At midnight on May 30 last year, a fire in my heart propelled me to make a beeline to my computer and put (digital) pen to paper. It had been 5 days since the murder of George Floyd and thoughts of how my mindfulness practice must turn into activism were screaming at me from inside. Even though I hadn’t written a poem since my teenage angsty years, I wrote the first draft of a poem which I called “Mindfulness Is” in less than 30 minutes.
Today, as I write this, it has been almost 3 weeks since the shootings in Atlanta on March 16 of 8 innocent victims, 6 of them Asian-American women, and I’m still struggling to put pen to paper. Maybe it’s because there is so much to unpack in how I’m feeling right now as an Asian-American woman, maybe it’s because I’m still processing the layers of what the shootings and ongoing physical and verbal violence against AAPI have uncovered for me, maybe it’s because I’m so unaccustomed to acknowledging the racism I have faced in my own life. It’s like shining a flashlight into a creaky basement filled with things that have been deemed normal or no big deal.
I grew up in a stable and loving...and driven..household. My parents worked hard so that my sisters and I could attend the best schools and succeed in life. You could say we fit the model minority stereotype - a concept that today makes me sick to my stomach. More on that later. I didn’t identify with being a person of color until I sat a month-long silent retreat at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Northern California and joined the POC group for their afternoon sit one day because I was bored of the main room and liked the cute little house with the fireplace they met in. As soon as I sat down and closed my eyes to meditate, tears started rolling down my face. I didn’t really know why - there was no talking, I wasn’t even looking at anyone. We were just sitting in silence together. Soon after, I realized that without sharing a word, without even knowing the race or ethnicity of everyone in the room, I felt a sense of camaraderie with them, like there was this underlying unspoken experience we all shared. The word that came to mind when I thought about it later was GRIT.
Since that retreat, I have continued to unpack and uncover my experience as an Asian-American. As I dove into antiracist readings and teachings focused on anti-Blackness, I experienced glimpses of crossover with my own experience. But those remained in the background. Even though I did start identifying as a POC and even co-founded a meditation group dedicated to POC, the imposter syndrome was strong. How could I, as an East Asian, lead a space of opening and vulnerability with Black and Brown folks? How could I even compare the well-intentioned “where are you really from” questions I received with not knowing if you would survive an encounter with the police? I intentionally steered clear of spaces labeled BIPOC in order to honor the unique experiences of Black and Indigenous Americans. And so, even in my own antiracist work and in speaking up and out about racism in America, I kept my own experiences of racism relegated to the basement of my consciousness.
The Atlanta shootings woke something up in me, in part driven by how they showcased the way Asian women are perceived in this country. Sexualized, fetishized, walked over, passed over. I remembered the times I would get smirky raised eyebrows from white guys I was hanging out with or starting to date when I told them I had an identical twin sister. I think one guy even asked to meet her, and not in the “I want to get to know your family because you’re so cool” kind of way. I remembered all the times white male colleagues asked me to set up meetings or assumed I was taking notes, even though I was their peer and not their assistant. I remembered feeling like I didn’t quite belong at almost every single work happy hour (I’ve always worked in white-dominated industries and teams).
And then there’s the rage. The rage at the attacks on our elderly. The rage at the continued rhetoric and jokes by Trump and those who think like him, despite the evidence pointing to the impact of that rhetoric on citizens of this country. Rage that the model minority stereotype has dehumanized me and my AAPI brothers and sisters and instituted a false measuring stick between different groups of AAPI (did you know that income inequality in the US is the greatest among AAPI?) and between AAPI and other people of color. Rage at the undying perception of Asians as good workhorses but not strong leaders. Rage at my past silence.
So what do we do with this rage, this hurt, this invisibility? There is much work to be done. And much to be done in solidarity with the amazing work being done in the antiracist movements led by Black and Brown leaders. After all, the root cause is the same: white supremacy. And not just the Proud Boys version of white supremacy - I’m talking about the version that assumes that the white cis-gendered heterosexual able-bodied male is the ideal, the norm for what an American is. The version that says everyone else is “other”. We can channel our rage into speaking up and uplifting POC voices, into forming community groups and taking care of eachother, into demanding that our leaders do better. We can channel it into our dedication to our continued awakening, sharpening our awareness of our needs, both internal and external, and holding space for whatever may come next.