PC

Social movements begin with an objection to the status quo, initiated by a perception that something is wrong. Rarely is it mild resistance or silent individual demonstration. Others, the critical masses, most tangibly grasp these objections when defiance is loud. That’s when they become movements, and become change, become revolutionary. When the words are strong, when you feel them, feel their force – not only the passion of their emissary, but the potency of the words themselves.

History is witness to this power, particularly that of words written. The written word molds, shapes, and reshapes history to its purposes and perspectives. The words continue beyond the time of their mediums. But the “new” perspectives, the provocative tales of what really happened, are hailed as revolutionary. This provocativeness usually comes with some lack of political correctness. They depict what was happening to the real people like you and me – the part that you and I would actually care about because that would be us. That is us.

The ideas behind historical movements or social change seem obvious today. At that time and place, they were not. In fact, they seemed wrong. They seemed outrageous. This repeated re-realization leads me to ask what’s “wrong” today. When do we know something is wrong? When are provocative ideas valid? When should we call it out? When are we allowed to? When should we strive to be politically incorrect? When should we defy loud through the written word – or otherwise?

I am the reigning queen of PC. It’s been bred into me as an Asian, and as an American – a double whammy. It’s not my place to disagree. Or if I do, I’m going to let you share your flawed perspective to your own detriment without my own comment or interjection. A commiserating nod will do.

But when is it necessary to be politically incorrect? When does this interminable effort to maintain political correctness become censorship? When does political incorrectness become a tool for constructive provocation, debate, and progress? At the far end, when do we condemn without tolerance? When should we? When do we condemn without empathy and understanding, clearly demarcating that this something is wrong? When do we force political correctness to the wayside to get to the flesh and bone of the matter? When do we reign it in? And when do we leave it at the door to make way for something else?

Sprouts

Something occurred to me as I was standing on the bus this morning, staring out the window, cramped between my fellow commuters.

I’ve never had to work at a relationship.

In my mid-twenties, I have never had to actively work and plan and strategize to keep a relationship alive and breathing and growing. Maybe this is normal, both the phenomenon and realization. But I’ve never had to – until now.

I have friends. But really, friends are selected and optional. There are people I get along with, who see the world as I do, have similar values and life goals. But friends and acquaintances can be and often are ultimately phased out if they’re not working for your life.

On the other hand, there’s family. Within this realm, there are a few kinds. Those who are way off in the distance, where it doesn’t matter whether your answer to their “how are you” is the reflexive “good” or the real answer.

Then, there are the ones in places of authority – namely your parents – and everyone’s supposed to have good relationships with your parents or else you’re deemed the kid with problems. So you maintain an amicable relationship with the parent, well, because it just makes life easier. Perhaps it’s simply an issue of acceptance.

And then, there are the ones where you’re needed. Whether as a friend, confidante, or supporter, as family, as the only one who can be there, you’re needed and yet the only connecting factor between the two of you is that you share some of the patterns in your respective genomes or were in the same four walls of each other as one or both of you was potty training. Apart from these characteristics, if you ran into each other in the world (already unlikely given your vastly divergent trajectories), it’s probable that you wouldn’t say more than a few words to each other. And would probably, in that interaction, judge each other a little bit. Or a lot.

It’s the last one I’m talking about here. For a long time, I took it for granted that the relationship would just happen. The world would happen naturally and work out perfectly because that’s what the world does in my world. But it hasn’t. And so I’ve recently realized that I have to work at it. Consciously making decisions to cultivate its little sprouts. I’ve never had much of a green thumb. This is hard work.

And it got me thinking then about the relationships that we’re “stuck” in. We don’t have choices in these. Even if at one time, the getting stuck was voluntary – like marriage. The thought of divorce is depressing. Even if the rates are looking optimistic, it still seems all too common. So we say, “they should have worked harder at the relationship.”

But then, we only get good at doing things that we practice. And how many people in their mid-twenties have had real practice at consciously working at relationships? At understanding another person? At being truly awake to their views and differences, no matter how seemingly well you know them? I’m talking about the necessary relationships, the ones that need to flourish, or you and everyone around you will suffer very real, long-term consequences. I’d venture to say few. We’re programmed to take the path of least resistance alongside being entrapped in this ideal that our own pursuits of happiness justify our choices at single points in time, even those at the expense of others.

As I got off the bus this morning, despite the anxious days and tear-filled nights, this is something to be thankful for. It’s life practice. Practice to build beautiful, rewarding relationships that only pressure me to grow. All the pressure and care will be worth it. We will only reap benefits and smell the sweet blooms when it’s all over. And maybe it will never be over. I’m ready for that too.

Happy New Year.

I have a confession to make. While I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, I know what I don’t want to be. I don’t want to be my parents. My parents are wonderful in their own ways. There is no question about it. But every time I come home, the semblance of tranquility, and the feeling that everything is okay, is frayed at the edges. Home is tinged with a despondency that can be overwhelming. Perhaps this is accentuated by the holidays with its tendency to force appearances of levity and leisure.

My life has been dominated by money and its value – what you can afford to do and to have. Its not what my parents intended, I’m sure. But when every decision is made with the underlying crux being money, it becomes hard to ignore. With each choice, you can see the balances gathering weight. Of course, this is for good reason and done with the best intentions. After all, we want to be able to eat next month. It just has a number of consequences. Chronic financial stress can be some of the worst kind.

The value of money in my life was reaffirmed this holiday, when my mom, to ensure that I understood the “value” of our gifts, told us their cost. It made me sad. Why should value be understood based on its price? The worst part is that it worked. I did consider the gift in a different light. I couldn’t decide whether to be disgusted with myself or with the entire societal construct of arbitrary values assigned to things. I have to find solace in the idea that society’s value is placed on the creativity and innovation of the designer who created the product. It makes the situation a little better.

Knowing that that money could have been spent in different ways didn’t do much to help the matter. But this is something that is important to her. She forgets that not everyone is as excited about Dior and Chanel and Gucci and St. Laurent at the expense of other things. This is not to say that I’m not appreciative in the slightest. I am. That it simply makes her so happy to be able to give us these things is enough. I just wish it wasn’t bookended by worries about the mortgage, about school loans, about from where the next paycheck is coming, or about how retirement will even be possible.

For my mom, presentation was and is everything. My dad has his own brand.

Self-comparison is a plague that this generation finds difficult to escape, according to all of the criticisms of generation Y and millennials and our obsession with social media. But I’d say that we only have more public opportunities for it. Past generations, without the Internet, only have the privilege of keeping it contained and concealed. Except from their kids.

For my dad, when something is wrong, it has nothing to do with him. It is the fault of something else. Always. Someone has done something wrong, made something of poor quality, is deficit in their way of thinking about the world. There is a comment to be made, some criticism that places oneself among the highest order because this type of criticism inherently self-aggrandizes. It’s a distinctive kind. And one that often discredits the person doing the criticizing.

Of course, it’s an issue of self-esteem, confidence, and happiness. Everyone believes that she’d be happier if something were in some way different. It makes me sad to see this in my parents and passed off to my siblings. There’s an acceptance that it’s normal to point out the “deficiencies” of other people. Yet, above all, it’s the constant negativity that hacks away at my own happiness. Why should we dwell on the faults of others when there are plenty of our own to attend to? There is no need. I’m convinced that it can only be damaging.

As a kid, I found one household the escape of the other. Today, I find my own house is my escape from that whole world, hundreds of miles away. I love coming home, especially for the holidays, but it has become a particular type of draining. The stress can be debilitating. I’m tired of hearing about unhappiness and feeling helpless to fill its absence. I unexpectedly often find myself looking forward to walking the hallways of my house alone with only my work on my mind.

I don’t want to be my parents when I grow up. I don’t want to be overwhelmed by stress or dwell on negativity. I want to be happy and spread happiness. I want to make my own choices that aren’t dictated by money and status, but for the joy of it. Well, that’s the dream, isn’t it? I like to think that I’ve learned a bit about the world in my short 25 years. The understanding that I don’t know everything makes it all the more intriguing and exciting. But I truly believe that much of all this ideal of achieving happiness has to do with attitude. And I’m resolved to realize this existence.

Happy Holidays. Happy New Year.

The Best of Both Worlds

“What are you talking about? You can’t say anything. You’re hapa, you have the best of both worlds.”

Translation: How could you possibly relate with me with respect to race and the racism I experience? You’re part them.

ST_2015-06-11_multiracial-americans_03-04And I am proud. But no one on the street would pick me out as white. That is fact. So much of how people treat you is based on appearance – an age-old phenomenon of human nature. Never considered white and never considered Asian. Is it really the best of both worlds? Or is it simply a constant reminder that you don’t truly fit anywhere?

I grew up in a close-knit family, always perceiving that I was different in a way over which I had little to no control. I didn’t know the language as well as my cousins of the same age. I didn’t feel entirely comfortable Som Pas-ing every time I saw grandparents. And sometimes, I didn’t know how to properly react to things, but knew that as my mother’s adorable offspring, both she and I would be unreservedly judged on my responses. Instead, without being fully white American, I spoke impeccable English, my dad being a stickler for that sort of thing and my mom fearing that being fully bilingual contaminated my brain with a ‘foreign-ness’ that would hamper my chances in a decidedly Western world.

ST_2015-06-11_multiracial-americans_00-05Even among other hapas or multiracials, even if you matched two people’s distinct cultural composition, each will have his or her own melding of cultures to different degrees of acceptance and understanding to form his or her identity. Applied to real life, this translates to distinct differences in experiences with regards to race and minority issues.

In my case, my parents divorced when I was young. The separation between Asian and white cultures was distinct – lines drawn with the disdain that often comes with such life events. There was an Asian house and a white house with no communication between. Living primarily with my first-generation Asian mother, it wasn’t until my dad reminded me, “You’re white too, you know,” that I realized how much I related with one culture over another at that point in my life. Simple words captured how I had shaped my identity based on one perspective, but neglected to account for how much the other also pervades. I knew how to properly pray at a Buddhist temple, but could also recount to you my lines in that year’s Christmas pageant. Rice is a staple of my diet, but I could also make a mean lemon meringue pie. I bridge the influences of a strict Asian tiger mom and a hippie, openly affectionate father. On top of all of this, I am, in many ways, quintessentially American.

Friends have had markedly different experiences. Third- and fourth-generation hapas have expressed regret and loss at their own tangible separation from cultures that are inevitably represented on their faces. Not knowing languages or how to cook cultural foods, inability to communicate with family elders, failing to fully grasp the meaning behind traditions, and still being regarded as part of this group in society can make you feel like an imposter – even if an imposter by circumstance – where you can’t live up to implicit expectations coming from all sides.

Still, this duality also gives an unprecedented freedom to choose what you believe and what you value. Young first-generation immigrants may also experience this kind of freedom as a result of being thrust into a new culture and society. While some cultural ideals complement each other, others compete. If they do compete, you or someone else (usually parents) must choose which to live by. Your parents and influences, assuming that your parents are active in your life, build so much of who you are. But in some cases, being two or more requires conscious choice, rationale, and justification. It also fosters greater openness to entirely new ideas and ideals, where it seems true innovation and uniqueness can flourish.

Looking to the future, my potential children will have a completely different identity, a mixture of cultures as well as parts of the collection that I’ve become. It leads to a number of questions into how multiracialism as an identity will affect dominant understandings of race, culture, and values into the future.

ST_2015-06-11_multiracial-americans_00-01It is human nature to want to fit in somewhere, to relate to other people on different levels and find where you “belong.” What happens when individuals can’t be categorized? Is that a category in itself? I’m not proposing that any of these ideas as wholly new concepts in society today. It floats around with questions of “finding one’s identity” and “heritage awareness” and “racial affiliation” – “The Hapa Movement” and “The Multiracial Identity Gap.”

Multiracial Americans as a demographic group is growing three time as fast as the population as a whole. It’s increasingly becoming a natural consideration for inclusion and a focus of research, policy, and politics. So how do we deal with a population group that doesn’t necessarily mesh within their own family units, let alone a larger subgroup, that is based on a self-constructed, often fluid identity? Can we get real answers to any of our questions about multiracials when the diversity of backgrounds and self-proclaimed identities that we are attempting to make fit are inherently disjointed?

Second Best, Always

“You’ll spend your whole life with your first choice just out of reach – what you really wanted, what would mean real fulfillment. You will always get second best.”

That’s what he said to me. It’s followed me around. It haunts. It haunts effectively. I question major decisions – is this only second best? My choice in schools, that exam that needed just one more point, this career, that first real job and the next, the last boyfriend – is that why it didn’t work? Is that why I didn’t make the grade?…I’m not taking first, or I’ve failed to achieve first. I’ve fought my own growing resentment attached to those words. He meant well. They don’t actually influence my life. But is that really the case? Perhaps I let them.

How did he suggest I fix it? I change my name, only slightly. Changing one letter of the spelling to match some sort of birth path, defined by the state of the universe at the second I was aware. With this change, I would be in alignment with what the universe has planned for only the best me. And through that best me, only then will I realize the highest possible levels of happiness and have the world work with me in mind. Events will fall at my feet and I will excel in all things because my place in the world is aligned. Based on a name. My name in this world.

How ridiculous. My hyper-rational mind scoffs.

I have always been a proponent for the idea that you create your own destiny and achieve your own achievements, earned, earned to the extent that that credit is possible to possess according to the cards dealt to you at birth. There is nothing in the stars that directs you along a singular, unchanging, fateful path. But another part, the part that accepts that this world is ultimately unknowable – that there are mystical instances that mean things to happen in some fashion as opposed to another – nags.

How can all of this destiny, path, and fate be wrapped up in a name? And even, it’s spelling? In some ways, it makes sense. Your identity becomes wrapped up in your name. Or it could be another way around – your identity is defined and created by your name, which is, in my opinion, the more frightening of the two. Maybe I’m too entrenched in the idea of freedom in my American upbringing, even if it is a qualified freedom. The idea that something is set in stone without a role for our own rationalization and choice is terrifying. I can’t imagine that I’m the only one who thinks so.

He told me this as a freshman in college. Perhaps it was a particularly impressionable time, but I’ve yet to fully let it go. I wouldn’t say that I’ve accepted it either. Second is hard to accept as an alternative to first. Such an idea forces acknowledgment of different potential levels of happiness across life stages, and that achieving one level over the other is out of your control. One can’t help but reject the idea.

In fact, it would only be healthy to reject such an idea. The alternative is a diminished perception of self-worth and acceptance of impossibility that would only stunt or kill creativity and achievement and happiness. Who is to judge whether you’ve taken first or second? It’s only yourself, your harshest critic. The one that will follow you incessantly, and without reprieve.

But I do resent his words. And I’ve resolved that I cannot accept them. However, I suspect that this decision made does little to mitigate any thoughts that arise around the idea when a choice comes to pass. Still, it’s been written here. Perhaps that makes it a little more real. Coming to this point has only taken seven years or so, with perhaps a few more to go.