Sons

I wrote about the ways male privilege manifests itself in my Asian American community in this blog post, but I have been wanting to reflect on how this system impacts the way I think about my own role as a soon to be mom. Jon and I are expecting our first baby in April and when I bit into my gender reveal burrito in front of the DMV (oh, you didn't have one?), I was absolutely thrilled to taste the black beans that signified we were having a boy! 

There are a lot of things I don't know about raising boys- like what is circumcision, really? Or, how do you pee standing up? And ultimately, my bigger question is how do I prepare to raise a son in a world of Harvey Weinsteins and Brock Turners? I asked Jon what his favorite part of being a boy was and he said that he never felt scared to just be alive, and I immediately thought of every time I clenched a fistful of keys through my fingers, or pretended to wave to someone I didn't know, or locked the doors of my car the moment I rushed inside, and I thought: wow- I will get to raise a son who will not have to see the world that way.

But that is exactly the frame of mind that maintains a world of unhelpful patriarchy and abuse- and I want more for my son than for him to avoid being afraid. I want to raise my son to be brave.

I want him to be brave enough to be last.
If the future is female, I have to be honest and say that I don't know where that leaves people like my baby. For all I've been through, and for all women everywhere have been through, there is still a sliver of me that wants my son to know what it's like to be at the top- to be powerful, to have opportunity, to have the benefit of the doubt.

I hope we are entering a day where daughters are dreaming, achieving, and receiving recognition in unprecedented measures. And in that day, I hope that my son sees his own liberation wrapped up in theirs and that he knows the joy of the second seat. 

I pray that the baby I carry in my belly tonight looks at the world in an upside down way. That he knows the meek will inherit the earth and will choose the margins with a bold and eager abandon.

I want him to be brave enough to listen.
One of the heaviest portions female Asian Americans carry is the ongoing tension of roles upon roles upon roles. It is the unending stream of duty, presence, apology, and demand that seem to shape the consciousness of Asian American women. Which is why I'm so confused when people think we are silent, because the myriad of voices and identities that rage in a given moment are so clamorous that other people must be able to hear them too.

And yet it is what also makes us strong, creative, and resilient. We are shaped not just by our own suffering, but by stories of our parents, our neighbors, and the weights we inherit. It is what forges beautiful things in us, and I wouldn't trade my body for the world. 

I pray that the baby that is nestled in my womb feels these things in me even now, and that when he is old enough to understand, that he will truly listen to the sisters and aunties around him. That he'll trade in tired assumptions of objectification and orientalization for the gold of unique and enduring narratives. I hope he will choose to listen to the women around him because in them he will find a richer sense of self and community.

I want him to be brave enough to speak
My dad is a natural storyteller, and he is moved by stories in his profound empathy and warmth. He tells me that his dad had a thick Chinese accent, that he cursed JESUS CLEIST in his frustration, and that he was too anxious most days to have dinner time conversation. My husband sees stories in places long overlooked, and he points them out to me and invites me into his world. His dad survived Hiroshima and went on to serve as a medical assistant in the US army a few decades later- we find yearbooks and uniforms, but there is a secrecy that muzzles those stories from flooding down to us.

My Japanese and Chinese American son grows from these branches of both silence and voice, in broken inflections and dissonant shame, in striking imagination and liberated perception. I hope he knows how hard we fought for him to have words, and that he will use ordinary conversations and mighty songs to make a way for those around him too. 

I pray that the baby I love so deeply will search for the hidden narratives even I am too afraid to expose, and that he will see the beloved handiwork of God not just in the heroes of his patrilineal heritage, but in every woman he comes to know.

Boys

My dad is one with the prominent forehead on the left. This photo features Joyce and Morris along with their children, Betty, Wilson, Nixon, Newton, and David (L-R)

My dad is one with the prominent forehead on the left. This photo features Joyce and Morris along with their children, Betty, Wilson, Nixon, Newton, and David (L-R)

My Auntie Betty is the oldest of five siblings, specifically, four brothers. We were driving home from a memorial banquet when she blurted out an observation from the middle row seat of my Honda Odyssey. "You know how the Chinese are; boys, boys, boys."

And then she fell asleep.

This sabbatical, I'm tracing the faith development that happens in immigrant communities between mothers and daughters. I have so much to write about what my mom has taught me, the recipes my grandmother cooked, and the legacy of Chinese women in my church community. I have so much to write because I know that so much of my story is shaped by strong, brave, faithful women. At the same time, I know that each generation is not left unaffected by a socio-cultural framework that is molded by systems of patriarchy and oppression. "Boys, boys, boys" is something my sister, mom, and I still mutter to each other when we are confronted with small reminders that we are living in a system made for our husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons. 

Here are some examples from just the past six months:
- When Jon and I found out we were having a baby boy, multiple people said that our parents must be so glad. Like in that way where daughters are fun, but sons make sense.
- When I think about where to live in the next 5-10 years, I calculate what kind of health my parents and in-laws will have because a daughter knows someone always needs to be near home.
- My mom continues to daily care for her aging sister because a daughter knows that even after her parents are gone, she is still a daughter.
- There is an expectation that women in my family will always be present to facilitate and engage in group settings, while similar participation from male relatives is excessively applauded.

Apart from family life, I've observed from both ministry and seminary that Asian American males also have more permission, opportunity, and mentorship. In fact, while many have been largely shaped by Asian American women (as Sunday School teachers, colleagues, or supervisors), they can be quick to take credit for the sake of advancing the general Asian American voice. Articles like Nate's that give honor to influential Christian women are rare among Asian American writers. 

This is where I'm torn. I long for my Chinese American brothers to thrive. I know that I am just as shaped by my grandmother's dumplings (hah! literally!) as my grandfather's egg foo young. I know that the sacrifice of my grandmothers who worked in sewing factories is paralleled by my grandfathers that worked tirelessly in school cafeterias and liquor stores. Chinese American men in my life are strong, passionate, and creative. I also know that there is a unique burden for Asian American men who are repeatedly emasculated and written off. And so I am working out how to lead as a Chinese-American woman alongside the painful struggles and unjust privileges of my Chinese-American brothers.

I am searching for a new way forward. Despite living in a "boys, boys, boys" world, somehow my Chinese American community functions in a largely matrilineal way. That is, despite the overwhelming ways males receive preference (i.e. bearing generational family names, receiving inheritance and communal approval, largely avoiding family obligations that daughters often bear), most families revolve around the oldest grandmother or great-grandmother. 

Illustrated by  Emiko Sawanobori  via  Schema Magazine

Illustrated by Emiko Sawanobori via Schema Magazine

I have theories! This comic actually makes me wonder if Asian women gain power within the community once they become frumpy, permed, turnips. No really, it is possible that the Asian community reserves a special place in their hierarchy for women who wear brown velour track suits and fleece beanies. Essentially, there is an expectation that Asian women will carry simultaneous duties as daughters, sisters, mothers, employees, etc. for the first 60-ish years of life. After that, she earns her Popo badge- she is seen as a family sage: wise and generous. My hope is that this generation of Asian American men might see their sisters for who they truly are today, even if they are still imperfect, ovulating, and have great skin. I long to see Asian women understood as leaders and dreamers. To be accepted when they express disappointment and limits. To be able to be as multi-faceted as we hope we can urge our Asian brothers to be. Imagine the kind of Popos we will be when our wisdom and generosity is shaped not by decades of silence, obligation, and disdain, but formed by mutual empowerment and trust.  

Here's to the dreams we can offer our sons and daughters- to be known and held, celebrated and welcomed, to jointly carry on heritages of bravery and generational hope.