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.

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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

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

HISTORY OF RACE IN THE US
Slavery in the US – 22:14
Post-Emancipation – 29:45
Post-Depression – 34:20

ASIAN AMERICAN HISTORY: 42:12
Immigration, Anti-Asian legislation, Internment – 43:24
Model Minority Myth – 51:00

APAs AND RACE (DESCRIPTION):
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

APAs AND RACE (PRESCRIPTION)
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.

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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