Meeting sorrow and disappointment in the midst of ongoing acts of violence against Asian people, particularly Asian women
I touch into my anguish and fear of inhabiting this Asian body at a time of ongoing acts of violence against Sunflower skin. A gecko rustles the dry leaves near my seat and I must check to make sure no intruder has found my refuge in the woods. Yesterday a lone wild turkey wandered past my eastern window and I paused to watch, confirming that it too, did not pose a threat. I lie awake at night listening to the forest, planning escape routes for if and when someone breaks into my house. I am afraid because there is only one entry and exit at the modular, and the windows seem difficult to break through quickly.
I yearn for others to understand the sorrow I am carrying with both hands, like armfuls of last spring’s wildflowers. Cradling this sorrow like a mother holding her newborn babe, softly, I navigate the spaces of my daily life while quietly soothing the sorrow in my arms. Sorrow at the violence perpetrated against people that look like me. Sorrow each time a new act of violence emerges in the news. Sorrow about our hashtag (Let's change #StopAsianHate to #StopHatredAgainstAAPI. Or even better, #AsiansBelongHere or #CelebrateAAPI). That could have been my grandma, punched in the face in San Francisco, New York, San Jose. That could have been me objectified and exoticized by a white man, killed for being a “temptation”.
That has been me, in days past. Fetishized by men. Told by a white man to "go home" in the streets of Ukiah. When the pandemic first hit, Palestinian teenagers crossed the streets when they saw me coming, chanting in English, “china china”. A bus driver refused to let me board. I was almost denied entry to Israel at the border crossing (acknowledging that most Palestinians never even receive permits to visit Jerusalem).
I am angry and tired of carrying this burden. Sometimes I forget that it is there, only remembering because of the deep exhaustion settling in my bones, my shoulders, clouding my mind. I am discovering my disappointment, dark and stormy like the ocean on a winter night. I barely have the hands to hold it alongside my sorrow, and the swells of disappointment crest at the most unexpected times.
An ocean of disappointment. Meeting my community for lunch knowing that we hold different experiences of racism, knowing that ours is a community that absolves white supremacy and perpetuates harm against people of color — despite the love and best intentions of those who organize and participate. Messaging a romantic interest that does not yet know how to receive my grief in the ways I would like. Bringing to mind old friends and mentors who do not live up to the ways in which I’ve perhaps idealized them, who I see living out of integrity with their stated values. My family, silent about the topics I care most about.
And yet the ocean stills when I remember the way the man held me in his words. When I read the emails of gratitude for the nourishing space offered by sangha. When I see others benefit from interactions with my lost friends and mentors. When my father fixes his printer so I can print flyers for the vigil. This shift does not invalidate my feelings or absolve these folks from the harm of their actions, but it frees me to see them with more spaciousness, to give them space for imperfection, to recognize their own human-ness. To see in my disappointment my own expectations and longing for deep integrity, the kind without cracks in what someone says and what they do. To see my own incredibly high standards for authenticity and alignment, to the degree that I exclude others who are not able to satisfy them. I worry that these expectations for others and myself will leave me alone.
I practice continuing to show up in community with others and not abandoning them at the points of my deepest disappointment. I practice recognizing that everyone is doing the best they can, given their embodiment and conditions. I practice recognizing that a relationship is not all good/nourishing/harmonious or all bad/harmful/not harmonious, that every relationship exists on a spectrum of harmony. The aspiration towards harmony, however far away it may be, can allow an imperfect relationship to persist.
Disappointment does not have to be grounds for abandonment. Coming back into relationship can reveal a changing, contemplative human on the "other side" who is willing to meet me again and again, in which the possibility of love, connection, and fellowship exists alongside conflict, anger, and fear. At the same time, I have limited time and emotional resource, and I get to choose if I want to re-engage, and to what extent.
Lately, disappointment has emerged in discussions of anti-Asian racism and the ability or lack of ability of others to meet me in my grief, anger, sorrow. Friends do not agree that we must dismantle white supremacy, or even about its existence. They don't know what to say when I share my sorrow or anger at the racism I've experienced my whole life. They support capitalism that exploits communities of color, and expanding police forces that target Black and Brown bodies. They are dismissive of racism in questions like, “Shouldn’t people of color be more resilient so they can show up to our (white-dominant) spaces?” Or “Do you think the proliferation of media stories about racism are perpetuating the trauma of people of color?” (To which I respond emphatically, "Acts of racism against people of color are perpetuating the trauma of people of color. The media is finally making these stories more visible.")
It's tough to handle as an Asian-American woman waking up each morning to news of violence against my community. Sometimes I need to take refuge in spaces of women, Asians, or BIPOC friends. Sometimes I am not able to sit in a room of white men and speak gently or kindly, or stay centered in love. Sometimes I give my anger a voice in white-majority spaces, and I need time afterwards to heal in communities of people that look like me and understand my experience without words. Sometimes I am not able to stand you.
And I will come back. To those I love, who may deny the existence of white supremacy, who may perpetuate oppressive power structures, who in your actions make my ocean of disappointment a little more vast, I will not shut down my heart or abandon you. I will keep engaging in dialogue. I will keep calling out inequities in power structures and dynamics. Keep sharing meals. I will keep loving you and asking you to love me.
In this love, these systems will change. In this love, I will be without fear.