For I Know the Plans I Have for You

My parents immigrated to America in the late 80s. My father’s family were fleeing precarious business dynamics in Taiwan and my mother’s were fleeing the increasingly tight grip of the Chinese government. They were privileged exiles who traveled across the world with a single suitcase and dreams for their future family.

They met in graduate school, happenstance classmates who were pursuing the same degree. They shared desks, fume hoods, and notes. My dad made sure they kept studying together even after my mom switched programs. They met and studied in small cramped apartments, filled with more roommates than probably was permissible. Between dimly lit kitchen tables, and fire escape conversations, my father discovered he was smitten. In rented apartment units and borrowed space, my mother admitted that my dad was “alright.”

They studied together, planned for their futures, and when my mother’s father had a layover at JFK International Airport, she insisted my father go and meet him. Alone. My dad was, understandably, nervous to meet whom he hoped would be his future father-in-law. They met briefly, and as a broke graduate student paying rent by working two jobs, he had nothing to bring as a gift. So instead, my father told my grandfather about his American Dream. My father wanted kids. He wanted them to have a big beautiful house in the suburbs in a good school district with a view of the Long Island Sound. My father wanted to build a Home in a new land.

They saved for over 30 years and meticulously watched the market. They each worked two jobs, often bringing me to work as a toddler, and started a small business when I was in elementary school. They worked tirelessly toward their American Dream, and it all finally paid off.

When I was in college, they bought a piece of land in a decent neighborhood with a house that was quite literally crumbling, bulldozed it and then started building something new. They looked at architect sketch after sketch, finally visualizing a dream they’d had for over three decades. Finally they chose one. It took two years and almost everything they saved, but it was finally finished. Their American Dream Home.

What I find fascinating every time I visit my parents is how distinctly Asian American the house is. From the outside it looks like every single other home in our neighborhood. A modern two story brick and wood home in a colonial style neighborhood. Yet the inside is decorated with cabinets from my father’s close friend who is a Taiwanese carpenter, tables that have Chinese folktales etched into the sides, and vases from my mother’s family in Shanghai. The home has an American exterior with an Asian interior.

A house often tells the story of a family. It seems fitting that my parents built their story from the ground up. Their house is a story of both creation and loss.

My parents have lived in America for over 30 years now. They left China and Taiwan when they were in their twenties. They left the continent they grew up in to travel halfway across the world. They left behind friends, family, hopes and dreams for new ones. They left behind a life that they can’t access again. Their old home has changed radically in the three decades of absence. My father often tells me that moving back to Taiwan would be like moving to a new country all over again. The home that they once knew is gone.

Yet in their new homeland they are seen as foreigners. Their accent, their culture and even their food preferences are seen as “oriental,” “foreign,” and distinctly “not-American.” My parents have lived in America for 30 years yet their neighbors will continue to ask them “where are you from?” There are constant reminders that my parents will never be seen as Americans because they are not white.

So my parents built a house. In their reality, there was no place to call Home. So they created it. They built and filled a house with new memories, and new hopes. My dad bought a new wok in the hopes of learning how to cook 麻婆豆腐 (mapo tofu) and fills the house with the smells of his childhood. My mom took up flower arrangement to fill the house with gentle reminders of Beauty.

My family’s story reminds me of the Israelites in the book of Jeremiah. I’ve always found it amusing that people quote Jeremiah 29:11 in graduation cards “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a future.’” What they don’t mention in those cards is that the prophet Jeremiah is writing to a people in exile. He is writing to a people who have been forced to leave their homeland and are not seen as citizens in their new land, regardless of how long they have lived there. They are people who know multiple languages, not by choice, but necessity. They are people who left in search of a safer Home only to be denied. In the midst of exile Jeremiah tells the people of Israel to settle down. He tells them to build houses and plant gardens. He tells them to find partners and spouses for their children. Jeremiah tells them in the midst of exile, of forced assimilation, of spending decades in a land being seen as foreigners and strangers, that they are to build a Home.

The Chinese character for home is 家 (jia). But 家 is used for much more than a description of a physical home. 家 is used for phrases like 家庭 (family unit), 儒家 (Confucian ideology), names of occupations like 科學家 (scientist), and so much more. It makes me wonder if my ancestors understood that Home is so much more than just a structural house. We are creating Home every day in our relationships, ideologies, theologies, and vocations. As Asian Americans, we are building a Home for ourselves in spaces where we are not welcome.

So like the Israelites in Jeremiah and my own family, I am learning what it means to make a Home or 家 in the world. My 家 is in my chosen family, in these friendships that stretch along telephone wire and show me what healthy Godly community looks like. My 家 is in my journey of reclaiming what it means to be an Asian American Christian who engages with her Taoist and Confucian roots. My 家 is in discovering that Moses and other biblical people also struggled to fit his experience in the binary society he lived in. My 家 is in the Asian American community and my career in educating and mobilizing college students for Kingdom Justice and Reconciliation. Each day I am learning what it means to find Home in the world.


Created by: Cal Hsiao

About the Author: Cal is a part-time campus minister, barista, and seminarian based in St. Louis, Missouri. She loves books, film, photography and sometimes other humans. In her free time (when she has it) she freelances as a wedding photographer/videographer, goes on long hikes, and quietly plots the end of the world.

Hungry For Home

 

Food has always been an integral part of the Asian American experience for me. Food is not just sustenance, it is always an experience, tied to distinct memories. Boba has always been attached to my late night study sessions, sushi is part of my family’s complicated past with Taiwan, and roti canai reminds me of the loneliness of the immigrant experience. All together, they remind me of who I am, and where I come from.  

Part I. Boba and School

A lot of my social life revolves around boba. That’s just how it is when you call an Asian American suburb your home. There’s a boba shop adjacent to my school, a boba shop next to the Vons—heck, there’s a boba shop on the other side of my block. No matter where we go, my best friend and I always order the same thing—peach green tea with lychee jelly (half sweet) and milk tea with mini boba. If it’s a good day, we’ll get sweet potato fries to go. Going out for boba was a great way to start off the weekend on a Friday afternoon, but boba also reminded me of the crushing academic culture that many of my peers and I grew up in. Boba shops often stay open late, making it the ideal spot for a six hour AP Calculus study session, a place to cram for finals, and last minute college-essay writing. In an academic pressure cooker, boba tasted like three more hours until I can get to sleep, four more chapters to study, one more practice test, two more college essays…The hours filter by as study partners jostle each other awake, pulling up an extra chair next to the booth for the friend who shows up two hours late. Boba was both a relief from school and a reminder of it.

Part II. Sushi and Grandparents

My grandparents speak Japanese, a remnant of the Japanese occupation of Taiwan in the 1900s. So my grandmother brings sushi to Christmas every single year, along with a gigantic pot of miso soup. She embraced Japanese values and education as a means to rise in a tumultuous time, and each sip of soup and bite of sushi is a reminder that home is complicated, and sometimes painful. In my grandparents’ lifetime, Taiwan was occupied by the Japanese, then the Kuomintang, and is still currently claimed by China and not officially recognized as a country. On February 28th of every year, my grandfather invites me to the adult table and tries to remind me of his generation’s pain, and the university professors he lost in the White Terror. Certain words and opinions, whispered to the wrong person, or said at the wrong time, cost them their lives. His table, with his friends, has slowly shrunk over the year. He fills the seats with his children and grandchildren, and whispers his stories to us. In his broken English, he tries to say that home is hard, and he misses his home—what it was, and what it could have been.

Part III. Roti Canai and Chinese New Year

I forget that America is not my mother’s home, and it’s never more obvious than during Chinese New Year. Hours are spent on the phone, calling her mom and sister, apologizing about how she can’t go back this year. The pain in her eyes when she knows that there won’t be a seat saved for her at the family table. She grew up in Malaysia, and still ends some of her English words with la. When we go back, I always gorge myself on roti canai, a traditionally Indian food that fills the streets year round. Roti canai isn’t as good in the States, and I miss it—but I know my mom misses it more. It’s not true roti if it doesn’t come off a stand, still flaking and steaming in the cool of the morning, a relief from the impending humidity of the afternoon. Roti is a reminder of her home, and how she is always an “other” in America, an “other” in my Taiwanese church. When I hear her on the phone missing her family, I remind myself that no matter my relationship with my family—I’m going to call home every Chinese New Year.

Home is complicated, home is painful, home is stressful. But, I remember that wherever I call home, wherever I am—there’ll always be a seat for me at the table.


Created by: Yumei Lin

About the Author: Yumei is a student at Tufts University, passionate about social justice, movies, and finding the best boba shops.

 

from-to & everything in between

In three days, I will board a plane back to my passport land, a place I’m supposed to call home. It’s not. It’s my birthplace, my upbringing, my privilege. This poem is my attempt to my 20 months serving with migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong, finding community among them, and leaving my newfound home for an uncertain one.

From MNL

From JFK

to HKG
I leave
Husband, children, parents behind
For better work abroad
Hopes of a better income, so
Shacks can become houses,
Food can fill stomachs,
Education can bring opportunity.

I leave
Friends, family behind
For the mission field
Hopes for justice and peace, so
Night becomes the day,
Ashes turns to beauty,
Love can bring change.

I arrive
Suitcases full of pictures, cards, letters –
Memoirs of where I came from.

She waves to me,
Recognizing me from our video chat.
“Welcome to Hong Kong!”

“You’re so dirty.”
“Stop being so lazy.”
She yells at me,
Hits me, starves me.
Nothing I do is right.

“You’re so American.”
“I didn’t realize you’re so Asian.”
They assume my Western upbringing,
Surprised by my Eastern values.
Nothing I do fits.

Presidential election:
Promise of a better future –
Job creation, poverty alleviation.

Presidential selection:
Reality of a worse present –
Violence, deaths, a divided country.

Useless abroad –
What can I do?

“When can I get my pay, ma’am?”
She doesn’t give a clear answer.
I hope next month.

“Who do I ask?”
She doesn’t give a clear answer.
Indirect communication confuses me.

I miss my
Food, friends, family,
Speaking my native tongue.
I am sick of Chinese food.

My nose bleeds from speaking English,
But Cantonese isn’t any easier.
I want pansit and adobo.
I miss my husband, children, parents.
But here, I am.
A slave.

My mother language no longer familiar,
Tongue unable to pronounce correct tones.
I want tacos and pizza.
I don’t even like pizza.
But here, I am.
Homesick.

“We are workers, we are not slaves!”
Our chants heard
From Causeway Bay
To Central
For better pay
For better working conditions
“Domestic work is work!”

Unwelcome looks
Of disdain
Wherever I go
The pain of always knowing
I am a foreigner.

Mistaken for a migrant worker
In the summer
Ambiguous Asian features
In the “winter”
I am a foreigner.

We fight, we advocate, we unite
Despite our differences,
Because of our similarities,
For ourselves, for our countries, for others.

If not us, who?
If not now, when?

I find a new employer
Because filing a case means
No work, no money.
I hope she treats me better –
Feeds me,
Pays me.

I find my place in the space between
Asian American –
The awkward tension of being
Neither,
Both,
Betwixt and between.

Hong Kong is not home.
I don’t belong here.

Gusto ko uwi.
I want to go home.

下一步呢?
What’s next?


Created by: Jennifer Sushi Au

About the Author: Sushi is a missioner/social justice advocate/adventurer. She dedicates her life to serve with those in the margins of society and doesn’t mind the nomad life. She dreams big and lives Ordinary Adventures full of Amazing Days. She is finishing her term in Hong Kong as a Young Adult missionary with the United Methodist Church and returns back to her passport land. She has no idea what comes next but is excited!

Dear America

TW: emotional and physical abuse, trauma, violence

***

Dear America,

It’s been awhile, I know. I’ve been away from home for a long time.  Fifteen years, to be exact.

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, but I’m not so sure. Living abroad has given me some distance. Some perspective.

I spent my childhood in your embrace, suckling on the milky white supremacy flowing from your bosom. You may have sustained me, but you also kept me dependent. You kept me strong enough to tell yourself you were doing a good job raising me. You kept me weak enough to keep me in my place.

As I grew older, I hated the way you held me up as a model child during family gatherings, bragging about my accomplishments and comparing me to my black and brown cousins.

            You used me to feel good about yourself.

Even now, I hate the way you put on a face of respectability when we are out in public together, pretending to be a happy family. In reality, you pat me on my back when I submit to your wishes but rage when I don’t comply. You don’t want a grown child with her own thoughts and feelings.

            You want a puppet.

You think I should be grateful. You think I’m being unfair. You feel like I’m attacking you.

Most narcissistic parents feel the same way.

You expect me to be invulnerable to pain, yet you yourself are so fragile.

I know I’m being raw, but I’m trying to tell you something here.

I want to have a relationship with you, America. I really do.

But I don’t know how to do that when I feel so unsafe and insecure in your presence. I don’t how to bring all of myself to you when you’ve rejected me time and time again.

What I want is to be fully loved and accepted as I am—all the contradictory and complex pieces of me—not just the parts that make you comfortable.

But it doesn’t seem like you’re ready to do that.

I don’t know if I can come home.

Yours?

Estranged

***

Dear America

You say you’re sorry. You say you didn’t mean it, that you’ll try harder next time.

I don’t know whether to believe you.

When it was good, it was really good. The exhilarating high of infatuation and intimacy.

I remember being so proud to belong to you. All those times we walked down the street together, with your arm possessively slung over my shoulder. You showered me with opportunity and expensive gifts. You opened doors for me. You intoxicated me with your compliments and attention. I thought you loved me.

Was it all a lie?

When it was bad, it was ugly. Violent. Deadly. The shaming of my body that you both eroticized and emasculated. The unexpected punches while walking down the street. The cruel beatings for looking at you the wrong way.

I have the scars to show for it.

I found the videos too. The ones where you’re acting out your sick fantasies and fears on others. Horrific images of handcuffed victims whom you violated and brutalized.

I’m shaking right now—from fury and from fear. You disgust me. You’ve broken my trust and you’ve broken my heart.

I’m scared to be in my own home.

Stop trying to appease me with your empty words, America. I don’t want anything from you right now.

        I just want you to take a good look at yourself.

Own your own shit. Open your eyes to the trauma of your birth—the abuse, the rape, the hate, and the violence that are part of your story. Stop running from the pain.

        Get help.

I’ve already packed my bags. 

Love/Hate,

Abused

***

Dear America,

You’re lashing out. You’re distressed.

“I hate you!” you say.

“Get out of my life!”  

“It’s his fault!”

I can see you’re having some big feelings.

Your brother asked you to stop hitting him, but you didn’t. He asked you not to take his Lambikin, but you took it anyway.

Now you’re upset because he won’t play with you. You’re mad because he wants his favorite toy back.

It’s tough to hear no, isn’t it? It’s hard when you don’t get your way, I know.

Come, let me hold you. Shh, it’s okay to feel frustrated.

You’re not ready for a hug, I see. You don’t want to be comforted right now.

I’m going to have to hold onto your arms. You don’t seem to be in control of them right now.  You’re hurting people and I can’t let you do that. We don’t do that in our home.

Oh America, America! How I want to gather you in my arms as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you won’t let me.

You push me away. You run off. You slam the door.

But I won’t give up on you.

I’m here. Arms open.

Come home…

Waiting,

Love


Created by: Iris Chen

About the Author: Iris Chen is a Chinese American blogger who writes about her adventures as a deconstructing tiger mother. An advocate for gentle parenting and unschooling, she currently lives with her husband and sons in China.

Photo Credit: Dương Trần Quốc on Unsplash

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