Tag Archive | Orlando

Meditation Workshop & Mixed Remixed 2017

A week ago today I happened to see a post about a meditation workshop Yumi Sakugawa was leading that very evening on campus. I looked closer and realized the workshop was happening in my building, literally just upstairs from the phonetics lab where I was sitting. As it happens, Asian American Studies and Linguistics are in the same building, so it’s not so surprising, but it felt providential. Isabelle and I decided we had to go, since Yumi Sakugawa was practically coming to us, and the stars aligned even further: our afternoon seminar ended early, allowing us to make it to the workshop on time.

The other attendees were mainly Asian American women, like at the panel with Yumi, MILCK, and Krista Suh back in May. There were a bunch of undergrads, including a film student who told us about a documentary she’s making about Yumi! I hope we’ll get to see it in the fall. There were also a couple of librarians, at least one professor, I think, and several Asian American Studies staff.

Yumi had us go around and introduce ourselves and say three words that described our current state of mind. Since it was the last week of classes, there was a lot of “stressed” and “overwhelmed.” She led us in a couple of guided meditations and read to us from some of her meditation-related comics, which I hadn’t seen before. She also talked about this taking tea and cake with your demons exercise. The idea is to face the things about yourself you’re ashamed of, or don’t like so much, or have a hard time accepting, to face them head-on and without judgment and to listen to them in personified form. While drinking tea and eating cake. So we all drew the kind of tea and cake we wanted to have with one of our demons on tissue paper. As a closing ritual, we went around the room again and said what three words we wanted to define the rest of our week and ripped up our tissue paper drawings and dropped the shreds into Yumi’s singing bowl. It was a perfect way to spend a Wednesday evening at the end of a long quarter.

On Saturday, I headed downtown for my third Mixed Remixed festival. I went in 2015 and in 2016, when I appeared on my first author panel. In the past, the festival has been at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo, but this year it moved to the Los Angeles Theatre Center, a stone’s throw from The Last Bookstore. I arrived in time for the Featured Writers reading, which featured (haha) Tanaya Winder, May-lee Chai, Tara Betts, Julian Randall, and Julie Lythcott-Haims. They all read powerful work, but I particularly liked Tanaya Winder’s spoken word poems, some of which incorporated song. I was also interested in May-lee Chai’s personal story: she wrote a memoir, Hapa Girl, about growing up with a Chinese-American father and a white mother in rural South Dakota in the 1980s. It was…not a hospitable place for her family.

Next I went to the panel The Mixed-Race Conversation: Is It a Wrap?. It was moderated by Karen Grigsby Bates of NPR’s Code Switch and featured Kayla Briët, a musician and filmmaker who’s performed at every Mixed Remixed I’ve been at; Greg Kimura, former president of the Japanese American National Museum and an Episcopal priest; Tehran, a comedian whose performance at last year’s festival I did not particularly appreciate; and Caroline Streeter, a professor at UCLA. I once again did not appreciate Tehran, but setting him aside, the panel was great. The panel was intergenerational, which brought out a diversity of perspectives and was also just nice to see. The conversation ranged from the academic to the pop cultural to the personal and even to the religious, thanks to Greg Kimura. That was a voice I hadn’t heard before at the festival. I liked what Caroline Streeter had to say about our cultural amnesia, how there have been mixed race people and communities in the United States for hundreds of years and so many of those stories are forgotten. I also liked what Greg Kimura had to say about the essential role he thinks literature and the arts will play in shaping our society’s attitudes about mixed race people (among other things). And basically everything Kayla Briët said was eloquent and inspiring.

A young hapa woman in the audience asked Greg Kimura about his strong identification with the word hapa. I think she asked if he’d faced any backlash for using it, but–and maybe I was projecting onto her–I also sensed that she was asking whether he thought it was (still) appropriate for multiracial Asian Americans to call ourselves hapa. A question in this vein is what I would’ve liked to ask the panel at the LA Times Festival of Books this spring if I hadn’t had a raging headache at that session. I was thinking about the term hapa at last year’s festival too and have written about it at other times as well. Greg Kimura basically said it’s been shown that hapa isn’t a Native Hawaiian term so it’s not appropriation to use it, and he claims his identity with this word. This argument doesn’t suffice for me though. First of all, I know hapa is Hawaiian Pidgin; just because it’s not an indigenous Hawaiian word doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a meaning and history specific to Hawaii that’s been overwritten and changed by multiracial Asian Americans on the mainland. Being hapa means something to me, but I also can’t use this term without qualms.

At the end of the panel, talk turned to Trump and how optimistic (or not) the panelists were about the future. Both Caroline Streeter, the oldest panelist, and Kayla Briët, the youngest, found they could not truthfully say they thought things were getting better. They both expressed worry about the future. I was grateful for their honesty and also…saddened, I guess. We were all at a festival celebrating our mixed race identities, but we can’t forget that this is a dark time for our country.

During the longish break between the last session and the evening program, a young woman named Laura came up to me and handed me a postcard about her oral history project Mixed Feelings. Check it out on Facebook and Tumblr; there are interviews with mixed race people of many backgrounds about their identity and experiences. If you identify as mixed race, you can participate by filling out the survey! Laura and I ended up sitting together at the evening show, and she told me her project was born in the wake of last November’s election, out of her need to do something.

Kayla Briët opened the show again; I will never get tired of watching her play the guzheng and use her loop machine. There were a couple of other acts, and then actor and producer David Oyelowo accepted the Storyteller’s Prize with a moving speech about his own interracial marriage. After the show, I caught up with Maria Leonard Olsen, one of my co-panelists in the kidlit session last year. I also said hello to two other people I recognized from the mixed and queer writing workshop in years past. The workshop did not take place this year, sadly.

After leaving the festival, I walked to The Last Bookstore, since it was literally less than half a block away. While I was contemplating all the books I wanted in the SFF section, a woman with a stroller asked me if I worked there. I wish! I picked up Becky Chambers’s The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and headed home.

Monday was the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision Loving v. Virginia, which made interracial marriage legal throughout the United States. It also marked one year since the shooting at Pulse in Orlando, which I wrote about a little last year before I could write up last year’s Mixed Remixed festival. It seems a fitting time to reflect on how far our country has come and how far we have yet to go.

These Last Few Days

These last few days have been strange. Filled with joy and sorrow. Fun and excitement on the one hand and horror and despair on the other.

Last Friday and Saturday, the Mixed Remixed Festival took place at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo. I attended last year, and this year I was a presenter. I reconnected with friends I’d met last year and made new friends. I got to speak on my first author panel ever. I’m going to write more about this year’s festival soon, but I feel like I have to pause first.

Sunday through Tuesday was the 50th anniversary celebration of the UCLA Linguistics Department, my academic home. The schedule was packed, and there was much laughter and festivity. I talked to alumni I admire, heard anecdotes from fifty years of department history, and made music with my friends. I was so busy I didn’t spend much time online. In some ways I was glad of the distraction because every time I landed on a newspaper’s website or scrolled through Facebook, I was reminded of the mass shooting that left fifty people dead at a gay club in Orlando, FL.

On Sunday, I sat down to breakfast in front of my laptop like I do every morning. I was still tired from spending all of Saturday at the Mixed Remixed Festival, but I was excited that my Georgian chorus was singing at my church that morning. My homepage is the New York Times. The first thing I saw when my browser opened was the headline marching across the screen in huge black letters. Shooting, gay club, Orlando, 50 dead, 53 wounded. For a second, the news sort of bounced off me: oh, something terrible has happened again in this world where every day’s headlines are a litany of terrible things. But then the full horror of this massacre, of this carnage, began to sink in. I thought of the Bataclan in Paris, where scores of concert goers were shot to death in November. Most of the dead in Orlando were young, queer, and of color. Most of the people I’d been hanging out with at Mixed Remixed the night before were young, mixed race, and queer. The bus I’d ridden home had crawled through heavy traffic in West Hollywood where people were celebrating LA Pride.

A heaviness settled over my Sunday, and it has lingered, even as I’ve been doing so much celebrating. There was the department 5k and picnic, sneaking off for a clandestine choir rehearsal inside a sculpture, performing Georgian songs at the reception, the anniversary banquet. I’ve been so happy these last few days. And I’ve also been heartbroken, and afraid that we in the U.S. will never overcome our collective paralysis when it comes to guns and mass violence.

The UCLA shooting was two weeks ago today, although in some ways it already feels like a distant memory. I was on campus that morning, during the lockdown. I was safe, and for the most part I felt calm, but the uncertainty during those two very long hours was real. We didn’t know when it would be over. We didn’t know what was happening elsewhere on campus. And the saddest part was how unsurprised I was. I remember thinking that the shooting was bound to be on my campus one day. It was simply our turn now.

On Saturday night at the Mixed Remixed show in the Tateuchi Democracy Forum, perched high in the tiered seating, I watched people at the bottom of the theater walking in and out of the shadowy entryway and thought to myself, Someone could walk out of those shadows with a gun. It’s astounding that I live in a country and a time where I could casually imagine such a scenario. And that was before Sunday, before the attack that’s being called the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.

This has been a post of contrasts, and I want to end on a note of joy. The founder of our beloved Georgian chorus rewrote the words of a pop song in honor of the UCLA Linguistics Department’s 50th anniversary. She taught it to us at the picnic on Sunday, and a few of us performed it at the reception on Monday. The song is silly, cute, and sweet. I don’t mean to minimize the grief and the rage that people are feeling right now or to trivialize what has happened and is still happening. But singing this song and listening to it makes me happy because this light-hearted performance was about the joy of singing with friends and the fondness so many people have for the community that is UCLA Linguistics. In the face of violence, fear, and despair, it’s our communities that will see us through. So here’s a glimpse into one of mine.