Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Monday, June 27, 2016

Parenthood: Week 158 – Other People’s Parties

First birthday parties are as much for the parents as they are for the kid. It’s a big accomplishment for parents to make it through that first year of their child’s life. And in most situations getting there is largely due to the support of friends and family. That first birthday party features the kid smearing cake on their face but it’s really about the parents and village coming together. Yes, people invite some of the kid’s friends but those “friends” are only friends because their parents are part of the village.

Over the years this has changed and now we are making our way through third birthday parties. There parties aren’t drop-off parties, where the parents can just leave the kid at a location for a couple hours. Now that these kids are toddlers, the food has to be toddler friendly, which means that the food is not prioritized to please adults (though I do heart all the pizza at these parties). 3 years-olds are a lot more active than 1 year-olds, so adult interactions are now interjected between attempts to monitor children and suppress toddler drama.

There’s a need for activities at these parties now. In the past couple months we’ve experienced a nature walk, some very cool folk dancing, a sing along, watching balloon animal and running around at a park. Then there’s eating, and of course, the most important part of a party or as it seems through the eyes of a toddlers, the cake.

I know that there’s only a couple years of birthday parties that I will go to until we hit the drop-off stage and I am no longer present at these celebrations. I was never a huge birthday party person growing up, but I’m enjoying experiencing these parties through Ollie.

We joke that we are on a birthday party tour like a summer concert tour. Because Ollie was born in May, many of the friends we met through Ollie also have children who have summer birthdays. This means that we are blessed to go to at least half a dozen, if not more toddler birthday parties this summer.

It can be a lot to navigate and there are some weekends like this last weekend when we went to two parties. There was a parent at one party who was leaving to go to another party.  Seriously two in one day.

Ollie doesn’t fully understand the meaning of these parties. Sometimes he seems to get it, but other times all he seems interested in is the cake. Any time you get a group of toddlers together, it’s as entertaining as it is exhausting.

Each party is a special opportunity to be a part of a family’s tradition. These events are different in their customs and values but they all share the same optimism and joy that transforms parenting from a burden to a celebration.

The tour continues.

Friday, June 24, 2016

To Be Asian-American: The Model Minority

I’m a model minority. I’m that minority that doesn’t make you clutch your purse when I walk by. I’m that minority that doesn’t get followed around when walking into stores. I’m that minority that people assume is good at math. And I’m that minority is that worries you the least when I date your daughter.

I’m Asian, the good kind.  I’m Taiwanese. I’m not a communist from China, and my people weren’t your enemy during any wars. And I’m not from the other parts of Asian, like Pakistan, so that whole Muslim thing, not an issue.

Is it a relief to be the preferred minority in America? Not really, but I’m not going to deny that being at the top of the minority totem pole doesn’t provide me with a level of privilege that makes my life easier. And as with any kind privilege, these benefits have baggage, and are never “all good.”

The thing that I was told when first learning about race that the problem with the idea of the model minority was that when we as Asians fail to live up to people’s positive stereotypes, it hurts our feelings. As someone who isn’t great at math, (I have issues doing math in my head), I have had my fee-fees hurt when people assume I’m good at math. Either people laugh in disbelief when I inform them that I’m not a math genius or they look at me disgusted like I’m some sort of a lower form of Asian. Thank God, I’m decent at troubleshooting tech stuff. I don’t think I could deal with disappointing all of the people around me who ask me for tech help.

More significant than my fee-fees, the idea of the model minority made me blind to the fact that I was a minority, and that there were significant issues in my life related to racism in America. I’m not saying that I have the same degree of challenges as an African-American whose ancestors were brought to America through the slave trade or as a Mexican whose parents are illegal immigrants. I’m saying that somehow I came to assume that racism didn’t effect me and wasn’t my problem as an Asian or an American.

Then came moving to Chicago, a class in Asian-American History, my first African-American friend, and finally, working at a school that valued racial diversity and an open dialog around issues related to diversity and inclusion. And now, I see things differently.

Racism is everywhere in America. It feels like in the past year, it’s racism has come out of the closet in the guise of security and making America “great” like never before in my own memory. Yes, we’ve made progress but that’s no reason not to push and push hard for change.

The idea of the model minority is inherently racist. The categorization and the comparisons that people make between minority groups separates racial communities and builds a wall of prejudice and ignorance that gets in the way of Caucasians developed meaningful relationships with people of color.

Watch the model minority thing.

It’s much more than hurt fee-fees.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Monday, June 20, 2016

Parenthood: Week 157 - Pig Ears

There are so many things that make me proud of Ollie, and yesterday on father’s day, this pride came from Chinese food.

As we entered the Chinese restaurant, my mom did her thing. Everyone who came to the table instinctually knew to speak Mandarin Chinese to her and my dad and I smiled as this ritual, I knew so well began.

With only a cursory glance at the menu, my mom dove into conversation with the waiter, stopping every so often to ask us at the table what we would prefer. In her conversation in Mandarin, my mom asked what we really good at the restaurant, made specific requests and got dishes modified to be prepared more authentically.

I love watching this happen. In almost every other place that we go to, the fact that my parents are not native English speakers is a detriment. In a Chinese restaurant, it’s a gateway into a world of flavors and culinary art that is not presented on the menu. Hearing the exchange between my mom and the waiters gives me a sense of pride in my family and my heritage.

As Ollie struggled to figure out what to do with his chopsticks, our first two dishes came out: Pork Ear with Sesame Oil and Slice Beef Szechuan Style (both of these dishes are served cold). We passed the plates around and Ollie reached towards the plate of sliced pork ears covered in oil and Szechuan chilies indicating that he wanted to try some. “Ollie this is pig ear and it’s kind of spicy, are you sure you want this?” He nodded yes and he quickly picked up a piece of pig ear and put it in his mouth.

At that moment one of the waitresses had come to fill our water glasses and she looked at Ollie along with the rest of us waiting for his reaction. My family would have been fine if he spit it out and didn’t eat it. I’ve tried a lot of food that I didn’t end up swallowing in Chinese restaurants and my parents never got upset with me when this happened.

Watching Ollie intently, he chewed and swallowed without giving any facial reactions and then picked up another piece of pig ear, stuck it in his mouth and smiled.

In that moment, Ollie validated his heritage, connected with his ancestors and gave me an overwhelming feeling of pride. I sat back, smiled and ate the dish with him and felt that special warmth that only comes from the sharing of great food with people that you love.

That moment made my father’s day. All of struggles and tribulations of fatherhood were all worth it for that moment of connection.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Orange Is The New Black & Breeding Empathy

“Books breed empathy.”

. . . so does watching Orange Is The New Black.

One of the challenges of living in a pluralistic and diverse society is having empathy for people who have different life experiences and beliefs. It’s a lot easier as a human when we lived in social groups in which everyone looked the same (were of the same race and ethnicity) and everyone went to the same church. In these situations, there was no doubt who were in the tribe and who were outsiders. Empathy was extended to people who were clearly defined as part of the tribe through familial and cultural connections.

The moral development of America has called on us to look past the physical markers of our tribes and extend out community to people who do not share our own beliefs. Desegregation asked us to move passed our evolutionary instincts and see others that looked different as no longer being “other.” As we try to move to a more pluralistic idea of religious diversity we see the struggle of faiths to balance their own need to be the “right” religion while accepted the validity other faiths.

All of this is asking us to broaden and strengthen our sense of empathy and this is really hard. The most immediate and effective way to broaden our sense of empathy is to created positive relationships with people who represent the “other.” The problem with this is that even though we live in a more diverse society than ever before in history of our country, many people simply don’t encounter people who are different than them.

In the reactions to the tragedy in Orlando, it has become clear that many people still have a sizable empathy gap with the LGBTQ community.

How do cross this empathy gap? If a liberal minded person like myself who has lived in liberal and diverse cities didn’t meet their first openly gay friend until college and didn’t make their first transgender friend until last year how are people who live in more homogeneous cities suppose to bring people who are LGBTQ into their community?

Watch Orange Is The New Black.

I’m not claiming that watching a television show will solve all of our problems, but this show, like all great art, will help build much needed empathy for members of the LGBTQ community, minorities and woman.

This show is one the best televisions shows ever made. It is shocking, powerful, heartbreaking, full of suspense, and hilarious. This is a show that addresses the most controversial issues in our society with humanity. This show challenges stereotypes and instead of preaching, asks viewers to reexamine assumptions and viewpoints.

Men, please break the cultural double standard and watch this piece of art about women. In almost all corners of art, television, books, film and music, woman regularly consume art created by men from male perspectives while men rarely experience art created by women from female perspectives (when I ask my students who their favorites singers are this fact becomes depressingly clear). This show to too good, and it is too important for our habits of cultural consumptions and stereotypes about female created art to prevent us from experiencing Orange Is The New Black.

Many people don’t understand the struggle of people who are transgendered. The character of Sophia will help. No, it’s not a story that represents all transgendered experiences, but it’s an important window. Diversity in lesbian culture is deftly portrayed as well as issues of privilege, our justice system, drug addiction, race and parenthood.

What makes this show work is not that it’s about issues, but that it is truly wonderful entertainment.

If you want to make the tragedy in Orlando mean something in your own life, in your heart, in your soul, one way is to reach out to others in person and/or through art to better empathize with the LGBTQ experience. Orange Is The New Black is a fun place to start. The new season is coming out this weekend; if you haven’t seen this show, give the first three episodes of season one a try.  If you have seen this show, you are probably currently binge watching this show.

It truly is that good.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Monday, June 13, 2016

Parenthood: Week 156 - Lessons Of Fatherhood From President Obama

I’m really glad that Ollie is 3 years-old right now. I don’t have to explain to him why rape happens and why some people don’t get punished as much as other people for this crime. I don’t have to explain why people in our country are willing to support a candidate for president who regularly states racist, sexist, misogynistic, and xenophobic comments. And I don’t have to help him make sense of why a sad and angry individual would buy a gun and kill a bunch of people who came together to share the joys of life.

I’ve done this as a teacher. I talked to kids after Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, I taught the day after the Boston Marathon bombing and kids asked me about the video of Laquan McDonald being fatally shot by Chicago policemen. These are tough conversations, but it’s part of gig. I don’t always have the answers but as an adult talking to kids in these tough times, the answers are often not the most important thing that you provide children. More than anything, they need to feel heard and know that they are not alone in their feelings.

I know it’s going to be different with Ollie. And while I’m hopeful that our world will make strides towards a more just and peaceful society, bad things will keep happening and tragedies will touch us all. We are going to have difficult conversations with Ollie about the world around us and while I feel that being a teacher has prepared me to a point, I’m currently finding relief in that fact that my job as a parent right now is not to expose Ollie to the darkness of humanity.  It’s my job to surround him with love and help him expand his sense of who is in his tribe by showing him the beauty and diversity of love.

We make sure that there are people of color in Ollie’s books. We expose him to different cultures through music, food and art and Ollie attends a school that priorities diversity and inclusion. I think this is enough for now, I hope this is enough, but sometimes I feel lost and unsure how to move forward.

In these moments, the person that has given me inspiration over and over is President Barack Obama. He modeled the evolution of viewpoints of Gay marriage, validated the crisis of police violence in African-American communities and recognized in his speech at APAICS stating that Asian-Americans “are part of the lifeblood of this nation.” Each one of these moments along with many more have helped me understand what I need to be for my son.  Along with my wife, my parents, and Mister Rogers, President Barack Obama has been one of the most important influences on me on how to be a father.

After Ollie woke up from his nap today, I asked him if I could come into his crib and read a book to him. He agreed and I grabbed Of Thee I Sing: A Letter To My Daughters, President Obama’s picture book illustrated by Loren Long. As Ollie and I explored the wonderful diversity of people who have made up our world, I felt that I was giving Ollie exactly what he needed to understand at this difficult time in our country. Ollie traced the picture of Goergia O’Keeffe, and wanted to pause at Jackie Robinson. He asked questions about Helen Keller and gazed at Maya Lin’s reflection in her Vietnam Veterans Memorial. He touched Martin Luther King’s face and he wanted to know more about Cesar Chavez.

As I read the final question of the book, I felt proud and thankful to our President for providing the words that we both needed:
Have I told you that America is made up of people of every kind?
People of all races, religions, and beliefs.
People from the coastlines and the mountains.
People who have made bright lights shine
by sharing their unique gifts
and giving us the courage to lift one another up,
to keep up the fight,
to work and build upon all that is good
in our nation.

Have I told you that they are all a part of you?
Have I told you that you are one of them,
And that you are the future?
And have I told you that I love you?
A year into President Obama’s term, someone sarcastically asked me “so how’s that ‘hope’ stuff working out for you?” Now seven years later as I felt back then, that whole “hope” thing is continuing to inspire me as an American and now as a father.

Thank you Mr. President.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Year 6: Week 38 – Gratitude & The Last Class

At the end of our middle school division meeting, our principal invited people to share thoughts and reflections from the past school year. People thanked others in the room for their support while other teachers reflected on special moments with their students.

One teacher, who is also a father of a student at our school, talked about how his daughter was sad that it was the last day of school. This was a clear sign of how great the year was for his daughter and he thanked all of us for her great year.

After he finished another teacher said, “Adding on, I want to thank all of you for taking care of my son.” As she ended her statement, she began crying.  She was overwhelmed by gratitude to all of us in the room.

My son is 3 and he’s my world, and to the people who take care of him, I feel so indebted. With these middle school kids I teach, sometimes they seem so mature and so old, it’s easy to forget that even though their parents no longer cuddle them to bed, it doesn’t mean they don’t hold their children as close to their hearts as they did when they were infants.

Last Class
Last performance is done, music is put away and  the classroom is cleaned up. What are we going to do for the last class of 6th grade music?

The 6th grade choir teacher and I immediately agreed that we should combine our band and choir classes together and do something fun. The question was, what to do with the kids. Watch a movie? No, it’s only one class period of time and that’s not very creative or educational. Take them outside to play kickball? Maybe but the thing is that playing a sports game would introduce a competitive, and athletic aspect to music class. A lot of kids like music class because it’s a space where athleticism and competition are not showcased, which is something we wanted to preserve, so that idea was out.

What to do?

Play a clapping circle game, do drum circle activities, work through Dalcroze Eurhythmics activities (rhythmic movement) to Dixie Chicks music and learn Zimbabwe-style mallet songs. It was a whirlwind, it was challenging to teach, but it was a lot of fun.

Both of us were really glad that we leaned in, dug deep and we gave our kids fun and meaningful musical experiences to end the school year.

Showing our kids a movie would have been fine and we would have tired and bored after the fourth music class that day, but instead we worked our kids and we were exhausted because of doing satisfying work as teachers.

That's the end of Year 6.  More reflection later, right now, time for sleep.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Monday, June 6, 2016

Parenthood: Week 155 – The Freedom To Love My Son, Gay or Straight

I’m prepared for the possibility that my son might be straight.  Of course, if he's ends up just being Gay, we'll love him the same.  I’m prepared for the possibility that my son might marry someone who is a different ethnicity than himself, but we’ll accept whoever he brings home, even if the man or woman he loves is mixed race. Every one of the students I’ve taught for the past ten years some kind of “special need,” so I’m sure that my boy will have a “special need” as well (I define "special needs" broadly as a unique set of learning circumstances that a child needs to reach their full potential).

Once upon a time, the idea that your child could be a homosexual, could marry someone who didn’t “look like them” (e.g. a person of another race), or could have special needs was unimaginable. It is exactly this kind of thinking that led to parents traumatize their children and rationalize conditional love through misinterpretations of religious text and/or their own closed mindedness.

When things are different, we don’t understand them, and what we don't understand, we fear. And what we fear we push away, try to change and ostracize. When that thing is your child, than what you are doing in this process is abuse.

There’s the “in our own image” thinking when people visualize their own children. A lot of parents want their kids to “be like them.” A lot of kids are very much like their parents, but many are not, and more likely than not our kids in some way will be very different than we are and instead of dreading this fact, we need to embrace this possibility.

All of the homophobia, racism, bigotry, stereotyping are not based on facts, but rather fears. You can't let fear get in the way of me loving my child. If your church, your friends, your family or your thoughts put up makes love conditional, than those things that you believe in are wrong.

The Civil Rights movement, modern progress in exposing racial issues in America, feminism and the success of the LGBT movement has all contributed to our ability to love our children. We now know that an interracial child is not inherently inferior and not fitting in a "traditional" gender or sexual category is no longer considered a mental illness. As parents when facing this plurality of what our kids may become, we now have knowledge, support and freedom to love our children, not for who we want them to be, but who they are.

This is one of those “recognize the work we’ve done, but acknowledge that we have a lot of work left to do,” situations. Right now the current boogeyman is transgender people. Every time someone supports these bogus, unjust laws, it’s a convincing a parent that if their child becomes transgendered, there are perverse and not deserving of love. That’s messed up.

If we do not continue to move forward in becoming a more accepting and pluralistic society, children in growing numbers will loose the love of their parents.  The love our children have for themselves develops from the love they feel from us as their parents. Also, the love we express to others, nurtures the love we have for ourselves and without embracing the true nature of our children's being and identity, while our bodies may live on, our souls will not.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Year 6: Week 37 – Counting Down?

No, I’m not counting down the days. Other teachers do this; I just plan carefully and try to make the most out of the time that I have left. It’s important to end the year well and not mail it in. I refuse to lower my standards for my students’ behavior just because it’s the end of the school year. Granted, it’s important that I do activities that reflect their mindset so that I can set them up for success, but that doesn’t change the basic expectations. Interrupting the teacher is still rude and yes, you really do need to stop pocking that person who is sitting next to you.

This week has been on the borderline of overwhelming. I’m working with the 6th graders on their drama production, which has pulled me away from my other classes. Also, there’s hiring processes that I’m involved in, new projects that seems to be popping up and a laundry list of administrative things that I need to get done before the end of the year. I also have to work on grades.

Yes, it’s a lot but all of this is balanced by the energy I get from kids. Seeing projects coming together, reading my students’ reflections is very gratifying. The end of the year does make kids a little crazy, but this energy can be harnessed and brought together to have some very cool experiences.

My 5th graders are learning how to write and perform their own raps. The 3rd grade is preparing to present “Puff, The Magic Dragon” at the end of the school year assembly. The 6th grade as I mentioned earlier has a dramatic production with a musical element and the 8th graders end with a tribute presentation that ends with a musical performance.

Yes, it’s takes a lot of patience to make all of this stuff come together, especially when my 3rd graders can’t stop vibrating (literally) and my 8th graders check out. But it’s worth it and with a sense of humor and an understanding of how challenging this time of year is also for the students, we move through this time with a level of grace (I hope).

Part of me just doesn’t want this year to end. Even with the challenges, there is a comfort to the groups of kids I have and where they are at in their development. One of the great things about being a teacher is that you watch different groups of kids group up, but that’s also the hard thing because at some point you have to let them go, whether you want to or not.

One more week. Let’s see what this week has in store for me. There are couple more memories to create, and a lot of things to get off my to do list. It’ll be crazy, and stressful, but it’ll also be fun. When it’s all over, there will be summer break full of new adventures.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016