Saturday, March 7, 2015

Six Things I'm Telling My Non-African-American Child About Bloody Sunday

I’ve never been one to shy away from talking about difficult subjects with my 7-year old, but on a topic as monumental as civil rights, I often struggle on how to do so in a way that is deeper than just “the history lesson of the day” that he reads about in school and doesn’t think about again.  The last thing I want is for my Asian-American kid to feel disconnected, unaffected by this time in history that transformed a nation….that continues to tear it apart. How do I NOT make my child lose faith in all humanity at such a tender age, and yet manage to instill a sense of responsibility and ownership in him as a future citizen of the world?
As we mark the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, I choose to talk to my son about the ugly realities of that day, in a way that will hopefully inspire him to "be the change." While the violence of the Selma marches horrified our nation, those transformative moments in history (and the courage of the faces behind them) undoubtedly served as an important catalyst for the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  Here’s what I hope my son will understand today.
1.  At the end of the day, even the “good” guys are merely human, and the ones breaking the laws can end up being the greatest heroes.
During the Selma marches, activist and deacon Jimmie Lee Jackson was shot and killed by a state trooper.  Unarmed organizer, Amelia Boynton, along with 600 peaceful marchers were viscously attacked with clubs and tear gas by state troopers and a county posse at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, leaving Boynton unconscious. 

2.  Always own your privilege and then use it to impact change.
While the governor of the state of Alabama refused to protect the marchers, President Johnson committed to doing so. Protected by 2,000 soldiers of the U.S. Army, 1,900 members of the Alabama National Guard under Federal command, and many FBI agents and Federal Marshals, the marchers averaged 10 miles a day along U.S. Route 80, known in Alabama as the Jefferson Davis Highway. 

3.  Some things are worth standing up for.  Justice is one of them.
If it weren’t for the Selma marches, some of your best friends today would not be able to vote.  Barack Obama would not be president. 
4.  You can always do good from your little corner of the world.
As a 7-year old, you don’t have to march to make the world better, but you can speak up when you see someone being bullied.  You can share your views on love when someone expresses hate towards someone else.
5.  We belong to each other.  We’re all connected.
Without the civil rights movement, as an inter-racial couple, your mom and dad would not have been able to get married.  You too, wouldn’t be able to vote. 
6.  We still have a lot of work to do.
Police brutality still exists.  African-Americans are still experiencing racism.  Your uncles are still not allowed to get married.  Women are still disproportionately experiencing violence.  What is our Selma today?


Saturday, January 24, 2015

How I Won An Election Without Even Realizing It

Last year I ran for a seat on my local city council and I lost by about 200 votes.  My town actually voted for almost the exact same city council, except they replaced the only person of color with a young, conservative male.  Just as soon as election day was over on November 6th, friends and supporters began to ask me if I would consider running again.  At that time I was fairly exhausted, pretty deflated that my town had spoken loud and clear that they were happy with the way things were, and I asked folks for a few months of hibernation where I could sleep in, enjoy the holidays, have absolutely no agenda. 

And now we're almost through January and I can't seem to come out of my "hibernation".  There have been council meetings, public forums, community celebrations, and I can't seem to find the energy or motivation to get back up out there to engage myself with a town that I care so deeply about.

For the past 3 years of my life, I've trained myself to wake up at 5 a.m. in order to fit all the non-work stuff in (like writing a blog or running for office) before my day job. If there was a rare moment of free time between scheduled appointments or committee meetings, I'd frantically run to the store to pick up groceries, or if I was at home, I'd cram in folding laundry, unloading the dishwasher, and making a crockpot meal in the 15 minutes before my conference call began.  Weekends and evenings were never truly mine - there was always, always, a committee meeting, a forum, you name it. There was NEVER a single moment of down time.  Ever.  I'm not complaining, it's just the reality of the life of a working mom who happens to have other interests.  I dare say that most of the women around us probably experience this very same intense juggling and multi-tasking. 

And suddenly, just like that, I had all of my mornings free......most of my evenings free........and by golly, my weekends were all mine again.  What's a girl to do?  Well, I kind of did nothing.  I slept in.  Made pancakes for my son on a SCHOOL day (Whoa.)  Went for long walks.  Picked up a book.  And I began to embrace the notion of living with no agenda.  And just when I thought I might be content turning into this selfish, lazy human being, magical things began to happen.  When I ran for city council, my main platform centered around civil rights, income equality, and economic progress.  I wanted to help pass a fairness ordinance that would protect the LGBTQ community from discrimination.  I wanted to help create a sustainable community that supported local businesses and met the food, housing and transportation needs of working-class Bereans.  I wanted to bridge the racial divide in our town that is so deep that people either deny that it exists, or are afraid to talk about it.

And so without the platform of a seat on city council, my voice was powerless.  Or was it?  Since November of last year, I have had weekly craft nights with my 7 year-old son.  This week we made paper Kenyan masks as we talked about a beautiful country in East Africa, the Maasai tribe, and Lake Victoria.   Since my weekends are free, our family has had more time to spend with our dear friends and chosen family, Ronnie and Eric and their beautiful and curious little girl that they are in the process of adopting.  Just last week I spent the entire Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday with my son - we made cards welcoming refugee children into the country and we participated in a Black history scavenger hunt at our local museum.  I wake up excited every Saturday, because we've been going on local adventures, picking up books from our public library, scouring local flea markets for the perfect Beanie Baby, drinking hot chocolate late at night at our local coffee shop, and waking up at ungodly hours just to get a chocolate-glazed donut from the new donut shop, run by the kind Vietnamese man with the cool Gears of War sweatshirt.  During Thanksgiving we welcomed a table full of friends from 3 different faith backgrounds in beautiful shades of brown and white.  During the Christmas break, our family carefully went through all of our toys and other material goods and collectively decided which  items should go to those who need them more than we do.

I wasn't exactly passing a fairness ordinance, bridging my town's racial divide, or creating a thriving local economy while helping to address income equality.  But in some ways I can't help but wonder if I've been minimizing the impact I can have right here under my own roof, with an evolving, and open-minded 7-year old sponge, who has an insatiable appetite to learn about the world around him, and how he fits into it.  And well, because I have my mornings, evenings, and weekends fairly open these days, I regularly pencil him in.  I may not be doing my life's work in city hall, but I'm slowly learning to see that I am creating ripples in a place I least expected to do so, in a place that perhaps has always needed me the most.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

To Gay Men Who Choose to Marry Women Because of Your Faith

Last week the cable network TLC announced a new special titled “My Husband’s Not Gay”, a reality show featuring Mormon men who are attracted to other men, but who choose to marry women.  Two days later NPR covered the story of a pastor who “felt called to marry a woman” and who consciously chose not to act on his same-sex attractions.  These stories were shared on the timelines of my Facebook friends repeatedly.  Each time the headlines popped up on my newsfeed, my heart sank and my soul was left feeling unsettled. Before I proceed, let me be clear:  there are few people I feel compassion for more than those whose acceptance by society is denied to the point that they feel forced – consciously or subconsciously - to succumb to the more “traditional”, more predominant lifestyle.  This is not what I’m talking about.  This is not what unsettles my soul. 

I’m talking about the men (and the entertainment and news outlets that sensationalize them) who publicly tout themselves as pinnacles of spiritual strength and discipline for making the choice to marry a woman rather than act on their same-sex attractions.  Men who are basically saying, “Look at my selfless sacrifice.  Look at how much I love my God.  If I can do it, you can, and should too.”  That does not settle well in my soul and before I go on, let me assure you, I am  uniquely qualified to have an opinion on this matter.

I am the ex-wife of an ex-straight man.  Well actually, he never was straight, but he fought desperately to be straight for the first 30 years of his life, because he didn’t know he had any other choice.  Because well-meaning people in his community, in his church, in his own family told him that his God would not, could not, love him otherwise.

We were together for nearly a decade when one day, just like that, he no longer had the strength not to face himself, and he left me.   Out of respect for the fact that he has his own story to tell, I won’t linger here for long, but let me at least say that to this day (it’s been ten years), I thank him for having the courage to leave me.  We've both gone on to find love and lead happy, fulfilled lives.  I am however, deeply saddened that he – that we – don’t live in a world that could have given him the space and courage not to marry me in the first place.   

While I consider my ex-husband to be one of my best friends, his journey towards self-acceptance (one that I have whole-heartedly supported), unintentionally had the consequence of greatly altering and forever changing mine.  I wouldn’t give up those ten years for the world, but I would be lying if I said the experience didn’t change me in profound ways.

And that is why I see no entertainment value in exploiting the real life experiences of others, by watching a train wreck in the form of a TLC reality show - why I cringe when I hear the coverage of the NPR story, reducing something so unimaginably complex to a single intentional decision “not to act on an attraction”.   As if the “chosen” wife and any future children won’t potentially be impacted by this act of “martyrdom”.  As if the man making the choice won’t spend the rest of his days silently battling himself for feelings he will never be able to quell, for feelings he shouldn’t ever have to quell.

While I have genuine compassion for men who feel that they have to choose this path in order to have a place in their faith communities, I find it problematic when these personal experiences are used to suggest that others can and should follow that same path. That one can and should reject their homosexuality simply by marrying someone of the opposite sex.

It implies that people have to make a choice in order to be a part of a faith community.  Simply put, it suggests that you can’t be gay and still love God.  Or worse, that God can’t possibly love you if you’re gay.  And I for one am tired of straight people hijacking religion.  If my ex-husband had felt accepted and supported within his faith system early on, he probably wouldn't have felt so pressured to spend a third of his life desperately trying to fit into a certain mold.
It’s irresponsible.  It puts young, not-yet-out, questioning members of the LGBTQ community in incredibly vulnerable and dangerous positions – to remain closeted, to feel shame, to become isolated, to feel pressured to change who they are, and then in turn face the serious emotional and psychological consequences of attempting to do so.
It reduces women to human shields whose main purpose in life is to guard their husbands...from themselves.  If you really believe that your faith prohibits you from being with a man, then don’t be with one.  Rather than treat a woman like some sort of personal training tool, why not go try to work out your spiritual system, take some time to figure things out?   But don’t suddenly walk around like a man of God just because you decided to use another human being to distract you from becoming who you really are.
I consider myself fortunate to have shared in the extraordinary journey of a dear friend who took three decades to finally learn to love himself.  But I also can’t sugar coat the fact that I not only witnessed, but personally experienced every excruciating pain and struggle of that journey.  While I have no regrets, I don’t wish this “marriage of convenience” on any gay man or straight woman.  And it's not because I can't respect the individual choice of a gay man to choose to marry a woman.  It's because I just can't accept that we live in a world where  certain belief systems continue to make gay men feel that they have no other choice but to marry a woman. 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Dear Girlfriends, It's Not You, It's Me

Dear Girlfriends,

You have been there to share joys and celebrations.  We've toasted and cheered, and sometimes we've even cried.  Sure life gets in the way, but when we reunite it always seemed to feel effortless to pick right back up and get lost in conversation for hours.  You have done nothing wrong.  You have not changed - still that girl with the beautiful smile with whom I can share light-hearted, uplifting wine-infused late night giggles and girl talk.  Please know that I am grateful for the time we have shared, but I've reached that point in my life where I find myself constantly having to protect those few precious unscheduled moments.....and where I find myself needing to be around only those who truly feed and nourish my soul.

It's not you, it's me.

You have not changed, but it appears that I may have.  A lot.  You see, I used to be quite comfortable pretending to be just like you.  In fact, every time we were together, I did everything to convince myself that the things that mattered to you, also mattered to me.  That we shared life experiences.  That we saw the world through the same lens.   But we don't.  And for some reason, for all those years, I tried so hard to pretend that we did, and so I misled you.  I'm sorry.  I'm afraid I'm not the "Americanized", watered-down token Asian side-kick who, skin and hair color aside, perceives the world in the manner that you do.  And let me be clear that I am not choosing to surround myself only with those who perceive the world exactly as I do, but I am choosing a circle of friends who intentionally acknowledge and value, and heck even celebrate, the fact that we may see the world differently.  

And friend, WE are vastly different.  But it's not you, it's me - because it's no longer enough for you to be interested in the spices and recipes of my culture. Did you know that my immediate family celebrates three different faith traditions?  For years I cringed, and tried to ignore your assumptions and condescension about the absoluteness of your own faith.  You should know that I celebrate friends from many faith backgrounds, but rather than dictate scripture and pass judgements, we honor one another's beliefs, and we seek commonalities in our expressions of faith. 

It's not you, it's me - because try as I might, I can't understand or accept your inability to acknowledge your own privilege.  The rest of the world doesn't usually get to choose to have multiple exotic romantic getaways, the most vintage and rare wine, designer clothes, or the healthiest organic, gourmet foods.  Honestly, many of us do not measure the quality of our lives based on those standards - and it's just become too exhausting for me to constantly try to blend into an environment that has always felt so very foreign to me.

It's not you, it's me.  I can't be the only person of color in your life.  It's too much pressure for me to constantly represent the minority view.  While it's the norm in my work life, it's simply too tiresome for me to always be "the only one in the room" in my personal life. Why is it that you don't have a single black friend, gay friend, or non-Christian friend?  And if that was your subconscious intention, why is it that we are still friends?  Do you have any idea how impacted this friend - the friend "between two races" is in this increasingly divisive state of injustice our world is experiencing?  Have you read these blogs I wrote last year?  If you secretly have, why haven't you engaged me in conversation about these parts of me that define the very core of who I am?,

It's not you, it's me.  I can't be your one peripheral feminist, activist friend who's always angry about something, always rallying about something, always blogging about something.  It's too hard for me to always feel like an anomaly when in your environment.  Because I'm not.  I'm surrounded by hoards of people who care about making the world better, who care enough to speak up, act out in their own ways.  Some also rally and blog and advocate, but many just simply send me a supportive text, voice their discontent with the status quo, make a modest donation to a non-profit organization, or merely take the time to ask me about the work with which I am involved.  You never have.

Really, it's not your fault that I can no longer make time and intention for our future shared moments together.  It's me.  It's just too hard for me not to BE me when I'm among "friends".


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Why My Driver's License Photo is Beautiful

Forty-two years. Two countries.  Driver's licenses stamped by six different states.  A blur of twenty or so different basements, rooms-for-rent, apartments, town homes, dorm rooms, faculty housing, two-stories, and split-levels. 

Someday when my seven-year old is asked - Where are you from?  No, really, where are you from?  Where is home? - I never want him to have to pause and silently, but frantically search his mind for the "right" answer. 

And so, without any level of self-awareness, I made life choices designed around a K-12 education for my son that takes place under one roof.  I created raised bed gardens in my back yard because they never fail to promise seasonal returns.  I drilled permanent hooks into my living room drywall for the Christmas decorations I plan on hanging every year in that same exact spot in this house I plan to grow old in.  And I genuinely felt peace in my soul every time I renewed my driver's license and was able to list the same address, in the same town, in the same state. 

It would take running for (and losing) a local elected office for me to become painfully aware that throughout my entire existence, with every effort I made to convince myself that I was finally planted somewhere, perhaps I never really belonged anywhere.  This year I ran for one of eight city council positions in the town I've called home for nearly half of my life - a place in which I am deeply invested that I love dearly, the only place I've ever called home.  Out of 20 candidates, I was one of five women and the only person of color.  During public forums and meet-and-greets I was routinely called out to prove my loyalty and track record of commitment to my town, while my white, male counterparts merely got away with:  I was born and raised in this town.  My dad was the town "fill in the blank with any local elected office".  I'm a third generation Madison Countian. 

When I canvassed door-to-door, one person shook her head sadly after I responded to her question, "But where were you born, dear?" and proceeded to follow with, "But how will you ever understand us and what we need?"  I plowed through the campaign experiencing many other similar "polite" interactions with people who immediately categorized me as an outsider within the first 30 seconds of our meeting, but it wasn't until after I lost the election, that what the universe has been trying to tell me all along, finally hit me.  I do not belong in this town.  And probably even more painful, I've never really belonged anywhere.

And so I allowed myself to sink and wallow in self-despair for two full days.  This really wasn't about me losing the election - really, it wasn't.  I assure you that my ego has handled rejections far worse.  It was about the fact that the majority of people in my own "hometown" spoke loud and clear -  That being born into a place had more value than consciously choosing to make a place your home.  That values like acceptance and inclusivity for all people, were trumped by individual interpretations and judgment of Christian moral ideology. That despite my best efforts, all the raised beds and permanent hooks in the world could never make my interfaith, bi-cultural, multi-race family with close gay friends, grow roots in this town.  I was devastated.  And so I wearily looked the other way when my husband began to research schools that weren't all under one a nearby town.  A town where no one stopped to question why our close friends, both male, were lovingly raising a beautiful little girl together.  A town where my mom doesn't have to drive 40 miles for Thai spring roll wrappers.

And in those hazy days that immediately followed, I found myself at an event in my town, at my college alma mater featuring authors Barbara Kingsolver and Silas House.  And just as the universe had clearly told me that I didn't belong to a place, she spoke to me again, and this time through the voice of a renowned, beloved author.  A college student posed this question to Ms. Kingsolver during a Q & A session:  Can one foster roots without staying in one place?  And the universe (aka Barbara Kingsolver) said this:  You find your roots when you find that which has always followed you.  That thing, that person, that feeling, that tells you you're home.  With all the different places Barbara had lived, the very first thing she always did when she arrived in a new place, was seek out the public library.  Books, stories, history, voices of people - that was her home.  Those were her roots, and it didn't matter where she lived, nobody could ever take those things away from her.


Maybe it didn't matter as much for me to belong to a place.  Maybe what mattered more is that I discover and embrace what belongs to me - what I carry with me no matter where I go, that no third-generation local will ever have the power to take away.    I can't really put exactly what that is into words at this juncture in my life, and that feels OK.  For now, I am content being mindful that my soul is lightest when I'm not the only one in the room but also, when the chairs around my Thanksgiving table are filled with close friends who experience life differently than me.  That's my home.  Those are my roots.  And that is why it doesn't matter what state will be taking my next driver's license picture.  I will always smile with content, for that smile is but an outward reflection of the sense of belonging I will always carry within.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

How To Continue Awesome

Some of you may already know, that I've always been a "Plain Jane" and last  year I wrote this blog every day for a year, challenging myself to find opportunities to demonstrate activism in small, ordinary ways every single day.  I look forward to returning to that which is so very comfortable for me!

Words can not express my gratitude for your support and belief in me over the last few months.  While countless Bereans and Berea-inspired folks have offered me beautiful, kind words of support, I want to challenge each and every one of you to really embrace the beauty of your own words.  Funny thing is, if you really read all of your texts, e-mails, and messages, they are not about me - they are about YOU.  They are about your voice and desire to build a beautiful, inclusive community - I was just one small channel that could have possibly helped amplify your voices.  These are your own words.  Hear your own voices.  I do.  This community does.  The world does.  

An ethical, empowering, community-based campaign 

What local politics has the potential to be

Beautiful, loving and incredibly inspiring community driven world-changers

A classy, issue-focused, people-driven, community-loving campaign

Love the hope and strength in our community

A beautiful campaign

Represent the conscience of those who care about civil rights 

Honorable and full of integrity

The winds of change are in the air

Deep pockets are not required to reach people

Boldness is inspiring

Passion is contagious

Breath of fresh air

Community, mutual responsibility and above all, awesomeness

Positive and forward thinking

Continue to change the world  
Continue to change the world 
Continue to change the world 
Continue to change the world.