Monday, November 14, 2016

We Carry Each Other


I don't usually like to get political. I think most, if not all, politicians lie or withhold some truths - it just seems to be a matter of degree. There's so much I know I don't know, and it overwhelms me. So I follow politics to some extent, but mostly I try to uncover my own truth and live in a way that I believe is right.

But this election has me shaken more than any election I've lived through. What disturbs me most is that a large portion of my country voted for a person who represents all the -isms and phobias that stand against the diversity that makes our country the "melting pot" that it is. However, I have heard so many people who are ready to stand up for themselves, their friends, loved ones, and strangers who fit under these labels, and it gives me hope.

I often forget that I am actually a first-generation immigrant myself. For years and years before I became an American citizen in my mid-twenties, I carried a plastic card in my wallet with my photo on it and the label "Resident Alien." I always thought of myself as an alien. I was made fun of almost daily when I stepped out into my neighborhood. I grew up in a poor neighborhood where people were probably not as educated as my family and had issues of their own. People, mostly kids but a few adults, pulled their eyelids back into slants and screamed "Ching Chong!" at me or mimicked a language that I actually didn't even know how to speak - my parents never taught me how to speak Chinese or Korean. I took it personally, and it hurt me deeply. It made me feel ashamed. It's hard to explain that shame. It's not that I was ashamed of who I was inside or the skin I wore. I am not ashamed to be half-Korean and half-Chinese. I think I was ashamed of being seen at all. When I saw large groups of people, I was afraid they would make fun of me. I was afraid they hated me. This fear has always been in the back of my head, even though I know that some of those kids who made fun of me back then have hopefully grown out of it or have learned some empathy. But I'm sure that some have not. When I was a kid, I was always too afraid to say anything back. I was too afraid to stand up for myself. Someone would hurl words in my face and laugh at me simply because of how I looked, and I would start to shake inside. My mind would balloon and cloud with fear and I would just walk or bicycle away, my heart racing. I felt like I was an alien, a human that by its very existence was laughable. I wasn't a friend or even a person, just a joke, a moving target.

Let's not let anyone else feel that way. This is not about me. But it is about me. It's about the collective, and it's about individuals. There are many individuals who are scared out of their wits right now. Who face being dehumanized. Let's stand up for them. Let's love them more strongly. Let's listen and try to understand. Let's love our friends AND our enemies. It's hard and it's overwhelming. And maybe we won't always feel we are doing the best job. Maybe we will feel hateful and hopeless at times. All we can do is try.

I'm scared that to be strong means to not only pull the best out of me for our country, but to rise within myself spiritually: To face the fears I have in my my personal life. To be a better person in any way I can, even when taking the high road is difficult. To create certain boundaries in order to maintain my self-respect and not let others take too much from me. To practice taking care of myself better. To stand up for all the things I care about even more strongly: art, writing, human rights, environmentalism, people I love. It's time to bond more closely with the people that support me and not the ones that make me feel drained and unhappy.

I think that hope is what we need right now. Love is truly the only thing that will unite us. That includes love for our enemies - trying to understand why people commit hateful acts, and why some people are so unhappy and scared that they will willfully hurt and exclude others. Dividing our country into "us" and "them" is ultimately not going to be helpful. People have the right to be angry, disturbed, and upset. But as we process these emotions, we need to channel them into words and actions that help unite, not divide the country. We need to express how we feel and we need to educate and spread the sentiment that diversity is a positive and helpful thing. Yes, there are some people who will continue to be hurtful, some who are close to us, even - friends and family - and we need to make decisions about how much we want to allow them in our lives. But we need to practice loving more deeply, even in spite of that. I truly believe that. We're going to have to be even more creative about the ways in which we express love. Every small decision in your life can help lead the way to a new kind of country. This is our time to rise to the occasion.

I recently attended a writing workshop at Richmond Young Writers to celebrate the inauguration of their brand new space (yay!) It was a transformational and moving testament to the power of art and how a community can hold each other: there were kids and adults there, people of color, gay and transgender, and we were all writing about how we felt as well as fictional narratives. We were reading out loud, discussing the writing life, and re-naming ourselves. I chose "Seeing Stars" as my new name, after a dream I'd had the night before about looking out a window and seeing more stars in the sky than I had ever seen. We laughed and cried together. We felt supported and powerful within a circle of loving people. It re-affirmed to me that art is a transformative and healing tool. On a deep level, art lets us listen to ourselves and accept who we are, and find ways to express that and connect with others. Art allows us to invent stories for ourselves about what we want to see in our lives, it lets us give voice to a reality that we believe in.

I tend to use art as a way to tell stories and express the beauty of our natural world. But right now I want to use art as a small gesture of hope. I want to create some postcards with positive messages. I want to give these postcards to anyone who needs an uplifting sentiment right now, or to people who know others that do. Not everyone may agree with my opinions in this writing, but I hope we can all agree that some people need uplifting right now. In the next few weeks I'll be working on these postcards and I will let you know how you can get some for yourselves. Thank you for reading, and stay strong.