by Feitian Ma
*Aliases used in this blog
“Where are you from?”
How to play:
1. Is this person Asian: Yes – move to #2 No – move to #3
2. Is this Asian person a stranger? Yes – move to #6 No – do whatever you’re feeling
3. Is this person a stranger: Yes – move to #4 No – move to #6 or #7
4. Did they ask for my name yet: Yes – move to #5 No – leave
5. Is this question stated right after asking for my name? Yes – leave if you don’t feel like listening to a lot, or be prepared for a journey of unknown length (i.e hearing about the girl they adopted from China or how they need help with their [insert East Asian language] homework) No – if this person is bored due to American small talk traditions, move to #6, if this question seems to be THE question and the climax that this conversation has been leading to, move to #7
6. Say you are from HoCo and listen to all the HoCo related things they have to say
7. Say you are from HoCo or Baltimore County or Chi…cago.
One thing about living in SOWEBO is that you don’t have to play this game at all! People are all the same, they’re just more honest about it here. Usually it is just a Yes/No question about if I am “mixed with Chinese” or not. Because they’re honest I don’t get to do any pranking :(. But also we save approx. 15min – 1.45 hours of our lives :). Playing “Where are you from” can be hard because every single time I have played it, someone else started it when I didn’t want to play it and sometimes 34 different people have wanted to play it in a room. So I pretend I have constipation and take a break.
My bupper friend Swank Sinatra asked me “Where are you from” on October 5th, 2016 and I did #6 or #7 but he didn’t even care and asked me “no like what country” before I even finished my statement. (I told our iv worship coordinator I didn’t want to talk to Swank again, but God does great things). This week, he asked the question in a deeper sense in relation to who you are and how you define yourself (Stating the question as a philosophical question and not as a game is not advised. Stating the question in general when you actually have different intentions is also not advised at all). I wanted to go the easy way out and be pretend mad at Swank but no one even let me. Our conversation reminded us of something Mr. Ue-Swain said a few Sundays ago, that it’s easy to define who we are by what we are not. But we rarely define ourselves by what we are. I saw this idea repeat itself through the week and as I began reading Disunity in Christ by Christena Cleveland that I randomly picked up (thanks Męgæn). I know exactly what and who I don’t want to be associated with. Because of things like constant micro-aggressions or the perpetual foreigner stereotype, part of maintaining my Asian-American identity has come to spending excessive energy and time differentiating and distancing myself from non-American Asians. Throwback to HighSchool.Com where one one day I got called “fobby” in APGov for listening to K-pop and then a “banana” at lunch time for using a spork.
At the IRC, I have been working with E. When E was my age, he fled to Kenya as a refugee. And in a country that was not his home, he lived there, learned a different language, took on a different profession. Now, he is a refugee in yet another country, about to turn 40. The Swahili he knows fluently now isn’t useful. He doesn’t speak English but the IRC is expecting him to take English classes alongside a labor-intensive night shift job, because we can’t refer him to a less labor-intensive job with better hours if he can’t speak English. It doesn’t matter that he knows two different cultures or two different languages, it doesn’t matter that he already spent nine years being a cook instead of being an engineer. When his future co-workers and neighbors ask E where he is from, I know that the question and the answers can be more loaded with different intentions, and more difficult to hear/think about.
“Where are you from” is a hard question to hear and a hard question to answer in all its forms. Maybe I sounded confident or even self-sufficient navigating through spaces as the only ethnically Asian person in the room at the start of this blog, but hearing someone yell “LingLing” at me over and over again down the street, or ask me repeatedly how many times I have visited the country “Chinese” always gets to me a little bit more than I expect or want it to. This week, as we discussed the theme of Reconciliation, one aspect that struck me was being able to not just acknowledge Beauty, but also addressing Brokenness – and through the process receiving healing. Ethnically and racially, I need a lot of healing to see the beauty in how God created me and who my family is and what my culture is. But at the same time it is important to address the undeniable brokenness that all of our earthly cultures have.
“I want to stay fired up at injustice but need to find a way to convert my passion to love and not anger.” –Swank Sinatra
Feeling anger isn’t bad. This week I was overcome by a lot of anger and a lot of grief (I tried to write about everything but Męgæn said not everyone needs to write out their blog like Leslié).
One thing that I am repeatedly amazed by: the passion and the willingness the churches near us have – to lovingly and eagerly open their space up to host Narcotics Anonymous meetings, city council meetings, offer fresh produce to the community, directly address injustices, etc. This is a beautiful response to the needs of the community that the church is a part of.
I think about ethnic churches and christian communities I have grown up in and I know that we are too comfortable, too prioritized with our ladders and structures to give generously or be hospitable to strangers different from us. Like what I said 1.5 blogs ago, even giving other communities our time or feelings is apparently too much to ask for. Asian culture and upper middle-class Christian culture can be wacky sometimes (a lot of times).
I think about how much shame there is in my ethnic culture that pushes people to act and prioritize their lives up to 30 years in the future, I think of the guilt and anger I feel when people of the same culture and privilege I have, refuse to address the pain they have caused others, but I am continually challenged to address these problems while also embracing that this is who I am and how God made me – Brokenness and Beauty come hand in hand.
ACTS 6:1-7 I’ve studied this beautiful piece of scripture in the past and been amazed by this story of reconciliation (shout out to Brother Matthew) but something I must have totally missed is verse 7: “So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.” !!!! Because the Hellenistic Jews spoke out about an injustice, and the leaders listened and recognized their limits and the disciples acknowledged the brokenness of their systems, the brokenness was recognized and the non-Greek Jews begin to see in a situation where they were once blind. The power of God, who cares about injustices, breaks down hostile walls. We see repentance, listening, caring outside of ethnic issues, and direct action. This tells others about who God is. This particular incident was so powerful and showing of God’s image that the word of God spread, and even a large number of priests not practicing the faith realized that this had to be who God was.
I will admit, I am annoyed right now thinking of close friends and family members. If I continue thinking in this mindset, I will start getting angry again and fearful. It’s hard but I am hoping that God will give me the patience and the humbleness I don’t have to share with others in love and grace (which I also don’t have) in order to seek reconciliation (or conciliation). Big Yikes but let’s goooooo
by Feitian Ma