Rivers

I’ve struggled to find ways to describe my journey with identity, filled to the brim with that ever-familiar sense of in-betweenness. Something that captures the tensions in the worlds I inhabit.

Race. Ethnicity. Sexuality. Within each of these, I’ve found different ways to convert the seemingly liminal into a permanent place of residence.

These thoughts used to evoke visions of travel and the feeling of being in transit. A wanderer crossing a bridge or fording a river. An explorer cutting through brush or climbing a mountain. I’ve since discarded the sense of drawing nearer to a destination, but I find myself returning to this river. Perhaps the image of one who makes their life on the water but has a view of both shores can begin to tell my story. Someone who comfortably drifts between banks, but is not lost; who sometimes finds trouble trying to communicate what river life is to those on land. Growing in confidence as it becomes clearer that this is home.

In a world that prefers to break things into this or that, “Pick one”, and either/or, finding a sense of belonging isn’t always easy. It can be tiring to feel like you need to prove your legitimacy. Scrutiny flows from within and beyond your own communities, and otherization takes many forms.

It’s being deemed whitewashed by APIs and a perpetual foreigner by Americans
It’s “You’re so exotic!” from white and Asian faces alike, or the even less savory: “So you’re like a mutt, then?”
It’s that strange, brief pause when a demographics survey says, “Check one.”
It’s “What are you?” as a conversation starter
It’s both gay and straight people telling you you’re mistaken about your sexuality because it’s “not a thing” or “just a phase.”

These statements tell me to hide, adapt, modify, choose, and erase. Some are declarations stating that you’re out of place on the shore while others are requests that you get out of the water. They rejected realities that I knew to be true but began to question.

And those doubts have their way of sinking into your skin. Impostor syndrome creeps into the picture, feeding on insecurities and plastering your mind with question marks. A competing voice wonders aloud if you’ve imagined everything and exaggerated your otherness. This uncertainty, too, has many forms:

It’s wondering if you belong in APIA spaces when your connection to the countries of your ancestors is tenuous at best.
It’s sensing that an inability to speak or understand their tongues might be something shameful.
It’s being unsure if you’re Pacific Islander enough to speak to PI issues.
It’s believing that liking a girl makes you straight and liking a boy makes you gay.
It’s thinking either of these cases voids the validity and reality of the other.
It’s asking if you’re allowed in queer spaces at all.

***

In different ways, I’ve tried to fit myself into the frameworks I know, tightly defined. These dualistic and pluralistic structures take pieces and reluctantly add them together. They measure something like my Asian American identity by attempting to quantify how much Asian or how much American. I lack the vocabulary to handle the resulting dissonance, in part due to the lies I’ve told myself. I’ve thought of myself in a compartmentalized way – a divided individual who’s had to weigh different parts of who I was to figure out where I had a right to belong. And yet, this method is inadequate. Sure, it allows for the coexistence of these various worlds, but often it defines them as contradictory, at odds with each other.

Lately, I’ve begun to question the limits to this model. I’m left wondering if dualistic, and even pluralistic thinking continues to encourage dichotomies and discourage a holistic view of the self.  But, fittingly, maybe it doesn’t have to be either/or. Rivers can take many forms – they branch off, intersect, and make their way past different shores. Some identities are best described as a synthesis, some their own entity, and some a combination of the two.

Over the last few years I’ve been able to connect with others who share similar experiences, and I’m still amazed at how life-giving it can be to be seen and understood.

My senior year of college, I decided on a whim to attend a conference hosted by a mixed-race club. Over the course of a single weekend, I met students from a vast variety of backgrounds and felt known like never before. Common threads ran through our stories, weaving us together through our questions of belonging. We shared anecdotes of acceptance and rejection, the ways appearance and names play into our racial and ethnic sense of self, what it means to interact with a largely monoracial world. I felt affirmed in my mixed identity and empowered to identify with both my individual backgrounds and their composite. I read the Bill of Rights for People of Mixed Heritage. That kind of freedom to identify was new, exciting, and unfamiliar, but I’ve since taken it to heart.

I’ve shared parallel conversations with those who identify at different places along the spectrum of sexuality, who wouldn’t identify themselves as straight or gay. We’ve talked about the doubt that rears its head when others doubt your orientation again and again, the surprise at the idea that there are people genuinely exclusively attracted to a single gender, and the questioning of if telling others even matters at all. As I read more and talked with friends, things began to clarify and click – there are words for this! Taking a cue from Robyn Ochs’ definition of bisexuality, over time I came to claim the bi label.

It’s interesting to see how these things have played a role in my faith journey. As I’ve gone through transitions out of some of my old beliefs and structures, I find familiarity in the midst of the uncertainty. I find myself renovating my categories again: throwing out boxes that are too small, tearing down walls that are too narrow, and learning to sit in the resulting tension.

I like to think I have a clearer picture of who I am now. I can take shattered, preconceived notions and arrange the pieces into a mosaic that tells my story. The multicolored glass is the lens through which I see the world. Though the individual shards might reflect different characteristics, you can’t see the full picture if you focus in on the shape and color of each piece.

My identity as American of Asian and Pacific Islander descent, as each of my ethnicities, as mixed, and as bisexual capture intersections–eschewing false binaries that oversimplify and erase. The self-doubt continues to fade, and it’s getting easier to dismiss the impostor syndrome now that I can better articulate who I am. And through all of this, I’m also reminded that I am more than the labels I claim. They’re invaluable in helping find and foster community, solidarity, and support, but each one only reflects a single facet of who I am. Somewhere in the in-between, I’m still finding that I can embrace and celebrate all the parts of my identity while allowing myself to just be. At the place where the streams combine into a roaring river, I relax, letting it carry me along. Maybe the water isn’t so scary after all.

Created by: Jon M

Featured Photo: Steven Lee

About the Author: Jon is a native Californian of Asian and Pacific Islander descent.  He has an affinity for foreign languages, outer space, and groan-inducing wordplay, and is always looking for recommendations to add to his ever-growing reading list.

Here.

             Here.

I could never split myself in two.

Two is not a perfect number.

Where do you come from?

In my mind, when I am the most tired and sad,

I tell myself

I want to go home

Because thats where I come from.

Out in California, they know what I am.

In the Deep South, they ask, what am I?

Ive been told that where Im from, is supposed

to be a place.

But

I think its supposed to be a state, a state of being.

Who I am today will be where Im from tomorrow.

In Georgia, people ask, What are you?

In California, people ask: Where are you from?

They know what I am, they just dont know how I got here.

So

Here I am.

 

Created by: Esther Lu

About the Author: Esther has led and participated in grassroots community learning projects in: Taiwan, Japan, Thailand , Myanmar and Laos. She has moved over fifteen times in her life, including five cities across California and two rural towns in the Deep South of Georgia. She has since surrendered this nomadic life and has planted some roots in the South Bay (Northern California).

Personal website

I Am Typical

I am a typical Asian.

I’m a doctor. I’m good at math and science. I eat rice frequently. There are five accountants and four other doctors in my extended family.

Even though I’m a doctor, I decided to become a Psychiatrist who mostly practices therapy, so I spend most days talking to people about their feelings. I frequently cry during movies. I’m artistic.  

I love all kinds of food. I have a high tolerance for alcohol.

My mom is not a tiger. My parents didn’t push me to be successful, but I did feel loved – that turned out pretty well for me. They speak to me in Chinese. I speak to them in English. It works. In my huge extended family, 87.6% are not accountants, doctors, or lawyers. The 87.6% is a vague estimate because I’m not that good at math. 

I am a typical Asian.

______

I grew up in a conservative Christian home. My parents were immigrants. My community wasn’t diverse. I lived in the suburbs. All of this shaped, or more accurately, limited my beliefs and worldview at the time.

My views on race were based on narrow stereotypes I learned from TV and immature jokes kids tell each other. My view of homosexuality was based on church doctrine. My views on gender roles were built around religion and culture. I’ve held racist beliefs. I’ve described things as “gay,” and it wasn’t complimentary. I’ve put people down by telling them they were acting like a girl.

______

I am a typical American.

I believe in the self-evident truth that all persons are created equal, and that it is a principle worth fighting for. I believe that my voice should be heard, and it is my birthright. I believe that America is a land of opportunity.

I also believe that though MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech is still a goal worth aspiring toward, I am painfully aware that his “Letter From Birmingham Jail” is where we actually are. We do not live in a post-racial society. 

I recognize that certain people in America are not heard equally, not seen equally, and do not have the same opportunities. People of color, women, and queer people all still struggle for equality in a society that privileges the needs, comforts, and prosperity of cis-heterosexual White men.

Asian Americans also struggle for belonging. My parents were not born here but they’ve lived in this country longer than they’ve lived anywhere else. Their accent should say that they have mastered the ability to communicate in more than one language. However, White America prides itself in its monolingualism and hears an accent as being foreign, a sign of otherness. As their son, born in America, “I’m from Los Angeles” is not the answer some people are looking for when they ask “where are you from?” 

I am a typical American.

______

We’ve all felt wronged at some point for being forced into restrictive labels. Probably because of race. Maybe because of your gender or sexual identity. Or your age. Your religion or your atheism. The era you were born into. Can we correct these stereotypes by making what is “typical” as complex as we really are?

I played pick-up basketball at a local gym for a couple years and got to know some of the regulars. It was a racially diverse group, and yes, a lot of them were Black. Like the retired aerospace engineer who invented something and seemed pretty wealthy because of it. Or the publisher of educational workbooks for elementary students. There was the reality TV producer. And the tech entrepreneur too. I was the uncharacteristically tall, vocal Asian Psychiatrist who could keep up on the A-court. Either we were all exceptions to the rule, or the rule wasn’t right to begin with.

During my residency was the first time I knew anyone who was openly gay. When you spend four years together working 80 hour weeks, you get to know people through commiseration. What I found was that their “moral depravity” and mine were roughly in the same ballpark. Other than a different distribution of X and Y chromosomes, their romantic relationships weren’t that different either. We had way more in common than we had differences. As much as I don’t ever remember choosing to be straight, I know that they never chose to be gay. And I’ve never met anyone who’s defining characteristic was based on the type of person they liked.

My daughter is six. She loves princesses, jewelry, and high-heels. She also engineers complicated projects with glue guns, has no reluctance to loudly express her opinions, comes home from her outdoor school covered in dirt, and is way more inclined to watch superhero movies than her older brother. Not “girly.” Not “submissive.” Not “delicate.” None of these words capture the full essence of this little person with the big personality that I share my life with.

______

I am a typical Christian. 

I believe that God created the Universe with a purpose. I believe that Jesus was a real person who walked the Earth. I believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. After I die, I’m going to Heaven. I believe the Bible is true. 

However, I don’t believe that God is an old man with a beard sitting on a throne in the clouds, or actually a man at all. God is more like the creative force that caused the Singularity to expand with improbable precision, allowing the perfect creation of our elegant and forever evolving Universe. God is also the ubiquitous Higgs field that literally makes things matter.

Ever since that moment of creation, entropy has been part of God’s creation. I think of sin as entropy, and so in that sense, we are in a fallen world. Enter Jesus, both the Cosmic Christ and God in the flesh. 

How Jesus lived is “the Way” we ought to live ours. How Jesus lived embodies “the Truth” of who God is. How Jesus lived is “the Life” of fulfillment and meaning that we all seek. That he lived is more important than his death on the cross.

I believe lots of people are going to be in Heaven with me, including billions of good souls who never prayed to Jesus to be their personal Savior. My queer friends will be there too. I don’t believe in a literal Hell where non-Christians will burn for all eternity. That makes no sense if God is love and God wants all people to be saved and God gets what God wants.  

That brings us to the Bible, which is full of Truth if you read it literately, but it is full of errors and falsehoods if you insist that it should be understood literally.  

Facebook’s advertising algorithm says that I’m “very liberal” which is pretty true since I’m pro-choice, pro-science, pro-LGBTQ, anti-racist, a feminist, and voted for a Democrat every presidential election of my adult life.

I am a typical Christian.

______

Probably for my whole life, I was subconsciously aware that I was a weird Christian that didn’t fit in with the other Christians. It started with growing up in a really charismatic immigrant church. I didn’t feel comfortable inviting my non-Christian friends or my non-charismatic Christian friends, because I intuitively understood the culture of my church was different. When I went to college, it was made explicit that most other Asian Americans Christians didn’t believe everything I was taught growing up and didn’t have the same spiritual experiences I had.

When I learned in medical school that almost a third of all pregnancies ended in miscarriage, I questioned the Christian notion that life begins at conception. I came to understand the necessity of places like Planned Parenthood that provide comprehensive medical services for people who otherwise had no access to affordable health care. I also started to appreciate the complexities, both personal and systemic, as to why a woman would choose to terminate a pregnancy. Over time, I’ve come to understand that supporting life is much more than being against making that complex choice.

I struggled with what to say when church people in casual conversation found out what I did for a living and they passive-aggressively questioned the legitimacy of my career as a Psychiatrist. They implied that it was a pseudoscience that diminished God’s intended work when I helped relieve people’s suffering through medication or “secular” psychotherapy. They believed that psychological suffering was a sign of spiritual shortcomings. I didn’t.

I left a church after a meeting with the pastors, when they told me that despite my expertise in healthy child development, that my objection to their spanking their children (which one of them casually mentioned as part of a “funny story” during closing announcements) was wrong. They told me I was wrong because good Christian theology (and parenting) requires punishment for atonement to have meaning. And if the Bible and science contradict, a good Christian believes the Bible.

Bye.

The last church we attended with any regularity, also eventually made me feel like an outsider. It was shortly after being disappointed that despite saying they didn’t hold any political positions from the pulpit, that we could pick up the recommended Christian voter guide in the lobby. Not only was it “vote Republican only” but also said some twisted things like “raising taxes is stealing” and therefore not Biblical.

Then when Donald Trump happened, I really couldn’t unsee that Evangelicalism, Republicanism, Authoritarianism, and White Nationalism were just different names for the same thing. Not only did I want nothing to do with it, I wanted to actively resist it.

By that time, I was already unchurched for a few years. I was about as passive about my faith as I’d ever been in my life. With miraculous timing, an enlightening article appeared on my Facebook feed. As I read it, for the first time in my life the concept of being Progressive, Asian, American, and Christian at the same time was revealed as a complex identity that I never even knew existed.

______

I am a typical Progressive.

Progress is goal oriented. It continues on a path that may have been laid out by others. It welcomes change and encourages being adaptable to present needs. Progress is optimistic. It sets out to make things better. 

Progressiveness is what brings together all aspects of my identity.

It makes sense of my Asian identity as a natural evolution of my immigrant parents’ displaced culture that I inherited. I need to help define what that looks like as an Asian American.

It makes sense of my American identity which recognizes that this country was founded on the principle that all persons are created equal, yet there are more American revolutions needed to get there. I need to be an active participant in this kind of nationalism, as a person with privileges, as a person of color, and as a Christian.

It makes sense of my Christian journey that started with experiences that fed my spirit as a youth, that continues to transform me through the renewing of my mind. It reflects my evolved understanding of what it means to believe in a just God, whose justice is based on making things right and good, not on a need to punish those that are wrong. I need to be more consistent in manifesting my beliefs through how I lead my life.

I am a typical Progressive Asian, American, Christian.

Continue reading “I Am Typical”

Why I Write

I was born, raised, educated, married, and churched in the Midwest, where Asian-American representation is rather sparse, to say the least.

For a long time, I didn’t notice the lack of representation or think that it mattered. Growing up in a Chinese immigrant church, I was surrounded by people who looked and talked like me at least twice a week. My family spoke Mandarin and English at home, and I went to Chinese school on the weekend. I thought that consistently being around Asians was enough to fortify my sense of self.

The first time I remember feeling like an other was when I was six years old and my dad came to school to teach my class about Chinese New Year. All of my Barbies were white and blonde, and none of the “American Girl” dolls looked like me. (I wound up with the blonde Swedish immigrant doll even though I really wanted the rich Victorian heiress doll.)

I loved to read, but there were no Asian characters in any of the books I read until I found The Babysitters’ Club. Even then, I didn’t relate to the artsy Japanese babysitter who wore weird clothes and was bad at math. I wanted to be the pretty blonde diabetic boy-crazy babysitter, which I essentially was, minus the blonde hair and diabetes, so I guess just boy-crazy. Sigh.

In high school, I signed up for theatre classes and auditioned for plays and musicals, only to be relegated to the anonymous chorus. I was, however, once cast as a Welsh spinster in the ONE production that year set in a specifically Anglo time and place. (The one other Asian theatre student was in the same show, so I cry typecasting!) I waited in vain for my school to produce The King and I so I might actually have a chance at a significant role. For some reason, no one could fathom an Asian Cinderella or Dolly Levi.  

The only Asians I saw on TV during my formative years were Connie Chung and a pantheon of Olympic figure skaters. I was obsessed when Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon came out because it was the first mainstream movie I’d ever seen with Asian actors speaking my cradle language. Almost twenty years later, I found myself moved to tears by the inclusion of Asian actors in my favorite movie franchise. (Obviously Star Wars, because there sure aren’t any Asians in Middle Earth!)

I was delighted to see people like me on screen, but I didn’t understand how much the scarcity of that representation affected me until literally two weeks ago.

One of my marketing clients runs a boutique for young professionals. She is a fierce advocate for body positivity and also unapologetically fat. (My Chinese body candor is warring with my American body-shaming “politeness” as I write this…) We designed a T-shirt together and I happened to be working on-site when the samples arrived. She started a live unboxing video and then turned the camera toward me so I could talk about the design process.

I adore this client and am super jazzed about the work I get to do for her. But when I saw the live video replay, I could only cringe at my unmade-up face and weird hand gestures. I left a self-deprecating comment about never letting me be on camera again haha lol jk but srsly.

She immediately texted me to ask if there was something I didn’t like about the video. Embarrassed by my own self-consciousness, I said I just always feel awkward seeing myself on camera. “Oh,” she responded casually,” that’s because we aren’t used to seeing people who look like us on camera and social media.”

I was gutted. Because it’s true. When I go to blogger meetups (at least here in the Midwest), I’m almost always the only person of color and definitely the only Asian. When I scroll through Instagram, none of the famous influencers look like me. When I look at my business and writer groups, they are overwhelmingly white. It’s not just that I don’t wear perfect makeup or polished outfits…there just aren’t very many faces in my line of work that look anything like me.

Then she added, “I feel the same way. Going live is hard for me too, even if it doesn’t seem like it. But for me, it’s important to be visible, because successful fat women are not in the media.”

Successful Asian-American writers and creative entrepreneurs are not in the media either.

That’s why the As I Am project and the PAAC community as a whole are so important to me. That’s why I read and signal-boost books and podcasts and Instagram feeds by Asian-Americans and women of color. That’s why I (finally!) started thinking and talking about my experience as an Asian-American.

And that’s why I write. I hope you will too.


Jennifer Duann Fultz is a Taiwanese-American freelance content writer and digital marketing consultant whose parents probably still don’t quite understand what she does but are proud of her anyway. She lives in the Midwest with her husband and son. In her spare time she enjoys reading, cooking, trying to plan her life in advance and pretending to organize her home. Her website is aminusmama.com.

Things You Should Know about Me

[an exercise in spoken word]

There are some things you should know about me.

I am going to tell you those things because if I don’t, no one else will.

My father will not.

My mother will not.

My brother might, but he’s not to be trusted.

Brothers are after all, the shadows of our most devious selves.

I am the one that knows my story best.

So I will tell you some of these things.

  1. I hate the taste of papaya.  I only eat papaya in the Philippines.  I only eat papaya in the Philippines because those are the only ones that do not make me vomit.
  2. I find comfort in really good procedurals but am embarrassed by most sitcoms.
  3. Some days I am brown, most days I am a semi-distinct shade of olive.
  4. I was darker when I was a child and spent all of my summer mornings in a swimming pool.  I was very proud of the fact I had a pristine racer-back tan from approximately six different one-piece Speedos I owned in the same style.
  5. I hate direct address.
  6. My mother does not like to be addressed as “ma’am.”  She thinks it’s condescending.
  7. I am an Asian-American, Filipino-English, first-generation hapa.  I live my hyphens. I am constantly stuck living as a transmitter between two worlds that don’t understand each other.  
  8. If you’re wondering what that’s like, it’s like being forced to be a cultural translator when everyone knows you’re not fluent in either.
  9. Shakespeare is for lovers.
  10. I would like to take a pen name—Liz Lorenzana, after my grandmother—but I am afraid of being typed as a Latina artist.
  11. I am not Latina.  I do not speak Spanish—did you think I did because I am brown?  The answer is no.
  12. I have no intention of learning to speak Spanish unless it becomes incumbent upon me due to my job, my research, my love life, or my neighborhood.
  13. Some days I hate white men.
  14. Erasure is my inheritance.  If you cannot understand that—if you cannot at least hold the empty space that makes me sweat in agony—then we can no longer be friends.
  15. Touch is my first love language.
  16. I spend an inordinate amount of my money on handbags and hardly anything on groceries.
  17. I would rather sit through a bad play than a bad sermon because only after one of them is it acceptable to drink.
  18. I have spent my whole life using the same Hitatchi rice cooker that’s older than my parent’s marriage.
  19. I eat rice with my meals sometimes.  Sometimes I just eat bread.
  20. I do not speak Spanish.  No, I will not make you tamales.
  21. Kale belongs in peanut butter smoothies and nowhere else.
  22. Yes, I have eaten balut.
  23. Yes, I enjoyed it.
  24. I also enjoy solitude amongst many.  Locations include cafes, bars, cheese shops, and grocery stores.
  25. I firmly believe one should always be kind to service people.
  26. If I make you breakfast, it does not mean I want to marry you.
  27. Be not inhospitable to strangers.  Instead make them stay for dinner. There’s always more adobo in the refrigerator.
  28. I refuse to go to the gym.
  29. I will not recreate unless strictly housed in a studio class, but I am afraid that makes me a hypocrite for participating in the western industrial yoga complex.
  30. My father is a soft man.
  31. My tears are my most precious gift to self.  I think it is better to cry a little bit every day than to have your soul shrivel from dehydration.
  32. When I want to feel skinny, I sleep on my stomach, but I regret it in the morning.
  33. I spend most of my afternoons searching for the stranger that hides behind my whiteness.  If you ever find me in this state, eyes glazed over with fury and skin crawling with goosebumps, do not, I repeat, do not wrap your arms around me and whisper sweet platitudes.  My goosebumps are all I have, so please, just leave me be.
  34. I do not have a taste in music, though I love music dearly.  My “taste” is but a compilation of everyone else’s “taste,” haphazardly recommended to me on road trips and bad first dates.
  35. Some days I imagine God as a woman.  Some days I call her Venus.
  36. Touch is my first love language, but dance was my first liturgy.
  37. I will cook you adobo, but don’t expect me to pay 12$ for longanisa at that gentrified food stand in Grand Central Market when I can just as easily have it for 2$ when I go home to see my grandmother.

I am an Asian-American, Filipino-English, first-generation hapa.  

I live my hyphens. I am often stuck living as a transmitter between two worlds that don’t understand each other.  

If you’re wondering what that’s like, it’s like being forced to be a cultural translator when everyone knows you’re not fluent in either.

There are some things you should know about me.

I will tell you those things because no one else will.  

I am the one that knows my story best.

So I will tell you those things.

 

Created by: Lindsey Twigg

About the Author: Lindsey is a playwright, blogger, and lyrical poet based in Santa Barbara, CA.  A born and bred Southern Californian, she is currently living in Manila with extended family working on her first full-length play, Platinum Record.  She writes vigorously about hapa identity, the female body, and the importance of wearing pearls.  You can usually find her belting out showtunes in her car or arguing loudly about sexuality in third wave coffee shops.  She’s a friend of the pod, a hoarder of (coffee table) books, and a connoisseur of very large pants.

You can find her social commentary on Medium or her ramblings about fashion on her lifestyle blog, The Filipino Grigio.

Photo: courtesy of the author.  Her Auntie’s house in Manila.