I Make Asian-Americans Cry

I used to write on Asian American identity a lot (refer to one of my old blogs, for example). However, with my move to North County, it’s taken a backseat. I have just been absent from the arena of Asian-American Christianity in North County SD. Not to say that I haven’t had to think about my own ethnic identity and its interplay with faith. In fact, I’ve told people that I feel more Chinese than I ever had since I started working with students that are not Chinese. I’ve seen the strengths and baggage of my culture more explicitly than ever. I just haven’t written it… because perhaps I haven’t had to talk to my students about their ethnic identity as much. On the most part, they are much higher identity than your average Asian-American Christian (it still bothers me a lot how much Asian-American Christians hate their own culture), so I don’t really have to talk about ethnicity as much during my time on campus. Thus, I haven’t really written much about it, seeing that I usually rant on blogs about things that I encounter in life… and lecturing Asian-American Christians on their identity is just something I haven’t had the arena to do so.

I’ve been fine with this, but I had a coworker and friend (alan) encourage me that I should keep myself practiced in talking about Asian-Americans and Christianity.

It was an interesting conversation. I had been telling Alan during one of our spiritual formation retreats that although I felt the most Chinese serving those who were not Chinese, I simultaneously now feel disconnected with other Asian-Americans when I hang out with them.

Yeah. My own people have become a… “them”. I should be feeling comfort with such familiarity! Why do I feel such a huge anxiety every time I’m with large groups of Asian-Americans now?

Well it’s quite simple. I offend or make them cry now.

Yeah, that’s quite the thing to say. But really. Ever since I’ve been on staff at MiraCosta, during my rare opportunities to communicate with Asian-Americans, I’ve made 2 girls cry and pissed off at least one guy (the rest of them are probably stewing it inside afraid to tell me). It’s been a highly disturbing self-observation.

I have noticed that my communication style has changed since working with a Latina team leader and ministering to Latinos, Whites and African-Americans. My Asian-American strength of indirect communication has been a strength in my context… but then at the same time, I’ve learned that indirect communication is good for making friends, but is limited in the context of leadership in a multicultural context. It is good for earning trust, but when leading cross-culturally, we need some good ol’ directness.

I’ve realized that Asian-Americans generally (not all) are great at earning trust, but fall short when it comes to using that trust cross culturally. We don’t tell people when we’re offended. We don’t tell people when we’re in love with them. We don’t tell people when they’ve taken the last piece of chicken that we actually wanted. But in the process, we become such “nice” people. Everyone loves us, but we are just a stewing cauldron of silence and face. A true leader should be able to gain trust like an Asian American, but shouldn’t be afraid to challenge at the expense of losing face.

So I realize that was bashing Asian-Americans more than you may be used to. But that’s exactly what’s happened to me. I’ve realized that I need to be able to say these things directly, and not dance around them. There are things in our culture which are strengths. But there are some things that we can’t just accept. Being indirect only helps to a certain extent when your student is doing drugs- at some point you have to just say it’s wrong and that he/she needs to stop.

Of course, the direct challenges and engagement need to be built on a strong foundation of trust. But it’s so saddening to see how many Asian-Americans have been building a foundation of trust and have not built anything on top of it. Instead of challenge, we let bitterness and resentment eat away at the trust we build with people until we become direct too late in an explosion of pent up anger and frustration.

So suffice to say that I’ve become a little more direct. Not that much actually- it’s actually still one of my growth edges. I still find myself keeping resentment, not being direct, and hiding emotions a little too much. I find myself afraid to tell people that I think they are wrong. And I know there’s much more to grow in being graceful with my directness when it finally comes out. But I do know that I don’t have to stay in that indirectness.

I don’t lose my Asian-American identity from being direct. It feels weird saying that, but I think that’s been something on my mind- that working on communicating more direct is not killing my identity. At the same time, I don’t think that indirect communication is necessarily a cultural curse. When used in the right contexts, it is an extremely powerful asset to leadership. I have had so many students approach me because they knew I was not there to just lecture them, but would actually listen to them. This in turn makes them want to listen to me. The question though, for Asian-Americans, though is… when we finally get listened to, will we actually have something to say?

Our indirectness is our strength and weakness. It comes from our history as immigrants and model minorities who are expected to (over)achieve the majority culture’s standards of success. We defer away from ourselves in favor of the standards of others. It can be humility and tact to a certain point… until it crosses that fine line and becomes self-hatred and lying.

When we talk about cultural identity formation in the light of Christ, there seem to be two major extremes- cultural suicide and cultural idolatry. We either think our culture is completely not of Christ and try to destroy every ounce of it (and in the process we embrace a white Jesus… heh. that’s another post) or we embrace our identity so much that it actually becomes the way we define God… which, if you didn’t know, is somewhat heresy. Pursuing cultural identity healthily comes when we follow what theologians call the “unidirectional anological predicate.” This means that instead of letting the world around us referentially define who God is to us, we allow God to become the reference and allow Him to be the definer of the world around us. It’s like calling a square a rectangle, but being careful not to call all rectangles squares.

That’s all to say… while our culture is not our God, God does have something to say about our culture. And not all of our culture is in conformity to God’s heart, but there’s plenty in there that He’s created that gives Him joy. When we engage our culture with God, we have to be ready for Him to affirm what is of Him… and also to transform what has been bent out of shape. But I believe it’s just bent out of shape… although the depravity of our culture is pervasive, the pervasiveness of the Father’s love overshadows the depravity. The quest of Christian cultural identity formation is not the decimation or idolatry of our culture, but the discovery of the Creator’s loving breath into our human social constructs that we call… culture. In the mean time, we must simultaneously engage the cross-cultural calling of Christianity and in the process find the loving breath of the Creator in those cultures as well.

Wow. I’ve blogged longer than I intended. It was supposed to be short, and then I’d give ideas for future blogposts. well… i better put those ideas down.

  • Immigrant culture vs. “mother” culture (ABC vs. OBC)
  • Asian American Worship
  • The simultaneous fear and embrace of cross-cultural relations in A.A.’s
  • Missional Identity Formation- The merging of Cultural identity formation and Multiculturalism
  • The Asian-American Call to Social Justice
  • Cultural Curses and Cultural Blessings
  • So just how do we keep those Asian American Christians that disappear from churches?
  • Asian Americans: More than missionaries to themselves
  • Asian American Community College Students- The silent majority

Hopefully this will all be good for me. And please give me feedback.

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2 thoughts on “I Make Asian-Americans Cry

  1. bry says:

    I’ve been thinking a lot about how to stay true to your own culture when living inside of another, how to balance living incarnationally without losing yourself. I like your words here:

    “When we talk about cultural identity formation in the light of Christ, there seem to be two major extremes- cultural suicide and cultural idolatry. We either think our culture is completely not of Christ and try to destroy every ounce of it (and in the process we embrace a white Jesus… heh. that’s another post) or we embrace our identity so much that it actually becomes the way we define God… which, if you didn’t know, is somewhat heresy. Pursuing cultural identity healthily comes when we follow what theologians call the “unidirectional anological predicate.” This means that instead of letting the world around us referentially define who God is to us, we allow God to become the reference and allow Him to be the definer of the world around us. It’s like calling a square a rectangle, but being careful not to call all rectangles squares.”

    thanks

  2. russellfung says:

    “We don’t tell people when they’ve taken the last piece of chicken that we actually wanted.” =)

    Daniel, this is the longest post I’ve ever read completely. You’re a great writer. I look forward to your future posts…and perhaps a published book.

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