A Week with My Sister

A week ago today, I met my sister for the very first time.

These are some pictures for our first 24 hours together (with my older brother). You can see, if you look closely in our first picture from the airport how overwhelmed with emotion I am at her arrival, and in the second how joyful I am that she’s here.

I have been waiting my whole life, in a sense, to be a big sister.

But I’ve waiting intensely for the last 3 months to have my sister with me, given the civil unrest happening in her home country of Burma (Myanmar).

It’s amazing how, while I’ve only known my sister for a very short time (even through e-messages), I absolutely adore her. She is funny and full of life. She loves adventure and has a freedom about her spirit that I struggle to find often. She wants to try everything and she has so much joy in her spirit.

We’ve been able to have a lot of really wonderful conversations in the last week. I’ve been introducing her to new food, places, ideas and helping her to get settled and established here.

Adventures at IKEA

She’s helped me to know my dad (corroborating a lot of the stories my brother has told me as I’m the one of us who didn’t really grow up with my father) and about her mom and their life in Yangon. She’s told me about her goals to become an artist/ animator and how these were not dreams that were affirmed and encouraged or really very possible at home for her.

And she’s helped me to realize that I really need to work less (which I knew, but now I’m actually taking steps towards doing) and appreciate my life more.

We’ve explored how life is similar and different here in the states, and things she needs to be aware of to be safe here. Today, we did a joint video call to our dad to wish him a happy Father’s Day. It is the first time in my life that I’ve spoken to my dad on Father’s Day. It was good to see him so happy. It was good to be able to truly feel peace about all of the missed Father’s Day in the past.

I’m so grateful to the community that helped support me as I was waiting for my sister  to arrive. The last week has been life-changing to me in so many ways and it has been a joy to see my sister adjust to our family like she’s always been in our lives. I feel blessed beyond measure and amazed that she’s only been here a week. (See pictures below w/ my little and big)

I am grateful for our shared humanity and love for one another that perhaps is beyond understanding. I am grateful for the perspectives my sister brings to my life. I am grateful for each moment. What a blessing to write this blog on my first week with my younger sister.

A Mother’s Heart: An Open Letter to My Sister’s Mother

A photo of a stuffed corgi on a sign that says Tsui Tsui, Welcome Sister

Dear Aye,

I know we don’t really speak the same language, but we are both mothers who love our children very much, and I am also a daughter separated from her mother at a young age, so I wanted to write to you because I love you and Tsui and because I hope that my words can help you to worry less, even though you will miss her very much. I am hoping someone will translate this letter for you into Burmese and that you will not lose much of the meaning in the translation.

I wanted to tell you how much I admire your courage and hers. It is a very scary thing to come to a new country from your home at such a young age, to a family that you have never met, to begin life in a very, very different place. It is also a scary thing to let  your daughter go to people who are strangers, connected by marriage and not blood, in the hopes that they will treat her like family, love and protect her, especially when you have been with her during her whole life, for all of her important moments.

I know that this is the best choice for right now, that Tsui would come while you stay near my father, but the best choice does not always mean the easy choice. I want to thank you for trusting us to help Tsui adjust to the United States. I promise to do my best to help her, to be a good big sister to her, to love her as I love my own children, to protect her as best I can, and to teach her what life is like here. We always welcome you. We hope one day you can come to be with her here or that she can come back to you there, in safety. If and when that time comes, I hope you know that we will support and help you too, however we can. You are our family too.

I know what it is to miss someone you love with your whole heart, who is, in many ways, an extension of yourself. I wish we could make this easier, but I don’t think we can make this part better. What we can do is share photos and messages and memories that Tsui will make here, be here for her, until you are together again. We will love her and treat her with care.

I hope we can meet you soon too. Until that time, we are holding you in our hearts.

I am holding you in my heart.

With love,


Legacy, Loss and Love: Returning Home to Pay Homage

Picture of an Asian American teenager with text "AP History is great (well sort of) if you're like me (not!) and thrive on staying up late to do thirteen hours of homework (forget about other classes), you'll be perfect for this class. If not, that's okay. You'll scrape by like me (the real me, that is). Advice...uh...get to know people really well cuz you'll kind of be forced to anyways. Reserve Sunday nights or Tuesday mornings for Bailey and be nice to Mr. Lynch."

Me, as a teenager, and a note of advice I wrote to future AP History students

Today, I went back to the city where I grew up to honor the legacy of Mr. Denny Lynch, my Modern Civilizations West and AP US History teacher, Brainstormers (think “Quiz Bowl”) and Academic Decathlon coach and a dear friend of our family’s.

I don’t return “home” to Santa Clarita very often, although I currently live just over 60 miles away from the house I grew up in. I didn’t ever exactly feel like I fit in there; I felt like I had particular roles to play and wanted to fill those roles perfectly to find the sense of belonging I longed for so deeply. After the sudden death of my mom in my junior year, I struggled so much internally, but let very little of my struggle emerge externally. It was one of the hardest periods of my life, but very few people saw that struggle. I cope(d) by compartmentalizing, by putting all my efforts into what I could control and where I could make others proud.

During this period of my life, academics and school saved me.

It was the one consistent safe haven when everything else seemed so uncertain.

My teachers in my junior and senior years became like a second family for me. They loved me when I felt completely unlovable. They saw something special in me and encouraged me. As much as I wanted to do well to honor my mom’s legacy, I also felt deeply connected to the teachers who surrounded me during that time, particularly to Mr. Lynch.

Mr. Lynch showed his care through his humor, his consistency and his brilliance. He had been my brother’s history teacher eleven years prior and so I grew up waiting to be in his class, wanting to build on our family’s legacy (or possibly redeem it). My brother was a great essayist in AP US History, but has always been terrible at multiple choice quizzes. He jokes that he almost “wrecked the curve” in his class by only answering 67/100 multiple choice questions — the ones he was sure of or could get down to two answers (after which he would choose the longer answer as Mr. Lynch taught him).

Growing up in my brother’s shadow, his junior by a decade, I nearly idolized some of his teachers and hoped desperately that I would get a chance to have some of them, after going to his open house events and meeting them. As soon as I got into high school, before I could even take Mr. Lynch’s courses, I applied to do “Brainstormers,” a quiz bowl type game with team members from each grade level of high school. I was on the “Brainstormers” team all four years of high school, and in my senior year, we finally defeated our rival high school which had taken the “Brainstormers” cup for 10 consecutive years.

Picture of 7 young men and a young woman with a man standing in a tie in the background

Brainstormers championship picture, my senior year

By the time I got into Mr. Lynch’s courses, he knew me well. Of course, he had known me since I was barely in kindergarten, but I had established a strong academic record of my own and was a curious student who loved to learn. I loved learning history from Mr. Lynch. He taught me a lot of facts (because, well, there were a lot of facts in history), but more importantly, he taught me (what I later came to know as) historical thinking skills. Mr. Lynch taught me to think critically and carefully, to read texts, to analyze images and maps, to think about change over time, cause and effect, to write in ways that help to build arguments from evidence, to think about things from different perspectives. In many ways, Mr. Lynch shaped my future in the social sciences and my future as an educator.

A group of high school students

My AP US History class

In addition to Brainstormers & classes, Mr. Lynch also served as the Academic Decathlon advisor for our school. I was in Academic Decathlon my junior and senior years. During one of the seasons, Mr. Lynch was out with a serious medical issue. We still carried on with zero period meetings and practice sessions. We wanted to continue to train because we wanted to make him proud. His deep care for our team helped us to push ourselves to be better.

Newspaper photo of Academic Decathlon Team

Academic Decathlon newspaper photo

Today was Mr. Lynch’s memorial service. For me, it was a homecoming to celebrate his home going. We share the same faith and the same belief that we will one day see one another after this life. Today, we were reminded, during his service of Jesus’s words that he goes to prepare a place for us. Mr. Lynch joins my mom in heaven. I know that they are preparing a place for their families who they so deeply cherished. In my video tribute to Mr. Lynch, I couldn’t say all of this, so I said what was most important to me, which was that in the early days after I lost my mom, his care (and that of his dear wife Linda) helped see me through some of my darkest times. His belief in who I was helped me to believe in myself when I felt so deeply alone.

Memorial service cover

Mr. Lynch was many things to many people. He was many things to me. I feel his loss so deeply and hope that my continued work honors his legacy. In another part of the tribute video played at today’s service, Mr. Lynch’s grandson Marco said that his “Granpa” had always told him that he should be the best at whatever he chose to do. That was the standard Mr. Lynch held us all to. It wasn’t about doing all the things, it was about choosing well and wisely and doing our best, being our best.

I love Mr. Lynch deeply. I love his family and his heart, his commitment and his dedication, his love for others and his humor. I continue to love him even though he is not here with us in body anymore.

In his yearbook from my senior year, I came by to write a note. It said this:

“Dear Mr. Sir–What can I say that would possibly come close to summing up the experiences you’ve allowed me to have through Brainstormers, Acadec, Mod Civ West, and of course AP US History? I just have to thank you for putting up with me and allowing me to learn from your wisdom. It has been invaluable.

Thank you for giving me a solid foundation, in both education and life. Please come visit me at Berkeley and keep in touch (I mean it, or I’ll have to call the gods down on you from Olympus to ask you unrealistic Super Quiz questions!).

Be nice to Mrs. Lynch and try to keep spontaneous and don’t be like Martin (Arrowsmith) was with poor Leora. I love you and good luck next year w/o me.

Love, Betina Hsieh “B-girl” /96 E.R.”

I benefit from the legacy that Mr. Lynch has left for me in every student message that has a nerdy inside joke, with every student that tells me I have made a difference for them, with every student who I keep in touch with many years after they were a student in my class.

I was blessed to have teachers that loved me so deeply. I was blessed to have Mr. Lynch and his family in my life. I am so grateful today to have celebrated his life. While it is hard for me to revisit that time, I know now that it was not all enshrouded in darkness, that there was light that continues to shine through me today.

I hope that you are making light and community in heaven right now, Mr. Lynch. In fact, I’m sure you are.


Photograph of a butterfly with blue wings on a green leaf

I am very bad with transitions.

When I can breathe and treat myself with grace and generosity, I can see that it is understandable that transitions and uncertainty are stressful for me.

I am a trauma survivor.

My experiences with multiple acute traumatic incidents over time and prolonged grief have led me to crave certainty, security and quick resolution.

But my empathetic, caring nature and my life circumstances have led me to multiple situations in which transitions are necessary, and are not necessarily bad, but are inherently stressful.

I’m stressed, Friends.

My sister arrives on Sunday and I am so grateful for her arrival. I am so grateful that she is safe, that she has a home to come to, and that we have the support of other family and an incredible community to welcome her.

But it’s stressful for a million and one reasons.

One of the main reasons is because this transition reminds me of past transitions when I felt I couldn’t or didn’t do enough; I didn’t make the right decisions; I failed the people I loved.

I don’t want to fail my sister.

I know my father and my sister’s mother are both deeply grateful and are trusting me to keep my sister safe.

But we live in such an unsafe society right now to be a young Asian American woman, and a new immigrant.

I know my sister is also deeply grateful and is looking forward to being with our family.

But we have lived such different and separate lives. I am old enough to be her mother, but I am not her mother. I worry about respecting her agency, but guiding her with the love and respect that she needs.

I have felt like a failure before, to my own children, whom I deeply love.

What if I fail my sister too?

Again, when I am generous with myself, I can recognize that I am not a failure, that I have made mistakes as a mother and I will likely make mistakes as an elder sister, because I am human and humans make mistakes. But I have never failed to take responsibility for my mistakes, and I have always come back to a baseline of deep respect for my children, just as I will do with my sister.

This is not an easy situation. It is not an easy transition.

It is certainly harder for my sister than for me. I recognize this and am only centering my own challenge with transitions so that I can be more prepared to welcome her in four short days.

My therapist will almost certainly remind me tomorrow that I am a different person with different resources than I was during previous transitions, and she will be right.

I am not going through this transition alone.

I am very bad at transitions alone, perhaps I will always be.

But, I have an incredible community that has been with us throughout this whole journey. I am so moved by my community’s love and commitment to me.

Honestly, I worry about failing you too.

But, I remind myself to breathe.

That part of being in community is trusting myself, and trusting your belief in me and trusting you that you can see the best in me when I am struggling with the weight of transition.

This transition is hard, Friends, but I am grateful to not have to do it alone.

The Healing Power of Community

Selfie of the author (Asian American woman in a grey t-shirt) with a friend (blond white woman in grey dress) Selfie of the author (Asian American woman in Black t-shirt with #AsianAmAF) and friend (Asian American woman in an off-white sweater)

I have always believed in the power of community.

But this week, I have felt the power of community.

I have reveled in the joy of community, in the connection and healing of community.

I have challenged myself to trust in community.

This week, after what has felt like 16 months of pure isolation, I’ve been out of my house to meet with people three times. (Note: I am still masking and practicing caution, eating in well-ventilated, outdoor spaces, and avoiding large gatherings)

It hasn’t been a year of complete isolation. I’ve been with my family who I love. We’ve gone on take-out foodie adventures and even eaten outdoors at a restaurant. I’ve met 1-2 friends in person before this week. We’ve even had a couple of in-person church services.

But I have not felt the steady stream of connection with people outside of my house in the ways and doses that I have needed until this week.

I am FINALLY feeling like myself again.

Because, of course, I could not find myself until I could find myself in community.

This week, I also started a GoFundMe campaign for my sister’s transition to the US. This was VERY hard for me. While I just recently left my job to transition to my previous institution and a sabbatical, knowing that this would have some financial implications for my family, we are doing so much better than so many others. I am a very careful planner, but we’re also doing okay. I eat some fancy meals and get occasional massages. We are not in dire financial need.

I struggled with whether or not to ask for support from my community, in light of the fact that I haven’t cut out every luxury from my own life, to support my sister. I didn’t want to appear like your donations are funding my family vacation or foodie adventures.

There’s so much internalization of the Asian American ethos of “saving face” that I was raised with that says it’s weak and wrong to take needs or requests for money outside of our family, that we should take care of our own and go with less so that everyone can have enough. And I’m willing to do that.

But, after talking with some friends in my community, I realized that this is not that. Yes, of course, I will sacrifice for my sister. We don’t have an extra room and so she’ll be camped out in our living room for the foreseeable future until she feels ready to have her own place. It will take time, money and energy to help her transition to the states, get medical insurance, bank accounts, strengthen her English, figure out with her what she’d like to do next at the pace that she wants to move, support her trauma recovery and sadness at being away from friends and the family she grew up with.

Asking for transition funds for her is truly asking for transition funds FOR HER from community that loves me and, by extension, wants her to feel welcome in this country which is new to her. To support her in feeling like this is one less thing she has to consider as she comes to this country. I’m supporting that transition and her, but these are tangible ways for people who have been on the journey with us to show their support.

And my community has responded, and their community has responded, in ways far beyond what I could have ever imagined. They trust me (even if GoFundMe doesn’t–insert eye roll here) and want my sister to have the best start she can here. It has reminded me that sometimes community isn’t about waiting until you are in dire need, but allowing people to support and hold you up so that you don’t get into dire need.

I am still (un)learning that community care isn’t selfish. I am still learning to trust that people are choosing to donate or share or give because they love me or us, not because they have expectations or are waiting to judge my every move. I am still learning that it is okay to live fully and give wholeheartedly and receive sometimes.

It is healing in ways that have been so desperately needed.

So I just truly want to say thank you for helping me heal and for helping me see and feel the power of community and for being so incredibly generous, not just in donations, but also in words, acts and prayers for me during this time.

I am so grateful.


Photograph of the author's son and daughter feeding ducks by a pond

I have always wished for a “happily ever after” ending that wraps up neatly in a bow, like a fairy tale or most American screenplays.

If sheer will and effort were enough for such a life, I imagine that I would have found a way there.

However, my real life is much more complex.

It is a series of “both/and”s.

This weekend was filled with joy. I worked hard to center joy and find it in the places I know best: writing, cooking, being with family, resting, running, good food, independent bookstores, celebrating the accomplishments of others, reading, taking warm baths, being as kind to myself as possible.

It was a great weekend.

AND, I am still struggling with sadness, grief, and a profound sense of loneliness, as a chapter of my life comes to an end. It is ending by my choice, the right choice at this time and space for my life, my health and my family.

AND it is still hard to leave — colleagues I have come to love, students who have made a profound impact on me, work where I made a significant difference.

I am grateful for so many blessings in my life, more than I can list, and for a community that deeply loves me.

And, I am exhausted and still default to doing all the things on my own.

I am always focused on a larger goal, working towards a transformative future.

And sometimes, I can only take things moment by moment.

I deeply love my family and friends.

And I need time that is fully my own sometimes to make space for that love.

I can want and need help.

And I can not know how you can support me.

I can really be fine.

And still have moments of sadness, and still have moments where I want more.

All these things can coexist.

And they do because I exist.

Still striving for better balance, and giving myself grace for when I stumble.