Category Archives: love

Thank you from an almost thirty-year-old

When I was 16 going on 17, I read Toni Morrison’s Beloved. When I was 16 going on 17, I tried to read Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. That year in AP English, my teacher’s comment requesting that he keep my homework musings on home kept the tender embers of desire to be a writer alive. Thank goodness.

4 years later, I re-read Beloved in a Black Studies and literature course. The other young women and I marveled at our brilliant professor, especially as she was young, black, female, and did I say brilliant. That year I was applying for a teaching program and ripping down Teach 4 America posters on campus. My mentor and advisor stopped our meeting to make copies of bell hooks’ Teaching to Trangress. I didn’t know it then, but he was handing me yet another mentor. Thank goodness.

About 9 years later, I was teaching and learning about excerpts of Pedagogy of the Oppressed with middle schoolers. I had them playing with Morrison’s language to learn about poetic line breaks. These writers and thinkers paved the ground I walked on, and I kept their work alive, while stoking the fires in my young charges. They taught me how to break open my heart and let them in. They flood me to this day, and I have cried more than ever. Thank goodness.

About 13 years later, I am teaching undergraduates, and today I tacked up a collage of Kendrick Lamar reading Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eyes at my desk. Morrison was a poet, who became a professor, who wrote novels, who changed us. I ponder now about my work, my writing, and what’s next for me.

Age is a funny thing. While I am so ready to be 30, I am still 16 going on 17. Still eager, still social introvert, still reader, still laughter, still nervous and moving. But also, I am so not 16 going on 17. Not pining after some baseball player, not wishing to fit in with the right clothes, not wondering about college, not crying under the sheets, not anguishing about my thighs, not writing poems in a secret notebook. Nope. Now I talk too much sometimes. Now I risk not fitting in more. Now I cry in public—all the time. Now I love my body more than ever. Now I don’t wait for no man. Now I write poems in journals and journals and journals. Even read them aloud. Might even call myself an artist or something, sometimes.

***

Age in a funny thing. When my mother was 3 years older than me, she gave birth to my brother. About a year later, she gave birth to me. When I am 33, I may give birth to a book. About a year later, another. In her thirties, Toni Morrison raised two boys and wrote her first novel.

***

Age is a funny thing. Sandra Cisneros might call age an onion, layers on layers that you feel at times. I think it’s more like leaves on a tree, shimmering all at once in the wind. And as these leaves flutter and I stare—mesmerized in the sun—I am full of wonder, joy, appreciation. Disbelief.

When I was a toddler, I would cry when given gifts. I would overwhelm myself. I don’t know exactly why I cried at 3. Now at 30, I know I cry because I feel so much. I am full of all those who made me me, as I am becoming me. I am full of immense gratitude that my body cannot hold without release. So I cry. I cry because I am 3, I am 16 going on 17, I am 30. I cry because—thank you.

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Filed under age, essays, love, memory, prose, writing/writers

Love and its Recent Journeys

In it




Love makes me a hotbed of tears

I am a prayer turned inside out

A god with fire

A holy crown swallowed

I am here




the most constant and stable of flames

-July 2016

 

I journaled this summer: “How lucky can a person be to love deeply, take risks, and follow their hearts. One of my greatest fears in life is to not be able to follow my heart, to not be true to who I am. 2016 has already provided countless, unexpected opportunities to do what’s right for myself, break my own heart, fall in love, and follow my feelings in scary and challenging ways. Tears come to my eyes to think about what a lucky human being I am. I am so grateful to be in community with people who support my big, heaving heart. What did I do to deserve so much goodness?”

This year has included ending a relationship that truthfully had been unhealthy. Not in some big way, but unhealthy in the small, repetitive ways we lower expectations and accept a love not big enough for our whole selves. I accepted less time. I accepted waiting. I postponed my own happiness. Somehow I reached the hump in the hill, and on the other side I was strong enough to say no more. He agreed.

Months later, suddenly in a new relationship and yet in another country investigating my feelings for someone else, my new love wrote me that he trusted me. Essentially, be safe and do what you need. I trust you, he said. I cried so hard. How could I possibly be hurting someone and their response be that they love me, that they believe I will be who I need to be, that they accept me. Even now, I cannot write this without tears in my eyes.

This old friend whom I was visiting was the subject of strong, unspoken dreams and feelings that had lasted 6 or 7 years– concentrated by the force of distance, time, and mystery. You can only imagine how haunting these feelings are to a romantic like myself. Unrequited and silenced love is unacceptable, so I made this journey over countries and seas. And yet, dare I be bold to say, I knew my feelings quickly. I knew who’s loving I was going to choose. This didn’t make my trip easy, of course. I needed a chance to feel the dimensions of this relationship. My friend and I struggled over how to spend time together. There was laughter, silent looks, and our usual good conversation. There was a reconciling of my understanding of who he was with who he is. And ultimately we left it at “I’ll miss you” and once again those unspoken words, which I could understand now. Upon leaving, I cried so hard and in a way so involved that I missed multiple announcements about my flight and almost missed it altogether even though I sat at the gate.

All this had happened, testing and building my strength and courage, reminding myself I could tear apart– even in my own hands– and still be whole again. Now back home, in conversations with me and my many feelings, my man tells me it’s okay. When I judge myself, he is still there. With this radical acceptance, I try to hold my heart gently. Again, it has not been easy and has already been the work of my almost-29 years. Yet, his consistent presence and strength makes it simple enough. I try hard to accept this love and to love him even better and harder. I know it is changing me.

So I write this now for myself, to mark my feelings. And maybe I even write this for the heartache of others. I do not make any promises or offer advice. I just intend to celebrate my hardiness and to do for you what I want for myself– to hold you gently and love you fiercely.

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Filed under love, prose

Poetic offerings

 

"...
you just turned eleven
i don't know what the years coming look like
soon you enter a storm
i see the rumblings on you
black child in Los Angeles
endangered species
i would call all my people to stand
n make a circle around you
until you grown
i would carry you
if you behaved
but all i can do
is give you these words
soft as the morning when no one else notice



this is to tell you i see you..."

from "Aye Nay," by Ruth Forman

 

I see you. How powerful are those words? I wish heard them growing up. I wish I knew my people made a circle around me. I wish I was given these words, “soft as the morning.”

There is a lot of fear and pain in the world today as well as this year, building upon previous centuries of it so it should be no surprise to us now. In thinking and feeling my way around what it means to be alive and principled during these times, I return to writing. And though I haven’t written many blog posts this year and few poems this week, I am working on a more long-term endeavor to dedicate time and resources to writing. As I envision the intertwining of writing and creativity in my future and feel uncertainty and excitement, I know for sure that writing (and therefore reading) has always helped me heal. Has always helped me see others. Has broken me apart to reveal our core. A core which is so shaken, so bruised. I hope we all stay in a place of softness in a time of such strident, common needs. I will share a few more poem excerpts that keep me tender and teary-eyed.

 

"Do you understand the song you've sent walking through my 
catacombs of marrow? Black parasol notes hum, dirge of the 
removed lung. I now know the promise of a body scooped 
hollow, tea lights in the the torso's cave. You've come 
inside from another country and I have so much to give."

From "Beheaded Kingdom" (part iii.), by Saeed Jones

 

"...it is the sense
that something that was alive
for a very long time
is still alive.  Not yet beaten into
submission
or oblivion
by those who kill everything
they touch
with money."

from "Loving Oakland," by Alice Walker

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Filed under biblio-file, inspiration, journal, love, Uncategorized, writing/writers

For the Women

There has been so much going on at work lately. So much, that I can only say, “I cannot even tell you. It’s confidential.”

I can tell you, however, it’s been tough. In all this, I reflect on the people I have leaned on. So this entry is all about the women. The ones who have made this slice of hell not only bearable, but a place for me to walk through the fire with my head held high, principles clutched tight.

I think of my friend who made the time to talk on the phone. Who asked questions to prepare me for the ones I would be asked. Who clearly said, you are doing the right thing.

Another friend who said the students will thank you, eventually they will understand what a big thing it is for someone to stand up. And I smile to think of her tough-as-nails attitude, when she said, if you need lawyers, give me a holler.

Yesterday, I went out with another friend, and we reflected on our positions as Asian-American women. She began to reflect on her experiences as a middle school student in a private school and her experiences with teachers and parents there. It brought us closer to think about how migration, language, and other forms of social capital have shaped us. And when my friend saw the chamomile flowers a student picked, she reminded me, one day that student will look back and remember you.

(Also, we both got to dress up, and there is nothing better than feeling good one’s own skin. Oh, to be in a body.)

I even think back to the professor whose class involved blogging, which led to my current WordPress account. I thank her for pushing the boundaries and offering classes that no one else could think of nor facilitate the way she did. I remember our shy tongues when we saw how she graced the classroom. I imagine the fires she’s walked through to arrive at her magnificence. I think about my 6th grade math teacher and her tough love. But always, we knew it was love. I picked flowers for her on my way to school and cradled corn snakes in her class. I think about how important it is to know that you are cared for because others work for you.

Oh yes. There are great men in my life too. Thank you to my colleague who has been a solid rock at work. Whose politics and morals extend into every fiber of his actions and words. To my friend this morning, who I drove to the airport, finally taking a long-awaited and much-deserved trip into the future of his dreams and fight for food justice. This friend’s gentleness reminds me to be there for myself, and when I am ready, the work will be there. As he handed the keys to the car to me, he handed me my own trust that I can always get myself back home.

Thank you and peace.

Peace.

 

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Filed under education, gender, love, non-fiction, prose, race

Strong fragility

After summer, I wilt a bit.

Dry and shrivel into myself.

Slow and turn inward, a mirror

in my blood.

By winter, I am still enough to see,

awaiting change.

I am as even as a winter solstice.

Cold as a frozen lake.

Crisp like the air.

I am fragile in my growing strength.

Strong as my grief.

Solid like the grey sky

we share and the chants we cry.

I am watching women mourn

the children of darker hues.

Humanity knitted in

the face of a deadly greed.

4 hours left in the cold,

Your dark skin on black cement.

28 hours to survive,

by spare chance.

4 year-olds learning how to

grow up too fast and

keep their hands real slow.

The list unfolds of names,

written on a scroll of white,

carried on marches,

recalling my ancestors’

color of mourning.

At any moment the skies

will bring a downpour.

The winds will rip us apart.

We are fragile in our growing strength.

The dead watch over us.

Please guide these mothers

become overnight spokespersons.

Buoy the voices of these high school poets

become protest chants.

Raise the volume of the thousand black fists

pounding this cruel world for

answers and justice and

liberation.

Pray our words rise from our throats

strong and solid

to shake down this hell.

Remind us to be humble,

reflective in our intentions.

Protect us–

We are fragile in our growing strength.

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Filed under asian americans, blacks, love, poems, race

3.

Reasons why–

 

1. Aunt– full of love, hugs, the power to be so different in this world that tells you not to cry. In this place that tells you that you cannot be– hide your feelings!

Aunt. There is a spirit in you that keeps me going. I honor you.

 

2. Water meeting land. There is so much that people think when they arrive at this place where water reaches land. They say thank you for the peace. A chance to feel themselves be small and powerless. A chance to see such power. To see what it means to bear witness to movement. Comings and goings. People see this place as a chance to take their lives. Jump from bridges, or the water pulls them in and in and under, over and over. For me, water meeting land is what holds family together. It is a place of possibility. One can combat time by crossing waters. From one shore to the other, just one leap. This place where water meets land is what connects home to home, Viet Nam to California. Just water. As thin and as vast as water.

 

3. There are 3 persimmon trees my father planted in front of our ancestral home. Just 3 trees. 3 trees bearing sweet fruit, ripening in monsoon winters. He chose them because of love and money. He loves his family so much– his ailing mother and generous sister– that he thought about how these plants would mature, become plump and fill their income. It reminds me that love creates and love works hard, even when it seems like it is not there.

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Filed under asian americans, immigrant, love, memory, prose, third world, viet nam

Asians healing to love, loving to heal

“It is easier to be furious than to be yearning. Easier to crucify myself in you than to take on the threatening universe of whiteness by admitting that we are worth wanting each other.” –Audre Lorde from “Eye-to-Eye: Black Women, Hatred, and Anger”

 

 

For a while now, I have been thinking about Asian/American women, love, and interracial dating. How talking about love and putting judgments on who someone loves (and how and why) is challenging. In college, I would participate in discussions about Black couples, love, and interracial relationships. The conversations were intense, emotional, and would eventually return to the point about how difficult it is to assign judgment or value on love. As much as we can be critical about the context in which love develops, how could we judge emotions and attraction? This same discussion gets raised in Oakland (or really the world) too about Asian/American women, and particularly we are commenting on the number of Asian women dating white men.*

 

I’m going to admit I’m bothered by the great number of these couplings too. What are the power dynamics? What does this mean about Asian/American assimilation? As someone who questions our socialization—specifically our internalized racism and colonialism—I’ve prioritized dating men of color. And I know people who try to prioritize dating within their race. This might seem restrictive, but if we are to challenge the self-hatred that has been fed to us, I believe we can give our people a second chance. In the extra date, second glance, or self-reflection, we may see that our lover’s flat-nose is more beautiful than we were taught by white media. We may see our difficulties communicating as weaknesses we are only growing stronger by addressing through practice. We may realize how healing this opportunity is to love one another.

 

But sometimes that doesn’t work. Sometimes, we fall in love with someone who is white. Maybe this person has grown up around a variety of healthy relationships and don’t have years of trauma to work through. Maybe they are able to be present and ready in ways that previous lovers and partners have not. So maybe an Asian/American woman ends up dating a white man. (I recognize that this pattern may exist in queer relationships too, but I have not observed such a great number as with heterosexual couplings. Am I wrong? Is this essay needlessly heterosexist? Please correct me if I’m in the wrong.)

 

In the case that you are walking down Piedmont Avenue in Oakland, or some other middle-class strip of shops (I believe this phenomenon is completely impacted by socio-economic class), and start to make some comment about that Asian and white couple, I have two things to say to you.

 

1) You don’t get to assume anything! Maybe—just maybe—this chica is the most down, self-loving, politicized and racially aware person. Her partner or date may even be a radical anti-racist activist. You don’t know. Even if she wasn’t and he wasn’t, you don’t know what that relationship has given these two. Maybe with this partner, she does not have to relive the trauma of being with someone who is not present or abusive. Maybe with her, he is challenged in new ways. Maybe this is a love that is good for the world and healing for these two.

 

When I hear men of color in particular judge these couplings, I wonder if their words perpetuate patriarchy in the name of anti-racism. There is a distrust of Asian/American women. Is there  even a glint of self-hatred in my own distaste for seeing Asian/American women with white men?

 

2) If you don’t like these racial dynamics, are you doing the hard work to change it? And no, I don’t mean the work of writing another patriarchal, racist, woman-policing blog post. I don’t mean holding a discussion about interracial dating. I mean the gritty, painful emotional work that men/ men of color avoid. Asian men and other men of color have work to do to prepare them for what Audre Lorde calls a “rigorous loving.” It takes re-conditioning to be in touch with our anger, our sadness, and our joy so that it does not strangle our ability to be in relationship.** What are men doing to heal the trauma that makes loving openly and deeply difficult? I write these questions with full awareness and love for the men I have been privileged to know who are doing this work for themselves and thus, for the benefit of generations to come. There are people—and beautiful Asian/American people for that matter—who are overcoming these challenges.

 

I also write this to hold Asian/American women and the entire Asian/American community accountable. We must do the work it takes to challenge our internalized racism and colonialism. While people have no right to judge us or make assumptions about our relationships, we still owe it to our lovers and partners (and families and communities and ourselves) to un-do the impact of racism. We too owe it to ourselves to dig through the dirt of trauma and commit to the hard emotional work of re-learning how to love ourselves and our community, whether or not we are in relationship with someone who is also Asian/American.

 

After war, colonialism, years of racism, all around us lay scattered pieces of ourselves we are collecting to learn to love again, wholly. The most crucial point is that we must heal in order to love and we must love in ways that heal. In that, we must develop a critical lens that recognizes how history and politics impact attraction and love, whomever our partners are.

 

*Remarks made in popular culture includes what Junot Diaz wrote in his short story, “The Cheater’s Guide to Love” which appears in This is How You Lose Her, “Is it me or does every Asian girl on the planet marry a white guy? Is it written on the genes or something?” And more recently, even a rabbi on The Mindy Show praised a character for being very Jewish… by dating an Asian woman (Mindy).

 

And then there is bullshit like this that I am not even trying to respond to. This is a wonderful in-depth analysis: http://tympan.blogspot.com/2012/09/i-refuse-to-ever-date-asian-man.html

 

**I think this essay can apply to people who prefer other dynamics in their relationships, be it friendships over romantic relationships, open relationships, casual sex. These relationships don’t absolve us from the responsibility to act with love and question the contexts that make love between people of color more difficult.

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Filed under asian americans, essays, gender, love, race