Identity – a poem

In honor of Pride Month, I wrote this poem.

He, she, her, him, they, them
Arguments over semantics
Overshadow the people beneath
Overshadow the identities
crying and Screaming to crawl to the surface

He, she, her, him, they, them
simple words – pronouns
that hold the Weight of a person
their Truth, their Life,
their Hopes and Dreams

He, she, her, him, they, them
Arguments over semantics
when Everybody deserves
the space for I, Me, My
and any way they
Choose to Identify

Redefine 29

My 29th birthday is coming up next week and I have been wracking my brain trying to figure out the intentions for the next year.

See, I’ve been titling each year of my twenties starting at 25 with an intention of what to make of that year. Each phrase coming from a place of reflection, and emulating what I want to see or improve upon.

Thriving 25 – It was on the coattails of a dark time filled with aimlessness, hopelessness, and severe depression. I spent many of the years prior to 25 feeling like I was (all-around) lacking and my self-worth was almost non-existent. So, I made it my mission to change how I viewed myself and encouraged myself to try for bigger goals. I thought of 25 as a turning point; at the time, being five years from 30 was scary (I’m not as scared now).

Nixing 26 – After I felt a bit more confident in myself, with a new job and career prospects, I decided to introspect a bit. What wasn’t aligning with my goals? And I noticed self-sabotaging behaviors and habits that weren’t doing me any favors, so that was the intention for 26.

Even Better 27 – The previous two years were so successful that I wanted to continue the trend and positivity. I definitely practiced optimism for 27– making plans, changing jobs and going toward more mental health positions. I even moved out on my own (with a roommate because NYC is pricey). This intentional perspective added the understanding that growth is continuous, so the other intentions I applied to 25 and 26 continued to be practiced as well.

Date with Fate 28 – I already decided this would be my intention for the year, but the pandemic really pushed it forward. A lot of life is unexpected, and good things and bad things come in waves, so I decided my year would be a practice of mindfulness and taking things in stride. I practiced openness to new opportunities and tried to stop clinging on to things that were past their expiration dates. I worked on not getting down on myself over things not meeting my expectations.

So now as I transition to and enter 29, I am tasked with incorporating the things I’ve done and the things I’ve learned. A passing thought I had was “Divine 29” but I noted it was in the same vein as 27, and it didn’t promote a growth I want for myself. And I could not, for the life of me, come up with something that encompassed my desires. Then it hit me… a culmination of my late 20s and the things I want to leave behind before I enter a new decade… Redefining 29.

So the intention behind this is revisiting myself on a journey of self-exploration and reflecting on my relationships to figure out who I am now. In line with the purpose of this website for a deep dive into myself. Basically, it’s the wrap-up before my 30s, and figuring out what I see in store for me the next decade.

I think and hope it’ll help me out of the stagnation and complancency I feel myself slipping into.

Performative Allyship

I previously mentioned not wanting to add my two cents to the discourse about the Stop Asian Hate movement and there are several reasons for my silence. For one, it’s a lot to process such as the anxiety and trauma that comes with the events — constant news on my social media, the main topic between friends, and the central conversation in my family group chat. And two, the significant amount of attention being brought to the topic.

As I said before, I support the movement and these hate crimes need attention. They need to be talked about and addressed on the daily. And that’s where my hesitation lies.

Right now, Asian hate crimes, marches and protests are being plastered on headlines and news reports. For now. Just like we’ve seen with the Black Lives Matter movement, the chatter stops when the event stops. And when that happens, many of the voices will disappear. And it feels like all that we are doing now is performative. Performative empathy, performative advocacy, and performative allyship.

I don’t want to add to the performance.

Will I attend Stop Asian Hate marches if they continue? Probably not, and especially not at this time with Covid-19 still spreading and endangering lives.

Will I post on my social media platforms about the crimes to bring attention to them? Again, probably not. I don’t use social media in that way and sharing articles and videos without my own commentary and feelings attached seems empty.

Should I be doing these things? Probably. And I will, when the dust settles and we moved on to the next topic of discussion.

Why? Because as I said, I don’t want to be in a performance. I don’t want to join the hype and act like I’m some advocacy warrior when I’m not. I want to talk about these events and their effect on me on my own terms. I want to do it when people don’t care anymore.

Performative allyship is putting a hashtag after you’ve reposted an article or video, but continue to live your life as before. It’s going to a march to get Instagram photos to show you’re a good person and do nothing thereafter. It’s letting everyday acts of racism, microagressions, and stereotyping pass as the norm.

If you’re going to stand as an ally, it’s an every day stance. Not just when there’s an influx of stories from news outlets. If you’re going to be an ally, it’s speaking up and speaking out against things that are hurting the minority groups (racial, ethnic, sexual, religious, etc.). Not ignoring privileges when they benefit you. If you’re going to be an ally, it’s understanding that we don’t get to choose when we experience these things and that it’s part of our lives.

What can you do? There are so many sources that can tell you. There are so many people jumping at the chance to let you know. Google them, talk to them, make an effort. Have difficult conversations and discussions about uncomfortable topics with the people in your life, your community. But most importantly, reflect and introspect to learn where you stand and what your beliefs are. I don’t think anyone can be a real ally if they can’t explain why they are one.

Growing Up Asian American (Part 2)

The idea is not to make this a whole saga of consecutive posts, but rather enter some thoughts and reflections as I think about myself under the identity of Asian American. And as you will notice in this post, the previous one, and any hereafter, I will not be hyphening the term. I’ve experienced too much internal (and some external) conflict over being Asian American, that it feels wrong to my experience to merge what I consider two separate identities into one.

That out of the way, I’m going to talk about being Asian American and working in the Human Services field and touch upon growing up with undiagnosed anxiety and depression.

The first thing I noticed when I started working in the Human Services industry was the lack of Asians and Asian Americans in the field. When I worked at a residential facility for alcohol and substance abuse, only one of the counselors was Asian. I wasn’t surprised by the lack of Asian presence in the human services workforce because it’s not a traditionally encouraged or accepted field, job, or career path. Not to feed into the stereotype, but the professions I was encouraged to pursue were: accounting or something business related, medicine, or law. That’s it. The one exception I remember was when I said I wanted to be a teacher and my parents were okay with it. Barely.

I think part of the reason why the professions within the helping field aren’t encouraged is the understanding that a job is just a way to make money to provide for ourselves and our family. And it’s a well-known thing that government agencies and not-for-profit organizations don’t pay very much compared to corporate and private companies. Another thing is the concept of working to help people. If there’s one thing I learned growing up Chinese is that you mind your own business and ignore problems not directly related to you. So my work and my job go against the grain, goes against the whole concept of making money and taking care of me, myself and I.

Another thing I noticed, and again not surprised by, is the lack of Asians and Asian Americans served at the agencies where I worked. The populations I’ve worked with are those with mental illness, substance use disorder, and homelessness. And quite infrequently do I encounter individuals of Asian descent, and I’m speaking broader term Asian not just East Asian (Chinese, Japanese, Korean). And I think that could be attributed to the fact that none of these issues are talked about within the community, at least not the one I grew up in. Mental health doesn’t exist. You just get up and go. And if anyone has a mental illness in the family, it’s hush-hush or that person just isn’t ever talked about, or you’re gaslighted into imagining what you’ve heard about the person.

I can attest to my family not believing in mental illness. I went undiagnosed for over a decade because any time I talked about feeling anxious or feeling tired, or if I laid in bed all day, it was chalked up to being sensitive, lazy, and unmotivated. I was usually advised into getting up and just keep going, and also guilted for feeling the way I did because, “All you have to do is focus on school what’s there to be stressed or depressed about?” I believed something was off about me because there were some really dark thoughts that I recognized should not be floating in my mind, but I chalked it up to my parents and siblings being right. Maybe I was overreacting, and it’s just the phase of being an angsty teenager or something. I let it go. I probably shouldn’t have, but there wasn’t a huge culture boost and support for mental health at the time.

It wasn’t until I was struggling greatly with college (and not the academic portion) that I finally went to a mental health professional, after a lot of encouragement and support from my friends, that I received a diagnosis. After finally getting a name to my experience, I started doing research. I learned about how anxiety and depression manifest in childhood, adolescence, adulthood, etc. And I was mind blown! My experiences and symptoms matched and I felt both concerned and relieved. Concerned because wow it’s a long time to have been left untreated, but relieved because now I can do something about it.

Now, in this new generation and age of mental health advocacy, it was a little less daunting to talk to my friends from high school about it. Also Chinese, and so many of them told me they saw oddities in my behavior and chalked it up to me being me. They didn’t think anything of it because we weren’t educated in this enough. Not at school and definitely not at home. But I remember some of the conversations being that they just figured it was in my personality to be sensitive, to be moody/irritable, to have a short temper. I was astounded. This whole time the signs were clear, but we ignored it because we didn’t know any better.

I don’t know if my life would be significantly different or improved if I started working on myself earlier. I don’t know if I would’ve been open to hearing a diagnosis and believing it earlier. All I know is that because I grew up in a culture that denies the existence of mental illness, I didn’t get any help before it got out of hand. And though part of me is upset and frustrated by that, the other part of me is grateful. In my experience with mental health as an Asian American, I became more resilient and more driven to break the cycle.

So I am proudly and Asian American in a predominantly non-Asian field, and I hope to encourage others of my background to consider and pursue it. And maybe even outreach to people who may not understand it so much within the cultural landscape, it could be comforting to have someone from a similar background talk about traditionally taboo topics. Who knows?

For the time being, I will put a pause on anymore being Asian American posts. Like I said in the first one, these initial posts are dives into my identity, and though they will be deep, I don’t want to focus solely on one piece of my identity. Also with the Stop Asian Hate and crimes against Asians, I don’t want to add to the narrative at this point. I want to take some time and reflect on the issues and my feelings about them before I write or say anything about it.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely believe and support the advocacy and agree with the movement, but I’m not ready to throw my hat in the ring just yet. It does not mean that I’m turning my back on it or not giving it any attention because I am flooded by the reality on all platforms, and my feelings of apprehension and fear of going outside and for my family’s well-being are very real.

Growing Up Asian American (Part 1)

To restart my website, I have decided to do a deep dive into my identity. The point is to be transparent and put myself out there, so there are many parts of my identity that I struggle with, and parts that make a huge portion of who I am. I originally intended this topic to be one long post, but as I continue to delve into my identity as an Asian American, it dawned on me how layered the experience really is. So this is just part 1 of a saga of an undetermined many.

That being said, I identify as Asian American, more specifically Chinese American, and even more specifically Hainanese American. It’s like a nesting doll because each one feeds into the greater part of the other. And because of these distinctions, my perspective and understanding of the world is unique.

I grew up understanding there’s a pride to being Hainanese. Why? I don’t know. But it’s where my ancestors are from, and where my parents and grandparents grew up and lived, and that made it special. My dad ingrained in my siblings and I never to forget our heritage and where we come from. I remember he used to have me repeat in Hainanese, where his village was beginning with the Hainan Province and ending with the little town. He also tried to enforce that we only speak Hainanese at home, but that didn’t work too well. We did try to maintain speaking Hainanese at the dinner table when he was home though.

For those of you who don’t know, Hainan is an island province in China, and for tourist reasons is known as the Hawaii of China. I couldn’t tell you if that’s true because I’ve never been to Hawaii. Anyway, it’s incredibly easy to say, “Well then, aren’t you Chinese?” Well, yeah. I am. But in China there’s a lot of different ethnic groups within the country, and each place has local language and prejudices about other areas. So being Hainanese, though Chinese, remains distinct. Just like when people ask me if I speak Chinese, I do. But I don’t speak the main dialects of Mandarin or Cantonese, so I have to clarify that.

And that’s one of the things that makes it hard to be categorized as Chinese. As soon as I identify that way, people immediately ask me if I speak Mandarin or Cantonese, or come at me with “Ni Hao,” or ask me to translate. And as unique and special as I felt growing up being Hainanese and not knowing many people with the same background, I also felt kind of excluded and othered. Most of my friends and their families spoke Cantonese, and every time I would go to their houses, my friends had to tell their parents I don’t speak the language. Unfortunately, the impression that the adults would get is that I didn’t know Chinese at all, and in part that’s a failure of my parents to preserve the culture. I learned early on how to say “I’m Hainanese” in both Mandarin and Cantonese to clarify any misgivings. I also picked up some of both dialects along the way to not “dishonor” my family.

I know that it’s such a running joke and theme in Mulan about bringing honor to the family, but it’s a real thing. I was socialized growing up that my behaviors and how I presented myself was a reflection of my family. And no matter what, I have to act like everything is perfect so that my parents could save face. That often meant that I had to perform well in school, that I had to put up a façade of being okay when I wasn’t, that I couldn’t talk about any conflict within the home, etc. It was a lot of pressure to grow up with. And I’m not saying that my experience is specific to me, or specific to Asians, but it was an experience that I had that I can attribute to growing up Chinese.