Complicity, Contradictions, Criticality: The Challenges of Finding a Voice

I don’t even know how to characterize this week except to quote from the title of Angela Davis’s collection of essays, interviews and speeches to say that, “Freedom is a constant struggle.”  Dr. Davis, in this text that I’ve been listening to on the long drives to visit with my aunt or the shorter drives around town, discusses the collective, global struggles of oppressed peoples and the importance of collectivity, coalition, and extending the struggle for freedom beyond civil (and human) rights towards freedom and equality.  She argues (and I agree) that this will not come without the dismantling of structures of oppression including prisons and our current ideologies of “security” which are founded on corporations and individuals profiting from dehumanization of groups of people to maintain control of societies through fear and separation.

In light of the white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia of this past weekend, which are not just indicative of the persistence of white supremacist ideologies in the US, but demonstrate how they have been emboldened in this current political time, I find myself, as an individual, standing at the intersection of multiple identities (Chinese American, Asian American, Social Justice Educator, Teacher Educator, Mother) and struggling.  I have been selective in how and where I raise my voice, particularly in relation to social media.  I am more outspoken on Twitter than on Facebook, but more through retweets and amplifying thoughts than through offering original thoughts.  On Facebook, I did engage in one dialogue countering notions akin to color blindness and brought forth the importance of naming white privilege as critical in beginning to dismantle structures of oppression on a friend’s Facebook thread with another Asian American woman. But, I regretted this engagement. I felt that this discussion didn’t lead to very productive, critical reflection. Instead, it turned into defensive justification of points of view (hers and mine).  I was frustrated with the time invested in this conversation (and others like it) and with how these conversations leave me angry and frustrated with the fact that within Asian American communities (particularly East Asian or Chinese American communities, of which I am a part), individuals often choose to align themselves with dominant discourses and fail to speak out against racism in our society, buying into notions that white privilege is divisive and that racism really isn’t so prevalent, that we can work our way to freedom and success if we just continue playing by the rules.

The problem is, racism is inherently divisive with very real consequences for people.  When we fail to acknowledge that racism (systemic, embedded in institutions) at a societal level inform our actions subconsciously (and for some more consciously, with or without justification), we continue to perpetrate and benefit from (if we have forms of privilege) this racism.  The logic leveled against me was that no one is “given privilege,” that it is earned by themselves or their ancestors in good or bad ways.  At that point, I just had to leave the conversation because I just got too frustrated.  I fail to understand how being born a certain race or to certain parents is a form of earning any privilege or rights, and that the mere fact that one was not born a certain race or to certain parents should deny them these rights.  Then I was informed that language is powerful and that we should use it to unite and not divide.  I agree with this.  Language is powerful.  And we should use it to unite, but who are we uniting? For what ends?  Are we united in confronting injustice?  Can this be done without calling out injustice for what it is?

I don’t know.  But, the thing is, I left the conversation.  There are many conversations I just don’t enter into, or don’t enter into unless I am in a space, with people with whom I feel comfortable.  I am EXTREMELY non-confrontational, and this troubles me.  Freedom is a constant struggle.  Struggle means confrontation.  I hate confrontation.  Yet it is necessary to move forward.  Discomfort is necessary to move forward.  I am confronted.  I wonder where my commitments are and where I am complicit to the oppression of others (Black & Brown others, fellow Asian Americans, religious minorities, immigrants) because my privileged fear allows me to remain silent, because I don’t want to be judged by the people I know.

So, I’m calling myself out, and I’m being honest about the fact that I’m struggling.  My commitments call me to make a louder, larger stance.  My identities call me to find quiet ways to contribute to the resistance without putting myself on the front lines.  I don’t know if that’s simply privilege or complicated privilege, complicity, self-care, or just a different form of resistance.  I don’t really want to make this about me, but I also don’t think I’m alone in this struggle.  In trying to find my voice, I want to be honest.  In trying to be authentic to all the parts of myself, I want to share where I am in this struggle with you.  Because the struggle against injustice and for freedom are real, and I need to find a way to participate productively, sustainably, and in coalition.

Reflections on Humanity

I just got back from a 4-day vacation in New York City.  It was amazing, but it was an intense 4-days of over 10-miles walking/running each day, seeing the sights, being around the people, eating the food. It was also emotional: reliving 9-11, thinking about the importance of immigrant contributions to this country, remembering my love for city life (and how different it is from my current suburban life). It was a trip full of life, but it was a lot to live.

My son at baking camp

Today, my first full day home, and spent over 4 hours driving, spent 2-hours meeting with a care team for my aunt (and visiting with her as she recovers), had a 15-minute lunch (at 2pm), went to the last hour of my son’s baking camp and then took my daughter to pediatric urgent care.

My daughter and her swollen eyelid

All of this meant that I had approximately 1 hour of work time which I needed to catch up on e-mails that I had missed while I was gone.

And now, the freaking e-mail server just went down and I may have just locked myself out of my e-mail account for the 3rd time in 2 weeks. I definitely just deleted all of my e-mails from my computer.

I have never been so behind with 17 days until the start of the school year.

I am exhausted and living with the full depth of my humanity.

It sucks so much, and all I want to do is curl up in a ball and sob.  There is only so much humanity that I can be with.  I know I have been in worse places, personally and with familial stuff, but I have never let my work suffer. It has been the one marker of consistency in my entire life.  But, I just can’t push through right now.

I’m writing this for myself on the other side, and because truth is messy, and because sometimes even though you’re great at life, you suck at life too.  I have faith and community that I know will help me through this.  I have inner strength and coping strategies. I am really good at designing curriculum and syllabi. My daughter has antibiotics and my aunt has a caretaker and a family behind her.

But right now is hard and there’s just no way around that.  The only way is through it.  I’ll see you all on the other side.

And Then You Hit the Wall…

Photo by Lemuel Butler on Unsplash

Despite all the craziness of the past couple of weeks, I’ve been handling everything pretty well….

Or so I thought.

Then, tonight, after another exhausting 3+ hours on the road, 45 minutes running in 80 degree heat with 70% humidity, an IRB delay for one of my students, and both my children being tired and grumpy, I locked myself out of my work e-mail.

And that’s when I hit the wall.

I literally just wanted to break down crying and start throwing things.  Over a freaking e-mail password.  A password that I will be able to change when the IT desk opens tomorrow morning.  Being away from my e-mail for 12 hours will not kill me. (In fact, at this point, it’s probably better that I step away from responding to e-mail for awhile.) Unlike my 2-year old for whom something relatively small means a complete meltdown complete with throwing herself down on the floor and kicking and screaming, I realize my reaction is not developmentally appropriate.  I get it.  I know this all intellectually.

But, I am exhausted.

And despite all of the love shown to me and the exhortations that I take time for self-care, I just haven’t, and I’m wiped out.

So, I’m sitting next to my daughter’s crib, as she’s throwing a huge fit over not getting to watch one more video before bed. I text a very close friend, who gets me, about how terrible (idiotic, like a failure, etc.) I am feeling. I walk out for a moment to compose myself and regroup, but I am just feeling defeated. My friend gets it. She doesn’t try to make it better.  She just says that she’s been there too.

I walk back in, and I look at my girl who has stopped crying for a video and is now crying for Mommy.  She asks for Papa, but as I’m on my way to get him, she changes her mind and calls me back.  I stop by the side of her crib and gently stroke her hair and her back.  I get how she is feeling because I am feeling that way too.  I would also like to throw a complete fit about not getting what I want.  I am also exhausted beyond belief. I also am expressing my frustrations in ways that are less than productive sometimes.

But, she is not doing that anymore.  She is silent.  She is looking at me.  She is smiling.  She even giggles a bit as I pretend to catch her fingers through the side of her crib.

In 5 minutes, she is asleep.  I’m calmer too.

I hug my (previously) grumpy, sleepy 11-year old on the couch, and he wakes up to say “I love you so much, mommy.”

I know that what we resist persists.  I resist my humanity all too often.

But, my humanity is my hope.  It brings me closer to understanding others because we all have those moments, days, weeks where we hit the wall.  Tonight was my turn, but tomorrow I will rise again, try again, and hope that I can access my e-mail…and my humanity.

But the Greatest of These is Love

Photo by Jez Timms on Unsplash

The past week has been one of the most exhausting weeks I’ve had in a very long time.

For those of you who know me or know me through this blog, you know that I lost my mother when I was in high school.  I don’t talk much about my father, but he is not in the US, and although we are in contact and I love him, we are not traditionally close (proximally or relationally).  My in-laws are young and across the country, and although I love them, if the time were to come for their care, I would play more of a support role as my husband and his siblings looked out for them.  In other words, elder care was not something I really thought a lot about.

Until last Wednesday night.

My 80-year old aunt, who had been in California, waiting to return to China, had a sudden medical emergency.  Being the closest relative (who spoke the best English), my cousin asked me to check on her.  She was admitted to the ER, transferred to a hospital, and spent 5 roller-coaster days in that hospital until her discharge to a skilled nursing facility yesterday.  The hospital is at least an hour away from my home and I visited each day, trying to get the correct information and advocating for my aunt, supporting her on this road to recovery.  It has been physically, emotionally and mentally exhausting.

(If you are the praying type, she could use your prayers still, as could we, her family)

This blog post isn’t really about elder care (although I have such an increased appreciation and empathy for friends and colleagues who are engaged in ongoing elder care), however. Rather, it is about love and support in one’s hardest moments.  It is about light in the midst of darkness. It is about knowing you are seen, loved and appreciated for who you are and not solely for what you do.

In this past week, although I haven’t been very public about the situation with my aunt, I have told a few people: family, close friends, church family, work friends that I’ve had to cancel meetings with, and everyone has been so supportive and loving.  Not once has someone given me a heavy sigh of disappointment. Everyone has offered to accommodate or support.  Everyone has offered love and prayers.  Many have reminded me about the importance of self-care.  I truly have the best tribe in the whole world and I am beyond grateful for their care for me.

This past Monday also happened to be my 13th wedding anniversary.  My husband has been incredibly generous with me in this past week.  He has not once shown concern for himself, but has supported me during each trip to the hospital, watching the kids, checking in about my aunt, reassuring me that they’re fine at home and that what I’m doing is exactly the right thing.  I thought I might need to cancel our anniversary lunch (we don’t get a lot of couple time together) and he was so understanding (we didn’t end up canceling it because my aunt was more stable by Monday).  He has been love exemplified, and has given me the peace of knowing that our family is taken care of while I take care of my aunt.

Finally, there is beauty, blessing and joy in spending time with my aunt.  While my aunt has had some cognitive struggles due to her age, we shared several beautiful moments over the last week.  I was feeding her dinner on Sunday evening and she apologized for the trouble of having to feed her.  I reassured her that it was the least I could do, feeding her, after she had helped my mom with me when I was a baby.  She looked at me, thanked me, and then, with much effort and just as much tenderness, said, “I really enjoyed it.  When you were little.” I am still tearing up as I remember these words.  Without my mom, I haven’t been able to have the perspective of someone who was an adult when I was a baby and saw me grow up through those eyes.  It was truly a gift to me.

So, I have been reminded this week that life is a journey; a continuous, unpredictable, and sometimes hard journey.  But with love, it is made beautiful, even in the most difficult moments.