Reflections on Sanctuary and Homecoming

I’ve been traveling a lot this academic year, punctuated by the fact that in the last 6 weeks I’ve presented 5 times at 3 different conferences (in Palm Springs, Toronto & Madison), as well as serving as a discussant and leading sessions at 2 of those 3 conferences.

The work I am doing is (I hope and believe) important.  It is work with teachers that can inform the practice of other teachers; it is work to amplify the voices of teachers so that we can do a better job of supporting their early development and career transitions; it is work to make audible and visible the voice and experiences of Asian American teachers beyond their own classrooms.  It is collaborative work.  It is heart work.  It is good work.

I just returned from the 2019 Association for Asian American Studies conference in Madison, WI where the theme was “Sanctuary, Fugitivity & the Ungovernable.”  I’ve never been to an AAAS conference, probably because I’m not an “Asian Americanist” (in fact, I didn’t even know that term was a term before this weekend).  I’m a teacher educator and I’m Asian American, but I realized this weekend that I am certainly not an Asian Americanist, in that I still have SO MUCH TO LEARN about the Asian American experience (contemporary and historically).  But, at least I am coming to know what I don’t know, which is a big step in learning.

My friend & co-conspirator, Jung Kim & I presented from our work with Asian American teachers.  Our presentation, “We are here too: Listening to the voices of Asian American teachers” highlighted, among other things, the need our participants had to find spaces where they belonged, both as children in K-12 schools, and now, as educators.  We also discussed how our teachers found sanctuary: in some of their own teachers, in ethnic studies programs, and in community.  Finally, we saw how these teachers provided spaces of sanctuary and belonging for their students, drawing from their own sense of needing those spaces when they were younger, building bridges within Asian American communities and building coalition with non-Asian American communities.

Thanks to Karen Su for this photo of Jung & my presentation

Fitting with this last conference theme, traveling so much has made me realize the importance of sanctuary spaces and homecoming. I have always struggled with belonging.  When I was growing up, there were many moments where I didn’t feel like I belonged.  Even within my own family, I was 10 years younger than my brother; my mom, a first generation immigrant who loved me fiercely, couldn’t always relate to my struggle to be American and what that meant as a second generation Asian American; I couldn’t understand why it was important for her that I retain elements of my heritage culture (although, of course, now I do).  Although I always had friends, there weren’t a lot of people who I felt understood me when I was in my K-12 education. Maybe this is just a part of growing up.

Maybe this is because I didn’t really know myself either.  I am not sure, but I remember the deep loneliness I often felt growing up.  And, I also remember the deep love that broke through that to provide sanctuary: from my family, always there for me, even if they didn’t always get me; from some beloved teachers, who valued my contributions and my voice; from my close friend group, who never shamed me for my nerdiness.

Home for me, has always been about people.  The people at the beginning of this post, my  family, represent my fundamental home.  My home will always be wherever they are. I finally have a spiritual community that is truly a home space for me, particularly my social justice ministry & music ministry teams.  Across these three conferences, I also have home spaces–home spaces created with my amazing EDCI 530/ Linked Learning Masters cohort students; home spaces created with my academic colleagues from across the country turned family at AERA; home spaces created with my education colleagues at AAAS.  In those moments that I feel particularly overwhelmed by all I am not doing, I find refuge in returning to these home spaces, these people who are my people.  These people who get me and with whom I am deeply connected.

I am grateful, because there is always so much to do. But, in these spaces, with these people, I am home.  I can just be.

There’s truly no place like home.

So Much Goodness: Negotiating Multiple Identities


The three pictures above reflect some of the identities I’m moving back and forth between on a daily basis: scholar/ professor/ researcher/ teacher/ student/ mother (not included, Asian American woman, mentor, student teaching supervisor, person of faith, choir member, ministry leader, runner, wife, friend, etc.).  All of these identities, in and of themselves, bring me so much joy.  I’m so grateful to have such a full life, embracing who I am and doing work that I’m committed to, but let me be honest, for a moment, on this blog — negotiating these multiple identities and occupying these different roles is exhausting, and sometimes the intersections of them make me irritable and less than my best self.

This week, I jumped off the plane from AERA and back into my life: figuring out Tae Kwon Do/daycare pick-ups and drop offs, planning my daughter’s 4th birthday party next month, realizing that I was 2.5 hours behind on required lab hours for my Chinese class and feeling super unprepared for my Chinese test on Thursday, inspired by the research world and ready to delve into the multiple concurrent studies I’m working on, building up mileage for an upcoming half marathon (after coming off of an injury), facilitating multiple student teaching midterm evaluations (some of which are challenging situations), encouraging some of my Masters students who are taking their comps while reading and giving feedback on thesis & dissertation drafts for my other graduate students, planning for our Faculty Inquiry Group meeting on Culturally Responsive Teaching in Teacher Ed, finalizing and sending out agendas for a Faculty Council meeting and a Social Justice Ministry meeting, attending Bible Study, doing two loads of laundry, transcribing interviews, coding data, setting up powerpoint presentations for an upcoming conference, planning a new project with a remarkable group of fellow teacher educators.

So much goodness.

But, SO…MUCH…goodness.

I woke up this morning to e-mails from cooperating teachers, coding to be done, observations and a mid-semester evaluation meeting to be had, Tae Kwon Do & daycare pick-up this evening (and not knowing who exactly will do the pick-up based on the timing of my afternoon meeting), dirty laundry to be done, a silly (almost) 4yo (also up early) with made up words to a song she knows, who changed her “treat” for school choice 3x, a slightly sick teenager, inspired to make himself breakfast, but moving slower than a snail in molasses to get out the door to catch the bus.

I sent them out the door and felt my irritation, combined with general apathy and UGH.

Why was I so grumpy? My kids were being their normal, charming, though sometimes frustrating, selves.  The e-mails were nothing unexpected.  I knew the laundry had to get done.  I’ve been excited to get this coding done. I need time to get the powerpoint set up.  I think I did fine on my Chinese test and get a bit of a break over the weekend.  Most days, all of the things don’t get to me.  And I actually got sleep last night!

But, it is perhaps because of that sleep, because today is a rest day from running, because I have a moment to write and pause that the multitude of goodness in my life feels like a flood.  It is a lot.  It is nothing I regret. But, it is so much.

I will not drown.  I will stand. But, I will also breathe and be kind to myself.  It is a lot.  Sometimes my community is my life raft.  Sometimes, I am drifting with a life vest in what feels like shark infested waters.  Sometimes, I am tired of keeping myself afloat.  Sometimes, I can stand on the shore and watch the waves crash around me.  I can make space for it all, gratitude and overwhelm, love and frustration, work and rest.

Doing the Work: Focusing on Thriving — A Post-#AERA19 Reflection

I just returned from Toronto and the 2019 meeting of the American Educational Research Association.  AERA, for many years, was exhausting, in a way that constituted a seemingly endless search to figure out who I was.  I would often reconnect with friends from graduate school or would connect with scholars whose work I admired, and I would wonder why I wasn’t doing what they were doing, how I could do more, be more, do something different, be someone different, make more time for research, apply the theoretical to my practical.  I would leave feeling conflicted about who I was and the work I was doing.

This year (and last year to some degree) was different.  This year, AERA, while always full and exhausting, was a time of embracing my professional identity, learning from others, refueling, connecting, and getting clear on the work that there is to do.  It also was a time where I was able to see myself through the interactions that I had with others, one of which (Thank you, Sunny!) encouraged me to take the time to write this blog.  I realized that people are reading what I write, learning from my work, and that I have community.  I learned that doing work that honors who I am is not theoretical, but personal, practical and important, with the potential for structural and transformational impact.  I learned that raising my voice is not only important, but essential, in challenging the normative ideologies and practices that, in the words of Bettina Love, spirit murder Black children.

My work, I know, focuses on teachers of color, and Asian American teachers/teacher educators in P-16 spaces.  It focuses on challenging dominant narratives of who teachers (and teacher educators) of color are and what they do, to begin unpacking the complexities of how they navigate and survive in a system not made for them, not made for us.  My work focuses on giving voice to complexity.  My writing (including this blog) reveals the complexities of being a mother-scholar, critical Asian American scholar, teacher-scholar, heritage language learner-scholar, advocate for equity-scholar, anti-anti-Black scholar, co-conspirator scholar among many other parts of my identity.

It is good work.  It is important work.

But this AERA, more than ever, I realized that it is work that will consume me and that could destroy me, if I do not commit to doing the work of thriving and promoting personal and professional sustainability.  As I work to grow as a mentor and as a learner, I am so clear that I need to grow in boundary setting.  There are no shortages of opportunities.  The work is so important.  But, so is my 4-year old who told me this morning as we were cuddling before she went off to preschool how much she missed having someone lay next to her as she fell asleep.  So is my 13-year old telling me about rock climbing in Joshua Tree and appreciating the maple flavored treats I brought home from this trip.  So is my sleep-deprived partner, who always encourages me to do the work and follow my passions. They are also my passions. Even more importantly, they are my heart.

And honestly, so is my time to reflect and to write, both for formal work and for reflective learning.  So is the space to be vulnerable, to be present to the life I have created and am creating.

From that place, we can all grow. It is all the work, but I must commit to prioritizing the work of living for my voice to feel its power.  That is the work, the humanizing work, that helps me see the people in my studies, to hear their voices, to support the co-construction of their stories, to make a difference.

And figuring out that work is such an important place to be.

The 3-mile loop

It is Monday morning.

Time for a 3-mile training run.

I close the door behind me, and press start on my Apple Watch.  It will track my mileage even though I know how far the route is.  It will tell me how fast I’m moving even if only I know where I’m going.

I start down my street, past the newer houses is my not-so-old development.

A man and his sandy-blonde haired little girl are walking their two dogs–two playful retrievers, muzzled lightly who have just done their business.  As I approach, the sidewalk seems a little small and the man yells, “HEY!” at his dogs as the Labrador retriever bounds playfully towards me. The dog and I are both startled. We pull back and keep moving our separate ways.

I run over the railroad tracks towards the 7-11.

On my way to the corner, I pass a brown-skinned boy in his gray school-affiliated polo shirt on his way to the middle school that is a mile away.  It is the same school that my own son got dropped off at, an hour before, so that he could take a bus across our city to the other side of town, where he would begin his school day as I finished my run.

I run past the ruins of a factory, sitting silently in rubble.  The construction day has not yet begun.

I run past our neighborhood bodega.  It is also silent, although the metal siding is up, signaling that it is open for business.

The light to cross to the other side is flashing red so I turn the corner on the same side of the street.

I pass the mamas con sus niños, one of whom says as she pulls her son out of my path on the sidewalk, “Cuidado, hijo!”

I look up and although I should excuse myself, because I cannot remember my Spanish quickly enough, I simply say, “Gracias, Señora. Buenos Dias” as I run by.

I pause at the corner with the gas station because the lights still won’t let me pass, but the light changes quickly and I proceed down the route.

Next, I see Tom, with his long white beard, washing his white Chevy Suburban. I yell out, “Good morning!” as I pass with a wave. I only know Tom’s name because I heard another man, James, call out to him last week on my run, as James stopped at Tom’s house on his walk with his dog, but I see Tom nearly every morning, working on his lawn or washing his cars, or, at Christmas, hanging his lights.

I don’t wait then for a response as I am hitting my stride.

I cross the street at the crosswalk, past darker skinned Señor Javier who is trimming his grass with a weed whacker.  He once called out, “Ganas!” to me as I cruised by, but today he just nods and waits for me to pass so he can get the last patch of his grass trimmed in the coolness of the morning before it gets too hot.

I round the last corner before the halfway point, past the flagship Northgate supermarket and the smaller El Gaucho Argentinian meat market with the empanadas my sister-in-law always brings us when she comes to visit, past NV Nails, the Vietnamese-owned nail salon that I frequent, and finally arrive at the corner by Boysen Park.

It was only this weekend that I found out the elementary school on Vermont, just west of the park, had been demolished.  More rubble and reconstruction.

It was a surprise then, but today, the first weekday morning that I run by, it feels joyless.

Gone is the friendly abuelita crossing guard who would always tell me that I’m too skinny and don’t need to be running then laugh as she stopped traffic for me to finish crossing the street.  Gone are the children with the parents walking and talking before the first bell rang.

It is quiet as I weave through the neighborhoods on the other side of the school, back towards the street where Tom & Señor Javier live.

On the way back, I pass the cocoa and cream skinned ladies in their 60s always walking their dog together.  I call out hello and the darker skinned woman says, “Hello there, young lady!” We recognize each other.  Her light skinned walking partner is still recovering from being startled by my boisterous hello.  Perhaps she does not remember me as I remember them. Perhaps she is just startled by my loud, clear voice.

I pass Tom again, who this time is by the sidewalk, and tells me, “Keep up the good work!”

I am almost to the corner when I see James who apologizes that his chihuahua is in my path.  I say, “No problem” and “Good morning” as I pass, wondering if he is on his way to talk with Tom.

I round the corner by the gas station.  Again the lights are not in my favor so I run down the opposite side of the streets, near the walls of the homes that have been there for decades.  The fruit of the mature guayaba trees and the flowers of the fragrant jasmine flowers remind me that I am almost home.

I finally get a green light to cross by the 7-11, pass the local bodega, now open, with the middle aged brown skinned owner who is always smoking and never smiling if I see him as I pass.

The construction site is open now. The old factory will become new homes.  The neighborhood is changing. I wonder who my new neighbors will be.

I am a few steps from home, and say a final hello, to the landscapers in my development.  We know each other from my morning runs in our respective uniforms, their bright orange vests against their dark leather brown skin and my running shirt, shorts, and shoes with the fancy orthotics, my black hair tied back so it doesn’t cover my almond-shaped eyes.

I am home. I stop my watch. 3.01 miles.

I ascend the stairs to the jasmine tea made with the water from my hot water pot. I gaze at the orchid on my counter. I think of my neighborhood.

I begin to write, starting on a second journey through my neighborhood.