I find communicating with my mom really difficult, for lots of reasons, but mostly because she’s an immigrant. So like any millennial I guess, I made a zine about it. It is filled with beautiful stories and pictures of my friends sharing their own difficulties relating to their parents which helped me to feel less alone. I actually had this idea 4 years ago and finally, finally completed it. It’s 45 pages long and has a hand stitched-binding. If you are interested in having a copy I’d be happy to share it and send one to you (cost is only printing and postage)!
Recently I read Zami: a New Spelling of my Name by Audre Lorde and was really swept away by her writing. I think some of what I admire about Audre Lorde’s writing is that her details are not laborious or burdensome. Her realizations are simple, elegant, and moving, never cliche or trite. The way she understands a truth about her life offers her readers a new language — a new way to understand — and I think that impresses me the most.
It’s hard to start writing after reading something that feels so effortlessly powerful. I put off writing, then publishing this blog for a long time. As I read and re-read it seems eternally unfinished. As a meditation on what it means to have a family lineage you aren’t well connected to, on grief, on being Chinese, I have Audre Lorde level feelings about these things, but my thoughts don’t always assemble into as smart or compelling words and phrases as I would like.
My mom sent me 5 pictures of herself, her sisters, and her parents. She sent these 5 pictures to me several times, still not quite understanding how to translate the pictures from Whatsapp to iMessage. I was, at first, confused. What are these pictures and why did you send them? I’d seen some of them before, but not all. I wonder how important to Mom it was that I see them, as if her accidental duplication of messages were made out of an urgency to ensure I saw them. And by virtue of seeing them I begin to keep some of her history, her parent’s history. My 公公 died almost 2 years ago. 婆婆 is longer dead now, 10+ years. I wonder what these pictures evoke for my mom and what she hopes will live on in me as I (barely) remember them.
I think this way when I share things about my dad sometimes. So much of my life is asking others to bear witness for me, to hold sadness and joy with me, of course, but I think history is becoming my most important ask. We are the keepers of others’ histories, and I remember this every time I talk to my middle school friends. To even remember that someone existed and loved fishing and motorcycles and and all of their specificities is to hold a place for them and that’s the best way to honor our dead that I’ve found.
Moving from confusion, I was quickly mesmerized by these pictures. I am mesmerized by these people I don’t really know, but their imprint in my life is deep and still felt through their shaping of my mother who has, of course, shaped me. I love looking at my 公公’s face and identifying my mom’s nose and lips. I love looking at 婆婆’s mysterious (to me) and quiet beauty, truly knowing so little of her other than her back-breaking work for her family, stern demeanor, and surprisingly gentle expectations. I love wondering who they were. I love looking at their pictures together and wondering about the love and time they shared together. How did they grow together and grow apart? How did they love and understand and care for each other? I don’t know.
I look at these photos and wonder about how to hold ancestors in your heart. How to think about how people you think of as generally removed from your life and your creation of self, have actually woven themselves through you and continue to exist in you. Isn’t that one way to become immortal? We continue to exist through shaping people who will inform and shape other people therefore continuing something of ourselves … or whatever. Look, I’m not trying to find a definitive answer to meaning or existance, because, really, we’ll eventually all be forgotten. I’m just thinking.
Looking at these pictures of my 公公 and 婆婆, something else stirs in me. In loving their faces and loving the thought of them and the ways they’ve influenced my mom and myself, how is this an entry point for learning to love Chineseness, my Chineseness? I find Chineseness incredibly hard to embrace sometimes. An ethnic group that occupies both oppressor and oppressed, I can’t always distinguish between a) internalized racism, b) anger at the ways in which some Chinese Americans have desperately sought to align themselves with whiteness (eg: mobilizing against affirmative action and embracing anti-blackness), and c) anger at the ways the Chinese government enacts neo-colonialism in East Africa and violently oppresses Tibetans, Uyghurs, and their own people. However, even in this paragraph I’m reminded of how “Chineseness” isn’t simply one thing, or a group of things. The Chinese diaspora is large, approximately 50 million people, not including the 1.4 billion people living in China, and has several significant political, historical, and cultural schisms (eg: Taiwan and Hong Kong).
I almost always err on the side of disagreeing, mistrusting, and finding frustration with Chineseness. I don’t always find things to love or find pride in. However, at this time, this COVID19 time, I am reminded that we weren’t given the name “Yellow Peril” for nothing. White America has never loved Chineseness either, and at best accepted a highly muted, restricted, and sanitized version of it. I am reminded that American has and still continues to associate yellow and brown bodies with disease, danger, and untrustworthiness. Don’t forget that Chineseness in America has long been monitored, controlled, disparaged, our labor abused, our ethnicity tested and found to be unworthy, inscrutable, disgusting, only palatable now if within a very specific, affluent, white supremacist paradigm.
Loving Chineseness is hard and having pride in it is hard. Maybe loving Chineseness, for me, begins with seeing beauty in my mother, and in her mother and her father. I am finding a new pride in their strength, calm, consistency, and compassion. It is unfamiliar and halting, yet exciting. I am reminded I am still growing into myself.
I write this blog not confident that anyone will read it or even sure my writing has a point. I write because I hope to untangle my thoughts into coherent ideas and it would be a great side effect if it had the power to touch someone else.
My friend is creating a children’s book where the mandate is “We aim to show young children of color that the world is not only theirs, but it is worthy of protection and love.”
What does it mean to teach and given children new narratives through which to find and value themselves? I love this idea though that the stories we tell children are so valuable in shaping their lives and realities. What would society look like if more children of all genders, races/ethnicities, and abilities had the message of their value and importance in this world reenforced? How do we celebrate children of color and children of other marginalized backgrounds?
With those thoughts and feelings I sat down to crank out a few pages of what I might have liked to see in a children’s book when I was younger. In retrospect, I would have loved to spend more time thinking about how to integrate themes to connectivity to the earth and ecology, but given that I thought, created, outlined, and painted these few pages in about a day, I’m pretty happy with the final result.
I was going to not post something for July because I hadn’t created anything this month, surprise surprise. But then I really didn’t want to, so I thought of sharing stuff I’ve created in the past, so here is a series of photos, some I took and some I didn’t, that inspired me to create color pallets in InDesign. If I was still a university student I would go back in and edit them a little bit to make them look better but I’m no longer a university student ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
I made these to mess around in InDesign but also because I liked the distinct colors and shades in each photo. Some have many different striking colors and many are gradients. As a person who has never, ever, never taken art classes or knows anything about color theory, I thought they looked nice and it was cool to mess around with the idea of what a color pallet is and what complementary colors look like in gradients and in difference.
I can’t believe I am so spoiled by TV and the new, amazingly creative stories that are being told. They’re so funny, devastating, cruel, compassionate, and, ultimately, relatable; all in one show, often one episode. How?! There are 2 TV shows I watched in June I can’t shut up about: Fleabag and Ramy. While I was going to write a review, and am going to back down from that because there is just so much to any one episode of both of these shows it was too intimidating to write a review. I knew I’d miss something, and as with TV shows, the best reviews are in the details. However, I do want to write a little bit about how it makes me wonder how we are, how society is, how I am, being deeply influenced by the new (imo, better) stories that are being told.
(Caveat to this whole blog post: all statements I am making are my own (lol) and from the perspective of a person who is 100% not an actor/anyone in any sort of TV/movie business. A simple consumer, like yourself (maybe).)
In an interview Phoebe Waller-Bridge said that Fleabag inspires her to be bolder. At first I thought, wow, because Waller-Bridge is such a great actor and Fleabag is such a well-developed character it’s easy for me to forget that Waller-Bridge is acting when she plays Fleabag. Fleabag’s impulsive, reckless, daring, audacity, and forthrightness is, of course, part of her character not synonymous with Waller-Bridge herself as a person.
Anyway, I write all of that because I’m curious how these characters, these complex, complicated, messy, almost hyper-realistic characters with layers of contemporary traumas and issues, are affecting their consumers, even including their writers. Living in a golden age of TV in terms of volume, access, and platforms for more of these incredibly well-written, complex, creative, genre-bending stories that increase representation not only in identity of writers and actors but also what kinds of stories are told. Having access to these different, bolder, less white stories, and heroines that feel more relatable and realistic than others before gives me permission to be bolder myself. To ask for more, to settle for less. As our new heroines are being written to stop accepting men’s shitty behavior that would have been written as a joke a few years ago, I am more confident in not accepting shitty behavior in my own life.
Watching Fleabag gives me confidence that there are women who act like her and that women can act like her. Not just that women can have scathingly dry wit, but that women don’t have to bite their tongue and say their incisive and biting remarks under their breath. Women can be (justifiably) angry and express it rather than stifling it. Women can steal things and piss other people off without caring. Women can be mischievous, loving, careless, grieving deeply, and so fucking funny all at once. Fleabag is so exciting to me because Waller-Bridge has SO well written and executed a character, plot, and relationships that really display an amazing amount of complexity not only in Fleabag, but also her sister and her father. You can see Fleabag inhabit all these aspects of herself, containing a multitude of feelings, desires, happiness, unhappiness, grief, trauma, and love, all without the show itself being too maudlin, over-the-top, or explicit. Fleabag feels so real to me and I think it’s half because I feel like her and half because I want to be her. I want to be more mischievous and care less. I want to be bold and brave and more forward.
The relatability of these shows bring their messages of trauma and healing, desire and exoticism, intensity of emptiness and loss, impulsive self-destruction and a deep compassion, the trickiness of bridging two cultures, two lands, and two life philosophies and without getting lost in it all, to a new level of salience. Both Ramy and Fleabag make me think about how these complications, contradictions, and tensions have played out in my life and added layers to my own humanity. The narratives I watch make patterns in my own life a little clearer.
So the question I have is now seeing these women on TV, how is that impacting me and a larger audience who is watching her? How am I/are we going to be bolder and more forward for watching this kind of TV, seeing these new stories? How am I going to care less and take more? I’m excited and mostly grateful for these new shows, for showing me possibilities I always knew I had, but never knew what it would look like to be. These shows and stories are so important to me because these new narratives show me what it might look like to boldly push the boundaries of patriarchy, to push the definition of “womanhood,” to push the boundaries of whiteness, particularly as a woman of color. I am reminded that to be more reckless, more careless, more loud, more honest, more woman, more non-white, more myself is really an act of breaking the power whiteness and patriarchy wants me to think it has over me, my mind, and my body.
I’ve decided not to write about Ramy in this blog post as deeply because there are just too many things this show brings up that I want to talk about, and I’m not a good enough writer, yet, to string all of those things together in a coherent and non-rambly way. This blog is rambly enough. However, I will bullet point just SOME of the things I love, love, loved from the show.
- The way it really religion and tradition with such respect, and really shows the tensions between this and millennial peer expectations and general young person desires.
- It is also so fucking funny.
- The way it also writes such full and complicated women!!!!! It dedicates a whole two episodes focusing solely on the sister, Dena, and the mom, Maysa.
- The double standards Dena must deal with as a woman are so clear and frustrating. The show does a great job of developing an emotional arc so when she meets a cute guy and goes over to his house, it is so hard to watch when he (unsurprisingly but still disappointingly) starts saying exotifying, racializing, and Islamophobic things towards her and excuses himself by saying he would kill to be anything but a boring white guy (that’s not the reason why you’re boring). This episode is so squirm-in-your-seat-real for all WOC out there.
- The Maysa episode was also AMAZING. It shows how Maysa feels, and is, overlooked, under-appreciated, and forgotten which I can’t imagine is an uncommon feeling for immigrant moms. It shows her desire for interaction and hurt getting mocked and ignored by other Americans. It also shows her desire for companionship and to be seen, and desired in general. It shows moms having feelings and sexuality which is amazing and never shown.
- Lastly, I love the end of the show and how it shows Ramy going back to Egypt to find himself and being so disappointed. Going back to a culture or country where everyone says you belong to, but not finding the magic, cultural key to solve your problems or find enlightenment is so REAL. Being a third-culture kid and feeling lost is so real and this show really nails that feeling throughout. I love it so much.
After reading “The Making of a Millennial Woman” by Rebecca Liu in Another Gaze, I have more thoughts than I could coherently write down but I chose a few excerpts from her essay that I think are so true, especially as I focused a lot on the relatability and exciting aspects of Fleabag to me. Liu points out that if we look deeper, push past the carefully crafted unlikeability-likeability of Fleabag, she’s not as thrilling as I first thought.
“Relatability as a critical tool leads only to dead ends, endlessly wielding a ‘we’ without asking who ‘we’ really are, or why ‘we’ are drawn to some stories more than others. What does it tell us that ‘we’ are meant to be drawn to women who live in elite social worlds, whose lifestyles many cannot afford, and whose rebellions against the world are always a little doomed and not that unconventional, even if we’re meant to think otherwise? Why are we so eager to graft relatability onto them? The irony of the ‘unlikeable woman’ is that their ‘abjection’ is likeable, even admirable, to us: they are sharper, wittier, and more beautiful than anyone we know, ideals taken to be ‘real’-life characters. Does celebrating relatability involve engaging with the lives of others, or taking flight from one’s own?
For all of the chatter about how revolutionary, powerful and important these fictional lives are, the Millennial Woman par excellence is a deeply disempowered human being. Fleabag has no friends, cannot talk about her trauma, and admits to relying on sex as a way to sustain her rapidly deteriorating sense of self-worth. …These women are not so much avatars for the emancipatory possibilities of womanhood as they are signs of a colossal social failure to provide substantive avenues of flourishing, care, and communal generosity.”