Sunday, September 11, 2016

Food Trauma, Gentrification, and Asian Food for White Folks

How does an asexual Korean American yoga-nun crone celebrate Valentine’s Day?

With a kimchi party, of course.

Friends gathered as we mixed gallons of napa cabbage kimchi in deep red pepper brine, with garlic and carrots and scallions, then stuffed into jars to sit for a couple of days to ferment to one’s taste. What could be more celebratory and heartwarming than bright red jars of homemade kimchi sitting on windowsills in the winter sun?

But the community center where I live didn’t necessarily agree. A staff member, a 60-something white man, asked me later that week, “What was that smell coming from the kitchen? It smelled like….bathroom.”

“Oh, that,” I explained cheerily, telling him about the kimchi party, and how delicious kimchi is and how good for our health. But inside, I was shrinking, receding into a too-familiar feeling of embarrassment and shame.

My mother took care of my father as if he was a child, as all good Korean wives are trained do. I remember she would not feed him kimchi in the morning. He enjoyed the traditional Korean breakfast of soup, rice, and a variety of banchan (sides), which never included kimchi, while we kids indulged in the toxic sludge of sugary cereals. She said it was because she didn’t want him going to the office reeking of garlic and fermentation.

And so I learned the language of shame, at the breakfast table, denying ourselves the cultural heritage and health benefits of our national food, as an effort to fit into mainstream white culture. I took my mother’s practice as a matter of course, and never had kimchi for breakfast, until I moved to Korea for a sabbatical in 2014.

I lived with my friend Jung-In, who, herself, was in the process of rediscovering Korean culture after 9 years of American schooling. I happened to be there during kim-jang, when the entire month of November is dedicated to harvesting all the cabbage on the peninsula to pickle into kimchi for the year to come. Every school, church, temple, home, and community center devotes itself to big kimchi gatherings, that everyone pitches in to, plastic-gloved and elbow deep in huge tubs of kimchi.

All that to say, during my time in Korea, we ate kimchi morning, noon, and night. Probably my internal flora was the most robust it had ever been. I came to realize that Koreans in Korea didn’t have my mother’s silly rule of no kimchi for breakfast, didn’t have the worry about smelling of garlic, because we were unified and supportive of each other’s foodways.

For American foodies now, kimchi is de riguer, and you can find it at farmer’s markets in tiny mason jars with rustic labels slapped on, for $15 a quart. At a fancy grocery store in Toronto, I spied Italian style, deep-fried rice balls with pork and kimchi. The possibilities, as white folks have discovered, are endless.

But instead of undoing the decades of internalized shame, I mostly feel angry.

Dr. Mario Martinez points out that inflammation is a response to an inner wound of shame. At first I resisted this idea, but after some frank inner inquiry, I understand that shame has lain beneath much of my experience as an Asian American. The same way our faces turn red when we’re embarrassed, with a flush of circulation, when we feel ashamed, our whole body inflames. Over years, it becomes autoimmune disease.

Every one of my immediate family members has died of shame, ie autoimmune diseases. No heart disease or cancer for us. Instead, we go off in a blaze, our bodies’ immune systems turned inward, attacking itself in self-flagellation.

The inflammation moves around my body like a tourist. Mostly I bear it in my respiratory system, nose and sinuses, or worse, lungs and bronchioles. Sometimes it’s in my gut, the deepest parts of myself churning. Other times I experience it on the skin as eczema, which homeopaths say is the healthiest reaction on the spectrum of healing because it’s on the outermost layer of the body.

So when a Thai restaurant owned, staffed, and catering to white people, called “Katoi”—derogatory Thai slang for transgender femmes—opens up in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood in Detroit, how do you think I’d react?

I haven’t always identified as a cisgender woman. I’ve only recently stopped buzzing my hair, as an experiment to see if my hair is playing a role in my overall health. On the spectrum of queerness, I place myself primarily as asexual, and my boyish, androgynous frame seems to reinforce this. For a number of reasons I have happily been choosing non-sexual forms of intimacy with both men and women, and have been partner-free for the past 6 years.

Nowadays with my longer hair, I don’t routinely get called “sir” anymore, but I still bristle at impositions and assumptions of gender, and support gender nonconformity. Meanwhile trans folks, especially when brown and black, are the most victimized, ostracized, at-risk members of society, experiencing the most extreme oppression and violence, on the furthest peripheries. Apparently none of that deters cis owners of Katoi restaurant from appropriating the most superficial aspects of gender nonconformity for fun, coolness, and profit.

The combination of the appropriation of Asian culture and the exploitative use of a derogatory slang term for profit has me waking in the middle of the night, recalling a variety of microaggressions that accumulate and manifest in my body as trauma:

A roommate walking into the kitchen while I was eating kosari, a Korean root vegetable. “Whatcha eating? Worms?”

My white ex-husband and various white friends, politely, or impolitely, declining to even taste my food. My white friend who told me she was afraid of my refrigerator because she didn’t recognize the food.

My white classmate in a dance class joking about how I smelled of garlic.

My children embarrassed at leftovers they took for school lunch, and begging instead for Lunchables.

A friendly cooking competition in which our team prepared a traditional Cambodian pork and ginger dish, and was told by a judge that it tasted like cardboard.

I’ll bet every Asian in America has been othered by their family foods, and has hidden it, been embarrassed by it, and internally experienced it as shame. But suddenly, it’s adopted by white people, who triple the price while halving the portion, top it with a sprig of cilantro, and serve it in a chic setting in a gentrifying neighborhood.

It doesn’t undo my shame. It reinforces it, as a matter of fact, because it reifies white supremacy, which tells me that I am less important, less trustworthy, less powerful, and less human than a white person. That my contributions need to come in a white package to be valued. If I am what I eat, unless I can fit into a certain kind of box, I am unappealing, even repulsive.

If you are a white person reading this, and you have, most likely unknowingly, been on the harming end of such actions, I hope you will listen without getting defensive. Believe me, I don’t need to hear your side of the story. Find a savvy and sensitive white friend unafraid to call you out, to process this with. If you go to your brown and black friend, they may feel a need to be supportive. After all, this is our training, a habit which took me nearly 40 years to break.

And to my Asian comrades, have some kimchi with your morning eggs. Dab it with some stinky fish sauce. Smell of garlic all day and night. Do it for your ancestors, who died for your freedom to be wholly yourself. Do it for the generations to come. May they, and you, be shamelessly glorious, in all that you eat, and do.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Notes on Healing: Malidoma Somé—GRIEF, RITUAL, AND SACRIFICE

loss of parents—resulting grief and pain opens a vortex that sucks one in as if to remodel the familiar into something unfamiliar.
must allow oneself to be reborn.
nonlinguistic area of the self—psychic/spiritual part of us undergoes metamorphosis into something perhaps higher or lower, to get one to a new dimension.
loss calls attention to our possessiveness, good or bad/dysfunctional.
when that thing is removed, creates immediate vacuum.

connection between grief and water.
water is element of reconciliation, peace-making, purifier/cleanser.
every loss produces crisis that calls for reconciliation.
how do I reconcile myself with the loss?
“the amount of grieving I’ve done is not adequate to get to the other side.”
a whole lot more needs to be done to get to the other side.
a common/universal state.

water as an opportunity for further shedding—a different kind of grieving.
water as a principle element of our own genesis.
we lived in water in womb sea before birth.
what is it that water can touch in me? to turn moist, and liquefy, and remove from me?
beyond idea of cleanliness, seeking psychic bath.

village shaman in august when rivers are full, takes money into clay jar, walks into water, disappears for several hours, then comes out with clothes dry.

something in the water that is not just about drowning.
maybe this is the other home that we have left that we go to when we enter water.
“water people” to ensure there is peace and reconciliation within community.
also fire clan, earth clan, nature clan, mineral clan.
“the grand deal”/the great purpose inscribed in us before we were born—that we MUST fulfill it, stop at nothing.
we all want and look forward to giving our life to something bigger than us.

sacrifice—the cycle of life and death so ingrained in us such that dying and living intersect.
desire that death is connected with something grand.
exiting this world also means entering another world where a huge welcoming committee is waiting for you.
dagara people hold immense ritual for 3+days when someone dies.
escorts into other world.
the deceased becomes a sacrifice to the greater go.od of the community.

animal sacrifice—hard to explain, not to romanticize african culture.
not devaluing animal.
trees are most advanced beings—a consciousness that supercedes all other beings, wider and bigger—they look still—not going anywhere.
after trees, come animals, and humans are third or last.
the higher the consciousness, the more eager you are to offer yourself to the next layer of consciousness below, in order for it to rise.
lifting otherwise wanderer csns allows self to go further—a contradiction.
sacrifice repairs human mistakes.
no chicken killed just for food, but to repair something not working well—an offering.
sacrificed body is shared with spirit—certain key parts given to shrine of spirit, eg liver and heart—connected to main seat of csns of animal.

fabric of modernity makes it difficult to understand sacred killing.
csns associated with animals is source of inspiration behind mythical stories that sustain communities.
through these stories children are taught community mythology.

in malidoma's culture, those with deformity/infirmity/chronic impairment highly valued and sought after—permanent living shrines.
they need mobility in community as reminder that they are surrounded by something bigger than themselves.
they provide a sense of humility.
thermostat to prevent overheating of one’s grandiosity.
desire to marry disabled person—because you live permanently with the sacred.
a natural attraction.

modernity has ruled out the sacred—we can stare at the otherworldly and not see it—the sacred has been de-sacralized.
cause for grief—getting rid of something most important to us.
very strong excavators needed to go to the places sacred has been buried and dig it out.
simple rituals of honoring trees, plants, offering tobacco etc harness enough power to open a few more eyes to sacred around us.

struggle in day to day life—difficult to build shrine today for ritual tomorrow.
our own conditioning makes us blind to sacred, makes us rigid—we need to stay in the water for a few weeks to soften up!
the inner preparation is a personal duty/assignment.
is it possible for each of us to meet privately and concertedly with the trees and plants with the purpose to excavate the interior of self?
looking for those elements inserted by culture that do not belong to us.
when the time comes, we can then carry that which does not belong to us to water.
then give it to the sacred, because the sacred as a csns will know what to do with it.

we define all offerings as good—but not always true.
the earth can take all trash, water can liquefy filth, plants can take energy away from us to purify.
all are offerings.

think of something grand you want to act on behalf of, someone struggling, think of self as an offering to something bigger than yourself.
become a sacriicial element, there is dignity in giving yourself to something grander.
do not seek perfection in the immediate.
“here I am, I know nothing, but I can show up”—qualifies you to be hired by the spirit to do the impossible.
learn as you go, don’t need to gain expertise first.
eventually you get most of it by the end of your life.

each of us present here may have been woken up by an ancestor and placed on this path to try to do something grand.
the nature of this may not be delineated now—because of difference between conscious and unconscious, and info lost in the middle.
as long as we’re driven by this humble thought, nothing else will matter.
not about another tradition imposing on another—color doesn’t seem to matter eventually in the eyes of spirit, because something else is going on.

very uncivilized to show up for something like this.
nothing lost in suspending disbelief, tho this is probably hardest thing to do.
why should we want to do the easy thing?

before you go to divination, you take ash and go to the shrine of the ancestors with the problem bothering you.
say to ancestors “take this ash and produce a shield, take cowry shell payment, and ingest all” to lead me to the answer.
ancestors will tell the diviner what to tell you.
if you have access to one ancestor, they will share it with others in spirit world.
can resolve many issues this way.
not about us posturing as beggars.
also go to trees to hang out, not just when we have trouble.