Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn” from the 1990s.
I think of this song when this word came up for me as I think about the title to this blog post. But it’s neither a romantic conflict as suggested in the music video nor my current torn ligament and tendon in my injured ankle due for surgery in 2 days that is making me think of the word “Torn”. However, the lyrics could somewhat describe what I feel.
Lyrics of Natalie Imbruglia’s song “Torn”:
I thought, I saw a man brought to life
He was warm, he came around and he was dignified
He showed me what it was to cry
Well, you couldn’t be that man I adored
You don’t seem to know
Seem to care what your heart is for
But I don’t know him anymore
There’s nothing where he used to lie
The conversation has run dry
That’s what’s going on
Nothing’s fine, I’m torn
I’m all out of faith
This is how I feel
I’m cold and I am shamed
Lying naked on the floor
Illusion never changed
Into something real
I’m wide awake and I can see
The perfect sky is torn
You’re a little late, I’m already torn
My long introduction to this blog entry is my attempt to set the stage of this internal tension that cannot quite be accurately labeled. In fact, I do not even know which of the many blogs I have to post these reflections on. I have my blog for my creative writings, my blog for my crafts, and my professional blog, etc. None of them seem to truly fit what I will be saying, so I end up here. Since, ultimately, I’m conflicted because of where I am in my life right now as a married woman and a mother. If I am not either of those two, I would already be able to resolve this tension for myself. Thus, the writing for this topic finds home here at the end of the day.
What is the topic? It is “Being Asian in the Trump Era”. Yes. I am writing on this issue on Mr President, the number 45th, “he who shall not be named”, etc. I sincerely did move on from the last post. I didn’t forget, but I figured a way out to adjust and keep on living. However, with each incident, I am stopped in my simple going-on-being. And I am not even writing about the most recent incident reflecting the chaos of this era. I want to reflect more about this stop and go process that has been happening. I do not like that. I do not want to live in that. But I am living in it and I cannot see how I cannot not live in it. (Double negative, but oh well. Seems like anything goes these days.)
The incident that triggers this time is the incident of the United Airlines and the civil aviation officers and law enforcement that violently subdued an Asian passenger. I am sure readers have been bombarded with that news, so I will not repeat it here. But after my curiosity then shock upon reading the news and watching the videos, the thought that automatically and initially came to my mind was, this could have been my father. This man could’ve been my father.
He was Asian. He was a professional like my father was an academic (they both had doctoral degrees). He was around the same age as my dad. He was hysteric and my father had known to be hysteric in the face of men in uniforms or when he felt wronged. Even thinking about it now, it gave me gut wrenching fear. Fear for my father. Fear for the man who was dragged off the plane in a violent way.
But it wasn’t simply because they were similar in characteristics that I thought of “This man could’ve been my father.” Ultimately, it was empathy. It was relatedness. He was like family. Because he looked like me. He came from the same region of Asia as I did. No, not just that. It is because he was family. My human family.
The other time I thought of something similar as a reaction was when I saw the images of the aftermath of Cylcone Nargis that devastated my home country in 2008. I saw children orphaned and dead bodies of little kids floating in the flooded waters. I thought to myself then as well, “This child could’ve been my child.” My daughter was only almost one year old at that time. As a new mother, I felt the grief and fear of a mother. My nurturing hormones kicked in. But it was also because, we were human family. I relate to people as such. In my culture we relate to each other as if we are one big (more like gigantic) extended family. We literally call each other “brothers” and “sisters”, “aunts” and “uncles”, “sons” and “daughters” when we talk to each other, even if we do not come from the same ancestral clan.
This Asian man dragged off the United Airlines plane in a bloodied state and returning in hysteria could’ve been my father.
Where did empathy go in this world? I know it is not just Trump and his presidency that started all this apathy and objectification of humans. However, one thing that his presidency had done was to condone it. It had encouraged it and given it permission.
I am not even going to go into it about him. I already did that several times prior. This article isn’t about his narcissism or to feed into it some more. This is about being human. This is about being Asian in United States in this era of socio-political apathy.
This incident is another one of those “You Are Not Welcome” sign I mentioned in an earlier post. How many times do I have to have that sign slam into my face? I am not angry right now. I just feel hurt. Is this an unrequited love I have with the United States? That is what I am asking in my heart. Can I still remain a fool? My mind asks me. I do not know. The only thing that keeps me going and not run away is my family – my wonderful husband and my two children, all American. I am here for them. I know they love me. I know they welcome me.
But there is a nagging part of me. The social justice part in me. The social worker and activist in me. The rebel artist in me. The revolutionary Burmese whose family and friends had gone through 60 years of oppressive regime in me. All these parts are calling out to tell me, I do not have to live through this. I deserve better. My voice should be heard. Thus I write. I write on this blog. That is the best I can do, because I cannot leave this country in protest.
There are those that protests at rallies, petition letters and make phone calls to politicians. I am not one of them. I do my part when I can. But in my world, these things do not create the change that need to happen. Running away isn’t it either, I know. But severing ties with the abuser – that is the best way to protest and set clear boundaries, to advocate for one self. Leaving isn’t running away or escaping. Leaving is a protest. Leaving is a clearly set limit implemented. There is no negotiation with them. I refuse to play their game and be in any part of their system. It has to be my way, because their way continues to oppress. It has to be a completely new game play, new system of doing things. Yet, with a husband and two children, I cannot leave. And with each new incident, new “You are not welcome” sign, there is more reason to leave, more force behind the thought.
Love is stronger than anything. This is an example. I love my family. I cannot leave. Even if I am having cognitive dissonance, and emotional and moral conflict staying and becoming complacent as a result.
The other point I want to make in this blog, is what it is like to be Asian in this era. When I see Asians being disregarded (whether the incident was racially motivated or not); when I hear about restrictions that could hurt Asians as a significant portion of us would fit into that group targeted, such as the immigration ban; when my values handed down to me from my culture, such as respect for knowledge and education, are questioned through policy changes, such as the potential educational reform with the selection of an anti-public education Secretary of Education (what an oxymoron), it reverberates to the very core of my being, and my being is tied intricately in web-like manner to being Burmese, to being Asian.
For the last piece on cultural values, I do not mean to imply other cultures do not respect knowledge and education. But there is something quite explicitly practiced within my culture to treasure and hold of high regard the education we receive. It is written into our religion. The Buddhist scriptures I have learned about teaches us to respect in high reverance and unconditional regard these five groups for their honorable merits: Buddha (the Enlightened Teacher), Dharmma (the teachings of Buddha), Sangha (the monks who teaches Dhamma), Teachers (the academic teachers), and Parents (the teachers of life). If you notice, there is a common thread here, which is teaching or learning, which is closely linked to acquisition of knowledge and education. In addition, every year, there is an actual national holiday or country wide festival where the teachers are showcased on stage at schools and the students attend the annual celebration to pay respects to their teachers. The name of such festival is called “Kowtowing to Teacher Festival” or otherwise known as “Paying Respect to Teacher Festival”. My father was a professor and so he attends it yearly. He travels within the country to attend it, and some students travel within the country to their respective colleges to participate as well. It is a huge deal, and very much a part of our culture.
So imagine me, this Burmese person (and a daughter and granddaughter of educators, and an educator myself) that is part of a culture that values education in high reverance, what it means to hear about the appointment of a person who disregards public education that guarantees a minimum and equitable standard of literacy, knowledge and skills for the whole country. Many Asian immigrants I hear of tell me they risk hardships to come to the United States for better educational and life opportunities for their children.
I will not trigger myself by going too much more into detail about this education piece that the Trump era has ushered in with his presidency. I hope I have illustrated sufficiently why it is tied to being Asian for me.
It is not just these values and perspectives that raise the racial flag for my experience of this era. It is also the awareness that, I do not see these incidents happen with those who are the majority, i.e. the White class. I hear about it so often with the African Americans and how they have been mistreated. I hear about the alienation of Mexican Americans and other Americans of Hispanic or Latino backgrounds. I hear about the disregard of the Native Americans. And I hear about the suppression of the Asian Americans. All these lives matter. But because I am Asian, I feel a closer kinship with my Asian American family. And because Asians have the Model Minority Myth, it hurts even more to hear about the violations of Asian Americans. It’s as if we will never be good enough. Even with the Model Minority Myth, we are still not good enough. Of course, I do not believe in the myth. I know it is not true. Asians in America struggle too. I work with the subgroup of Asians in United States that are struggling. I know how much my own family had to struggle. It is a myth. But even myths can carry much political weight, and despite that, we are still disempowered.
When most of what you see in your world are these disempowering news, the models become disempowering. This lack of mirroring for a more powerful form of being Asian in this country is contrasted to the powerful models in the White world, and the lack of the marginalized White narrative. I am being careful not to make a blanket statement. I know there are disenfranchised White groups too. However, even with that, there is still something called White privilege. There are many other articles that speak to it more eloquently so I will not elaborate on it here.
It has always been there, this lack of a powerful narrative for Asian Americans. In recent years, it does seem like Asians are Rising (more of us in politics, especially on local levels; more higher executive positions in well known companies; more collective advocacy around visibility in media such as books and movies, etc.) However, the gains made now seem to fall flat when the Trump era emerges as its xenophobic nationalism triumphs politically. I am not saying that Asians in America has gone feeble. I know we fight even harder now. Though socially we have gained momentum, but on political front, we have lost grounds. It is sad. And this is the sadness I wanted to write about under this topic of “Being Asian in Trump Era”. It is sadness rather than anger for me, because it is a loss. It is a loss of empathy, of kinship, of reflections, of humanity. And these losses are not simply for Asian Americans, but for the whole of the United States of America. America isn’t torn. It is shredded to pieces now.
How do I raise children in such a state? How do I raise my kids when my collective voice is being subdued? I want to become more Burmese, to raise my voice and visibility, to help my children keep in touch with their partial heritage. But such a thing is becoming dangerous, and would I want my kids to be placed in such danger? I do not know. I am torn as well.
word up. word out. rip up, I mean, lay low my mothers….