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A Response from just another Asian American GaL

October 13, 2013

“Asian-American Christians are voicing concerns over how they’re depicted by white evangelicals, most recently at a conference hosted by Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in California.” – Religionnews.com

I have a lot of complicated feelings. Admittedly I am someone who carries complicated feelings about most things, but I carry intensified complexity in my feelings when it comes to multi-ethnicity and the church. One of the places where God has met me deepest is in the area of multi-ethnicity. Being someone who was born and raised in an immigrant Chinese church set in a predominately Spanish speaking Latino neighborhood, attending predominately Caucasian or White Majority Schools in my childhood, the Lord has captivated my heart with the beauty of a cross cultural world.

What I have found to be true is that our American (Southern Californian) society is one where diversity is actually held in extremely high esteem… but unfortunately, because of the complexity of race and ethnicity conversations, diversity often leads to mere co-existence and a simplistic desire to find the “lowest cultural common denominator” and stand upon that. What is tragic about that is how short sighted that makes us and how that narrows our scope for understanding the complexity of a God who is bigger than any one of our experiences alone.

What makes me sad about the video parody shown at the church leadership conference is this: it assumed a “low common denominator” of a pop-culture reference (The movie “The Karate Kid”) without considering the deeper cultural implications of “Chinese accents” and “bowing to each other”.

Having a chinese accent means English is your second language. Bowing to each other is a cultural sign of honor and respect. You see, when I hear someone speak in a “fake chinese accent” without understanding the plight of immigrant people who automatically get assumed as less intelligent because of language, it literally hurts me. Why? Because it makes me think of my Father. One of the most brilliant Bible Scholars, Medical Professionals: Surgeon, profound thinkers I know. And it makes me think of every time I go to a grocery store with him, the way the checker inevitably speaks to him like he is incompetent when asking a question about Splenda simply because of his accent. When bowing to each other, what comes to mind for me is not a “funny memory of a scene from the movie”, but Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Years with my extended family. Being the youngest daughter in a large family, walking around the room greeting and bowing to others as a sign of my recognition of my position in the family and a sign of acknowledging the honor due the elders in the group.

I understand that as an over generalization, Asian Americans do not like to speak up often and it is especially counter cultural to speak up about ourselves, so it 100% makes sense to me that there are certain things about Asian cultural norms non-asians are unaware of. That makes sense to me, and I certainly don’t want to hold unawareness against anyone, as I do think it is incumbent upon me as an Asian American to learn how to use my voice to share my cultural experiences with others. If I gave the whole situation deep benefit of the doubt, I would say, perhaps the authors of the sketch were actually trying to affirm Asian Americans (maybe?) or at the very least, use a movie reference that made Asian Americans seem awesome (or at least made Karate seem awesome).

But the greater heartache for me was this… as an Asian American, I think I have a lot to bring to the table. I think Asian Americans have ALOT to bring to the table. There are some wonderful LEADERSHIP skills and inherent LEADERSHIP instincts we bring to the table because of our high value for community (we are AMAZING at change processes for example because of our communal nature and harmony oriented value system). And I am sad. Sad that when Asian Americans get a platform at a conference like this… it is not about affirming our unique leadership gifts and asking us to share, train, equip, and empower others with the things that are intuitive to us culturally.

My greatest wish is that one day, some day, on Evangelical Leadership Conference Stages… we will find a humble invitation that says “Dear Asian Americans… we need you to teach us how to lead. There is something about the way your culture leads that we desperately need to learn from you.” And “Dear Latinos, we need you to teach us how to lead. There is something about the way your culture leads that we desperately need to learn from you.” and “Dear Black leaders. Please teach us how to lead. There is something about the way your culture leads that we desperately need to learn.” and so on. So here’s my plea…

“Dear White Evangelical America, I need you to teach me how to lead. There is something about the way your culture leads that I need to learn from you…. and thank you… because 99% of leadership material available to me in Christian bookstores, on amazon, at church conferences, at church camps, in corporate America, at colleges and Universities, in non-profit organizations, in HOA meetings, in sports teams, at company picnics, etc. are about the way you lead. And I do LOVE it. I have learned alot and will continue to learn alot from you, because you have alot to offer and it has blessed my leadership immensely. I sincerely thank you. Now let me return the favor for you, please hit me up sometime, I would love to teach you how my culture leads, maybe you’ll find it helpful for you in your leadership too. “

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. October 13, 2013 2:23 pm

    Lady, thank you!
    I confess that I frequently find myself thinking “is this really that big of a deal? The karate kid was a great movie, they’re parodying that, not Asian American culture!” but what you said about how sad it is that we seek the lowest common cultural denominator was very revealing for me. Sure, the church probably just meant to reference a classic movie not make fun of Asian Americans, BUT by doing so in a context where everything else is white evangelical and there is no true representative of Asian American culture, it creates a simplistic, misinformed and false idea of Asian Americans. This makes me wonder about the possibility of moving from a diversify mindset that activity avoids offense (or says it is trying to!) to a positive model in which we seek out the good things brought to the table by each culture and individual. You articulated these ideas very well, my friend!

    It also brought up a question I come back to frequently: why does our compulsive desire to generate laughter so frequently resort to making fun of/teasing/tearing down someone else? And how can we effect a change in this trend of comedy? (YouTube parodies are awesome but ultimately, at the lowest level of many, they are using hurtful tactics to get a laugh or a like, for example.)

    Love you, Dora!

    • dorayiu permalink*
      November 13, 2013 5:29 am

      Emma, i really appreciate your heart.Thank you. Thank you for being one of the only people to ask me to share my heart on a deeper level and for engaging this conversation with me.

      I really appreciate your sincere heart and great perspective! I think you have a great point about how sometimes we can settle for a “diversity” mindset that avoids offense instead of seeking a better model.

      My prayer is that we as the church can set a new standard for society, moving from a diversity mindset driven by the fear of offending to a multi-ethnicity mindset driven by the faith of God being ever present in cross cultural engagement.

      I’m grateful for your Emma!

  2. October 14, 2013 6:04 am

    Dora – It’s been way too long!

    “Because it makes me think of my Father. One of the most brilliant Bible Scholars, Medical Professionals: Surgeon, profound thinkers I know. And it makes me think of every time I go to a grocery store with him, the way the checker inevitably speaks to him like he is incompetent when asking a question about Splenda simply because of his accent. When bowing to each other, what comes to mind for me is not a “funny memory of a scene from the movie”, but Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Years with my extended family. ”

    Yes and amen, sister!!! So very good :)

    • dorayiu permalink*
      November 13, 2013 5:30 am

      Thanks so much for the encouragement Daniel! It really has been way to long!

  3. Mike permalink
    October 15, 2013 6:41 pm

    Love it, Dora. I’m grateful to God for all the ways InterVarsity SD trained me in how to engage culture within myself and those around me. I may have become one bitter Chinese-American dude in Detroit if not for the Lord’s work in those areas.

    • dorayiu permalink*
      November 13, 2013 5:31 am

      Its great to hear from you Michael. I am truly encouraged my your level of cross cultural engagement in Detroit. I love the Asian American gifts you bring to the heart of God’s mission in the inner city.

  4. October 17, 2013 5:45 am

    Please reach out to us at Exponential (feedback@exponential.org) to discuss doing an eBook with us on how your culture leads. Todd Wilson

    • dorayiu permalink*
      November 13, 2013 5:33 am

      Hi Todd,
      Thank you for your message. I would be happy to chat with you sometime and hear what you had in mind and would be open to working on an eBook with you.

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  1. Why this Presbyterian Signed An Open Letter from the Asian American Community to the Evangelical Church

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