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.
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.
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.
I dropped off a homemade dinner for Stan tonight while he was at work. Then I tried to force him to make out with me in the call room, but I think his nose was congested. He said there were cameras in the rooms, so I pretend-slapped him to save my own skin. There are no cameras in the rooms. It was a very wifey thing to do — bringing him dinner, I mean. His attending came through the door as I was leaving, and he asked if I was visiting because Stan was on call.
“Yeah, I brought him dinner, too.” What I wanted to add was “Best wife EVER!” Instead, I trumpeted, “Best sife EVER!” and pointed at myself with both hands before I realized I said “sife.” Sarcastic humble brag gone awry. I hope my susband enjoyed his dinner.
I thought I was running late to make another dinner date. Every first Wednesday of the month, our church goes to Breakthrough to make and eat dinner with the men at the shelter. Sometimes, I think it’s common to resort to the thought that as much as you want to be a blessing to those you serve, you end up more blessed than those you came to bless with your blessings. This is blessology, people. I think it’s a way to psych ourselves out to keep doing what we’re doing. Maybe also to avoid pride. Like, I thought I was coming here to be awesome, but I found out I’m not awesome. You’re the one that is awesome. I also think it can turn into secret patronization.
Because sometimes, I don’t think it’s so awesome. Sometimes, the conversation turns awkward and neither of us have anything to say, the random guy I sit with for dinner or myself. The guy I’m talking to will say, “Hold that thought. I want to get you a napkin because you’re sweating.” And I’ll say, “Oh, am I? I feel fine…” Then I’ll rub my face and realize my face is just super greasy. “My face is just shiny from grease,” I’ll mumble. And he’ll laugh and say, “Oh, I’m just inappropriate. I like raunchy jokes.” I’ll force a chuckle, but I don’t care to laugh because nothing is funny. Plus, he used the term “raunchy” in the wrong context. And that’ll be the extent of our conversation.
So sometimes, just sometimes, I’ll think that nothing is awesome. I think this is okay, though. I don’t want to rely on blessology to get me to go anywhere. In ministry, there will be moments that don’t seem to add up to anything. You’re just there sweating in the kitchen and making awkward conversation about your greasy face. I think that’s okay.
When Miley Cyrus made the lyrics for “We Can’t Stop,” I wonder if she was like, “Mm. Yeah. Yeah, this is good. What rhymes with party? La da di da di. Of course. What do I do at the club? Shake my butt like I’m at a strip club. Yes. Wait in line for the bathroom. Yes. If we run things…then things don’t run we. YES.”
Good: Letting me sleep in or gently kissing me on the forehead before you go.
Mediocre: Coming over to my side of the bed and whispering goodbye before you go.
Bad: Attempting to lift and turn my head using my hair bun when I’m laying on my stomach and turned away from you. And then sweetly saying goodbye.
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.
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.
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.