I've been building some sort of resistance toward the word "self" care since realizing that this responsibility must extend beyond me. During a recent trip to UC Santa Cruz to facilitate a storytelling workshop for students of Pacific Islander and Southeast Asian descent, I thought I would enjoy some much needed alone time before getting to the campus to be with the students. The amazing organizer who invited me, Laurel Mayeda, was so kind to offer me self-care suggestions beyond my hotel room: ice cream across the street, a walk to the beach, and even offered to pick me up at any moment I changed my mind. With nature always being my choice of healing, I decided to make the 1.5 mile walk to Natural Bridges to enjoy the ocean view and to inhale the clean air that Long Beach lacked. As I walked past small businesses advertising surfing, organic coffee, and yoga into the suburban neighborhood that led to the bridge, there came a realization I've been spoiled living in a beach city full of diverse cultures, identities, and fairly affordable housing (that is rapidly changing with the rise of gentrification/displacement). Curious white gazes silently followed my every move from their outdoor patios as cat calls simultaneously came from migrant brown men who felt justified to objectify my body as a woman of their melanin. (Why, brothers, whyyyyy!?!) When I finally arrived to the beach, I took a deep breath and called Laurel to pick me up. The view was beautiful, but what was it worth when my safety was questioned and I felt I didn't belong? Laurel came 15 minutes later, and we returned to the campus where I joined in circle with the youth for their first workshop, facilitated by artist and alumni Joe Kim, to hear their stories of how they got here; the healing began.
Joe shared how his story starts with kimchi, and how growing up it was a food he was incredibly shameful of. Classmates were disgusted whenever his immigrant mother packed it for his lunch as the fermented smell of cabbage lingered in the cafeteria. Though it reminded him of home, it was difficult for others to relate since there weren't many other students of Korean descent. He later learned that kimchi is the sole food that kept his ancestors alive during harsh winter seasons, when the crops couldn't be harvested and famine came near. The farmers he descended from were resourceful, and if it was not for kimchi or their creativity he would not be here today. It is the food of resiliency that kept his family fed in their tiny Oakland apartment as his mother raised him and his sibling alone.
Questions were asked: What is it our parents have overcome? As they've fought to assimilate to this country's ways, how much trauma are we carrying of the wounds they've never had a chance to heal from? What are the ways we've tried to suppress this pain ourselves, whether it be from total isolation or busying ourselves with distractions? It was through this sharing where our singular struggles became a web of resiliency; we could not heal alone. We needed to love and support one another to ensure that no one else would have to experience exclusion.
This is not to say we have to be constantly surrounded by others to gain the care we need, but that this journey is about remembering who we are - and sometimes, that means completely stepping back to reflect on all those who came before us. Beyond the bubble baths, yoga, travel, meditation, walks to the beach, and other activities prescribed as "self" care, I am reminded that my healing is larger than me. That I am the sum of my ancestors' greatest dreams. That anytime I am feeling lost about what it is I'm doing in this lifetime, they've got my back, cheering me on to keep going. As a storyteller who facilitates workshops mostly for Asian American youth, I do this for them, and for those who have yet to come. There is nothing for me to teach; only awaken. Our stories matter, and we have a responsibility to share it - especially when we lack representation in the U.S. and are made to feel left out.
I am never by myself, for they are always with me. On this journey of "self", we will attract others on this path. ❤️
Here is a song gifted to me by my hotel receptionist, Dameon Locklear. Meeting him was one of those messages from the Uni-Verse telling me all is in alignment. (He is a self-taught flute player who sold all of his belongings in the east coast to follow an intuition that led him closer to the water... I'm so grateful I got to cross paths with him while in Santa Cruz!)
If you could redefine self-care, what would it look like? Sending you love and light, for you are not alone! I've also got your back. 🙌🏾
Also want to give a shout out to the Southeast Asian Student Union at UC Santa Barbara for inviting me to speak with their youth a month ago. Feeling really privileged that my life is leading me to do work with Asian American youth beyond Long Beach, and that spaces like this are being organized since many of us didn't have one growing up. I am witnessing more of us become unapologetic about our truths as we step into our role as storytellers. If Hollywood and hxstory books won't represent us, then we create what it is we want to see for our ancestors, each other, and the next generation. Looking forward to the growth of these seeds with more to come... 🌰🌻🙏🏾
Southeast Asian Student Union, UC Santa Barbara 2017