Monday, March 11, 2013

I Really Do Like My Own People

Act #70:  Embrace discomfort.

A while ago, a friend once posed this question to me, “Why are you more involved with the African-American community than you are with the Asian community?” Translation: Shouldn’t you pay more attention to your own people?! As a rice-loving, bilingual, brown-skinned, proud card-carrying member of the AA community, I thought about this.


I thought about how I couldn’t sleep the night a few years ago when a local African-American man, his Caucasian girlfriend, and their children woke up to horrific words of hate spray-painted on their cars. I thought about how, like many others, I just couldn’t sit still and do nothing. I thought about how welcomed I felt when I invited myself to be a part of a meeting of all African-American faculty/staff/students to discuss how the small college that I once worked for, might move beyond an unfortunate racially-charged social media mishap that polarized the community. I thought about how humbled I felt when asked to speak at a Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration one year.  Does all this mean I wasn’t also appalled by the recent YouTube video that hit the internet, "Why I'd hate to be Asian", that I'm not thinking critically about the Asian-American voice in the current conversations about immigration reform, that I'm not painfully aware of how Asians continue to be portrayed in the media?

Of course not.

So I racked my mind trying to figure out why it appeared that I involved myself with more groups whose primary functions are to promote racial understanding and empowerment seemingly in the African-American community, rather than more specifically in the Asian-American community. And I think I finally figured it out.

Apparently I like discomfort.

I guess I thrive on being around people whose perspectives greatly differ than mine, putting myself in situations that I’ve never encountered, and seeking out experiences that open my mind to new ways of thinking. Mind you, as an Asian-American living in Berea, KY where Asians make up less than 1% of the population, I don’t really have a choice. On a daily basis, I’m navigating my way between African-American communities and Caucasian communities.

There have been many times in my life that I could have made intentional choices to blend in a bit more, but I guess that nagging longing for discomfort is what keeps me exactly where I am. I can’t imagine real progress without a little discomfort. I don’t see how we can ever understand each other without first knowing one another. How we can stop hating, hurting, generalizing – unless we can see the world through the eyes of those we hate, hurt, and generalize.

And from where I stand, I know I won’t get there by surrounding myself solely with those who look, think, and generally experience the world in the same manner that I do. I’d rather be uncomfortable in order to build bridges, than be complacent and end up building walls around me for the rest of my life. If it is change and unity that we truly seek, I believe we’re all going to have to break down our walls and get a little uncomfortable..…feel like an outsider once in a while…….experience what it’s like to walk into a room and have all heads turn to us.

In case you are wondering, some of my best friends really are Asian. No seriously, they are. One of my best college girlfriends is Filipina-American. Our closest family friends are of Thai descent. I have an adopted little sister at our local college, who is half Filipina. Oh, and I happen to think that George Takei is the bomb.

Don’t get me started on how some of my best friends are also gay. 


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