Thursday, March 18, 2021

On misogyny, racism and gun violence

I've had a severe case of emotional whiplash in the last day and a half. I learned about the eight people killed in Atlanta shootings after a busy day where I had tuned out news and social media. 

Before I checked the news that evening, I was having a great night with two virtual book launches and a phone call with a dear friend. The first book launch event celebrated the debut novel of one of my favorite local writing instructors and included some magic psychic poetry. Right after that, I attended another Zoom book launch to celebrate a friend's debut cookbook, which included a fun cooking demonstration. And then, I had a catch-up phone chat with yet another writer friend to discuss a collaborative storytelling project she is leading. It was a night to celebrate inspiring women sharing their voices, stories, and recipes.

And then I checked Twitter.

I don't know how to describe how I feel. Distraught? Outraged? Exhausted? Yes. 

Is it the misogyny? Is it the racism? Is it the gun violence? Yes. 

Minutes before the Georgia shootings, Stop AAPI Hate released a report that there have been 3,800 anti-Asian incidents in the past year. Most of those have been against women. Of the eight victims in the Georgia shootings, six are women of Asian descent. The Georgia killer said he has a sex addiction and that the shootings were not motivated by race. 

Misogyny and racism are not mutually exclusive. 

The AAPI women I know understand this. We are accustomed to being seen as perpetual foreigners and asked "Where are you from? No, really, where are you from?" As children, some of us were teased with "ching chong" chants. Later on, we were fetishized, exoticized and oversexualized: "Is it true what they say about Asian women?" We've been accosted and assaulted. 

In the past year, we've heard our former president give speeches about "the China virus" or "kung flu." We've been worried about coughing or sneezing in public. We've been told, "Go back where you came from." We've worried about our elderly parents getting targeted when they are out in public.

Particularly for some of us with East Asian backgrounds, we were perceived as being part of the "model minority". We were expected to get good grades, achieve, and not make waves. We were considered "honorary Whites," which diminished and erased essential parts of us. We grew very sensitive social antennae to navigate our surroundings. 

Some people, especially other BIPOC friends, have checked in on me and asked how they can support the AAPI community right now.Yesterday, I was too numb to think about anything specific. But I did email my city's mayor and ask him if he could put out a statement. He replied within four minutes that he was already on it. 

If you are in a position of privilege or power, use it to help people who are vulnerable and don't have the resources you have. 

We need solidarity. 

We need words and we also need action. 

We need people to speak up and stand up, not just for us but for every victim of injustice. 

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Neighborhood Voices

I am honored and proud to be among the writers included in
Neighborhood Voices, a city-wide writing anthology project produced by Literary Cleveland and the Cleveland Public Library

For this anthology, I wrote a memoir piece, "Can Understand, Cannot Speak," about bussing tables at a Chinese restaurant in Midtown Cleveland. I was a high school student then and that experience galvanized me as an Asian American writer growing up in the Rust Belt. 

My story is just one of many in this project, which includes voices from all over Cleveland. The print version will be available later this year, but you can check out the online version now to read about finding fellowship at a Sunday barbecue in Mount Pleasant, shopping for produce at West Side Market alongside Dennis Kucinich, photographing the sights of University Circle, and imagining a future without violence in Glenville.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

In praise of Target parking lots

I love Target. I miss the Before Times when I could take long leisurely shopping trips there, browsing every aisle, taking my time. I could get everything I wanted at Target, from snacks to office supplies to pharmacy medications. 
Police blotter blurb

I even like Target parking lots and have my favorite places to park there (i.e. next to a shopping cart corral in a close-but-not-too-close row near the entrance).  

Even after my shopping trips to Target were finished and my bags were loaded into the trunk of my car, I liked taking my time before heading home. I could sip a cold drink I just bought from the Target Starbucks and maybe open up a bag of snacks. I could listen to music in the car, blissfully, by myself, away from any demands from home, work, family, the world. 

So when I read the police blotter blurb in the community newspaper that a woman was stopped by a police officer for hanging out in a Target parking lot after hours, I was horrified. What is the crime in sitting in your car not bothering anybody? I know this woman. I am this woman. I felt such a deep connection to this woman that I was compelled to reach out to her. 

Friday, August 14, 2020

Tour of Grief

Two summers ago, I remember reading news about an orca whose newborn calf died about thirty minutes after being born. The mother, called J35 and nicknamed Tahlequah, carried her dead calf for 1,000 miles in the waters of the Pacific Northwest. She kept her baby afloat for seventeen days, balancing it and lifting it up with her head. Other whales and dolphins have been known to mourn the loss of a family member, but not for this long. Researchers called it a record-breaking “tour of grief.”

During this pandemic, someone is always grieving. I have 981 Facebook friends. Without being able to visit family and friends in person the way we used to, I mostly stay in touch with everyone through social media. When I scroll through the newsfeeds, I scan posts that give me emotional whiplash - a photo of a homecooked meal, an announcement of a work-related award, pictures of cats, coronavirus-related news articles, school opening updates, and then one that stops me. Another friend has lost a parent.

Five of my friends have lost their fathers during this pandemic. One lost his mom. We didn’t go to the funeral services, some of which have been postponed to a future date to be determined, presumably when things are back to normal again. Expressing sorrow and sympathy through phone calls, emails, and texts is not the same as showing up in person; it seems so shallow and inadequate. There are no sufficient emoji.

When elderly people fall ill, it can turn serious very quickly. A common cold can turn into pneumonia. A fall can mean shattered bones. Whether they are long, slow farewells that stretch over years or sudden, unexpected passings, no one is ever really ready to lose a loved one.

I think about mortality a lot these days. During this pandemic, one of my younger friends underwent chemotherapy for a rare, aggressive form of breast cancer. She was diagnosed mere weeks after giving birth to a beautiful baby girl. We celebrated Kate’s final chemo treatment with a surprise socially distanced parade, all of us lined along her driveway, street, and sidewalk wearing rainbow wigs like hers, in solidarity.

Finding out about a friend’s loss through Facebook or Twitter amid photos of homemade baked goods and political rants diminishes the profound experience of mourning. For people who share their grief on social media, do our comments and tweets help keep them afloat?

Today, during my morning news scroll, I read that Tahlequah is pregnant again. The gestation period for an orca is 15-18 months. I pray for her to carry her baby to term. I imagine her celebrating the birth in a tour of triumph, lifting her new calf up to see the sky, and then swimming alongside her child, traveling another thousand miles, light and liberated.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Snack Wheel

Snack WheelMaybe he’s going through a growth spurt. He is a 12-year-old boy, after all. Or maybe he’s like me and he’s eating his feelings. He’s bored, he says. This family is so boring. Nobody ever wants to do anything. He asks for more screen time to play online games with his friends.

His hunger is constant. He snacks several times a day. Sometimes, he’ll have cereal, depositing the empty bowl in the kitchen sink afterward with a few Cheerios stuck to the sides. Sometimes, he’ll grab a fruit cup and a spoon, leaving sticky syrupy residue on the dining table. Sometimes, he’ll shake a mound of tortilla chips onto a plate and microwave it for a few seconds to have a warm salty snack. Sometimes, he’ll dump a tin of tuna into a bowl and add a handful of black olives. Sometimes, he’ll mix the tuna with pickle relish and spread it onto Ritz crackers.

We’ve been self-quarantined for 29 days now, and I spend large chunks of each day in the kitchen, cooking meals at the stove, loading the dishwasher, handwashing the wok and cast iron skillet, cleaning spills from the countertops and floors, taking inventory of the refrigerator and pantry, and wiping everything down.

Along with the snacks he prepares for himself, the sixth-grader has devoured an assortment of food I’ve made for him since the statewide stay-at-home order: stuffed peppers, a berry pie, red lentil soup, toasted pita with hummus, fish sticks, sloppy joes, bowls of pasta and meat sauce, banana bread with raisins, two loaves of pumpkin bread, fried rice, potstickers, lentil vegetable soup, baked cod, couscous, baked apples. 

Tonight, during dinner, as he shoveled down spoonfuls of Spanish rice and ground beef, he turned to me and said, “What else can I eat? Could you make me a meatball sub?” He is always thinking about his next snack. He makes grocery wish lists: Lunchables, Oreos, Fruit Gushers, Capri Sun. 
The other day, hungry and bored (because his family is so boring), he made three meal wheels, one for snacks (bread, chips, crackers, pretzels, almonds), one for dips (salsa, jam, ketchup, mustard, marinara sauce) and one for drinks (water, milk, orange juice). Each wheel also includes “you decide!” as a possibility. 

Because he is always hungry, I am always thinking about food too. Tomorrow, we’re going to make Chinese dumplings together. We’ll sit at the dining table, filling flour wrappers with spoonfuls of ground chicken, ginger, soy sauce, and sesame oil. We’ll place them in the bamboo steamer and then lift them out with chopsticks when they’re finished cooking. 

The sixth-grader will be ready to eat. 

Read more stories on Raw Data: Living in the Fallout from the Coronavirus.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Welcome, goodbye

My essay on my family's immigration journey in The Plain Dealer
On our first day in the United States, my dad’s new boss at Case Western Reserve University welcomed us to Cleveland by taking us out for pizza at Geraci’s in University Heights. For our first American Thanksgiving, her family hosted us and served a feast of roast turkey and pumpkin pie.

Not all immigrants are greeted so warmly. Americans are divided now, as rhetoric of being a nation of immigrants has become talk of building a wall.

Our family’s journey to the United States began in the late ‘60s when my parents emigrated from Taiwan to Canada, where my dad attended graduate school and my sister and I were born. After my dad landed a position as a cancer researcher at CWRU, we packed up the car and drove five hours from Toronto to Cleveland. It was the summer after I finished first grade. 

Read my full essay on

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Sweet (and Sour) Sixteen

My son turned sixteen this week. I don’t know if I’d call it Sweet Sixteen. Maybe Sweet and Sour Sixteen. The teen years have been rough on us. There has been eye-rolling, glaring, muttering, yelling, swearing. We’ve had words. We’ve had silence.

This summer, he has mostly been away from home, at various camp programs. It has been a nice break for us, giving us both some space after a challenging school year full of conflict and tension. 

Read my essay on Medium.