Holding Space When Humanity Shows Up

3 bouquets of flowers at a gravesite

Showing up for my foremothers with flowers & gratitude

It’s been a long week, full of humanity.

Way back in February, I gave a TEDx talk on humanizing pedagogies, which in short asked what might happen if we re-conceptualized our perception of excellence, specifically educational excellence, but generally was really talking about what happened if we really started listening to and learning from one another. This week, that talk finally went live on the TEDx YouTube channel, an exciting moment I’ve been waiting for, well, throughout the entire pandemic-borne time of social distancing.

It dropped on a day when I had a very human and humbling moment, saying something out of frustration that didn’t assume the full humanity of a student, within virtual earshot of the student. I took responsibility and owned the impact of my words, but it certainly was not a shining star moment, and it led to a restless night and some good use of the skills I’ve been working on in therapy.

I realized that my reaction to this student, my assumptions of intention, my frustration was bred from my own sense of internalized perfectionism and internalized expectations of performance. This happens a lot when there are situations in which I feel I am dealing with entitlement or where I am working to meet someone 95% of the way, and they want me to move even further. I feel angry, angry that I’ve had to work so hard to get to where I am when others feel that they deserve time, energy and efforts that I have given and given and given at the expense of myself and my family.

Tonight, I read responses from a survey designed to get feedback from students about their online learning experiences. When one student responded, “Nothing” to the question of what professors, the program and university had done to support his online learning, I felt struck, as if all of the efforts that I have put into making this semester work for us all meant nothing.

I also feel these feelings, this frustration, sometimes towards my family, like all I do to keep us afloat, to support their learning and growth as human beings, to love them in the midst of big feelings I am struggling with, is not enough.

I know this is misdirected anger at myself. I hear the echoes of their humanity, or see them struggle and I feel a sense of my own inadequacy.

But it is not inadequacy, it is humanity.

They are teaching me humanity.

This weekend, I posted a Twitter thread after listening to a beautiful conversation that the Black Gaze Podcast (Drs. Shamaine Bertrand & Kisha Porcher) had with Dr. April Baker-Bell about Black language and linguistic justice. Hearing this conversation reminded me of where the internalized perfectionism and expectations of performance came from. It reminded me that these words that I swallow, that only rarely escape (and that I beat myself up for when they do), that this anger, comes from internalized oppression, from years of not feeling good enough around a society that I tried to prove my worth to, instead of accepting that my worth was in me.

Here’s the thread (revised slightly because I caught grammar mistakes in the first tweet that irritated me so I have to correct them now):

Let me tell you, I am declaring being done w/ the shame spiral & apologizing for my #AsianAmerican identity. There’s a lot of work to do as a community, but we can’t do that work if we can’t acknowledge that shame is part of white supremacy that keeps us in our place/

First, I want to shout out Black feminist & linguistic scholars, including the fantastic @BlackGazePod convo w/ Dr. @aprilbakerbell, @DrPorcher & @dr_s_bertrand. Your unapologetic stance that Blackness will save Black people reminds me to stand in my own truth/

Okay, and also shout out to the fantastic essay by @poetpedagogue that reminds me that we cannot abolish systems that promise us opportunity if we play by the rules until we conquer our own internalized oppressive mindset/

So here’s the thing, like many #AsianAmericans, I have made choices, my parents & ancestors made choices. For me, those choices have been rooted in assimilation for survival bc they thought it was the best option/

I am making different choices for myself & my own children, to embrace who we are and reclaim our complicated identities as #AsianAmerican as #TaiwaneseAmerican, as descendent from Han colonizers of Taiwanese indigenous people/

As people who have made choices or had choices made for us that separated us from linguistic identities that themselves were cloaked in language and cultural oppressions that we don’t know, but are our histories/

But I am not ashamed. Part of humanizing ourselves & others is the true belief that people do the best they can w/ what they have & that people, even the best of them, have human moments. When we know better, we must do better, but sometimes even then, we stumble/

Now, what there is for me to do, is the hard work of reclamation, of building community from an insider-outsider space, of listening/ learning/ seeking/ speaking, not from a space of shame, but from one of power, of visibility w/o performance/

Last thank you to @DrK_WhiteSmith for reminding me that we can be responsible for our actions w/o apologizing for ourselves. #Nomoreapologies for my existence. I will own my mistakes & my humanity, but I refuse to apologize for who I am. /end


Today, I went to put flowers at the gravesite of my foremothers (my mother, grandmother and aunt). Their strength gives me the strength to demand better for myself and for my children, even though I will falter along the way. Even though they faltered along the way.

We are always only human. We are always only learning.

And I am holding space for myself to be however I am, even when I am so imperfect.

And I am proud to be who I am, even when I am so imperfect.

This is the hard work of reclamation.

Reclaiming space to be exactly who I am, in each moment.

Holding space and striving to be in integrity with my most powerful, generous, and loving expression of self.

And loving my full humanity.

Giving Thanks

Picture of a pink notebook with the words "Today I am Grateful" on the cover

This has been a very hard last month, transitioning into the school year. To say otherwise would be to lie, and I am nothing if not honest.

There have been many things to carry. Many things to learn. Many obstacles to navigate. Many breaths to breathe.

But I am learning and I am navigating and I am breathing.

I am not carrying everything.

I am choosing what I can carry, and laying down the burdens that are not mine.

I am responding to trauma without reacting to it.

I am allowing myself to grieve so that I have a pathway to joy.

And I am thankful.

Because there is power in gratitude even in the hardest of moments.

There is power in gratitude for learning, for wisdom to navigate, for breath.

There is power in gratitude that I no longer feel obligated to carry it all for myself and others.

There is power in gratitude that I can see trauma, respond to it, and keep myself grounded in my own inner strength.

There is power in gratitude for joy and grief.

There is power in gratitude for authentic community.

There is power in gratitude for knowing who I am without the need for external validation.

I am grateful.

I am grateful that I am not alone.

I am grateful for faith in the dark.

It has not been easy. It will not be easy.

But today, I draw from the power of gratitude and grace.

Give Them Their Flowers While They’re Still Here

Flower arrangement with a card

This afternoon, I was sitting in virtual office hours (so actually, I was sitting at my computer on zoom where I am most of my waking hours, except I was by myself because no one dropped in) and the doorbell rang.

I wasn’t expecting anything.

After about 3 minutes, I got a text from my husband that I got flowers.

“From who?” I asked.

I knew they weren’t from him. One of our wedding vows (alongside the fact that I don’t do dishes except on Fathers Day and his birthday) probably included that money should never be wasted on flower delivery when we are living together and he can just go to Costco to get me some roses…rainforest certified…for $14.99/dozen.

So, I walked down the hall and saw this beautiful bouquet (see picture) and the card.

It was from my dear friends, Kisha & Shamaine, co-creators of the Black Gaze Podcast, sending some love my way and acknowledgment for spending some time with them on one of their first season episodes.

Now, as I tweeted to them, this was completely unnecessary because spending time with them and sharing about Asian/ Black American solidarity (it’s episode 7) was a gift to me. I love these two women and have been a fan of this podcast since day 1. I am one of their biggest fans as individuals as well. Their successes are my successes. Their love brings me life.

But, the second half of that tweet was about how needed these flowers were.

I believe in divine providence.

I appeared on the podcast in the mid-summer. These flowers arrived today.

I have had such a hard last two weeks as the school year approached and began. At times, I have felt unseen, demeaned and more often than not, exhausted. I have learned so much, but I have also been hurt often, from unexpected sources. It has taken so many of my reserves.

But today, was the first good day in weeks.

The first day where I didn’t question what I had gotten myself into or why God led me down this path.

Today, was the day I got my appetite and my conviction back.

Today, I felt seen and loved, for my whole self.

And these flowers, this beautiful and extravagant arrangement of love that I never would have spent money on for myself, they spoke a million words to me.

Yesterday, I had to draw upon my own strength.

But today, I remembered that my greatest strength is in community.

Thank you, my dear sisters and my dear friends, for these flowers today. They mean more than I have words to say. I am so grateful for your uplift, everyday, but especially today.

Love people while they’re here. You have no idea what a difference it will make.

Writing as Healing

A small child looking at a wall that says believe in yourself

I believe in myself.

I believe in the power of reflection and of writing.

I believe that when we take the time to reflect and when we take the time to record these reflections, we leave notes to our future selves and to our past selves and to our present selves that we are enough, that we are the ones we have been waiting for, that better is possible, that whatever we have in this moment is alright.

I believe that I am enough.

The last time I wrote felt like an eternity ago, yet, after another incredibly hard week which saw attacks on my character and integrity, I felt like there was no break from the roller coaster, that I had been given a free ticket to continue riding even after I had signaled to the ride operator that I needed to get off for a moment.

Today was better. Today was healing.

Today was filled with reflection and contribution, seeing that there is such a need for us to make space for our own humanity.

Then it wasn’t.

More words and baseless accusations, so unbelievable that anyone who knows me finds them completely laughable.

I do not believe these words and accusations.

I will treat those who level them against me with respect and grace for their humanity, respect and grace which they have not given to me because I don’t know another way, and even if I did, I couldn’t bring myself to use my voice and power to dehumanize.

Even those who would tell lies for their benefit that would harm me.

We do not have to agree to learn from one another.

But I am human.

So these things hurt even when I know they are not true.

But I remind myself that even when others do not accord me grace that each of us deserves, that I can accord myself grace.

I know myself.

I own my imperfections and I do not need to apologize for them.

They are part of the beautiful constellation that is my humanity.

I know my strengths and I do not need to prove or justify myself for the satisfaction of others.

I believe in myself.

I believe in the healing power of reflection and writing.

I am learning, whose voices to listen to, when to listen and how to listen.

I am learning how to make space for pain I don’t think I deserve.

I am learning, and growing, and it is beautiful but painful.