March 11, 2016

Thank yous

A little over a year ago, Funie Hsu of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship interviewed me in Turning Wheel Media. The BPF team was kind enough to go through the painstaking effort of transcribing the interview with an incredible faithfulness to my awkward style of speaking and incoherent ramblings.

Given the span of time since my last post, I felt it appropriate to share some thoughts from that interview.

There’s a lot that I want to write about, talk about, explore, as an Asian American Buddhist and otherwise. But, over time, as I realize a lot of people are looking at what I say, I’m really not completely at ease with writing. Because it strikes me that whatever I say, a lot of people are going to misinterpret it. So I feel a lot of pressure to write clearly. Which is always an important quality. You should always write clearly. You should never degrade that. But because there’s more pressure, oftentimes we just don’t write.

There’s a story I love, about a bunch of Thai American Buddhists who pulled together to save their temple, Wat Mongkolratanaram in Berkeley, CA. The neighborhood of mostly non-Thai residents tried to get their temple food court shut down, and that would’ve cut off a major stream of revenue for the temple. But a bunch of young Thai American Buddhists banded together. I remember reading about it in the Wall Street Journal – and there was this WSJ video of them. One of the organizers, Pahole Sookkasikon, won Hyphen Magazine’s Mr. Hyphen award in 2009. That was a really cool story – I wish that was in Tricycle Magazine or Shambhala Sun. That’s a really cool thing that young Buddhists did, getting together to save their parents’ temple – saving their temple, their community’s temple. When I tried to interview them they were like, “I don’t know if I can talk about this.” They were totally fine with being up in front of the cameras when the temple was on the chopping block, but when it came to talking to other Buddhists about what they did, they were like, “Well, I don’t know.”

And it’s funny because I feel like I’m the same way. When you insult my grandmother, then I’m going to write that flaming internet post. But when it’s like, “I want you to talk about these ideas,”… I don’t know what to talk about, I’m gonna make a fool out of myself… and my community… and my family. So, it’s a strange dynamic we have.

I never expected this blog to gain so much notoriety. I mean, Charles Prebish even mentioned me in his memoirs! (Okay, I was barely more than a footnote.) All this publicity because I’ve written a few dozen blog posts about the very obvious ways by which white Buddhists in America treat Buddhist Americans of Asian heritage, but are loathe to admit.

Talking about these issues has felt like a very lonely affair, but recently I’ve been getting some refreshing support. There are several Buddhist Asian Americans (and Canadians) I’ve met over the past few years who have transformed my own view of what it means to be both Buddhist and Asian American. Right now I don’t have enough space to thank them all, but I want to give a particular shout out to Chenxing Han, Funie Hsu, Dedunu Sylvia, Susan Yao, Mushim Ikeda Nash and Jo Yuasa. Your writing and your encouragement is what compelled me to write more. You are the reason that I was willing to step back out of a very comfortable silence.

From the bottom of my heart I thank you for being my role model.

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