The Loneliness of the Progressive Asian American Christian

For a long and formative time in my life, the Asian American church was my home. I came to faith at 15 in the high school ministry of a Chinese church. This was the place where I started to grasp the idea of a gracious God who loved me unconditionally; it was also where I came to terms with my Asian American identity, something I had been bitterly fighting for a decade. It was the first Asian American community I’d ever been a part of, and for the first time in my life, I felt normal. I now had friends who innately got how I interacted with my family, how I thought about school and college and the future — all the experiences that made me so different from my peers at school. I felt seen and accepted and understood, both by God and the people around me.

In college, I was part of a Chinese American campus fellowship — but as the years went on, I started to notice a disconnect between my friends there and me. I was beginning to care a lot about race, politics, current events, feminism. No one at my fellowship discouraged me from pursuing these things, but for the most part, they weren’t interested in discussing them either. Whatever the reason, when I wanted to talk about those issues, I mostly had to look elsewhere.

And then I went to grad school — a clinical psychology graduate program that was housed in a seminary — and my whole world got blown open.

Continue reading on the Salt Collective

Recording of “An Asian American Christian Perspective on Race”

In May, I spoke about Asian Americans and race at City Church San Francisco.  The audio recording has been posted here.

My friend Jeff made this helpful outline, if you want a sense of what I discussed:

Intros, Group Convo, and Caveats – 0:00

Interpretation and Application of Galatians 3:28 – 14:30
Interpretation of Luke 4 – 19:26

Slavery in the US – 22:14
Post-Emancipation – 29:45
Post-Depression – 34:20

Immigration, Anti-Asian legislation, Internment – 43:24
Model Minority Myth – 51:00

Cultural Value of Harmony – 54:50
Anti-Black Racism in Asia and Asian America – 58:09
Diversity in Asian America – 60:56
How We Are Privileged – 65:00
How We Are Not Privileged – 76:15

Middle Minority Ethics (inc. Peter Liang) – 78:42
What we can do differently – 86:05
A Hopeful Note for APA efforts… – 93:00

Further Reading/Learning – 95:05
Q&A – 98:15

Asian Americans and Suicide: To Identify or Not to Identify?

On Saturday morning, I stumbled upon a widely circulating New York Times news analysis called “Push, Don’t Crush, the Students.” In this piece, Matt Richtel discussed the three suicides of students in the Palo Alto Unified School District this year and whether the culture of hyperachievement in the city – home of Stanford University, in the heart of Silicon Valley, one of the wealthiest zip codes in the country – was a contributing factor in these deaths. As someone who’s spent a lot of time thinking and writing about cultures of achievement and their consequences, I appreciated the article; I found Richtel’s research thorough and enlightening, and his exploration of the mixed messages parents and administrators send to students was compelling. The themes were all familiar to me, though, so when I finished the piece, I sighed, closed my browser, and went about my day.

That afternoon, I worked at a coffee shop alongside a friend of mine who lives in Palo Alto. Out of the blue, he mentioned the suicides – and that all three of these students were Asian American.

I felt as though I had been punched in the gut. Nowhere in his piece had Richtel mentioned this critical piece of information.

Continue reading on the Salt Collective

Fresh Off the Boat and Representational Anxiety

After grabbing a syllabus from the top of the pile and passing the stack to my right, I immediately flip to the calendar. Week 4. Week 4 is the one I have to worry about.

I’m sitting in a diversity class in my third year of graduate school. I’m studying clinical psychology, and while cultural competence is supposedly woven into each of our courses, we also have a class specifically dedicated to diversity issues in mental health treatment. The class starts with a few weeks on power and privilege, and then each of the remaining weeks is spent examining clinical issues in various minority populations: African American clients, Native American clients, clients with disabilities, LGBT clients.  The fourth week of the course is the one on Asian American clients. This is the week I’m concerned about.

When that class period rolls around, I’m a giant ball of nerves. I’m not presenting, nor do I plan to contribute much to the discussion; I’m anxious simply because I want us to be represented well. It’s so rare that Asian Americans get the spotlight in any arena, so when we finally get our one hour and 50 minutes in the sun, I really don’t want it to suck. This is our only shot, and for many of my classmates, this is the only hour and 50 minutes of their lives that they’ll ever spend hearing about Asian Americans.

Continue reading on the Salt Collective

On the Indictment of Peter Liang

When I first see a picture of Peter Liang, the NYPD officer recently indicted for the shooting death of Akai Gurley, my reactions are all over the map.

… He looks so familiar. He’s 27; he could be one of my brother’s friends. One of my friends, even. He could be a family friend or someone from my church.

… His parents — probably immigrants like mine. Later, I learn that they’re a cook and a garment worker who moved with their son from Hong Kong to the US when he was a child, who speak very little English. They live in Bensonhurst, a working-class neighborhood that’s become Brooklyn’s second Chinatown.

They must be so sad.

… He’s a police officer. I’ve never known an Asian American cop. I’ve seen a few in California, where Asian Americans have lived for generations and have had more time to get involved in civic life — politics, law enforcement — than in most other parts of the country. But I’ve never seen them elsewhere. I wonder about his experience on the force, his decision to enter a field where few of his kind have preceded him.

… He looks so young. He had been a cop for less than 2 years. He’s probably scared out of his mind.

… He should have known better. The NYPD trains its officers not to put their finger on the trigger of a gun unless they’re being threatened and ready to shoot. So why was his finger on the trigger? Why, when he heard someone — anyone — approaching, was his first instinct to shoot? Didn’t he know that he was trusted to protect a community, and by firing a literal shot in the dark, he was doing the opposite? Didn’t he know what the consequences could be? It was late November, when the grand jury verdict on Darren Wilson was imminent and all eyes were on Ferguson — and a grand jury in New York was hearing evidence regarding Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who killed Eric Garner. As a cop, surely he knew about these events, knew that tensions were high between police officers and the communities they served, knew that police were under heightened scrutiny. In those uneasy days, of all times, why did he decide to shoot?

And then why was his next response to panic? To not call in the shooting, to not call for medical help, nothing? To articulate a fear about his job instead of concern for the person he had just wounded? What was he thinking? If his responses to stress are impulsivity and panic, is this really the line of work he should have chosen?

… This is not going to help black-Asian relations in the US, which can already be contentious.

My feelings toward Peter Liang are complicated. So, too, is the landscape around his indictment.

Continue reading on the Salt Collective

The Single Story About Asian Americans

Yesterday, a friend directed me to Chimamanda Adichie’s 2009 TED talk entitled “The Danger of a Single Story.” For those who aren’t familiar with her work, Adichie is a Nigerian-born writer and MacArthur Fellow; her most recent book, Americanah, garnered a host of best-of-2013 accolades and is being adapted into a film starring Lupita N’yongo; her other TED talk, “We Should All Be Feminists,” is sampled in Beyonce’s song “Flawless.” She’s a writer with an almost nauseating amount of talent. In “The Danger of a Single Story,” she shares the story of meeting her roommate at her American college, who was shocked to learn that she spoke English (and that English is, in fact, the national language of Nigeria), that she listened to Mariah Carey and not “tribal music.” Adichie explains that her roommate had only one story about Africa – “a single story about catastrophe.” That story, unfortunately, is the single story that most Americans hear about Africa; they do not hear about the writers, the professors, the accountants, the architects that also populate the continent. The single story about Africa, in Adichie’s words, is “beautiful landscapes, beautiful animals, and incomprehensible people, fighting senseless wars, dying of poverty and AIDS, unable to speak for themselves and waiting to be saved by a kind, white foreigner.”

Continue reading on the Salt Collective