sharing for the other’s satisfaction, i.e. sharing a loaf of bread with the hungry, sharing helpful information (the anthrax in Tide detergent samples is a hoax, by the way), sharing a sweet message to uplift. And then there’s sharing for our own satisfaction. The everyday choice, routine, meal, location, intimate encounter… become germane to identity and self-worth. danah boyd, Senior Researcher at Microsoft Research, says “This is the digital street, where the goal is to see and be seen.” Gone are the days of personal experiences that are shared with close friends and family, saving videos for your future grandkids, and having a quiet, romantic night with the one you love. We are living for an audience. Sharing about sharing a loaf of bread with the hungry.

What’s happening? Even if I’m not sharing at all, I’m stalking and measuring myself with what others are doing in their [over]sharing. My inner braggart comes out when I don’t have a reason to be filtered, tactful, or respectful. No one is holding my spirit and mind accountable to my fingers, and my fingers accountable to the board. Words are so easily manipulated.

I don’t remember how it used to be without social media. I mean, vaguely, but I know there’s no reversing this technological train. My younger sister’s generation doesn’t even know what life is like without social media. Just like they don’t know what the floppy disc button is when you want to save a Word document. So instead of moving everyone to boycott Facebook and live Twitterless lives in caves, maybe just ask yourself if what you’re posting is something you would say in a face-to-face setting. People tend to be more humble when they’re actually around people. Or ask yourself if what you’re doing is something you would do when you’re alone. Would you find the same amount of joy in it?

Patience and self-control. Humility before honor. Underrated and highly attractive characteristics.

***

Fildeo just woke up!
Fildeo is brushing her teeth!
Fildeo Coffee brewing!
Fildeo burnt her tongue. 😦