An Open Letter to my Asian American Friends & Family on Anti-Blackness and Solidarity

Dear Asian American Friends and Family,

I want to start this letter by grounding it in love, and in the recognition of your humanity and the path that each of us is on. I know, from my own walk that, sometimes, the hardest thing we much do is to speak the truth in love, power and solidarity. I also know that now is the moment in which we must take a stand.

It has been a very hard week for our Black American brothers and sisters, in the midst of hard days, weeks, months, and years that are built upon a foundation of 400 years of anti-Blackness which began when white property owners bought into a created mythology and pseudo-science of racial hierarchy and began using it to their benefit to separate white indentured servants from Black indentured servants. To prevent alliances between people with shared interests in joint liberation, people who had come together and rebelled against the property owners oppressing them all, a division was created based on race, that was reinforced by racist policies (e.g. classifying Black people as 3/5 people and calling this a compromise rather than dehumanization; selling Black people’s bodies and separating them from their families) and racial hierarchies (with white people at the top and Black people at the bottom, particularly dark-skinned Black people) that turned groups even against themselves (e.g. the working class, lighter skinned Black Americans and darker skinned Black Americans, assimilated people of color against Black Americans).

Race is a social construct that has been used to separate people in order to preserve a specific hierarchy of power. (If you want to read more about this, check out Stamped: Racism, Antiracism & You by Jason Reynolds & Ibram X. Kendi — appropriate for older youth – adults or Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi — both of these are currently backordered on &, but don’t let that stop you, put yourself on a waiting list, buy a copy & wait for it to come in stock, find it in a library, borrow it from a friend).

I digress. This is a letter to my Asian American friends and family.

It has been a hard period for us in 2020 as well, particularly in light of increasing incidents of racism & xenophobia against Asian Americans that have come all the way from the discourse of the President of the United States to our communities and neighborhoods. Asian Americans from all walks of life have faced violence and discrimination, including doctors on the front lines and many small business owners who have been specifically and wrongly targeted.

While we have been disproportionately and unfairly targeted in relation to COVID-19, so have our Black American brothers and sisters, who have been dying at disproportionate rates during this public health crisis. Despite arguments to the contrary, these disproportionate rates of death are due to systemic factors which include lack of access to quality medical care and discrimination within the medical system (sometimes based on internalized racist notions of Black bodies as indestructible, which again stem from the dehumanization faced by Black people during slavery).

In the face of this, and in addition to it, over the past few weeks, our Black brothers and sisters have also been dealing with the trauma related to seeing news stories and video of: the extrajudicial killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a man gunned down while jogging through a neighborhood adjacent to his own whose killers walked free for nearly 3 months before being arrested after video surfaced of their crime; the killing of Breonna Taylor, an EMT & Emergency Room technician who was shot in her apartment after police opened fire with a “no-knock” warrant in a drug raid after they had already captured a suspect in that investigation (no drugs were founds in Ms. Taylor’s apartment and her boyfriend had called 911 because he thought that the police, who did not identify themselves and were not in uniform, were breaking into their home); the weaponization of the police against birder Christian Cooper, for simply insisting that a white woman walking her dog follow the rules in an area of New York City’s Central Park dedicate to bird watching; and the incredibly traumatizing 9-minute video of a police officer with his knee on the neck of George Floyd (accused of forging a $20 bill, who was not resisting arrest) which led to his death after Floyd repeatedly stated, “I can’t breathe” and pleaded for his life.

And these are just a few of the high profile cases that have made it to the media in the last few weeks.

The death of George Floyd, the initial failure to arrest the police officer responsible for his death (and the continued freedom of other officers, including an Asian American officer, who stood by and did nothing as Floyd pled for his life) led to a series of protests across this country and around the world. These protests began peacefully and many of them remained peaceful for multiple hours. Some of these protests turned violent and some have resulted in property damage and injuries. Those injured have overwhelmingly been protesters themselves. It is unclear who has been responsible for these protests turning violent and the property loss and damage.

This is where we’re at, as a nation, but where are we as Asian Americans?

Asian Americans are often portrayed as a “model minority,” a monolithically hard-working, high achieving, compliant and successful group of people who have outpaced white people in academic success, thus “proving” that there is no racial discrimination. Remember when I talked earlier about the creation of racial hierarchies by white property owners to separate out Black and white indentured servants? Something similar was done in Asian American history through this idea of the model minority which has been used to erase a historical legacy of oppression and resistance by Asian Americans and Black-Asian solidarity through organizations like the Third World Liberation Front to fight for ethnic studies, and through individual legacies including those of Yuri Kochiyama and Grace Lee Boggs.

These histories have been largely silenced and replaced by this insidious model minority myth which promises that if we stay silent and work hard, we, Asian Americans, will be rewarded for our merit. We should not bite the American hand that feeds us, but continue to do our best, even when we face unfair treatment, because there is more opportunity than unfairness. This myth undermines the idea that systemic discrimination exists and should be fought. The myth is the foundation our “American dreams.” If we have been able to succeed, why haven’t other racial groups like Black Americans?

This myth has led to many Asian Americans’ internalization, acceptance and perpetration of anti-Black racism.

So, briefly, let me explain a bit about Asian American history (because this post is already extremely long). Most Asians in America came after 1952 because of immigrant racial covenants that banned people from Asian countries from coming to the United States from 1917-1952 (completely); from 1882-1917 (partially), opening up more fully since 1965, after which people from the Asian diaspora began to come in large waves such that Asian Americans are now the fastest growing immigrant group in the United States. [Note: Those Chinese, Filipino and Japanese ancestors who were here in the early 1800s and who did face much discrimination and physical violence, fought back, both through protest and through court cases to try to advance Asian American rights in the US.]

This to say that most of us don’t have multiple generations of racial trauma, and NONE OF US has experienced the intergenerational racial trauma of anti-Blackness upon which this country was FOUNDED.

I do not mean to dismiss the historical legacy of anti-Asian discrimination which some Asian Americans’ ancestors have faced, but is is different from the foundation of anti-Blackness in this country.

Asian Americans are willing to ignore our histories, because now, we (some of us, mainly middle class and affluent East and South Asians) have more opportunities than some of our Black brothers and sisters, but these “opportunities” are fragile and can be easily revoked by executive orders banning immigration and words blaming us for diseases (also historical).

We are being used as props by white supremacy to uphold the racial hierarchies upon which this country has been founded, namely, anti-Blackness (and the invisibility of colonialism that has destroyed indigenous peoples, but that is for another day), and being told that we have achieved all we have by our merit.

Yes, we have worked hard, but we have benefited from anti-Blackness. We have opportunities that our Black brothers and sisters are denied because of their name, skin color, zip code, etc.

We may not know it, but we are suffering from this myth. Our success has been bought by our silence. Our success has been bought with the erasure of our identities and histories, our invisibility. And when we are seen or we do speak out, we are seen as foreign or we often speak out in ways that uphold “respectability” and status quo because it allows us to not confront our complicity that is leading to continued systemic discrimination and death of Black Americans EVERY DAY.

This is a critical moment, my Asian American brothers and sisters. We are suffocating in our own silence or when we only speak out when Asian lives are at risk. We are not free. We must choose whether we will remain complicit in our own oppression, that which denies our right to be American, our rights to our own histories, the rights and freedoms of our Black brothers and sisters, or we must choose to begin speaking — with humility and in humanity, being willing to be called in by others in love (especially because as we are learning to speak, we will make mistakes), to begin a dialogue — with one another and with others, we must choose to give in ways that rebuild and strengthen communities and solidarity.

I hope you’ll stand with me and do the every-moment work of unlearning anti-Blackness and standing for our mutual liberation.

Walking the Walk, Down a New Path

Path through a forest with sunlight at the end

It is the end of another semester. This, of course, means, it’s time for another final reflection on the semester.

But this final reflection is a little different than some of my others because this semester is different than others, for more reasons than one might imagine.

In our final synchronous session online together last night, when asked to identify what they were taking away from our class, one of my students shared the following, “I think it’s important to walk the walk instead of just talking the talk. For ex, Dr. Hsieh always talks about compassion and mindfulness, and we actually see it in practice with the flexible deadlines, 2nd chances, etc. Even if I didn’t really turn stuff in “late,” I still really appreciate it, and we don’t necessarily see every professor walking the walk, so to speak.”

Walking the walk.

Over the last 7 years, I have tried my best to always walk the walk.

And I have been blessed to walk the walk alongside some of the best colleagues, leaders, and students in the world.

This semester, our world shifted, in ways that were previously unpredictable.  When forced to move our instruction to alternative formats, I could not have asked for better students with whom to engage in remote teaching and learning.  I could not have asked for better student teachers with whom to navigate the challenges of figuring out how to complete requirements designed for schools, in remote environments, where every school site and district were responding slightly differently.

We made it through the semester together.

This semester, my world shifted, in ways that were also somewhat unpredictable.  I gave a TEDx talk at the end of February, just two weeks before the world as I know it would shut down.  I became a mother-scholar 24/7 in the most real of ways. I learned to make memes and expect regular meme recaps of my weekly optional synchronous online sessions with my students.

And, I accepted a new position.

Beginning in Fall 2020, I will be the Director of Teacher Education and Professor of Education at the La Fetra College of Education at the University of La Verne.

I have been relatively quiet about this new journey, out of respect for the shifting ground under my students’ feet.  We have been making it, together, and I didn’t want to shift things in a way that might destabilize their learning even more.  So, I waited, and asked those who did know about this change, to not announce it publicly.

But last night, at the end of our last class session, I shared the news with students who were shocked but congratulatory.  There was even a meme about it, shared prior to the end of class.

Students lingered after I officially ended class, until it was time for me to eat dinner and prepare for a meeting with some amazing former graduate students, where I told them the news as well.  They were also shocked but congratulatory. There were no memes, but lots of love.

I am so grateful.

Grateful for the journey of the last seven years.  Grateful for the new opportunities on this new path. Grateful to walk the walk of leadership and transformational change. Grateful to walk the walk of leadership as an Asian American woman and teacher educator.  Grateful for community that I know won’t be far, even as our roads diverge ever so slightly.

It is almost the end of the semester, but just the beginning of the journey.

A Post for Mother’s Day

My mother and me as a toddler wearing a birthday hat

This is a post for Mother’s Day.

But, really, it’s a post about intergenerational healing that has been a process for me, and that has brought me peace, for the first time in 25 years on Mother’s Day.

My mother died 25 years, 3 months and 1 week ago. I was 16 years old and a pretty normal second generation Asian American teenager. I say that now, because it has taken me a long time to realize this, because it took a long time to understand that the identity conflicts that I was experiencing internally, and the identity conflicts that my mother and I were experiencing between us, were actually normal.  Because of who I know my mom was and because of who I know I am, I know they would have been resolved eventually.  It was painful before she died.  It was traumatic after she died. But, as I’ve come to know her more through others, and as I’ve come to accept not only myself, but the complexities of my identities, I stand in the truth that we were alright, and we would have been great, and we are both whole.

My first two children found me 16 years ago.  My oldest twin daughters were students at the middle school where I taught.  Just a few months after I married my husband, they approached me, and asked if we would adopt them from foster care.  They had lost both their parents, parents they loved deeply. They had experienced, as children, the pain of structural racism and systemic inequality. They were ready to rest their feet.  When they asked me to become their mother, I remembered the pain of being their age without a mother.  I tried my best to provide a place for them to rest their feet.  I tried and try my best to be a mother who listens, advocates, loves, and empowers. It is complicated, but my love for them is deep and constant.  I know that it will forever be complicated because all mother-daughter relationships are complicated, even ones entered into with hearts that truly desire to love one another, and because trauma caused by structural racism and anti-Blackness can’t be erased by a happy adoption story.  But, as I’ve come to love and accept my daughters for exactly who they are, and I’ve come to accept myself for exactly the mother I am and can be in any given moment, I have come to stand in the truth that we are all doing the best we can and that, as best we can, we love each other in our own, uniquely human ways.

My oldest daughters were born in November.  My mom’s birthday is also in November, near Thanksgiving.

My son was born 14 years and almost 3 months ago, on a cold February day. I had not planned to have a biological child when I found out I was pregnant with my son, partly because we had barely had time to adjust to life as a married couple before our daughters came to us, and I was concerned that a new baby (and a biological child) would be even more complicated for them than for me.  But frankly, I hadn’t planned for my girls either (or my mom’s sudden death, to be honest). When my son was born, things did become infinitely more complicated in my family, and I began to completely lose myself.  I was so sick when my son was young. I wanted to disappear because I felt so unable to heal myself, support my daughters and parent my son.  It was, without a doubt, the hardest time of my entire life.  But my son was born with the wisdom of his mother and a deep love for her, for me.  His love gave me a reason to live when I wasn’t sure that I wanted to, and for years, I worried that he absorbed the trauma of my physical presence and my spiritual absence. But, as I’ve healed, he has too. He will always have an old soul. He and I will always be connected in ways that are perhaps “beyond our years,” but he is also a super goofy kid who knows he is deeply loved, and who tells me when he thinks I’m wrong (sometimes more loudly than I want to hear).  He is resilient. I am resilient. He is my heart, and the heart of my healing.

My mom died in February. My son was born in February, on the day after Valentine’s Day.

My youngest daughter was born 5 years ago yesterday, on the Friday before Mother’s Day. She is my mini-me, without a doubt.  I have often told people that she is who I would have been if I had been raised by me.  She is powerful and assertive with those she loves, yet reserved and unsure with strangers. She is brilliant and bright, but sometimes lives in the shadow of her differently gifted older brother. She has big emotions and isn’t afraid to show them.  She is strong-willed beyond belief. And that girl loves her mama with her whole heart.  All she wants is for her mom to take a break to play with her.  She does not recognize my trauma. She brings me tissues when I cry and then goes to play. She asks questions that I would have been worried or afraid to ask. She asks questions about the grandma and grandpa that she doesn’t know (my parents) while being wholly loved and adored by the Abuela & Abuelo that she does know.  She is light and life.  I know that, because of who she is, and because of who I am, because we are unafraid of one another, and because we love one another fiercely, that we will have conflicts.  But, I will stand in my love for her, and leave many words for her, so that she knows how deeply she has been loved and will always be loved.

It is Mother’s Day.  My daughter’s birthday was yesterday. Her life will always be tied to future Mother’s Days.

This is a post for Mother’s Day.

It is my gift to myself, the gift of recognition and love. The gift of peace in the process of healing. The gift of acknowledging all the complexities and reverberations of trauma across families and generations, and standing in love today and the possibility of beauty.  It is a gift of redemption and a belief that the ties of my children to my mother are not by accident.  We are gifts to heal our ancestors. They are gifts to strengthen who we become, even through moments of pain and loss.

Happy Mother’s Day, with love.


Two Roads Diverged

When my son first began studying Mandarin in kindergarten, it was really because I was behind the ball on kindergarten registration and didn’t get him into our public bilingual Spanish school. I wanted for him, as multiracial, multiethnic person, to have connections with his heritage cultures in some way, and I wanted to him to have a connection to his Asian American identity that I had struggled with for so long.

Over the last 9 years, he has continued to learn Mandarin, in dual immersion, Mandarin immersion, and heritage school settings.

In the last few weeks, my husband and I talked with our son about continuing one more year of Mandarin next year. This year, for the second year in a row, has been an increasing struggle for him to stay motivated and next year, we know high school will be more intense for him.

He said he’d prefer not to continue in Chinese school next year.

I believe in listening to my children when I can. He’s old enough to make that choice in his life, and while he would do what I asked him to, I also respect him enough to let him make this choice.

I didn’t realize how deeply it would affect me, nor why it did.  At first, I was both resistant and hurt. It was only one more year.  He could do this.

I didn’t ever go to heritage school and my Mandarin is the worst of anyone in my generation of my family.  Being the youngest by several years in my family, I wasn’t around Mandarin (or occasional Hokkien) as much as my older brother and cousin. I’ve carried it as a badge of shame around my family for a long time.

I grew up in a very white suburb of Southern California (at the time) and the nearest Mandarin heritage language programs were a freeway drive, a fee, and a philosophical gap away — distances that were hard to bridge.

My mother, a single mother who would have braved the freeway and paid the money if she thought that Mandarin heritage school was the right thing for me, never pushed me to go to Chinese school, likely because she was told as a new immigrant that the greatest way to assure her children’s success was to make sure that they spoke accent-free English.

I know she wanted me to learn Mandarin, but she thought that by being around Mandarin speakers (like my grandmother, aunt & her), that I would pick it up, which I did until my grandmother passed away when I was 7.

Then, the Mandarin was more occasional and less important in my life, and I had no desire to learn it, wanting to assimilate into a culture where being cool meant having a crimp in my super-straight hair, sounding a certain way, and having an attitude to accompany it. (Somehow that was never quite enough to fit in anyways.  No matter how good my English was.)

Once, when I was in middle school, my mother asked my estranged father to send Chinese primer books from Taiwan so she could teach me Mandarin, and the zhuyin phonetic system, but that was quickly abandoned after a couple of lessons, which honestly, I have never understood more than in this current COVID-19 “homeschooling period” where I do not have the patience to deal with my own (deeply-loved) children and their general apathy towards learning something I find to be incredibly valuable to their lives.

My mother died suddenly in a car accident when I was 16, my junior year of high school.  At the time, and for a long time afterwards, while I knew this loss marked a huge rupture in my life, that trauma was a deeply personal loss.  I ran away from that loss in many ways, both productive and destructive, for over 20 years.  Some days, I am still running from it.

About 5 years ago, leading up to the birth of my daughter who will be 5 in a week, and moreso in the past 2 years, as I’ve reached the age my mom was when she gave birth to me, I have begun running towards my mom again.

I have begun searching for my history, our history.

I have begun reclaiming my identities as a second generation Taiwanese American woman, as someone deeply rooted in Asian American communities, as someone who can do something about reclaiming my own heritage languages and histories.

I have begun healing traumas, mine for my children, and my mother’s for all of us.

Through my PhD, I was able to achieve the doctorate my mother had to give up.

Through my relationship, I’ve been able to find healing and know what it means to have a partner who is also an incredibly present and loving father to his children.

Through studying Mandarin, I’ve begun to feel more comfortable with a voice that I didn’t have. I have had to show a lot of grace to myself to learn things that are seemingly simple, but that are completely new to me.

Through watching Taiwanese American (and Asian American) films, reading books by Taiwanese American authors, connecting with other Taiwanese Americans who I can see myself in, I’ve been able to find belonging that at a level I didn’t realize was possible.

By connecting with people who knew my mom, by starting a journey to find out more about her, I am beginning to build a history that I worried was lost. I am not so worried about this now because I know that our histories are more waiting to be found than in danger of being lost.

All of this has been profound.

But, it has been my path.

My son may not need to study Mandarin, in this moment, on his path. Or he may not need to study it in this way.

He has a path.

My own language study is profound for me because it is my choice. It is an act of healing and an act of love.

Letting my son choose his path in his own multilingualism and the embrace of his own hybrid identities is also an act borne from the same healing and love.

Two paths diverge…and adventures await on them both.