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What’s a FOB?

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FOBThough I was born in Chicago, Illinois, Asian people would call me a “FOB” (Fresh Off the Boat) because I enjoyed watching Korean dramas, listening to Korean music, and enjoyed eating Asian food. The term “FOB” is a term that only Asians use to refer to someone who may speak English with an accent, speaks in an Asian dialect with peers, dresses in an ethnic manner, and follows ethnic traditions. Though the term was given to me in a joking manner, it meant that the person thought I was not following American culture, had awkward social habits, and  was comically ignorant in fashion.

The term “FOB,” categorizes an Asian person and distances him/her from others, so they are judged, and it brings up negative racial images that are anti-immigrant.  If someone who is non-Asian calls an Asian person that term, it would be considered racist.

When I was called a “FOB,” it made me feel a sense of shame, embarrassment, and discomfort toward those who were labeling me. Yet, to me, it was better to be called a “FOB” than someone who was “whitewashed.” A “whitewashed” person was thought to be ashamed of his/her race and ethnicity. This type of person will try to fit into American culture because they want to be accepted and be popular. Hence, “FOBs” are geeks in society, but the “whitewashed” person is considered “cool” and accepted by non-Asians. A “whitewashed” person does things to be accepted and feels pride in being someone who is “whitewashed” because he/she feels that non-Asians see the person as part of the group.

Though a “whitewashed” person feels pride in being assimilated and distancing himself from his ethnic group, some Asian peers see the actions as shameful because that person can never fully assimilate into American culture. In addition, someone who is “whitewashed” is considered a ‘wannabe” who has sold out to the white world.

Terms like these are problematic because it causes racial oppression within an ethnic group that reproduces inequality among that group. Even though the “whitewashed” person believes it means assimilation and acceptance into the American society, and feels a sense of progress over peers who are “FOBs” or more traditional peers, this issue is something that signifies resistance and internalized oppression for Asians. It is internalized oppression because it questions whether it is possible for an Asian person to be seen as just “American?”  For aren’t Asians and Americans always going to be separate and distinct?

Throughout history, exclusion and marginalization has affected racial groups. Asians have been given disparaging labels to distinguish them as foreigners.  Although the term “FOB” is given to Asians by other Asians, and is suppose to be taken in a lighthearted manner, it in actuality continues the marginalization of Asians. Personally, I have been called this term often and always felt like a victim because I knew it was not a compliment. So the next time that you or someone wants to use this word, I hope that you will stop and think about the effects of  what it means.  To use the words of “FOB” or “whitewashing” is to continue the subordination of Asians in America.

When it Comes to Gender, Boys Still Rule and Girls Drool

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My dad was lead body guard for President Park Chung Hee, earned a degree in Architecture, and could have made a decent life for himself in Korea. Yet, he came to America in 1971 with fifty dollars in his pocket, and ate only one bowl of rice a day. To save money, he lived in the basement storage room of the martial arts school and he said it reeked of sewer, body odor, and human feces. It also had gigantic rats that covered the ground and nipped at his body when he would take naps between his jobs teaching martial arts, working as a janitor, and laboring at the local factory. He did all this, so his future family could have a good life in America.

I have never seen my father cry, but last week when I was making him dinner, he broke down and sobbed uncontrollably while talking about the plight of my brother’s health. My whole family is having a hard time with the recent news of my brother, but my parents are taking it the worst…especially my dad.

As he wept, he kept expressing his sorrow about the family legacy ending. When his sister who lives in Korea, found out about my brother’s sickness, she called my dad and they both wailed about the inevitable family line that was going to die. They had so much hope in my brother because of his gender and were both inconsolable.

 

According to the 2011 Gallup poll, if Americans could have only one child, they would prefer that it be a boy rather than a girl, by a 40% to 28% margin, with the rest having no preference or no opinion on the matter. These attitudes are remarkably similar to the Gallup results in 1941, when Americans preferred a boy to a girl by a 38% to 24% margin.

The attitudes of American men drive the overall preference for a boy; in the current poll, conducted June 2011, men favor a boy over a girl by a 49% to 22% margin. American women do not have a proportionate preference for girls. Instead, women show essentially no preference either way: 31% say they would prefer a boy and 33% would prefer a girl.

Son preference is a global issue that has existed throughout history. In some societies today, son preference is so strong and sex-selective practices so common that, at the population level, the number of boys being born is much greater than the number of girls. This can be seen in South and East Asian countries like India, China, Hong Kong, and South Korea, also in Soviet Bloc countries like Armenia and Serbia.

India and China prefer sons because they are considered more valuable in the social and economical sense since inheritance and land rights are given to male heirs, and they contribute more to a family’s income through their job. Women are viewed as less valuable because they usually leave the family after marriage and require a large dowry.

The preference for boys over girls turns into a disaster when repeated across a society. Unnatural Selection takes an alarming look at the consequences of countries full of men: sex trafficking in Albania, mail-order brides in Vietnam, crime in “bachelor towns” in rural China. Also, a population that does not have enough nurses and teachers.

In the 21st century, females are equal and are suited for leadership roles that lead to innovation and economic growth. They excel in education and can help in workforce; 56% of college graduates are women in America and the percent is similar in China and India. In addition, because women have a more compassionate leadership style, are better at communication, and can cultivate collaboration that leads to innovation, they make high-quality leaders in the work place. In a recent study by psychologists at MIT and Carnegie Mellon, people were divided into teams and asked to complete intelligence tasks together. The IQ scores of participants had little affect on performance, but the number of women on a team, however, affected it a great deal and showed that the more women, the better.

Though many cultures still prefer males, it cannot be denied that girls are a strong investment. In Half the Sky, Sheryl WuDunn who coauthored the book with her husband Nicholas Kristoff says, “An important future indicator for a developing economy is its treatment of women…it is the best way to fight poverty and extremism.” If a country treats girls as equal and gives them opportunities to develop their talents, it has more brainpower to fill the needs of the country. Even World Bank agrees because when development dollars were invested in projects for girls and women, there was a 90% return. When dollars were spent for males, there was only a 30% return.

Growing up in an Asian home, I knew that my brother was given more attention because of his gender. They said that he was their retirement and invested more in his education, and gave him constant affirmation. I was reared to find a good husband with a decent income, so I could live comfortably and be a good mother. The saddest thing about  individuals wanting sons over daughters is that it gives women the belief that they have little significance in the world. It did for me.

Girls have value and should be celebrated, supported, and encouraged by fathers and brothers who realize their unlimited potential; uncles and guy friends who value them. Daughters should feel they have voices that will be heard and possess the power to change the world. Since Jesus gave up His life to die on the cross, it should be a reminder how valuable each person is and this includes females!

On this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for my family, but especially my daughter who I get to see grow  each day. As she matures, I pray that she will:

  • Be free to live beyond the restraints imposed by others. Free to be the girl, lady, and woman that she was created to be—the one who God made her to be. She was made for a purpose. Her life was not an accident, but she was made intentionally.
  • Allow Christ to set her standard for living. Not culture, peers, or a cute guy at school. The opinions of others are the determining factor for doing things.
  • Remember that she will disappoint people over and over. That is okay.
  • Know that her life should not be spent gaining the approval of others.
  • Never forget that her life was paid for through the death of Christ.

 

 

Letter to my daughter:

Dear B,

Don’t live life behind someone else. Your value is not based on someone’s accomplishments. You are valuable because you are loved, so live a life worthy of it. Also, don’t take second best because you are scared that something better will not come along. Never sell yourself short. Be willing to take risks, if God is leading your heart in that direction.

May you always know your value and perfect imperfections, and may it always make you cling closer to Him. Live your life and live it boldly because you were made with a purpose.

 

Love,

Mom

Beauty Means Sun Protection

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The notion of beauty is held highly in culture because it demonstrates status, social acceptance, and suitability as a mate. In Asia, women believe lighter skin is a sign a beauty. To the point, they will cover their body on hot days by wearing a sweater, use an umbrella or hat to protect their face, and even wear a sun mask when swimming.

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Skin Lightening: Fair Ideals for Women?

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In Asia and Africa, advertisements for skin lightening products are prevalent as pornography is in America. They are everywhere. In Asia, these advertisements feature Asian women with glowing skin, jet-black hair, and delicate, almond-shaped eyes. There is a clear message in these ads: You can be a perfect Asian woman by using our beauty products. You need this because you are not enough. Your eyes are not big enough, your nose is not pointy enough, and your skin is not light enough.

A month ago, I was watching an Asian cable channel and saw an advertisement for face soap. It gave the idea that the soap could wash away the ‘stigma’ of having dark skin and one could become more beautiful, have men fall in love with them, and be successful socioeconomically with the lighter skin color that appears.  Margaret Hunter wrote about this in “If You’re Light You’re Alright: Light Skin Color as Social Capital for Women of Color.” She observed that most literature on skin color hierarchies point to the ideology of white prestige and how having a lighter skin color is like “social capital” for women of color since it gives preference to light skinned women, so they have more opportunities to be successful in the areas of personal income, education, and spousal status.

So, how far will these advertisements go? In India, there was a commercial for skin lightening cream—not for the face—the vagina. The commercial showed a husband ignoring his wife, until she washed with vagina wash. The makers of the bleaching product believed it was “Indian women’s hope in a tube.”

Eleanor Roosevelt was once quoted as saying “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” but with multinational companies reaping the benefits of the skin-lightening phenomena, the likelihood of self-acceptance slips further away and enforces racism, sexism, and other forms of injustices to make them seem like a natural part of life for women.

Got Modesty?

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Today my daughter attended VBS (Vacation Bible School) and was leered at by high school boys. One even commented how he wanted a girlfriend like her because she was so pretty. She is eight years old and still has a slim boyish figure with no breast development. There is no mistaking my daughter for a child in middle school or high school.

When I commented to other moms about this incident, not one agreed with my disgust because they thought it was “cute” and my daughter should feel “lucky to get such attention from older Christian brothers.” One even asked, “How was your daughter dressed? Was she wearing a short skirt to make guys stare at her? It is a reflex for males to do this.”

The behavior of the boys and the comments from moms was upsetting, but I believe it reflects the acceptance of this type of behavior in society and in the church. Boys or men who act in a flirtatious manner are harmless. They are not inappropriate. If anything, we should accept that men are visually oriented and tell our daughters to dress modestly, so she does not cause Christian brothers to stumble. For males struggle with sexual thoughts, and females need to do all they can to help them fight off this sin. Sharon Hodde Miller writes about this in her Her.meneutics article, “How ‘Modest is Hottest’ is Hurting Christian Women.” She believes this type of teaching and acceptance in the church makes the female body be “perceived as both a temptation and a distraction to the Christian community. The female body is beautiful, but in a dangerous way.”

When I first heard about the female modesty issue, I was a young high school student and I remember feeling confused and ashamed because the conversation was full of judgment toward women. Girls were being approached by boys in my church and being rebuked about their style of dress. My youth pastor felt proud about men being honest and believed this type of conversation was helpful and affirming to both genders. Unfortunately, what eventually happened were judgmental attitudes among young women and men about clothing. Modesty was the rubric used to measure a female’s spirituality. I was confused because there was so much tension about being attractive, feminine, and gentle but not sexual. Also, I believed that modesty was about female clothing.

This approach to modesty and the body can be destructive to young women for several reasons:

1. It tends to place the origin of sin in the female body.

In this way of thinking, the sin is not where an individual’s mind goes or the action they choose to take; the sin is the woman’s body. Even if that is not explicitly stated, this concept is conveyed through the continual placing of responsibility on women to “protect” fellow Christians from seeing too much of their bodies—lust happens because women’s bodies are sexual and men cannot easily overcome the temptation. In the end, it comes down to the physical characteristics of the female body and no amount of clothing is ever enough. The women cause the men to stumble. Her body contributes to male lust.

2. This understanding of modesty encourages a sense of shame about the female body.

It is the origin of sexual sin; I have to cover my body so that my friends will not lust after me—if my body did not look the way it does, my friends would not struggle as much with lusting. As a young woman, I became ashamed of my body. The way modesty was discussed in our youth group, it seemed that no matter what I tried to do to cover my body it was never enough—I was causing others to sin completely against my will and I felt that my body was the cause of sin in fellow  Christians.

Modesty can be defined too narrowly to only include the way women dress, rather than encompassing how Christians, both men and women, live. When we define modesty so narrowly, it places unfair burden on women that can lead to shame for being female.

3. The way modesty is taught disempowers women.

In this definition of modesty, the women become responsible for the men’s sin. There is little conversation about how dressing immodestly or marketing one’s body affects the psyche of young women. Rather, the conversation is focused on the effect on the young men and their spiritual standing before God. The standard for “modesty” is always up to the men in the community to decide. How women view their own bodies or a woman’s own standards of modesty become a secondary concern.

Unfortunately, when I was a young woman in the Church, almost all conversation about modesty was centered on female clothing. There was some conversation about how the media objectifies women, but either way, I felt a huge sense of shame because of my body and gender.

I remember how my youth group, made it seem like men were sexual animals. Their lusts could not be controlled. The Bible verse of God asking Adam, “What have you done?” and Adam saying, “It was the woman you gave me” was used when teaching about sexual attraction. I know the topic of sexual attraction is hard, but when discussing modesty with young ladies and men, clothing can be discussed, but not because they are causing others to stumble.

The bodies of young women are developing and changing drastically. They need to feel empowered to deal with bodies and sexuality in a healthy way. Instead of conversations about modesty focusing on the biology of men and women—aspects that cannot be changed. It should also be affirming the value of the female body. A woman’s body is not something distracting or tempting, but as Sharon Hodde Miller writes, “Women’s bodies glorify God. A woman’s breasts, hips, bottom, and lips all proclaim the glory of the Lord. Each womanly part honors Him.”

Intentional Encourager

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When God appears to Solomon one night and tells him that he can have anything that he wants, it is so surprising that Solomon asks for wisdom. He could have asked for health, wealth, women, or prestige, but he didn’t.

What is even more amazing is that he was only twenty -years old when this happened. I believe he turned out so well because of his father, King David, who was the most respected man in Israel. King David was imperfect and made personal mistakes, but he obviously did something right since Solomon turned out so nicely.

David believed in his son. He was also an intentional encourager.

A mom who is an intentional encourager is honest with her kids. She tells them what they need to hear, even when it is not what they want to hear. She does not overlook their immaturity, mistakes, and mishaps; but when she brings up these points, there is not a general air of disapproval and low expectation. She chooses rather to temper her honesty with the grace of edification and encouragement. She goes the great lengths to protect her children’s spirits by making sure the overarching tone of their relationship is one of approval. She does not try to force her children to be like someone else—especially other siblings or her friend’s kids. She rather seeks to focus on their unique gifts, talents, and skills God is perfecting in that child.

She knows God has purposes “prepared” for her children to “walk in” (Ephesians 2:10), and He has consecrated each child by setting them apart to accomplish those God-given purposes.

And so she fights not to become discouraged during those periods of immaturity and inexperience in her kids. Even when she sees their failures, she continues to apply appropriate guidance and correction to get her children back on track.

She is an intentional encourager—who expresses love to her children by not allowing them to settle for immaturity or succumb to mediocrity. She inspires excellence not be demanding they meet arbitrary standards of others but they rise to the achievable challenge of God given purpose and potential. She speaks highly of her children to others and is not bashful about seeking prayerful help.

Like David, she believes in her children.

And who knows? This kind of intentional encouragement might cause a twenty-year old to turn his face toward heaven and say, “Lord, give me wisdom.” When they do, you can believe that God will grant them what they ask and more.

Is Beauty Fair and White?

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Ad for Fair and Lovely Skin Cream

Beauty is “a combination of qualities, such as shape, color, or form that pleases the aesthetic senses, especially the sight” (Oxford Dictionary, 2010). Those who are considered beautiful are perceived to have good qualities, greater employment suitability, higher income, and greater popularity. .Beauty can also be equated with youthfulness and is perceived differently in certain societies and cultures. This is why some women experience so much inner conflict with it.

Throughout history, the whiteness of a woman’s skin has been an empowering and disempowering function within Asian cultures. In the Confucian Doctrine of Threefold Obedience, it states women were subordinates to their fathers as girls, to their husbands as wives, and to their sons as widows. Since women had little control over their lives in the past, the ability to whiten their skin, allowed women to liberate themselves from the control of men by increasing their social status through work and marriage. However, the whitening of skin has also disempowered women by placing large amounts of pressure on women to follow the standards of beauty, in order to gain acceptance.

In the past, whiteness equated being part of the upper class who did not have to work in the sun like the poor people. Even though time has passed and there are more indoor jobs available for women, the stereotype of what a fair skin means, has not changed. Those women who have it are seen as more beautiful, successful, and worth noticing than someone with darker skin.

 

 

I have a daughter who is eight-years old. Last year, she was started modeling professionally and has already been in different print ads. Whenever we go to auditions, she constantly receives comments about her long silky hair, unique dimples, and attractive almond-shaped eyes. She is beautiful on the outside, but she is also attractive because of her charming personality and soft heart toward hurting people.

Though she usually has Korean classes on Saturdays, I allowed her to stay home last week to spend time with her father and just hang out. She played in the yard, went swimming, and even learned to ride a bike. She really enjoyed the time because she had her papa to herself and could spend the day frolicking in the sun.

 When we arrived at church the next day, my daughter and I got out of the car first and walked hand in hand, as she excitedly retold me every detail of the previous day. When we were walking closer to the church, there were a group of women who were talking and enjoying the fresh air outside before service was about to start.  As we were passing them, they all turned and gasped at my daughter. One woman loudly said, “She looks like a little black child.” Another woman scorned me for allowing her to play in the sun and not putting enough sunscreen on her face.

When my daughter heard these things, she immediately covered her face with her hands and then hid behind me.  As we walked away quickly from these women, I could hear them still discussing their disapproval of her skin color and complaining how I should have done a better job of maintain her whiteness, especially since she was “more beautiful pale-skinned.”

Instead of heading to her Sunday School classroom, my daughter went to the bathroom and looked at herself in the mirror. I stared at her and felt my mind running with what to say to her about what just happened. Yet, before I could open my mouth, she looked at me and said, “I think my skin color is beautiful and it makes my cheeks rosy. What is wrong with those ladies?”

 

 

Our culture and the thoughts of others have made it challenging to be ourselves and feel good about it. Just like my daughter, we shouldn’t worry about what others think, and compare ourselves to what is considered a beautiful woman in society. True beauty lies in our spirit, the part of us that God sees and feeds. The sooner we take a stand and accept who we are, and are happy with how God created us, the sooner we will see past what others think and truly understand how we are unique and beautiful.