Am I ASIAN Enough? Am I AMERICAN Enough? (Hint: Yes! & Yes!)

One month ago, I posted the 3 gold slides that are throughout this post on my Instagram & Twitter account after the Atlanta shooting/murder of 8 people, 6 being Asian women, leaving one survivor in critical condition. Since that post, an Asian woman in NYC was attacked while bystanders didn’t intervene, an Asian market was vandalized here in Charlotte NC*-both events occurring within the same week(March 29 & 30th), shooting in Indianapolis, and 2 tea shops in Charlotte were vandalized (last week). So, I thought I would repost my words here.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve realized that as much as I speak about how much my mother’s story/voice mattered back then (directly after atomic bombing) and matters now; it’s not as easy for me to feel that my story also matters. Although, I have opened up about my health issues with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), I have a harder time discussing my Asian American experience. Perhaps because I’m a mixed Asian. As you all know, my mom was from Hiroshima Japan, and my dad was a Caucasian American.  However, in light of recent events stated above (and of the numerous ones last year) I’m determined to use my voice even when it feels scary to be so vulnerable.  

I have mentioned before that my mother said she ‘Americanized’ our home. So no, we didn’t have many Japanese decorations. I couldn’t speak Japanese (unless you count a few phrases and the numbers 1-20) 😊 but I had a few records (45 rpm no less- if born after 1996-you may need to look that up-I’m really dating myself here) of Japanese children’s songs that I loved to sing with my best friend, Maureen, even though we had no idea what we were singing about. 😊  

My Japanese Children’s Song records

I loved the packages the woman I knew as my Grandmother, Miyako, sent us filled with senbei (rice crackers), green tea, pretty magazines (that I couldn’t read but my mom cherished),ramen noodles, Hello Kitty Sanrio items, dresses for me, and beautiful Licca-chan dolls.

Sara with my Licca-chan village

I looked forward to hearing my mom speak Japanese once a month when she called my grandmother and her close friend in Japan. I loved the sound of how she spoke and laughed with them. I remember hearing my name mentioned and wondering what my mother was saying about me. My mom didn’t make Japanese food very often (except for rice), but when she did make some Japanese dishes it was delicious. I remember how she would put a bowl of rice and cold water daily in front of her favorite picture of her Papa. I remember feeling special because my mom was from Japan and so happy to also be Japanese.

Me with some Sanrio gifts & outfit from my grandmother

Of course, it wasn’t until I went to school that I quickly realized that being Japanese may not be something to brag about after kids started using racial slurs when referring to my mom or myself.  I quickly realized that blending in or the wish to blend in might be better for me. Something shifted by middle school and I didn’t focus on my Japanese side very much.

When I was a teenager, high schools and colleges didn’t have Japanese language courses (as my daughter took in college). And there were no Asian clubs or Asian American magazines, Facebook groups, or podcasts(so many wonderful ones exist now and that I’ve been guest in/on) 🙂 **. If there had been, I don’t really know if I would have sought them out or if that would have encouraged me to embrace my Japanese side sooner. I’m leaning towards the latter.

I do know that I didn’t check off Asian on my college application or FAFSA because my mother vehemently forbade it after what happened to Vincent Chin a few years earlier. So, I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t fully embrace my Japanese heritage until after I had my daughter. Don’t get me wrong, I was always proud to be Japanese, but just didn’t know at the time that I could embrace it without looking like I wasn’t proud of being an American.  So, during this past tumultuous year, the thought of maybe I don’t have a reason or a right to speak about the recent Anti-Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) racism had crossed my mind. Although, I would have been Japanese enough for the internment camps in the US during WWII-a pretty darn good reason to be considered Asian enough now.

I know that when I wrote The Last Cherry Blossom (TLCB), I struggled with what lens I would use to tell the story because people (including my Dad) kept asking ‘Whose side of the story are you telling?’ My father worried that there might still be prejudice against the Japanese and didn’t want me to get hurt. More than once he had told me, ‘Perhaps it would be better not to write the book.’. But I thought of the strength my mom had to not only persevere after the most horrific day of her life, but to also share those memories with me. The one and only clear answer came through-to proudly push forward and tell the story through the lens of a 12-year- old girl-the only lens that mattered.

Interestingly, as I began to query possible agents and editors, they didn’t realize I had a connection to the story because my name wasn’t Japanese (even though in the intro paragraph I wrote that it was based on my mother’s family in Hiroshima and all she lost in the atomic bombing.) Although, I do realize my name couldn’t be any less Japanese-but it was a barrier I hadn’t thought about. It again made me question if I was Japanese enough to tell the story.

Like mother, like daughter…

As a mother and a MG/YA author, I can’t help but think of the children that are too young to understand why or to know the long history of anti – AAPI racism (probably because it wasn’t taught in school), yet they are old enough to sense the fear, sadness, or anger of their parents or other loved ones.  And tragically, some are dealing with the loss of their loved ones to senseless violence solely for the fact that they were born Asian.

I feel for the middle and high school age kids not understanding why the same people who called the pandemic “kung flu” under the guise of being a joke, were surprised when AAPI’s said attacks against them had risen, and then refusing to see any correlation between the two (I know as an adult I don’t understand it).  They see the current endless social media feed on the hate incidents against Asian Americans, as well as the difficulty in labeling or prosecuting them as hate crimes. My heart breaks for them. I want them to have a safe space to discuss their emotions that are cycling through them. I want them to know that their emotions, their voices, their (our) stories matter.

I hope to tell my readers/students that even if we think others are not listening or haven’t listened to us in the past-we still have the right to tell our story, and for others to understand our hurt is valid. Fear and ignorance can be deafening, so we have to work even harder to have our stories, our messages heard. I’m holding on to my hope that through prayer and in solidarity we can cut through that noise(of racism) to find a song of peace.

Whichever way we choose to express our story(spoken or written word, art..) or stand against hate crimes, it doesn’t have to go viral, doesn’t have to change the world in a day for you to be considered as making a difference-it ALL matters. I’ve listed some resources at the end of my post.

I’m grateful to be a member of Asian Authors Alliance . They had set up an amazing network of AAPI authors and bookstagrammers to bring awareness, to have fundraising events through their Kidlit Against Anti-Asian Racism(back in March) and #StandUpforAAPI(late March on Instagram). They are also setting up author panels for AAPI month in May and I will be participating in one with some amazing authors on May 28th.

I’m incredibly grateful for all of my families’ and friends’ love and support from my childhood to the present. I’m grateful for my husband, (who gave me the second half of my non-Asian name😊), for always being here for me. I’m grateful for my daughter who fully embraces her Japanese heritage and encouraged my journey of writing TLCB because she felt the students would have empathy for the victims once they understood that they were people (like us) under those mushroom clouds (she was right).

Sara &host family at summer festival

It is my hope that by telling our stories of our AAPI heritage and teaching the history of Asian Americans, people will no longer see a ‘foreigner’, but the eyes of a mother, a child, or a grandmother, or father; they will see the common bond that we all have as human beings living in America.

Me with my Mom at 1 yr old & Mom,Sara, &I

*Many people came to the aid of the Korean family that owns the store after this latest incident (sadly not the first time this has happened to them). Seeing this outpouring of compassion and generosity makes me feel very hopeful.

I’d like to send out my deepest condolences to the families of the Atlanta shooting victims: Soon C. Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Yong Yue, Xiajoe Tan, Daoyou Feng, Delaina Ashley Yaun, and Paul Andre Michels. My prayers to the family of Elcias Hernandes-Ortiz who is currently in the ICU as result of his injuries from this shooting. As well as to ALL the recent victims of senseless violence this past month.

Resources:

A few weeks ago, I attended an Asian American Federation virtual event “ A Year of Asian Hate: Where do We Go from Here?” which is also on their Facebook Page. This poignant program featured an Asian American that was attacked in NYC, as well as highlight various groups/people that are (and have been) working together in NYC.

Ways to support Asian American Pacific Islander Community: These are just a few, this article on NBC.com by Kate Ĺy Johnston has more.

**Asian American Magazines/Newspapers (Not a full list)

HAPA Magazine(soon to be Mixed Asian Media)

Mochi Magazine

Asian in the Arts

The Cre8sian Project

Plan A Magazine

Rafu Shimpo

Pacific Citizen

AsAm News

Borderless Journal

**Podcasts (Happy to say that there are many in the US, so I can’t list them all. Some I’ve been on and others I’d like to be 🙂 So please check out Potluck Podcast Collective or Asian American Podcasters for a more complete list)

4 Must Have Items On My Vacation Packing List

  1. Ibuprofen (Check)
  2. Clothes for any possible temperature(Check)
  3. Audio book downloaded (Check)
  4. Night-light (??)

Yup night-light. I’m not afraid of monsters under my bed, more of what goes bump in the night- like me- right into a bathroom door in an unfamiliar place.

I don’t sleep well when away-extra pain from travel, bad mattress, etc.so when awake, I use the rest room. The bathroom wasn’t far and I didn’t want to turn the big light on and wake my husband (occasionally I’m considerate like that). I thought I’d walk in safely by doing -you know- the zombie walk- with arms (or for me one arm and a cane) out in front, and, BAM! Walked right into the door. Now, I needed ibuprofen that I unpacked in the kitchen earlier.

While doing my best Ninja impersonation sliding up against wall (to avoid anything that might be in my path) from the bathroom to the bedroom door leading to the kitchen, it dawned on me-my phone has a flashlight! Once again, I prove that owning a smart phone does not necessarily mean I’m a smart user. Anyway…

I knew I wouldn’t fall back asleep, so I decided to read in the living room. For Christians it’s the season of Lent and I brought the book, Whispers of Rest, by Bonnie Gray with me. I first discovered her blog posts on (in)courage and felt a connection through our Asian American heritage. Her words drew me in and keep me inspired. I enjoyed her short daily chapters that ended with reflection questions. I answered them in a notebook, and then extended it to writing scenes for my current manuscript drafts.

That morning’s journaling along with my recent door ‘incident’, had me realize that I was searching blindly for any remedy/solution for the extra pain from my newer medical issues. I desperately wanted to at least feel the age I am instead of 30+ years more and feared the progression of my RSD symptoms. On the writing front, I had been researching for my manuscript drafts, yet still not sure which direction I wanted to go with them. Instead of hitting the proverbial wall, I hit a door (you know I’ve got to be different) 😊 Not that morning’s actual wooden door kind, but the exhausted, anxious, conflicted, pain filled, and defeated door-which hurts a heck of a lot more. It’s harder for me to open and walk through, that’s for sure.

You see, before our vacation, I felt depressed and worried that I wouldn’t enjoy our daughter’s last Spring break with us (she’s graduating from college in May-Wait, WHAT?!) 😊 My pain level prior to it made it difficult to leave the house for doctor appointments, let alone going somewhere fun. Thankfully, Hilton Head’s temperatures were much warmer than NC’s and we spent more time just being together than going places. However, we did see Captain Marvel (AMAZING Movie!!) but more importantly all of the cinema’s seats were recliners, Y’all! Perfect to keep my leg from swelling!

This year our mom/daughter beach day tradition began with a light breeze, warm sunshine, and hardly a cloud in the sky. As I watched and listened to the swishing of the lightly foaming waves reaching the shore, my body relaxed, and I sighed. It was as if the refreshing ocean air pushed out all that fight or flight that’s been stuck churning inside me in that one exhale. That’s one of the reasons that the beach is my happy place.

I love that I can’t see what’s beyond the horizon-reminding me that possibilities are endless. Something I easily forget. Later we watched two dolphins jump in and out of the water, almost as if to remind us it’s okay to take time to play without any other porpoise (sorry, couldn’t resist) in mind. The quiet moments just sitting with my daughter on our beach towels cradled by the warm sand, are just as precious as our conversations. I marveled at the fact that she was no longer the little girl wanting to build sand castles, but a young woman about to graduate college and start building her own life (although she still relied on me to pack the sun screen, water and snacks for the beach) 😊

Lately, my paths shifted way too often from the direction I originally intended. I had no control over which doors would slam shut. But I’m starting to realize it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Even if it may feel that I’m blindly walking into doors when I could have used a flashlight to light the way. Hindsight is always 20/20. Some days it seems I’m failing at each opportunity I step toward, and I think maybe I should just stop trying, already. But if I keep stepping forward, (okay, more like stumbling forward), on a different course than what I’m comfortable traveling, somewhere along the wall I eventually find a door and choose to step through it.

Sometimes what’s on the other side of that door, may be a blessing/success others will notice, but the more important ones are usually felt in our heart. It might just refresh my soul-allowing me to create, not for perfection, but just to enjoy creating for myself in the moment.

This feeling of contentment may not announce itself with a parting of the clouds, or bright light “Alleluia!” moment. Instead, it’s in the quiet form of a hug from a loved one, lunch with supportive friends, an inspiring comment to a blog post I wrote, a student telling me the story I wrote about someone I loved touched them deeply, or the comfort of just sitting on the beach next to my family. I will have times when no matter how much I prepare or how frantic I may feel; I cannot control or foresee all possible outcomes to a situation-that’s where prayer(flashlight) comes in. Although, I still highly recommend packing a night-light.

What would be the top 4 items on your packing list?

 

I’m also sharing this post at:  Welcome Heart.