AAPI Heritage Month: Citizenship In An Exiled Nation

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What does it mean to live in exile? To be a minority within a minority? To call oneself “Tibetan-American?”As young Tibetan exiles, a sense of physical security in our adopted country is almost always accompanied by a kind of emotional distance. As a people who’ve been dislocated, all we have left is the memory of our lost country.

I remember when my refugee mother once told me that her “soul lives in Tibet.” Although born in an independent Tibet, she became stateless after fleeing the Chinese invasion and occupation when the communists seized power in 1949. Forced into exile, she had to cross the Himalayas to Nepal as a child and start a new life in India. Again resettling in the US, she finally gained citizenship in a country not her own. I was born in India but had the privilege of coming here as a child and, thus, had less difficulty adapting to a new country as an immigrant. My mother may have a greater sense of freedom here, but she still mourns for Tibet. Yet, despite the severe trauma she endured, she still finds happiness in her memories of her ancestral homeland. I realize now that I was raised with a similar longing for a lost nation. The difference between my mother and I, however, is that I only know Tibet in my imagination.

image3I wanted to talk about my Tibetan-American identity at a time of increasing self-immolations inside Tibet and increasing racial tensions inside the US. In places like Ferguson and Baltimore, peaceful protests have been glossed over by the media in favor of scenes depicting graphic violence, no doubt for fleeting ratings boost. When I see such images, I can’t help but be reminded of the distorting of the peaceful protests in Tibet during the summer of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The state media portrayed Tibetans as violent “thugs” targeting the dominant ethnic group, Han Chinese, in a so-called “autonomous region” that once was an independent Tibetan state.

Now scattered throughout the world due to resettlement, the Tibetan diaspora has begun an internal dialogue on issues influenced by our host countries. Reconciling such issues with our own cultural history has been the greatest challenge for many Tibetan youth like myself. One important distinction that should be made here is that as an exiled nation, our culture has become a sort of collective body of trauma. And while the first generation of Tibetan exiles may not be the last, young Tibetans cannot move forward until the world acknowledges our history and, therefore, our existence.

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On our part, we as a community need to admit this and encourage fellow Tibetans to seek help and engage in he healing process of dialogue when they need it. For example, there is a severe lack of culturally appropriate community health resources at the present moment. That said, these spaces are slowly growing and emerging as we engage in a larger public conversation among our communities. In the Tibetan community, this has caused fear and doubt among some—particularly the older, more conservation generations.

The existence of white privilege and patriarchy also factor into this fear of difference. Having inherited the trauma of our elders and our parents’ generation, we now carry the pain of our ancestors with us as we grow and shape our identity. But collective trauma requires collective healing. The sooner we come to realize this, the sooner we will truly be free.


11328795_10206782038535856_309932531_nTenzin Pelkyi is currently a J.D. Candidate at the University of Minnesota, where she received her B.A. in Political Science and Global Studies. While in law school, she worked as a law clerk at Asian Americans Advancing Justice-AAJC and the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee for Senator Amy Klobuchar in Washington, D.C. She also worked as a research assistant at the law school’s Energy Transition Lab and as a law intern for the Executive Office for Immigration Review at the U.S. Department of Justice. In addition to serving as president of her Law School Democrats chapter and as a member of the law school’s Diversity Week committee, Pelkyi has received widespread recognition for her advocacy, including from her university, several bar associations, and the Dalai Lama Trust.

Prior to law school, she worked in the nonprofit sector for various progressive organizations, legislative affairs at the state capitol, and community organizing in the Tibetan community. Her interests include immigrant rights, reproductive health, and racial justice. You can keep updated with Tenzin on Facebook and Twitter.

Celebrate May Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month by contributing your narrative to be part of AAPI Midwest Narrative Series. If you identify as AAPI in the Midwest and want to contribute your narrative or have questions, please email Linda for more information – linda@mwsmovement.com


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AAPI Heritage Month: I was Out, Proud, and Did Not Care what I Had to Lose

Guinness World Records largest human rainbow held in Philippines from Polytechnic University – Source: noypicollections.blogspot.com

I am a queer, Filipina womyn of color. I was born and raised 17 years of my life in the Philippines and migrated to the United States in 1999. During my college years in 2002, I realized I was attracted to womyn and identified as a lesbian. Having the language, such as the word lesbian enabled me to talk and explore my sexuality and humanity.

In my time, the Filipino culture at large considers being LGBTQ or homosexual a taboo and was not talked about, and religiously considered a SIN. At the same time, we are also accepting of the Gay (men) community such as gay men fixing our hair and beauty or butt of the joke. There is also the notion of, “If it’s not in my family then it’s okay.” The Philippines was colonized by Spain from 1521-1898 that lead to the introduction of Catholicism. I too was Catholic and I had to denounce my religion because it doesn’t match with my values and have done harm to my humanity and relationships.

I realized that to fully embrace my sexuality, I had to prepare myself to accept that I will lose my family, my Filipino community, and my religion in the limbo. I was out, proud and did not care what I had to lose. Those who care will be there from the start or join you when they’ve grown up spiritually and realize they’ve pushed you out for ignorant reasons.  

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Further critically reflecting and exploring my sexuality, I have realized that this attraction started when I was in sixth grade. Ms. U was my English teacher and I always sought her attention. I was happy to see her and I volunteered with whatever she needed help with. I had a huge crush on her. Then my sophomore year, I felt the same way with my neighbor that was seven years older than me. Besides the physical attraction I was attracted to her fierceness as a womyn. A womyn with her own car, professional image, serious attitude and stature, and not caring of what people think about her. That was admirable to me and I was just happy and content to look at her from a far. Junior year, I attended a martial arts club called PHICKAJU (Philippine Combat Karate Judo) and there was a senior student that was so talented with her martial arts skills. It was the same feelings and attractions. No sexual thoughts involved, just being around the presence of these womyn made me happy and tugging at the strings of my heart. Through these past years, learning about my sexuality lead to the realizations of my humanity and these previous experiences and emotions towards womyn.

In 2002, my sister ousted me to my mother that was still in the Philippines. She added additional versions and stories that were not true. Stuff that enraged my mother to not accept me. At that time, I didn’t have the chance to tell her my story, my truth… my very personal experience and dignity that no one else have the right to tell. In 2009, I welcomed my mom to live with me and I was able to tell her my side of the story. She told me that, “No matter what you’re still my daughter.” Four of my siblings are accepting of me, one of my brother even told me that, “I already knew you were a long time ago.” I chuckled and jokingly said, “You mean I’m the only one who did not know I was gay?,” but this was with an all honest statement.

In 2008, I joined the Military to see the world and for it’s benefits and opportunities, but now I’m in a process of understanding this experience, politics and my role. At that time, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Policy (DADT) was alive and was the suffocation on what’s left of our, my human emotions and rights. Being in the military, you sign up your being, mind, body and transform yourself to act and be the defense and offense for government, nation and people. Regardless how much I embraced my lesbian sexuality, I felt that I had no choice but to go back into the closet because of my fear of the “what ifs”? What if I lose my job, benefits, home, citizenship, what if I can no longer take care of my family, and what if I can’t get a job elsewhere if I got reported and discharged with dishonor?” With this policy, very few selected people knew of my sexuality, because I didn’t feel safe and limited my friendships within military and my environment in San Antonio; which was made up with large military bases. Then in 2011, DADT was repealed after all the hardwork of ex-military members, family, friends, activists, and some politicians. DADT has been an oppressive policy led by homophobic, religious conservatives and their dehumanizing agenda. This has caused me struggles and barriers to find acceptance of who I am by being Out as a civilian then as an active duty service member, having to silence my dignity and go back into the closet for three years. I thought a lot about what freedom meant, because the values of protecting and serving the US are based on freedom, but I still did not feel free. I saw my family and friends who are LGBTQ, not free from from violence and discrimination, especially if they were Asian and from Communities of Color and Indigenous people. They suffered more harshly due to institutionalized homophobia, transphobia, classism and racism. A part of me was still in the closet, traumatized with the situation, and constantly battling with myself on how I should act and be. These type of violent policies does an excellent job of making us and our community police each other and how we, specifically how I should act and feel as a person. I definitely couldn’t show simple acts of affection or introduction of my partner of 3 years to anyone.

2012 Twin Cities Pride March

2012 Twin Cities Pride March

The 2012 election was the very first time I voted, and my first time marching in Minnesota’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer pride parade. Being our Commander in Chief is President Obama, I felt so liberated and powerful holding a sign that said, “Obama Pride, LGBT for Obama.”

I learned that VISIBILITY is key, and when more people empathize with our stories, experiences and struggles, more people will understand us and shift away from oppressive and conservative belief and policy.

Having to constantly come Out, constantly struggle internally and externally, constantly learning, constantly embracing the self, constantly critical thinking, constantly advocating, constantly staying involved in activism and community, constantly being informed and educating. These are some of the “CONSISTENCY” that I go through being a queer, Filipina womyn of color.


 

2015 - Marching in solidarity with Baltimore in Minneapolis Rise Up and Shut It Down.

2015 – Marching in solidarity with Baltimore in Minneapolis Rise Up and Shut It Down.

Maica is a veteran of the United States Air Force and a new MN resident. She is a full-time student studying Biomedical Engineering and transitioning from a military into civilian life. She is also rooting herself into the world of activism and social justice.

Celebrate May Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month by contributing your narrative to be part of AAPI Midwest Narrative Series. If you identify as AAPI in the Midwest and want to contribute your narrative or have questions, please email Linda for more information – linda@mwsmovement.com

 


 

 

AAPI Heritage Month: Staring at the Outside, Looking Through the Mirror

Everyday the world keeps turning, and the sun rises rides through the fire endlessly trying to catch the moon. In ancient times, there were countless stories and legends that began to explain the relationship between the sun and the moon. Were they lovers separated by some dismal force, hell bent on keep them apart for its own self greed and accord? They were often attributed with the female being the moon and the sun being the male figure in these legends. Yet what made these stories so memorable was the fact that they connected to our own mortal lives and our human relationships. To see that the otherworldly were in fact struggling with these social problems that existed within ourselves and our communities.

Perception is perhaps the greatest danger to any of our lasting connections and the lives that can be created from them. We see our human race and communities in two shades of colors, two halves of the same coin and two opposite but balanced force of nature. The duality between good and evil, the bond between man and woman, and distance between earth and sky. That is our perception, and the perception of subsequent generations as they have been taught and shown. If we clear out everything, there will be one thing left in the bottom of the knowledge well, which is fear. One of the greatest thing to exist in our world is the bond of love. For there is really no rational explanation but it mere is because we are. Life is forever connected with the essence of love in the universe. And in that love is a deep connection. Like anything in this world, everything is interconnected, literally, because we are all made of the same atoms and are all filled with the same kind of electrical charges keep our flesh and able bodies to live.

I want what everyone in the world wants, to feel, to be connected to those in life who we find have the best input to our output. When you are talking in layman’s terms, we can easily say that all life is equal, there is none greater nor none lesser. But as human beings, and those who are alive, we perceive ourselves as special, having walked away from the communal “we”, into the fields of the dominant “I”.

We live in a society where we all seek balance, yet astrain from it like it’s a plague, because balance does not bring comfort. And we live in this day and age in the lifestyle of comfort, and yearn for its embrace. Society talks and preaches how it takes a man and a woman to start a balance life, but look at all the lies and selfishness that leads to divorce and the continuation of kids beginning life in single family homes. We are individuals that crave and want things that we do not necessarily need, we are individuals who crave satisfaction wherever we can find it. Of course not everyone stays in that state of mind, many move on. But too many simply fall victim to that state of mind and are stuck in a society that preaches such incoherent mess as social norms.

I, like many, live in a community of my own ethnicity. In that community you are spoon fed an incoherent culture you are suppose to inherit and force fed the generational dogmas of false and one sided perceptions. It is perfectly safe to say that my culture was a male dominant way of life for many generations. We come from a culture where there are good people and bad people. In the past rich people were called good and poor people were called bad, a social dividend that still exist today.

To achieve success, and be monetarily well supported seems to be a dream of our parents. They want us to find people with “good” family backgrounds and a higher social standing. All these problems that exist solely because of the way of thinking that remains imprinted in the minds of the previous generation. In this generation, we have indeed moved from thinking about everyone to be more focused on the individual self. For we have come to see ourselves as individuals on a journey of discovery and learning. To live life you must keep moving forward. Its not that we are selfish, the problem comes from the fact that we are simply unsure. For, if you began your life and lived accordingly to a set of belief that others surround you with and suddenly woke up to seeing things clearly, you begin to have questions. Instead of outright denial, this younger generation decided to take a step back and examine in unholy commodity.

I have seen individuals unsure of who they are, wearing masks to be normal. I have friends who went about living their childhood, trying to be a good little boy and good little girl only to find themselves becoming attracted to the opposite sex. There were so much denial in their eyes, and so much sadness in their eyes. Sure they were more feminine than other boys, and they spoke in a softer tone. They hung out and became friends quickly with all the girls. There is no other reason for this other than it was because they were able to be comfortable in those social circles. There seems to be unwritten rules to being a boy or a girl, and no one seemingly wants to cross the divide for fear of ridicule and being cast aside by a group of their peers or even worse, their friends. Today these individuals possess great confident and have gone to live healthy happy lives. Here is the simple truth, its not that they became happier and a better person because they’ve learned to accept their sexuality. I see it as, they have found their confidence. The confidence to accept and love their own selves and through that meet and find people who are able to see that. And that is a beautiful thing.

Life itself is a beautiful little concoction mystery and wonder. Fear of a different idea and existence should not hinder the growth and development of life. We all fear what we don’t understand, and are uncomfortable with things that exist outside of our comfortableness, that’s perfectly fine, but that should not be used as an excuse to kill, protest and make the lives of others a living hell. I am a straight Asian man in this society, and I think the love that is growing between all individuals should not be labeled, Gay, Straight, Lesbian, Transgender, or bisexual.

We all exist as individuals living life together on a floating rock suspended in a sunbeam, lost in a galaxy that is apart in a seemingly endless universe. Because in the end, all we really have are each other.


Txoov Yaj: Residing along the shores of roads and rivers, basking beneath the shade of the quivering trees, soaking the warm light of the sun. I am.

 

 

 

 


 

 

AAPI Heritage Month: Equity for Hmong Women and Girls is Still Out There

Kabo Yang3In 2014, I was asked to be the keynote speaker to open for a conference led by and for Hmong youth.  The theme was “Beyond the Horizon.” As I thought about what I would say to them to inspire them that day and going forward, I had to bring myself back to their age, when I was a teenager twenty years ago. I was a Hmong daughter. My dad was a shaman, bounded to tradition.  My mom was the good Hmong wife, nurturing and devoted. I had two older brothers and a younger, American-born brother.  I lived in Frogtown among friends and enemies; friends encouraged me to explore who I wanted to be and enemies told me who I would become.  I was a Hmong girl trapped in an American woman’s body.

 

My parents inevitably struggled with parenting a Hmong girl in America.  While they expected me to learn the cooking and cleaning skills and timid behavior of what a good Hmong nyab would be, they also encouraged me to excel in school; even if it meant staying after school and attending social events I helped organize. However, there were certain things I was still not allowed to do such as going to the mall with friends or being alone with a boy. Yet, my dreams kept growing and I wanted more and more for myself. The biggest conflict that happened between us was their disapproval of my leaving home for college. They truly believed living on my own would ruin my reputation and increase my risk of getting married.  I compromised and got married less than two months before graduation.

I started college on my own, but also as a wife and daughter-in-law.  It was then that I really learned the delicate yet brutal distinction between being a “good Hmong woman” and an “independent young American woman.”  I went back and forth between two lives, one as a dutiful daughter-in-law spending weekends cooking and cleaning at family events (even when my husband did not attend) and the other during the week as a college student and part-time secretary in corporate America.  This type of cultural divide dominated my life for the next decade. I ended up setting goals that were more practical because I felt defeated and had lost the belief that I could chase dreams.

As time went on, I reached a goal and then I would set a new goal. I kept expanding my horizon, each time a little further.  My ambition re-emerged as I started to reconnect to who I was and the dreams my parents allowed me to explore but not pursue. I also became more comfortable being a Hmong American and aligned my two lives into one. Only then did I truly feel I was on my own, living by my expectations and beliefs. My message to these young folks was that horizons guide us; when we think we’ve gotten there, there’s a new horizon ahead. I encouraged them to view horizons as drawing us closer to our next goal and to who we really are and to always keep striving “beyond the horizon.”

Kabo YangShortly after this speech, my marriage of 18 years came to an end. He left and I wouldn’t let him back when he had no where else to go. At the family mediation meeting, where I was the only woman allowed to speak, eight men surrounded me, in addition to my soon-to-be ex-husband. For three hours, they told us how we could fix the “minor” problems in our marriage and stay together. They minimized my experiences and perspectives and defended his behavior.  Finally, with my brothers by my side, figuratively and literally, I spoke up loud and clear. I reiterated my decision and did not permit them to attack it because they don’t walk in my shoes and they don’t carry my burdens.  I have gotten to where I am by on my own merits and drive and I don’t owe anyone anything.  So if they expect me to do as they say, they can expect to never see me again as I have no room in my life to be treated with disrespect and disregard. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. They did not respond directly and ended the mediation.

Upon reflection a few days later, I realized they were fulfilling their role in the game of Hmong cultural politics.  But when I didn’t play my part of accepting my failure as an obedient and submissive wife and daughter, there was no alternative than to end the game.  Since then, I continue to be delightfully surprised by the support and encouragement from family and friends; maybe because I expected blame and shame or maybe because change is actually happening.

I may never know and will always just suspect why my divorce didn’t outcast me as I thought it would.  Did people know my marriage was doomed and were just waiting for something to happen?  Did people treat me this way because of my academic status or professional standing? Do people not care about me because I am an orphan? Do outsiders keep quiet because my family has accepted my decision? Or has the attitude started to change and a woman’s voice and choice are valued and appreciated?  Whatever the answer or answers may be, I embrace my situation. I won’t take it for granted but as motivation to continue to amplify women’s voice and choices.

I have no parents; I have no husband. I am disconnected from lineage but am connected to my heritage. I continue to look out onto the horizon.  I do not know what’s beyond this next horizon but I know that equity for Hmong women and girls is still out there.


 

Kabo Yang2Kabo Yang is an independent consultant and doctoral candidate.  She is the principal consultant of Legend Consulting Services, a firm she founded to provide management and leadership consulting to nonprofit organizations.  Kabo is an active community member and currently serves on four nonprofit Boards and three committees. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from Metropolitan State University, her Master’s Degree in Organizational Leadership from St. Catherine University and is a doctoral candidate in the PhD in Human and Organizational Systems program at Fielding Graduate University. Her community and research interests are women, migration and integration.  Kabo’s dissertation topic will be on the social capital of refugee women.  You can connect and follow Kabo on Twitter and Facebook.

Celebrate May Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month by contributing your narrative to be part of AAPI Midwest Narrative Series. If you identify as AAPI in the Midwest and want to contribute your narrative or have questions, please email Linda for more information – linda@mwsmovement.com


 

AAPI Heritage Month: I Don’t Have to Be Out to Create Change

Studying abroad experience in Minnesota, the U.S., starting from 2011, has given me countless opportunities to find myself. It was a random place for me at the beginning. I did not have proper research on the school nor the area. I was too excited to start my ‘American Dream’ in the U.S. and the place did not matter. I loved the nature, the weather, people, and their warm hospitality. Literally, I was enjoying ‘Minnesotan Nice’ welcoming as an international student from Korea.

Since English was my second language, I had to put triple efforts to follow the class while double majoring in International Relations and Gender & Women’s Studies. Each time, I challenged myself to get out of the comfort zone, which means I took classes to learn and grow myself. I was sometimes overwhelmed at the class when everyone could understand the American jokes, but not me. Even the humor based on the American culture was what I had to learn. Luckily, I met one Hmong gay friend at the Gender & Women’s Studies. He has provided me unconditional love, caring, and offering as if I have known him for a long time. He treated me as a person, regardless of my backgrounds, including my Korean nationality.

Source: www.kqcf.org - Korea Queer Festival

Source: http://www.kqcf.org – Korea Queer Festival

One day I shared my uneasiness of having Korean community on campus with him. I told him that being Korean is an obstacle to figure out my sexuality. I came to the U.S. to be free from the stereotype of being Korean. However, I could not even walk by the LGBT center on campus, concerned of being judged by other Koreans. After my minor complaint, my gay friend replied, “For me, I wish I had my own nationality like you. Even though I was born and raised in the U.S., I got questioned a lot on where I am from. The U.S. is my home country but I guess I am not fully accepted to the community here.” I have never thought about what I have considered as an obstacle could be a desire for someone. After the conversation with him on nationality and navigating my sexual identity, I realized that I have used my nationality as an excuse to stay with the majority.

Recently, starting from January 2015, I moved back to Korea. Honestly, if I had a chance to stay legally, I would have stayed longer in the U.S. However, having an F-1, a degree seeking visa; therefore, it did not give me many options other than studying to get a degree and getting an internship experience related with my major up to 1 year. As the memories with my friends in the U.S. are fading out, I felt uncomfortable to stay in my HOME country. As one Chinese American who I got to know in Korea recently said, I was too Americanized to live in Korea. Christianity is what I cannot erase in my life, even though I want to. I grew up with Sunday schools, Jesus summer and winter camps, and religious family background. I feel frustrated with this, the ultimate answer is always in God’s hand, no matter if it is about friendship, financial problems, etc. When I was young, around 16 years old, I was told from the preaching that being homosexual is not what Christians do. I wanted to have community where I was accepted. Since I knew I cannot avoid my family and people from the church, I decided to bury the questions about sexuality which only left me confused. I pretended to be the type of good daughter and kind girl they won’t outcast.

 

Source: http://news.yahoo.com/lesbian-kiss-korean-drama-sparks-debate-025213890.html - An episode of Seonam Girls High School Investigators

Source: http://news.yahoo.com/lesbian-kiss-korean-drama-sparks-debate-025213890.html – An episode of Seonam Girls High School Investigators

Korea is one of the countries where fashion trends change quickly. It is totally acceptable for girls having short hair and wear gender neutral clothing. However, traditional gender roles and the expectations from the society are harsh to girls, at the same time. My short hair has never given me the embarrassment or confusion on my sexual or gender identity in my life. Regardless of the length of my hair or the way I dress up, I accept and love myself as I am, being a lesbian. One day, I was on the Seoul metro heading to a dinner appointment with a lesbian couple (who I met at the English Conversation group), I was wearing olive colored pair of jeans, a light brown round neck sweatshirts, a black coat, and a navy beanie, with a little makeup on my face. After a while, I noticed a heterosexual couple whispering some words while glancing at me. Eventually it turned out that I looked like a gay guy who was too girly for them. As a woman, I don’t want to conform to the ideas of how I should look to prove to society that I am a woman, their ideas of a woman, which is to fit into a traditional dress code of wearing skirts, high heels, and putting a heavy makeup. Instead of spending their time hating and enforcing ignorance, they should focus on loving one another and accepting people’s differences. However, I cannot deny that I was hurt and felt insecure just like when I was young and attending church.

It is true that homosexuality does not match with a traditional marriage and a lifestyle in Korea. Especially when you live in a country in the condition of armistice, maintaining the military force matters and the birth rates. Naturally, homosexuality has become a target to conservative groups, who justify their actions of threatening and discrimination against sexual minorities.

There are still many steps and revolutions needed in Korea to work together to conquer hate with love and acceptance. As the first step of showing the visibility of sexual minorities in Korea to others, I started to volunteer at the Korea Queer Culture Festival (KQCF) as a translator and an interpreter. Even though I am not able to be Out to the community where I presently live, I will not let that stop me from forming a community where people build up solidarity in working towards love and acceptance.

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I was born in Germany and spent most of my life in Korea. Even though I grew up in Korea surrounded by people with the same ethnicity, being born in a different country rather than Korea has helped me to have interests in communication, nationality, and the meaning of life as the second generation. I moved to Minnesota in 2011 seeking my undergraduate degree in Management. After I realized my desire to study in the fields of social and behavioral sciences, while navigating my own sexual identity, I chose to double major in International Relations and Gender & Women’s Studies. Observing the immigration law between the U.S. and Korea, I did not have a choice but to terminate my visa as being an international student and move back to my country.

Celebrate May Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month by contributing your narrative to be part of AAPI Midwest Narrative Series. If you identify as AAPI in the Midwest and want to contribute your narrative or have questions, please email Linda for more information – linda@mwsmovement.com


AAPI Heritage Month: The Windows To The Soul Has Blinds

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It is called the “mad dog” look; although it exists in many forms, aggravation, harassment, or observation, it’s simply “the stare.” It’s the stares that you get when you’re in unfamiliar situations or places, whether it’s explicit or all just mental, it’s all up to personal interpretation. It might just be admiration or someone may be interested in you, perhaps it is your outfit or your attractive appearance. The perspective from the other side of the spectrum is encountering someone with prejudice against you and “mad dogging,” provoking, or harassing you with their stares.

Gazing for a second too long at an insecure person with anger management issues within the peripheral of your vision can be problematic. Daydreams and wandering minds must be kept under control, because in the unlikely event that a tumbleweed starts rolling and guitar and trumpet music starts playing, mad dogging situations can turn into a standoff between the good, the bad, and the ugly like classic western cowboy duels in the movies.

You can choose your friends, but you sho’ can’t choose your family – Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird – Source: fidelialam.com

In some cultures, it’s impolite to make eye contact, an inherited trait from animalistic behaviours. In other cultures, it’s a gesture of endearment and engagement; by focusing all attention to the person that you’re speaking to, you’re showing them respect. But the concept of “it’s rude to stare,” or so we were taught, discourages us from observing people with our eyes and initiating constructive conversations with our mouth and mind. So is it rude to develop observation skills? Isn’t that how prejudice and rumors fueled by incorrect implications and ignorance spread? Growing up, I have had my share of awkward stare downs. Being labeled “guilty by association” by society and being a member of such a small population, it’s like the quote in To Kill A Mockingbird, “you can choose your friends but you sho’ can’t choose your family,” it couldn’t be helped having certain family members who were friends with people who pledged allegiance to certain colors or cliques.

As much potential hostility as my own community posed, I grew up well aware of clothes and colors I can wear, the perimeters of where I can travel, and which areas with people to avoid due to my skin complexion, melanin composition, and religious practice, but being in unfamiliar areas, the unknown threat from strangers fueled by hearsay and racism motivated by prejudice and ignorance will always have a more paranoid feeling.

Always being cautious, prepared, and ready to react created a shield of anger, “What are you looking at” attitude, and “don’t disrespect me” mentality that was toxic. It not only created a hostile situation for everyone everywhere I went but it also prevented me from meeting genuinely good people. In order to cure the negativity around me, I decided a long time ago that peace, happiness, and equality was worth a life living, not one where prejudice and negativity dictated everything I did. Forfeiting my ego in order to be happy and enjoy the simple things in life was better than constantly being angry and looking over my shoulders for problems. A tap on the shoulder from a friend to say hello will always be better than a cheap shot. So in order to minimize the toxicity in my life, I had to start with changing myself and treating others right. Plant the seed of peace within yourself, then share the fruits of its labors with others.

The process of changing yourself is deeper than simply changing your outward expression and physical appearance. One of the recent memories that I still think back to was from a particularly sunny day during the beginning of spring while I was still an undergraduate student. The warm and refreshing weather that followed the uncovered blanket of winter made a lot of us students unable to stay indoors. My mind was racing with ideas, my heart wanted to pour itself out into words on paper, and my body was aching for sunlight. Before dashing out the door after class and driving to the pond at a nearby park, I neglected to wear my socioeconomic mask and costume. The clothes branding myself as a college student was heavy so I didn’t wear them and my slicked back hair felt more free than the molded comb over so that was how it was left. I went out of my apartment that afternoon as myself; my pants were baggy, my white-t was oversized, and my shoes weren’t polished; I was just my comfortable self, not a fictitious middle-class, law-abiding, and submissive Asian-American college student.

When I got out of my car and started making my way from the parking lot towards the lake, I noticed two men having a conversation and sitting under the pavilion along the path to the pond. As I got closer to them, our eyes locked, their conversation came to a pause, and their attention seemed focus on me. All sense of rationality seemed to leak out of my mind as my optimism wrestled with what appears to be my survival instinct. My fingers went limp as they tightly hugged my palms, my knuckles raised and hardened, and my whole body flexed itself into shape. The angry inner city teenager, whose only priority was survival, overpowered and possessed me for a second. Though the immediate anger and adrenaline stiffened my face, my learned-instinct fought its way to form a smile at them. I continued walking past them to my usual meditation place, the pier by the pond. I wrote my poems and they continued their conversation. Half an hour later, they left; another half hour after that, I left. I left with a few pages of poetry and a head full of thoughts.

Was it racism or just my own delusion? It didn’t help with the fact that a historical Klansman gathering site was not too far away from there, nor did the fact that the site of the largest mass execution in the US (Dakota War of 1862 that led to a mass execution of 38 Dakota Men on December 26, 1862 under President Abraham Lincoln’s order) was located only 5 miles away. Despite preaching peace and actively striving to fight for equality, was I still a wolf in sheep clothing, subconsciously flaring my animalistic strength? Were there still toxic residue from the years of racist encounters and different cultural clashes? It’s amazing how simple eye contact can potentially cause chaos, yet a simple smile can clear minor paranoid misconceptions.  The opportunity to learn from our observations shouldn’t be discouraged, especially among strangers or unfamiliar subjects.


 

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Steven T. Vang is a self-proclaimed nerd for words, writer and activist from the Twin Cities.

Celebrate May Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month by contributing your narrative to be part of AAPI Midwest Narrative Series. If you identify as AAPI in the Midwest and want to contribute your narrative or have questions, please email Linda for more information – linda@mwsmovement.com

 


 

Happy Asian & Pacific Islander Heritage Month!

We Will Not Be Silent - #Asians4BlackLives MWSM marching in MN Rise Up & #ShutItDown with Baltimore

We Will Not Be Silent – #Asians4BlackLives
MWSM marching in MN Rise Up & #ShutItDown with Baltimore

 

In celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Month this May 2015, we present the sequel of our narrative series called Critical Reflections of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the Midwest. Since our Raising UP the Hmong LGBTQQI Narratives launched in 2013, we’ve gotten over 16,000 views and 7,832 visitors from over 100 countries. We’ve also received many emails from readers who appreciate Hmong LGBTQQI people sharing their narratives about real life experiences, thoughts, family conversations and situations relating to Hmong and American cultures, and examples of important life changes and decisions made.

In this Critical Reflections of AAPI narrative series, we have collected a wide range of stories from diverse experiences to continue supporting and fostering the growth of AAPI Narratives in America, while at the same time, serve a purpose to counter the stereotypes, generalizations, and mis-education of AAPI communities told by mainstream.

We will be launching the first narrative later on this afternoon so be sure to subscribe to our blog, tweet us @mwsmovement, reblog us on Tumblr or LIKE us on Facebook to get updates on when each narratives are posted throughout May 2015!


Celebrate May Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month by contributing your narrative to be part of AAPI Midwest Narrative Series. We are still accepting submissions so if you identify as AAPI, currently or have lived in the Midwest and want to contribute a narrative, please email all questions to Linda – linda@mwsmovement.com