Riots

Ferguson. New York. Baltimore. Detroit. I’d been observing these events going on in the US from north of the border. A few things always come to mind as I witness everything:

1. Fire is catching.

There are thousands of people making comments on how these riots/protests/rallies/demonstrations/rebellions remind them of the districts’ uprisings in The Hunger Games series. I can’t help but be one of those people. It’s interesting yet frightening how they parallel each other. Interesting how fiction mimics reality, and how fiction impacts real life. Frightening how people can safely cheer on the underdogs on the page or screen, and how they condemn such actions in real life.

2. History is repeating itself/History hasn’t resolved itself.

It can feel like a never-ending cycle. And it hurts me that the progress that we’ve made isn’t enough. I know I’m a non-Black person of colour, so I’m in a weird (for lack of a better word) position between knowing what discrimination and racism feel like, and not experiencing the unending narrative of oppression that only these people live everyday.

I don’t know, guys. It feels like slavery happened a long time ago, but these wounds and roots run deep.

3. Two-Slice Hillys still exist.

I haven’t personally met any Two-Slice Hillys (shit-eating racists, if you haven’t read or watched The Help), but just seeing comments on the Internet just make me feel a wide range of negative emotions from sadness to rage to fear. I just can’t believe that progress can be so uneven across a province or state, let alone an entire country. (The US and Canada have their own set of histories to address and remedy, so I can’t side with anybody saying which country has the better human rights record.)

These people have been brought up believing in specific things and seeing others in such a way that it is so damaging to society. And I’m not discounting myself from this. I have acted, thought, and felt with prejudice and perpetuated oppression. I’m not perfect. Nobody is. But I’m trying my best to be more thoughtful and empathetic. I hope I’ll be better.

4. What am I doing to help?

How am I being more thoughtful and empathetic? By stepping out of my comfort zone and learning about these issues. I can follow the news, do research, and talk to people about what has been going on. I can ask questions and hopefully get the truth.

But what about the riots? What about protesting? What about being more active? I know I’m not the type to join a protest or even march in solidarity with people. I never saw myself doing that. Maybe I’m afraid of what others will think of me. Maybe I don’t care as much as I think I do about these issues. Maybe I think I belong elsewhere. Maybe I’m supposed to be fighting from another angle.

I hope that I’ll figure that out. It’s unfortunate to think that more riots and protests will happen, but it’s also very necessary that they do. We need to continue the conversation, to fight systemic oppression, and to make sure that the world remembers what happened and is still happening. I’m no expert on this topic, just an observer and a member of this planet, but I hope that whoever reads this will join me in working to help fix this in their own way.

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My Favourite Stories: Project Introduction

I’ve been meaning to do this for a while. As you can probably tell from my posts, I’ve mentioned several fictional stories that have inspired and shaped me to become a better person. With this project, I’m going to take each story and write a post (or two or seven) on my relationship with that story and why it’s one of my favourites.

Here’s a list of what I’m going to write about:

  • Harry Potter
  • Parks and Recreation (I kind of already did this, but there’s so much to add that it won’t be like a double post.)
  • Naruto
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender
  • The Legend of Korra
  • The Hunger Games
  • The Lord of the Rings

I’m going to start with Harry Potter – be on the lookout for that post within the next couple of weeks!

Note: You can also hold me accountable and send me reminders about this project, since, well, I need the push. 🙂

My Leading Ladies

I’ve been highly influenced by important women in my life. Today, on International Women’s Day, I want to highlight the fictional ones. These ladies have helped me come to love and accept myself, and to strive for success and improvement.

1. Matilda Wormwood

From Roald Dahl’s beloved book, Matilda was one of my first childhood heroes, simply because she loved books. I had thought that my love for reading set me apart from my classmates in a bad way, but Matilda showed me how you can be yourself and take charge of your life to make it better.

2. Hermione Granger

I saw a lot of myself in Hermione from the Harry Potter series. When I was 9 years old, my grade four teacher read to us Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (still not sure why she didn’t choose the first book), and I was instantly hooked. Yes, the story was engaging and magical and all kinds of amazing, but what stood out to me was Hermione’s book smarts, her bushy hair, her large teeth, and her confidence in being the top of her class. I had the first three characteristics, and I struggled with the fourth. I secretly wanted to be more like Hermione, to save the boys, save world, and occasionally give people a literal/verbal/intellectual smackdown.

3. Anne Shirley

I discovered Anne before Hermione and after Matilda. You can sense a recurring theme here of heroines who love to read books and aren’t afraid of being smart. With Anne, though, she went through a lot of charming mishaps and her mouth got her into trouble – which I loved. She wasn’t perfect, but that wouldn’t stop her from exclaiming about her emotions or sharing the importance of creativity. And it certainly didn’t stop her from working hard to get to the top of her class (although her rivalry with Gilbert Blythe might have helped).

4. Mulan Fa

The one Disney princess/heroine (I know she’s not technically a princess but she deserves to be one) I really identified with. Belle from Beauty and the Beast might have loved books and shown great compassion, but Mulan showed so much bravery that I can’t help but want to be more like her. Well, maybe I won’t use a sword to cut off my hair, join the army, be able to climb a pole, or defeat an evil villain. But Mulan does motivate me to fight for my values and remember what is most important in life.

5. Katniss Everdeen

We’re definitely straying from bookworms here. There’s not much Katniss and I share with each other, but The Hunger Games heroine has motivated me to be more resourceful and brave. And yes, I did start to like braids and archery more, and wondered about taking wilderness survival classes. But the one thing that I admire most about Katniss is how her love for the people in her life fuels her sense of justice and her contribution to the fight for equality. That is definitely something that I want to remember as I make my way through this life.

6. Korra

It took me a while to warm up to her, probably from the not-so-smooth transitions between seasons. Ultimately, though, I came to love how a woman of colour with noticeable muscles could be so compassionate and just, flawed and fiery, and accomplish so much for the good of the world. Korra just feels so real, and she represented a group of people we don’t really get to see on television. A lot of the show’s audience appreciated and identified with that. I know I did, and I especially found solace in her quest to find balance within herself.

7. Leslie Knope

As you can tell from my previous post, I definitely want to be more like Leslie Knope. She’s incredibly passionate and hard-working, and this extends beyond her career into her personal life (or vice versa, depending on what you think defines her more). The lessons I learned from her really confirmed what I had gathered from the previous ladies: it’s okay to be smart. It’s okay to be passionate. It’s okay to care. It’s more than okay to be yourself; in fact, it’s necessary. I learned that you really need to follow your dreams and work your butt off to make them happen. And if you fail, you get up and keep going. Because who knows what else life has in store for you.

There are the big 7 for me. Which female characters have inspired or influenced you?

#myhungergames

It took me a while to figure out what I could possibly write about that would fit into The Harry Potter Alliance’s current campaign. When have I ever faced economic hardship of any kind? I’ve been able to graduate debt-free from university, travel the world, work for good wages without any abuse, not have to worry about where my next meal was coming from, etc. etc. etc.

It wasn’t until I had thought of the people around me, until I had expanded my personal bubble to include other members of society, that I realized that I did have a Hunger Games Story to tell. It just wasn’t mine.

I used to work for a legal aid company. I would be the one answering the phone and determining if callers qualified or not. A lot of the time, I’d be the one saying, “no.” And a lot of these people would be working, living pay cheque to pay cheque, often with other mouths to feed. But at legal aid, paying for groceries and electricity doesn’t factor in whether you qualify or not. These people would be struggling to survive, and once you throw legal fees on top of that mountain of stress, once you have to decide the future of your children once a relationship breaks down, or start to think about what will happen if you end up in jail, or get deported, well… it just fucking sucks.

Mind you, I wasn’t as empathetic at the time. I was “simply doing my job,” as one would say. I was too focused on my own ordeal of sitting on my butt down all day, chained to my phone and desk, and commuting for around 3 hours. I don’t think I realized at the time just how much insight I was getting into other people’s lives, and how broken the system is (or how top notch it is if you’re looking at maintaining inequality).

I remember single dads breaking down crying because they’re still recovering from a divorce and have to figure out how to makes ends meet for their children while trying to get a lawyer. I remember having to tell victims of domestic violence that they make “too much money” to qualify for legal aid. I remember talking to an inmate and asking if I could do anything else to help, and him replying, “Can you be my pen pal?” I remember refugees explaining that their lives are threatened if they were to return to their home country.

There have been good moments, though. Happy tears when somebody finds out that they qualify and won’t have to pay for a lawyer. Cracking jokes about the weather. Getting a sincere thank you and actually hearing the person’s smile. It’s an experience that I shouldn’t forget, and I’ll try my best to remember as much as I can. Because it’s not about me. It’s about getting other people’s Hunger Games stories out – because you may just be the one to help put the odds back in their favour.

When Love Catches Fire

A spark came to life when I became a part of the Toronto ALPHA (Association for Learning and Preserving the History of WWII in Asia) team; when I learned about the atrocities that occurred during the Second World War across the Pacific. I learned how the Japanese Imperial Army inflicted so much pain and suffering on its neighbours, and how the survivors are dealing with that pain more than 50 years later.

(International relations are so complex. I don’t want to make the Japanese Imperial Army sound like heartless antagonists. They weren’t. They were treated like filth by their superiors, bullied into submission, and took out their frustrations on civilians in China and elsewhere. That’s one explanation. It’s also important to remember that these soldiers were socialized into believing certain things about themselves compared to their neighbours in Asia. I remember learning just how fragile us humans are, how capable we are of either good or evil. Iris Chang called this the “thin veneer of humanity.”

For me, it’s frightening how this veneer is so delicate, how the balance between good and evil is so precarious. How people like us make choices everyday that determine on which side we stand. Like the Joker said, “All they need is a little push.”)

That spark ignited into a flame when I began to feel an inseparable connection with the survivors. These people had been brutally beaten, raped, and witnessed the deaths of their families while they were young children. I clearly remember seeing the face of a survivor of military sexual slavery, a so-called “comfort woman,” and noticing how much she looked like my late grandmother.

After working with ALPHA and realizing how these stories and forgotten histories need to be told, my passion for this cause truly caught fire. It wasn’t until I met the very woman who had reminded me of my own grandmother that I realized just how big this flame would be.

It was a cold Sunday night a few weeks ago. Volunteers were invited to dinner with ALPHA staff and directors, with special guests Lola (“grandmother” in Tagalog) Fidencia David, Dr. Christina Rosello, and representatives from the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Lola Fidencia and Christina visited from the Philippines to speak in public events hosted by ALPHA and the CMHR in Winnipeg and Toronto. Lola was to give her survivor testimonial, and Christina was there as Lola’s therapist and an expert on psychological healing. I didn’t know what to expect from this encounter, but from the moment I had met with everyone, I realized just how special this connection would be.

Within 1 minute of meeting Lola Fidencia, she felt like a grandmother to me. When I told her my hands were still cold from being outside, she immediately offered me Katinko, her all-purpose ointment. (It’s really supposed to treat dry, itchy skin, but who was I to refuse?) And it worked – the ointment and her charm. This woman was so incredibly strong and loving and grateful that I was instantly drawn to her warmth, and wanted to take care of her like I would my own family. I knew that it would be extremely difficult to listen to her story later on.

Lola Fidencia, at the age of 14, was taken along with her grandmother by Japanese soldiers to cook, clean, and “comfort.” Held captive, she did housework during the day, and was raped multiple times at night. While trying to escape, Lola saw her grandmother shot dead. She managed to reunite with her family, but to this day has had to suffer from that trauma. I remember holding her after she gave her testimony, sitting together while she calmed herself down by rubbing Katinko onto her trembling hands.

How could anybody not be affected by a story like hers? How could the Japanese government still not give a formal apology for the mass murder and slavery? What is incredibly unjust is that these survivors will not stay with us for much longer, and may never be able to hear that apology. From the Halmoni in South Korea who protest every Wednesday in front of the Japanese embassy, to the lolas who work with Christina, these people still suffer. After over 60 years of dealing with the so-called “side effect” of war, military sexual slavery survivors are still waiting for justice.

Violence against women during war should not be the norm. It should not even be expected. I admit that I may not know much about this issue, that I am naïve and simple-minded in this matter, but I care a LOT about my lolas. It is with love, our greatest weapon, that we can feed the flame that will guide us towards peace, reconciliation, and justice. It is with love that we will ensure that the odds will be ALL in our favour.

This journey to justice and equality is long and slow and emotionally exhausting and more than physically painful… but I promise you, it will be worth it.

“Crush humanity out of shape once more, under similar hammers, and it will twist itself into the same tortured forms. Sow the same seed of rapacious licence and oppression over again, and it will surely yield the same fruit according to its kind.”
– A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens