Diaspora Tales Part 124341

I thought I lowkeyed American all weekend in French Canada and avoided anything awkward until I got in the Uber to go to Trudeau Airport.

Guy is chatty and asks, “Why are you leaving town with the good weather?” Apparently it’s been a miserable chilly Canadian summer. I reply, “Well, I was just here for the weekend and am going back to New York.”

Game immediately recognizes game, and we get into one of those overly personal and political conversations that only two strangers from a diaspora would suddenly have without hesitation. He immediately brings up how he and his buddies use to like to go to NYC for the weekend, but Canadians don’t travel down as much anymore, especially him because he has North African heritage. He doesn’t want to deal with being harassed at the airport. He talks about how even his White Canadian friend got harassed by Customs Border Patrol for three hours. They made her give her Snapchat and Facebook passwords because she wouldn’t give her opinion about Trump.

He talked about how in Canada you can’t get away with saying all the racist things that people say in America. That after the mosque shooting months ago, Canadians didn’t let people get away with being so hateful. There’s a pride in it, but I can tell it doesn’t salve everything. He’s sharing this undertone of distress with me because in a weird way we’re all in this together. He explicitly says he won’t let people say bad things about “people from China, Japan, and Black people, etc.”

This turns into a conversation about his cousins in France, one of course who is married to a White French woman who said “All these Arabs are savages” despite being married into a family of them who have extended extreme generosity to her.

He explains, “All the news on TV poisoned her mind. She’s out of touch with reality.”

We all know what it’s like to have one of those in our close circles. We agree that minorities have it worst in France out of the Western countries, and how laughable France attributes so many problems to immigrants given how few of them there are when you compare it to Canada and the United States. We talk about how France calls them “2nd generation immigrants.” Neither of us would tolerate such a laughable label, we’re both native borns, not immigrants. 2nd generation Canadians and Americans, yes, but we’re not immigrants. And regardless, you should treat immigrants like people and let them contribute. He says, “Yes, there are bad people who want to cheat the system,”  but counters the net contribution to countries far exceeds that and are not the roots of the social ills in the places we live.

We talk about how people were brought over because all these countries needed immigrant labor, and now they don’t want us anymore now that they’re not doing so well. He told me a story of how he drove a “racist American type” who was proud Tesla was Made-In-America (fuck yeah?). He totally destroyed that guy’s day by showing him Google search and informing him that Elon Musk holds Canadian citizenship and came from South Africa to Canada before going to America. He talked about how America’s toxic nationalism reminded him of France sometimes, he doesn’t like to travel to France and America and I suspect outside of Canada much these days.

At some point his phone rings, I see an image of lady in a headscarf with that sensible not-over-the-top-like-Americans smile I notice Canadians do and a cute kid. It occurs to me he totally reminds me of the Cantonese and Filipino guys in another life in SF. Culturally rooted and responsible, a Morrocan-Canadian Daly City dude. Aspirational and hardworking, but with that slight unease of figuring out how to be man in between two cultures probably telling him very different things. The kind of guy who will talk about his feelings to woman like me because he knows I don’t judge and get it. If I wasn’t so obsessed with airplanes and moving around, I’d have ended up with someone like him in another Cali life and be the picture that flashes on the phone in another anxiety filled diaspora conversation in another life.

I talk about who I am, and how I hang onto a Taiwanese identity, though we both have that vague unspoken anxiety knowing he doesn’t speak Berber that well, and I don’t speak Chinese as much anymore these days either, but feel our place and that of people similar to us are in a precarious position, where we’re at, and in places like the UK, France, Australia, and beyond. We’re mutually stewing in our unease about our relative and conditional privilege. Way early into this conversation, we’ve dropped our “proper North American English” speaking voices, him speaking in what I can only call Drake-music-video-Canadian-English with a touch of French accent, and me with dripping with a non-White Cali enunciation.

We end up in a conversation about crab mentalities, bad homies, and good homies. The fucked up things that happen when you try to stay loyal to people in your crew and your small community. It’s overly personal, platonic, and calm at the same time, the only conversation two diaspora folks living in this time could have. He talks about how he wants to get into real estate, but his friend was trying to sabotage his success, and how Canadians don’t travel that much because taxes are so high. I talk about how Americans don’t travel because a lot of them are too poor to do it at all because it costs so much to do out outside the coasts. He mentions even though Canadians don’t travel, they don’t share our insularity because they aren’t so nationalistic. I talk about how much I hate everything happening, that two countries exist in mine, but he knows all that already.

It occurs to me in this short window of time, I’ve probably had a more personal conversation with him than White people I’ve known for years. You only talk like this with the ‘special White friends’ (google Special White Friend Americanah) and Facebook posts to spare yourself the emotions of possibly having someone discount the convo or reveal to you they basically think your culture is backwards.

When I get out of the car, he says, “You’re welcome back anytime to Canada.” It breaks my fucking heart, because I know I can’t say the same, even though we’re weirdly all in this together. Fuck the fucking Le Pens and Farages of the world. I tell him we’re trying to get of Trump, but I know that isn’t happening in the near future. This is what it is now.

At least in some moments, we have each other.

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Understanding Timothy Caughman’s Murder

I think there’s an instinct to turn off the news in “Trump’s America” and hide from it now that the initial shock seems to have worn off, but it’s worth reminding that for a lot of people, that is not an option. There are people who want to be like they’re suddenly woke now, but remember Erykah Badu said to stay woke. Stay being the operative word.

The fact we are living in “Trump’s America” is an everyday reminder that some less than 26% of Americans voted to put in enforcers of racial caste, people who are ready to sell our country – quite literally to Russia and pawn off our national lands to companies who would cause environmental disasters, and make the lives of the vulnerable even more miserable.

As I climb up my career ladder, the more I see into the lives of people who literally have said to me “I’m just going to turn off the TV for four years.” I also won’t forget the absolute hypocrisy of so-called progressives giving these voters undeserved empathy and understanding. I have become even more sympathetic to disruptive protests and actions because people “on our side” (whatever that really means) but aren’t facing the consequences directly would prefer to hide in comfort instead, people who are actually able to actually change the outcome but would rather see incidents like Timothy Caughman’s murder as an unfortunate anomaly rather than for what it really is. Racial violence. Violence against trans people. Trumplandia. It’s more than simple hate.

Why Women Aren’t CEOs… and Women of Color Though?

From NYT:

The Lean In survey shows a pervasive sense among women that they face structural disadvantages: They are less likely than men to believe they will be able to participate in meetings, receive challenging assignments or find their contributions valued. The bleakest perceptions are from minority women; only 29 percent of black women think the best opportunities at their companies go to the most deserving employees, compared with 47 percent of white women.

There’s also an interesting intersectionality bit here that’s been better explored in not brief NYT Sunday edition article. I would say a lot Women of Color in general have had to learn to fight and advocate for themselves, suffer no fools, because we always existed in innately hostile environments, even in our own communities. We’ve always known life is not fair.

It also highlights a point here about bleak assessments of meritocracy compared to White women, whose assessments are already pretty bleak, because your assertiveness and success combined with another layer of identity becomes a liability and a threat.

Let’s be real, people are not okay being lead by a White Woman (53% of White Women voted for Trump), let alone by an Asian Woman, a Latina Woman, or Black Woman. Work twice as hard for half as much. And it’s worse outside of US borders in many places. It also begs the question, when to bother with spaces that aren’t made for us for success? I’m asking a different question than quitting for less ambition, when does it become about building own capital and markets – and how?

Side note: It’s interesting on the East Coast because I love hanging out the follow transplanted West Coast tribe of Asian women out here we’re a bunch of aggressive non-assimilationists, and people have no idea what to do with us or what we are here (I’d say in business, life, and love). We do it for the culture.

A Dust of Life with a Crazy Rich Asians Budget?

Thinking on that Hundreds post, it would be great if after Crazy Rich Asians wraps, Jon M Chu or someone out there could shoot a high production value LA (or SJ or OC) film about 90s Asian American life in those places, because it was this different seminal time, especially given in many ways a lot of those stories would really relate and say a lot about 2017, particularly policing, refugees, immigration, and alienated youth.
 
A lot of this is just personal baggage, but sometimes now back in SGV, I like how it’s super nice now, but all these bobalife kids also don’t know nothing about when it was barred windows, pool halls, linoleum floor restaurants only, and how hated we were and how much we hated each other and others. It’s better now and for the best, but a lot of stories
deserve to be told.
 
I’d love to see a high budget Dust of Life, Bang Bang, or some of the other arthouse indies that have been made, but with a Crazy Rich Asians production scale with a female lead, but that’s quite possibly the most un-makable movie pitch ever.
 
But I hate how so much of the representation is the story about the banana Asian dudes with the same overplayed identity struggle that isn’t even that representative in my opinion (I feel a little this way about Hasan Minhaj or Aziz Ansari even though I love what they do, but they’re definitely being true to their stories) or run-of-the-mill immigration fitting in story or the throw in an already famous Chinese star to sell movies to China. Other stories out there that are just worthy, but I don’t think audiences are really ready for that level of play and acceptance yet. 

Resistance Art: Immigrants Getting the Job Done

 

*The mixtape video we all needed. It’s a hard time right now, can’t understate that. Philando Castile, the healthcare bill, the deportations, targeting of Muslims during Ramadan, the environment destruction, the list is so long it’s almost paralyzing. It seems like the politics posts on Facebook at least in my filter bubble have waned a bit, bc it’s like, we know it’s not gonna get better anytime soon, but I know that there are so many broken hearts with a dose of toxic anger all the same from all the offline conversations.

But one thing I’ve noticed though in NYC, since the election, it seems like immigrants have been kinder to each other. Going to stores, Lyft/Uber drivers, walking in these streets, going to work, there is a strange gentleness to each other that I don’t think was quite there before. We don’t speak the same languages, we don’t share the same skin colors or cultures, we don’t really even have the same struggles (I’m totally cognizant of the fact I’m a light-skinned Asian whose is a natural born American citizen with a White collar job and what that gets me – I walked through customs in under 3 minutes with Global Entry yesterday – which gives me a responsibility to do a damn thing), but it seems we’re in this reality where we need each other’s kindness because of Trumplandia and a lot of the White Liberals who quite frankly seem to be want to be there for their racist cousins than for us, I get that tribalism, but we’re responding in kind with our kindness to each other in response to what is effectively state-sanctioned violence.

For some of you out there, I know you don’t feel this, but feel me for a minute when I say this cruelty out here is undeserved, and it’s real, and if you’re not fighting it, you’re complicit. Let’s get on with it. Save your kindness for those who deserve it and need it. We’re America’s ghostriders, and the former colonized in Europe built those empires. The credit is only borrowed. We’re going to cash those checks, sooner or later, one way or another.

*One thing I do want to call out some friends pointed out on FB – the misogyny in the lyrics and in hip hop in general, :(. Also, let’s not forget in the American context, most Black Americans weren’t immigrants and were forced to build the country for free and Native Americans driven off on the land that was theirs.

100 Days of Resistance Art Day Four: Autopsy

Poetry for reflecting today. I’m traveling to Taiwan tonight, my motherland, to see family and friends. I am fortunate for now for relatively unencumbered freedom of movement, something my Brown friends don’t have the privilege of doing. Something to ponder on and think of how you can weaponize your privilege in the struggle.

Autopsy

Last night, I dreamed that my passport bled.
I dreamed that my passport was a tombstone
For our United States, recently dead.
I dreamed that my passport was made of bone—

That it was a canoe carved out of stone.
“But I can’t swim,” I said. “I will drown
If I can’t make the shore. I’ll die alone
In the salt. No, my body will be found

With millions of bodies, all of them brown.”
I dreamed that my passport was a book of prayers,
Unanswered by the gods, but written down
By fact checkers in suits. “There are some errors

In your papers,” they said. Then took me downstairs
To a room with fingernails on the floor.
I dreamed that my passport was my keyware,
But soldiers had set fire to the doors,

To all doors—a conflagration of doors.
I dreamed that my passport was my priest:
“Sherman, will you battle the carnivores
Or will you turn and abandon the weak?

Will you be shelter? Or will you concede?”
Last night, I dreamed that my passport was alive
When it entered the ICU. It breathed, it breathed,
Then it sighed and closed its eyes. It did not survive.

©2017, Sherman Alexie

Dear America, Asian Immigrants Did Not Sign Up for This Shit

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Image from AngryAsianMan

Ending the day on a negative ranty note inspired by Uber’s CTO Thuan Pham, a refugee.

Dear America,

Among the most bleak conversations I’ve had are with Asian Americans, because FUN FACT: a huge portion if not the outright majority of Asians in America of my generation are here because people directly or indirectly were fleeing authoritarian consequences, not because of some “hoo rah we’re gonna have freedom! MURICA” but no like literally not sure if they could feed their families, could get killed, or if there was a future at the end of the road in varying degrees of hopelessness and horror.

This is a story we know: Mao Zedong and his revolutions, Pol Pot the Khmer Rouge, Ferdinand Marcos and his kleptocracy, Chiang Kai-Shek and his thugs (of which I’m descended from and take open ownership of that), Le Duan after the Fall of South Vietnam, Kaysone Phomvihane and the Pathet Lao, Suharto’s Corrupt Fist in Indonesia, Park Chung-hee’s dictatorship, and I’m probably missing a whole lot more.

America had immigration policies that favored our labor. So people came as the dishwasher, the laundryman, the bodega owner, the seamstress, the cooks, the scientists, the doctors, and generally the hustlers who ventured into the great unknown with promises of security and prosperity. And some came unwilling as refugees because of the American wars in Southeast Asia.

I know we might be all seem to same to you, but someone in my age bracket who was born here or came here as a young child came from a very different Asias than the current denizens of the Asia Modern – one whose fever dreams now elude us.

We continue to inhabit very different Asian Americas in terms of ethnicities, stories, and socio-economic conditions.

Before the Syrian refugee crisis, Asians were the people on the boats people were pushing away, and a generation before, fleeing Jews were rejected from safe harbor, lest we forget.

The joke is now “whoops buyers remorse, we came here precisely not for this shit. And these spoiled ‘Americans’ (we’re spoiled Americans now too, but we remember a time we weren’t) have no idea what they’re facing. Now might we might have to try to horde gold and live like peasants, again, hahaha so funny joke’s on us!” Dude, literally here not to be about that life, but you know what, we have learned how to survive and thrive and make very little into something.

There’s a lot of talk in leftist circles in America about “the revolution,” and there’s always been this uncomfortable moment because a lot of Asians tend to be like “Nah tho, I don’t know about that tho because we almost all died before. I’ll take those sensible trade policies, thanks.”

It’s a primal thing, our collective past saw what real revolutions were like and it didn’t end up well for most regular people. Now all over the West, we’re the living undead, reanimated bits of imagined communities combined with the aspirational hopes of Barack Obama’s America, doomed to wander in distant lands we now call home speaking in strange tongues devoted to making a buck.

This is a cynicism that will probably be imprinted on us for generations to come, though I hope our grandchildren will never know our strife. This is why I think I grew up around a community focused so long on just making money, freeing our minds with education, and basking in the comforts of family, food, tradition, and safety.

People didn’t have much else till recently, which is why you see all these mass movements places like Taiwan, Hong Kong, and South Korea now, because this new world of justice, rule of law, and universal rights, is well, is still new, still precious, and still not taken for granted with not one generation removed from darkness of poverty and autocracy. And aren’t we always only one generation from that?

It’s unpleasant for us to watch this begin to repeat itself in our new home and also know we’re probably easy scapegoats for something or another, the uncomfortable wedge group, the “model minority” despised both by Whites and other minorities. This shit could blow up in our face because it has before. Refuge fail. (I’m bullish on California tho.)

Tho gotta say for the record, we tried to warn you with the wisdom and paranoia bequeathed to us from our collective history and outsider status. And most People of Color tried to save yo trifling asses in the election. With depleted voting rights coming our way, I wouldn’t put all my hopes on another election by the way.

I don’t have an original line to close, so may the odds be ever in your favor.

Bessie

*If any references may have confused you- please see NPR CodeSwitch’s episode on the Explanatory Comma.