MamaScholar Spring

Photograph of the author wearing a Pokemon mask and a multiracial little girl holding a running medal

It’s Saturday morning and I’m stressed about a talk I’m going to give in a few hours.

My little girl has a soccer game in an hour and a half. I will miss it because timing was too tight to get there and to my talk which is close, but not quite close enough.

I’ve only been to two soccer games and two practices this entire spring season.

My 16-year old has his last orchestra concert of the year tonight. I’ll make that, but only because I’m leaving the post-conference reception early.

I’ve been away from home nearly half of the last 6 weeks, including last weekend when 6 had back-to-back soccer games and 16 was playing trombone at an all-district event.

It’s my little one’s birthday in less than two weeks, just between the last class of the semester and graduation.

Next week, we volunteered to bring birthday snacks & goodie bags for her soccer team & we’re going to host a birthday playdate for her class.

Which means this weekend I need to get invitations and prep goodie bags and figure out snacks, while also coordinating the panel and activities for my last class…while also grading lesson plans and fieldwork reflections, and giving a virtual book talk.

My partner will help with many, if not most, of these things, but I will need to organize them. And, I will have to let go of the fact that I cannot be all the places at once; I cannot do all the things; the goodie bags will be good enough; and I am doing the best I can.

My family knows that this is their mama. They are proud of the work I do. They love me unconditionally. They remind me it’s okay if I’m not at every thing. They are happy when I am at the things I can be at.

But it weighs on my mama heart to miss moments with them.

It weighs on my teacher heart to feel pulled in a million different directions and wondering if I can do more.

It weighs on my scholar heart to not have time to reflect, as I know reflection brings growth.

This is a post reminding myself and other scholar parents (particularly mama-scholars) to breathe. I can unlearn and choose differently, but I can’t really make any choices in a state of reactivity and disequilibrium.

And we are okay.

Costco & Party City are our friends.

The kids don’t care about perfection, they prefer presence, and play. They prefer play.

The people who come to hear me and engage with the ideas I share will take exactly what they are supposed to take.

Students in my courses are growing in incredible ways as teacher candidates, and I am moved by the ways they are committed to seeing and acknowledging students’ humanity & identities in their lesson plans.

I can only continue to move forward when I remember my own humanity and identity, trusting in the process, acknowledging what is, and the possibilities of what can be.

My Open Letter to the REAPA Community

Photograph of a table with Thai food and Asian American people around it                Photograph of a table with Thai food and 8 Asian American women around it        Photograph of a long table with Thai food on it and Asian American people around it

Dear REAPA Family,

What an honor it has been to chair the American Education Research Association (AERA) Research on the Education of Asian Pacific Americans (REAPA) Special Interest Group (SIG) over the last two years. When I first stumbled into a REAPA business meeting several years ago (because Jung Kim told me I should go and I always listen to what Jung tells me), I doubted my own right to be there or to take up space anywhere, quite frankly.

Was it okay to be in a space that focused on the Education of Asian Pacific Americans just because I was Asian American? My research at the time focused on teacher identity more broadly and while it touched on teacher candidates of color, I hadn’t ever felt like I could be someone who did research focused on Asian Americans.

And how legitimately Asian American was I? I didn’t speak my heritage language. I was brought up internalizing assimilation mentalities that my mother adopted because she thought that would make my life better and easier. Her teachings that I should be quiet, keep my head down, work hard, and wait to be recognized, were what I held onto from her, a legacy of sorts, in the many years since she had passed, and I worried that unlearning those lessons who be dishonoring her.

But, somehow, despite all of these insecurities, Liza Talusan convinced me to run for chair of the SIG even though I had no idea what that meant and even though I was secretly cheering on the other candidate for the position. There was a cool Asian American research(er) club, and I certainly did not feel like I was in it.

Then I won.

In the meantime, I had begun a journey of learning and unlearning, of thinking and researching that began with myself. I started a degree in Chinese studies in an effort to reclaim my heritage language (which I stopped just pre-pandemic, but I’m still learning with my trusty friend, Duolingo). I began collaborative autoethnographic work to excavate through critical intersectional lenses the way that who I was shaped my experiences in (teacher) education. Jung and I conducted a national study of Asian American teachers that ended up being published in my first research monograph. We co-authored work on losing and reclaiming our heritage languages with my son. I began to take new things from my mother’s legacy: her strength and survival; her solidarity with other women of color at her work; her resilience to raise me on her own.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic stopped the world. Asian (Americans) became the target of widely publicized scapegoating, racially based hatred and violent attacks. I was reminded that no matter how American I felt, there would always be people who denied my right to my own define myself, that there would always be people telling me to go back to my own country, that there would always be people who would compliment me on my English with the assumption that it wasn’t my first language, that there would always that always be people would blame me for sickness, economic decline, their children not getting into their first choice college, etc.

Then Atlanta happened. Asian (American) women were brutally killed and tried in courts of public opinion for working in the spa industry. We were told this was not a hate crime, that a (white) man’s sexual desires and desire to cleanse himself from them were heinous, but not hateful.

People tried to release solidarity statements, to stand with Asian Americans in this time of hate and violence, but the burden all too often fell to Asian Americans, because, except for those of us who have engaged in auto-didactic study or had access to ethnic studies programs, so few people understand our histories and the complexities of our communities.

Even I am always learning. People continue to call me in gently and remind me of my blindspots.

There are so many complexities within our Asian American family, between Asian Americans and other communities of color, in relation to our intersectional identities. There are still Asian Americans who like I felt in that first REAPA meeting, often feel on the margins even (or especially) within Asian American spaces. There is still a deep need for fem/mentorship, for research that focuses on Asian Americans at all levels and in all roles in education, for our embrace of ourselves and one another, for solidarity.

My hope for my time as REAPA SIG chair has been to bring us together as family and community, to help us embrace our humanity, to help each member to feel like they/you belong, and to reach out beyond the SIG to remind others that they can belong too, that indeed, we belong to each other, that what you research matters less than who you are, that we are in this together.

As my time ends as REAPA chair, I just want to say thank you to each of you and all of you, to the membership who elected me, for your trust in me to lead, for those who joined while I was chair, for showing up and showing out or for your silent support as our journeys intersected. I know the work will continue on powerfully, productively and in community with the continuing leadership team under our new chair, Grace (Jia) Liang, and the leadership team. Please support Grace in her leadership as you’ve been so generous with me.

I love you all. I’ll still be around if you need anything, and I will be forever grateful for this time with this beautiful and brilliant group of people. Thank you all so much for this opportunity.

What Does It Mean to Be Seen?

A photograph of flowers including white lilies

When I was a little girl, I learned that if I wanted to be loved, I should be small.

I should try to quiet my naturally loud voice, particularly my loud laugh.

I should work harder than everyone else because only through determination would I be able to prove myself, and even then, I might still not be seen.

I learned that I was not worthy for who I was but for what I did, how close to perfect I could be.

I learned I shouldn’t cry, that showing emotions, humanity, and vulnerability, particularly in relation to who I was and what I was struggling with made me weak and would leave me alone.

Instead, I should temper the strong feelings that rose up within me and I should swallow my tears, living in fear that someday “they” might find the real me and see that I didn’t deserve any of the respect afforded me.

I have spent the last several years trying to unlearn all of these things.

To reclaim my voice.

To stand proudly and know my heart.

To not perform for love or be afraid to lose love, but to trust in the strength of community, even when I make mistakes, unintentionally hurt someone I love or fail at something I so deeply want (because I still do, so often).

I have spent the last several years trying to honor the little girl who lost her way because she wanted more than anything to be loved, because she thought she had to earn love, and to earn love, she had to be what everyone else wanted her to be.

I have been trying to find that little girl and all the younger versions of me that had dreams, and the present version of me that has begun to dare to dream again, and I have been trying to listen to them, listen to us, listen to myself, to my quiet voice and my loud voice, to my sorrowful cries and my belly laughs.

I have begun to tell all the parts of me that there is a place for them.

I am trying to be honest.

I am working to reclaim my humanity.

The last 5 days, I’ve been at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, a space that, for many years, made me feel invisible, so much less than so many others, a space that was not mine because I was not enough.

But it was not that space this year.

Instead, it was a space of authenticity and of humanity. It was a space where I brought my loud voice. Where I heard the cadence and rhythms of my true heart speak boldly and with confidence.

It was a space of community and communities. Of people I have loved for so long, and people I had never met in person who I love just the same, and people I don’t even know, but who know me.

It was a space where I didn’t know everything, I wasn’t the fanciest, biggest fish, but I was enough just as I was, in my ripple of the pond.

It was a space where people saw me. Where people have seen my words. Where they told me my name is being spoken in places that I may not ever be.

It was a space filled with love and possibility. Of grace and generosity. Of working and walking towards justice, even when I stumbled. It was a space where I knew I could stumble because I would be picked up if I fell.

I cannot fully express what it means to be seen after feeling invisible for so long.

I cannot fully express what it means to be acknowledged for the work of my heart.

I cannot fully express what it means to help create community, to share community, to support community.

But it is community which is embracing that little girl who felt so small, so unseen, so unworthy for so long. It is community that is healing her through their love. It is community calling her home.

Unlearning the Second Nature of Self

Photograph of flowers in a square vase in front of a picture of a raised fist with the words "love yourself" written on the wrist and the word liberation written below the raised fist

What does is mean to put myself first? To prioritize not just my needs, but what I want, yet remain committed to community care?

This is my current inquiry.

My whole life has been spent thinking that I should prioritize others, the work I have to do, the work that others call me to do, that I’m good at, for the greater good. I have spent so much time denying that I even have desires for better, let alone reaching for them. I have prioritized what seems to be the most obvious paths forward, that in some ways seem simplest because they are the expected paths, but in other ways bring complexity and questions about why I don’t have joy even though I’m doing “what I’m supposed to.”

However, in this last 12 months, I’ve found inspiration. In my work and in the relationships I’ve cultivated. I’ve found myself living moments of true joy, bliss, and peace. For someone who has been searching for these feelings for years and had thought they were somewhat unattainable, these moments have been life altering and transformational. I’ve felt movement that propels me towards the things that truly matter to me, towards pushing beyond what is comfortable or expected, towards the desires of my heart, spirit and mind.

And yet, in this, or perhaps in spite of it, I feel myself being pulled back.

There is a strong pull back to the “right path,” the path that I’ve always walked, the path that seems logical given the path I’ve been on.

It hurts to diverge from that path. It is difficult to stray away. It is not the simplest thing to walk towards this joy, even with the love and support of community.

It feels completely right and completely wrong at the same time.

It is new and different and requires a courage and investment in myself that I don’t really know. I know how to be courageous for others. I know how to sacrifice for community. But I don’t know how to prioritize myself, my heart, MY work and calling.

It feels selfish.

Breathe.

Perhaps this is why I have not made the time to write, to confront this conflict and name it as it lives within me. Seeing the words on the screen bring tears to my eyes.

I know if I were speaking to someone else, someone I love, someone who I get the privilege to walk alongside, I would remind them that doing our work, loving ourselves, honoring our hearts, these things are not selfish, they are forms of resistance, in a world that constantly calls us to sacrifice for institutions that limit us and don’t love us, for people who want from us but not for us. This is not real community.

True community calls us into ourselves, supports us in steps that require courage, reminds us that who we are is worthy, and to honor ourselves provides a model of self-liberation that is as powerful as any thing else we can do.

I remember myself through writing.

It is why I haven’t made time and why I must make time.

This is why I must push against what has become “second nature” to return to my first nature, my most true self, my heart, which has begun to speak to me again, which has begun to dare to trust, to want, to choose.

Breathe.

In each act of choosing myself, I am choosing community, because I can best contribute to community in my own authenticity, as my full self, and with my full heart.

I remember.

Hello, Old Friend

Photograph of two open red tulips

I haven’t written an entry on this blog in two months.

I’ve been writing. I’m an academic. I live in the 21st century. I write all the time. E-mails, texts, tweets, messages, article manuscripts, talks, courses.

But what does it mean for someone who believes that reflection is growth, and who believes in public reflection to engage community, that I haven’t taken time to reflect in length in this form in such a long time?

I also haven’t written creatively in several months after finishing a novel manuscript draft and major revision in 4 months.

What does it mean for someone who believes that writers are writers because they write, and who believes that writing is a discipline, a creative practice, one that has been a gift for me, that I haven’t taken time to write the stories within me?

I don’t know what it means or if it means much more than the meaning I give it (as with most things in life), but yesterday, in talking with a dear friend who is my writing partner, we engaged with this question, and today, I am considering it in the midst of a conversation in my head about “not having enough time.”

What does it mean for me to back in a discourse of scarcity? That I am not making the time for the work of my heart?

Things are changing for me, around me, and within me. How am I embracing those changes? Resisting them?

How does the head which has guided me for so long make space for the heart that knows what it wants?

I don’t know.

But today, I’m back on my blog. And that feels a little like coming home.