Nov 9, 2016

November 9, 2016.

More than 12 hours after the outcome of the presidential election became obvious, and I'm still marveling at the breathtaking naivete of all these “is America really, really that racist/xenophobic?” posts popping up all over Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc.

From the standpoint of racism and xenophobia, and how it had frequently dictated the conversation of the day during this whole campaign circus… I honestly wonder how many of you actually associate with people of color on the reg, and not just in the “oh, let me introduce you to my Asian friend Kenny!” way that makes you look like you’re only doing it to bolster your “colorblind” credentials.

I've said this quite a few times over the past year, and it bears repeating again: People who are stunned that a significant percentage of Americans would act upon their nativist/white supremacist impulses clearly have never been on the receiving end of their rhetoric, or felt the brazen disrespect and the palpable disdain that comes with it.

Seriously, ask any person of color in America if that kind of response from the closet (and open) supremacists on Tuesday seemed plausible. Ask any person of color if we believe that every kid who called us all kinds of names/slurs in our classrooms, our cafeterias, our jungle gyms could just “grow out” of that phase and change their ways as adults. Go ahead. Go right ahead. Ask us. God knows nobody did until the very moment the man who spent months appealing directly -- and with overwhelming success -- to those who harbored a long-seated resentment for people like me won the right to be the next preeminent face of this country.

As far as I'm concerned, there are no surprises for us here. There is no shame here. There is no disgrace here. There is no outrage here. Tuesday night was merely an illustration of the America that a lot of us have known and grown up and lived in for years.

Listen… me and my family moved from Japan to the US when I was a kid, and we settled into a mostly white, middle-class neighborhood. We lived next door to a retired couple; the wife seemed warm and friendly enough, while the old man was the stereotypical crusty, taciturn type. We got on well with the wife at least, even with the obvious language barrier in place.

One day, about a year or so after we moved in, my grandma and I were greeting each other after I had gotten home from school. Out of nowhere, the old man marched up to the edge of his side of the front yard. He then proceeded to call us unwanted foreigners and second-class citizens, before demanding we get out of his country. I couldn't really understand what he was saying at the time, but my grandma could -- after all, she had been one of the first "war brides" to move to America, and had faced down similar instances of racism and bigotry during her first spell in this country. She would later explain to me and my mom (after she'd gotten back from work) exactly what he had said.

I was still too young to fully process everything that had gone down, though I could still sense that whatever neighborly relationship we had at that point had totally disintegrated. It became obvious in the years that followed that we would never forgive the old man, a mentality that I held onto until the day he I found out he had passed. It showed in the disdainful glances we shot him on the rare occasions we saw him, and the way we talked about him afterwards. It showed in the lengths we went to disassociate with him, even building a fence between our house and theirs, in the middle of the tiny patch of land that separated us.

My grandma went so far as to prolong her own life, severely weakened as she was in her final years, in no small part from her desire to outlast him (which she duly did, god bless her).

His house sat vacant for a while after both he and his wife passed away; it has since become a revolving door for young families looking for a quiet and somewhat reasonably priced place to rent out for a year or two. But nearly two decades on, and I still haven't quite managed to separate the physical structure of the building from my personal history there. To this day, my mom and I refer to the old man using terms that couldn’t be printed in either Japanese or American newspapers. To this day, it still forms an essential part of my views about the American experience, the American society as a whole, and exactly what kind of space we occupy within that sphere.

The party line seems to be that things like racism, sexism, and xenophobia would gradually die away alongside the generation most likely to harbor them. But see… nah. Nah, man. It doesn't work like that in real life. The bygones cannot be said to be bygones when we are reminded of them on a daily basis.

Because here's the thing: No sooner than the retrograde traditions of the older generations “die away,” do their descendants begin fighting to keep them alive. The legacy of people like that old man has been kept alive by the same kind of kids who still go around flinging “Jap” slurs and Pearl Harbor jokes at random Asian kids in school, the way they did to me during my early years here.

Those same kids are adults today. They’ve all “grown up.” They’re all old enough to be parents themselves, which, I’d venture to guess, some of them have already become. To that extent: It’s not at all far-fetched to think that they’re teaching their own kids those same slurs about [insert minority group here] that they can use – and eventually pass down – in the future.

That kind of tradition doesn't simply recede into thin air. It mutates, takes on new characteristics, and continues on in a completely different form. To belabor the point: Our society, especially my generation, is not nearly as forward-thinking or "progressive" as we fancy it to be. We've simply gotten better at disguising our true sentiments and intentions, inventing new ways to avoid talking about the same problems that have plagued this country for as long as it has existed.

So the end game for the people of color becomes… what, exactly? Either keep trying to get away with being “one of the good ones,” and hope that’ll be enough to keep you out of harm’s way, or get even more used to living life with a near-zero sense of belonging, trust, security, or self-assurance indefinitely. In many ways, those have been the only options presented to us; now, there's more of an urgency to choose between the two.

The public has declared, in no uncertain terms, that we have no place in this country. But we all knew that long before the polls actually opened.

Nov 8, 2016

Gonna tease this out...

It's pretty remarkable, fascinating, and downright scary at times to see how much change this election cycle has caused in people. our own friends, relatives, and co-workers, many of whom you've interacted with on the reg for weeks, months, and years, and some of whom you've known your whole lives -- and who would otherwise be posting hundreds of cat memes, viral videos, and rants about how their favorite sports teams are trash -- suddenly transform into these huge political junkies, start making demigods out of people running for office, fill up their (and our) timelines with ten articles a day savaging their "enemies" (and maybe share a write-up in support of their "allies" every couple days), develop this siege mentality that makes them look like they've been lifelong champions of their favorite candidates and causes, and threaten to throw away multiple, long-lasting relationships or familial ties for doing so much as not doing fully lock in step with every single one of their opinions.

It's a huge run-on sentence, I know, and it all probably sounds wild judgmental... but I look at what this past year, this particular cycle -- filled with primaries, attack ads, debates, attack ads, stump speeches, attack ads, conventions, attack ads, even more debates, attack ads, relentless news coverage, attack ads, obsession with poll numbers, attack ads, constant calls to vote bordering on shaming and intimidation, and a few more attack ads for good measure -- has done to the way we interact with (or even perceive from afar) our friends, loved ones, acquaintances, and complete strangers alike. And I'm not particularly sure that I like what I'm looking at today.

Jun 13, 2016

24 hours in the city

The Plaza on Friday night, the Pulse club last night.  One killed doing what she loved to do, scores more killed for enjoying the lights.

I've lived in Orlando for most of my life. I've seen just about everything there is to see here, for better and for worse. And lord knows I've routinely poked fun at this town over the years for all the bizarre s--- that has gone down here. But I can honestly say that the one thing I’ve never seen or experienced here is people demonizing other people.

This town is far from being some cauldron of hatred. This is a town where damn near everyone is honest, hardworking, authentic, approachable, and wants nothing more than to live in harmony. This is a town full of people who are willing to listen to, and actually learn from, the life stories of our coworkers, our neighbors, and anyone who happens to cross our paths.

Orlando will have been left shocked, saddened, despaired, and outraged by the events of this weekend, and justifiably so. There will be thousands upon thousands of people who were affected in one way or another by these events. There will be countless friends and neighbors who will be grieving for years to come because of everything that's happened this weekend.

But my experiences here also tell me that there’s still plenty of heart, soul, and character left in Orlando, and that there are people who fight every day to maintain the very best things this city has to offer. And difficult as this may be to say, let alone do, just hours after what seeing has gone down over the last 48 hours, while the wound is still raw and the hurt is very much real...

This city, and everyone who calls this place home, should not allow even these events to shatter our beliefs about who we are.