My story begins with my parents. In 1925 my father, a member of the merchant middle class, emigrated from China at the age of 14 to join his uncle in the Northwest.
During WWII he served in the US Army as a mess Sergeant. I can draw the conclusion that it was a meaningful time in his life just by the numerous photographs in his military garb with his proud stance and glint in his eyes. Many Chinese Americans willingly joined the military to prove they were true Americans. A few years after the end of the war, my father voyages back China to marry my mother. She came from a rural family who made a meager living growing mainly sweet potatoes and collecting and selling firewood. Ten days after marrying my mother, my father returned to America to continue working. The only connection they had were occasional letters and rare visits. Due to economics and The Chinese Exclusion Act, working Chinese men were kept from bringing their families over to the US which created a bachelor society.
Fast forward to 1950, my father returned to China and moved my mother and grandmother to Hong Kong before the Communists rose to complete power. As soon as they settled into a flat he purchased, he left for America again. My mother began living her new life in the bustling big city of Kowloon, eking out a living doing all kinds of manual labor and eventually found her niche as seamstress for a garment factory. Her daily orders can consist, for example, of a dozen tailor quality trousers–and this all done on a machine powered with a manual foot pedal! For 1.50 a day she work vigorously from early morning to very late into the night. Though my father had employment in the US, he wasn’t consistent in sending money back to my mother. During those 13 years apart my mother adopted her first child, my older sister, from a poor neighboring village woman. This adoption was very much out of the norm as Chinese rarely would do this for a complete stranger.
Finally in 1963 my father sent for my mother and I was born a year later. We lived in a sketchy boarding house in Old Town by the American cafe my father was running and very soon after my mother joined in. A couple of years after I was born, at the urging of my mother, my father bought a house (paid in full) in a working class white neighborhood. Even at a very young age, I learned there was much suspicion from the neighbors. I think they wondered how a Chinese family could afford to move in to their neighborhood. I have memories of racial harassment from whites kids calling us “F-O-Bs” and “Chinks“. One grandchild of a racist next door neighbor yelled out to me “How much money did you pay to come to America?”. Upset, I ran to my father (I would describe as a Chinese version of Archie Bunker) and he gave me my first race relations tip. He said, “Just tell the to go to hell. Tell them we built the railroads”. So I proceeded to yell this statement to this young boy and in the future others, not understanding at all what I was saying. It’s quite humorous when I think about it now but it also makes me think about my father’s trials with racism that I could only guess was tremendous.
Throughout my childhood I had incidences of racial harassment. However I did become friends with some of these kids and became a part of this neighborhood community and even babysat for the racist neighbor’s grandkids. Throughout of my life my typical Asian response to racism was more “personal”. I went on the “better my economics track” by getting a college education and creating a good life in my Asian bubble and neglecting the bigger picture. Well God has been bursting me out of this bubble and making me aware of the injustices that occur with structural racism. Sadly things have not progressed as much as we’d like to think and many many people of color are still struggling in so many ways and real barriers do exist.
When I was 8 years old my father suddenly died and my world drastically changed. I was demoted from the fairly comfortable status of working middle class nuclear Chinese family to a single parent Chinese household on the verge of welfare. My illiterate and uneducated mother and had to raise her 4 daughters by herself on minimum wage. She was too proud to accept government assistance even though she clearly qualified. She fought to make it on her own and succeeded but it nearly killed her. I became keenly aware of my lower socioeconomic status which caused me to feel very stressed out and insecure about my life instead of having a carefree childhood . The weightiness of being a minority magnified when I became poor.
In my mother’s wisdom she sent us to a Chinese Christian church because she wanted us to learn “good manners”. I accepted Jesus at the age of 12. The church was my saving grace and a safe cocoon from the ills of the world. There I felt understood and cared for and began my spiritual transformation.
1994 was the year of the beginning of the end of my yellow and white world. I got accepted to a month long intensive internship at an inner-city church in Brooklyn NY. I was thrust into the Black and Latino world of the boroughs of New York City. For many of the children there it was the first time they touched an Asian person’s straight hair! My experience there was enjoyable and saw that God’s Kingdom is expansive and I was beginning to see a clearer picture of His inclusiveness. When I came back I grew restless and felt like an alien at my homogenous Chinese church.
A couple of years later my Chinese American pastor was asked to start a multi ethnic church. I jumped at the opportunity and knew this was God’s directed step for me. The next 10 years were full of joys as well as challenges in fellowshipping with a diverse group of people. Our small church intersected with Native Americans, Blacks, Asians, Caucasians, mentally ill, poor, single parents, seniors, and many struggling in various ways. I had an epiphany that this was a glimpse of God’s eternal kingdom that is without racial and socioeconomic barriers! (Read Revelations 7:9 and beautiful picture of heaven).
After my church closed its doors, (an unfortunate sign of the difficulties of establishing a multi-ethnic ministry) I strongly desired to attend a Christ-centered church that was not only in my community but involved in my community. It is only by God’s sovereignty or ironic humor, that I ended up at a very large predominantly white hipster church just minutes from my home. Even thought I feel deathly out of place, I no longer could take a consumerist mindset of attending a church that met my every need but to stay and hopefully add to this church. Hey, in this sea of my white brothers and sisters they could use a single, middle aged Chinese woman around here!
Happily, the arduous journey to pursuing a Kingdom image of God’s heart for inclusive fellowship continues. A group of us at the church have been exploring, dialoging and wrestling with this subject and are now praying and actively trying to move towards true community as God intends. In eternity we expect that all nations will come together at the Lord’s table–why not purposefully pursue this now?”