AAPI Heritage Month: I Write from the “We” that is Erased by Assimilation

 

Film Screening: Hafu: the mixed race experience in Japan. Source: hafufilm.com/en

Growing up fourth generation, developing an identity as an Asian American has felt like something of a choice, or a process. Perhaps it was inevitable but it feels like a reaction. I think that for some folks in immigrant communities who are first or second generation, ethnic identity can involve a strong cultural experience. Not a monolithic or a static one, to be sure, but perhaps a more cohesive one. My identity is of being an American, but a racialized American. Which is also a cultural experience, just an American one.  I’m mixed, with a Japanese American father and a European American mother. My grandfather’s family were Buddhist missionaries who migrated to Hawai’i and helped found a temple there. I grew up in suburban Illinois without much of a community that looked like me or came from similar history.  Coming from a family that was more or less assimilated, sometimes I think I grew to identify as a Japanese or Asian American based on the negative aspects of being a racialized person, rather than the positive aspects of identity, culture, or community. My choice to identify as such was and is a reaction to the self doubt, in/visibility, and microaggression that people of non-European descent experience in America.  Ultimately I see this as a blessing because of the community and history I am still discovering, but also because it provided me with the earliest seeds of doubt about a racial system that I could not name but was keenly aware of.

I write from the “we” that is erased by assimilation.

I am decided by the fact
That our people came here to work in the sugar cane fields
That we came here to minister to those who worked in those fields
That we came here to get rich quick
That we died trying;
That we succeeded and forgot our mother tongues,
That we burned photographs and letters,
That our children would look at us as the enemy;
That we came here to live in segregated neighborhoods,
and that we did business in further segregated neighborhoods
That we came here to move to the suburbs
That each generation was foreign to the one that preceded it;
That our children would resent us for not teaching them who they were;
That we defined ourself against whiteness, while we craved whiteness,
while being used as a wedge against blackness,
That as we lost the our mother culture, we became something else entirely,
That we we were forced, coerced, encouraged, and then rewarded for assimilation;
That we came to sit in furious silence, or to laugh in self-hate,
when our American friends mocked our parents,
That we were still not American even after four generations,
That as mixed kids, we were Asian when you wanted to laugh,
but white when we challenged your racism, no matter where it was directed
That when we grew up, we died a little bit everytime we passed,
That when we grew up, we realized:
We would not be followed in the grocery store, but
our fathers would be followed home from the train station by boys calling them chink;
That our mixedness would be celebrated–
That they would offer our own bodies back to us as currency,
That this currency would only be of value when positioned against a backdrop of white power,
That the outsiders who celebrate our mixedness do so at the expense of our browner cousins;
That whiteness wants to extract the part of us that is not itself, both to taste it and to extinguish it;

Source: eclecticshaman.com

Source: eclecticshaman.com

That we are not the sum of our parts, that we are neither of our parts;
That those who want to consume us, and sometimes do-
Spit us out as not their own,
Swallowed us and owned us, unaware we are
Both/and neither
That the nature of life is dualistic, not binaristic–
That the roots of the family tree divide infinitely in half

 

 

 

 

 

 


10077_4340851356467_1874550948_nSusan Kikuchi works as a labor organizer and currently lives in Minneapolis. She is constantly having the same conversations over and over with herself, using new vocabulary each time.

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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Raising Up Our Narratives for Change Jan 2015

We’ve been away to rest, school, work, and take care of our families, and ourselves in the past several months. We are in the process of re-launching our Raising Up Our Narratives to shake up Minnesota Nice with our Asian Trans* and Queer selves this January 2015. Stay tune!

At this time we have decided to close submissions for one our important online organizing efforts, Raising Up The Hmong LGBTQQI Narratives to re-launch a new version. The Narratives campaign has amplified the many truths, struggles, and positive sides of being Hmong and LGBTQQI. We received over 30 submissions from across the states, and have reached over 16,000 views from around the world since publishing the stories more than a year ago. Additionally, we’ve also received positive messages from our readers who can identify with the stories. Writing and speaking is important in documenting our existences into history, and to end the dangerous and silencing idea that “There are no Hmong gays (LGBTQQI) ever.” There are still several remaining Hmong LGBTQQI Coming OUT stories that will be posted on December 12, 2014, and throughout this month.

Your story is important. If you are interested in sharing your story with our Narrative 2.0, getting involved, or have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to contact Dee at dee@mwsmovement.com.

Thank you to all who have shared their stories, creating visibility, and speaking your truths.

Raising UP Cuajleeg Kennedy Yang’s Journey Forward Narrative

Disclaimer:
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I am going to take a different route in this endeavor of sharing narratives of being queer Hmong/SEA.  I never had a difficult time coming out or accepting myself as queer.  I do have troubles seeing what is to become of us, queer SEA, in our journey forward after we have come out.  Although these past stories have moved me like never before, I have had struggles that have prepared me for coming out and thus my “coming out” story has not been as inspirational.

———————

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Cuajleeg Kennedy Yang (2013)

Story #21

Before my parent’s divorce when I was around 8-9 years old, I was just happy being myself and loving the things that I did.  Although I had toy guns and action figures as a boy, I also had dolls and mermaids.  I loved what I loved and grew a fondness for mermaids.  This love for myself was reinforced and supported by my loving family who did not care that I had an affinity for “girly” toys.  I lived with this joy throughout my childhood and nothing could have been better.  Happiness was only temporary for me though, because it took the separation of my parents to force my own growth.

Initially, I was fine and accepted my parents’ divorce.  I knew intuitively that they just didn’t function the way they used to together anymore.  However, my siblings took things differently because this divorce broke them down and shook them up.  It was like a fissure that thrashed, tore, and destroyed what they once knew was home.  Some of my siblings remained physically and mentally strong, while others were still struggling; still trying to recover from a harsh events that turned into their reality.  Out of the strong and the weak, I was one of the strong and so I did all I could to aid.

Due to this unavoidable situation my mom went through many financial hardships trying to pay off bills here and there and maintaining a house. My oldest sister struggled and persevered just trying to hold the bond of our family together.  Some of my other siblings just shut down after the divorce while the others learned to cope with the situation.  The middle brother had grown up as an angry child only to have this divorce amplify those issues.  One of my other brothers and I became his outlet for anger and we were bullied daily by him. I was targeted more so than the other and my siblings saw that, but did not know how to respond other than just shrugging it off and blaming his personality.  Despite this daily struggle I helped my family with chores around the house, like washing the dishes, cooking, cleaning, laundry, and generally just tending to my mom.

I remember whenever I would go crying to my siblings or parents, because I was being bullied, they’d always tell me to be the bigger person.  This began sinking in because I then embodied it by brushing my own feelings aside, thinking that they were wrong to have.  There were moments in my life where I remembered just crying out of no where and not knowing why.  Crying out of no where and realizing that I myself was not even feeling sad.  Crying out of no where and then telling myself that I was weak for doing so. I remember looking into the mirror and training myself to learn how to not cry because I could not take being vulnerable and targeted anymore. What I did not know was that I had come to silence myself so much that I had become detached from my own feelings and emotions.

You would think that I could find solace from this over at my dad’s house, but that wasn’t the case.  I was one of the only children to visit him and sleep over on a weekly basis.  I knew that he loved me and I loved him too.  However before I would go, my mom would tell me that I was never going to be worthy of his love because of the sole fact that I was also her son.  I remember hearing from my father multiple times that my mother did not even love me and is only using me for child support money.  At such an early age, I had to learn how to interpret their messages because they were only protecting me from the harm that they had faced with each other.  This however also bred much distrust and corruption within myself, and also brought so much internalized pain and altered my idea of love.

I began seeing the flaw within all that I cared for, and in order to protect myself from the risk of any further internal mutilation, as well as of my own growing bias of those I cared for, I closed myself off and denied myself the one thing that I always wanted and knew: love. I suffocated my heart and crushed any feelings that began to flourish all because I would rather have dealt with that pain than the more overpowering torture of loving someone, only to realize that it was all a lie.  All that had laid where my heart used to be was nothing but an empty husk of hollowness that slowly pulsated, gasping for life as the void slowly crept inside and began growing within it.

Darkness was the only thing that that held my heart, free of judgment and unconditionally, I was all too eager to accept whatever embraced me in that way.  I came to love the one thing that had been there with me throughout all the tribulations.  It was the only thing that evoked me of my humanity while I already lingered so far off the edge.  It constantly reminded me of how alive I had been through the sufferings that I endured.  When I could no longer see with a clear conscious and vision, it was darkness that enabled me to feel instead.  The very sensation that I had casted away.  I flourishing in the shadows of my own isolation.

I became my own morphed beacon of hope.  My mentality evolved from corruption into my own truth of knowing, that in the end, I was always going to be alone in my own journey and that no matter how similar someone was to me they would never completely understand. There was a haunting tranquility in knowing that even though there are those who loved me, they will not always be there; and the only person to be there with me in the face of darkness will be myself. So from this, I learned how to stand on my own and thus began my transformation into who I am today.

It has been and still is such a lonely path that I continue to tread on.  Overwhelming sadness that crawls through me and makes me motionless at the most spontaneous of times.  What seems like demons whispering into my ears and twisting my mind.  Pushing people who care for me away and bringing myself solitude just so that I can feel the familiar and welcomed touch of sadness to rush through me and have me feel something if anything at all.  Realizing that moments of true happiness has escaped from me and then already being so out of tune with myself that I was never present to experience them.  The most unbearable feeling of all though are the moments where I sense a state of surrealness within myself.  The feeling radiates coldness as well as warmth through my body, but I have become so numb that it even happens; it is as if I am undergoing an outer body effect.  Purgatory would seem is the closest definition that I have to describing it.  Neither feeling good or neither feeling bad, just there as if I was nothing at all and what seems like a moment just stops and feels like an eternity.

kennedy3

Cuajleeg Kennedy Yang (2013)

The only things that seemed to have grounded me into reality was different aspects of myself who made me, me.  Part of that is myself identifying as a queer hmong man.  I had previous thoughts about this in middle school when I would be called gay on a weekly schedule, but I never thought of it as an insult nor was it spoken to me as such.  It was nothing big for me though, I was not going to let folks define me anyways.  One of the only examples was that I remembered this boy who was very handsome named Jared who just had an amazing smile, amazing hair texture, and style.  Sadly he moved away when it came time to high school.  Other than that one singular attraction, I hadn’t really thought about my sexuality back then.

This did get my mind going about what I really did find attractive, in terms of man or woman.  I began thinking and coming into realization that I had a different and stronger attraction towards men.  This was not coalesced until my sophomore year in high school because I was able to better articulate and have more access to resources to learn from.  I was more equipped to look up terms and definitions to identify myself more.

I officially “came” out to my sister when I was able to define myself.  It was just a weekday and my sister was in her room.  I had gone in very quietly and just said that I needed to talk.  When I finally told her that I was gay, she consoled me and said everything would be fine.  During that time I had cried and only after I “came out”, did I realize that I had nothing to cry about because there was and is nothing wrong with being queer.  After this, I never came out again because it shouldn’t be an “obstacle” that us queers, majority of the time, dread looking forward to.  I am fine with expressing my sexuality but it is but a part that contributes to a larger picture of the whole person that I am.

When seeking out help and friends from the gay community, I was mistaken by many folks whom were interested in other things.  I was not looking for sex at all and only looking to expand my perspectives and insights as a queer Hmong man.  One thing that I do remember was that majority of the people who messaged me were old white men.  It was fine but when they were only trying to dominate me, that was when I had enough of them.  I did message out other folks with more diverse backgrounds but only things I received were silence or ignorance.  I was so done with this and so I went back into my mind.  I did this to find out and process why and how racist and sexist the gay community really is.

Having become my own support, I was able to rely on myself again when I was not receiving support from the gay community. I casted them aside because they were nothing but a mirror of the oppressive ways that I did not need or wanted to be a part of.  I once again shut myself out but I am glad that I did this time because I was then able to seek out more specialized support with other Queer Asian Folks whom were not internalizing racism and sexism.  This then has lead me to being great friends and acquaintances with wonderful people who do great work with racial, social, economic, and intersections of all injustices in our world.  (MWSM)

There are also a lot of things that I wanted to incorporate into this story and how each aspect of my life had intertwined and affected one another, but for the sake of time and my own sanity, I have chosen a few major events that have shaped me.  Other things that I wanted to incorporate were: White Supremacy, Racism, Race, Classism, Sexism, Sexism within the Gay Community, White Supremacy within the gay community, body imaging, Social Justice works, and much much more. If you all have any questions, I am a core member of MWSM so feel free to send me an email Cuajleeg@mwsmovement.com a phone number can also be provided via email.

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If you’re compelled by Kennedy’s story, we invite you (if you identify as Hmong LGBTQQI) to contribute your narrative to our collection and documentation by taking this 5 minute survey: http://tinyurl.com/HmongLGBTQQIStories

©Linda Her and MidWest Solidarity Movement, 2011 – 2013. All rights reserved. Unauthorized distribution with the intent to sell, use and/or duplication of these images, audio, video, stories, blog posts, and materials on this blog without express and written permission from this blog’s authors and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links as stated by MidWest Solidarity Movement members may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Linda Her and MidWest Solidarity Movement with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

HND’s Top 5 IMPACT Award: Linda Hawj

2013 Top 5 HND IMPACT Award Recipient

2013 Top 5 HND IMPACT Award Recipient

 

Hmong Nation Development’s Conference Committee announced the Top 5 IMPACT Award this past Monday February 25, 2013 and we are excited that one our MWSM organizer, Linda Hawj has been selected as a recipient with other 4 Change Makers and Leaders. Thank you all for the support, outreach and votes!

The ceremony will take place at the 16th HND’s Conference – The Journey Forward: The Next Chapter of Hmong Americans, April 6. There will be over 1,000 attendees from all sectors of leadership, community, activism, academia, professionals, and elected officials.

More information about attending the HND Conference and the Top 5 IMPACT Award can be found here: 2013 HND Conference

Queers at the MN Hmong New Year!

Guess what?!

MWSM canvassed at the  Hmong New Year this year at the MN River Center in St. Paul. We were able to canvass a 100 people with various opinions on Marriage Equality and other social issues. Check out some of the photos!

Stay tuned for the results collected from the data!

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Chong (on right) engaging in conversations with Hmong elders at the 2013 Hmong New Year.

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Linda (on right) canvassed young and middle-aged Hmong Americans about the 2012 Election and Marriage Equality 2013.