Saturday, December 6, 2014

Dear Girlfriends, It's Not You, It's Me

Dear Girlfriends,

You have been there to share joys and celebrations.  We've toasted and cheered, and sometimes we've even cried.  Sure life gets in the way, but when we reunite it always seemed to feel effortless to pick right back up and get lost in conversation for hours.  You have done nothing wrong.  You have not changed - still that girl with the beautiful smile with whom I can share light-hearted, uplifting wine-infused late night giggles and girl talk.  Please know that I am grateful for the time we have shared, but I've reached that point in my life where I find myself constantly having to protect those few precious unscheduled moments.....and where I find myself needing to be around only those who truly feed and nourish my soul.

It's not you, it's me.

You have not changed, but it appears that I may have.  A lot.  You see, I used to be quite comfortable pretending to be just like you.  In fact, every time we were together, I did everything to convince myself that the things that mattered to you, also mattered to me.  That we shared life experiences.  That we saw the world through the same lens.   But we don't.  And for some reason, for all those years, I tried so hard to pretend that we did, and so I misled you.  I'm sorry.  I'm afraid I'm not the "Americanized", watered-down token Asian side-kick who, skin and hair color aside, perceives the world in the manner that you do.  And let me be clear that I am not choosing to surround myself only with those who perceive the world exactly as I do, but I am choosing a circle of friends who intentionally acknowledge and value, and heck even celebrate, the fact that we may see the world differently.  

And friend, WE are vastly different.  But it's not you, it's me - because it's no longer enough for you to be interested in the spices and recipes of my culture. Did you know that my immediate family celebrates three different faith traditions?  For years I cringed, and tried to ignore your assumptions and condescension about the absoluteness of your own faith.  You should know that I celebrate friends from many faith backgrounds, but rather than dictate scripture and pass judgements, we honor one another's beliefs, and we seek commonalities in our expressions of faith. 

It's not you, it's me - because try as I might, I can't understand or accept your inability to acknowledge your own privilege.  The rest of the world doesn't usually get to choose to have multiple exotic romantic getaways, the most vintage and rare wine, designer clothes, or the healthiest organic, gourmet foods.  Honestly, many of us do not measure the quality of our lives based on those standards - and it's just become too exhausting for me to constantly try to blend into an environment that has always felt so very foreign to me.

It's not you, it's me.  I can't be the only person of color in your life.  It's too much pressure for me to constantly represent the minority view.  While it's the norm in my work life, it's simply too tiresome for me to always be "the only one in the room" in my personal life. Why is it that you don't have a single black friend, gay friend, or non-Christian friend?  And if that was your subconscious intention, why is it that we are still friends?  Do you have any idea how impacted this friend - the friend "between two races" is in this increasingly divisive state of injustice our world is experiencing?  Have you read these blogs I wrote last year?  If you secretly have, why haven't you engaged me in conversation about these parts of me that define the very core of who I am?,

It's not you, it's me.  I can't be your one peripheral feminist, activist friend who's always angry about something, always rallying about something, always blogging about something.  It's too hard for me to always feel like an anomaly when in your environment.  Because I'm not.  I'm surrounded by hoards of people who care about making the world better, who care enough to speak up, act out in their own ways.  Some also rally and blog and advocate, but many just simply send me a supportive text, voice their discontent with the status quo, make a modest donation to a non-profit organization, or merely take the time to ask me about the work with which I am involved.  You never have.

Really, it's not your fault that I can no longer make time and intention for our future shared moments together.  It's me.  It's just too hard for me not to BE me when I'm among "friends".


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Why My Driver's License Photo is Beautiful

Forty-two years. Two countries.  Driver's licenses stamped by six different states.  A blur of twenty or so different basements, rooms-for-rent, apartments, town homes, dorm rooms, faculty housing, two-stories, and split-levels. 

Someday when my seven-year old is asked - Where are you from?  No, really, where are you from?  Where is home? - I never want him to have to pause and silently, but frantically search his mind for the "right" answer. 

And so, without any level of self-awareness, I made life choices designed around a K-12 education for my son that takes place under one roof.  I created raised bed gardens in my back yard because they never fail to promise seasonal returns.  I drilled permanent hooks into my living room drywall for the Christmas decorations I plan on hanging every year in that same exact spot in this house I plan to grow old in.  And I genuinely felt peace in my soul every time I renewed my driver's license and was able to list the same address, in the same town, in the same state. 

It would take running for (and losing) a local elected office for me to become painfully aware that throughout my entire existence, with every effort I made to convince myself that I was finally planted somewhere, perhaps I never really belonged anywhere.  This year I ran for one of eight city council positions in the town I've called home for nearly half of my life - a place in which I am deeply invested that I love dearly, the only place I've ever called home.  Out of 20 candidates, I was one of five women and the only person of color.  During public forums and meet-and-greets I was routinely called out to prove my loyalty and track record of commitment to my town, while my white, male counterparts merely got away with:  I was born and raised in this town.  My dad was the town "fill in the blank with any local elected office".  I'm a third generation Madison Countian. 

When I canvassed door-to-door, one person shook her head sadly after I responded to her question, "But where were you born, dear?" and proceeded to follow with, "But how will you ever understand us and what we need?"  I plowed through the campaign experiencing many other similar "polite" interactions with people who immediately categorized me as an outsider within the first 30 seconds of our meeting, but it wasn't until after I lost the election, that what the universe has been trying to tell me all along, finally hit me.  I do not belong in this town.  And probably even more painful, I've never really belonged anywhere.

And so I allowed myself to sink and wallow in self-despair for two full days.  This really wasn't about me losing the election - really, it wasn't.  I assure you that my ego has handled rejections far worse.  It was about the fact that the majority of people in my own "hometown" spoke loud and clear -  That being born into a place had more value than consciously choosing to make a place your home.  That values like acceptance and inclusivity for all people, were trumped by individual interpretations and judgment of Christian moral ideology. That despite my best efforts, all the raised beds and permanent hooks in the world could never make my interfaith, bi-cultural, multi-race family with close gay friends, grow roots in this town.  I was devastated.  And so I wearily looked the other way when my husband began to research schools that weren't all under one a nearby town.  A town where no one stopped to question why our close friends, both male, were lovingly raising a beautiful little girl together.  A town where my mom doesn't have to drive 40 miles for Thai spring roll wrappers.

And in those hazy days that immediately followed, I found myself at an event in my town, at my college alma mater featuring authors Barbara Kingsolver and Silas House.  And just as the universe had clearly told me that I didn't belong to a place, she spoke to me again, and this time through the voice of a renowned, beloved author.  A college student posed this question to Ms. Kingsolver during a Q & A session:  Can one foster roots without staying in one place?  And the universe (aka Barbara Kingsolver) said this:  You find your roots when you find that which has always followed you.  That thing, that person, that feeling, that tells you you're home.  With all the different places Barbara had lived, the very first thing she always did when she arrived in a new place, was seek out the public library.  Books, stories, history, voices of people - that was her home.  Those were her roots, and it didn't matter where she lived, nobody could ever take those things away from her.


Maybe it didn't matter as much for me to belong to a place.  Maybe what mattered more is that I discover and embrace what belongs to me - what I carry with me no matter where I go, that no third-generation local will ever have the power to take away.    I can't really put exactly what that is into words at this juncture in my life, and that feels OK.  For now, I am content being mindful that my soul is lightest when I'm not the only one in the room but also, when the chairs around my Thanksgiving table are filled with close friends who experience life differently than me.  That's my home.  Those are my roots.  And that is why it doesn't matter what state will be taking my next driver's license picture.  I will always smile with content, for that smile is but an outward reflection of the sense of belonging I will always carry within.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

How To Continue Awesome

Some of you may already know, that I've always been a "Plain Jane" and last  year I wrote this blog every day for a year, challenging myself to find opportunities to demonstrate activism in small, ordinary ways every single day.  I look forward to returning to that which is so very comfortable for me!

Words can not express my gratitude for your support and belief in me over the last few months.  While countless Bereans and Berea-inspired folks have offered me beautiful, kind words of support, I want to challenge each and every one of you to really embrace the beauty of your own words.  Funny thing is, if you really read all of your texts, e-mails, and messages, they are not about me - they are about YOU.  They are about your voice and desire to build a beautiful, inclusive community - I was just one small channel that could have possibly helped amplify your voices.  These are your own words.  Hear your own voices.  I do.  This community does.  The world does.  

An ethical, empowering, community-based campaign 

What local politics has the potential to be

Beautiful, loving and incredibly inspiring community driven world-changers

A classy, issue-focused, people-driven, community-loving campaign

Love the hope and strength in our community

A beautiful campaign

Represent the conscience of those who care about civil rights 

Honorable and full of integrity

The winds of change are in the air

Deep pockets are not required to reach people

Boldness is inspiring

Passion is contagious

Breath of fresh air

Community, mutual responsibility and above all, awesomeness

Positive and forward thinking

Continue to change the world  
Continue to change the world 
Continue to change the world 
Continue to change the world.