Friday, April 16, 2021

Anti-Asian Racism vs. Institutional Racism

I had an interesting conversation with my son about the anti-Asian violence in the news in recent weeks. We were having different reactions to it, and I appreciate that we respect each other enough that we could just talk about it as adults.

My reaction was one of pity, irritation, some anger, and flashback emotions to my childhood. I finally published the poem I wrote 3 decades ago in college on the Kimchi Mamas blog. I grew up in a mostly white area, and I remember one student from Puerto Rico, and two Black families growing up.  The students who terrorized me the most were two Black girls and many white boys. I was bullied and teased in elementary school. Daily. Marginalized in middle school. Respected finally by high school, but seen as "other" by most of my peers.  This continued through college, and even my early working years.

This life experience is what drew me to California in the first place. A Japanese family that I grew up with back East moved to Cali for the same reason, and I remember them writing my (white) parents telling them the difference they saw in their youngest child's socialization after moving. How the teasing finally ended and he could just be himself at last.

I had very good, loving, supportive friends growing up and in college, so I got through it. These experiences shaped me, of course, and I can unironically be grateful for the forge that made me strong and resilient. And yet. There are also threads of insecurity that held me back from trying things when I was younger, and self-esteem issues that plagued me when dating, and I do at times wonder how I might have been different if only I had not had to suffer these issues. I moved to California to escape racism less for myself than for my kids. The strategy worked.  My kids faced very little of the racism that I did, with only one incident that called me down to the school. My parents were at my school every month it seemed.

My son's reaction is much milder. Yes, the attacks are bad, but it's not institutional, is it? He has a point. While there have been serious attacks, and deaths even, these are rare compared to what our Black friends, neighbors, colleagues have to deal with. I've never worried for my life when being pulled over by a police officer--I see them as protectors, not a harmful force. I've never had to distrust doctors, hiring managers, authority in general based on my race. Based on my gender, Yes indeed.  But not my race.  Mostly it's the social interactions where the racism issue has come up, when people assume I am foreign or don't speak English. Minor indeed.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Prepare to be an Active Bystander

The recent incidents of violence against people of Asian descent brings back a lot of memories of pre-California life. This is why I chose to raise my family in the Bay Area in the first place. I've posted a poem on the Kimchi Mamas blog for those interested in more detail of what I faced growing up back East.

An incident in New York City recently featured two security guards in a nearby building who seemed to do nothing to help an elderly woman being brutally assaulted right in front of them.  I share in the initial outrage against do-nothing bystanders. I like to think I would have stepped in to protect her, unlike those guards.  There have been times when I am proud to say I have indeed stepped in.  Me, the straight-A honors student got sent to the Principal's office in high school for fighting with a girl who was making fun of a friend.  (More like getting my butt kicked, but whatever...)

Then I remember the time I did nothing in a train full of people, and have to admit I shouldn't be judging anyone else. Years ago I was on light rail when a crazy man verbally assaulted a young woman for 10 minutes. Screaming in her face. And she was young, like 22. Some people tried to distract him but he was laser focused on her. I was not able to get up to physically interpose. I tried to catch her eye but she was just looking down trying to be as small as possible. She got off at the next stop to get away from him. The train was packed, and most of us just sat quietly, hoping the nutcase wouldn't see the rest of us. I was ashamed I didn't do more.
I added the light rail safety app to my phone and started sitting nearer the doors after that. Having had time to process what happened, I have mentally rehearsed what I could have done differently, to be better prepared next time. A friend shared some information from training she had on how to be an Active Bystander so I went looking for some public links for you all.  Have at it, read, think it through, and next time, do what you CAN do.
And one downside--sometimes, when trying to intervene when the victim and attacker know each other, the victim might not be grateful the way you expect.  Do what you can do, what you are comfortable doing, and that you know is right. That has to be enough.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

About Time

I've been meaning to write a post since all this pandemic stuff hit the fan last March.  I could have gone on procrastinating until worldwide quarantine ends I'm sure, but I got a call today that reminded me that none of us gets unlimited time.

An old flame and I reconnected recently, and I've been feeling my way in the dark trying to figure out how this new relationship could work. The original split happened three decades ago. The old feelings are still there, but we have both lived a lifetime since then--including marriages and kids raised.

I've been puzzling over how to be friends with someone in the unique history we had, and in time I think we could figure it out. Except we don't know if we will get that time after all.

We all know time is not guaranteed to any of us. Unfortunately, the odds are now tipped against us with a dread diagnosis in play. I really hope this is wrong, but it is the kick I needed to start writing again. Because none of us might be here tomorrow. I will follow the advice of a colleague: Done is better than Perfect.

Today's blog title refers to the movie of the same title, starring Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, and Bill Nighy.  Here is a link to the IMDB listing:

Below is my COVID-inspired Bucket List--with luck and love, I'll get to some of these soon:

  1. Ski the Alps (again)
  2. Spend time with my recently discovered birth family
  3. See my children launch into their adult lives
  4. Dance at my children's weddings
  5. Hold a grandchild
  6. Live in Europe for a while
  7. Live in Asia for a while
  8. Travel New Zealand and Australia
  9. Publish a book
  10. Hug my old flame