Reflections from first web3 dialogue
The stories of our ancestors are at the root of our suffering and provide us a path forward into the light of liberation. Where do we come from? And how do those identities inform how we show up?
Today was the first meeting of five young people, myself included, brought together by our friend Chris. Some in our group are the children of immigrants fleeing war, violence, and the ramifications of colonialism. They are reconciling with what it means to be the eldest children and the first in their families to attend college in the United States. One has a sibling with autism and will need to provide for them into adulthood. Others are still in school, looking to a future in which they will need to provide for themselves and their families. A future in which student debt is a reality, where taking a job in their field of interest or pursuing a passion project may not be possible because of financial obligations.
I exist in these narratives and have my own. I am the eldest of three children, with a younger sibling that identifies as on the autism spectrum, socialized and conditioned as a girl turned woman, taught that my dreams were always within the realm of possibility. I grew up in a family with class privilege: my parents provided for my basic needs, with ample food at the dinner table, warm shelter and regular shopping trips, all the books and technology I could want. And they loved me in all the ways they knew how.
My dad was the fourth child of immigrants from China, whose parents fled the Communist revolution and began their lives in the United States as cooks at a Skid Row restaurant in Los Angeles. His rise in economic class was thanks to good fortune and intelligence, an incredible ability to manage risk, and a social system that was still accessible, that saw a smart, poor student in Los Angeles to a great public university, UC Berkeley.
My mom was the eldest of three children, the daughter of Japanese and Chinese parents born and raised in Hawaii, islands themselves colonized by white American settlers. My grandfather was a steelworker who built the San Francisco library and the Bay Bridge; he and my grandmother introduced me to figure skating, museums, and foods like hekka, Japanese sukiyaki influenced by the islands.
I am here because of a generous social system that is no longer, and market conditions that have mostly disappeared due to high frequency trading. I graduated with zero student debt. I took an unpaid internship at a private equity firm in college because I didn’t have to pay my way through school like my mother did at Northwestern in Evanston, Illinois. I studied abroad in London for a semester and that exposure to other peoples and cultures opened my mind to new ways of being, laid a foundation for my future travels to monasteries abroad, eventually to the Middle East. I got to start a tech company straight out of college, with access to the friends and family capital that enabled me to live in a condo, eat well, work all day out of passion, not for money.
Not everyone has this kind of class privilege. My experiences and idealism come out of this privilege as much as my own compassion, care, and spirituality.
At the same time, I call in my experiences of otherness growing up as a person of Japanese and Chinese descent in a mostly white town, where the “popular” kids were almost all white, where there was no question that beauty was defined by a white standard. Racist behaviors were normalized. I grew up wanting to date white men, reading literature by white men, idolizing white teachers.
When I got to high school, the demographics of my small, wealthy white town were changing. My friends were racially and ethnically diverse, the kids who spent hours after school debating competitive civics and participated in Advanced Placement classes, all of whom were destined for four-year universities. Many had parents who led tech companies or ran their own businesses, many lived in the same housing development as I did, where large single-family homes stood in stately communities, where parents gave out the big candy bars at Halloween. Many moms were homemakers, mine included. I was shaped and grown in these conditions, shaped by the feelings of belonging and otherwise, shaped by thoughts on race and class and gender.
Only in the past few years have I learned to name my experiences with assimilation and racism as an Asian American person, and to start to change this narrative. I'm discovering curiosity and gratitude for the beauty and richness of my heritage. I am learning the story of my Chinese grandmother, who immigrated to Los Angeles at age 19 pregnant with her first child. How did she and my grandfather manage to survive? How did conditions eventually became enough for my father to thrive, for me to be born into privilege beyond her imagination? I speak English without an accent. The only words I know in Cantonese are of food. And yet my grandmother and her experience - escaping poverty and providing a better life for her family - are not distant from me. Her fear of scarcity is mine. Her fear of the "other" is mine.
I am a product of these experiences and cannot separate my identity from the experiences that have been passed down to me. They are my ancestral inheritance.
When I was a kid I wanted to be a teacher (because I loved my first grade teacher), and then the president, because I saw that the way to make change was to first accumulate power. What I didn’t understand then was that there are many ways to make change and in fact, every moment, every time I speak to myself and others, every action is creating change. And that I have power in my role just as I am.
I must start by acknowledging my narrative, for my stories give me power. Power to understand my own pain more deeply, and out of this understanding, to move through pain into the light of freedom. Healing from pain, releasing long-carried resentments, letting go of anger and discrimination inside of myself: these become the first steps towards personal liberation. Towards happiness. And this individual reconciling, acceptance for what is and what has come before, gives me the clarity to step forth into the world. It is the path towards collective liberation.
Exercise: Naming your inheritance
Dear reader, who are you? What are the stories and experiences that make up your ancestral inheritance? What are the identities and beliefs you still carry with you as a result of these experiences?
I invite you for a moment to pause and to call in the stories of your ancestors. Who are your ancestors? Into what challenges and opportunities were they born? What are the gifts (financial, emotional, spiritual, material or otherwise) that they have passed to you? Notice any feelings or thoughts as they arise. Is there any offering you'd like to make to your ancestors now? Perhaps there is gratitude or love for that which you have been given.
Note that your ancestors can include your blood ancestors (the people that gave birth to you), the people that raised you in childhood, and your chosen family – elders that have shown you care and love, regardless of blood connection. Your ancestors may be land ancestors or the earth herself, or teachers, spiritual guides, and others who have nourished you.
Out of this gratitude, I invite you to consider the shadow side of this inheritance, the things which you carry as weight on your shoulders or difficulty in your mind. As is possible for you, consider the roots of these difficulties – looking to the stories of your ancestors to build your understanding. Take your time. It may not be possible to ground everything that you've experienced in the stories of your childhood or ancestors. It may not even be possible to name all of the challenges. That's okay. Every hurt has its own schedule for resolution; some may be top of mind and ready to face, and others may be deep in the unconscious, still waiting to surface.
When you're ready, I invite you to set down the stories. Make sure to nourish yourself: perhaps stretching, taking a walk outside or making space for a nap. Enjoy a glass of water or a meal. Allow yourself to truly rest and let any stories settle for now.