Moments and Movements

A group of awesome Asian American people around a long table

Sometimes imposter syndrome (and scarcity syndrome) is (are) real, bred by isolation within a society that encourages competition and comparison, that wants to gives rise to hyper productive doer drones who operate within mindsets of never being/having/doing enough. Sometimes one can (I can, we can) feel like we’re not doing enough or we’re doing things that we have no right to do because who are we to do such things? Sometimes, because we privilege knowledge over inquiry, within a world where absolute truths (even when they are half-lies) are definitive and exploration seems flighty, we miss out on the exact community we seek and need to work and walk towards a better world.

I am in a time of transition, a time that can be both about openings and possibilities, and about fear and imposter syndrome, sometimes in rapid succession or all at once.

Eight days ago, I arrived in Detroit, Michigan, preparing to host the “Moments & Movements: Challenging Asian American Invisibility in Racial Justice in K-12 Education” institute, part of a conference grant and work that began over 18 months ago through conversations with a small group of fellow Asian American (teacher/higher) education scholars, and continued in deep partnership with my dear friend and colleague, Dr. Roland Sintos Coloma, at Wayne State University, just a few blocks from where our institute was held.

The epigraph that begins our Spencer grant proposal is by Grace Lee Boggs, a Chinese American Detroit community activist whose work was grounded in solidarity and liberation:

We ask ourselves what it means to be human, how do we know reality? What a wonderful gift to be able to talk with one another.

Conversation is a wonderful gift and not to be replaced with speakerphones or emails that are so unilateral and not mutual….

I want people to ask themselves and each other what time it is on the clock of the world.”

Time for conversation is indeed a wonderful gift. Time to come together, in person, to be grounded in the identities, communities, contexts, and purpose that drives our work for three days is a wonderful gift. Time to build relationship, to be fully human, and to attend to our bodies and minds, is a wonderful gift.

I came into the institute scattered, wondering who I was to be “leading” this work. After administrating for a year, my work with Asian American teachers and students felt far away from my everyday consciousness. Being pulled in many different directions with little time to rest, to pause, to be in my day-to-day life, had made me question if I could really be present to this wonderful group of scholar-educators we had assembled.

A few weeks before, in meeting with our amazing advisory board, Roland and I had been reminded to focus on the uniqueness of the space, to open up time for conversation, to not drive towards products, but to bask in the process of becoming, of building community rather than one more initiative, of supporting one another’s work. We each came from different contexts, were up to different things, and were at unique moments and movement spaces in our own lives.

We embraced this, and made space to share, to listen, and to support. We began with a community dinner at a local restaurant, our first chance to build community together. Breaking bread together, getting to know each other better as people, (re)connecting with friends across the country, set the tone for our time together.

Group of Asian American people at a restaurantThe next morning, we moved through deeper introductions, considering our work, our identities, our contexts, and our goals for the institute. It was beautiful to hear what each person was up to, but even more than that, the resonance of themes of isolation, of not feeling __________ enough, of our continuing work, for ourselves, and in communities where place and identities were constantly shifting, of transition, it reminded me that I was not alone, that I was indeed enough, and that we were a community.

We took time that afternoon to pay honor and homage to the space we were in. I appreciated the call in and reminder to acknowledge the indigenous lands we were on by Mohit (who also led daily restorative/yin/light active yoga to make sure we had the opportunity to be centered in our bodies each morning). I was also grateful for the time to consider the death of Vincent Chin and Lily Chin’s struggle for justice following her son’s death which was a pivotal moment in the Asian American movement. I was humbled to learn more about the community-grounded, solidarity-based justice work of Jimmy and Grace Lee Boggs, to visit the Boggs Center and Boggs School, and to see the ongoing legacy and justice work that continues even as the Boggs have transitioned to be ancestors. It was also a gift to hear about Grace Lee Boggs’s humanity from our tour guide, Soh Suzuki, Grace’s former housemate (and beer runner).

Photo of painting of Grace Lee Boggs with quote, "We need to discern who we are and expand on our humanness and sacredness. That's how we change the world, which happens because WE will be the change" -- Grace Lee Boggs

Coming from a space where I am surrounded by numerous and diverse Asian American communities, being in Detroit, where Asian Americans only make up 1% of the city’s population, and where Hmong and Bengali communities predominantly make up that 1%, it caused me to pause and reflect, as we learned about push out, migration, and flight of Asian Americans from the city. Context and communities shape who we are, how we move, and the stories we have access to.

Our next day, we picked up conversations from the prior day to reflect on how we look out for and support one another, building networks across our networks, and participating in sharing roundtables that considered: purpose & power, context, content, and practice. These were rich conversations that brought new perspectives to the work we’ve been engaging in.

We then had space to do what we needed to do: work individually, collaboratively, connect within the group, take care of ourselves and our families, be more grounded in the space we were in. This open space was grounded in trust of ourselves to know how to best use the time, and trust of each other, continuing to build upon the conversations we had during the previously 36 hours.

Jung told me to nap, so I did, briefly, and then we got to work together, outlining our next book together and pulling together a conference proposal. It was a reminder to me that we have to take care of ourselves and our bodies first (and listen to call-ins when people see the fatigue that we’re used to constantly pushing through) and that the work of our heart will get done (in community). It was a reminder that I’m not alone in the work, that I don’t have to do it all, and that my people have my back.

That night, a few of us went to see Joy Ride, which was pure joy and another layer of community. At dinner before the movie, Lisa asked why we went into teacher education at the university level, or professor-ing more generally. This was both a rich conversation and a moment of reflection, as I considered what it meant to leave behind my middle school classroom and a community I loved deeply for the work I currently do in teacher education, and how I’ve built another community I love deeply, but not perhaps in the way I expected.

Photo of Asian American people in front of Joy Ride movie poster

Our final morning together, we discussed what we mean when we say Asian American Studies and what distinguishes Asian American Studies from Asian American Multiculturalism. Just as the term Asian American studies is evolving, contested, contentious, continually process-driven and context centered, and fluid (and many other things…), so our conversation was. It pushed us to consider and reconsider our ideas about multiculturalism, access, and who defines/ how we define the bounds of Asian/ American success, inclusion, and identities.

We ended with acknowledgments, writing notes to one another on large chart papers to take with us (in photo or in actual) to remind us of one another, of ourselves, and that we are seen and cared for.

A poster with many things written in many colors

It has taken me a few days of being home to write this post. Our time together, though brief, was transformative. It was a reminder that when we “move at the speed of trust” as adrienne maree brown calls us to do, we can move mountains, within us and in the world. It also reminded me that sometimes stillness rather than movement is our call in a moment. Sometimes, it is enough just to be, and it is the most important thing, particularly in times of transition.

I am committed to creating more spaces like these: humanizing spaces for educators to be and to be in community with one another, vulnerable spaces where we can bring our whole selves without the need to posture or prove our worthiness, spaces that encourage rest and restoration, spaces where we can hold one another and allow ourselves to be held. This is the work. Everything else will come when we come from a place of wholeness.

A New Routine

During this time that has been transformative over the last two weeks, it has been clear that my current routine is not working. It is a routine of survival that does not allow me to center myself and touch my humanity and gratitude each day.

This morning, I woke up early.

I love getting up early because the morning hours feel precious.

I checked e-mail because I’m 9-hours ahead so the work day has already ended. I responded to all the e-mails I could before 1pm PT (when I went to bed) and then I responded to the rest when I woke up (around 8pm PT).

I would like to remember that this is just fine. It is fine that I only respond to e-mails during part of the day then catch up after the day is done. It is also fine that I wake up and respond to e-mails first thing. For me, my responsibilities (at least those in the immediate) need to be cared for before I can be at peace.

I did Duolingo and Wordle. Duolingo is, for me, an addiction, and a structured one at that, which has to be done between 6am-noon and 6pm and midnight because otherwise I miss out on bonuses. I am who I am and I’ve come to accept that after a 1347 day streak, I can probably count this as something that is a regular part of my day.

I was restless for a moment after that. In my daily life, there is not time for restlessness after Duolingo and Wordle because there is preparation of kids for school, there is preparation of me for the day, there are things to do.

And there will continue to be things to do. At home, after the things to do in the morning, the e-mails begin and continue all day and I find myself exhausted with only a few minutes between urgent communications in which to actually pause.

A few moments is enough for some things: to breathe, to stretch, to remember I need a cup of tea or to look out the window, to take a short walk around the building.

But it is not enough, when stolen from between e-mails, to fully reconnect with my humanity. It is not enough to thoughtfully engage with ideas, to prepare my heart for the writing and work I’m committed to, to bring my most authentic self to the conversations I’m a part of. It is not enough to sustain me.

This morning, restlessness, when I leaned into it, led me to prepare myself for the day ahead, led me to read during breakfast, led me to write this blog. It let me be human, stopping in the course of writing to answer texts and messages, but without urgency, grounded in love and peace. It led me to stay hydrated and to attend to my body’s signals.

I am always aware of the ways that the systems in which we are embedded, in which I strive to do humanizing work, are inherently dehumanizing.

Yet, I have found myself this year, mechanized by the systems and structures of dehumanization that I fight so hard against.

It is hard to be in the machine and find your way out.

But it is also joyful to find yourself and your humanity again. It is joyful to be in community with those who know you and can bear witness to your evolution. It is joyful to lean into ourselves instead of constantly resisting and fighting to exist. It is joyful to have no one to prove oneself to, but to walk the walk and do the work in front of you.

I am attending to this joy.

And I am confident that in attending to this joy, there is actually no worry about productivity. There is an abundance of contribution that springs from joy, and my joy always leads naturally to a desire to contribute.

But it must start with enough time to touch my humanity.

Soon I will return to my daily life.

I do not know how to stay in this joy in that space.

I do know that while I need time to be alone, I can’t stay in joy alone.

I also know that I am stubborn and often don’t listen to the people in my life who have been telling me for months that I need to take a break, focus on myself, and calm down.

I come from a place where there is always more to do. I have internalized and enacted dehumanizing practices that have suppressed my light and joy for years. It is not easy to unlearn these things in a society where they are valorized and validated and where I am rewarded for hyper productivity whether or not it is sustainable for me.

When I am calm and in the clarity of my heart, I am not afraid. I know I am a writer, that words will come. I know I am a thinker, and can engage with the thoughts of others. I know I am a teacher, and can respond to and build with those I fem/mentor in educational spaces. I know that I can leave and come back and the words and ideas will still be there.

But where I am from, I am rarely in the calm and clarity of my heart.

For me, the solution will not be to reproduce what I have here over there. There are too many differences in society and positioning and context. It may be to spend more regular time here to reground and remember who I am, but I must learn to be within the contexts I find myself, to adapt to that which is and model transformation.

This is long and without a place to end except with these final thoughts: 1) the end must be space that includes gentleness and grace as I find my way, as we find our ways; 2) the way(s) must be found in love-imbued community; 3) to make deeper connection, there have to be boundaries that honor our commitments.

I hope you will support me as I find my way.

Exploring Generosity

white lily on water

What does it mean to be generous with oneself in an environment built upon scarcity?

I love to give…

and to serve…

and to contribute.

In so many ways, giving gives me life and light, hope and joy, in my darkest moments.

But sometimes, giving turns from joy to responsibility to obligation.

Sometimes giving doesn’t feel free. It doesn’t make me feel free.

Instead, giving feels expected or required.

In those moments, giving feels disrespectful and exploitative.

What happens when giving takes away from that which is most precious in your life?

I am in a constant struggle with a scarcity of time, energy and resources. While I’m working towards moving beyond the need to prove my worth, I am wondering when I will be able to draw the boundaries I need to bring the joy back to generosity.

When I will feel abundance and joy.

Today, as I considered all of this in therapy, I realized that part of generosity is generosity to myself.

What would it mean to give to myself?

To do things in service of the self?

To contribute to myself?

How would this be a counter-story to the notion that love of the self is selfish?

What would it be like to choose to give to myself freely? How could it offer a freedom from the obligation to give to others?

How could I give myself the respect that I need and thereby resist exploitation and disrespect from the external?

What might happen if I gave back to myself, if I reclaimed what was most precious, if I gave back the sense of obligation I’ve carried from generations back to the ancestors so that I could actually create the space I so desperately need?

I don’t know.

But, I do know the dark of side of giving begrudgingly, instead of from natural generosity. I know what it feels like to give from scarcity rather than abundance.

And it’s worth exploring the other side.

Intention, Recognition, Action

person holding sparkler near grass

Sometimes, you have to set a clear intention, make space for it’s realization and watch it manifest.

No really.

Sometimes it really happens like that.

In real life.

Sometimes, you have to be seen. The power of having your potential recognized can allow you to grow in ways you never thought imaginable. It can allow you to ask for what you deserve. It can allow you to step into and embrace the force within you.

Rightfully so.

Sometimes, you take action to make room for the great things that are coming and you jump with both feet, knowing that you will be embraced by the community you’ve built. And that those that would let you fall were never your community anyways.

It is beautiful to know the difference.

It is such a hard time in the world right now, for so many reasons. Things are heavy and feel sometimes so overwhelming.

But there are still sparks of life.

There are still sparks of light.

Find your people.

Hold them as tight as you can for as long as you can.

Let them light your way.

Let them embrace you.

Let them remind you that you are worth more than a position or a dollar sign, that you are worth the risk, that you are worthy because you are.

Let them remind you that you are a blessing.

Let them bless you.

Be intentional.

Listen to the truth when it comes to you.

Show up for community and let them show up for you.

Act accordingly.

In love and justice always.

Being Seen, Being Recognized

The author and her son standing back-to-back facing the camera

When I was in elementary school, I always wanted to be the class representative, but I don’t remember ever being chosen for student council.

I thought that if I continued working hard at my studies, helping my classmates, and helping my teachers, my peers and adults around me would see my “leadership potential.” I worked as hard as I could to be seen as a leader.

At the 6th grade graduation ceremony, there was one student who would be recommended from our school to be the delegate to the 7th grade Associated Student Body. I was so hopeful that it would be me. I really wanted to start off junior high contributing to my school and knowing people, and what better way than a summer where I would get to work with other leaders?! (Did I mention I was a little nerdy?) I had represented my school in various district competitions as an elementary school student (from spelling bee to Math Counts) and I had been one of the first students in my elementary school to be placed in the highest level math AND English classes.

I waited with baited breath for the student leadership award to be announced.

It wasn’t me.

It was Amy G, the elementary school student body president.

Looking back on this moment now, this probably should have been a given. Student body leaders in elementary school are destined to be student body leaders in middle school and high school…and maybe in life.

Throughout middle school and high school, I tried to run for or show interest in leadership in a variety of ways.

But I was never elected, never chosen.

I excelled academically. I got good grades, tons of academic awards, even scholarships. I was even voted most likely to succeed.

But I wasn’t seen as a leader.

Okay, so grown up me sees model minority stereotype & bamboo ceiling written all over all of this, but little (or at least younger) me didn’t know any of that.

Little me just thought that no one would ever think that I was a leader.

Little me thought that I would never be able to contribute the way I wanted to.

Big me thinks this “not a leader” thing is somewhat hilarious since most of my adult/professional life has been dedicated to servant leadership and now, there are some days where I wish people would recognize my leadership capacity a little less (okay, not really, actually, I just need to learn to set better boundaries). Something shifted somewhere along the line. Maybe it was being around others who, in small and large ways, began to see me. Maybe it was finding and developing my passion. Maybe it was finding and discovering more about my identity. But something shifted. Nowadays, I feel seen for who I’ve always deep down known I was. I feel recognized.

(There are also some days where big me still feels like I’ll never be able to contribute in the ways I want to, but for different reasons. That is less hilarious, but I digress.)

Anyways, fast forward 25+ years…

Last week, my 14 year old got an e-mail at his school account. Someone had nominated him for a youth leadership position, a group of youth who would do community work and speak about the impact of COVID on various communities.

When he showed me the e-mail, he said, “This seems really cool, but I’m not sure that I could do this. I don’t really like to speak to people I don’t know. And this seems like you’d have to be cool and have knowledge and be able to tell people what you believe.”

Trying not to pressure him, I responded, “Well, I think you’re cool, and I think you’re well spoken, and you have a lot of knowledge.”

He replied, “You’re my mom. You have to think I’m cool, and I’m not cool, and I can’t speak to other people, and I have knowledge, but I get nervous when I’m trying to explain it to people I don’t know.”

So then, I said, “Well, you can always apply and find out more about the commitment and then if you get chosen, and you don’t feel like you want to do it or you can, you can say no.”

He looked at me, and said, “You’re smart. I didn’t even think about that. Okay, well then, I’ll try.”

He began the application and on the first question got stuck, telling me he didn’t really have any experiences related to COVID. In talking, he felt that because we have relative privilege compared to so many others, he didn’t really see his experience as valuable or contributing. We talked through it. He wrote some things, a lot of things. Then he finished the application on his own and turned it in. At multiple times in the process, he expressed his own self-doubt as to what he could bring and why someone would nominate him.

He doesn’t see himself as a leader, at least not that he would admit to me, but he does know that he’s someone that has always wanted to contribute to something greater than himself.

I always have seen him as a leader, but perhaps, I’m his mom so I have to think he’s a leader (I don’t actually have to think that, but I do actually believe that). I have also always wanted him to have opportunities to contribute.

More importantly, in this moment, some other anonymous adult in his life, related to school (because no one else would have that address for him), sees him as a leader too, or a potential one, at least.

Mama me couldn’t be prouder.

Someone saw my son the way I’ve always seen him.

In the contrast of how I wished to be seen as a child and adolescent, and how I’ve seen my son recognized, in ways that surprise him, I feel healing and hope.

Every child deserves to be seen for their potential.

As a mother and an educator, I’ve realized this week that one of our greatest roles is standing for the greatness that people may or may not recognize for themselves, within themselves. Our task is to see that greatness and to recognize it, to nurture it and to grow it, to support it and to be with it, in moments of doubt.

Greatness is a gift.

It’s a gift we all have.

If it is unseen and unrecognized, it can take much longer for that greatness to manifest, if it is able to come to the surface at all.

But when it is seen and recognized, particularly by others as young people, it allows us to be our best selves and make our most authentic contribution to the world around us.

I had to do a lot of work to embrace my own greatness. My son will also have a journey towards embracing his greatness.

It did not look like I thought it would. I am imagining that his greatness won’t look exactly the way he pictured it either.

My hope is for more joy in his journey than mine, and that we will learn to see ourselves and recognize for ourselves that which those we love see around us each day.

Stepping into Leadership; Stepping into Community

When I was in 6th grade, I really wanted to win the middle school leadership award.  It was given to one student from each graduating 6th grade class and was basically an invitation into middle school ASB.  I was academically one of the top students in my class, had sung with the mini-6th grade chorus for graduation and was on the edge of my seat as they announced that the winner of the award was…

Not me.

Clearly, this was devastating enough to my 11-year old self that I remember it, 30 years later.  I remember this incident with such clarity because I wanted so much for my teachers to see me as a leader, as more than just the smart kid who brought in fortune cookies and egg rolls from my aunt’s Chinese restaurant for Chinese New Year (I know the Chinese do not have a monopoly on the Lunar New Year, but when I was little, that’s what I knew) and got good grades.  I wanted to lead. I wanted to be involved.  And the teacher’s belief in me was my ticket in the door to participate, as I couldn’t just convince my mom that I could “walk on” to the middle school leadership team.

I pretty much have spent a lot of the last 30 years consciously or sub-consciously trying to prove that I am a leader.  It didn’t go that well for the first 21 years of my life. I mean, I did fine. I was many things to many people.  I worked hard and did well.  But, I was not a leader.

Then I became a teacher, and pretty quickly, people started seeing me as a leader.  I began leading professional development at my school site, coaching at the district level, co-directing our local National Writing Project site.

When I transitioned into teacher education, I also became a leader fairly quickly, with the core course I teach, in my department, college and in various professional organizations.

Now, I’m even a church elder, a PTSA board member — it seems that leadership is everywhere.  I am all  that 11-year old me wanted people to see. I am a leader.

But, what 11-year old me didn’t quite see was that, in craving leadership and recognition, what I really was craving was community and the belief in my contribution.

On the other side of these many opportunities to serve as a leader is the humility of realizing that while leadership holds much responsibility, it is so valued and valuable because of community.  Without a strong community, leadership can just become one more thing to do, one more role to fill, it can be empty. What I wanted as an 11-year old was to be seen as a leader, but more importantly, I wanted others to see me for the contributions I could bring, whether in a leadership role or not. I wanted to be a part of community and to contribute.

I’m grateful to so many people in my life that support me and love me as I serve and I lead from my heart and with my heart. On the days where I’d like to step down from all the things and hide under my covers, telling my 11-year old self to be happy she wasn’t selected for the leadership position, I hold my community close and they remind me why contribution and leadership are important.

That’s what I’m stepping into, in these first few weeks of 2020, into leadership, into community, into humility, into humanity.

Thanks for seeing me here.



I have historically been very poor at resting and allowing myself time to recover when I am ill, injured, or just not at my best.

Yesterday, I ran the Surf City Half Marathon.

I started the race injured.  I had some nagging quad soreness that would not go away, and had trained through it (instead of resting it) because I was so close to race day.  I finally took most of last week off because I knew I couldn’t start the race in that much pain.

When I got to the line, I didn’t feel great, but I felt okay…ish…or, at least, I told myself I did (Did you see the Beach City Challenges medal though?! I mean, I had to run for the whale!).

The back half of the race was a surreal experience. Before I learned to fuel during races, the back half was HORRIBLE for me. I would hit a wall of exhaustion at mile 11 and struggle to make it through the finish line.

Yesterday, I didn’t feel tired (in terms of breathing or energy) but my legs felt tight, leaden and in deep pain, for the last 4 miles of the race.  It wasn’t under training. It was overtraining, for sure.  I pushed myself through the finish with a time that was a couple minutes slower than the year before (the first time I haven’t at least course PR’ed since I began running) and 8-minutes slower (on a flatter course with pretty ideal running conditions) than the time I ran in October.

I was bummed.

I’m still in pain.

I am physically burnt out.

It takes critical and acute pain for me to take the time to rest and allow for contribution.

Which seems to be a theme lately.

If you’ve been following my blog for the last week, it’s been a challenging one.  I’ve been through worse, but this week hasn’t been easy for our family. The generosity and encouragement of our community has been not only our saving grace, but also our hope for the future.

Last night, after a long day and a longer 72 hours, I talked with my daughter, Asha.  It was like talking to a different person than the daughter I spoke to on Friday afternoon. The weight lifted off of her shoulders from the support we’ve been given and the love she’s been shown has been incredible.  The ability to take a breath and focus on her health after numerous small setbacks and managing a chronic condition is like a new lease on life.  We were able to talk as we haven’t been able to in months, with her letting me know the details of her situation that she had kept from me so that I wouldn’t worry or be upset at those around her, upset at things that I could not control.  Thankfully, she’s working with a primary care doctor (another woman of color) who listens to and supports her, as well as doing the work to figure out her condition.  She is, for the most part, stable (which I hadn’t been sure of–was no news good news or “I don’t want you to worry, mom” news?), although this last series of setbacks had left her incredibly discouraged. I don’t think we could have connected in this way without the love and support of our community.

In my pain, I am being made more whole. Usually on February 3, I go to my mother’s gravesite to lay flowers for her, my grandmother and my aunt, to honor who these amazing women have been in my life.  Yesterday, I couldn’t do so because of the rain.  Instead, as I lay in bed after the race–icing, resting, elevating, and foam rolling, I realized that the best way to honor my mother (and my maternal line who helped raise me), who sacrificed so much for me to be who I am today, was to be the best mother I could be, to take the time needed to rest and recover, to help my daughter know that she also deserved just a little space to breathe, that people saw and acknowledged her struggle, our struggle, and were here for her, for us, for me.

Sometimes growing is acutely painful.  But, if we hold on to and support one another, I believe in the promise of restoration.


The Incredible Power of Love and Community

There are times in life when thank you seems inadequate.

This is one of those times.

Yesterday, in desperation, I wrote a post about a situation our family, namely one of our older daughters, was facing.  I didn’t know what I could do, and compounded by my own grief and exhaustion, I wrote the post because I needed to move it from my head and my heart out into the world, because it was a burden too heavy to bear alone.

I didn’t even know if anyone would read this post, but it didn’t matter.  What mattered was that it was not our family’s secret and burden to bear alone anymore.  Saying it made it real, allowed me to reflect on it and gave me a space to let others into our world.

But what happened after that was extraordinary.

Literally within minutes, I had several friends respond and reach out to me, offering various gifts: time, space, legal consultation, to set up a GoFundMe site, advice, prayers, and understanding.

I did not expect any of it.

I had thought about crowdfunding, but was hesitant.  I knew my daughter’s need was great, but the sense of my own guilt at not being able to provide everything she needed was really strong. And, neither my daughter nor I ever have been comfortable asking for handouts or asking for even what we need. I felt like I really needed to just figure something else out.

But, when a friend texted me to offer to set up a site for us, and made a compelling argument for allowing others to contribute to what was an acute need in an ongoing journey, I hesitantly agreed. I told her I’d set up the campaign myself so that I could control what parts of our story were told (I’m fiercely protective of my daughter’s privacy despite my own openness to the world). I did so, but resolved to share only once on my page and then just be grateful for even $5 and love.

The crowdfunding and offline donations raised the equivalent to almost 4 months of our support for our daughter which has already allowed her to pay off accumulated debt from this last acute flare-up of her illness (complicated by flu & food poisoning) and provides just a small cushion to keep her in her apartment for a few more months as she tries to figure out how to cope with her ongoing condition. It allows her replace things that had to be thrown away when they were infested with insects.

But, more than all of that, it provides her hope that she is not alone.

There is nothing more heartbreaking than hearing your child, who has done nothing but try her best to do things on her own for her entire life ask you, “Why is all of this happening to me? What do I do?” and having no answer.

But, I have learned that there is nothing more powerful than the love of community–not just through money (although we are SO GRATEFUL for the monetary support) but also through time, encouragement, advice, emotional support, and prayers.

Every single thing means everything to us.

So, even though it is not enough, thank you.  Thank you. Thank you.

Using Technology to Build Community

Photo by Joshua Rawson-Harris on Unsplash

Technology often gets a bad rap in terms of taking us away from those we love.

Don’t get me wrong. I know first hand that technology can be a huge distraction from being present (in fact, I may have been reminded of as much by a dear friend during my 40th birthday weekend celebration), but there’s been a lot written on the “evils of technology.”

So, in this post, I’d like to offer the start of a different story, a story from another perspective.

I want to talk a little bit about how technology has allowed me to build a personal and professional community beyond distance, space and time.

The last week has been a tough one, as I’ve been dealing with all that’s been happening politically in the United States. It’s also been tough professionally, in dealing with a situation at work.

Plus, honestly, life is tough being an academic mother every day.

But, my social media community often offers me faith, grace, hope and a space of community when I only have a moment and access to the internet, and when I’m stressed to the gills. They totally came through for me in this last week.  My community offered resources that I couldn’t think of when I was tired and stressed.  My community offered kindness when I felt like I just couldn’t understand why things were the way they were. They empathized and reflected. They cared and followed up.

It’s not all roses. Sometimes my community tell me hard truths. Sometimes they correct me. Sometimes they don’t get me.  But, more often than not, my virtual community helps to connect me when I feel completely disconnected. And when I see those people I’m connected with on social media in person, they check-in because they already know without me having to relive the things I’m struggling with.

I’m a work in progress in terms of using technology productively, rather than letting technology run the show in my life, but today, I’m grateful, because technology affords me community, reminds me to reach out, and shows me that I’m not alone.

Embracing My Truth…Out Loud

I had the privilege to speak tonight at “Out Loud: A Social Justice Arts Event,” put on by my church and our Social Justice committee — It was an amazing and inspiring evening of visual and performing artists that spoke their truth powerfully in advocacy for a just society. I was so grateful to lend my voice and story to this gathering. Below, I share my piece from this evening, in its entirety.

Embracing My Truth…Out Loud

I am not your model minority….or am I?
On the outside that may be what it seems, living out the American Dream.
BA, MA, then PhD from an elite world-renowned university. Perfect middle class family.
Speaking “accent-less” English flawlessly.
But we are all more than we seem.
And, I’ve always had a truth to speak, but, I was taught that I should be silent…so I struggle with the complexity of respectability and identity and who I am v. who I should be, and who will be there with me, if I stand my ground…or if being me and speaking out freely means I will stand alone.

In 6th grade, sitting next to a new friend who had moved from Taiwan to California via Alabama, a boy next to me leaned over and said pointedly, “Why don’t you tell her to go back to where she came from?” I didn’t have the academic label of racist nativism, but I knew his request made no sense, even at 11. “Why don’t you go back to where you came from?” I replied. He looked at me confusedly, “Huh?” he said. “Well, unless you’re Chumash or Barbareño, you’re not from here, either you see?” I began, before the substitute teacher called out to me, “Betina, please be quiet. No talking.” I had never been admonished by a teacher. I said nothing but felt the red heat rising to my cheeks. The boy glowered at me. I felt ashamed. I felt alone.

I wish I could tell that little girl that she was brave to speak her peace, that she should be proud not afraid, that this would not be the last time she risked being shamed for standing up for someone she cared about nor the last time she felt shut down for speaking truth. But instead she sat there questioning whether her voice had done anything.

I kept going and growing, silently counting the days, months, years until I could leave the safe but silent spaces where I grew up. I wanted so much to be liked and accepted but I felt more and more alone.

And then I left, and went to UC Berkeley, a place where I thought I’d finally feel free, where I’d finally find me, a place rich with history of struggle and solidarity. But there as well, I struggled to see my own identity, on the one hand being pulled to be the model minority, on the other never being quite radical enough comparatively. Who was I to speak of injustice when others had it so much worse than me? Who was I, but a Chinese American girl, who did not even speak the language of her ancestry? Certainly not your model minority. Not really Chinese then you see, a girl of the So-Cal suburbs, but as well as I could speak English, I was still never quite American either. I was neither. Surrounded by those who looked like me, I still felt ashamed. I felt alone.

I wish I could tell that young woman that she could be brave enough to speak her peace, that she should be proud not afraid, that this would not be the last time she risked feeling shame for struggling with her own identity. But instead she sat there questioning whether her voice was worth anything.

I became a mother officially 3 times in less than 20 weeks, giving birth and then adopting. In motherhood, I thought I’d finally feel free, I’d finally find me, in the faces of these three; a HAPA baby and two African-American teens. Son of my flesh and daughters borne of the sorrows of having lost our mothers prematurely. When my girls faced educational and institutional inequality, it came naturally to raise my voice in advocacy. But when mental illness and post-traumatic stress came knocking at our door, I lost my voice and found inadequacy. Certainly, now I was not your model minority, suffering silently. I felt ashamed. I felt alone.

I wish I could tell that young mother that to reach out for help is the ultimate bravery, that she could be both proud and afraid, that this would not be the last time she risked feeling shame for struggling with inadequacy. But instead she sat there questioning whether her life was worth anything.

Then finally, the choice became one of fighting alone and invisibility or finding redemption through reaching out to community. I spoke out. I reached out. I got help. I found out that I may have been broken and imperfect but I was not alone. And there was no shame in vulnerability, that in fact, there was power in the inadequacy of my humanity because it drew me closer to authenticity. I finally began finding me.

These days, I work daily to address the inequalities of a schooling system that continues to treat children like mine differently from one another and differently from how they might view me. I teach teachers to recognize that students are not all the same, but that each one shares the right to honored humanity, to support individually, to become the best they can be. I teach teachers to draw from their identities to recognize how who they are shape who and what they teach.

And, these days, I still struggle with the complexity of respectability and identity, who I was, who I am, who I will or who I should be. I struggle with my story and my vulnerability, especially as a member of the academy. I struggle with my voice and truth telling even in my community, and I wonder if you will still stand alongside me. Because I will keep struggling.

I was taught to be silent, but I’ve always had a truth to speak.
So, I am not your model minority, but I am working each day to create a model of what it means to be me.