a long overdue life update & 26th birthday request

Dearest family and friends,

It’s been quite some time since I last posted an update and so much has happened in my life. I tried really hard to make a cute newsletter to email to everyone, but after a lot of technical issues, I figured posting on my blog would be much easier.

I’ve been living in Pittsburgh for the past year and am now in my second year of a five-to-seven-year-long PhD program in Sociology at the University of Pittsburgh.

I’ll admit, moving across the country has its challenges. Building new friendships and creating a whole new community out of nothing is hard. Concepts like “imposter syndrome” and “microaggressions” and “structural inequality” have never felt more real than they do when I’m in the academy. I’ve had some very low lows, and the highs didn’t seem very high.

I spent the last year trying to understand how my studies and my research could have a bigger impact. Was a PhD the right path to tackling the myriad of social problems we face today? Did anything I think actually have value? Would people at the university ever take me seriously? Being a young womxn of color in an institution built to serve upper class white men was and is not easy. Unfortunately, I went into a tailspin and retracted into my own head, taking a break from activism and being involved in the community.

But, now that I’m turning 26, I think it’s time for me to regain the fight and courage I had when I was in California.

For my birthday, in lieu of gifts, I’m urging my loved ones to consider donating to Yemen Aid.

Those who know me know that I’m always highly critical of humanitarian and development aid. I’ve asked friends who are knowledgable about the war in Yemen to recommend organizations that are impactful, transparent, and ultimately have the interests of all Yemenis regardless of their religious and ethnic identities.

To me, the traumatic effects that war has had on the people there should be a topic on everyone’s mind.

Over 10% of the population is internally displaced. 85,000 children have died of starvation (a conservative UN estimate) since the beginning of the war in 2015. 14 million people are at risk of famine. These problems don’t even touch the issues of trauma and physical violence inflicted on the Yemeni people.

To be honest, the neglect from the international community is absolutely sickening. I see the news headlines and read posts from my friends who have worked with Yemenis, and things just feel hopeless. Our political leaders have shown zero interest in caring for survivors of war. And our nation funds and supplies many of the weapons that Saudi has used in their attacks on Yemen.

It is pretty clear that the problems faced by Yemen (and exacerbated by the culture of war that we all engage in) won’t be solved by a simple birthday fundraiser. But, I have always believed that consciousness raising can change lives. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be spending 7 years of my life trying to become a professor.

I’m urging you, even if you cannot donate, read about what’s happening in Yemen. As an educator and researcher, it would make me incredibly happy to know this (lengthy) post sparked something in you and helped you learn about an issue you may have not understood before.

This is a link for my fundraiser for Yemen Aid. If you feel compelled to donate to another organization related to Yemen relief, please let me know. And as always, if you have questions or just want to catch up on life, I’d be so happy to!

Thank you for continuing to be a part of my life in little and big ways. I hope that this next year will bring us all a little more peace and clarity.

With love and light,
Christina

when the talkative become speechless: a.k.a words are important and we should learn to use them more

For as long as I can remember, I talked. Words would fall from my mouth like mahjong tiles clanging against the old wooden coffee table at my 奶奶 and 爺爺’s house after my brother and I fashioned them into tall towers—we didn’t actually know how to play mahjong the right way.

I don’t know what my first word was.

Probably “meat”, which is highly ironic considering my fifth year of pescatarianism.

I just remember yapping for hours on end, telling stories, asking questions, making up games. My mom and 婆婆 would tell me not to talk so much during dinner because the food would get cold. Of course, I never listened. There was just too much to express before bedtime, and my brother was always a keen listener.

Maybe that’s why we got on so well.

As I grew up, I quickly learned that my voice had meaning, power. Being outspoken meant being listened to. It made me feel valuable. I’m lucky in that there had never been a time in my life where I felt like I couldn’t use my voice or like the thoughts I formed into coherent sentences didn’t matter.

Then,

I moved across the country. I left behind my family of keen listeners. I traded my words for safety, as if the silence could protect me from feeling so alone.

I have never felt as voiceless or as powerless as I have while in my first year of my Ph.D. program. I went from being a person who chats non-stop, who always has an opinion, who knows what she believes and ardently expresses those beliefs, to being silent and doubtful. I felt like a stranger in my own head. Every time I wanted to say something in class or in a conversation with peers, I stopped myself. I thought about what others would think of me.

I’ll be honest. I don’t think my voicelessness was initially conscious. At first, I thought being quiet and observant would be helpful to understand my new surroundings. But, over time, I felt there was an aura of overall unwelcomeness that I couldn’t put into words, much less give a response to. Silence seemed easier than questioning. And then, the silence became so loud to me, that I just resigned to giving up. Participating in class felt more scary than folks assuming I was unprepared or unintelligent.

Being a “minority” in a doctoral program is hard. It fucking sucks. It feels like nothing you do will mean anything, and if it does, people will assume you got to where you are because you’re filling a quota. It seems easier to keep your cards hidden.

I didn’t realize how much I missed talking until I lived in New York for the first half of the summer and visited home in California for the last. The feeling that Genie has when being released from his lamp–that’s what it felt like. I could breathe and speak words into existence, and I just felt so goddamn free, it was overwhelming. I didn’t have to pretend to be someone else, or think twice about what implications my words would have on how seriously I was taken as a graduate student. I didn’t have to whisper, “I’m good enough” to myself at night or think it constantly in my head during the day.

When I got back to Pennsylvania, I was beside myself. I thought about how it felt to be voiceless just several short months prior, and I couldn’t handle it. I called my mother crying and in a panic. I told her I couldn’t do it anymore. I said that no one here understands, that the feeling of being alone is so consuming, that I missed home and having people speak to me and me speak to them. I believed it before, but even more so now, that human beings need communication, to be understood and validated.

I do have the most wonderful of parents. They encourage me and tell me it’s okay, and they say the words I need to hear in the very few moments I have none. They told me that it’s okay to come home, that they wouldn’t be disappointed in me.

But, this is a new year. I’m telling myself that the only person I need to impress is me (cue the indie coming-of-age film soundtrack). I’m starting fresh and trying to relearn my way back to the girl who stacked up mahjong tiles, who made up stories, who happily told her kindergarten teacher that her favorite place to go in the world was Macy’s with her mom. I have a lot to say, and maybe this year, I’ll finally feel comfortable/confident/capable enough to speak.

 

 

for those working with refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers.

to volunteers, social workers, legal professionals, case workers, and any & all folks whose career it is to advocate for asylum seekers, unaccompanied minors, refugees, and migrants coming to the US:

You deserve more than the resources given to you to do the impossible.

I worked for what seemed like a long time, but in the grand scheme of things, was not a long time, in refugee services. In my young adult life, refugee resettlement and non-profit work is the only “real” professional expertise I hold. I speak from my own experience and this perspective may not be shared by all in the refugee/migrant/asylum seeker services space.

In my time working for a Southern California-based non-profit (founded and run by refugee womxn), I thought being a martyr was being a good employee and a good person. I thought that because I myself was never a refugee and my family were never refugees (although fleeing political persecution, separating from family members, and seeking economic security is still traumatic af), I had to sacrifice more and somehow prove that my being present in the workplace was worthwhile. I spent nearly every moment thinking about if I was doing work that would be perceived as (or was in actuality) taking advantage of refugees and asylum seekers. I was ashamed of my Western upbringing and comparative lack of hardship because of being born and raised in the United States. I felt guilty for being a beneficiary of wars and political conflict that destroyed the lives of the very people I was now charged with assisting. I found it, and still find it, incredibly unfair that the very randomness of the country and family you are born into will dictate so much of your life.

The guilt was overwhelming. That guilt translated to self-deprecation and a lack of self-worth. I worked hours on end to prove that my being so young and in charge of so much was not a mistake. If you have never felt out of place or unworthy of your accomplishments, I suggest you teach English and Job Training Workshops as a 21 year-old to people your parents’ age who were doctors, teachers, nurses, and legit professionals in their home countries. I will never forget the look on one of my ESL student’s face when he asked me how old I was and he told me he used to be a nurse in Afghanistan, but struggled in California to find any kind of job in the medical field. It absolutely crushed me.

And so, I did everything I could to try and be of service to the detriment of my own mental and physical health. It just seemed like that’s what needed to be done.

It is hard to explain the kinds of emotional and physical labor to people who have never worked with a refugee. My parents thought I was sacrificing too much. My friends didn’t understand why I would work such long hours and also volunteer on my days off. They told me to take breaks, to stop caring so much.

The thing is, when you’re immersed in the world of refugee issues, it seems like everything you do is too little, too late. And so, you work double-time. You sacrifice more and more of yourself: of your time, of your energy, and what little emotional capacity you might have left.

And still, it feels like what you’re doing is not enough–is never enough. The hours I put in wasn’t just to help someone learn English or teach soccer or whatever activity I was tasked with that day. I thought that it was my duty to take the pain and suffering of families and feel it all for them so that they never have to. I thought that taking on the burden was doing the work, but that is only part and parcel.

In my experience, the refugees and migrants I know never wanted me to take on their burden. They wanted to be heard and listened to, to feel like their anguish was not being consumed for some sort of satanic pleasure, to know that their lives meant more than the little social services they were being provided with.

For those on the frontlines, for the ones who do everything in their power to reunite migrant families and give them some sort of happy ending, there are no words that can explain the kind of work you do. The work you are doing now is nothing like what I had to do. But, I know what it’s like to drown out despair with cheap wine and carbs, to spend seemingly useless hours on government case files while wishing you had more time to spend more moments with program participants, to have a barely livable salary and still donate your extra $$ and time to the refugees and immigrants you meet.

I know it that it must feel like that is necessary. And still, I need you to know that it is also necessary for you to be at your best. There is no one else in this country that can do what you do. We each have our own unique set of strengths that are necessary for us to give these families some kind of justice. It sounds silly, but I know you skip meals, forego bathroom breaks, and spend all of your free time worrying & figuring out contingency plans.

Don’t.

When I worked the longest days and ate the least, I was at my very worst. I did the least amount for the folks I cared about. I thought I was being helpful. Instead, I became resentful and angry with the system, with the people around me, and with myself. I couldn’t stand up for my needs or for the refugees who depended on me to advocate for their rights.
For those protesting, trying to visit families in detention, spending time calling their representatives, and more, I know that you might not be thanked in the way you deserve. I am here to say that I am grateful to you. As a product of immigrant families, as a former refugee services worker, as someone whose friends are victims of war and persecution, I am grateful to you.

At the other end of the spectrum, I know that sometimes, you are thanked too much and feel guilty for even getting praise.
My advice?

Take the praise, and let it keep motivating you. We need you now more than ever. When I was given thanks by refugee families and individuals, by my boss, by government officials, I felt happy, then was immediately hit in the gut with a gnawing feeling of unworthiness. I felt completely inadequate because I thought there was always more to be done. Of course, there always is more to be done. But, we cannot do things alone, nor can we pretend that our work isn’t worthy of accolades. You chose a path that is difficult, to say the least. It’s imperative that you recognize people are grateful to you and that you do deserve their gratitude. When my mind was clear, that feeling of gratitude motivated me beyond any paycheck.

Looking forward, there are a lot of reasons to feel hopeless. There are a lot of reasons to become depressed and disillusioned with what our country was and continues to become. Our nation’s history shows us that we do not have a great track record of treating racial, ethnic, and religious minorities with any kind of compassion or “equality”. And yet, I still firmly believe we have the capacity to change that. Maybe it’s naïveté, or maybe it’s just that I have witnessed a lot of win’s in the time I worked in California. The losses, of course, still eat away at me. There are people whose cases I worked, and I have no idea what has become of them. I think about them and their families with relative frequency. In my experience, I’ve had more losses than wins. But, maybe that’s why the wins are always so magical.

In this political moment, it doesn’t feel like there will be a win anytime soon. But, I have hope that there will be. Organizations like the ones you work for, people like the ones you work with, migrants like the ones you advocate for–they are stronger than we all think. Maybe it’s that I still believe in revolution, in social movements, in the power of the people. But, I know that what you do is not useless, is not impossible.

I am so proud to live in a time where you exist. What you do today and tomorrow matters. It matters for yourself and for every migrant family being impacted by this administration’s inhumane immigration policies.

Take care of yourselves and of each other. Know what your rights are. In this moment, we are all targets. It was a different political time when I was in refugee services, but so many things scared me in my work. In the darkest hours, I leaned on my boss. She became my rock in this work. Find someone to lean on. We are living in complicated and increasingly scary times.

Throughout the past several years and reflecting on these past weeks, I have found that one thing is for certain:

we are all we have.

in solidarity and love,
Christina

[photo banner from No Walls No Borders]

on tragedy and worldwide friendships.

I’ve been thinking about tragedy and how horrible things in the world impact us in very different ways. Some people tweet well-wishes, or rant about how our politicians have failed us, or retreat in the arms of the ones nearest to them. Or maybe all three.
Maybe there is no right way to grieve.
 
But, the reactions I tend to have are overwhelming. Sometime it’s so much that I feel absolutely nothing for a week or two. It’s defense. Biological, maybe.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve always been anxious. As a child, watching exorbitant amounts of Law and Order probably did not help. I’d worry about burglars and break-in’s, and kidnappings. I’d plan out ways to protect myself and my family if something were to happen–cut open my window screen with my pair of child-safe scissors, run to the neighbor’s house, and call 911 from there.
I had pretty solid escape plans.

But those plans would only work if things in the world were actually understandable, and if the world was the size of a nutshell. Often times, though, tragedy doesn’t make sense.  And you need bigger weapons than child-safe scissors to face a world the size of the actual world.

I used to think of tragedy in isolation.  What would the immediate impacts be on me and those closest to me? My world was four bedrooms and four bathrooms. And it soon expanded to a schoolyard, my grandparents’ homes, and the lives & realities of those I called family & friends.

Over time, my world kept expanding. And it made it increasingly harder to create escape plans to get us all out of emergency situations in tact.

Look, I consider myself extremely lucky to know the people I do and care so deeply about them.  To have friends in nearly every corner of the globe is a truly wonderful thing–a gift that keeps giving.

But, that gift of knowing and loving people in places I can’t control, in places I cannot be to provide a shoulder or a helping hand, has been something that’s given me a considerable amount of anxiety.
 
Because when a tragedy occurs, natural or otherwise, in the UK, in Palestine, in Cuba, in Afghanistan, in Southeast Asia, in other parts of the US, in literally every country & disputed territory across this unforgiving world, faces flash in my mind and the atheist in me is quieted. I whisper something like prayer and hope that there is safety for the people I’ve met and the ones that they love.

I don’t know what the answer is, or if there is even a question to answer in the first place.

But I know that this anxiety and overwhelming worry I have for the well-being of my friends across the world is only getting louder. And even though it would be nice in some moments to shut it off, to turn away, to stop caring and let friendships fade, it wouldn’t make life any easier.

As anxiety-inducing as it is to love people in a world and political system that tells us to think of ourselves only, I would not trade in a heart that has felt a full range of human emotions or a mind that remembers far too many stories of loss & pain, and even more of laughter & triumph in the face of loss.

I don’t know what good these words will do. And maybe they serve only to quell my fears. But, maybe that’s all they need to do.

Maybe I just need a reminder that friendships with people different from you, living in different realities, and dreaming different things, are more valuable than the worries that threaten their existence.

The One Where Christina Gushes Her Feelings.

I’m going to graduate school!

A lot of my friends already know this, but I felt like I should share the news again.

Look.

It’s been three years since I knew I wanted this for myself, but I kept pushing it off because I felt I just wasn’t ready.  So, this is a big, big, huge deal for me.

The grad application process (and my many, many subsequent rejections) has been a unique experience–one that has been financially costly, emotionally debilitating, and strangely humbling.  I spent many nights writing, editing, and re-editing (did I mention editing?) my personal statements, talking to faculty and graduate students at different programs, and doing a lot of research on schools.  It got to the point where I was getting pretty unrealistically attached to particular programs.  My overactive imagination had me thinking of how amazing it would be go to a certain school, meet new friends and have cool & intellectual conversations.  And so, when I was getting rejection after rejection, it was tough.  Like, questioning my entire life trajectory, sort of tough.

But, surprisingly (at least to me), I’ve made it through and am ready (hopefully) to make some sort of mark on the world around me & impact at least a little part of it for the better.  I’m tremendously excited about the research that faculty in the department are doing, and it’s really nice to know that I’ll get to be a part of it, while also doing my own research and producing knowledge–not just consuming knowledge like I consume Taco Bell in my bed at night.

Okay.  So, now that I covered me being excited and whatnot, here’s where the gushing and mushy stuff starts.  You’ve been warned.

I know how lucky I am.  I recognize how serendipitous it all is.  And I don’t take it for granted.  Whenever something sort of big in my life happens, I try to reflect, be thankful, and extend my gratitude for my loved ones to an e-abyss of sorts (aka my blog).  It’s the closest thing I have to prayer.

I am so unbelievably grateful for the people and the places that have made me the person I am today.  I couldn’t have found my place and come to love myself the way I do if it weren’t for the friends, mentors, and family I have that keep me grounded.  That sense of love for myself and my community is what gave me the courage to pursue Sociology to study activism and social movements in the U.S…especially during a time when public education is under attack and there’s actually no job security in studying what I want to study since the tr*** administration doesn’t seem particularly fond of academic disciplines that question systems of capitalism and white supremacy, but that’s a different blog post for a different time.

ANYWHO, although I am incredibly nervous and almost overwhelmingly daunted by moving across the country, leaving my home, and starting a Ph.D. program, I am super happy…like ALL CAPS LOCKS TO EMULATE MY SCREAMING INSIDES happy.  And the people in my life have motivated me, given me confidence, and encouraged me to believe in myself.

If I listed out every person who gave me hope and believed in me even when I questioned a lot of my skills & aspirations, this post would go on for days.  Even me realizing that as I’m typing makes me want to smash my keyboard in delight.  From my parents who dealt with me flip-flap-flopping through different dream careers (fashion designer, stylist, business owner, literallyanythingexceptapharmacist) and still supported me when I got straight up D’s and F’s because they “knew I was smarter than that”, to my roommates who became my closest friends, I’ve been given a lot of wonderful people in my life.  Knowing that makes it so much harder for me to leave.  But, I’m certain I’ll move on to the next chapter with them in mind, motivating me to be just as kind and loving to others as they have all been to me.

Aside from actual people, I’m also exceedingly thankful to the place I have called home since my momma and poppa made me.

California, you have been so good to me.  You’ve taught me how to straddle waves, how to climb proverbial and literal mountains, how to fall, how to close my eyes without closing myself off.  You gave my grandparents refuge, let them dream, gave them hope, cradled their family in your valleys.  I don’t know what my life would be or what their life would be if we called anywhere else our home.  I don’t dwell on it much, but when I do, I know it would be different.  You gave me a safe place to grow, not without struggle, but your stretch of land saved me.  I will always know you as “home”, even if miles separate us.

Even though I’m leaving, I’m happily confident (or confidently happy?) to know that the friendships I’ve cultivated over years are strong enough to overcome geographic distance and that the love I have for my community, my friends, and my family knows no bounds.  I might be hundreds of miles away, but I know I’ll still get a call from my mom telling me to keep warm and be careful of snow.  I know I can count on my best friends to send me memes on Instagram to keep me in the pop culture loop.  And while I don’t think it would be feasible (or healthy), I know I could get plenty of people to Fed-Ex me some boba and Chinese food if I needed.  That kind of support is what I’ll miss and what I’ll be searching for wherever life takes me.

So thank you to whomever is out there, whether it’s a deity or the universe or something else entirely, I am so grateful.  I hope I can retain this feeling of gratitude when I’m stressed out beyond belief in approximately 5 months.

And the gushing is done.

xoxo,
Christina

#DailyResistance: A 2017 Challenge in Taking Action

I’m tired already and it’s only been 2 weeks into 2017. 

President Obama is on his way out. Vice President Biden’s bright eyes will no longer light up my laptop screen unless it’s when I go through all the hilarious memes of him and President Obama’s brolationship.

But in all seriousness, we’re facing some seemingly insurmountable challenges with the incoming administration. Speaking as a progressive feminist and as an Asian-American womxn, I’m fearful of what the next four or more years will hold for myself and my loved ones.  Honestly, there have been a lot of moments when I just wanted to hide under my blankets, laptop fully charged, and stream Broad City until the sun comes up in 2020.

Then I realize, my electricity bill would be out of control and I don’t know what I would do for food.

Really though, there’s a couple other things holding me back from falling into a deep and dark despair.  The main thing is the hope and tenacity I see in a lot of my peers, from those who work with undocumented youth to those who work in the healthcare field.  There exists an incredible amount of energy and almost limitless ways for people to roll up their sleeves and get the work done. 

But with so many opportunities and an onslaught of media coverage about what we can do or what we should do to uphold justice, it seems…daunting.  I mean these are some gut-wrenching questions around what the hell should or could we do because there are too many options and things we care about to even start.

So in 2017, I thought I would keep track of the ways I am doing one of three things:

  1. Resist
  2. Advance
  3. Support

Now these are super broad terms, but what this is getting at is how can we take tangible action that moves beyond ranting on social media.  Because while social media is incredibly useful for spreading information and getting our frustrations out, it often times becomes an echo chamber of our beliefs with like-minded individuals.  And there’s always a need for spaces where we feel like we can be heard and understood. This is not trying to demean the importance of that.  But, what my hope is for practicing #DailyResistance is to move beyond thinking and discussing—to get into the practice of using our voices to stand up for what we believe in.  

And at the end of the year, it will be nice to be able to see what things I’ve personally accomplished, so I can say, “yes, I did what I could to make my community more inclusive and more loving.”  So, it’s a little bit self-congratulatory, but I think I know myself enough to know that I legitimately won’t get anything done if I don’t have some sort of self-induced reward system.  It’s like when I reward myself with a snack for writing a paragraph of an essay. It just gets things done.

But instead of snacks, it’ll be a huge colorful jar where I write on paper the things I’ve done each day to resist, advance, or support justice (as broad of a term as that is).

So, if you’re interested in joining me on my journey of #DailyResistance in 2017, let’s get into the nitty-gritty.

As I’ve said, I’m going to try and do something each day that falls into one of three categories.  I’ll try to flesh out these terms more fully below.

  1. Resist – Resist acts of oppression, both state-sanctioned and personally mediated. Get trained in civil disobedience and nonviolence.  Call out harmful language when you hear it in conversations with friends, family, at work, or in classes.  Attend sit-ins, teach-ins, and protests.  Write to your congress people.  Call for their attention. Boycott corporations that get into shady business dealings or support policies that are harmful.  Let things get uncomfortable and be okay with being the only voice in the room who speaks up because others will follow.
  2. Advance – Advance my own ideas about justice and work on using my voice & being more confident/taking ownership of my beliefs.  This can take the form of writing more blogs for my own site or submitting pieces for alternative media.  Become more aware of how to use my voice and not apologizing for taking up space or speaking out.  Speak on panels or in classes or at meetings and forums.  When possible, uplift others to use their own voice and help advance their ideas too.
  3. Support – Support existing movements and organizations that work to advance justice.  Write about the work they’re doing, donate money when possible, volunteer your time. Call your legislators when they’re doing work you believe in.  Write letters to people and organizations to express your support.  We all need affirmation, but we don’t always express it enough.

These are just some of the things we can do to resist, advance, and support one another in 2017.  Let me know if I’m missing any ideas!  

With all the negativity and very real threats to our civil liberties, doing this challenge will hopefully make me feel a little more in control of my life and my role in everything. 

I’ll be updating with my progress on #DailyResistance —maybe it’ll keep me more accountable if I write about it every week.  

——

My act of #DailyResistance for 1/12/17:

My act of #DailyResistance for 1/13/17: