Slow to Respond, but I’m here now.Posted: June 15, 2016
Sometimes I can be slow to respond to things that are the most important to me… I’m working on it. Bear with me.
When I heard about the tragedy in Orlando, I had just come up for air, after treading through a week of many emotions. In one week, we said hello to newest member of our family (Welcome to the party, Eli!), struggled to make last minute decisions for a party we didn’t feel we had time for, and drove down to LA for an event we didn’t necessarily think we needed to have.
What resulted was an epiphany; and a beautiful, joyous celebration brimming with a sense of shared love for the family. Walking into a room full of people you hardly know, all wishing you love and happiness, is a feeling that is hard to describe. Aside from family (all on the Shih side), there were about a hundred people: long-time business partners, coworkers, old friends of the family, some of whom I’ve never met before. What began as an event I felt obligated to have for my parents, quickly became a testament to the power of Community: folks who loved me and Carlos as an extension of their own son and daughter, aunts and uncles who watched me grow through their many years of friendship with my parents. I watched in amazement at my sheer luck and overwhelming gratitude as they gave and gave their well-wishes and generous gifts as tokens of love for new members of their community. I am, for better or worse, one of theirs.
This is something I was always slow, or perhaps reluctant, to understand: what it means to be a part of a community. A community comes from a shared experience, whether you like it or not. That shared experience can be racial, sexual, socio-economic– you are a part of it. You may not want to identify as part of a particular identity, and may even actively fight it, but the truth is that experience is integral to who you are, and you have a responsibility as a member of that community.
Growing up in where some joke as the “Asian-American Beverly Hills,” I have come to understand and accept my privilege. This doesn’t mean I can’t also identify as a minority, and as an Asian woman. Let me explain: my parents came to America in ’85 with very little, just like everyone else. My dad faced a shit ton of obstacles and name-calling, he was called things I would have punch someone in the mouth for today. It really sucked. At one point, it was unclear if we could afford our house or college. But they worked hard and overcame–but our struggle doesn’t mean we also didn’t enjoy certain privileges, it didn’t mean they didn’t receive help. It isn’t a zero sum game.
Knowing this, at its low points, feels like guilt. Other times, it is empowering. Second generation Asian-Americans understand this feeling intimately, because we *saw* our parents go through it. They came with nothing, and they needed each other to succeed. Immigrants knew we didn’t have cops looking out for us, banks to give us loans, college degrees to rely on. Our parents bartered with each other, supported each other through outright racism, bailed each other out of bad situations, and was able to rise up as a community. No one else was looking out for them, so they had to look out for each other. Their success is just as tied to us as our own.
But somehow, this was lost on our generation. On paper, Asian Americans are among most highly-educated, highest earning group of people in the United States. We are also the least politically engaged and feel the least responsibility for the failures and successes of others. Chalk it up to powerlessness, guilt, or entitlement– but it’s been truly discouraging to see how many otherwise educated, successful children of immigrants feel so utterly powerless, barring that of a thoughtless consumer: eating at fancy restaurants, collecting accolades, buying expensive things, and feeling absolutely no responsibility to their communities outside of their own families.
My proposition: If you are part of a majority in any one aspect of your life (in my case, upper-middle class privilege and heterosexual), try your best to be present and stand for the people you love, who are of minorities in a community. For example, as a heterosexual woman, my homosexual friends have been a huge part of my success as a citizen, as an artist, as a human– so I am going to do my best to be a part of theirs. If you, like many of my friends, enjoy some privilege of going to a stable job and going home to a safe, warm bed every day, know that your ability to do so came at a cost to others who don’t have that opportunity and may have even contributed to your ability to do so.
This isn’t to say you should feel guilty for enjoying what you have, this is to say– if you’re feeling guilt, even in the least– you are more powerful than you think. Use it. Even in the smallest of ways: donate time, money, write letters, reach out to loved ones, smile at people on the street, ask how they are doing. We all need a little extra love right now. We can’t rely on the government, policy, or our legal systems (don’t get me started on that), and our experience right now isn’t so different from that of an immigrant community: All we really have is each other.
And to all my LGBTQIA friends, don’t hesitate to reach out to me or Carlos for anything right now. You are a part of our community, in a shared experience of vulnerability, in love, in humanity, and I will hold space for you all right now. I have been given some extra love to give, so please don’t hesitate to reach out to me or Carlos for a hug, some words of encouragement, or just to acknowledge that we’re here and standing up with all of you. Love you all, and thank you.