Grace Lee Boggs with Scott Kurashige, The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activisim for the 21st Century
Art & Development, Citizenship

Points of Reference (or Orientation)

Navigating art and activism, and the necessity of both.


Art seasons are a real phenomenon, and I’ve been racing to keep up with this one. I’ve been extra busy since mid-August, working my seasonal, full-time museum job, and preparing for three group shows opening this month—not to mention falling sick for a week. M called me “Pigpen,” the messy Peanuts character, and I couldn’t argue with that. I kept it pretty together in art, by sacrificing in life, like housekeeping.

Messy desk

This pretty much sums it up.

I have a lot of thoughts I haven’t been able to process. Like all the crap on my desk, I’m throwing everything down to sort out, at least into little piles for now.


Adapting Aptitudes

A few things happen over the course of a changeover at my seasonal museum job. I lose fitness and get sore in my knees and back. I become unusually extroverted, even starting conversations with strangers outside of work. I’m sharper and faster working with my hands, but a bit slower intellectually. It’s harder to recall artists’ names or to talk critically about art. It’s weird observing how quickly you adapt to your environments.


A Bit of Orientation

Something I wrote resonated with curator Susannah Magers. She quoted me in her curatorial statement for Political Birthdays (on view now through November 3 at Dream Farm Commons in Oakland, CA):

“My courage as an artist is low right now. The news is so overwhelming part of me just wants to turtle up. I’m not sure what the right track is, but I know when it feels right. … In lieu of a clear direction, I’ll take a bit of orientation.”

The past two weeks have provided countless reasons to want to turtle up and avoid the onslaught of bad news and injustice.

Sometimes a good strategy is just to keep moving. Susannah wrote:

The exhibition is one such offering—an orientation, in response to the aforementioned quote by participating artist Christine Wong Yap—that emphasizes visibility, agency, and collaboration as resources, sites of inquiry, and tools.

There can’t be too many reminders to shift focus from dumpster fires back our own sources of power. What can we do to see and be seen? What can we do with our resources, networks, and skills? In this time that feels so alienating, disempowering, and dispiriting, how do we provide the sense of community and solidarity to ourselves and each other?


Politics and Projects

The projects I’m working on right now relate to inclusion, amplifying voices, and belonging. They’re not expressly about civic engagement or advocacy. Partly that’s because I’m invested in psychological wellbeing, which I see as an expression of freedom, dignity, and agency.

Two of the three shows I’m in directly address activism and the midterm elections. The organizers invited me to supplement my project with ideas for taking action or performative events to encourage activism. At the pace I’ve been moving, I didn’t have the time or brainpower to come up with many ideas. But I have been thinking about how I have—or haven’t—been politically engaged.


Activism Is Not Easy

Given this recent emphasis on activism, I have been thinking about a post I wrote two years ago, “Resources for Becoming an Activist.” I’ve been feeling guilty that I haven’t taken more of my own advice and been more active.

I connected with many local social justice orgs at the Forward Union Fair in 2017. I signed up for tons of mailing lists. Aside from calling representatives, few opportunities to get involved or contribute my art skills presented themselves. I joined an group of artist-allies for an immigrant rights org, but logistics—timing, geography, my schedule—have prevented me from pitching in much. When I did contribute a postcard design, I never heard anything back from the point person.

I’ve had tunnel vision for the past two months thanks to my projects and shows, but I’ll try again in the coming months.

Yesterday, I signed up for a monthlong printshop studio rental. I’m thinking about printing more posters, like the one I printed the day after the election. This is something I can do that activates my skills and resources.


WAGENCY

One thing that artists can do to take action is to join WAGENCY. If you haven’t seen it, read my Instagram post about why I signed up, and why I encourage other artists to become WAGENTS, too.


Belonging on Stolen Land

Yesterday was Indigenous People’s Day. I spent the day letterpress-printing Belonging activity sheets.

In 2016, I developed my Belonging project, using open calls and workshops to ask people about how they feel about belonging, and where they have felt belonging. I asked countless people to participate and invite others. I shaped my approach with inquiry and openness. I protracted the period of research and dialogue, even though it was stressful for me to delay production. I thought I limited my agenda and perspective in the final signs and zine in order to highlight participants’ voices.

An hour before the opening of Belonging in Albuquerque, I received feedback that indigenous people may not appreciate the message that “we all belong here” on colonized land. Anytime anyone thoughtfully offers honest, critical feedback, it’s valuable, though the timing of the message was a challenge for me.

On Monday, curator Adriel Luis posted a reflection about the struggling with the paradox of immigrant and indigenous perspectives:

As an American I recognize that I live on occupied land. Coming from a family of immigrants, it’s a constant struggle to find balance between insisting that we have a right to be here, while at the same time acknowledging that we really don’t. The past couple of years I’ve had the honor of learning what it means to be welcomed here as a guest…I can tell you it feels so much better than barging your way into somewhere! Still, it’s a learning process to understand how I continue to contribute to the legacy of how this land was stolen.

I’m also trying to evolve my understanding of belonging, by considering Brené Brown’s writing: belonging is not merely being embraced by others—true belonging is actually the courage to stand alone in the wilderness. What that means for future iterations of the project is that belonging should not be limited to places; belonging can be something you carry with you.


Jeff Chang on Art and Race

Probably the best thing to help orient me right now in this moment before the midterm elections is this: historian Jeff Chang’s keynote speech at the Art and Race Conference at the Impact Hub in Oakland (H/T the Making Contact podcast episode, “Jeff Chang on Revolutions in Seeing and Being”).

In this moment, privilege shows up as disengagement, the refusal to take a stand, and the refusal to show up.

As in, ‘I refuse to see how anti-black racism gives me privilege.’ As in, ‘I refuse to see the inhumanity that leaves so many homeless and unsheltered.’ As in, ‘I refuse to see the humanity of the refugee or the migrant.’ As in, ‘I refuse to acknowledge the ways that state violence is inflicted on black bodies, on women’s bodies, on queer bodies, on Muslim bodies, on poor bodies…

Privilege is the choice to isolate, to draw the line, to build the wall. To say that all that matters is my solitary sovereignty, and what I can accumulate before death claims me. As artists, as people in community, we have to choose, in this moment. …

 

We believe in art because we believe in life, in all its variations, in all of its beauty. We’re here because we also believe the ugliness—the violence of inhumanity—can be transformed. We’re here today because we believe art and culture change things. That cultural change might even precede—might even make—political change. …

 

Racism is drawn from a specific kind of refusal. It’s a denial of empathy. It’s a mass-willed blindness. … Inequity shows up in three ways: in representation, in access, in power… Here’s where art may become a remedy… In its mimicry of life, great art helps to close the distance between the self and other; it helps us to come together….

…The movement for black lives has reminded us that the way out of this historical cycle of crisis is to begin to see each other in our full humanity. To find and feel that we are all connected. To move beyond empathy to action. Empathy is empty without action.

Jeff goes on to talk about what it means to not make art nor to engage culture, by exploring technocrats’ luxury apocalypse bunkers.

Perhaps the saddest thing is what this way of thinking reveals about them. They find it so hard to imagine generosity, they can’t see it at all in the world. So that’s probably what is meant when folks say, ‘It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.’

 

Art … inflames the imagination. And we need the imagination in order to see through and past our blindnesses. Gotta be able to see each other, imagine what we can do together to increase representation, access, and power. This is the real beginning of transformation and community.

…Grace Lee Boggs… argued that revolution is not—as we think of it—something to be won in bloodshed, in which there’s a replacing of one group in power with another group in power. She said that the next revolution might be better thought of as advancing humankind to a new stage of consciousness, creativity, and social and political responsibility. Her revolution will require us to find new ways other than to divide and rule, to consign some to death and instead pivot all of us towards life, to honor and transform our relationships to each other and ourselves. She insists that we rethink how we see each other, how we choose to be, and how to be together. So we have to move beyond empathy towards mutuality. Beyond relationships that are about exploitation and extraction, towards relationships that are about exchange, support, generosity, and trust. That we start from truly seeing each other and move towards acting for each other. Past resistance and into transformation.


Point of Orientation: Grace Lee Boggs

Thanks to Jeff’s orientation, I’ve ordered this book. (From an independent bookstore, obvs.)

Grace Lee Boggs with Scott Kurashige, The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activisim for the 21st Century


In the same vein as moving from resistance towards transformation, I’d rather be for positive emotion and affirmation, and than to promulgate negative emotion and opposition.

It is the deforming nature of anger to blur the boundary between unjustified and justified; if it weren’t, only the righteous would ever be angry. Instead, rage is most often forsworn by those who seem most entitled to it, and civility is demanded by those who least deserve it.

…Anger is an avaricious emotion; it takes more credit than it deserves. Attempts to make it into a political virtue too often attribute to anger victories that rightfully belong to courage, patience, intelligence, persistence, or love.

Casey Cep, “The Perils and Possibilities of Anger,” New Yorker Magazine, October 15, 2018

 

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soldiers, rolling a cigarette, watchtowner, marching, reading an order

Panels from 442, written by Koji Steven Sakai and Phinny Kiyomura and illustrated by Rob Sato // Source: kojistevensakai.com

442 is a graphic novel following a regiment of Japanese Americans fighting in WWII even as their families were housed in concentration camps in the US. It was written by Koji Steven Sakai and Phinny Kiyomura, and the artwork is by Rob Sato.

You can read 442 by downloading the Stela app and subscribing.

Rob, a classmate from undergrad, posted about his grandfather’s and great-grandparents’ detention in a concentration camp in Rohwer, AR. He also wrote:

As fewer and fewer of those who experienced [Japanese American internment] firsthand remain in the world I hope their stories remain very alive, that this history can be as much a part of collective human knowledge as possible, and not for wallowing in pity but to arm minds against xenophobia and fear mongering. If there’s anything that should be taken away from the whole mess it’s these simple but somehow still bafflingly misunderstood facts—Japanese American Internment was not just “unfortunate” but wrong, it was unnecessary and protected no one, it was inarguably racist, it could happen to anyone, and actions like it will be tried again and again and again.

See also:

Though “the court had finally overturned the 1944 decision that the United States government could force more than 120,000 people of Japanese descent into internment camps,” Japanese American internees “lamented that it came as part of the decision that upheld President Trump’s ban on travel into the United States by citizens of several predominantly Muslim countries.”

“‘This was absolutely the wrong case to include Korematsu in,’ said Alan Nishio, who was born in a California internment camp, Manzanar, in 1945…. ‘We are continuing to use the guise of national security to limit the civil rights of immigrants and people of color without really any basis.'”

Jennifer Medina, “For Survivors of Japanese Internment Camps, Court’s Korematsu Ruling Is ‘Bittersweet,’” New York Times, June 28, 2018

See also:

“These immigration policies are for people who conflated America with whiteness, and therefore a loss of white primacy becomes a loss of American identity.”

Charles M. Blow, “White Extinction Anxiety,” New York Times, June 24, 2018

#KeepFamiliesTogether

Families Belong Together MoveOn June 30 Day of Action

Citizenship, Works

See: 442

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Citizenship, Sights

See: Processions (UK)

This checks all boxes that make me happy: DIY flags. Processions. Participatory art. Empowering women, especially right now. Check, check, check!

Join us on 10th June for PROCESSIONS, a mass artwork celebrating 100 years of women voting, in Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh and London.

On Sunday 10th June, women* (*those who identify as women or non-binary) and girls from across the UK will come together to create a vast participatory artwork taking place simultaneously for one day. PROCESSIONS will be a living portrait of UK women in the 21st century.

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Flags made by Helen De Main and participants at the Glasgow Women’s Library. // HT: Rosie O’Grady (@OGradyRosie) // What’s not to love about this? You’ve got Helen De Main’s gorgeous design sensibility [Helen was a contributing artist to my make things (happen) project in 2014] and with participants at the only accredited museum in the UK dedicated to women’s history.

Check out Processions’ Make Your Own Banner guides for extensive downloadable PDF toolkits and school resource kits.

My only wish is that I could be there in one of those four amazing cities this Sunday.

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Citizenship

We All Belong Here

A freely downloadable graphic to defend DACA and immigrant rights.

Christine Wong Yap, We All Belong Here, 2017, calligraphy. Available as a downloadable graphic (JPG, 313kb) for resistance under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International license.

Christine Wong Yap, We All Belong Here, 2017, calligraphy. Available as a downloadable graphic (JPG, 313kb) for resistance under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International license.

Tomorrow, Trump will act on DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), in response to 9 state attorney generals who are threatening to sue if he doesn’t repeal the law created by Obama.

Let’s fight to preserve DACA! Five easy ways are listed in this thread. If you’re in NYC, you can join the action at Trump Tower tomorrow, Tuesday, September 5, 10am–7pm.

Not sure why we should preserve DACA? Read these perspectives on Time. You’ll hear from DACA participants on how DACA has changed their lives, as well as how its potential repeal is affecting them. You’ll hear from undocumented people who didn’t qualify for DACA, and what their options and lack of options are. There are Latino Americans, Asian Americans, and African Americans. There is tragedy, hope, small things like being able to drive your mom to the hospital, and big things like winning the legal battle to become the first undocumented lawyer in NY.

Here’s why I want to preserve DACA, and fight for immigrant and refugee rights in the age of Trump:

  • My parents fled war in Vietnam and persecution in Communist China. They had limited economic and educational means and had to opportunistically use the pathways available to them. Most Americans’ migration stories are full of wiles. We have all been subject to laws shaped by racism and politics—some benefitting, others hobbled.
  • Immigration laws tear families apart. Someone close to me was separated from his mother as a baby. When he was able to reunite with her as a toddler, he didn’t recognize her. Heartbreaks and awful family decisions like this are created by immigration laws every day.
  • Lastly, fighting for DACA and immigrant rights is a tangible way to counter the increase in white supremacist activity in the US. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by racism. It’s deflating that we are still not seen as fully equal. But there is a simple way to fight despair: taking concrete action. Fighting for DACA is urgent, timely, and actionable.

Above, you can download my hand lettering, “We All Belong Here,” for non-commercial, personal use in fighting for immigrant and refugee rights. It is the back cover of the Belonging zine (freely downloadable here).

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Citizenship

Donate to an Anti-Racist Organization, Receive a Print

Today through August 25, donate $75 to Race ForwardShowing Up for Racial JusticeSouthern Poverty Law Center, Asian Americans Advancing Justice (Asian Law Caucus)Life After Hate, or United We Dream and show me the receipt, and I’ll mail you a letterpress print.

Pick from any of the Working Together prints. There are 15 total; see them all here.

All prints are letterpress-printed and carved from linoleum by hand, by me. Each one is 7 x 8.5 inches, and signed and numbered in a limited edition of 15. They were printed with the support of a Workspace Grant at the Center for Book Arts in NYC.

I made these prints because I’d rather work together than let ourselves be torn apart by hate.

 

Working Together (cover)

 

Equal Empowerment

 

Warmed By the Same Fire

 

Creative Sparks

 

Here’s another artist-fundraiser from Huong Ngo, where I learned about Life After Hate.

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Citizenship

Notes on Monuments

I am fascinated by the debate around Confederate monuments. (Anti-racist, anti-white supremacist action is, of course, paramount. I’ll return to that in a follow-up post.) Here are some reasons I’m fascinated with the dialogue around monuments.

Statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee being in New Orleans last May. Photo: Scott Threlkeld/AP

We are having a national conversation about public art.

Usually, art and artists are on the margins of society. It’s rare when art or issues around art are widely discussed by the mainstream.

Most Americans have never studied visual criticism, art history, or public art. They may have never made art, cast sculpture, or considered the role of public art. Some people even think they hate art and talking about it (“I like art that speaks for itself”). It’s very interesting to see so many Americans having strong opinions about monuments right now.

 

Monuments are an unlikely lightning rod.

I probably pass a dozen historical statues every week and rarely take notice of them. I take it for granted that they valorize dead white men. They don’t relate to me and they don’t appeal to me; I often find realism and portraiture visually boring. These statues mimic classical Greco-Roman style; they’re elevated on high plinths. This creates hierarchical assertions of power. I’d rather see democratic spaces that are flexible and responsive to local communities and contemporary concerns.

Statues of historical figures mostly convey significance. As didactic tools, their efficacy is limited. They lack the multiplicity of voices and perspectives that makes history compelling and relevant.

For white supremacists and anti-racists/anti-facists/Black Lives Matter activists (activists for racial justice), Confederate monuments are a battleground for a dialogue about race in America. It’s interesting that much larger, and more intangible cultural and political forces—ongoing systemic and institutional racism, of which police brutality has become increasingly visible and publicized due to digital technologies, and Trump’s fear-mongering nostalgia and xenophobia inflaming a base precarious due to neoliberalism and deindustrialization—are manifesting in a dialogue about relatively boring public art.

It is also fascinating how these sculptures have existed for decades, but their meanings have become heightened via political climate, political will, and people’s organizing.

 

What I learned in art school

It’s easy to ridicule the impracticality of art school. But ideas and skills I learned in art school inform how I understand monuments, which I find especially helpful right now.

  • Monuments are subjective. Via critical visual studies, one may deconstruct what is shown (i.e., a depiction of an idealized general, emphasizing honor and bravery, in a neoclassical style that lends prestige and timelessness) and what is not shown (i.e., the horrors of war, the people affected by war, slavery, and racial injustice).
  • Monuments serve agendas. Monuments are very expensive, heavy, space-taking tools for memory. That memory is crafted by the powerful. Many of the contested monuments were created in the Jim Crow era. They depict Robert E. Lee, but the contexts of their creations suggest that they memorialize a past when white power and privilege were legally and violently enforced.
  • Monuments are contestable. Everything is up for debate. Meaning relies on context, and context is variable. In fact, one of the most indisputable arguments for removing a Confederate statue is bad context to begin with (e.g., Lee’s connection to NOLA was insignificant, thus the statue was out of place anyway). And nothing is permanent. Only a small proportion of art is preserved. Museums regularly acquire and de-accession artworks. Preservation is subject to re-evaluation. (Though monuments aspire to look like they have stood since time-immemorial, societies decide if they’re going to maintain them, power-wash the pigeon poop, fix or ignore oxidation, patch erosion of the plinths, etc.) Monuments are parts of cities, and cities are layers—palimpsests that are constantly rewritten. Displaced monuments tell stories too.

 

Artists helped spark this debate.

Wynton Marsalis played a pivotal role in the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue in New Orleans. Artists can have political power. This is an important example of how artists make change by writing an op-ed and speaking to public officials.

 

What makes good public art?

Lucy Lippard’s The Lure of the Local is a fantastic book for thinking about place and place-related art. She actually says that little public art is actually public—much is private because of whose interests it serves. She defines public art as

“accessible art of any species that cares about, challenges, involves, consults the audience for or with whom it is made, respecting the community and environment.”

Furthermore,

“a public art exists in the hearts, minds, ideologies, and educations of its audience, as well as in their physical, sensuous experiences.”

She also poses these questions:

Who defines public?
What defines a public space?
What kind of art occupies it best?
How does and can an art in the public realm communicate these ideas about place?
What are the responsibilities of a public artwork to the place, and to those who live there?

I like how this resonates with Marsalis’ proposal:

We should transform the current Lee Circle into an inviting space that celebrates the communal intentions of the international community that helped us survive Katrina. This place would fill the heart of our city with something uplifting for us all and for all times.

The removal of Confederate statues provides some opportunities to be more creative and generative.

Where should the sculptures go?

  • We could create a space like Memento Park in Budapest, a Communist statue graveyard for contemplation on dictatorship.
  • A museum of slavery or about the legacy of slavery. The presence there of displaced monuments would add dimension to how memorialization is ongoing.
  • Perhaps the bronze could be recycled into a sculpture that is more interesting, compelling, modern, and progressive. It could become a public park element like a fountain, bench, or shade that welcomes all.
  • Perhaps the statues can be chopped up into small pieces that are distributed as mementos of a successful anti-racist people’s movement. (I am aware of the gruesome resonances of this.)

What to do with an empty plinth?

I really like the Fourth Plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square. Originally meant to house a sculpture that was never made due to lack of funding, the empty plinth became a city-run platform for rotating public art commissions.

Of these, my favorite is Antony Gormley’s “One and Other.” The empty plinth became a stage for 2,400 UK residents to occupy as they liked, one at a time, for one hour at a time, for 100 days and nights. It’s a breath of fresh air to see living, diverse, wacky, everyday citizens use a place of prestige in a public space. Here’s a great video.

Antony Gormley, One and Other, 2009. Photo: Peter Maciarmid/Getty.

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"Seven Nations Cake, with arak liqueur from Iraq, hawash spice blend for Somalia, mastic from Yemen, qamar al-deen (apricot leather) from Syria, Shamshiri tea from Iran, dates for Libya, and sorghum for Sudan. With honey for sweetness and rose petals for a warm welcome home." // Source: Instagram @protestcake
Citizenship

Points of Reference: Resistance Day 16: Cakes, Spells, Dance, and Multi-Centeredness

It’s hard to keep up—much less synthesize—current events, so here is a collection of ideas that have been resonating with me… None more than this:

“No one action will be adequate. All actions will be necessary.”

—Jon Stewart as quoted by Dave Itzkoff, “Jon Stewart Savages Trump: ‘Purposeful, Vindictive Chaos,’” New York Times, February 1, 2017. (Please read in full, in fairness to comedic craft.)

 

Note to self: If I question the value of individual acts of resistance, remember that more is more.

Case in point: The #nobannowall opposition—protestors’ and lawyers’ rapid response at airports, the ACLU’s legal cases, the Brooklyn judge’s emergency order, the win achieved by Washington State’s Attorney General, and the strike self-organized by 1,000 NYC Yemeni bodega owners. (Side note: If self-employed, precarious bodega owners can demonstrate such a unified show of force, when will artists? Why were strikers in the #J20 art strike dispersed among art-world institutions?)

Protest Cakes’ Seven Nations Cake, distributed in last night’s #nobannowall protest at San Francisco City Hall.

"Seven Nations Cake, with arak liqueur from Iraq, hawash spice blend for Somalia, mastic from Yemen, qamar al-deen (apricot leather) from Syria, Shamshiri tea from Iran, dates for Libya, and sorghum for Sudan. With honey for sweetness and rose petals for a warm welcome home." // Source: Instagram @protestcake

“Seven Nations Cake, with arak liqueur from Iraq, hawash spice blend for Somalia, mastic from Yemen, qamar al-deen (apricot leather) from Syria, Shamshiri tea from Iran, dates for Libya, and sorghum for Sudan. With honey for sweetness and rose petals for a warm welcome home.” // Source: Instagram @protestcake.

Illustrator and comic book artist Yumi Sakugawa‘s recent drawing/meditation:

"Intersectional, intergenerational, intergalactic, international, interconnection. Even if it takes years, decades, centuries-- any unit of time beyond my lifetime and my theoretical grandchildren's lifetime-- I believe in action, I believe in compassion, I believe in a plane of existence where peace is the default and not the exception. Do what you can to show up. Every gesture matters." Source: Instagram: @YumiSakagawa.

“Intersectional, intergenerational, intergalactic, international, interconnection. Even if it takes years, decades, centuries– any unit of time beyond my lifetime and my theoretical grandchildren’s lifetime– I believe in action, I believe in compassion, I believe in a plane of existence where peace is the default and not the exception. Do what you can to show up. Every gesture matters.” Source: Instagram: @YumiSakagawa.

Victoria Graham’s projects about casting spells:

Jenifer k Wofford’s NO SCRUBS intervention: joy in the face of repression, cultural workers making revolution irresistible, with women of color to the front.

"NO SCRUBS was a boisterous, fun dance brigade that injected playfulness into the SF and Oakland Women's Marches. Their focused energy was fueled by fun, feisty tunes by women of color and quirky protest signs." Organized by Jenifer k Wofford. // Source: Instagram @100DaysAction

“NO SCRUBS was a boisterous, fun dance brigade that injected playfulness into the SF and Oakland Women’s Marches. Their focused energy was fueled by fun, feisty tunes by women of color and quirky protest signs.” Organized by Jenifer k Wofford. // Source: Instagram @100DaysAction

Krista Tippett: “A cynic would say, ‘…they’re just drops in the ocean.’”

Larry Ward, dharma teacher and Baptist minister:

“That is true. I am a drop in the ocean, but I’m also the ocean. I’m a drop in America, but I’m also America.”

—From “Being Peace in a World of Trauma,” On Being, July 14, 2016.

 


Reflections on immigration, racial identity, and place

My mom's Chinese New Year's preparations this year included tamarind, which she used to eat fresh from a neighborhood tree in Vietnam.

My mom’s Chinese New Year’s preparations. Citrus and lettuce represent wishes for prosperity. Tamarind is not a traditional offering, but my mom likes it because there was a tamarind tree near her home in Vietnam. In Chinese, pink is considered light red, the color of luck.

Wall text from "Land of Opportunity" at the San Mateo History Museum, Redwood City, CA.

Wall text from “Land of Opportunity” at the San Mateo History Museum, Redwood City, CA.

I flew back to the Bay Area to visit family. The next day, Lunar New Year, the Muslim ban, and the gravity of DJT’s reckless nationalism began.

I watched videos of protests at SFO and JFK as my mom happily arranged Chinese New Year’s offerings for peace and prosperity. It was surreal to think that my parents—who came to the US to escape war and fear of persecution in Vietnam and mainland China—might not be welcomed today.

I didn’t do anything to earn citizenship. I was granted citizenship because I was born here—a simple quirk at the complex nexus of my parent’s tremendous sacrifices and generations of people who fought for equality. When I think about how hard immigrants have to work to become naturalized, it makes me want to be deserving of citizenship. Engaging as an active citizen seems a small price.

At the San Mateo History Museum, I saw register books for “enemy aliens”—Japanese, German and Italian Americans. I thought about how such xenophobic, unconstitutional acts seemed like relics of the past not too long ago, but could be seen as part of a racist continuum now (and indeed have been cited as legal precedents).

My past internalized racism also came to light. A a youth I disdained the peninsula and the South Bay; I thought they were boring and lacked culture and worldliness. But I looked at things differently as I drove around San Mateo and visited a pan-Southeast Asian Buddhist temple in San Jose. While the region may be short on high or alternative cultures, its unfussy integration of Asian and Pacific Islander cultures into suburbia with mid-century vernacular architecture and design, is specific and kind of wonderful.

It renews my gratitude to call  both the San Francisco Bay Area and Queens home. What I love most about the two are their richness of cultural diversity and the simpatico afforded by progressivism and tolerance. I don’t feel split or unrooted. I feel “multi-centered.” Is that such an odd proposition? My mom is shaped by three countries—the one of her heritage, the one where she was raised, and the one she emigrated to.

I just started reading Lucy Lippard’s The Lure of the Local: Senses of Place in a Multicentered Society (1997). The idea of belonging to a place, and at the same time, to an interconnected world, seems especially meaningful.


Notes for forward movement

Some tidbits of creative inspiration:

  • The lion dance is said to have originated when villagers were tormented by a monster, so in defense they sewed a costume and choreographed a dance. Their united power scared the monster away.
  • 2017 is the Year of the Rooster. The rooster is in charge of time and starting a new day.

Positive psychology researcher Shane Lopez’s Hope Map exercise is a set of instructions to identify goals, pathways, obstacles, and methods (in other words, ways and means) of overcoming obstacles. [Updated link.]

[I’ve been holding on to this one because it’s like a make things (happen) activity waiting to happen, if presented as visually-oriented handout for download. But it seems worth sharing now; the time is ripe for planning and self-determined goals.]

L-R: (1) My assumed schema. (2) Kevin's described schema. (3) A proposed revision.

L-R: (1) My assumed schema. (2) Kevin’s described schema. (3) A proposed revision.

I liked how Kevin Chen recently described five areas of life (figure 2): a romantic relationship, friendships, family, practice, and job(s). In this schema, “productivity” accounts for only two-fifths of life, and relationships account for a majority.

I realized that I’d held a three-part schema (figure 1): work, practice, and personal life. This short-changed other people and explained why I always felt like I was failing someone.

I suppose I might add two more “houses” to a revised schema (figure 3): “me-time” and citizenship/civic engagement. This might be a temporary mode for the next few years, that incorporates both activism and self-care. In this case, people still occupy the majority.

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