Remembering 9/11 as a Minority

Remembering 9/11 as a Minority

I distinctly remember that infamous day in American history when two planes crashed into the World Trade Center. I was 18 and happy to finally be an adult away at college. I was working in the library early in the morning when my boss came in to tell us that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I was in disbelief and shock. I didn’t know how to react because nothing of such magnitude had ever occurred on American soil in my lifetime. I remember still going to class, but being in a fog as everyone didn’t know what to say or do in the aftermath. People worried about the stock market and my roommate said her father had told her we would be okay as long as everyone stayed calm. I remember seeing Maya Angelou on the news and remembering why? In this moment of great fear, even the news had no idea what to do, so they put someone comforting on. Nothing made sense in that moment.

What was also on my mind was xenophobia. After the shock and worry subsided, my mind wandered to the hijackers. In my heart of hearts, I hoped they wouldn’t be Asian. Because if they were, I knew my life would no longer be the same. When I found out they weren’t, I was relieved, then felt guilty because I knew someone else would be the target of American hate, and they were. I heard stories of neighbors seething and vengeful as they stood outside of Muslim and Indian-born citizens’ homes. I read about a Sikh man who was mistaken for Muslim, who was targeted and killed. And I’d heard that a Hmong teenager had made an off-hand comment that no one Hmong cared that 3,000 people died because it didn’t affect us, and the deep-seated racism that had been so carefully concealed came out. Because of one young individual’s comment, people were emboldened to be racist towards people like me. It seemed this tragic act had resurrected a long-simmering hate that barely boiled beneath many American’s blood and they felt as if they were doing their duty by accosting those they deemed responsible for the fear that permeated their lives.

That is the fate of a minority who lives in a country where the majority of it’s people are White. I don’t blame White people in general, but I hold them responsible for not understanding that as the majority in control, they also control the narrative of who belongs and who doesn’t, and through this experience, I knew I would never belong. I would always be an outsider. I was not free to only mourn what had happened, but as a minority, I knew immediately that there would be consequences and I feared what would happen. For months after, I read about stories of Muslim women who did not wear their headscarf because they feared retaliation, even though they had nothing to do with the crashes. Looking back, I see how unfair that was for me. I knew that even in the midst of a national tragedy, I still had to worry about my own safety and those around me because they would never consider me one of them.

People will always act out of fear because it is who we are. And it’s easier to root our fears in racism than it is to dismantle what we’ve been told and believed all of our lives about who the enemy is. It’s been 20 years and I wonder if we’ve learned any lessons from the past. Are we any different than who we were on that fateful day? I honestly don’t know if we are and perhaps we may never be, but I hope we can change.

Photo by Aaron Lee on Unsplash

Who is Abortion for?

Who is Abortion for?

Who is abortion for? Recently, with the bills passed in Texas, abortion has become a hotly contested issue again as women’s rights to their bodies are once again challenged. If women can’t have the choice to choose abortion after 6 weeks, they are then forced to have the child regardless of their circumstances, which could be rape, incest, a birth anomaly, or the safety of the mother’s life. Some pro-life people say we should be thinking about the rights of the unborn child, but are they thinking about the safety of the mother? Or are they simply looking to control the narrative about what women can and can’t do? There are varying reasons why some are anti-choice and that may include: their religious beliefs, their political leanings, or simply pure misogyny.

On Facebook, a man commented that it’s not the baby’s fault that women decided to open their legs for a momentary pleasure while thinking they didn’t have to deal with the consequences of that act, completely denying that a man was also involved in that transaction. In that comment, what he is implying is that a woman is solely responsible for when she has sex, regardless of if she was raped, coerced, or unconscious. He is stating that women are responsible for their pleasure, while men are not. If this isn’t good old misogyny, I don’t know what is. I once had a talk with a man about abortion, where he got belligerently upset because I said that sometimes it’s a mistake and women need a choice. He, very red-faced, asked me if it was a mistake he decided to have his children instead of aborting them. Like really? Did you really just make a women’s issue that didn’t affect you at all about YOU?

And so I ask, who is abortion for? Let me tell you about my mother. My mother is a devout Christian who once chastised a young girl for having an abortion. She believes deeply in her faith and does not believe in abortion. She believes abortion is the act of killing a baby. However, when my mother was in her older years and pregnant with her 7th child, she thought about it. She THOUGHT about it. She decided not to go through with it, but she thought about it, and that’s who abortion is for. It’s a choice and and I’d hate to think what situation my mother would be in if she didn’t have that choice. Abortion is for everyone and everyone should have the option, regardless if they are going to choose it or not. For more often than not, even those that fight fiercely against it, like my mother, need it more than they care to express.

Photo by 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

Why Don’t We Care About Each Other?

Why Don’t We Care About Each Other?

There is a housing market boom right now, where prices are skyrocketing. The house we bought in 2018 is now valued at an extra $30,000. I don’t know if we could’ve afforded the house then if at that price. Then, I decided to look at what one bedrooms were renting at in our area and saw them going for $600.00. I paid $450.00 about 5 years ago. Of course, I have to expect that prices will go up, but I worry still. I worry about twenty-something me that worked two part-time, minimum-wage jobs after she moved home after the 2008 recession. How could she have afforded rent for what she was earning? Would she have been able to save anything? She already didn’t have that much to begin with. And I worry about people like her who are currently in that situation.

Every day, I see new apartment buildings made of concrete and glass rise from the ground and I know they were not designed for those who are living near the poverty line. Instead, the poor have to rely on Section 8 housing, which some see as a hand-out. What the detractors don’t realize is that landlords must agree to the vouchers in the first place and many do not. Where does this leave a city that is growing and prospering, but leaving its poorest behind? I myself live very comfortably and now have a great job that I love, but still, I worry about that girl that I used to be. She wasn’t lazy. She didn’t take hand-outs. She worked her ass off and barely made it. It’s easy to generalize the plight of others when we don’t personally know them, but sometimes, what they genuinely need is help.

Housing is a crucial element of life and we have been reduced to the haves and the have-nots. The haves scorn the have-nots and tell them to get a job, get a degree, work harder, and to get off employment, while the have-nots cannot wait until they can tell those that come after them the same thing. We, as a society, are sorely broken and it’s much harder to fix than just policies and laws. The policies that are enacted may help those who need it, but it does not help those who continue to feel that those who are poor deserve it. What have we become when we don’t care about hungry children and homeless parents? There is a problem and it is us. It is our entitlement.

Entitlement is not the belief that we are owed housing, health care, and mental health, but rather, the issue is that we think we’re entitled to the wealth we’ve gained and earned, making us feel as we belong in a different caste. Entitlement is asking where our tax payer money is going to when it could be helping our next-door neighbor who just lost her job. It is telling others to pull themselves up by their bootstraps when we forgot the struggles we had to get where we are. It’s in the way we talk about those who need help and those who want to help them. We say they are bottom-feeders and leeches, giving them no sympathy. When we differentiate ourselves from them, we feel entitled to our own situation and dehumanize them in the process.

If we don’t care about each other, there will be no one left to care about who we are. What is our legacy going to be at the end? What will they say about us? They were selfish until the very end. The human race died out because they couldn’t pull themselves up by their bootstraps. The bootstraps were never the problem. The system is most likely to blame. However, it all comes down to the common denominator of caring for others that are not us. If we don’t realize that we’re all in this together, we’ll see ourselves splinter more and more and we’ll be the ones left behind.

Photo by Jordy Meow on Unsplash

Women Who Are Attracted to Chaos

Women Who Are Attracted to Chaos

I’ve known women who seem to constantly be embroiled in chaos and destruction. Everyone experiences some level of drama at some point in their lives, but there are some who can never seem to outrun drama. There are those who enjoy it and court dysfunction in their lives, but then there are those who appear seemingly normal except for the men they chose in their lives. These women are the backbone of the family and the only thing standing between total destruction and a sliver of hope. They appear to be strong, independent women who just always pick the wrong guy. It’s so maddening to see such beautiful women choose these type of men over and over again, but what we don’t realize is the chaos already exists in her.

I’ve had friends like this, where I agonized over their mistreatment. Women who never tried to make a big deal of the situation. Women who endured years of abuse while working, tending to children, and running a household. And women who were hard workers. This is not the same situation as women who are beaten into submission or are too young to understand what is happening to them. I’m talking about women who chose time and time again to enter into relationships that they know are unhealthy. Most women in abusive situations eventually understand they don’t deserve that kind of abuse and leave, but not those who are attracted to chaos.

Those who are attracted to chaos keep choosing dysfunctional relationships because it masks the dysfunction in them. If they constantly have to worry about their partner, they don’t have to stop to think about their own pain and dysfunction. These women have encountered a lot of hurt in their formative years and don’t know how to deal with it except to appear strong. To the world, they look as if they could take on an army, but internally, they feel as if they deserve to be treated like they are less than human, so they stay. And if they leave, they choose the same type of person because they are used to that type of destruction.

It’s so maddening to watch this happen to those you’ve cared for in your lives, but if they are not willing to work on themselves, they will not work on building boundaries in their relationships. All you can do is be there for them when they need someone to listen and care for them. We can never change people we are so frustrated with because we see that the answer is clearly right in front of them, but the decision is not ours to make. And what I’ve learned is that these women don’t need lectures or condemnations, but acceptance. They just need to understand that they need to accept themselves.

Photo by Colin Lloyd on Unsplash

What Cardi B Taught me About Feminism and Racism

What Cardi B Taught me About Feminism and Racism

I used to not like Cardi B. She’s loud. Ostentatious. Overtly sexually suggestive in her lyrics. But what was it really? I didn’t like her because deep down, I felt as if she didn’t deserve to be where she was. She was just a stripper who happened to have one hit song and now, she was a mega-star. And then it all changed when I saw her in a live session. She talked about her haters. Especially the women. Women like me. She asked why did we hate her so much. She said instead of hating me for getting here, why don’t you see that if I can do it, you can do it, too? And that changed my whole perspective. She was right. Her words forced me to look introspectively and really examine why I disliked a woman who was simply trying to make it in a world that was not made for her. Why I couldn’t support someone who talked the way she did, dressed the way she did, and made money the way she did. I realized that I didn’t like her because subconsciously, I thought I was better than her.

Deep down, I thought I was better than her. I thought that since I didn’t strip, reveal my body, and sexualize myself through songs that I was somehow better than she was. And if I was better than she was, I deserved more than her. I felt it wasn’t fair that that someone like her could make it and I couldn’t, but her words made me realize my thinking was inherently wrong. I wasn’t better than her. I was simply different, but that didn’t mean I had to demonize her for how she portrayed herself. That’s the thing about feminism sometimes. Sometimes, we pigeonhole who we are and exclude those that don’t fit our view about who we believe is a successful woman. Megan Fox stated this as she said she didn’t feel welcomed by feminists and this resonates with me. Feminism is not just about fighting for women’s equality amongst men, but fighting against our own biases against other women. This freed me in a way that I never felt before. I could look at women like Cardi B and Megan Fox and just appreciate them for who they were instead of what my idea of a strong woman should be.

I then made the correlation between my sexism and racism that was profound. I realized that racists are racist because they also feel as if they are better than the minorities they hate. They are looking at successful minorities and angry that they themselves are not at that level because deep down, they feel as if they are better than them. This core belief of thinking that we are better than someone else is primal. It’s not only confined to sex, race, ethnicity, or sexual preference, but can include a multitude of things that we are not aware of it. It’s natural to assume that the group you belong to is the superior group because you belong to it and this belief causes us to segregate others and elevate ourselves in the process. What we need to do is to acknowledge that we can work through them. To deny these notions is to deny feelings that predate who we are. We need to acknowledge that it’s okay to feel resentful and angry, but the next step is to talk about them. Racism and sexism are never going to go away because they are a part of who we are, but to deny that we are no longer these things perpetuates the myth that there is no real problem.

I have so much more sympathy for Cardi B and women like her now. When I see her, I feel joy. When I confronted my own feelings of inadequacies, it allowed me to be able to support women that were different from me. I don’t always agree with everything she does, but it doesn’t affect my support of her. We are never quite done learning as long as we know we can keep an open mind. And in doing so, we also need to forgive ourselves for what we’ve condoned in the past. Change can be mercurial, but change is always bound to come our way. It’s just a matter of if we accept it or not.

The Secret to What Men Want: A Review of The Robber Bride

The Secret to What Men Want: A Review of The Robber Bride

Zenia, the title character in Margaret Atwood’s novel The Robber Bride, is a charismatic and beautiful woman who knows just what it takes to steal the hearts of taken men. The heroines of the book, Tony, Roz, and Charis, don’t quite understand what witchcraft she uses to cast a spell on their men and lure them to their deaths as a sea siren would to lovelorn shipmates. And because she remains enigmatic and elusive ’til the end, we know nothing of who she is either, as we are left to wonder what compels a woman to steal others and what does she possess that men willingly leave their loved ones for her? I have faced women like Zenia before, friends in sheep’s clothing, who are really wolves who bare their teeth when a man is introduced. This type of woman is broken, but also sure of who they are; so sure that they feel they can take whomever they want.

In the book, Zenia tells tall tales of what her past may have been, making the heroines feel as if they must defend and protect her, but what really is the past of a woman such as this? Women like Zenia steal their friend’s husbands because they crave love and acceptance and get a rush when a man leaves his wife/girlfriend for her because they feel it must mean they are better than them. These women feel as if they are just as good or better than them if they are chosen by the man, which is a false equivalency, but one they believe nonetheless. Typically, they know their worth because the outside world and men constantly barrage them with these things. They know their strengths lie in their beauty and their presence, so they use these tools to their advantage. However, they have no sense of worth internally, so they try to fill this chasm up with things that don’t belong to them. To take another woman’s man is to take her sense of worth and in it, boost hers; but it never lasts long because that chasm opened when they were young and is a separate issue. These women were hurt by the absence or neglect of their fathers, and as such, they seek a forbidden love when they grow up to try to replace it.

I know those girls didn’t really want my boyfriend. They wanted the promise of getting him, which entailed becoming someone who was loved, but because they didn’t love themselves, they could scarcely accept that same love in return. That is why Zenia never loved any of the men she stole, because she was never looking for love. She wanted to be loved, but she didn’t want to love. To love means to be vulnerable, and she knew she would never be vulnerable again because she’d been hurt so much in the past. And then the real question rears its head: What did she have that all these men wanted? What was her secret? She knew how to have them best fulfill their role as protector, which made them feel good about themselves. When you make a person feel as if they have succeeded in their role, they will adore you.

What is the role of a man in a hetero-normative relationship? Is it always to be the protector? Isn’t that misogynistic? It definitely is. Unfortunately, society has bequeathed the role of provider and protector unto men and nurturer unto women and this is something that we still need to contend with, but we also need to acknowledge that it deeply affects who we are as of today. In situations where one spouse falls seriously ill, more men than women tend to leave the ill spouse. In one case of study participants, the divorce rate was 21 percent for the husbands of seriously ill women and 3 percent for the wives of seriously ill men. I don’t think men have any less compassion than women. The issue here is that men have been conditioned to be protectors and when their wives are dying of cancer, they feel helpless as if they have failed their jobs, so they leave. It’s easier to be alone than it is to be reminded of your failures when you look at your sick wife. This is not a condemnation of men, but of what society has ingrained into us who we should be and what our purpose is.

Zenia, and women like her, know this. Perhaps they know more because they saw their fathers leave. Or they know that most people want to love, but they don’t care about being loved back. Because of their unique position where they can’t accept love, they can cater to the whims of their beloved without being beholden to them. They understand that their worth lies in how they make men and others feel about themselves. Zenia not only plays men, but also the women, making them feel worthy of tending to her. In the end, it’s simply not about what men want, but what everyone wants. The secret is to know what exactly it is that each person is looking for to feel better about themselves, and that is what Zenia knows.

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Traditions vs Culture

Traditions vs Culture

I’ve heard a lot of talk of what it means to carry on traditions and how that relates to our culture, but I think a lot of people are confusing the two. Traditions mean acts, words, ceremonies, and more that have occurred regularly throughout our history. Culture is an ever evolving way of how we view ourselves and doesn’t necessarily need to be rooted in our past. I am a second generation Hmong refugee, who was born in America, and really dealt with two separate cultures: my ethnic, Asian heritage and the current mid-western landscape that I live in. Being a fish out of water is already an experience in and of itself, and some find themselves gravitating to one side or the other, which results in confusion and a murky reflection of who we see ourselves as in the future.

But I digress. What concerns me is how we hold on to old traditions because we think if we don’t, we are losing our culture and what it means to be who we are. If we no longer practice Shamanism, steal brides, buy our brides, or shun our women, does this mean we aren’t Hmong anymore? The bride price is an especially sticky issue because some argue that it is not a price on the girl’s head, but a debt of gratitude paid to her parents to honor them for raising her. And that may well be the case in many situations, but that does not end up happening when tensions arise. Husbands and their families use the bride price to manipulate and accost their brides, for they know it would cause her irreprehensible harm if she were labeled a bad wife and returned. Yes, there are some Hmong people who don’t do this, but the fact of the matter is that the bride price is a patriarchal tool that can be used to control women.

So then we ask what do we do with this tradition? Do we let it die like the words our children no longer know to speak? Who are we if we are not our traditions? Traditions are rooted in the past, but culture does not have to be. We can choose to change who we are and what our children experience. Our culture is what we expect of our young boys when they date our young girls. It shouldn’t be turning a blind eye when your older uncle goes to Thailand to marry a barely legal girl. It shouldn’t be telling our women to stay in troubled marriages simply because they will be ostracized. It shouldn’t be letting others think it’s okay to beat their wives because they were paid for. That’s what happened recently, when a Hmong wife went live to the act of her husband beating her. The most reprehensible thing that happened afterwards was that one of the husband’s female relatives said they should be allowed to hit her up to 10 times because they bought her.

This is currently what our culture is, but it doesn’t have to be what it can be. I was part of a Hmong women’s group where countless women poured their hearts out about how they were mistreated by their husbands and their families and it broke my heart that we are still tied to the very traditions that our mothers and our mother’s mothers were. They had no agency in their lives and relied on the social support of their husbands. They were shunned if they were divorced or their husbands died. Their children could be taken away from them if the other side wanted. I always thought that these were things of a bygone era, but the group forced me to realize that we are no different than our past. My mother’s mother was a second wife, tricked into marrying my grandfather by his first wife. When he died, he left his family in shambles because they no longer had a man protecting them. Because of this, my mother longed for legitimacy and a family, willing to undergo all sorts of trauma at any cost to be a wife.

My mother was always an angry woman. Someone who was short with us and didn’t show us affection. I always knew she didn’t love us, but I now understand why. She had to reduce who she was to please her husband and the society she lived in. In doing so, she killed her own happiness and who she was. To change our culture, we must recognize that our society was set up to benefit only the men. They are the only ones with any real sense of agency and ability to change their lives without impunity. We must understand that this cannot continue. We can accept that these were our traditions, but we don’t have to accept that they will continue to be a part of our future. And so I ask, what does it mean to be Hmong? Who are we if we are not our traditions? We can be kind. We can be understanding. We can be inclusive. We will always remain Hmong, but we can be better.

The Power of Unwinding Down

The Power of Unwinding Down

Perhaps it is because we think we are too important or not important enough, but we have forgotten the power of what it means to unwind. What is unwinding? It simply is deflating. Powering down. Relaxing. It is a forgotten artform because we’ve been so focused on trying to achieve success that we forget to breath. To simply be. Unwinding down from a long day looks like taking a few minutes for yourself and simply vegging out without any electronics or distractions. It means unpacking what has happened to you that day and what it means to you. Unwinding means connecting with yourself for a moment before you slip into your other life. Why is it important? It’s important because it’s the time we reserve for our own mind’s sake. We go through so much trauma without processing it that we don’t know how to process every day transgressions. They matter, too and we matter.

What happens if we don’t unwind? If we don’t unwind, it all simply builds up and suddenly, we find ourselves behind a wall of denial, believing we are okay when we’re not. We don’t know how to process what happens to us, so we simply don’t. No one was taught us what it means to process and we can’t even comprehend what it means to even do it. If we don’t even know how, who do we become but these shells of people who hold in all their hurt and pain and break at a moment’s glance simply because we don’t know where the pain goes. It may be too big of a mountain to climb to tackle extremely traumatic events, but if we don’t even have the tools to focus on the small ones, we’ll never even get to the big ones.

So how do you start? Recognize that your experiences are valid and you are worthy of retrospection. When you run through the day, ask yourself how it made you feel and how it affected you. If you did something that you weren’t supposed to do, learn to forgive yourself. Once you start seeing how this affects your well-being, you’ll be able to recognize that taking a moment for yourself is not selfish, but needed. Take a moment to be present in your life and acknowledge who you are and where you are at. We spend so much time focusing on getting somewhere else or being someone different that we forget to nourish who we are right at this very moment. Unwinding simply means spending a second with yourself and enjoying it.

Photo by Nadi Whatisdelirium on Unsplash

American Monster

American Monster

I just finished Netflix’s American Murder: The Family Next Door, which tells the story of the murder of Shannan Watts and her two children by her husband, Chris Watts. The documentary is told through Shannan’s own voice as we see old Facebook videos of her and text messages that were provided by her family. The opening scene is especially heartbreaking as you are there in the shoes of a police officer who is initially performing a welfare check, knowing she is dead as an audience member. We see Chris Watts rush home and play the part of concerned dad and this time, we know for sure he is the killer. How can a man kill his wife and strangle his children whom he had just tucked into bed the night before?

At the end of the documentary, it states that the suspect who kills their spouse and children is usually male and it is almost always premediated. Chris cheated on his wife and was in love with another woman, so he decided to kill his family to start a new life, but it’s not as simple as it sounds. Some people believe Shannan was bossy or ‘bitchy’ and she herself states she wore the pants in the relationship, leading some to think she caused Chris to cheat on her. I would say otherwise. Chris decided to cheat with another woman who also seemed very strong-willed, so I think he is attracted to ‘bossy’ women, so it wasn’t that aspect that led him to cheat and devise a plan to kill her.

It seemed he did love his mistress and refused to have sex with his wife or call his children when they were on vacation. So why not just divorce them? He was leading a dual life, but he wasn’t dual in nature. This was a man who prided himself as being honest, hard-working, and a good citizen. That is why he agreed to talk to the police, take polygraphs, and talk to the news. He believes himself to be a good person, and that’s what good people do. Good people also don’t cheat, so he could never admit it to his wife no matter how many times he asked. That is the reason why he killed her and the kids: to assuage the guilt he felt as he was not a good person. However, if they simply disappeared, he would never have to answer those questions.

Instead of being honest with his wife, he lied to her time and time again because he could not be honest with himself. He could not admit to himself that he was a cheater and a bad parent. He could not see himself as the person who tore apart his family, so he did everything he could do to make the problem go away. He randomly asked why he couldn’t save his own kids, but the moment he put them in the back of his truck with his wife’s body, he no longer saw them as children. You place children in the backseat in their car seats, and he did not. He had already distanced himself from them. He knew exactly what he was doing when he drove to that site.

You could see in his demeanor and his words that he was not a good actor. Even his neighbor noted that he was not his usual self. He was in the process of distancing himself from the murders so he wouldn’t have to reckon with the idea that he was not a good person. His whole identity rested on the notion that he believed he would always do the right thing and he didn’t have the strength to admit that he had made a mistake. He didn’t want to see or acknowledge his mistakes, so he brushed them under a rug where he didn’t have to deal with them.

He was a person who was eager to please and perhaps because his mother was controlling, he sought out women like her and did not voice his opinion when he was unhappy. This led him to suppress his true desires and needs. When he met his mistress, it all came to the surface and he finally felt alive again. He felt seen. Acknowledged. And still, he knew what he was doing would devastate his wife, so he lied. Not because he didn’t want her to find out about the cheating, but because he didn’t want his facade of being the perfect husband and father to come crumbling down. He just couldn’t live with that idea. Instead, he choose to do the unthinkable.

In murdering his family, Chris did what he never wanted to happen: let the world know that he was a terrible person. It didn’t matter how much he acquiesced to the police or reporters anymore, because they all knew who he really was. And why are we so fascinated with him? Because we never expect the all-American family man to commit such a heinous act? If we can’t believe that, it will be harder to believe the victims of such crimes and what has been perpetrated upon them. There are no monsters walking among us, only broken people who are afraid of the truth and it’s time we realize this can happen anywhere.