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.

Growth in Parts

The author as a 2-3 year old girl in a red dress with a white apron looking at the camera

Me, at 2 or 3

I am growing, and learning, a lot, this summer, at a rate that oftentimes feels overwhelming, and when I feel overwhelmed, I’ve learned that a big part of grounding is writing through it.

I recently got myself back into therapy, and am working with a wonderful Asian American female therapist who sees and gets me in a way that is profound and affirming. Whenever she says, “That must have been really hard for you,” I get emotional. I mean, I am getting emotional writing about her saying that because I feel seen in those words.

It was hard for me.

Sometimes, it is still hard for me.

And so often, the hard parts, the hard feelings, the loss, the mini-traumas, the major-traumas, are the moments that I’ve swallowed, hidden away and masked, in a desire to move forward.

My therapist asked me, in one of our first sessions, to spend some time drawing the different feelings and emotions I was experiencing over the time between sessions. I had been feeling a lot of anxiety recently (we are, after all, living during a pandemic, and for people with trauma history and experiences of sudden loss, nothing is more triggering than a situation in which you experience a complete lack of control) so I thought that would show up predominantly in my drawings.

But, what really showed up, was overwhelming sadness, masked as frantic movement to get things done.

I am so sad.

I have been so sad.

I have been carrying this sadness for such a long time.

It is exhausting, hard, and destructive.

There is so much weight to this swallowed, silenced sadness that is protected by an image of incredible strength, competency and hard work.

It had become overwhelming.

And then I saw it, in my own sketches.

So, we worked through an exercise based on parts therapy, which, as I understand it (and clearly, this is not my area of expertise) helps parts of yourself that are stuck at certain ages (your inner child or children) come to resolution, or at least, be seen and acknowledged for what they felt or are feeling, as it’s triggered in your current life.

And here’s what I realized through that work:

  • I’ve struggled with being seen for so long, since I was little, with feeling like the work I’m doing will be accepted by people I want to like me.
  • I’ve struggled with not knowing how to play the right game, with feeling like people are too busy to see me or talk with me or play with me.
  • I have felt alone in the midst of so many people I wanted to be in community with.
  • I have internalized that all as not being good enough.
  • It is at the core of my sadness.

But I’ve also realized this:

  • I can be responsible for my own healing. I can heal myself (with support and community, of course, but also by paying attention to the little me).
  • At the core, I have always been and will always be a survivor.
  • I don’t have to swallow my sadness anymore.
  • There are people who do love me, just the way I am, and it’s okay to let them in.
  • When my sadness surfaces, often what I need more than anything is to pause and be with it.

Doing this self-work (self-care, self-preservation, self-sustainability) is not easy, and it’s a process. I see myself getting triggered all the time. I still am engaging in hard-to-break harmful patterns of overworking and negative self-talk. But, I am hopeful. And grateful to the community that calls me into all of my work.

The process of change and transformation is not linear, straightforward or easy.

No one said it would be.

But, I am nothing if not committed and hard working.

Only this time, the goal is pushing towards liberation, for myself, my communities and in my work.

It is time.

Growth in parts.

Towards this goal.


I am not okay, but I will be.

First, I want to start off this post by thanking God, my family, and my many friends and colleagues who have expressed concerned about my well-being during this time, or have seen the signs of stress and overwhelm, overwork, and the unproductive patterns of people pleasing. You all gently, but firmly, have been reminding me to prioritize self-care, drink my water (Marian, you know I’m talking to you!), and turn off my computer when I need to. You’ve said no for me (thanks, Jung) when I hesitate to say no for myself. You’ve supported me when I’ve been too tired to move forward. You’ve modeled for me your own self-care. In a million big and little ways, you have reminded me I am not alone, even when I feel most alone.

But sometimes, all of that, and all of the strength in the world isn’t enough.

Two days ago, my friends, Dr. Kisha Porcher and Dr. Shamaine Bertrand held a special live Black Gaze Podcast with Dr. Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz on transparency & healing, a follow-up to their recorded conversation with Dr. Yolie on Radical Black Self-Love, and it was a word.

It was such a word that it prompted me to do what I KNOW that I’ve needed to do for the last several months (at least since COVID social distancing started), but that I “haven’t had time to do.”

I got serious about getting back into therapy.

I have been in therapy before, during some of the hardest and most stressful points in my life. I kept telling myself in the last few months that, although things are stressful now, they’re not THAT BAD (because you know, when you have experienced multiple major traumas in your life, a global pandemic with xenophobic racism directed towards your racial group and a major job transition are actually just not that bad), and I can just use the tools that I’ve gotten in therapy before (which I have been doing) and I could lean on my communities (which I have been doing), and I can just push through (which I have been doing).

But this week, it hit me, that I can actually do more than survive (thank you to the brilliant Bettina Love for introducing that thinking to me through her brilliant and powerful abolitionist teaching book), that it is possible to have the tools, communities, and strength, but actually want for more, to freedom dream in my own way, individually so that I can have the strength to do the work collectively that I am called to do.

Because, good Lord, I have only been surviving, and barely doing that, in these last few months, despite all outward appearances.

And what I want is to thrive, and be free to set boundaries so that I can do the work that I am called to do. So that we can do the work in community for the world we deserve.

When I get serious, I get moving. Had a consultation session with a therapist today and my first appointment on Tuesday.

This is a big step in radical self-love, that I can commit to healing “even when things aren’t that bad,” that I can commit myself to more than just surviving, that I refuse to fight myself for scraps of my time for the people that are most important to me, that I can be important enough to myself to want better.

I’m writing this because if I had not heard and witnessed the transparency of healing from the Black Gaze podcast and through the words of Dr. Yolie, I might not have had the courage to claim my own healing. And for some of you, maybe this blog is that push you need. Maybe it’s therapy, maybe it’s boundary setting, maybe it’s the courage to say that you want and deserve more.

But get serious, and get moving, because we’ve got to commit to ourselves.

The Reckoning

According to a quick google search via the Oxford dictionary, reckoning has several definitions:

noun: reckoning
  1. the action or process of calculating or estimating something.
    “last year was not, by any reckoning, a particularly good one”  (You can say that again, if by last year, you mean the last 6 weeks)
  2. a person’s view, opinion, or judgment.
    “by ancient reckoning, bacteria are plants”
  3. a bill or account, or its settlement.
  4. the avenging or punishing of past mistakes or misdeeds.
    “the fear of being brought to reckoning”

The last 6 weeks of social distancing has been a reckoning in many senses of the word.

It has been a time of reflection, an accounting for how my time is spent, and how that aligns with what I want my life to be about.

It has been a time of judgment and opinions, despite my best attempts to show grace to myself and others, despite my belief in humanization as a guiding light and love as enacted through recognizing our shared humanity.

It has been a time when many bills and accounts have come due, both financial and metaphorically: spiritual accounts, familial accounts, trauma accounts. So many accounts.

It has been a time when I have chosen to bring forth my past mistakes, misdeeds, missed opportunities.

It has been a time when I’ve been seeing myself in others’ stories, that connect to parts of myself and my history, parts I thought I had lost that I could never find again. It’s been a time for me to discover and piece together parts of my history and my family story that I have been holding for a long time, but have been afraid to confront.  It has been a time when I have realized that as much as I search for love and strive to be loving, I cannot find that love without truly embracing myself.

bell hooks in her All About Love says, “Commitment to truth telling lays the groundwork for openness and honesty that is the heartbeat of love. When we can see ourselves as we truly are and accept ourselves, we build the necessary foundation for self-love.”

The reckoning.

Seeing myself as I truly am and accepting myself.

There has been so much shame which has led to so much destructiveness. Constantly feeling not good enough. Not speaking my heritage language. Not saving my parent’s marriage or my mother’s life. Not doing enough for my oldest daughters. Not being available enough for my younger children. Not being anything (pretty, smart, Asian, courageous, knowledgable) enough. Staying silent when I wanted to speak. Feeling like I had no place to speak. Wanting to be loved and admired so much that at moments my integrity was gone. Literally and figuratively rendering myself invisible, starving myself so that I might disappear, and in disappearing be seen.  Running away from grief only to be confronted at every corner.  So much destruction.

…yet, all with a smile and determination to move onward.

I could not move onward without being dragged back.

There has been so much exhausted determination to continue moving forward.

In this time, I have begun the reckoning.  I have begun to see all that there is that has been at the root of this destruction of self.

And I am realizing that while these voices are within me, they are not fully me. They are products of institutions, structures, ideologies, generations, recitations that did not start from me.

I own them as part of me.  They have also made me. They help me to understand humanity intimately.

The reckoning is a fire, but it is a healing pain.

I am beginning to heal.

Mirrors, Windows, Hopes and Dreams

A bookmark featuring two of the four Jasmine Toguchi books by my friend Debbi Michiko Florence

Almost 30 years ago, Rudine Sims Bishop published an essay on windows and mirrors in children’s books (which was a keynote address delivered at the CSU San Bernardino Reading conference).  In this piece, Sims Bishop talked about literature as existing “to transform human experience, and reflect it back to us so that we can better understand it,” doing so through providing a window (“imagined or real, familiar or new, panoramic or narrow”) or, in the right light, a mirror for to “see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience.”

Growing up, I read a lot. I looked through many windows, but often didn’t see my own experiences reflected, as a second generation Asian American little girl.  This is not such an unusual phenomenon, even for children of color today. My friend, Sarah Park Dahlen and her colleague David Huyck have created this infographic that highlights the disparities in children’s book diversity, with animals actually having more representation in children’s literature than all non-white people groups combined. I loved reading, literature, the humanities, and studying all of these in school, which I probably loved more than anything.  But I also didn’t see myself reflected in the race and ethnicity of my classroom teachers.  While I loved my teachers so much, I remember only 1 teacher of color (a Latino male biology teacher) in my entire K-12 schooling.

This absence of representation internalized itself in ways that I didn’t fully realize or recognize until fairly recently.  In terms of literature, I thought my voice and my story (or stories of other Asian Americans) didn’t matter.  I felt invisible. I knew I wasn’t quite “American” as represented to me in texts, but I also didn’t really feel Asian. I didn’t embrace the integration of elements of my heritage culture from my immigrant mother and elements of my American culture, which was all around me, but didn’t fully reflect my experiences. I accepted the invisibility of my experience and figured that I should just aspire to an idealized (white) American culture that seemed so cool, but somehow just beyond my reach.

In the classroom, I didn’t think about becoming an English teacher.  Despite my deep love for literature, for people’s stories and for their histories, and despite my success all around as a student, I felt steered towards STEM fields (after all, both my parents were scientists and my brother was an engineer). I didn’t think that my stories mattered in classrooms, in literature, in history, so why would my presence matter? When I eventually did pursue an interdisciplinary major with a heavy emphasis on literature and social science and went into middle school teaching, I labeled myself the “black sheep” of my family.

Despite having taught successfully for many years, obtaining a PhD and becoming an academic, it is still hard NOT to refer to myself as the “black sheep” who wasted her potential in the sciences for a relatively low-paying, low-status profession. I fight this sense of shame internally often, even though I’m so proud of what I do and I know intellectually how important it is.  Sometimes, it’s so hard to feel that truth.

While these disparities and discourses continue to persist, even in 2019, I recently got present to the power (and joy) of challenging these silences and the deficit framings towards my own identities that I continue to battle, both internally and through a lack of representation in larger society.

I got there through reading bedtime stories and doing educational (interview-based) research.

Recently, my 4-year old, Jojo and I just finished reading the Jasmine Toguchi series written by my friend, Debbi Michiko Florence. I love this book series because it’s incredibly charming and it centers around the 8-year old girl adventures of the series protagonist, Jasmine Toguchi, a Japanese American girl growing up in Los Angeles with her older sister, mom and dad.  What I love about this series is that I could really see myself and my Jojo’s experiences in those of Jasmine. Jasmine is an American girl, but in each story, there are elements of her Japanese American identity that are highlighted, whether through the central event of the book (mochi pounding at new year, or taiko drumming for the talent show) or whether a corollary, but important subplot (girls’ day and Jasmine’s daruma). While we are not Japanese American (we are Taiwanese American), the parallel journey of Jasmine as an Asian American girl helped to normalize the bicultural nature of my life that I couldn’t really embrace as a child. (It also helps that Jasmine and Jojo both love flamingos, art and adventure)

Jasmine is so different than what I remember of Claudia Kishi, from the Babysitter’s Club, the only Asian American character I remember seeing in my childhood.  Claudia seemed way cooler than I was (I was much more like her older sister, “Mean Janine”) and she also seemed able to fit in with her (almost all white) friends seamlessly, which made me wonder what was wrong with me.  I appreciate Ann M. Martin’s inclusion of Claudia and Jessi, an African American character, in the BSC series, and the way that Claudia’s character challenged expectations by being the cool artist, but I never really felt like I could relate to Claudia, although I desperately wanted her experiences to reflect mine.

The desperation of wanting to relate to Claudia parallels my sense of wanting to feel like I wasn’t alone in my experiences of not quite fitting in anywhere. Only as an adult have I come to the realization that this false sense of loneliness and isolation is indeed false. For me, this happened through my research on Asian American teachers.  I’ve been recently re-listening to the interviews that are the core of this study, and with each interview,  I am reminded that the experiences that were so isolating to me throughout my life, are actually far more common than little me ever could have imagined.  The sense of difference, the shame of my heritage language and culture as a child, the guilt that I feel as an adult at having had that shame, the desperate attempts at cultural reclamation, the long overdue (and ever evolving) sense of racial consciousness — they are all themes in my data, themes in the lives of other Asian American teachers.

Although I wish these weren’t themes in the data, there’s a strange relief in knowing I am not alone.

This reminds me of the importance of telling these stories.

This brings me back to mirrors and windows, to the parallel journeys that remind us that we are not alone, that our experiences are deeply human, and that our humanity is not lesser than that of anyone else.

I am inspired by these stories and by the hope that these stories bring, that my own children will see themselves through windows and mirrors I could only dream about.

Moving Away from the Hamster Wheel

My life, for almost as long as I can remember it, has been a constant run on a metaphorical hamster wheel.

When I was a child, I spent a lot of time bored. I would fill that time with reading or writing or schoolwork or watching television, but I was very lonely a lot of the time.  I had friends, but I didn’t really spend time with them on the weekends and couldn’t call them on the phone. It was often just my mom and me at home, from the time I was 7 until I was 16 and she died.  My mom was wonderful but she was often tired after long days of work. I hated feeling alone more than anything in the world.  I often felt invisible or as if my attempts at being visible just meant that I was being bothersome.

After my mom died, I had a strange newfound freedom (since she had only let me participate in a few things that she thought were the best uses of my time), but I hadn’t practiced making wise choices with my time or setting boundaries for myself.  I was lost, but I was busy, and busy felt right. It felt productive and good and valuable.  It let me hide a lot of the pain from losing my mom.  It made others admire me.  It opened new worlds from me, led me away from my hometown, and to leadership and success.  I didn’t have time to think because I became so busy doing, mostly for others, and working to please them.

I did that for almost 25 years, to a greater or lesser degree.  In my worst years, I ended up very ill, my body forcing me to get the rest my mind would not allow.  I lost relationships with people I loved dearly and sacrificed time with others with whom I wish I had more moments.  I kept moving forward, but it never felt like enough.

At the heart of it all, I was running away from the profound loneliness I felt inside.  I was addicted to the doing, the constant movement that allowed me to ignore the present moment.  I wanted to feel like I was accomplishing something and that someone saw me.

In this last year, and particularly in this last few weeks and months, I’ve been working to step away from the hamster wheel.

It is so hard.

I live in a society and work in a profession that calls me to run faster on the wheel, to take on more, in which there are always demands.

It is up to me to stop running.  To stand still. To get off the wheel. To breathe. To write.

It is frightening because it is unfamiliar.

But, each time that I move away from the wheel, I am reminded of who I am.  And, although it is hard, I am learning to remember that my worth is in more than what I do, but also in who I am.

This weekend, I read The Giver by Lois Lowry (because I’m reading the books my son has been assigned for school alongside him this year so we can talk about them in our own family book club).  In reading it, I was reminded that it is only through knowing pain that we can see the color, the beauty, the other feelings, in life.  We must remember the pain; we must go through it, if we are to get elsewhere.

So this post is a moment when I have stepped off the wheel, when I have reclaimed some time.  Watching a television show with my son, reading with my daughter before bed, spending time with friends, breathing. I am taking steps away from the wheel, and walking down a path of greater intentionality.

It is hard, but I am learning what it feels like to be present.  And that is a big thing.

Day 1/ Semester 2: A Profound Shift

Off we go! Semester 2 of Mandarin classes started today!

Today was the start of my Chinese 102 class.

I was nervous last night.  I did not practice like I wanted to over the summer.  I did begin reviewing my Chinese notes in the last two weeks, using both my son’s kindergarten flashcards and my own Chinese 101 flashcards.  And, of course, there was my jump into the deep end on The First Day of Chinese School, but I know myself, and I felt very unsure coming into day 1, semester 2.

But, you know, I’m a student who knows how to “student,” so I went to class, even though I felt like a super imposter, even though I had all the same worries as last semester (except now my picture has appeared on the campus website so people recognize me more, which makes me feel even more awkward), even though it was hard.

It also did not help that there are people in the class who: 1) are fluent Mandarin speakers; 2) have taken 3 years of Mandarin in high school; 3) clearly remember more of Chinese 101 than I do.

For reals though, I am 40 years old, and I am still comparing myself to 19 year olds in an undergraduate class (and LOSING in that comparison).

It kinda makes me laugh thinking about it.

I am grateful that I am not 18 or 19 or 21 (even though those are all great ages), and I’m grateful that this semester I’m in a class in which (even though I’m less comfortable) I feel like I’m going to practice speaking a lot more.  This class is pushing me WAY out of my comfort zone, but that is how we grow.

And continue to develop empathy.

The other thing I realized today (and somewhat on Sunday at my son’s Chinese school too) is that I actually do know some Mandarin.  (I actually teared up writing that sentence.)

Getting back a sense of my heritage language is profoundly empowering.

I am shifting in other ways too.

Tonight, while I did some Chinese homework and responded to some discussion board posts, for my own course, I also spent an hour watching videos and reading with my little girl.  The book we are reading, Jasmine Toguchi: Mochi Queen by my friend, Debbi Michiko Florence, about a Japanese American 8-year old little girl in Los Angeles and her desire to help make mochi for New Years, is the kind of Asian American young reader novel I only could have dreamed of as a little girl.  It is the first week of the semester. I still have more work to do (when is there ever not work to do?), and I took time to be with my girl. And earlier today, I took time to drive my son home from school and talk with him about our respective classes.

In reclaiming my language and my time, I am also acknowledging all of who I am, reclaiming growing up in Canyon Country (because there’s so much about my growing up that I’ve tried hard to forget), acknowledging that it’s hard not to do all the things, learning (slowly) to say no more and yes less.

I am grateful for it all. I am grateful to be present to this shift.  I am so, so grateful for the many amazing people in my life who are with me now, have been with me through all the things, and who witness this journey.

I am always becoming, but I feel, for the first time, like I am actually arriving.  At a moment. At a station.  At a place to rest.

And I am so grateful.

So Much Goodness: Negotiating Multiple Identities


The three pictures above reflect some of the identities I’m moving back and forth between on a daily basis: scholar/ professor/ researcher/ teacher/ student/ mother (not included, Asian American woman, mentor, student teaching supervisor, person of faith, choir member, ministry leader, runner, wife, friend, etc.).  All of these identities, in and of themselves, bring me so much joy.  I’m so grateful to have such a full life, embracing who I am and doing work that I’m committed to, but let me be honest, for a moment, on this blog — negotiating these multiple identities and occupying these different roles is exhausting, and sometimes the intersections of them make me irritable and less than my best self.

This week, I jumped off the plane from AERA and back into my life: figuring out Tae Kwon Do/daycare pick-ups and drop offs, planning my daughter’s 4th birthday party next month, realizing that I was 2.5 hours behind on required lab hours for my Chinese class and feeling super unprepared for my Chinese test on Thursday, inspired by the research world and ready to delve into the multiple concurrent studies I’m working on, building up mileage for an upcoming half marathon (after coming off of an injury), facilitating multiple student teaching midterm evaluations (some of which are challenging situations), encouraging some of my Masters students who are taking their comps while reading and giving feedback on thesis & dissertation drafts for my other graduate students, planning for our Faculty Inquiry Group meeting on Culturally Responsive Teaching in Teacher Ed, finalizing and sending out agendas for a Faculty Council meeting and a Social Justice Ministry meeting, attending Bible Study, doing two loads of laundry, transcribing interviews, coding data, setting up powerpoint presentations for an upcoming conference, planning a new project with a remarkable group of fellow teacher educators.

So much goodness.

But, SO…MUCH…goodness.

I woke up this morning to e-mails from cooperating teachers, coding to be done, observations and a mid-semester evaluation meeting to be had, Tae Kwon Do & daycare pick-up this evening (and not knowing who exactly will do the pick-up based on the timing of my afternoon meeting), dirty laundry to be done, a silly (almost) 4yo (also up early) with made up words to a song she knows, who changed her “treat” for school choice 3x, a slightly sick teenager, inspired to make himself breakfast, but moving slower than a snail in molasses to get out the door to catch the bus.

I sent them out the door and felt my irritation, combined with general apathy and UGH.

Why was I so grumpy? My kids were being their normal, charming, though sometimes frustrating, selves.  The e-mails were nothing unexpected.  I knew the laundry had to get done.  I’ve been excited to get this coding done. I need time to get the powerpoint set up.  I think I did fine on my Chinese test and get a bit of a break over the weekend.  Most days, all of the things don’t get to me.  And I actually got sleep last night!

But, it is perhaps because of that sleep, because today is a rest day from running, because I have a moment to write and pause that the multitude of goodness in my life feels like a flood.  It is a lot.  It is nothing I regret. But, it is so much.

I will not drown.  I will stand. But, I will also breathe and be kind to myself.  It is a lot.  Sometimes my community is my life raft.  Sometimes, I am drifting with a life vest in what feels like shark infested waters.  Sometimes, I am tired of keeping myself afloat.  Sometimes, I can stand on the shore and watch the waves crash around me.  I can make space for it all, gratitude and overwhelm, love and frustration, work and rest.

Doing the Work: Focusing on Thriving — A Post-#AERA19 Reflection

I just returned from Toronto and the 2019 meeting of the American Educational Research Association.  AERA, for many years, was exhausting, in a way that constituted a seemingly endless search to figure out who I was.  I would often reconnect with friends from graduate school or would connect with scholars whose work I admired, and I would wonder why I wasn’t doing what they were doing, how I could do more, be more, do something different, be someone different, make more time for research, apply the theoretical to my practical.  I would leave feeling conflicted about who I was and the work I was doing.

This year (and last year to some degree) was different.  This year, AERA, while always full and exhausting, was a time of embracing my professional identity, learning from others, refueling, connecting, and getting clear on the work that there is to do.  It also was a time where I was able to see myself through the interactions that I had with others, one of which (Thank you, Sunny!) encouraged me to take the time to write this blog.  I realized that people are reading what I write, learning from my work, and that I have community.  I learned that doing work that honors who I am is not theoretical, but personal, practical and important, with the potential for structural and transformational impact.  I learned that raising my voice is not only important, but essential, in challenging the normative ideologies and practices that, in the words of Bettina Love, spirit murder Black children.

My work, I know, focuses on teachers of color, and Asian American teachers/teacher educators in P-16 spaces.  It focuses on challenging dominant narratives of who teachers (and teacher educators) of color are and what they do, to begin unpacking the complexities of how they navigate and survive in a system not made for them, not made for us.  My work focuses on giving voice to complexity.  My writing (including this blog) reveals the complexities of being a mother-scholar, critical Asian American scholar, teacher-scholar, heritage language learner-scholar, advocate for equity-scholar, anti-anti-Black scholar, co-conspirator scholar among many other parts of my identity.

It is good work.  It is important work.

But this AERA, more than ever, I realized that it is work that will consume me and that could destroy me, if I do not commit to doing the work of thriving and promoting personal and professional sustainability.  As I work to grow as a mentor and as a learner, I am so clear that I need to grow in boundary setting.  There are no shortages of opportunities.  The work is so important.  But, so is my 4-year old who told me this morning as we were cuddling before she went off to preschool how much she missed having someone lay next to her as she fell asleep.  So is my 13-year old telling me about rock climbing in Joshua Tree and appreciating the maple flavored treats I brought home from this trip.  So is my sleep-deprived partner, who always encourages me to do the work and follow my passions. They are also my passions. Even more importantly, they are my heart.

And honestly, so is my time to reflect and to write, both for formal work and for reflective learning.  So is the space to be vulnerable, to be present to the life I have created and am creating.

From that place, we can all grow. It is all the work, but I must commit to prioritizing the work of living for my voice to feel its power.  That is the work, the humanizing work, that helps me see the people in my studies, to hear their voices, to support the co-construction of their stories, to make a difference.

And figuring out that work is such an important place to be.

Go with the Flow

I am exhausted.

On the eve of my first ever Chinese language class, after a weekend of working with an amazing group of Asian American Scholar-Educator-Activists, after launching and getting incredible response for a study of Asian American educators, after running 5miles at 5:30 am and tucking in my children, before getting ready for the start of a new semester and all that it encompasses, I am feeling all the feels and it is overwhelming and exhausting.

So, I take a moment to breathe and to write this blog. I breathe to get present to this moment, right now, where it is quiet, children and dog sleeping, partner getting much needed down time after a weekend with the kids, and me, blogging.  I write to get present to this moment, to the integrity of doing what I promised myself that I would do, reflect on this journey, write this blog, pause and breathe.

In my weekly planner, I wrote to “blog re. embracing identity.” What I meant was to think about the journey I’m on to embrace my identities as a Taiwanese American, an Asian American scholar, educator and activist, a mother-scholar, and returning student.  But, what I’m realizing is that, as important as all these identities are, it is perhaps even more important to embrace my identity as evolving.  After getting tenure, I changed the title of this blog to “The Life and Times of an Evolving Academic,” and at the time, I didn’t realize how true that sense of becoming really was to me.

I am embracing that there isn’t always a right way, that sometimes I won’t get it all done, that there will be moments of tension between mothering and work, between being a student and an academic, between being Asian American and being a scholar-educator-activist.  But, I can acknowledge this tension and move through it to become stronger.  And I can do so with the support and love of multiple communities, including my family who reminded me tonight at dinner that change is good, that I can do this, and that they are behind me 100%.

Acknowledging all of this is a gift, a perspective that I need most as I go back into a classroom as a learner, as I juggle an “already too full” life, as I embrace abundance and learn to go with the flow, as I learn to say no, as I apologize when a spinning plate crashes to the ground, apologize and move on without letting it define me.

It is the present of being present even in moments when I don’t think I have it in me. It is self-compassion and self-care and lifelong learning, and I am lucky to be living it.