Friends and Fellow Americans, Lend Me Your Ears

Content Warning: Quotations of very strong, abusive language.

That Escalated Quickly

It began with a single phone call this past June to New York City’s famed Public Theater:

Tell that fucking bitch to get out of my country. I think it’s absolutely disgraceful what you guys are doing. You all are fucked up!

More such calls followed, sporadically at first, then with increasing frequency until they became a raging torrent. Within hours, the Public’s ticket office was completely overwhelmed by thousands of abusive calls, all responses to reports that the company’s Shakespeare in the Park production of Julius Caesar showed Donald Trump being stabbed to death. A small group of ticket operators handled the complaints, daily enduring hours of verbal and emotional abuse in the process.

Now, although box office operators have rarely, if ever, been the protagonists of literary opuses, a brand new one-hour play, Behind the Ides, tells the real-life story of those who worked at the Public during its run of Julius Caesar. A dramatic staged reading of Behind the Ides premieres next weekend (September 29, 30, and October 1) in Los Angeles, and I am incredibly excited for audiences to experience it! I’ve been fortunate to read the script in its entirety, and it’s truly powerful and timely.

Behind the Ides Rehearsal
An early rehearsal for Behind the Ides. (Photo: Joan Marie Hurwit)

Part of the play’s impact comes, I think, from the fact that playwright David Armstrong depicts events that happened to real people. But he also uses numerous word-for-word quotations of actual calls to the Public Theater, making the trauma the operators experience more shocking, and their struggle to cope more moving. The play then confronts audiences with essentially the same question I and many other Americans have been wrestling with lately. I’d put it this way:

How do I engage my fellow citizens whose fundamental values seem very different from mine, especially those who feel threatened by people like me, and who also support policies that threaten me and my loved ones?

Much Ado About Something

At the opening of Behind the Ides’ first act, the Public Theater controversy is just beginning. Perhaps you’ve previously heard about the actual uproar this past summer, which truly exploded when Trump-friendly media corporations Fox News and The Blaze, along with white supremacist website Breitbart, devoted major air time and screen space to the story. Though the Public has for years been one of the nation’s leading theater companies, winning over 50 Tony Awards and premiering highly successful musicals like Hair, A Chorus Line, and Hamilton, corporate sponsors Delta Airlines and Bank of America consequently withdrew their financial support. Even the National Endowment for the Arts distanced itself from the Public.

Unquestionably, the Public’s rendition of Julius Caesar intentionally resembles Trump:

Public Theater's Julius Caesar 1
Photos: Sara Krulwich, New York Times

Public Theater's Julius Caesar 2

Yet I think most folks who’ve been to a Shakespeare play know that it’s customary for characters to wear attire that either pre- or post-dates the era in which the story is actually set. For its Julius Caesar, the Public presented characters from first century B.C. Rome in attire from present-day America. In fact, other theaters around the country have long outfitted their Caesars to look like whomever the president was at the time; Caesar has resembled nearly every president since Ronald Reagan, including President Obama in a 2012 Minneapolis production:

Guthrie Theater Julius Caesar 1
Photos: Heidi Bohnenkamp

Guthrie Theater Julius Caesar 2

Behind the Ides shows how the Public Theater and its ticket operators even took pains to clarify that the assassinated character isn’t Trump, but Caesar, and that its version of Caesar resembles Trump to provoke thought, not promote disrespect or violence toward him. In fact, such is the underlying message of Shakespeare’s tragedy. (SPOILER ALERT IF YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT HAPPENS IN JULIUS CAESAR!) Far from being painted as heroes, Brutus and the other conspirators are condemned for resorting to violence. The fact that they were attempting to keep Rome from slipping into authoritarian rule doesn’t at all justify their murdering Caesar. In short, the ends doesn’t justify the means.

But that’s not how thousands of Trump supporters interpreted it.

Say What?

Perhaps the abusive call in Behind the Ides that disturbs me most is this one, taken verbatim from the Public Theater box office’s voicemail:

You people are sick. You are disgusting. You are glorifying violence. It’s actually really, really sad. Really fucking sad and pathetic. You all think you’re so brave, putting on a show like this, and it’s just some sick, depraved fantasy. And then you hide behind your chickenshit email from the 1980s. Be ashamed. It’s shameful. You are not Christians. You are not good people. You should all burn in Hell for this. I will pray for you, but I don’t think there’s much hope for you, honestly.

As a former minister who pastored evangelical churches for more than a dozen years, I’ve definitely known folks like this. More basically, as someone who still identifies as a Christian after nearly 40 years of faith, I’m embarrassed.

But though I’m embarrassed, I’m glad Behind the Ides includes this voicemail in the script. (Sadly, it’s not the only one that’s piously high and mighty.) It epitomizes for us what not to do when attempting to engage fellow citizens whose values seem quite different from our own. And even though Armstrong’s play portrays just how awful Americans can be to their fellow citizens, it also shows how the box office operators strove to rise above the meanness. The play ends up being a story that is real, yet with hope.

I’m definitely looking forward to seeing the dramatic staged reading, and I hope you can make it, too! It features a highly diverse cast, which is always a win; the eight very talented actors and actresses will voice over 80 parts among them! I’m also excited for the production because I have great confidence in director Joan Marie Hurwit, who’s a friend of mine. We first met through her work with Native Voices at the Autry, and I’ve found her to be very thoughtful, incredibly hard-working, and strongly committed to directing and producing art that truly benefits the communities in which they are staged.

David Armstrong Joan Marie Hurwit
Playwright David Armstrong and director Joan Marie Hurwit have collaborated on projects going back to their days as undergrads at San Diego State. During Spring Break of their senior year in 2008, they and a bunch of friends took Manhattan. (Photo: Joan Marie Hurwit)

I asked Joan what she hopes Behind the Ides accomplishes, and she said (and I’ll quote her):

At this moment in time, art is inherently political, and artists are activists. When we choose to tell stories about the social climate, we have the power to implore our audiences to not only engage in a conversation with us, but also to carry that consciousness back out into our communities to effect positive change.

Since Behind the Ides is a new play, and it’s been very exciting to workshop and shape it as we go, I don’t know that I expect it to accomplish anything in particular. Instead, I hope it provides a foundation for people, especially of differing viewpoints, to have a conversation, to start a conversation. When art brings us together, as this play does, well, I think that’s a beautiful place to start.

And if you, kind reader, are wondering if I’ll take my daughters, who are ages ten and eight years old, to the staged reading, the answer is not yet, because of the raw and abusive language in the script. I hope they’ll be ready to see it in a few years. In the meantime, my wife and I will continue to teach and, hopefully, model well for them how to relate to people with whom they don’t see eye to eye in healthy and productive ways.

See you at the Lounge Theatre next weekend! For tickets and additional info, visit the Behind the Ides website.

Behind the Ides Full Info

We’ll Never Forget. But Have We Learned?

All of us have promised that we won’t forget. But have we learned?

Have we learned that unity among people is fleeting and doesn’t just happen?That it must be sustained intentionally by leaders and each one of us? That divisive demagoguery, both in office and over the air waves, weakens the ties that bind us?

Have we learned that our lives are more meaningful when we commit time and treasure to helping each other rather than just consuming stuff?

Muslims with Muslim Posters

Have we learned to separate Muslims from murderers? That persecuting Muslims is not only un-American, but anti-Christian? That religious freedom for one faith community must extend equally to all, lest it become ineffectual for all?

Have we learned that our safety is much more threatened by white, American-born young men with weapons of mass murder than by brown, foreign-born ones?

Have we learned that though surveillance is necessary to our security, privacy is necessary to our American identity?

Soft Power, Hard Power

Have we learned that force must only be a last resort? That without wise leadership and planning, we cause more destruction than we prevent?

Have we learned that all our daughters and sons who serve in combat and survive do bear the wounds of war, even if unseen?

Have we learned that the security of our people is advanced much more efficiently and effectively by seeking the good of all peoples and not just our own?

martin-luther-king-1953486_1280

Have we learned that each person in our land deserves empathy and compassion, regardless of, well, anything, and that criticism ought only to proceed in humility not self-righteousness?

Have we learned that we Americans have much more in common than we don’t?

Let us never forget. But let us be sure that we also learn.

Obamas and Bushes at WTC
The Obamas and the Bushes at the opening of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, Sept. 11, 2011. (Photo: ObamaWhiteHouse.archives.gov)

 

To Houston, with Love

Natural disasters don’t discriminate. (Photo: Houston Chronicle)

No matter where I go in the world, Houston will always, in my heart, be home. I haven’t lived there in over 20 years, but that won’t change.

I was four years old when my family moved to H-Town, starting out at the tall Sheraton Hotel over by Memorial City Mall. After moving to Katy for a year, we settled clear across town into the South Belt area house which holds my childhood memories.

That house probably sustained significant damage during Hurricane Harvey’s assault on Houston. I don’t have a picture of my old home during the flooding, but I assume there was considerable damage because my neighborhood was the one most mentioned in tweets for help last Saturday night. As Harvey’s torrential rains pounded furiously and relentlessly, rapidly overwhelming drainage systems, desperate residents in my old community – unable to get through to 9-1-1 or the Coast Guard by phone – tweeted pleas for rescue. Their 140-character posts, listing the number of people trapped, their ages, and the addresses of their flooded homes, were gut-wrenching to read.

I found this photo, taken Sunday, Aug. 27, on Twitter. My old house is just a few minutes’ drive down this street. (Photo: Unknown)

Some of them noted that they were taking shelter in their attics to escape quickly rising waters. Other Twitter users responded, imploring them to take an ax or hammer to break through the roof if necessary.

The lot on which my old home was built was particularly susceptible to flooding, given that it was lower than the others on my end of the street. So half a block of runoff always flowed toward us, and the sewer drain directly across from us, when storms came.

And oh, how there were storms. Most vividly, I remember Hurricane Alicia. Almost exactly 34 years before Harvey, Alicia schooled me in just how many ways water could invade a home.

My City

It would be surreal to behold my old home now, surrounded by a moat. It’s even more devastating to see Houston, my city, MY CITY, looking like something out of a post-polar-ice-caps dystopia. It absolutely breaks my heart, especially to see what’s happened to places I’ve known and even loved.

Freeways everywhere were impassable. (Photo: Houston Chronicle)

Most of all, I hurt for my family and friends. Their suffering has constantly been on my mind throughout my waking hours. My wife has a few relatives there, and we have, literally, hundreds of friends who still call the region home.

A number of them have had to leave their residences, some wading through flood waters with kids on their backs and bags of clothing in their hands. Several friends have already begun ripping out floors and breaking down sheetrock, in a race against the spread of toxic mold. Others can’t get to their homes because nearby roads are still rivers. There are even neighborhoods that will remain flooded for weeks because they’re situated near reservoirs that must release water to prevent dam failure.

I have been so proud of my city to hear the many stories of neighbors and even strangers rescuing, feeding, housing, and clothing each other. My heart is touched seeing Greater Houston’s 6.5 million people, spread over 9000 square miles – an area greater than the size of New Jersey – looking out for each other in genuine empathy and compassion.

That’s my city. MY CITY.

A police officer says goodbye to his son in the suburb of League City, where I went to high school, as he leaves for a long shift rescuing others. (Photo: Houston Chronicle)

It ain’t perfect, not by any means. It’s got its infamously unbearable heat and humidity, making the city hotter than hell, according to many a visitor – though how would they know? It’s got incredible traffic that daily chokes the patience out of drivers courageous enough to brave its 600 miles of freeways. And it’s definitely got the other problems that big cities usually have.

But it’s got an incredible spirit, one of cleverness and can-do. To me, that’s very aptly symbolized by the Astrodome, the world’s first domed stadium, which kept legions of mosquitoes out and the air conditioning in. It’s also still a major point of civic pride that the first word spoken from the lunar surface was “Houston,” reflecting the creativity and gumption with which Houstonians led American efforts to put a man on the moon.

But to me, the spirit of Houston is found, as much as anything else, in its ethnic diversity.

They’re All Precious in His Sight

Greater Houston, the fifth most populous metropolitan area in the country, has long been majority-minority. Just 40 percent of folks are white, while 35 percent are Latino. One out of every six residents is African American; around seven percent are Asian. Earlier this year, the Los Angeles Times declared Houston the “most diverse place in America.” (Yes, the L.A. Times!) CNN’s celebrity chef-turned-globetrekker Anthony Bourdain says it’s “as multicultural a city as exists in the country.”

Harris County Sheriff’s Office sergeants Fernandez, Tran, and Patel help with evacuations. (Photo: Houston Chronicle)

This diversity was plainly visible to me in my younger years when I’d drive along Bellaire Boulevard near the Beltway; even back then, street signs were posted in both English and Chinese. The ethnic flavor of that part of town has only mushroomed since then, with Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants, cafes, bakeries, and mom-and-pop businesses as far as the eye can see.

The heterogeneity was also visible in my deeply refreshing visits to Good Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Houston’s Fourth Ward. Its pastor, the Rev. D. Z. Cofield, was my first prof in grad school and became nationally known that semester when he officiated the memorial service for legendary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan. More recently, D. Z. even served as the head of Houston’s NAACP chapter.

First responders help an elderly couple from their home. (Photo: Houston Chronicle)

Houston’s ethnic diversity is also audible. 145 languages are spoken in the Houston area, including Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, Hindi, Urdu, Arabic, French, Tagalog, Korean, Yoruba (a Nigerian language), and Tamil. Nearly half of Harris County’s residents are bilingual.

(Alas, I took Latin in high school, and my proficiency in Mandarin Chinese can only be described as … mild. Fortunately for me, one of Houston’s 145 languages is English, although it’s not always intelligible to folks from other parts of the country.)

The multi-hued character of the city is also embodied in its favorite sons and daughters. Its best-known citizen is the still-popular, nonagenarian former president, George H. W. Bush. But its most beloved star athlete arguably remains a Nigerian immigrant and proud American citizen, basketball Hall of Famer Hakeem Abdul Olajuwon. Hakeem the Dream, as he was called, led the University of Houston to three straight Final Fours and the professional Houston Rockets to its two championships.

The Rockets honored Dream with a unique sculpture in 2008. (Photo: ClutchFans.net)

The sculpture that honors Hakeem outside the Rockets’ home arena, the Toyota Center downtown, is a clear reminder that the spirit of Houston welcomes people from every corner of the world. A devout Muslim who amazed ignorant non-Muslims like me by dominating even during Ramadan, Hakeem wouldn’t consent to a statue being made in his image; that would violate Islamic teaching. So the team made a sculpture of his Rockets jersey, which stands as a testimonial to his accomplishments, his integrity, and the mutual love between the native of West Africa and his adopted city.

Of course, no discussion of Houston’s favorite sons and daughters could exclude the one, the only, the Queen – Beyoncé! Surely she needs no introduction. But I’m old enough to remember when a new girl group called Destiny’s Child signed CDs and posters at the local Blockbuster Music with only modest attention paid to their presence.

Weren’t they cute? (Photo: Houston Chronicle)

Other internationally prominent figures closely identified with the Houston area include the late Tejano singer Selena, champion boxer George Foreman, and Houston Rocket Yao Ming.

Together, they embody what I see as the spirit of Houston: a multiethnic rainbow of resourceful, optimistic people who, when push comes to shove, don’t give a flying Texas cockroach’s ass about how different you are. You’re a neighbor and a human being first and foremost.

Wouldn’t it be something if it didn’t take tragedies to remind us of that?

But that’s one of the things about Houston – as a whole, it doesn’t forget. When things went to hell in Vietnam, Houston took in tens of thousands of refugees from Southeast Asia. (Every Vietnamese friend of mine back then, and I had many, came to Houston shortly after the fall of Saigon in 1975.) Houston, in fact, takes in more refugees than any other American city, and most other countries. If it were a country, Houston would be the fourth most welcoming in the world to refugees.

Yes, that causes conflict with the state’s governor. We won’t get into that right now. And of course, Houston has its share of racists and xenophobes. But they’re not the majority, and they’re not usually the ones in charge.

Thankfully.

Not Over Yet

A husband and wife find refuge in Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center. (Photo: Houston Chronicle)

I very much appreciate the outpouring of generosity that the rest of America is directing toward my city. I do ask that you’d remember that this crisis isn’t close to being over, and it won’t be for literally years to come. Flood waters are still rising in some areas. Folks trapped in homes are still being rescued. Thousands are still without essential services like running water and electricity.

And then there’s the long, arduous clean up, which may take more than a year, if other storms are any indication. Nearly 200,000 homes throughout the Gulf Coast have been damaged or destroyed. Only 20 percent of folks have flood insurance, meaning thousands have lost all their material possessions.

Of those whose homes are currently uninhabitable or are total losses, their owners or renters need to find some place to stay for the next several months, if not longer. These victims especially face difficult challenges. Many potential alternative housing options, like vacant apartments, were also flooded. So then where do these folks go? Some have been evacuated to Dallas and Austin, far from their jobs and schools. How will they make it until they return, if they eventually choose to?

In months to come, when you feel the pain of how much more you’re paying for gas because Gulf Coast refineries are offline, please remember my city. Please keep praying, for human effort alone can only restore so much. Please keep giving, both out of compassion and because Houstonians will be there for you when disaster strikes your region someday, just like they were for Louisianans after Hurricane Katrina.

Houston, I love you. Always.

I’m Also a HuffPoster!

Hi friends! If you don’t see any new posts on this site since the last time you visited, check out my pieces for HuffPost, which just a couple of months ago invited me to join as a contributor! Thank you so much for taking the time to read my reflections as a feminist dad blogger and an Asian dad blogger.

In Patsy’s Footsteps

A Gap I Mind

I have a hidden talent: I can name all 45 American presidents in chronological order.

Unimpressed? Well, then get this: I can name them, in chronological order, going forwards and backwards.

Yup, uh-huh, you may now erupt in oooohs and aaaahs.

Okay, so it’s not exactly a talent, and it’s hardly even useful. But as a political geek ever since elementary school – in the 3rd grade, my life ambition was to one day become POTUS – I’ve invested an abnormal amount of energy, for someone without a poli sci graduate degree, in reading up on governmental goings-on.

Among the things that helped me to learn the order of the presidents were presidential posters. Such visual aids are affixed to the walls of many American classrooms, and they more or less look like this:

MisterPresidents.com Poster
(Graphic: MisterPresidents.com)

I LOVED to stare at these in my youth. (Like I said, geeeeeeky.)

In more recent years, though, I’ve avoided looking at them. It pains me to see that every president has been male, and all but one white. I know those presidential portraits will diversify; there will eventually be women as well as men, and there will be more people of color.

But unless a woman wins the White House in either 2020 or 2024, my daughters will go through their entire K-12 schooling without seeing a female POTUS on those posters. And I’d hate for that to happen. With all the discouraging sexism my girls are bound to experience as they grow older, I want them to see a woman on those posters as proof that in America, girls can truly be anything they aspire to be. Despite the misogyny that still pervades our society, I want them to feel in their bones that nothing, even the “highest, hardest glass ceiling,” still stands in their way.

Glass Ceiling
Hasn’t happened yet, at least in presidential terms.

But those presidential posters, though they accurately reflect history, convey the opposite. The absence of a woman subtly tells my daughters and all girls that when it comes to the highest positions of power in America, women need not apply.

I don’t believe I’m overstating this. In the outstanding documentary Miss Representation, my friend Dr. Caroline Heldman, a political science prof at Occidental College, says:

“Little boys and little girls in equal numbers, when they’re seven years old, want to be president of the United States when they grow up. But then you ask the same questions when they’re 15 … and you see this massive gap emerging.”

That’s just completely unacceptable to me – for my daughters, and for anyone else’s. And it underscores the importance of female role models, sheroes that girls can point to and say, “If they can do it, I can, too!”

Wonder Women

logo_cause

One of the nonprofits that is shattering glass ceilings, in politics and in fields across the board, is Los Angeles-based CAUSE, the Center for Asian Americans United for Self-Empowerment. For almost a quarter-century it’s been working to increase Asian American participation in civic life. Among its many activities, CAUSE conducts voting drives and educates citizens on important matters in their communities.

But CAUSE is also doing much to empower women. Though its mission statement does not explicitly say so, and a great majority of its current board members are men, CAUSE has been quite intentional about inspiring, connecting, and equipping women for political and social impact.

Networking. (Photo: Haidee Pan for CAUSE)

I mentioned this to CAUSE Director of Programs Lindsey Horowitz at the organization’s recent Women in Power Networking Reception at downtown L.A.’s Omni Hotel. She pointed out that the current executive director, Kim Yamasaki, is far from the first woman to serve in that post, and that these women have done a lot to make CAUSE such a woman-affirming organization.

Other strong, gifted Asian American women have noticed and joined up. The vast majority of CAUSE’s current staffers are women, as are 13 out of its 15 summer Leadership Academy interns.

Highly accomplished and recognized Asian women have noticed, too, and lended their support. Recent speakers at CAUSE events have included Rep. Judy Chu, journalist Lisa Ling, Sen. Mazie Hirono, Sen. Tammy Duckworth (at the time the Assistant Secretary of Veteran Affairs), and Sen. Kamala Harris (at the time the Attorney General of California).

The presence of these women at these events has been a powerful statement, providing potential role models from which other women in attendance can draw inspiration and wisdom. And the June 1 Women in Power reception featured its own slate of highly accomplished female Asian speakers, each bringing a message of encouragement and empowerment.

CAUSE Speakers
Wonder women! Left to right: CAUSE Executive Director Kim Yamasaki, SoCal Gas Director of Community Relations and CAUSE Women in Power Influencer Trisha Muse, Duane Morris LLP’s Cyndie Chang, actress Kelly Hu, and Nielsen’s Mariko Carpenter. (Photo: 謝雨珊 for WorldJournal.com)

Getting things started was Cyndie Chang, the youngest female Asian American office managing partner at a top 100 U.S. law firm, and the current president of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association. She revealed that the last time she spoke at a CAUSE event, she was nine months pregnant and gave birth just two days afterward! But she had followed through with her speaking commitment, determined to show that women don’t need to give up on professional advancement when having a family.

She also related that she had only just been promoted to office managing partner when her baby came. But she still took a full maternity leave, refusing to bow to anyone’s unspoken expectation that her new position meant she had to sacrifice family time. “Why do women need to change? Why not male-dominated industries?” she asked rhetorically. “Be yourself.”

The evening’s second speaker was Mariko Carpenter, Nielsen’s Vice President for Strategic Community Alliances. She reminded the audience of the rapid growth and purchasing power of Asian Americans as a demographic. She cited recent ways in which Asian Americans have influenced corporate behavior, including Mattel’s production of the first Korean American doll, “Z” Yang, for its iconic American Girl brand (something that we’ve much discussed on this blog, both here and here)!

Summer Camp
Evidence of Asian America’s purchasing power! Premiering June 9, An American Girl Story: Summer Camp – Friends for Life is the second Amazon.com American Girl special centered on an Asian character! Zoe Manarel (center) plays Suzanne “Z” Yang, with Alison Fernandez (left) and Lauren Lindsey Donzis (right) playing friends Paz and Drew, respectively.

Among the things she encouraged the audience to do was to advocate for one another. “Use your influence to celebrate and support Asian American progress,” she said, explaining that such influence could take the form of something as small as a tweet or social media post. She added, “Take advantage of your shared identities and values. Don’t be shy to ask for help, likewise … don’t refrain from giving AAPI women the advantage.”

Actress Kelly Hu, known for her many roles in television and film, concluded the reception’s formal programming. She recalled how her mother discouraged her uniqueness as a child, saying things like, “Don’t be too loud,” and “Don’t stick out.” Kelly said she understands that her mom was trying to protect her, but it stifled her personality.

Her mother also encouraged her to take up a traditionally valued vocation like those in medicine, engineering, and law, but that just wasn’t her. In 1985, she became the first Asian American to win the Miss Teen USA pageant, boosting her budding career as a model and actress. Her closing question for the reception audience reflected her life journey: “What is the story you are creating for yourself?”

Learning. (Photo: Haidee Pan for CAUSE)

Real-life Sheroes

All of this reminds me of what Academy Award-winning actress Geena Davis often says: “If she can see it, she can be it.” Geena believes that so strongly, she founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, which has done incredible, even high-tech work on the disparities between male and female characters in television and film.

We may still be awaiting our first female POTUS. But as CAUSE shows, there are many female role models for girls like mine to see and believe that they can also push past the sexist limits of our society. For that matter, boys and men should endeavor to follow their examples, too!

I’ll conclude by asking a question, and I invite you to answer on social media. Who is an Asian American woman that has been an example, mentor, inspiration, or role model for you?

Perhaps it’s one of the women I mentioned earlier in this post. Or maybe it’s your mom or someone who’s been like a mom to you. I’d love to hear your responses.

One Asian American woman who has inspired me, and whom I’ve talked about with my daughters, is the late Rep. Patsy Mink of Hawai’i. She’s best known as the first woman of color to serve in the United States Congress. But she’s also known for spearheading the civil rights legislation we call Title IX.

Patsy Mink and LBJ
Patsy Mink prepares to board Air Force One with President Johnson on a campaign swing through Hawai’i. Several years later, in 1972, she would become the first Asian American woman to run for POTUS. (Photo: LBJ Presidential Library)

My daughters have been familiar with Title IX for a couple of years already; they first read about it in (of course) the American Girl books based on the character of Julie Albright, Ivy Ling’s BFF. I’ve explained to them that an Asian American woman, Patsy Mink, led the charge for that law, and that she blazed a trail for women in government in other ways as well.

In a way, CAUSE empowers women to follow in Patsy’s footsteps! I certainly hope my daughters do, regardless of the vocations they choose when they’re grown. I’ll try to emulate her in my own life, too.

Mink Medal of Freedom
Patsy Mink’s daughter Wendy receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded to her mother posthumously by President Obama in 2014. It is the highest American honor a civilian can receive. Read the president’s warm remarks here. (Photo: WhiteHouse.gov)

Again, who is an Asian American woman that has been an example, mentor, inspiration, or role model for you? Let me know on Twitter at @eughung, on the Feminist Asian Dad Facebook page, or on Instagram by tagging me (@eughung) in your posts.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Learn more about CAUSE at its website. And don’t miss its Women in Power Annual Leadership Conference, taking place on Friday, July 21, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at L.A.’s Millennium Biltmore Hotel! Registration details will be forthcoming on the CAUSE website and on the CAUSE Facebook page.

UPDATED! I asked, “Who is an Asian American woman that has been an example, mentor, inspiration, or role model for you?”

You’ve given great responses! (I’ve edited them slightly for clarity.)

One African American friend of mine from high school, who worked as a congressional staffer, also names Patsy Mink. He says, “She was still in the House the first time I worked in Congress, and she was amazing to watch. She was fearless and tenacious, and I wish we had more people like her in the world …. I worked with her office a lot. She was active in the Progressive Caucus and the Asian Pacific Islander Caucus (APIC). I used to try to get the Congressional Black Caucus, the APIC, and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to work together on stuff more often. Her office was always one of the first to support efforts to promote intersectionality, and that was 20 years ago.

Other responses you’ve given include:

  • Maya Lin – “For her artistic vision. She has been asking important questions about our humanity from a very young age and continues to amaze me.”
  • Helen Zia – “She was the first Asian Pacific American (APA) advocate I saw on TV at a time when the only … APAs were in laundry commercials.”
  • Michelle Kwan – “I was so inspired by her as a little girl. I never skated, but I’m a yoga teacher now, and I will have my foot behind my head one day, just like her!”
  • Wendy Shiba – “One of the first and the few APA women general counsels. I’m proud to call her my mentor and my friend.”
  • Mom – “She married my dad when interracial marriage in the U.S. was illegal. She faced down a town full of judgmental people for love.”
  • Jean Wakatsuki Houston – “She wrote the book Farewell to Manzanar about living through Japanese internment and losing everything.”
  • Mrs. Aioki – “My second grade teacher. She greatly helped me, a very insecure dyslexic boy.”
  • Yuri Kochiyama and Grace Lee Boggs – “Civil rights warriors and all around badasses!”
  • Mazie Hirono – “The first APA woman senator. I had the privilege of serving on the board of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association with her.”
  • Chi Nguyen – “Of the White Ribbon Campaign and Parker P. Consulting. She is brilliant!”
  • Yumi Hogan – “The first lady of Maryland.”
  • Tani Cantil-Sakauye – California chief justice
  • Lisa Ling – award-winning journalist
  • Mom – “Who raised us in Hawai’i so we could have a better future. After my dad passed away, she took us back to Japan for a year, but came back for our sakes. Never learned English.”

How K-pop Saved Me from Donald Trump

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#Hashtags – #LoveEmOrHateEm?

As for me, I don’t completely despise words preceded by TEFKATNAPS (The-Emblem-Formerly-Known-As-The-Number-And-Pound-Signs). They can be useful, especially on Twitter. Mostly, though, they feel like visual clutter.

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Once upon a time, # symbols were mostly relegated to phones.

Nevertheless, I’ve come up with a few hashtags of my own over the years. My current favorite is #NewsThatDoesntSuck, because there’s been a lot of national news over the last several months that has definitely sucked.

To put it plainly, I started using #NewsThatDoesntSuck because of Donald Trump.

His election has turned out to be as much of a disaster as many of us thought it would be. And every day has brought news related to the Trump Administration that has shown something of its:

  • Callousness toward struggling and marginalized people
  • Lack of respect for humanity’s responsibility to steward the Creator’s world
  • Brazen and unconstitutional exploitation of political power for personal financial gain
  • Psychological inability to accept unpleasant realities
  • Extreme dishonesty, even for politicians
  • Governmental incompetence
  • Slapdash policymaking
  • Pro-life hypocrisy, pursuing policies hazardous to the lives of millions

Just writing this list makes my blood boil with a (hopefully) righteous anger, because so many of these things are antithetical to Christian biblical values. And being a news junkie, with a habit of reading and listening to multiple updates a day, I’ve experienced such boiling events quite frequently since the election. As a result, news that sucks has become at times overwhelming emotionally and spiritually.

I know many of you have experienced something similar in the aftermath of Trump’s election. And from our conversations, it sounds like you’ve also had to figure out how to step away from the news and your activism to catch your breath, take care of yourself, arrest your slide toward burnout, and renew your spirit.

My first step came in early March, when I decided that on some days, I just had to turn off the news and limit the number of times I checked for updates. Into that quieter space entered a bit of K-pop.

Lovely, Lo-Lovely Fox

I can’t recall exactly how I stumbled across the song “Fox” by longtime popular K-pop (short for Korean pop) artist Kwon Bo-Ah, better known by her stage name BoA. It may have started through a suggested video that popped up on the right side of my YouTube screen. That itself was highly unusual, since I’m not a K-pop fan. Until a few weeks ago, I could only have named three K-pop songs, one of them being the track everyone knows, rapper PSY’s ground-breaking 2012 song “Gangnam Style.”

Regardless, I found “Fox” to be so incredibly catchy. Full of joy and energy, it bounced around in my head for almost a week. In fact, I hadn’t had a song stuck in my head for that long since Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.” It quickly became the song I played most often in the car and at home.

Several weeks later, it’s still the song I listen to the most. And that’s despite the fact I don’t know Korean, and that the only English lyrics are:

Like a lovely, lo-lovely fox
I’m so into you, babe

A translation of the song reveals that BoA’s singing about a dude she’s attracted to, and that he’s charming like a fox. I don’t get it, but maybe it makes sense to some of you; if so, please explain it to me. But the important point here is that the song makes me feel happy! Even though I don’t really understand it, “Fox” has been a tonic for me against recent sucky news.

Here, you try it:

There are also a couple of videos online that use a shortened version of the song. One shows BoA performing before a studio audience:

Another shows Lia Kim, the song’s official choreographer, demonstrating the steps with students from her dance studio:

Not only is the song a happy, feel-good one, but the dancers look like they’re having a good time! And that’s infectious! It sounds absurd, but it’s true: “Fox” has helped me to deal with Donald Trump’s presidency.

Music Soothes

And actually, I’ve curated an entire list of songs that are also saving me from Donald Trump, beginning with the versions of “Fox” I just mentioned. Most of them aren’t particularly deep in meaning, but they’re also fun, and I hope they help you, too! Visit my YouTube playlist called “When the News Sucks,” or look these up indvidually:

1. BoA’s “Fox” (complete audio recording)

2. BoA performing “Fox” live

3. Lia Kim performing the choreography for “Fox”

4. BoA’s “Masayume Chasing”

5. Zendaya’s and Bella Thorne’s “Something to Dance For/TTYLXOX Mashup”

6. Meghan Trainor’s “Better When I’m Dancing” (The Peanuts Movie karaoke version)

7. Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” 

8. Rick Astley’s “Together Forever”

9. Swing Out Sister’s “Am I the Same Girl”

10. Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up” 

11. Bee Gees’ “Night Fever”

12. Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive”

13. Bee Gees’ “You Should Be Dancing”

14. ABBA’s “Dancing Queen”

15. Bananarama’s “I Heard a Rumour”

16. U2’s “Pride (In the Name of Love)”

17. U2’s “Vertigo”

18. Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” 

19. Taylor Swift’s “You Belong with Me”

20. Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September”

21. Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Let’s Groove”

22. Amy Grant’s “Galileo”

23. Amy Grant’s “Every Heartbeat” (remix)

I’ve also gone hiking more often to deal with my #TrumpStress, as well as maintained frequent prayer times for the people affected by the president’s words and decisions. How about you? If you’ve found yourself often stressed/depressed/infuriated/scared by the news coming from the Trump Administration, what have you done to take care of your own emotional and spiritual well-being? Please let me know on social media (see buttons on this page).