Untethered

The other day, I was flipping through my journal and ran across an old entry from almost seven years ago. (Hey, this journal has been neglected. What can I say?) Reading through it made me somewhat wistful, but nowhere near as sad as it used to. I think, quite possibly, it is because I finally have closure. My father is no longer in my life due to my choosing and I am glad of it.

I no longer have to live this particular lie of pretending our family is fine nor force my children into that lie’s bondage. We are free and all the better for it. It takes an entry like this one to remind me of the hold and sway he used to have over me.

Good riddance.

September 22, 2008

I avoid thinking about Dad. He’s coming home for a few days on Saturday.

Truthfully, I forget he exists. It’s easier that way. Otherwise, the tacit acknowledgment of his absence is too painful. And even though I know it has everything to do with him, it cannot help but feel as if it is about us.

Every time he comes home, I feel such intense pressure. I feel as if I have to make his time here spectacular or make him feel like a king – otherwise, he may never come home again. I always feel as if I have to make him miss us. And if I stop playing to his ego, he’ll forget us.

After all, isn’t that what’s already happened? He used to call/IM me much more. But ever since I confronted him about the kids in the background, he’s stopped. And ever since then, I’ve cut the “Poor Daddy” act. Because quite frankly, I’m mad and I cannot force myself to be sweet and cute anymore. I want to smack him and be confrontational. I am angry at him. I am terribly disappointed in him. How time after time, he chooses himself.

I am incredibly angry. How dare he come back, waltz into our lives and expect that we should fawn all over him? How dare he come home, acting like the martyr, this suffering servant. As if we’re just ingrates, treating him like shit. Poor Daddy. So misunderstood. Bullshit.

What a selfish bastard.

I am also incredibly afraid. Afraid that he won’t come back. That I will never see him again. That I may not want to. That sometimes, I wish he were dead – so that things could be simpler. That we could have closure and just move on with our lives. That we could be free.

Because we are tethered to him. It may be a tether that is halfway across the world, but we are still tied. Even if they divorced, it’d still be there. But if he died? Perhaps that pull would disappear. We could start over.

Does this make me a bad person?

He makes me so terribly sad. Fine. He can’t make me do anything. But I feel so terribly sad. So, so sad. Sad seems too weak a word. My heart is broken.

Every time he leaves, he re-breaks my heart.

I feel the ache of uncried sobs in the back of my throat, the prick of unwet tears in my eyes. I tamp it down – for what good would it bring to weep?

I do not have enough imagination to think of – to hope for – something different. It hurts too much.

Sometimes, I think I have no father. And though I hope prayer works, clearly, I don’t believe it. For if I did, I’d be praying for him every day.

Instead, I am resigned. Why stir up false hope? God will not force his hand. And he doesn’t want to change.

What a fucking shame.

When The One You Love Is The One Who Hurts You

Today is my father’s birthday. (Well, I suppose technically it was yesterday.)

Honestly, I thought it would hit me more – the grief, I mean. I’m not sure why since I’ve never felt particularly sad on his birthday before. I guess I just thought that maybe since I’m going to counseling, I would be more vulnerable to the date. Instead, I thought about him sporadically throughout the day, but nothing really heavy hitting or weep inducing (for which I am grateful).

It’s been almost four years. Four years since I kicked my father out of my life for being a Grade A Asshole. 

Yet today, as I drive around in my car, I find myself thinking of all the things he brought into my life that I otherwise wouldn’t have been exposed to. Not bad things, either. Good things. Happy things. Things I still enjoy. 

I think of him while listening to Scheherazade by Rimsky-Korsakov or Pavarotti and remember listening to this symphony and many others like it in the van while on road trips. 

I think of him when I play mah jong with friends late into the night. I remember him teaching me, my brother, and family friends how to play mag jong and Napoleon and Hearts and poker. He was a lot of fun. 

I think of him when I take the kids cherry picking and remember all the times he took my family cherry, apricot, and peach picking as we all piled into our old Family Wagon van. 

I think of him when I rush to Glow Worm’s side after he gets a nasty cut and remember the time I cut my finger while chopping okra and he ran to my side as soon as he saw blood. 

I hear him when I make non-committal grunts at the children or make joking noises and pull silly faces at them. 

The memories are soft and half-focused. Almost like a forgotten time. 

I wonder if I should tell my kids more about my father than “He was a bad man.” Because truthfully, He wasn’t always bad. He could be kind and sweet and loving. He could be the life of the party and so much fun. He taught me to enjoy games and family traditions. A lot of the traditions I want to pass down are things he did with us.

I wonder why it is that neither Hapa Papa or I tell stories about when we were little. Stories about ourselves or our parents. We should start doing that more. The kids love stories about us or themselves or their grandparents. They make it part of their stories. 

I wonder if I am betraying my mother by telling the kids some nice things about my father. Or if I will need to always append the good stories with “but he was a bad man.” 

But he was a pretty good guy some of the time. Just not enough. Not good enough. And not what we deserved. 

I want my kids to know that people who are bad for them can be good, too. That good and bad can exist all in one person. And that the people who are sometimes the worst for you happen to be people you love – and love deeply. 

And that sometimes, out of love for yourself and other people you love, you have to cut off and out the people who are terrible to and for you. 

I wonder if my remembering my father in some fond memories is a good, bad, or a neutral thing. 

I decide it is just a thing. 

Happy Birthday, Dad. I don’t know if you are happy or even if I want you to be happy. But there you go. 

We Are Not Things

A few weekends ago, my friend and I went to go see Mad Max: Fury Road and my brain exploded from the sheer spectacle, non-stop thrill, and unspoken weight of the movie. I admit, I only went because I was so intrigued from all the hype about it being a “feminist” movie. I hadn’t seen the original trilogy and I don’t plan to because I’m lazy and because seriously, how can any of them compete?

I have not been able to get the movie out of my head. (Mild Spoilers ahead.)

Fury Road is set in a post-apocalyptic world where water and gasoline are scarce commodities. Immortan Joe is a cult-leader/warlord who rules over his “people” with an iron fist by severely rationing out water. He has an army of Warboys, young men who believe dying in battle is the key to entering Valhalla. He also has a harem of sex slaves he uses for breeding and future milk producers.

The movie is centered around the flight of these women, aided in their escape by Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron). In one of the rare semi-still moments of the movie, Immortan Joe runs to the women’s quarters/prison, only to find graffiti reading, “We are not things” and “Who killed the world?”

I can’t get that phrase out of my head.

We are not things.

I can’t even remember if anyone ever says that outright, but throughout the movie, you get the point. Not only in reference to the self-liberated, pregnant women who are valuable commodities, vital for their wombs and milk, but the Warboys as well who are disposable cannon fodder. Even Max is a thing – a living blood bag.

We are not things.

I heard it as a battle cry. A desperate plea. A demand. A fact. A declaration.

We are not things.

Yesterday, I ran across a vile article, 8 Steps to Confront Your Wife’s Sexual Refusal (h/t Pastor Ken Fong) from an anonymous white man who calls himself a Christian.

Here’s the tl;dr version: The guy equates a wife’s refusal to have sex with sexual immorality. Furthermore, continued refusal on the wife’s part is tantamount to religious apostasy. The way to “confront” her is to stop being “nice” to her and no longer take her out on dates and treat her with basic human decency because she’s probably really mad at him now. And finally, he recommends changing bank account passwords and ATM codes and cutting off all money if she continues to refuse.

This is classic abusive behavior and incredibly dangerous.

Women, if a man does this to you – if anyone does this to you – RUN. This person does not care about you as a person, with your own wants and desires and thoughts and personhood. This person only treats you as a possession; an entitlement.

I just. How is this real? How can someone believe this load of shit and call it Christian?

And yet, we get milder versions of this nonsense everyday from churches that tell us women aren’t fit to be leaders (except over other women and children). Most definitely, this is part and parcel to all body policing of our daughters, telling them what to wear and how to wear it. (I wrote a post about this last week.)

Or if you want to be more extreme, the folks of the Modesty Culture and Quiverfull Movement. Really, if you follow the “benign” misogynistic teaching to its logical conclusion, you end up with the entitlement of Rape Culture and the idiot who wrote the above article.

In fact, I see pornography and Modesty Culture as two sides of the same coin. After all, in both viewpoints, we women are just things.

We are just holes (although, perhaps the Christians only allow women to be the one hole).

We are just vessels.

We are just a means to slake a man’s lust and desires. (Oh, those poor, poor, uncontrollable men with their lusts and desires!)

Where are the Christians decrying this type of dangerous teaching? I find it highly hypocritical when Christians call upon Muslims to denounce a few extremists who want to destroy America/Christianity/Women when they brush off the extremism in our own midst. Or even worse, when Christians boost that insidious evil and vomit it out of their own pulpits.

No wonder Christians are hemorrhaging members. Short of a few vocal pastors (again, I credit Pastor Ken Fong and author, Rachel Held Evans), I mostly only see silence or a few minor protestations followed by lots of nonsense about God’s mercy and forgiveness and other blather reinforcing and justifying bad behavior.

No wonder we are seen as hypocrites; immoral.

Why does it even need to be said?

Women are not things.

We are not things.

We Are Not Things.

WE ARE NOT THINGS.

courtesy of unwinnable.com

courtesy of unwinnable.com

If you or someone you know are being raped, abused (sexual or otherwise), please please please call or contact RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) at 1-800-656-HOPE.

Policing Our Daughters’ Bodies

img_8142Author’s Note: This topic is highly sensitive and there may be some Trigger Warnings of rape, sexual assault, and incest. There are no graphic descriptions, merely the mentioning of such occurrences. My commenting policy will be highly enforced both on this site and on Facebook. Also, if you are a long time reader, I’m sure this is not necessary in the slightest, but there is liberal application of the swears in this post. For reasons which will prove obvious.

I remember we were in our church’s bathroom, talking about our week. My friend casually mentioned how she had snuck out of her house to meet a boy at the park where he proceeded to rape her. We couldn’t have been more than fifteen at the time.

I remember another friend, telling me how over the weekend, she was with a fellow student and they were making out and next thing you know, he was having sex with her and she was frozen and couldn’t move. She just couldn’t move to stop him and though her mind was screaming, her body just passively went along with it. I think we were maybe nineteen or twenty.

I remember at a sleepover in junior high, asking a friend who I vaguely understood was having problems with her dad if she had ever had sex, knowing full well that the odds of her having sex were slim to none. Only to find out later (again, in a vague sort of way) that she had been sexually abused by her father for years.

I remember how hard it was for another friend to tell me that a family member had repeatedly sexually abused her when she was a child. How she felt so dirty and used and that she must have asked for it.

I remember how one day, I did a quick mental count of all the women and men I knew who had been raped and sexually abused and I realized that in less than five seconds, I could rattle off at least ten people.

And yet, consider this: When I found out my friends had been raped, in some cases repeatedly abused, my immediate concern was that they were no longer “virgins” and not the fact that they had been raped. In fact, I was so disappointed at their loss of “virgin” status that immediately after their telling me, it never occurred to me to inquire of my friends’ health, emotional state, or encourage them to go to the police.

That, my friends, is SERIOUSLY fucked up.

Even now, when I hear of people moving in together or of celebrities having babies out of wedlock, my immediate reaction is disappointment in their sexual choices. As if that is all of who these people are.

Of course, I now dismiss my gut reactions as ridiculous at best and dangerous at worst, but years of indoctrination from the Cult of Sexual Purity and Virginity is hard to silence entirely.

I consign myself to living with this unfortunate side effect of a mostly Christian upbringing. You know, where sex before marriage is the worst thing that could possibly happen to a person.

I remember my first year in college, after having several of my first sexual experiences with guys who happened to be best friends (not at the same time), I felt like I could no longer even answer to my name – which means “virgin” or “maiden.” I felt as if I were no longer “pure.”

I remember when the second guy found out I had fooled around with his best friend, his first reaction was, “Damn! He got there first!” I was never a person to them. Just a walking vagina in which they could potentially stick their penises.

I remember feeling “convicted” that I had to ask my father (you know, the man who committed adultery multiple times and is a serial liar and cheat) for forgiveness because of my “scandalous” ways. I felt convinced that if he knew the truth about my sexual history, he wouldn’t love me anymore. When he found out, he said he was relieved and had been worried I was frigid. To this day, part of me still believes that he used my confession as justification for his later infidelities.

I remember in high school, my mother holding me and rocking me in the dark, weeping, praying, begging me to stay pure for myself and my future husband. Even though in retrospect, I know she wanted to protect me and was reacting to my father’s behavior, this feeling that I was failing my mother followed my sexual experiences.

I remember lying to my parents for years when I was living with Hapa Papa in “sin.” It didn’t matter that I was a grown woman. I did not want my mother to think less of me.

I remember when Cookie Monster was born, and ever after, that people would constantly comment on how attractive he was. That he would “clean up” in high school. As if it was a good thing that my son would just casually fuck his way through all his female classmates.

I remember the distinctly different tenor a few years later when people would comment on Gamera’s beauty, telling us, “You better tell Hapa Papa to get a shotgun.” “You’ll need to lock her up.”

I remember a talk the leader of our chapter of InterVarsity (an on-campus Christian ministry) gave to only the women about wearing bikinis and clothing that caused our “brothers” to “stumble.” I am pretty sure the leader only had the best of intentions, but in retrospect, that was an incredibly sexist and offensive talk. I seriously doubt there was a similar conversation going on for the men, telling them not to take off their shirts or not to wear tailored three piece suits or other nonsense in case they should happen to cause their “sisters” to “stumble.”

I remember one time, I had an orgasm with my Christian boyfriend and he was immediately angry and accused me of trying to use and corrupt him. And when I asked him why he never got angry when he had an orgasm, he then turned it around on me and asked me why I wasn’t angry when he did. That if I loved and cared about him, I would be more upset when he came.

In the years that we were together, I’ve lost count how many times he came in our relationship. (We never had full on “sex,” but had sexual experiences.) I only had that one. And yet, I was the one made to feel filthy.

I have been sitting on this piece for a long time, never quite knowing exactly what I wanted to say nor how to say it. And then, the shitstorm of the Duggars and Josh Duggar came out last Friday and I just can’t stop thinking about it.

I titled this piece, Policing Our Daughters’ Bodies, because so much of our culture, and I would daresay Christian culture in particular, is about women’s bodies. What are they wearing? Is it too revealing? Or not sexy enough? What’s with her hair? Is it feminine? Too masculine? What type of shoes? Are they CFM shoes? Ruining her feet? She’s running for president, but let’s talk about her pantsuits. She was sexually assaulted, well what was she wearing? Was she drunk? Did she scream? Did she say, “No”?

Originally, I wanted this post to be a logical take down of The Cult of Purity and Modesty Culture, but quite frankly, that is not what my post turned out to be. Instead, for an amazing and step by step take down of the insidiousness of Modesty Culture, I refer you instead to the blogger Diary of an Autodidact’s excellent post on The Duggars as well as his series on Modesty Culture. (H/T Pastor Ken Fong and SF.) Much of what he writes is horrifying – especially how the proponents of Modesty Culture blame survivors of sexual abuse (even if they are only babies).

And now, I’m not exactly sure what I want this post to be.

Only that I will do everything in my power so that Cookie MonsterGameraGlow Worm, and any future children, will never have to have memories similar to mine.

I want my children to know that they are not commodities; they are human. With the full spectrum of human desires, feelings, and emotions.

I want my daughter and my sons to know that sex is neither the pinnacle of the human experience where they have to grab or steal or trick their partners into having it nor the worst “sin” they could possibly commit (unless they are married, of course).

I want to be the type of mother who, if some shit of a person snapped my daughter’s bra, I would respond in similar fashion. Always supporting Gamera, and never ever asking her what she was wearing to possibly deserve that type of behavior. Shoot, I want to be that type of my mom for my sons, too.

I want to be the type of mother who teaches her sons to see women (and men) as people and not just possible penis receptacles. And that just because their hormones may be raging or a woman might be wearing something attractive, or revealing, or nothing at all, that they are people who can exercise self-control and self-respect and are more than their base desires. I suppose this applies to my daughter as well.

I want all my children to know that it is normal and fine to have desires. Yes, even sexual ones.

I want my children to have fantastic as well as boring, comforting, and all-sorts-of-adjectives sex. I don’t care as long as they and their partner(s) can and do consent.

I want my children to have healthy, full, and fulfilling sexual lives. Shoot, lives in general.

I want my kids to be confident in the knowledge that should they ever be sexually assaulted or violated that it is not their fault; they are precious, perfect, and not despoiled or dirty chewing gum.

Actually, I want them to know that regardless.

I want my children to understand reality, and then know that they can and deserve better.

I confess. I am terribly dissatisfied with this post. It is nowhere near what I want to say, yet I cannot find the right words. Only, I am afraid if I keep postponing, I will never get it out.

And truly, as a woman, a wife, a mother, a daughter, a mother of daughters, a mother of sons, and most importantly, a human – a person, I want to convey that policing our daughter’s bodies, as protecting as it seems, just reinforces the lie that the problem is with our daughter’s bodies and not the men and women who choose to violate them.

And that yes, I would prefer my children always and only make wise choices. However, even if they make foolish choices (be it drinking alcohol, wearing the “wrong” type of clothing, whatever), that they still aren’t asking for it.

And with that, I leave you with this iconic image:

Still-Not-Asking-for-it

*All stories used with permission. Names and details have been withheld or changed due to privacy.

If you or someone you know are being raped, abused (sexual or otherwise), please please please call or contact RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) at 1-800-656-HOPE.

The Right Philosophy Won’t Save You

Ladies and Gentlemen, as I’m sure many of you have realized by now, I am a Control Freak.

I know. It caught me unaware, too. (I kid, I kid!)

And I am this way, a grasping, clamoring, rigid, inflexible, unreasonable person because I am afraid. I try to control everything because I am controlled by fear.

I find it most prevalent in my parenting. I’m sure it shows up in other ways, as Hapa Papa has surely experienced personally, but I notice it most in my parenting because strangely enough, my children happen to be little humans and do not obediently truck with everything I demand of them. (For me, this is the single, most infuriating and crippling thing about parenthood.)

I think I would have far fewer full on nuclear standoffs with my children if I just saw my belief systems as what they truly are: a way to order and control my children. (In fact, I believe this to be true for all belief systems – whether they be religion, political affiliations, even science. They are our methods to order and control our worlds.)

Instead, I fool myself into believing that what I’m imposing on my children is a life or death battle – the key to them growing into upstanding citizens and good people. I draw these ridiculous lines in the sand wherein if they don’t finish their yogurt for breakfast I am going to let them starve to death and never feed them again or if they don’t put on their helmet I’m going to throw away their scooter and all their other fun ride on toys and never let them go to the park again.

I do so because deep down, I am convinced that if I just make my kids do XYZ, then they’ll get into Harvard (or UCLA) and then they’ll become a doctor or something and be successful and have a good and happy life. Yes. All this from eating their fucking yogurt.

Until I had children, I never realized just how superstitious I was as a person. After all, wasn’t I an enlightened and educated person? Didn’t I believe in a God who was bigger, more powerful, and more merciful than even my education and religion? Didn’t I also believe in science (albeit, less powerful but still pretty awesome)? (And no, I do not find God and science to be mutually exclusive.)

After I had Cookie Monster, I used to pray over him when I nursed him to sleep at night. I would start out praying for Cookie Monster to have one or two traits that I thought would be key to him being a good person – but then, I would just keep adding to the list – and then qualify the entries with other “must haves.”

I wanted him to be happy, but not too happy. Suffer, but not too much suffering. Just enough to give him character and compassion for others. Be smart. Work hard. Have enough money but love the poor. The list kept growing longer and longer and more and more qualified, until I realized several things:

1) My laundry list of things was indicative of my True beliefs – the REAL desires of my heart. They were the things that I thought made a good life and would make Cookie Monster happy.

2) I have NO idea what makes a person happy or have a good life. Plus, my prescription for what I thought a good life entailed may well have turned Cookie Monster into a horrible person.

3) Ultimately, I want Cookie Monster (and all my children) to become people whose desires are after God’s own heart. And to beg God to allow me to be unbroken enough to recognize it when I see it.

But let’s be real. That last prayer is terrifying. God is not safe. God takes who you are and changes you. And that change usually hurts. A lot.

It’s hard to admit that having the right philosophy about child rearing or race or sex or religion – all that good stuff and the stuff of contentious culture wars – all that stuff won’t save us.

No matter how great our theory, we still have to go through the messiness of life. Kids still get cancer. Spouses still cheat. We might lose everything. All sorts of shitty things still happen – and we have no control over any of it.

I am owed nothing. Tomorrow isn’t promised. It is not guaranteed. God isn’t obliged to me. Doesn’t need me. Doesn’t even maybe care about my elaborate prayers or rituals or must haves. I mean, he probably cares WHY I do these things – but the things themselves? May as well be empty gestures. Superstitions.

That is what I find the most maddening. Isn’t that why I subscribe to these various thoughts? These various dogmas? To guarantee my kids won’t be drug addicts, will get into Harvard, won’t be teenage parents, and won’t be sick or poor?

But what’s the worst that could happen? (Well death, I suppose. But if I truly believe in Heaven and the goodness of God and how this life is just a preview, then though I be grieving, is it really the WORST?)

I can’t even open myself up to these “worst” possibilities because my overactive brain will continue to spin out of control and next thing you know, I have barricaded my children inside of our home and only allowed Hapa Papa to go out to work because some risks are acceptable in order for me to keep the lifestyle to which I’m accustomed. (Jokes! Them be jokes!)

Times like these, when fear threatens to overwhelm, I can’t even turn to God.

Why? Because God doesn’t promise me that life I want. He doesn’t promise me that everything will be smooth sailing and easy. He just promises to be with me. And what’s the use in that if I didn’t get what I want? (Of course, I bury these thoughts deep, deep down. You know, as if it were actually a secret from God. Mercifully, God has done little to shatter my illusions thus far.)

No, instead, I turn to statistics. Cold, hard numbers. The odds are ever in my favor and that is enough to comfort me for a little while.

Here’s the thing about my small, fearful heart. I do not believe that God is really that good, let alone that God is actually enough. I don’t believe it and I NEVER want to be tested and taught that is so.

I believe. Help my unbelief.

Truthfully, even if I had the “correct” theology, it won’t save me. No philosophy or religion will.

Or even in the narrow scope of parenting, no matter how perfect I am in my parenting (be it Attachment Parenting, Free Range Parenting, I Don’t Give A Fuck Parenting), my kids could still end up a drug addict, in prison, homeless, or dead in a variety of ways.

All my tightly clenched fists have done is unravel me. I am falling apart. My words on paper seem together, but I am not. I am a hot mess right now.

I feel as if I’m coming apart at the seams. As if something inside me has shaken loose and won’t play ball and go back to its proper place: hidden.

Change is hard, my friends. I confess, since my last breakdown back in November/December, I’ve gotten into a more placid place and evened out a bit. I had deluded myself that 4-5 months of therapy was all I needed and BOOM! I am healed!

But, no. The things that drove me to therapy just got ably pushed down and buried after the first few weeks. I have been deflecting and skimming the surface of what I am now for the past few months, mistaking candor for vulnerability.

They are not the same. And I am not very vulnerable.

I feel cracked. And I fear I am cracking like a mirror to be shattered rather than an egg birthing something new.

I really want to be made anew.

 

Who Made Me Gatekeeper?

It has occurred to me that based on my previous posts, it can seem that I have some sort of chip on my shoulder when it comes to Mandarin Immersion. (Perhaps “chip” seems inadequate. “Boulder,” maybe?) And perhaps, at times, I do. But like I mentioned in my previous post, just because my delivery isn’t to your liking doesn’t mean what I’m saying is not also accurate.

At any rate, I’d like to clear some things up and answer some (self-selected) questions folks may have. To change things up a bit, I’ve decided to do the post Q&A style today. If only because that requires less transitional writing. (Hey, what can I say? I want to be informative, but also, I’m really lazy.)

So, without further ado, a highly curated and self-induced Q&A.

Q: Why are you so mad all the time anyway? Just what is your problem with Mandarin Immersion and people who are not Chinese/Asian (non-heritage speakers) who want to do Mandarin Immersion?

Since I’ve already written several posts on this topic, I’ll refer you to those:

1) How An Article Confirmed My Worst Fears About Mandarin Immersion

tl;dr: Even on the topic of Mandarin Immersion wherein the majority of students are of Asian or Chinese descent, the focus is on the white experience. STOP OBLITERATING ASIANS FROM THEIR OWN STORY!

2) Hating On Mark Zuckerberg’s Chinese

tl;dr: Why is a rich white guy learning and having mediocre Chinese so impressive when millions of immigrants are FLUENT in English (albeit with an accent) but insulted and maligned and told, “You’re in America, speak American!” (And usually with laughably bad English.)

3) Will All This Mandarin Immersion Be For Naught?

tl;dr: My internal conflict re: the Mandarin Immersion bandwagon. On the one hand, I’m pleased at the increase in resources and classes. On the other, I’m still really annoyed by my language being relegated to a trend.

Q: Why can’t you be happier for more Mandarin Immersion opportunities?

As I have repeatedly mentioned, I am happy there are more opportunities for Mandarin Immersion. Anytime more people can be introduced to another language (in this case, Chinese) is a good thing. The more folks there are who express interest, the more resources and opportunities there are for me to take advantage of for my children. So, in purely Machiavellian terms, it is in my own self-interest to promote Mandarin Immersion.

However, it is possible to be both happy about more Mandarin Immersion opportunities and point out shit that makes me angry about the current situation.

Truly, even though there are parts of me that scoff at all the unrealistic expectations folks have for Mandarin Immersion, what’s it to me? Who cares if people are doing it for the “wrong” reason? Or don’t have a snowball’s chance in Hell for their kids to actually become and retain fluency? How does it harm me? And how is it any of my business?

The only time it does matter to me is when there is actual harm to me and my kids. (And by harm, I consider racism, entitlement, etc. all forms of harm.)

Again, my main concerns relate to the following:

1) When non-heritage parents and students think that just because they know some (or are learning) Chinese that they are now somehow Chinese and can understand and speak for the Chinese/Asian American experience.

2) When non-heritage parents and students dismiss the legitimate concerns and experiences of Chinese/Asian American parents and students.

3) When heritage parents and students dismiss the legitimate concerns and experiences of non-heritage parents and students.

4) When the white experience and viewpoint is of primary importance and spotlighted to the exclusion or tokenism of other experiences. (Ie: business as usual.)

5) The entitlement and utter cluelessness non-heritage (okokok, I mean white) parents exhibit when they complain about their kids being excluded or not popular or otherwise experiencing what every single minority person in America experiences to some degree on a daily basis. Then they cry “reverse racism!”

Q: Why are you so divisive? 

As for division, I am not advocating for exclusivity or some sort of litmus test. But rather, truthfulness in a community. There is no peace when the offenses and hurts of part of the community are papered over and over again for the sake of “unity.”

That isn’t real unity, opportunity, or peace. That is a lie.

ETA: Just had a thought. Why is it when I, as a Chinese American person, don’t like the idea of white people jumping on the Mandarin Immersion bandwagon, I am considered an elitist? But when white people do it about their golf courses, or financial institutions, or neighborhoods, they’re just “keeping tradition”?

Q: It seems like you’re wanting a litmus test or some type of delineation to see who should be allowed to participate in Mandarin Immersion. As if there were a “right” way to do it.

As appealing as a litmus test initially sounds, ultimately, I find it a dangerous slippery slope.

After all, who is to say who should “qualify” and be a “good” Mandarin Immersion candidate? Should it only be native speakers and their children because the parents want to pass on their cultural heritage and legacy? Should it also include heritage parents who CANNOT speak the language because they feel regret at their lack of fluency and because they also want to pass on their cultural heritage? Should it include only white and non-heritage allies? Should it include only white and non-heritage families who show the appropriate amount of dedication and commitment to learning a whole different language and culture? For that matter, should it include only native families who show the appropriate amount of dedication and commitment?

And even if we could “decide” who the “right” people are to allow in the Mandarin Immersion classes, who should do the deciding? And why them? And the danger of having such a calcified code of rules and qualifications is that all of them are so subjective. A person runs the risk of failing their own litmus test!

You know what that’s called? DOGMA.

I am uninterested in dogma.

I think the only litmus test is that the participants be human and someone in their family signed them up and enrolled them in Mandarin Immersion. Everything else is gravy.

Q: Who made you The Mandarin Immersion Gatekeeper?

No one. Aren’t you paying attention?

I am not The Mandarin Immersion Gatekeeper. Nor do I wish to be. After all, who wants to be the one who’s telling others that the “Seat’s Taken?”

I’ll freely admit. I used to wish there was a gatekeeper of sorts. You know, to keep the rabble out. But over time, I realized that that type of thinking was incredibly arrogant and divisive and ultimately, not helpful to the conversation. Plus, if I loved Mandarin Immersion, then really, I want as many people to take part in it as possible.

Personally, I think all schools should have some type of language immersion – be it Spanish, Mandarin, Arabic, Russian – whatever. Having more languages and cultures can only be a good thing. Keys to better understanding our allies and enemies and what have you.

Some instrumental posts that have changed my mind from being super “conservative” as it were about Mandarin Immersion, have actually come from the geek/SFF world. Many long time gamers or purveyors of Geek Culture (yes, capitalized) got all upset by the mass marketization of the things they love. And SF author, John Scalzi, wrote several posts that helped me a lot.

Now, I realize that the analogy is imperfect because I wouldn’t say geeks are or ever were an oppressed minority with major justice issues needing address. But the parallels are there. (Although there IS a need to address injustice and minority representation WITHIN the forms of comics/games/books. But that is an altogether different post.)

Anyhow, the main articles that really resonated with me are:

Who Gets To Be a Geek? Anyone Who Wants to Be – John Scalzi

A Creator’s Note to “Gatekeepers” – John Scalzi

When Someone Says They Love A Thing That You Love, Don’t Challenge Them; Embrace Them, And Love That Thing Together – Wil Wheaton

Q: You talk a lot about what you don’t want from fellow participants in Mandarin Immersion. What are things you would want? Or think that people “should” do?

Sigh. Again with the “shoulds.” I know. It’s human nature to want to draw a line in the sand and separate the sheep from the goats.

I don’t want people to live in fear of a bunch of “shoulds.” I don’t want non-heritage families to be kow-towing to heritage families. (But wouldn’t that be a nice reversal? NONONONONONO. Let’s not even go down that path.)

Rather, I consider some of these on my Wish List. A bunch of, “Wouldn’t it be nice if people acted in this manner?”

Here then are some of my “It Would Be Nices”:

– For non-heritage parents to listen, truly listen (without being the Tone Police), to the experiences, pain, and opinions of Chinese and Asian American parents. Language does not exist in a vacuum.

– For non-heritage parents to think before they speak. Especially thoughtless comments like, “What is ‘Asian,’ anyway?” or “Will they make any friends that speak English?”

– For both sets of parents to remember that not all Chinese Americans can already speak or read Chinese.

– For heritage and native speakers to not seem/be so smug.

– For non-heritage speakers to remember that it’s not all about them.

– While we’re at it, it would be nice for heritage speakers to remember that, too.

– For each group to remember that there are unique challenges each type of parent faces and to be a safe space.

Ultimately, the community of Mandarin Immersion families needs a healthy mix of heritage and non-heritage families. If the community is limited only to heritage families, there is no way Mandarin Immersion will reach the critical mass it needs in order to get more resources and money. If the community is limited only to non-heritage families, there is a great loss of cultural context.

Truly, it is possible to recognize that there can be different needs for different families – and to address those different needs. Let’s be respectful to the unique challenges each type of parent faces and be a safe space. Ultimately, we want to raise happy, healthy, and hopefully bilingual children.

Feel free to add more questions in the comments! As per usual, all trolling will be ignored and/or disappeared.

How An Article Confirmed My Worst Fears About Mandarin Immersion

Author’s Note: As per usual when I have a controversial post, I direct you to my Comment Policies. I encourage discussion but trolling, flaming, and general bad behavior will be vigorously disappeared. Also, comments that attempt to Tone Police will not be tolerated. If you don’t know what that is, figure it out. I don’t shit on your kitchen floor; don’t shit on mine.

Yesterday, an article about Mandarin Immersion schools in San Francisco made the rounds all over my Facebook feed. Pretty much every time I’ve seen it posted is in the context of self-congratulation and affirmation.

Well, friends. It’s time to Get Real.

For folks who find the article too long or too dry, here’s the tl;dr version: Chinese immersion schools are on the rise and super popular in the Bay Area. White parents worry their kids will make friends with Chinese kids who only speak Chinese. (Because OF COURSE Chinese kids can’t speak English.) White parents are sad their kids are excluded from the Chinese and multi-ethnic kids so they withdraw their children because they have The Sads. Oh, and didn’t you know? We aren’t even Asian anymore. Or Chinese. White people are. You know, because their kids can “talk” to the waiter in a Chinese restaurant.

Takesdeepbreath.

I haven’t yet decided if my post today will be scathing and sarcastic or even keeled and level-headed. (Trust me, thus far, I’ve been holding back.) On the one hand, I feel like we tiptoe too much around white people in case we offend their “delicate” sensibilities. On the other hand, I also know that it is hard to listen and learn when you’re being publicly ripped a new one.

I am, as it were, conflicted.

At any rate, upon reading the article, my immediate reaction was a swift and biting fury. And in true fact, I am still livid. But as I mull over this article more, I realize, more than my anger and offended sensibilities, is a deep underlying sadness.

Here we have an article on Mandarin Immersion that could be so encouraging in terms of garnering interest, collaboration, resources, and so many other possible things, and instead, we have an article that is at best, facile, but mostly, plainly offensive. But it is useless to bemoan what an article could have been. Rather, let us focus on what it is.

For an article that describes the immersion school demographic as mostly Asian or mixed-Asian descent (at De Vila, 63% identify as Asian, 18% white; at Chinese American International School, 38% Asian, 19% white; at Alice Fong Yu, 66% Asian, 5% white;), it manages to obliterate Asian people from the picture. Literally. Even the fucking CARTOON is of a white, blond family.

Oh, sure. They quote a few Chinese Americans who married white guys and aren’t fluent in Chinese. And full disclosure, my husband is half white, and most of my best Asian friends’ husbands are white. I really don’t care who people are married to or what language they speak. I don’t disparage Chinese Americans for not being able to speak Chinese. As an American Born Chinese (ABC), I know too well how difficult it is to maintain a language with which there are few people to converse and seemingly irrelevant to my life in America.

But overwhelmingly, the article treats Chinese as a commodity. A tool to be acquired separate from its people and culture. Chinese is for white people – something which they are entitled to because reasons. Just one more thing with which to be competitive in this hyper-competitive world.

The Chinese and Asian students and parents are mentioned only in the following contexts: demographics; a passing comment by a white couple that their kid only made friends with Chinese speaking kids; wanting kids to be able to learn their heritage; and excluding white kids.

Even in situations where Asians are the majority-minority, the focus is on the white children and the white experience. We cannot even star in our own fucking story.

The article mentions that some kids think they are Chinese because they can “speak” the language. How cute, the article implies. Look at how tolerant and accepting we are!

NO.

It is not adorable or a sign of “colorblindness” (please don’t get me started on that term) for some white kid to think he or she is Chinese. Because no matter what, that kid is still a white boy or girl who will grow up to be a white man or woman. And no matter how fluent or culturally aware this kid becomes, they will still be white. With all the privileges and cultural currency whiteness evokes.

He will not be Chinese because he will not be overlooked as a meek or effeminate male who just needs to be a little more assertive to get that promotion.

She will not be Chinese because though she will encounter sexism, she will not be seen only as a submissive sex object to fulfill every white man’s fantasy. Or a victim. A prostitute. A dragon lady.

He will not be Chinese because he will not have the size of his penis mocked or be told by his iPhone to open his eyes when he smiles.

She will not be Chinese because all her hard work and success in math, science, or medicine will be dismissed because she’s Asian and they’re all good at math. It’s in their DNA.

He will not be Chinese because any poorly pronounced Chinese words he speaks will be fawned over and praised and gushed about and make the international news cycle where a Chinese man who is actually fluent in English but has an accent is written off as a waiter or the dry cleaner or the delivery man with a “Ching Chong Chinaman” song.

She will not be Chinese because even though she was born here, no one will be amazed at how well she speaks English. Or randomly spout Chinese words at her like “Gung hay fat choy” or “Wo ai ni” or some other cheesy pick up line and then get offended if she isn’t suitably impressed. Or ask her where she’s from. No, where she’s really from. No, where her parents are from. No, before that.

He will not be Chinese because he will walk into any room or any country and expect to be catered to because he is American but really because he is a white male and the world bends over backwards to make sure the poor, sensitive white man is not insulted or has his feelings hurt.

She will not be Chinese because even though she is with her own children, no one will come up to her and ask her how much she charges to be a nanny or au pair.

I am deeply offended when the article quotes an author of a Mandarin Immersion book (a book which I purchased because I thought it would be helpful to me in my homeschooling) saying, “What is ‘Asian’ anymore, anyway?”

What’s Asian? What’s Asian? I’ll tell you what it’s NOT.

It’s NOT white people randomly deciding that my people’s language is suddenly useful for the future so it’s the hipster language trend of the moment.

It’s NOT some thing you can acquire from lessons or a bauble you add to your collection of progressive liberalism to show off how fucking enlightened you are.

I want to give the author, Beth Weise, the benefit of the doubt. However that doesn’t give her a pass. It doesn’t matter if she had good intentions. A person can have good intentions and be offensive. Weise’s comment is incredibly dismissive of an entire people. In fact, an entire continent of multiple peoples and cultures and lives.

Also? I’m really weary of constantly giving benefits of the doubt and passes. Where the fuck is MY benefit of the doubt or pass when I am angry about racism or sexism? Or when the Tone Police come to town when poor white folks are offended by the truth and consequences of their actions?

And then, the article ends with indignant white parents who cry because their kids aren’t popular and are excluded because the cool kids are Chinese and “mixed” kids. As a result, only a handful of non-Chinese kids are still in the programs by the eighth grade.

Look, I’m sorry your kid is miserable and not cool. I get that it is painful and sad. No one likes to be left out. But you know what else? WELCOME TO THE WORLD OF MINORITIES, YOU FUCKING ENTITLED TWATS.

Or, as my friend, Guava Rama put in a much more tactful way, “It’s nice some people can pull their kids out or graduate out of being a minority.”

Or as my friend, Irish Twins, said in a less tactful, but incredibly spot-on way:

I get that we need white allies to have more resources, get more immersion, etc. But they [white people] are so entitled. I think they feel heard. Because that is really important. Did you know that is it HARD to be a minority? Sometimes you get teased!

Congratulations on being so enlightened that you realize that the US has about 5% of the world’s population and there are other languages out there. That they [the kids] know any Chinese. Even if they don’t, they will be much more compassionate people because they have walked in the shoes of a minority and understand what it is like to not be the default answer to what is normal, pretty, cool. But oh wait, THEY CAN FUCKING LEAVE IMMERSION SCHOOL. Oops.

You know what annoys me about white people or non-heritage people who are trying to raise their kids bilingual in Chinese and English? It often feels like they are trying to make it about them. (Possibly because they are.)

Here then, is the crux of why I have spent the last few hours of my day seething and why so very many Chinese Americans are both cautiously optimistic as well as highly skeptical of Mandarin Immersion programs: Once again, we are being rendered invisible.

Can you imagine how that feels? To have your culture and your language appropriated and commodified? But then, to still have your people, your very personhood and identity denied? Or if acknowledged, as a charming footnote to someone else’s story?

Look, I am all for Mandarin Immersion. I value it so much, my blog has Mandarin in the title. I’m considering homeschooling my kids so that they will be surrounded in Mandarin as long as humanly possible. I send my children to Mandarin preschools. I go to Mandarin Mommy and Me’s and playgroups. I have spent thousands of dollars on Mandarin DVDs, CDs, books, materials, schooling. You name it and I’ve got it.

And sure, you can say that I’m all for Mandarin Immersion because I’m ethnically Taiwanese/Chinese and want my children, who are multi-racial, to “inherit” my culture. But do I want other people to have Mandarin Immersion?

YES. I really do. If only on a purely selfish level, more interest means more resources available for me.

But on top of that, I really do think Mandarin Immersion is a wonderful thing and if non-heritage families want to participate, how does that hurt me (except in the instances I have just illustrated in this post)? Like Irish Twins said, it can only be more helpful to have more folks have positive memories of Chinese language and culture vs the “Ching chang chong” crap I remember dealing with as a kid or a general suspicion of Chinese things as weird or exotic.

So, I tell myself it is a good thing. As long as folks who are doing Mandarin immersion don’t all of a sudden believe they are immune to being racist or an expert on being Chinese American, I think it is a good thing.

I hate that I even have to justify myself. I feel like I’m mollifying an overly sensitive child.

Just because you don’t like how I say it doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Don’t fucking tell me how to feel, how to state facts, or how to point out bias just because you can’t handle it or are uncomfortable with where it’s going.

Your discomfort and my anger doesn’t make you a bad person. In fact, it has nothing to do with you.

This post is not about you.

This post is about the entire peoples, in particularly, those who are ethnically Chinese or Taiwanese, that the article neatly sidesteps and renders unseen.

This post is to implore and beseech writers of articles, parents of Mandarin Immersion students, and the students themselves. Be aware of how your internal biases affect your writing, your response, and your behavior. Be cognizant that there are more people than just your narrow, self-centered, white-centric view of the world. Be open, humble, and gracious enough to the opinions, experiences, and pain of the people you affect with your words and ignorance – no matter how innocuous.

It doesn’t matter if your intentions are good. If you mean well.

Unfortunately, your intentions have no bearing upon the natural consequences of your actions. And honestly, I don’t particularly care. Please don’t act like a two year old and whinge about how other people are reacting.

And finally, my language, my culture, and my people are not commodities.

I am not a trend.

I am not a competitive edge.

I am not foreign.

I am not a memento.

I am not just another angry minority.

I am a person.

I am fury.

I am wounded.

I am exhausted.

I am powerful.

And I will NOT be silenced.