I was born and raised in the midwest among few faces that looked like me. Like most Southeast Asians I have natural black hair, dark brown eyes, and light brown complexion. To me nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing unusual.
Aside from my immediate family and a few distant relatives, for years I’d been immersed in the dominant white culture to the point I started believing I was indistinguishable from my pale counterparts.
It was in middle school and with the insensitivity of testosterone and hormone filled teenagers that I started questioning who I was. It was because my weekends were frequently occupied by family feasts, traditional ceremonies and community gatherings rather than trips to Wisconsin Dells or ski resorts that I realized my family and I were unique, special and different. It was when my caucasian friends casually but regularly pointed out these differences in ways they deemed humorous but instead were insulting that I started lifting my brows in critical thought around race and identity. It was when I became conscious that my white peers were saying things about, and doing things to non-whites that were inappropriate and offensive that I realized I needed to raise my voice or find new friends. It was when I realized that whenever and whatever I voiced they just couldn’t empathize and understand the violence they were inflicting on those they deemed different and insignificant that I became angered and enraged. It was when I endlessly exhausted and harmed my mind, body and spirit trying to educate and inform them that I came to conclude racial and cultural ignorance was inescapable, and to even minutely shift this would be an ongoing challenge.
I didn’t always (and may not even now) have the perfect or even right approach to handling racism and racial/cultural discrimination. It took years of reflecting and looking inwards to even come close to understanding that I couldn’t change everyone, and it’d be especially difficult to change the dominant culture that’d been in place for so long.
It took years to realize it wasn’t my responsibility to do so. Especially with high expectations to do so at the pace I desired. It was even more years after that I became in tune with my talent, power and privilege – eventually leading me to the responsibility and purpose I know live by; empower, educate and broaden minds through art and mentorship. It was then that I realized that in order for change to occur, the most important change had to be within me. I had to detach the expectation that change needed to go at the pace and be at the reach I wanted and expected it to go. Most importantly I had to approach activism with selflessness, love and compassion.
With this way of thinking I understood that the type of evil and destruction demonstrated by my white peers inexcusably stemmed from years upon years of hate conveniently cultivated, packaged and distributed by uninformed and uncultured parents, leaders, educators, public servants, business owners and media.
When I acquired the language for what I’d experienced and was experiencing I was then able to better articulate my thoughts and opinions on racial and cultural insensitivity, injustice and inequality but it was when I found peace within me that I would become more effective and impactful with this knowledge.
It’s now in my 30’s during the Black Lives Matter movement that I find myself having to more frequently empower, educate and broaden minds so that there continues a shift towards unity and oneness. This time – with my Hmong community, as unfortunately there’s a hefty portion who’re misinformed and destructive towards those they deem different, insignificant and disconnected from – which sadly isn’t far from the young white peers I grew up with.
Fortunately I now have the tools, knowledge and heart to be more efficient, effective and compassionate in helping associate the wellbeing of the black community to the wellbeing of the Hmong community to the wellbeing of all.
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