Oprah (and stuff)

Yesterday I had the second day of training for becoming a board member at SFPIRG (the Simon Fraser Public Interest Research Group), which is the social justice resource centre on campus in Burnaby, BC/Coast Salish Territories. Aside from the incredible connections I’ve formed with my fellow board and staff, I have taken away some valuable insights that are only beginning to surface as a result of my reflection on the workshops, training and discussions (formal and informal).

One particular element that stuck with me was when we did an icebreaker activity. We all had identical sheets of paper with several questions about us: What’s your favourite food? What’s on your bucket list? What’s something nobody would know right away by meeting you?

Of course, I answered that dan tat (Chinese egg tart) is my favourite food, I would love to meet Oprah before I die, and something no one would immediately know about me is that I love Oprah… And then, unexpectedly, we got into a discussion about Oprah. My fellow SFPIRGies were amazed that I of all people was an Oprah fan (which is understandable because I’m visibly a Chinese man), but also that there are some other social justice issues that they have in contention with Oprah and what she represents. It’s true that she represents American idealism – especially the so-called “American dream” – and that she provides entertainment to the sort of audience that follows celebrity life, commercialism, etc. but I was struck at how particularly significant it was to my colleagues and friends that she represents American-ism. And by that I mean the perspective of the USA as the centre of the world. This wasn’t new to me – and knowing this I still love Oprah – but this sharing revealed to me how much of my own perspective centres around American news, happenings, festivals, culture and values. As a Canadian, it’s easy to point or wag a finger at the influence of the America as a political and social entity – but we’re not much that different.

And yet that’s how I feel…different.

I don’t necessarily see my love for Oprah as a downside of Americanization. As a Chinese person growing up in Vancouver (or “ham sui fa” aka “salt water city”), I relate to many blogs that speak about the Asian-American experience as my own Asian-Canadian experience. I openly identify with Los Angeles and the West Coast of Canada/USA because of the ethnically-Asian population and culture. You see, when my family came over from the old country (Sze-yap and Joong Sahn), they encountered struggles that immigrants of all kinds face: racist laws, explicit daily discrimination, separation from family for decades, etc. But what I believe makes my and my family’s situation different is that we’re part of the Chinese world. And the Chinese world in this day and age – place and time – is one where an ancestral language (like Toisan-wa or Joong Sahn Wa…also known as country Cantonese) spans the globe in a shape different from the traditional maps we’re used to seeing. It is the star map of satellite city constellations consisting of Chinatowns and restaurant districts. I’m sure many people of other languages can relate to how the world changes for them such as the Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, and African worlds. There is some sort of connection of place that is constant in time; language is a universal, living capsule.

So in modern day Canada, I feel like my following of “American” culture (Asian-American blogs and Oprah) is not so much a product of capitalism and media imperialism, but a by-product of a pilgrimage to my cultural ancestry as it lives and grows today. Whatever I do will be called “Chinese.” My world centers around American culture because it is connected to Asian culture. I am a country boy in an urban land, an immigrant whose home is LA as much as Vancouver, or Hou Choung.

Reference and inspiration for this post: A New Year.

Chinese (and proud)

I like to come on here with coherent, well-gesticulated thoughts but lately I’ve only had a random fiery, angry passion in the pit of my gut. I’m frustrated that we can’t seem to get it right. So many people are still unconscious when it comes to race and it really gets to me: yes, I get mad about stuff white people do, but I also am particularly fed up with the way that I’m ostracized by people of my own race. Racism isn’t for any specific race but the human race.

Last week during a basketball game a school friend had been telling me about his trip to Asia and how wonderful it was – except for the benefits of home (clean air, drinkable water, etc.) – and how I should really go there to see what it’s like. I gathered the intent was well-meaning, but I couldn’t get around the fact that I was being spoken to as if I was a complete ignoramus about the “old country.” My great grandparents on BOTH sides of my family came to Canada and America to start a better life. This was not without the obvious consequences of likely losing future generations to their home culture and language but there were also blatant systemic barriers that they faced. Racist Canadian laws like the Chinese Head Tax and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1923 separated my family for years as well as other Asian families. The state never even gave us the vote until 1947 (let alone Aboriginal peoples ). And so while I’m being told about a trip as if I’m unjustifiably ignorant – that is, if only I had been a “good” Chinese, I would somehow retain and know all of this – I’m thinking about how my opportunities were cut short long before I was even an intention of my parents. I wasn’t given the chance by the white government of Canada. And condemning about me is also racist because that’s excluding me from a category I’ll always be in.

Whatever I do, I’ll always be Chinese. And instead of feeling guilty about having learned to be extremely proficient in the English language or having an appreciation for my local ecology, I’m standing strong in my identity. So I’m gonna be the best damn poet I can be and sing the worst songs I can try. Asians can be good at basketball and bad at math. We can love cell phones and anime and white bread. We can dance the tango and break it down like any other. We can be peaceful and zen and outright angry. We can be ignorant and racist and we can be members of the Black Panthers. We can be feminists, writers, cooks, chefs, fashion designers, construction workers, secretaries, teachers, and filmmakers.

No matter what I do I’ll be Chinese. And Proud.

young once

At night this world is so dark and confusing that I can almost feel the globe tremble as it spins. Stars barely peek through a sky filled with illumination – artificial light is beautiful but it is not aurora borealis. People are contradictions, and sometimes the obscure distance is too much. I’m overcome by the hypocrisy. No, I do not claim that I can do better – but I live it in my bones as a fiery passion. And so much I’m caught up in now – a moment that will never be lived again with the same consequences or metamorphosed line of time…

then i am touched by relief, a calm spirited wind that descends upon our shoulders like winter’s blanket and she says: ‘there will be a day when you were young once.’

Excerpted from diary

(What) Beauty is

Found this on (yet again) Tamarack Song’s blog Mongrel Scratchings:

I just read about a man who had a flower garden that he continually improved by pulling out the plain-looking specimens and throwing them in the garbage. One day while he was out walking, he passed by a flower garden more beautiful than is. Wracked with jealousy, he asked the gardener were she got her plants. She told him she was his garbage collector.

There’s more to the post that is very worth reading, but the power and the accuracy of these words are so overwhelming that I needed to share it.

the spotlight on you

i am the spotlight on you
soft yellow hues gazing a peaceful beam
unaffected by wind or hesitation

on the stage you are a careful artist
revealing me your wakeness, curves coming alive
in the shadows, lines like a painter’s hands:

gossamer hair and sunbrown tan,
if only they knew that your beauty blossoms in spring,
and grows bountifully in the summer,
in winter hiding away in your
deep black eyes,

like the stars all i know of you are fantastical myths,
and tales of stolen love,
never could i live to see you to an end

like moss

maybe the written word is like moss,
growing everyplace in the forest
that the eye can’t see
unless it is still, and careful…

and the more words i write
the more dirt i make,
soft green tendrils curling
in the shaded forest light
under ferns,

sitting atop mounds and mountains
and reaching around trees,
perched on logs:
afloat on a windspoken rain
drifting down a trickling stream
to be planted subplanted and transplanted
only picked fresh to make a bed
or to offer a drink of caught rainfall;

going where it is allowed to grow old.

You are not a wave

From Paulo Coelho’s blog, a story from Serdar Ozkan’s, The Missing Rose.

There was once a wave in the ocean, rolling along, enjoying the warmth of the sun and the swiftness of the breeze.
It smiled at everything around it as it made its way toward the shore.

But then, it suddenly noticed that the waves in front of it, one by one, were striking against the cliff face, being savagely broken to pieces.

‘Oh God!’ it cried. ‘My end will be just like theirs. Soon I, too, will crash and disappear!’

Just then another wave passing by saw the first wave’s panic and asked:
‘Why are you so anxious? Look how beautiful the weather is, see the sun, feel the breeze…’

The first wave replied:
‘Don’t you see? See how violently those waves before us strike against the cliff, look at the terrible way they disappear. We’ll soon become nothing just like them.’

‘Oh, but you don’t understand,’ the second wave said. ‘You’re not a wave. You’re a part of the ocean.’