6/22/17 9:59 PM
In the United States, due to my physical appearance, I have been mistaken for Puerto Rican, Brazilian, Mexican, Dominican, Jewish, French, and Persian. When I explain that am black, white, and Native American, it clicks for them.
“Ohh. I see it now.”
I remember wondering how people may or may not react in a different country outside of the United States before going on this trip. I’ve been in South Asia for a few days now, and there are a couple of different things I’ve noticed.
Because of my physical appearance and my first name, they know that I am American by my speech, but I must have one or both parents from South Asia, no? When I explain my racial identification, European American clicks, while African American does not.
Yep. African American.
I know that I talked about the frustrations that come with mixed race identity, but this is actually something I find interesting most of the time. Irritating if one is offensive about it or if it’s all one talks about in a conversation with me, but most of the time, fascinating.
My sister and I once had a conversation about mixed race identity and racial ambiguity, and she told me that one privilege that mixed race individuals have, she believes, is the ability to grow awareness of others’ backgrounds and more understanding because of the patience we have to develop for those understanding our own.
I appreciated hearing that in her words.
I wrote about in processing mixed race identity in a Christian context through the fluidity of Christ’s identity in an earlier blog. I want to write now that I’ve also been able to process mixed race identity through the context of the Holy Trinity. I’ve written about this before and I talked about it at interfaith conferences and events, but for those who haven’t heard me talk about it, I want to write it down again.
When it comes to the Holy Trinity, you have an egalitarian triune God of the Father (the creator), the Son (the redeemer), and the Holy Spirit (the connector). Although this God is of three parts, it doesn’t make Him any less whole. Just because I identify with all of my parts, it doesn’t make me any less whole, even though there have been people in this world who may be confused or say that I’m not [fill in the blank] enough.
One conversation I had with a teacher at the language school I’ll be working in was one about hair and our experiences with our hair; my hair type becoming more favorable in South Asia, her hair type becoming more favorable in the United States. It then led to many other topics of conversation: politics, culture, religion, books, films. Affirming one another in our physicality, interests, perspectives, and being enough was so great and necessary.
I like it when people ask me where I’m from and how I identify in my racial identity. It then leads into a conversation about how they identify, regardless of multiracial or monoracial background, their experiences, and how much we can make each other’s day just sharing our experiences.
6/21/17 12:37 PM
As we were waiting in line in the store to pay, I picked up a carton of milk that has a woman drawn on it, holding a tray of smaller cups of milk.
“Oh yeah, they sell milk not refrigerated here,” Kendra explained. “You don’t refrigerate it until it’s opened.”
I nodded and said, “Wow.”
When I put it back down, we were directed to the next line over for someone more available.
A middle aged man wearing a blue buttoned shirt and a mustache stood in front of us. He looked up at us, opening his eyes wide.
“I’m so sorry,” he exclaimed throwing his hands up.
“Nahin. Theek hai,” Kendra assured. No worries. It’s okay.
The man’s eyes grew even wider, and he returned to checking out his food.
Kendra and I shrugged at one another.
“Was he surprised by us being okay?” I asked. “Was it a ‘ladies first’ thing? He didn’t have to feel bad, we were just coming up.”
“Or he might have been surprised that I responded at all,” said Kendra.
We both laughed. A white girl speaking Hindi. The last thing to be expected.
6/20/17 9:10 PM
More haikus based on flight connections and arrival:
She wears pineapple socks
and she scribbles in a
notebook. What a sight.
I’m hiding in
Thank God my sisters
have WhatsApp…that’s all I have
to say about that.
“It’s a full flight!”
they said, as we turned to the
empty seat next to us.
It doesn’t matter
the position. I’ll never
I’d take a picture
of the pink sun, but it
wouldn’t do it justice.
It’s blue shining through
now, and I’m really far
away from home now too.
Don’t forget the importance
of data. Don’t forget
Water fountains are
not easily accessible
Completed reading two books
over the course of this trip
so far. Wow.
Lord, I pray the
person in front forgives me
for sighing so, so much.
6/18/17 2:28 PM
Christena Cleveland’s book Disunity in Christ has been keeping me engaged and entertained during my flights, layovers, and, particularly, schedule changes. In her book, she uses biblical scripture and social psychology to analyze why Christians have difficulty engaging cross culturally with other various Christians, as well as why Christians can attain the ability to engage. Obviously not in simple or perfect ways, but in a way that embraces what our large community has to offer in denominational culture, hermeneutics, racial diversity, political ideology, gender identity, and more.
One passage from the book stood out to me in regards to Christians of individualist backgrounds and collectivist backgrounds:
“The Christian from the collectivist culture often says, ‘Your people did this to my people,’ whereas the Christian from the individualist culture responds with, ‘I’m not responsible for what my grandparents did.’ The collectivist’s socially oriented faith includes the possibility of social guilt and requires that individuals who are connected to oppressors be responsible for sins of oppression. However, the individualist’s individual faith only knows individual guilt and is offended by the idea that one person can be held responsible for another person’s actions.”
As a mixed race Christian woman of color of white and black descent, it’s interesting witnessing how collectivist and individualist ideologies work in my experiences.
When I express frustrations towards racism that perpetuates itself because of white power, I may receive from white Christians, “Hey, God is spirit, He doesn’t see color,” “Well, my parents raised me to love all people, so I don’t know why you’re upset,” and “Not all white people.” It made me think a lot about the critique a lot of people of color tend to receive. When critiquing Western whiteness and systemic oppression, people of color are accused of generalizing, and there are white people who say things such as “Well, I’m not racist,” and “Why are you overreacting?”
When I express frustrations in the black community about the lack of attention and care to mental health and other forms of prejudice, I don’t see a lot of white people bat an eye. I don’t hear, “Not all black people.” I don’t hear, “Why are you overreacting?” Mostly because they don’t feel an individual form of guilt since they’re not the ones addressed. That doesn’t change how bothersome it is to me, and it is worth pointing out.
More black Christians are starting to be hyper-aware of the issue of mental health, especially in the problematic “you don’t need counseling, just pray about it” phrase. Because of the aspect of social guilt, of course more are attempting to hold one another accountable. However, black Christians still perpetuate that harm and view therapy as a venue of seeking validation when God should be the validation, or, to put it bluntly, a white issue and not a black issue.
I won’t even get started on the flaw that both white and black communities share in excluding mixed race people in dialogue either.
Another passage that stood out to me in Cleveland’s book was, “The work of reconciliation is often excruciating because it is the work of the cross.”
Processing and reconciling with both of the communities I identify with has been excruciating for me, and still is. Confessing of what I perpetuate while also having to ask for forgiveness and forgive people in my communities. It’s important to note that my life hasn’t been miserable because of it, I love the racial identities that I have. Not only did God create me this way, black and white, but He created his Son god and man as a way to reconcile, heal, and love well; there are a lot of things I appreciate about and can learn from that.
When I was raising funds months ago for South Asia, there were friends, including a couple friends of South Asian American descent, who expressed their concerns and frustrations in regards to the history of white colonialism. Processing, reconciling, confessing, and asking for forgiveness during this time was hard.
If I were pursuing this trip a few years ago, I would have said things like, “Well, my mom raised me to love all people like how Jesus loved them, so I don’t know why you’re upset,” or “Hey, not all Christians,” thinking they wouldn’t understand and without me seeking to understand them. Whether or not I would have pursued a trip like this years ago is debatable, but my point still stands.
Because of my involvement in interfaith work and my involvement with Hillside, I believe that God has blessed me with people in my life who taught me how to have those conversations at the right time months ago instead of years ago. There was a lot of tension in those conversations such as Christian jargon that may be off-putting to Christians and Non-Christians in fundraising and online, viewpoints on Christian theology and doctrine, Christian privilege in the West and the lack of in the East, Western missionary organizations that still perpetuate harm in Eastern countries, and a few Christian and Non-Christian friends who weren’t (and still aren’t) comfortable with me going.
Working through how to have this dialogue with friends and family without downgrading the importance of my faith to me or downgrading the importance of their perspectives (e.g. faith-wise, culture-wise, etc.) was a form of healthy tension, and it was worth it. Stressful at times, and caused me to overthink at times, but still worth it.
I want this summer to be a form reconciliation as I’m serving and living in a new area with new people. I’m hoping not to sound gushy, and I’m hoping that the last part didn’t sound too Christianese, but I had a lot on my mind. I’m at an airport on the Internet, so I wanted to be sure to put this all down.
6/18/17 9:40 AM CST
A series of haikus to describe from last night to now:
My first international
flight. So what do I do?
Tweet about it!
Hours of twiddling
thumbs, only to be kicked off
to repeat again.
Twiddle your thumbs,
angry cry, and remember to
try to get some sleep.
A hotel voucher
to sleep for four hours the
only sleep I’ll get.
Shuttle driver repeats
“Which airline?” for me to
wake up properly.
Bird flies inside. Have
to explain why I’m gasping
To ticket lady
She says my passport
expired. Her mistake; her
glasses are foggy.
My fourth time in
O’hare this year. And this time,
not on purpose, mind you.
If more architects
were women, would we be in
bathroom lines this long?
Day got better when
I met my “hair twin.”
I love it when that happens.
another’s textured hairstyles
is needed right now.
This Saturday, my flight leaves for South Asia. I will be there for seven weeks pursuing ministry and outreach, and this is a way to document my experiences. For the past six months I have only been writing spoken poetry and a couple of editorial posts. Not that those aren’t great ways of expressing myself, but I’m hoping to write poems more so for the page, and creative nonfiction, and maybe other forms of writing this summer.
I also started an Instagram account solely for this summer: maya_in_south_asia as a way of documenting as well.
If you would like to follow along, feel free to follow this blog and my Instagram.
A huge thank you to those who have been supportive of me through dialogue, prayer, good vibes, donations, and so much more.