Tag Archives: women

The Cusp of Fall

Today, I had a lovely “last days of summer” day with my children.

We began our day with a rally for women’s rights at the Wisconsin State Capitol. My sweet girl sat in the soft grass and played with her brother and a friend’s daughter, as I worked on my newest photographic project, Portrait of a Feminist.

 

While I was energized by my work today, I was more amazed at my kids’ supportive presence. Our day was so harmonious.

My son did his goofy faces, and they had spoon races.

But as our day winded down. A sorrow soaked our souls. Our last minutes in the car were filled with three people silently crying as the loss of our sweet summer hit us hard.

 A few years ago, my tune would have been different. Now, I sense my children growing older and looking tentatively at their futures as independent beings. It’s bittersweet.

 

My Cloak of Comfort

Yesterday, I heard a story of a woman similar to me.

This woman quit her job and moved away with her husband, who like mine, traveled a lot. In the past few years since the move, she found it more and more difficult to find employment in her new home base. So, she decided to move back to her old town and find employment. She was quickly hired but had to leave her child behind with her mother.

Hearing this story, filled me with envy. I felt selfish and resentful. I imagined myself moving back to Virginia and rejoining my former boss in our dynamic duo of design loveliness. This imagining quickly dissipated as the reality set in.

I love my children. I am fiercely protective of them. I cannot and will not relinquish their care. The other challenge in this overblown dream is that I no longer have my mother. My sister lives in Washington state, and my father lives in Tennessee. I have no one to come to my rescue if I were to decide to pursue such a dream.

We walked the halls of both of my children’s schools today. They were energized, but also reluctant. It was a bittersweet day. As the constant heavy rain fell, it seemed so apropos. We need it, but it still saddens us.

Just as I felt helpless, my book of womenfolks beckoned me. As I sat in the parking lot, waiting for my son to finish soccer practice, I read this passage:

“Every Friday, Viola and Frances (my mother) started the morning at The Beauty Shop. Dorothy would wash, tease and spray the mothers’ heads. It took hours.

In that time, my sister and I would spin in the salon chairs, bask in the dry heat of the hair dryers and hear the latest gossip. We loved Fridays.

Afterwards, we crossed the street to the Belk department store to browse. Here, my sister and I would play in the circular racks. My mom bought my first training bra at Belk.

From there, we would make our way to the grocery store, White Store. At the end of the first aisle, there was a Coca-Cola machine.

For 25¢, we would get an ice-cold Coca-Cola in a glass bottle. After a few sips, my grandmother would slip me 10¢ to go next door to pick a candy from the 5 & Dime.

I always went for the huge sour apple lollipop. It woke my cola-cleansed tongue with a stinging sour.”

Recalling the sheer joy of those days, on a day like today, was like the womenfolk in my life wrapping themselves around me. They were telling me that the sadness I felt, the loss of self, wasn’t that at all. It was the beauty of life and being one of them.

Womenfolks

In the summer of 1996, just days before our plane took off for Rwanda, I bought a book called Womenfolks: Growning Up Down South by Shirley Abbott. This book became my guide to the women in my life.

It is a book filled with the stories of Southern women, poor Southern women. It comforted me in the days I spent, lonely in Kigali. Days I wished I could hear my own mother’s Southern drawl. I imagined my grandmother’s mother teaching her how to be motherly, how to garden and how to take care of her man.

These Appalachian women are my history. Some would argue that I could seek out another history … one where I was still from a poor family. One where a mother taught a daughter to garden or to take care of her man. Same story, different country.

My daughter asks about the history of the women in her life. She has been robbed of the stories my mother could have told her, so it is left up to me to relay them. The good, bad and funny.

She asks for them to be told and retold. So, I have started a journal to record the history that I feel is my history and hers. The history of the women in my life. 

Here’s my first entry about my grandmother, Viola:

“Viola worked at Bryant Town Motel, owned by the son of Ed, her youngest brother. She worked there cleaning rooms with her sister Beula. Beula was her best friend. 

In the early days before this job, women didn’t reveal their pregnancies until they began to show. When Viola and Beula were pregnant at the same time, one revealed to the other that she had missed her time, to which the other said, ‘Me, too!’ 

Viola was pregnant with my mother, and Beula was pregnant with her cousin, Tommy. (There is a sad story about Tommy’s death.) 

Viola and Beula cleaned rooms at the motel later in life, after jobs at Stokely’s, a canning plant in town. Viola’s husband had retired from Enka – a metal smithing plant. I still wonder why she worked at the motel. 

Her husband had bouts of abusive behavior. Was she happy to be away? She enjoyed hanging out in the motel rooms with her sister. 

In the summers when I visited, she would take me along. I was given a bag of Bugles from the vending machine, and I played with toys left by those whose brief stay had left them – unintentionally. I imagine the guests remembered them when they were too far away to retrieve them.  

I loved entering a room and looking under the bed … anticipating what surprise was awaiting my discovery.  

I spent my summers with my grandmother. They were filled with bean shelling, berry picking and canning. The large garden in the back gave my grandparents their food for the year. Only staples were bought at the grocery store on Fridays.  

My last summer as an only child, my parents and I left in the morning to return to Kansas. I remember crying hysterically as I looked out the back window of the car. I screamed, ‘My grandma, my grandma!! My grandma, my grandma!!’ as I reached for the glass of the back window. My tear-filled eyes watched my grandmother growing smaller and smaller.”

 

The Sisterhood

Summer brings sunshine, happiness (from the sunshine) and movies! This summer in the spirit of my daughter (aka #feminist9YO), I have vowed to see movies with female protagonists, or as she calls them, “movies with strong female characters.”

This week, it was The Heat.

*spoiler alert*

In it, Sandra Bullock’s FBI character reveals that she was a foster child and a young girl who had few friends. When this played on screen, I cringed. “Great, another Hollywood slap in the face for child welfare,” I thought. I had reported on the abuse adoption received in The Avengers here, and I braced myself.

However, this movie plays out quite differently. At the end of the movie, Melissa McCarthy’s character signs Bullock’s character’s old high school annual. When the audience was able to read it, her words took my breath away. In that moment, when McCarthy’s character refers to Bullock’s as her “sister,” I felt the acceptance that the character felt. My vitamin D-deprived psyche shed some negativity.

In the adoption/foster care world, we talk so much these days about loss … the loss of families, the loss of self, the loss of racial identity. I have cycled through this loss and am still circling back as my children cycle.

But this reminded me of the things that make me truly happy … relationships, and more specifically, my female relationships. The women in my life who have helped me through the loss, the hurt and the anger. My mother taught me the importance of friendships. Hers is the strongest I have ever known, and I model my friendships after hers.

My sister, while younger than me, has also enriched my life. I often find myself looking to her for guidance. She is my sounding board.

So many wonderful women have held me up and given me strength. I consider my “little sisters”: Jenny (my Frances Ha, another excellent movie), LaDawn, Nicole and Jessica. I cherish my relationship with Marlene, who I called my “other mother,” as she nurtured me when I began my life as an adult in the workforce.

There are my other sisters, Kathy and Kayla, and my twin sisters, Katherine and Adrienne, who have tutored me in all things Asian and helped me form my Feeling racial identity. They reassured me that my common childhood anxieties were theirs too.

All these women have cycled through my life, and while they are a big part of my life still, they live so very far from me. Our lives are so busy and finding the time to talk is a challenge. The Wisconsin winters and my move here lead me down a few dark paths, but now, another sister has entered.

This sister has a positive outlook. This sister has an appreciation of my feelings on adoption. This sister is also adopted. There is much to be learned from this next chapter of sisterhood. We all need a “sister.”

Asian Attraction, Part 2

The documentarian who is producing “seeking asian female” has also produced some short video studies of the Asian attraction.  Her first goes like this:

The studies look into the term “yellow fever.” The fever refers to something one cannot control. Elaine Kim, a UC Berkeley Asian American Studies professor puts it this way, “Part of it has to do with a fascination with something that seems totally different … even physiologically different.”

A young woman is interviewed here who has dated men who have this “yellow fever.” She laments, “Can you not tell me to change my race? I can do anything else but that!” I wanted to sit down with her and say, “Don’t change anything about yourself. Just find the person who loves you for yourself!”

What are we doing? Why do women feel the need to change themselves? Why must Asian women scrutinize love for fear that it is a fetish?

In the second study, she addresses whether only white men have Asian fetishes.

Words that describe Asians?  Exotic, petite, gracious, have a level of maturity, sweet, beautiful.  The author of The Asian Mystique, Sheridan Prasso hits the nail on the head, saying, “Everyone has something that turns them on, and there is nothing wrong with that … what is wrong is when it crosses a line into expectations with behavior.”

But the quote I most reacted to is this one from Dr. Benjamin Tong, Professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies,

“What fixed images tend to be prevalent in fixed communities? It would be the case that in the white community, ‘Latina women are hot, difficult to control, exotic as well, but they’re fiery, ’ ‘Asian women are more controllable; they live to please,’ ‘Black women, wow. They’re too powerful. Watch out for the Super Mama! She’s really the boss in this house.’ That might sound corny, talking like that, but in everyday language, you still hear these things.”

As an Asian American with Puerto Rican roots, I do not feel that I fit any of these white perceptions of my race. If you asked my husband, I’m sure he would tell you that I am strong-willed and certainly not submissive or controllable. In my Puerto Rican family, we have a term for such a woman. Strong women who love life, are Gonzo Girls. We relish it, celebrate it, and live it.

We spend too much time compartmentalizing people. I suppose it is human nature to make sense of ourselves by generalizing and grouping. We live in a world that wants facts, data and percentages. I argue that we are far more than that.