Writer’s Block

This past block has reminded me that whatever form of writing I am working with, involving some kind of personal experience in my writing made the writing process considerably easier. I don’t know if the writing was better, but writing personal narratives always took less time to write and felt like less work to write. I know this is probably a good thing, but I can’t help but feel worried about what I would do when I have to write something that I cannot involve personal things in. 

Looking back at this semester, the hardest thing to write was my research proposal for cultural psychology. It took me days to write and every time I worked on it, I found myself spending hours just trying to get motivation to write. Going forward, I want to find a way to enjoy writing without involving personal experiences. I have a long journey ahead of me in the realm of higher education…which inevitably means a lot more papers to write—most of which I probably can’t include personal experiences in. 

I’m worried for the future. I mean maybe I haven’t found my “scientific” muse yet. But damn I wish I had. 

Working-class Problems

I read a paper that made me angry today (but not really today because I wrote this a while back). 

It talked about working class people versus middle people and the differences in the struggles we face. I enjoyed the paper in the beginning. It talked about the issues low-income people face trying to succeed in America. It had terms to define what I was feeling in a more academic way and research to back up that these feelings were real. It felt pretty progressive until I reached the discussion part of the paper. 

Something the paper mentioned as an “answer” to low-income people being disproportionately affected by systemic issues was “to provide them with cultural capital.” At some point, I know that this ideology was the “standard” for progressives but I have always resented it a bit. I think it’s demeaning to assume that all low-income people and POC (as this is usually applied to them as well) don’t know anything about what it takes to make it. The “tools” we need to succeed. Yeah, we may not know anything about croquet or whatever, but those things don’t really apply to the real world. 

The reality is that many (not ALL this is important) know the tools we need to have and are taught about them. However, that doesn’t mean we know how to use them. All my life I’ve been taught how to do things so I can survive but I never felt like I knew how to reproduce these things myself. 

Just providing cultural capital to marginalized societies is not as productive as people think. I don’t know the answer specifically but I do know that that isn’t it.

Decolonizing STEM

This class has reminded me that I have a long way to go before I decolonize my mind. Cultural psychology highlights how the field of psychology, and science as a whole, uses WEIRD (White, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic) as the norm for majority of our research. They are the “baseline,” the “ruler” for which we use to measure other societies.

This phenomenon isn’t always transparent, up in our faces. It can be subtle, like in the way papers phrase non-WEIRD societies’ data as “unique from” or a “deviation from the norm”.

Growing up, we always heard that actions speak louder than words, that what you do means more than what you say. And, to some extent, I still believe that to be true. But, how can we really believe that constantly reinforcing language that says one group of people are “normal” and that all others are “not normal” has no consequences?

Students look at these papers that have been published and revered by the scientific community and use them as the examples for their own papers. Researches are literally setting the blueprint for future scholars to be problematic.

Of course, with this, it is important to understand that no one and nothing can truly be unproblematic. Consistent work and intention, along with mistakes, go into this process. STEM has had a lot of problems but has also made a lot of progress. However, we should never be satisfied with being understanding at one point in time. Our community can and should do better.

Stem During Coronavirus and Protests

I don’t think I ever anticipated how difficult taking a stem class online would be. My last two blocks were humanities classes and not to say that they weren’t difficult, they definitely were, but for different reasons.

Trying to sit down and focus on watching lectures, taking notes, learning new terms (academic ways of describing feelings that BI-POC and POC already know), and making presentations took more effort than it ever required in the past. On the one hand, classes helped me get a handle on my internal schedule (time isn’t real in quarantine folks). However, on the other, I feel more and more exhausted.

Cultural psychology is so crucial to decolonizing the field of psychology, but I can’t help but feel like classes are distracting us from what is important. The coronavirus is still as dangerous as ever, but the government is still opening businesses instead of giving relief funds to those in needs. Black people are STILL dying at the hands of the police. Native Americans are disproportionately being affected by the virus. Duterte is trying to pass the anti-terror bill.

The world is in flames. It has been for a while.

So how can anyone stay focused on school right now? Every minute I spend focusing, I lose time that I used to sign petitions, calling departments, and donating the small amount of money I can.

I just want to lay down and cry because I want to care about college, I do. I spent so much time and effort working on trying to get where I am now, my parents did as well. But I can’t. I can’t will myself to care about anything but the violence I see online.

How do we move on from here?

Finale

“Hope that you won’t forget that boldly giving up is courage as well.” – Min Yoongi

As my time as a blogger comes to a close, I want to reflect what it was like to have to be a student during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Before I deleted social media, I saw a lot of posts about how people were trying to “hold themselves accountable”. At first, I ate that shit up. I followed workout pages, tried new diets, and even tried to force myself to write at least four things everyday. Although keeping busy did keep me entertained for a couple weeks (maybe even month, who knows at this point—time is a social construct at this point), I grew tired and eventually even more depressed than I already was. I stopped doing all those new things and I even stopped doing the old things I used to do in my free time. I just laid in bed for a while and felt terrible. 

Being at CC (or I guess anywhere to be perfectly honest), you kind of develop this heightened capitalist complex where you feel the need to constantly do something, producing something that has to have some sort of worth. As a result, I think many of us have lost sight of what is sometimes necessary: healing. 

Of course, I want to acknowledge that having time and the means to take a break is a privilege. I’m lucky to be in the situation I am in during the pandemic, but many can’t afford to take a break. 

Though, I do want to emphasize that doing nothing, giving up on endeavors your heart is not completely invested in, and NOT being productive should not be something that is shamed. There is nothing wrong with admitting that we need breaks or cannot continue. There is courage in acknowledging our weaknesses. 

Writing these blogs has given me an outlet for my rants about things I was passionate about in class and my frustrations in the real world. Saying goodbye to this blog and to my wonderful class is sad, but like I said, there is power in admitting weakness and right now, I feel weak. 

Books

When the Emperpor Was Divine, Julie Otsuka
Follows a Japanese American family who were incarcerated in the Utah desert during World War 2

Fox Girl, Nora Okja Keller
Three teenagers’ in America Town, the US military camp in South Korea in the 1960s, struggle to survive the impact of militarized intimacies, such as betrayal, violence, and prostitution

Inside Out & Back Again, Thanhha Lai
Childhood experience of a Vietnamese refugee in the US.

Internment, Samira Ahmed
Muslim Americans resisting in the internment camp they were forced to go to.

These descriptions are nothing but blurbs because there is so much to unpack. I hope you’ll approach these books with an open-mind – especially if Asian literature is a new genre for you. 

We live in a very visual world today. As I glance at the numerous books on an aisle, a book cover makes or breaks whether I pick up the story and flip over to read the description. When I got this list of books, they all seemed so unfamiliar – until I saw the book cover of Inside Out & Back Again. Whether it was at the library or in one of the scholastic catalogs, I was sure I saw it somewhere in the past and it just never piqued my interest. It gave me a similar vibe as Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen; both had a tree, at least one person, and a dreamy background. I enjoyed Flipped, but looking at the cover of Inside Out & Back Again, I probably thought it was a coming-of-age book about a white protagonist. Maybe if I had noticed how the author’s name is oddly “foreign,” I would’ve considered the possibility of a “foreign” protagonist. So I guess…don’t judge a book by its covers and a picture is worth a thousand words, right? If these books make you feel uncomfortable, then good. We can’t always live within the comfort of our bubble, and this discomfort has definitely been an enriching learning journey for me. 

Some questions to think about:

What do you know about war? How are these stories challenging your perceptions of war and of people? What are some of the messages the stories are saying? How are your experiences and knowledge influencing your interpretation? What is made visible and what is then rendered invisible? What are the dominant narratives that these stories challenge? Who is represented and who isn’t? Why? How? Is there an intended audience? Who? Why? 

If you have the chance, read these and have conversations with someone else 🙂

So, what now?

Excerpt from Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai:

More is Not Better

I now understand

 

when they make fun of my name,

yelling ha-ha-ha down the hall

 

when they ask if I eat dog meat, 

barking and chewing and falling down laughing

 

when they wonder if I lived in the jungle with tigers,

growling and stalking on all fours.

 

I understand

Because Brother Khoi

nodded into my head

on the bike ride home

when I asked if kids

said the same things

at his school.

 

I understand

and wish

I could go back

to not understanding. 

 

September 19

 

This year, I felt a different kind of sadness – a type of fleeting emotion sprinkled with a touch of hopelessness…and perhaps helplessness too. I’m not quite certain which one, so let’s say both. Why? Because I don’t know what to do with what I’ve learned about American imperialism. 

The America I once knew was bright, especially to people who had left their motherland. For us, she was a new beginning. She meant opportunities, a better life, and success. But who is this America that represents life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for?

As an immigrant who has settled on the territory of the Tongva peoples, I am thankful to call this place my home. As a student at Colorado College, I want to acknowledge that this is the land of the Jicarilla Apache, Cheyenne, and Ute peoples on which I am living, breathing, and learning about settler colonialism and its legacies on the indigenous and Asian communities. I am very grateful for these opportunities and spaces to unlearn, question, and share with my fellow peers and professors, especially since the privilege I have to sit and consume information comes with a cost that people before me had shed blood for. 

Throughout these blocks, I quickly realized that I am still living in an America that doesn’t belong to everyone. As I come to understand that violent histories just repeat themselves, the light at the end of the tunnel seems to flicker and fade as the image of America as a safe space for dreamers shatter. But so what? What am I going to do after learning that America has dispossessed Indigenous peoples, enslaved Africans, incarcerated Japanese Americans, criminalized Muslim Americans, refused refugees, hated Chinese Americans, and more?

At this moment, ignorance seems so blissful. Similar to how Ha, the main character from Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai, wished she could go back to not understanding the racist comments her classmates made, I sometimes wonder if it would be better for me to not know. All too often, I wish I could hide under my blanket and fall head over heels for fictional rom-com protagonists. Out of sight, out of mind – right? Not really. No matter how much I want to escape thinking about “so, what now?”, it’s constantly in the back of my mind. While understanding English made Ha angry, it also empowered her. I loved how she later used English to stand up for and protect herself. Certainly, I don’t want to turn a blind eye to the pain that nameless generations of marginalized communities have faced and are facing. I have no idea what I am exactly searching or aiming for, but I know that even if learning makes me feel sad, angry, and hopeless, it’s a much needed foundation. I also need to know what I am fighting for – whatever that may be – right?

Side note: Originally, I wanted to write a post on cliches/old sayings/ idioms that I would use to describe the literature we read. However, I decided that it just makes more sense to include it in this post, so if you noticed, there are several cliches/old sayings/ idioms here…

Fox Girl

It took me a while to build up the courage to reflect on this book. Fox Girl by Nora Okja was so beautifully written, but so incredibly heart-breaking.

When I imagine Korea, I think of vast oceans, development, music, idols, and industry. I don’t imagine a country that has been forever altered by a war, I don’t imagine the American military. I’m glad I remember Korea for those things instead of the latter, but why do we only imagine certain countries like Vietnam as “war torn”.

In class we discussed the act of choosing what to remember rather than “forgetting”. Forgetting implies accident and no intentions to do something. Can we really say that America has forgotten certain things? I think of the Japanese Internment and how America has specifically chosen to leave that out of so many history books. I think of how Hawai’i was forcibly taken from the Natives but has been written off as “ceded”. People have not forgotten these things, but knowingly chosen not to remember them.

Fox Girl, reminds us of the things that have been chosen not to remember about America’s military presence in Korea. Many Asian countries have been criticized for their sex-industries, but to criticize the countries requires one to acknowledge America’s part into creating those industries. Fox Girl allows us to see why prostitution and sex-trafficking was and continues to be so prevalent in South Korea. The country was suffering because of the war and with the military presence, the sex industry began to take roots. In a sick and twisted way, the system has been cited as the savior of the economy in South Korea, now with 94 million cases of prostitution occur every year, bringing in more than a $13 billion a year (Eddie Byun). Fox Girl was hard to read, not just because of the sexual violence, but because the story showed how the US military began to create a condition where the country could not survive without it. When Hyun Jin was disowned and Sookie left for the Monkey House, she had no where to go but to the Lobetto and the brothels. And even though, Hyun Jin did eventually escape the industry, it was clear that not everyone was so lucky. Sookie, stuck in the industry since the young age of eight, was stuck and knew she could not escape. Ultimately, deciding to never leave. A never-ending cycle of trauma.

Korea isn’t remembered as a “war zone”, but Fox Girl depicts a time when the country was one. It may not currently be the same “war zone” it was during Fox Girl, however, the residual effects of the war are still very much present.

Spiral

Revolution
By Ali Amin

Speak to me with your tongue while it is still free,
while your body is still yours.
Let your words travel through the air,
uncontrolled
spontaneous
necessary
tumbling through clouds of dust that dim the sun.
Until they reach my ear
and so many ears, spilled onto the table,
waiting.
Speak the truth while it is still alive, while lips, cracked and bleeding, can still move.
Time is beholden to neither lover nor tyrant.
Say what you must.
I will listen.”

Excerpt From: Samira Ahmed. “Internment.” Apple Books.

Although, I have conflicting feelings about Samira Ahmed’s book, Internment, I believe in its message that the wrongful imprisonment of marginalized communities is always possible.

Oftentimes, we look back on historical injustices like the incarceration of Japanese people and see them only as “things of the past”. Our neglect, indifference, and ignorance has caused these events to happen over and over again–though I do want to say “history is NOT repeating itself,” no, our lives are functioning within a predetermined spiral.

I have always hated the phrase, “history is repeating itself.” It’s overused, cliché, and implies that to a certain extent–that this “repeat” of history was escapable. However, if all these things were escapable, why does the oppression of people of color continue to prevail? Why do we have detention camps for undocumented children? Why are there re-education camps for Uighurs?

As long as we continue to reject that these events are happening because of the way we let society function and oppression thrive, these events will continue to happen. It is not something as simple as a “repeat.” These things are happening, over and over again, regardless of how hard we try to stop it because we are still trying to function within the same “spiral”. Until we break free of these predetermined futures and the spiral we are trapped in, we will remain stuck within the same cycle of oppression.

When Time Doesn’t Stop

“Her watch had said six o’clock for weeks. She had stopped winding it the day they had stepped off the train” – When the Emperor was Divine, Julie Otsuka

We have all heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, but what do we know other than the Japanese had attacked America? In my K-12 education, I sure don’t remember learning that there is a disproportionate number of US military bases in Hawai’i. In response, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1945, which ordered the “relocation” of all persons of Japanese descent to incarceration camps. Why? Because they were Japanese and, thus automatically, a threat to national security. More than 120,000 first generation Issei and their Nisei children were affected – even to this day. 

For the Japanese American girl in “When the Emperor was Divine” by Julie Otsuka, time had long stopped since she and her family were incarcerated. At the camps, there was literally no sense of time as they spent every single day waiting. Waiting for their father. Waiting to go home. Waiting for normal to return. But life can’t return to normal. In the three and a half years the family was imprisoned, many things had changed already – including themselves. From unconsciously sleeping together in the same room to quickly finishing their meals after their release, these habits were a testament of their legacy as criminalized “enemies.” Returning home wasn’t as simple as pressing an “unpause” button. They had to make sure not to trouble or offend anyone; they made sure to be the first to apologize even if they didn’t do anything wrong. They had to rebuild their trust with their peers and their neighbors and vice versa. In this America I know of, healing is so hard when her apologies often manifest in a monetary reparation and/or in a document that “acknowledges” the violence and trauma she inflicts on communities of color. 

When life drastically changes, we can’t pause time and expect to return to “normal.” As we are ordered to stay at home and practice social distancing, this time of uncertainty is daunting and can be emotionally exhausting as we wait and wait and wait to go back to school, work, and hang out with friends. Of course, I don’t think it is fair to compare our experience during this pandemic to Japanese American incarceration, but I do hope we can learn to understand and accept that things will change – whether that is our attitude, our habits and routines, and more. Maybe this is too optimistic of me, but rather than being consumed with hate, frustration, and stress, how can we be present for each other and for ourselves?