Chicago Urban Program: Race

(sorry guys, i gave up on the LJ cut thing…)

Wow, there’s just SO much to say.  So this will be part one.  Not that I can compartmentalize everything I’ve learned and dissociate everything, but if I wrote it all down in one entry this would be 10 pages long :):))

So Chicago Urban Program (CUP) is this spring break trek into the heart of the city of Chicago.  It’s an Intervarsity thing, so UIC, UIUC, UofC, Columbia College, and Northwestern all represented this week because our spring breaks overlapped.  Can I just say first that this was one of those amazing "retreats" with amazing people??  I got to know other ppl of other schools way more than any other retreat I’ve been on (I think thanks in great part to my friend Josh who was also there who goes to UIC), and i didn’t have to think about "oh, who am I going to sit with at lunch, or at dinner?" because even if NU people had no seats left at their table, there was always some other table with people I knew, and that was such a blessing. 

But back to CUP.  So we spend Saturday-Thursday afternoon in Austin, Chicago, a very underprivileged neighborhood not unlike Cabrini Green, if you’ve ever heard of it.  The people in this community often have an income <$15,000 a year.   We live in apartments in the neighborhood, across from the church that IV partners with, and we basically immerse ourselves there for a little under a week.  Mon-Wed we serve the community, and the rest of the time there are speakers and singing worship, etc.

Mmm…so where to start?

So Sunday night we split into our respective races…European American, African American, Latino American, and Asian/Asian American.  The AA group talked about
1. What does it mean to be Asian American?
2. What gifts do we have to bring to the Kingdom?

Something that I learned about my freshman year through MEIV is that there’s a reason for our different colors, our different experiences based on race.  (read all about it in depth here at my old xanga)  Here’s an excerpt:

and it’s not that we purposely seek to surround ourselves with our own race, it just naturally comes out of what my bible study leader (Misuzu) calls "our brokenness".  i think really, what God wants to see out of the world is "…a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the lamb." (revelation 7:9)  paul’s talking about his vision of heaven during the end times, and how EVERY kind of people are standing together to shout their praises to God.  I understand and totally feel that it’s easiest to talk and fellowship with other asian people.  totally.
but like Misuzu and Sara (other leader) said, getting to know other cultures makes us appreciate where we come from more.  and seeing how they worship God can only add to our knowledge and experience of God.  it’s fine to stick with asians.  but God created different races for a reason.  and i think tthat’s to learn to appreciate ourselves more, appreciate the beauty in our differences, and see the different faces of God and God’s love.  His love crosses all boundaries, so shouldn’t ours?

God can’t be contained in one race.  How could he?  He’s the God who created the universe…there’s no one race that is able to express who he is in all his splendor and glory.  And so while that year I learned so much about my relationship with others and other cultures (my first friend who I still call my friend even now (praise God) was Morayo, who’s an English Nigerian, and I had to go through all the ignorant questions about black hair and we checked out all the black fellowships together…and that helped me realize that there was so much I didn’t know, that there was so much I had to learn and appreciate.

And it’s weird to see things repeatedly come full circle now that i’m a senior about to graduate.  But this time, it’s not so much about wrestling with God about the way I see others (although I do admit that I go out of my way to smile at black guys more than anyone else out of my own brokenness)…but it’s about the way that God made me.

I gave a testimony at the beginning of winter quarter about multiethnicity…and how freshman year I’d finally come to understand that God made me who I am for a reason.  Being 3rd and 7th generation Chinese American at the same time was something that I finally realized wasn’t a mistake, and it was something I need to appreciate, thank, and praise God through.  And yeah, I’ve acknowledged it more that I ever have before since then, but I haven’t arrived yet.  I still have a long way to go on this identity journey.

And I feel almost ashamed now for saying what I did in front of my fellowship that Wednesday night.  Because you know what??  I’m struggling more with God over this than I EVER have before.  While I accept and know that God made me with this strange dichotomy (on one side one generation farther than most AA’s, and on the other side I’m much more like most white americans…), I haven’t figured out why.  And it hasn’t bothered me…until this week.

This week I realized that i’m not like all the other asian americans.  I don’t have immigrant parents.  I can’t hold a conversation in Chinese, I can’t even order dimsum properly.  i don’t know the history of my people.  I don’t know the struggles that immigrants faced coming to America.

My maternal grandparents immigrated here in the 1930’s, and my grandfather passed away when I was 6, and my grandmother passed away after 8th grade (it’s thanks to her and her death (morbid, but it’s not!) that I’m a Christian and that my family is the way it is…i think i’ve posted a little abt that).  So i never really heard their stories of what it was like to try to make a life in this new country, or what it was like in the old country, or how they grew up…or the racism, if any, that they faced.  I was too young to appreciate all that they’d gone through.  And for some reason, my mom never really asked either, I think because she was so focused on making a better life for herself.  (she’s sacrificed a LOT)  So I couldn’t learn even from her.  Sure, we maintain some customs, like celebrating chinese new year and such, but I don’t know the STORIES.

My paternal grandparents live in Hawaii.  And they’re part of a long line of Chinese Americans that have lived there…going all the way back to owning their own rice plantation in the 1800’s.  so in that sense, I’m much more like my friend James Kath’s family.  And even more, they’re not particularly American, since Hawaii has a culture all it’s own.  I hesitate to call Hawaiians "American", because their culture is so strong that to call them anything other than Hawaiian is to ignore who they are.  If you’ve ever been there, you probably know what I’m talking about.  They have their own accent, their own slang, their own language (since it was a country before we annexed it), their own food, their own culture that’s a blend of Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Philippino, and Samoan.

the result of having these two sides of my family leaves me with little connection to my CHINESE American-ness, let alone, what it means to be a Chinese AMERICAN, if that makes any sense.  On both sides, I feel a loss when I think about what my identity is supposed to be…And so where would you turn next to learn about the Chinese American experience (from either side)?  My first instinct is history class.  Then census statistics, TV shows, movies, etc.

History class?  I taught myself about the Japanese Internment Camps in 8th grade.  I’m not even Japanese, but from an Asian American experience, to know what one race went through and the struggle they had on behalf of all of those with black hair and almond shaped eyes means a lot.  I didn’t hear about them again until Junior year of Highschool in AP US History.  The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was the FIRST act that exluded people from immigrating and excluded people from citizenship based on RACE.  how many times do we think about this act when we think about the laws that were put in place against certain races?  Personally, never.  my friends and  I always wondered which fountains the asians went to when it was divided into "colored" and "white", but we swept that question under the rug, because they weren’t talked about in the history text book.  The Koreans faced lots of opposition in California, as did the Chinese and even the Japanese.  We don’t have much of a voice in history class.

Statistics?  Junior year of HS, I wrote a paper on the 2nd generation experience, and I wanted to narrow it down to Asian Americans, but due to lack of research available, I had to broaden the scope of my paper.  All the census statistics (even one video that we watched at CUP) primarily touch upon Black, White, and Latino.  Not to say that there are no statistics at all about Asians, but for the most part, I guess there’s no information available.

TV Shows?   Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that TV is the best way to learn about a culture.  TV is imbued with stereotypes.  I grew up watching Friends and Will and Grace, but by no means does that imply that I know a lot about white people or people that are gay.  But when you don’t have many options…even the stereotypes will suffice.  But there aren’t many shows that feature Asian Americans as their protagonists.  We have many sitcoms that revolve around white people (Malcolm in the Middle, Friends, Brothers and Sisters, etc), a decent amount of shows featuring black people (Bill Cosby show, Different Strokes, Moesha, The Bernie Mac Show, That’s so Raven, House of Payne), and even shows featuring Latinos (George Lopez, Ugly Betty…even Desperate Housewives)…but where are the Asian Americans?  Alex told me Margaret Cho once had a sitcom in 1994 called "All American Girl" that lasted 1 season.  The only other show I can think of is American Dragon: Jake Long on the Disney Channel.  It’s a cartoon, so it doesn’t even feature real people, and his family is mixed (his dad is white).  I actually really enjoy watching that show, haha, but nevertheless….and Disney channel did another movie called Johnny Tsunami, but his family is mixed again.   (there’s nothing wrong with mixed marriages, please don’t get me wrong…haha)

Movies?  Fast and the Furious.  mmm….more stereotypes and cool chase scenes than anything.  Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon?  not really asian american either.  Crash, the epitome of issues of race…..most people forget that there were asian people in that movie.  because they were immigrants with accents carting around other immigrants in the back of their truck.  While I love that movie, that one fact made me really mad after i watched that video at first.  There have been some movies like charlie’s angels and harold & kumar that feature asian actors and actresses, but it’s not really about their lives…it’s about kicking butt and the search for white castle.  LOL  Although there HAS been the Joy Luck Club and i’ve just recently heard about Gran Torino.  and last year or the year before, I forget which, Whitney showed me Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  Classic American film with a classic American actress—Audrey Hepburn.  no one ever warned me about Mickey Rooney in that movie.  He plays Audrey’s landlord, and he as a white man plays the role of a Japanese immigrant.  (in all honesty i forgot he was Japanese and thought he was supposed to be Chinese)  But to do so, he puts on fake buck teeth, a heavy thick accent, eyes narrowed by prosthetics, and horn rimmed glasses.  It makes me so upset that this celebrated film, that if people haven’t watched they’ve at least heard of because it’s referenced in pop culture, this classic ICONIC film has SUCH BLATANT RACISM.  it’s one of whitney’s FAVORITE FILMS.


yeahhh…that’s mickey rooney.

yeahhh….that’s mickey rooney.

Politics? Even here, Max Kuecker pointed out that Chinatown is divided into three voting districts.  it’s 68 thousand people are divided up.  now, i don’t know much about politics, i’ll be the first to admit, but Max lives and breathes it, and he’s says it’s significant that the asian vote is divided up so much.  and yeah, a lot of it is that politics is not necessarily the route most of our families want us to take, so we are conspicuously absent from elected offices.  Jimmy Lee, from my home church, ran for congress and lost.


So yeah, it’s been really difficult for me.  I don’t say this to sound lazy, I say this to point out the lack of a voice in our common institutions or avenues of information–I bemoan the fact that I have to actively pursue the Asian American experience.  The world today doesn’t prepare me and doesn’t show me what it’s like to live as an Asian American in our society, where we’ve come from, the struggles we’ve overcome.  I have to take classes at my university, or check out books from the library, because the normal voices in society aren’t calling out to me.  We lack a voice.  And it hits me so hard because I don’t have immigrant parents that I can watch like everyone else.  This is the kind of injustice that the generations that follow will have to deal with, cope with, or triumph over. 

At CUP Pastor Paco (Taco with a P!  I love that man) said that his Latino church started an English ministry to gear up for and prepare for the third generation, who statistically will not know Spanish.  Gene told me that he looked at me when Paco said this, because this is my struggle.  More than that, I’m probably a step removed, a step beyond the generation that people are looking to next. 

When I first met Lisa and told her about my family, she called me the "Asian American of the Future".  I laughed, because it sounded like she was calling me the flying car of our time or something.  But I think I finally get what she means.  There are struggles that I face, injustices that I feel, that no one else can relate to in quite the same way (at least, as far as the people I know).  Right now I think (?) most Asian Americans are more concerned with making sure that their children rise above the circumstances they’ve been dealt, which is why so many parents want us to be doctors and engineers, because they make good money that can enable us to have that standard of living that our parents wish for us.  We’re not really concerned with how the public views us, because for the most part (so it seems) it’s not particularly negative.  We’re the Model Minority.  We study hard, we soup up our cars (no lie, my brother did this), we rave (my friends did this in HS), etc.  The wost that can be said is that we’re nerdy and not athletic.  HAHA.

So I tutored 4th grade kids during CUP (more to come later), and even though they adamantly said that Esther (HK international student) was my sister, even though they made fun of asian eyes, even though i tried to teach them Chinese and they just said "ching chong chong", even though they assumed that I knew karate…nothing about that bothered me, really.  it’s like how Carol was saying that at the hospital she works at, all the nurses give her the crying babies and then when she picks them up, they all just stop crying and stare at her (she thinks it’s because she’s the first asian person the babies have ever seen…haha)…these kids just haven’t been exposed to Chinese people, or Asian people really. all they know are the pokemon cartoons they watch, the dragonball Z or what have you…but that’s not the kind of racism that upsets me.  it’s the subtleties….the silence.

But for me, right now, I’m struggling with WHY did God make me so different from the rest of the AA’s??  I accept and believe that God made me exactly who I am in all things for a reason, for lessons that I have to learn and experiences that I wouldnt have otherwise, but how is he glorified through my differences?  What good does it do that I can’t relate completely to other Asian Americans?  (and on the flip side…where are all the descendents of the immigrants that came in the 1880’s??)  Why did God set me up so that I can’t understand myself or my "people"? 

I feel like even God can’t tell me what it’s like to be a whatever generation Chinese American.  Although I know he’s all knowing and all powerful, I just don’t get it.  Jesus is the one who knows literally what it’s like to be human, but Jesus doesn’t know exactly what I’m going through.  And even as I type it out, I’m hesitant to write it so permanently because I know, at least at my core, that I don’t necessarily believe these things.  God is all knowing, and he knows my struggles more than anyone.  But at the same time, I just feel like…he doesn’t understand fully.  ahh, so conflicting.

In any case, I’m still wrestling with God through all of this, but I know that there’s so far to go.  As a freshman, I thought I got it.  haha. 🙂  But God is a good God who will reveal as much as I need to know.

 We as a fellowship also realized that many of us (black sisters included) have prejudices against black men.  And I guess it follows that we have no black men in our fellowship.  MEIV still has a ways to go.  Even we, as Multiethnic Intervarsity, haven’t arrived yet. :-/

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