A Model Minority… and Ferguson?

Things are happening. Things are happening in America that I don’t even understand. Things are happening across the country and at my little college in the middle of nowhere. It’s weird witnessing something so huge blow up in your face when you’re thousands of miles away. It’s hard for me to focus on anything here when I think about how something so important is happening back at home. And yet, I don’t think I’d be able to handle it if I were at home. Because things are coming to light now that people have been shutting away, pretending that they don’t exist. But here’s the thing. They do exist. And I don’t typically blog about things like this, but I have so many feelings right now and my word vomit needs to come out somewhere.

Ferguson and racism and people not understanding what its like to be seen as a color and not a person. These are the things that have been bothering me. Not so much the not understanding part, but the not even trying to understand part. Because I honestly don’t understand myself, but I am really fucking trying. Frankly, the reason its so hard for me to understand is because this whole situation has put Asian Americans in a bit of a strange place. We, being the so-called “model minority”. To be quite honest, I’m not even completely sure what that means.

I just can’t even.

The thing is, I guess if you’ve never been a minority, it would be nearly impossible to understand what its like. Growing up, I wanted nothing more than to be a white person, because that’s what was normal. That’s what was beautiful. But more than that, it meant that I would have a personality beyond being just an Asian person. You would think that as a twenty-year old, I would’ve gotten over it. But you know what? I haven’t. Every time I walk into a new setting, I find myself having to prove that “I’m different. That I’m not just another Asian.” Whatever that means. I don’t even do it purposefully, its just part of my subconscious now. And I know that I shouldn’t have to prove myself wherever I go, but unfortunately, its become such a normal habit that I don’t even think about it.

The strange thing is, I just spent three months in Japan where for once, I wasn’t a part of the minority. But there certainly was a bit of racism going on. I spent a lot of time with expats who had been living there for thirty plus years. They admitted that they could never be fully satisfied because no matter how great they spoke Japanese or conformed to the culture, they would still be just another white person, never quite accepted. Most of their social circles contained just other expats because it was hard for them to become as close to Japanese people. One of my favorite professors talked about how he hoped to retire to America because there he would at least be accepted and have his own niche; but he couldn’t because he had raised a family in Japan so he had roots there now. To be sure, as a country built by immigrants, America certainly is more welcoming to foreigners than Japan is, but some of this stuff is sadly all too familiar.

I’m in Taiwan now. And despite the fact that I wasn’t raised here, I’ve always felt so at home here, so comfortable. Because here I get to be me, not just that Asian girl that people confuse with the only other Asian girl in the room. It’s a pretty nice feeling.

But Ferguson. And whatever in the world is happening at Williams right now. I’m with you. Words can’t express what I’m feeling right now, but I have so much respect. I might not be able to understand exactly what its like to be every other minority group in the U.S., but I do know what its like to be seen only as your race.

It just pisses me off when people say that these “minorities” are making a big deal out of nothing. Seriously?

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Taking Responsibility

In ninth grade, my English class spent two months of our first semester putting together a book of vignettes. Every week or so, we would craft a short story about a specific moment in our life and at the end, we bound everything together with a title and a dedication page. I titled my book “No Regrets”. I actually forgot about it until just now when I was thinking about all the little bits and pieces that led me to this moment in life.

To be sure, I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life. As an impulsive person, I’d say I’ve probably made more mistakes than not (I don’t even know what the opposite of a mistake would be. Is there such a thing?) And what is a mistake anyway? Maybe I’ll just call them “decisions that led to an undesirable outcome”.

Here’s the thing: that’s what life is. Ever read one of those “choose your own adventure books”? It’s not about achieving ultimate happiness, its about choosing your own path and then dealing with the adventure. Despite the fact that I wrote this book of “No Regrets” in ninth grade, I actually spent the majority of high school with a significant amount of regret, something that caused me a lot of mental and physical harm. It was mostly about miniscule things, things that have become tiny little blips in my present life. They still matter, sure, because they led me to where I am today, but I don’t agonize over wondering, “what if?” anymore. The thing is, it just doesn’t matter.

So today, I have no regrets. And my life is certainly far from perfect, whatever that may be. I can barely walk, I miss my family and my home to no end, and I am literally on the opposite side of the world where I will stay for another three months. This past year, it honestly seemed for a bit like something was out to get me, and I try not to think about happiness because lord knows where that’ll take me.

But this is my life. This is where all the little things have led me to be, and this is where I am supposed to be. Maybe its because I’m one of those people that believe that everything has a reason or maybe its because I’ve been studying Buddhism for the past two months. But life isn’t over yet. This moment right now will lead to another and another, until suddenly I’m looking back in ten years trying to figure out how I got there. And when that time comes, I want to know that I’ve had a hand in getting there. So instead of looking back and regretting, I am taking responsibility and living now.

A few days ago, someone asked me if I made the right decision in coming to Japan. My answer then and my answer will always be, yes. Its far too early to see where this will lead me and how it has changed me, but this has certainly been an experience.

What is this really about?

It’s 5:21 in the morning on Sunday, September 14th, the beginning of our third full day in Kyoto. It feels like it has been a week since we got here. And not in a bad way. Being forced to live altogether in a tiny space, while difficult for an introvert like me, has brought our small group of nine quite close in a small amount of time.

So what is this trip exactly? To be honest, when I first applied and then hurriedly left for the trip, I didn’t have a very good idea of what I was heading into. I knew that I had to get away, but I didn’t know where to. To lay it down in a nutshell, this is still an academic program focusing on Buddhist traditions in Japan. We will be taking classes on Japanese religion and practice, culture and society (which is taught by a Williams alum!), and a language class. We will also be taking short term trips to monasteries and temples to learn meditation and observe the workings of these places. Finally, at the end of the semester, we will have two weeks on our own to explore Japan on our own and to complete our own research project (something that still intimidates me to no end).

But what is this trip really about? I don’t think its exactly necessary or possible to have a complete answer to that right now. But throughout the past few days, I’ve noticed some things that I didn’t really expect. The students that have come to this program come from all walks of life, and have some very unique perspectives and ideas. It takes a special group to choose a study abroad program such as this and meeting and talking with these people is as much a part of the experience as the classes and trips that we are taking. At the same time, as a group, we share commonalities that are difficult to explain, but are the same values that brought us together as a group in a first place.

I took a very long walk by the river yesterday. (It may be because I forgot where to turn to go home, but that’s beside the point). It was the first time since we arrived that I had spent some time by myself just to think and I did a lot of thinking. While this trip is for me a lot about self-growth, learning to be more comfortable with myself, and pushing my limits, it is also very much about this group of people. During the trip, we are taking five of the Buddhist precepts, and the focus on this is a phrase used by Thich Nhat Hanh, “knowing how deeply our lives intertwine, I vow not to […]”. I’m starting to see how important focusing on the group is important on this trip. We are here to help each other, something that I think everyone has been embracing in the past few days. In a way, I think working as a group and for a group, we are also benefitting ourselves. It is helping me see myself in a clearer light and I hope that it only becomes clearer through the next three months.

 

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*This blog will essentially be my journal for my time on this trip. I have found that in the past when I have attempted to keep a journal, it eventually trails off somewhere, I feel guilty about missing a few days, and then just stop altogether. Therefore I will be writing the same way I have been blogging. I will not force myself to write, but when I have thoughts, I will put them down. This is also a place that I often do look back on in order to read my journey over the past year and this trip is a continuation on that. The reason I choose not to start a travel blog is because I will focus not on the physical things that we do, but mostly the thoughts I have that stem from that.

Metta 🙂