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

 


 

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AAPI Heritage Month: Dare to Be Different. Explore. Live a Little.

Source - http://www.flickriver.com/photos/vineethtm/8742638807/

Rainbow Interstate, Minneapolis – Vineeth Mekkat Source – http://www.flickriver.com/photos/vineethtm/8742638807/

I am the eldest daughter and grew up in a large family. I always felt overwhelmed with all the duties that were given to me. The housework, the child care tasks, the cooking responsibilities and so forth. All the nitty gritty dirty work was my responsibility. I was always expected to accomplish these tasks whether I liked it or not and I am still expected to tend to these responsibilities today. My parents are extremely traditional. I come from a patriarchal society. I’m not going to sit here and support the idea that men are at the top of the spectrum, but the disparity is definitely present. It’s disappointing that this inequality exist and nobody’s doing anything about it, or at least nobody’s talking about it. I know we see it. I know we feel it. I know we have all experienced it. Perhaps, we feel it’s taboo. Perhaps, we are scared of the consequences. Or maybe we just feel like nobody’s going to listen. The moment I speak out about how unfair these standards are, I am considered disobedient and disrespectful. It has always been a cycle of oppression. In my culture, men are born with privileges and power. Women have to work their entire lives in order to gain even the slightest amount of power and respect.

I consider myself blessed and privileged to be able to attend college, an opportunity that many people do not have. I am a first generation college student, so neither one of my parents nor grandparents have had a proper education. Being a first generation college student is very difficult. I am the first daughter in my family to go to college. My parents emigrated to the United States to escape the refugee camps of Thailand. They escaped a war torn country in hopes of acquiring the necessary tools to survive in a land that was unfamiliar to them, America. When I talk to my parents, I see that they value education very much; I see the desire in their struggles to push my siblings and I to do well in school. Like most other Hmong families, my family values education, however, there are stigmas, especially for Hmong women and girls in higher education. The academic achievements of the women and girls are often overlooked in my family. My brothers are encouraged and highly praised for going to college, but my efforts go without notice. Some of my family members even doubt I will ever finish college. But, here I am today with a college degree and a job that pays me well.

You have to work hard in order to get where you want to be. Life does not come with instructions. You start from scratch and unearth your own recipe. You throw in your own spices and create it to your liking. If something does not fit in, get rid of it. If something appeals to you, add it in. You just have to keep adding and adjusting until you get the ideal recipe.

One thing that I have always struggled with was my sexual orientation. Shifting gender disparities aside, my sexual orientation is probably the biggest struggle I’ve dealt with.  A few years ago, I posted a public blog post revealing my sexual orientation and shortly after, I received a very nasty message from an anonymous person. The nature of the message was essentially telling me that those who are attracted to the same sex are disgusting and should be shunned by society.

Growing up, I never felt that I was different. I knew I was always attracted to boys, but I also found girls to be attractive. I never saw this as being different from others. It was just a natural feeling to me; so, I thought everyone felt the same way, but the older I got, the more difficult things had become. High school was an overwhelming experience and made me realize that if you didn’t find a clique to hang out with then you were the odd sheep out. I was indeed the odd sheep out. I was rebellious. I was a tomboy and only wore jeans, band t-shirts, and skater shoes. There, I had cut my hair for the first time. My hair went from short, to mullet, to spikes. I was defiant, but I was still a good student. I was in the top 20 of my graduating class and was only one of the few Hmong students who took AP classes. I mostly kept to myself, but I knew some people because we had classes together. I had my first relationship my senior year of high school and it was a first for a lot of things.

I dated my first girlfriend a few months before my high school graduation. We were young and so in love. In the beginning, we kept our relationship a secret. She was opened about her sexual orientation, but I tried to hide mine as much as I could. Not because I was ashamed, but because I was afraid of the backlash from my Hmong community. The more secretive I became, the more my friends started questioning me. I eventually gave in and came out to my closest friends first. I knew I couldn’t keep my relationship a secret forever. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, but I had to overcome it. Some of them said they saw it coming; others were taken aback by my confession, but still accepted me. The next step was to come out to my family. I didn’t want to do it all in one big step, so I came out to my siblings. Surprisingly, they were very supportive of me. They did not judge me and they did not question me at all. They supported my relationship with my girlfriend the whole time we were together.

Now, all who were left to tell was my parents. There were many instances in which I thought I was ready to come out to my parents. However, every time I approached them, my whole body would go numb. I would be at a loss of words and I would tell myself that I didn’t have to force myself to tell them if I wasn’t ready yet. I never did gather up enough courage to tell my parents. To this day, my parents still do not know. I don’t know if I will ever tell them.  

I used to be bothered about my sexual orientation. There was a point in my life when I was upset at myself because I couldn’t turn away my own feelings. Somehow, I felt like I had disappointed my parents being the oldest daughter with their high expectations for me. So when I started discovering my sexual preferences, I knew I was treading on dangerous waters. I always thought hiding my sexual orientation would eventually make all the feelings disappear, but I’ve learned to accept it as a part of who I am. I’m not ashamed to tell people that I am attracted to people of all sexual identities. Society brainwashes our perceptions and views on everything. The moment we sense unfamiliar presence in the air, we become judgmental. Our minds have been trained so well that we automatically single out anybody who dares to be a little different, but I say, “Dare to be different. Explore. Live a little.”


 

Pax is a writing fanatic who draws her inspiration from the people in her every day life. She hails from the Twin Cities. On her spare time, she likes to people watch, dance to Pitbull music and sing along to sappy Hmong songs. She is obsessed with dream catchers, green tea lattes, and absolutely believe her spirit animal is a wolf. She wears mix matched socks, but hates sleeping with her socks on. She hoards stationery cards and has boxes of them under her bed collecting dust. She is a woman of few words, but her thoughts can silence an entire city. You can follow Pax on tumblr.

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