anti racism, equity, family, teaching

Scaffold

For as long as I can remember, I have been pretty uncomfortable when it comes to starting a conversation. I have always needed a scaffold. Someone to go first. An outspoken and more confident friend or family member who brings comic relief to the room. An adult beverage or an actual conversation piece like an interesting accessory or a delicious appetizer. I need someone to model it for me. What does speaking with confidence look like or sound like in a completely new (or not so new) setting?

In the name of self- reflection, something that is crucial for truly being an anti-racist and culturally responsive educator, I looked deeper into a part of my own history. I studied the part of my cultural identity map that is tricky; the part that brings up all the feelings.

I had never really named it, but a big source of my awkwardness and discomfort in some social situations is rooted in my Racial, Ethnic, and Cultural (REC) identity. (Tatum, 1997)

I am third generation Filipino American. Both sets of my grandparents immigrated to the U.S. from the Philippines in 1950 and 1957.

My Dad and my Grandma made the journey when he was 5. My mom was born in The States two years after my Grandma and Grandpa had made their voyage.

Dad and Grandma’s Passport Photo 1957

My parents were raised in San Francisco and grew up as English Only speakers. My mom’s parents chose not to teach the native tongue of the homeland to their children with the hope of making it easier for them to assimilate to American culture. My dad felt conflicted at a young age with the beginnings of a bilingual life, so English ended up being his primary language.

Mom and dad found each other as teenagers in the big city, living a legendary life as two young Filipino Americans who formed lifelong friendships. Their groups of friends were a diverse mix that included Filipinos like them, White, Black, and Asian folx. My dad and his hobbyist musician friends even named their band Shades of Soul. I still love hearing the stories about that era.

Mom and Dad, somewhere in SF in the 70’s

In ‘78, my parents moved to the burbs to Vallejo, California, and had me in 1980.

I had already learned so much about what the words minority and majority meant and felt like at this point even though no one had named it for me yet.

For about two years prior to grade one, I was in a room full of kids and teachers in my preschool and Kindergarten classes with people who for the most part, didn’t look like me. The learning environments felt safe and nurturing enough, aside from the occasional classmate asking me (maybe telling me?) if I was Chinese. The community was mostly a reflection of my Barbies, Cabbage Patch Kid dolls, and 1980’s sitcoms. Representation of Filipinos around this particular time was limited.

First Grade, 1986

My parents thought about what would be best for my educational future when they decided to enroll me in private Catholic school starting in first grade. I walked into my new class to meet a room full of young Filipino American kids. They were dressed in the same school uniforms as mine, like mirrors all around me, reflecting the same look; brown skin and dark hair. Out of the class of about 25, only 3 or 4 kids were not Filipino.

I was actually part of the racial majority this time.

The relief and sense of belonging didn’t last long, however. I was quickly considered the minority again, but this time by definition of the language that I didn’t speak.

I was amidst Filipino-American peers who were smart, family-oriented, whose parents were well-off enough to afford private Catholic school, AND bilingual.

However, I was missing a couple of invisible checkboxes that were required in order to really fit into the dominant culture, especially in any social circles outside of the classroom.

I would attend birthday parties in which my classmate’s parents would come up to me and automatically speak Tagalog, expecting me to understand and respond. When they saw my deer-in-the-headlights expression, the look of confusion and disappointment on their faces created the ultimate awkward moment. Some would be so bold to as to ask me (after quickly switching back to English), “Why didn’t your mom and dad teach you?!”.

The awkward cycle of confusion mixed with a precise amount of shame repeated itself at different times in my life. Although my parents and I had attended many functions and gatherings in which we were fully immersed in the language, it is just one part of my heritage that I still have very limited knowledge of to this day.

I learned to assimilate within my own culture. Nod. Smile. Listen. Participate and be engaged to the best of my ability. Repeat. It became my communication playlist by default not only in a room full of bilingual Filipinos, but in many other contexts too.

On some occasions, the times that I would find the more confident version of my voice, I would find out later that I had been called “white washed”.

Sometimes, in a room full of non-Filipino folx, I would for some, instantly become a product of assumptions, fielding questions about a HUGE extended family that I didn’t have, stereotypical things that me and my family didn’t do, the rarity of me being an only child, and of course the assumption that I was bilingual.

Sometimes when it seemed to not have added up for people, they would ask me if I was of mixed race.

Mellow and quiet “Zen Jenn” has been a part of my identity for many years in certain situations. I would cue up the playlist because it felt safer. Nod, smile, listen. Contribute when comfortable in a “positive vibes” kind of way, and quietly let go of the statements that were based on other people’s assumptions. I would take notice of awkward reactions and just move on.

Now it is necessary to circle back.

Moving forward, I am reminded of what is so important, yet so challenging, especially within educational systems:

  • When an assumption is quickly made about a person (or student) in the room (or classroom), it can potentially put the real narrative on mute, sometimes for the long-term.
  • How someone identifies across racial, gender, and cultural lines, and any of the experiences that are part of their journey are the ultimate conversation starters. They help us learn from each other, and they are worth any initial fear of discomfort.

I am proud of my cultural identity, especially the parts that are complex. My grandparents and parents made difficult choices to help support the future generations in the family, even though some may not have agreed. I have finally figured out how to share the part of my cultural identity map that seemed hard to explain before, because of my own assumption of people not getting it, or not being able to relate.

The current state of the world is an open invitation to replace assumptions with the true narratives. We can change our own personal playlists. Reflect, rehearse, unmute all, and listen.

What stories and scaffolds can we build to empower everyone to be a part of the conversation?


Reference:

Tatum, Beverly Daniel. Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria And Other Conversations about Race. New York, Basic Books, 1997, 2017

family, gratitude, health, health and wellness, live in the now, mindful

The Concept of Time in The Year 2020

My toddler son made a couple of big kid transitions during the past two months while sheltering at home. He outgrew his afternoon nap. He doesn’t need a stroller or anyone to carry him anymore during long neighborhood family walks.  

These milestones were never on the calendar, marked neatly in a box labeled with a specific date and time. They just happened. He definitely didn’t plan ahead for them either, (however, in the potty-training department, I wish he would). The attention span and thought pattern of a 3 year old probably doesn’t include the concept of what’s going to happen five minutes from now. When we attempt to tell him to wait because something is going to happen in two minutes, it’s sometimes a risky move; an invitation for a potential meltdown.   

With everything that has been going on in our world over the last months, thinking with a toddler mindset can be beneficial sometimes. Some of the most stressful moments that I’ve experienced during the Covid-19 pandemic stemmed from unproductive thoughts about something far into the future that I have no control over. It was either that, or I was looking back too far, sulking over silly things that I miss; ways of life and memories that are no longer a reality. 

Last year, when my father passed away, I wrote a post about looking to the future only ten days at a time, to help heal and grow through the grieving process. Now a new adjustment is necessary. Five minutes. The future that may exist in the next five minutes seems easy enough to handle, especially when the answers that I want aren’t there, and it may be quite a while until they come. 

It’s also a very grim and humbling experience to remember that so many people have fought until the end for the next, (or last) five minutes of their lives. Struggles and challenges have taken on such an intense and whole new meaning for everyone: health, life, food, finances, safety.  If a “struggle” involves not having an exact plan for something that is a non-emergency or non essential  situation, waiting for five minutes at a clip is good with me.

My son lives his life and makes his toddler moves based on what’s right there in front of him. He sometimes refers to the past using phrases such as “earlier” or  “last earlier”, when he wants to talk about something that may have occurred a week ago, or even pre-pandemic. At this point, many of us are questioning what day it is anyway, so making less references to the past could be a good thing.

The word “tomorrow” isn’t a high frequency word for my son yet either. Wouldn’t it be interesting to view life this way, even for a small chunk of the day? If tomorrow wasn’t on your radar, but the next five minutes of your future were guaranteed, how would you spend the time? I’m going to ask myself this question the next time I’m stuck in an unproductive thought or worry. Most likely that will be sometime tomorrow, being that today is Sunday. 

Until then…

How do you try to keep yourself focused on the present moment during a global pandemic?     

family, health, health and wellness, live in the now, travel

Free to Move About

Almost exactly one year ago today, I was about two-thirds of the way into a 12 hour flight to Beijing; the first stop on a family trip to Thailand. School was very much in session, so as a teacher and a mom, I had all the plans in place. I prepped for a 10 day substitute teacher for my third graders. I also made sure I followed the rules and guidelines to apply for and set up my daughter’s independent study for learning abroad while she was on vacation halfway around the world with her mom, grandmother, and extended family members. 

My husband and two-year-old son stayed home and held down the fort. My father was still alive. He stayed back too, mostly at peace with the ladies of his life embarking on this big life-changing travel adventure.

Now it’s March 18th, 2020. Since then, dad passed away nine months ago. Other family members and friends have also become ill or died. And of course, most recently, and unrelated to the loss of those loved ones and purely by strange coincidence, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. 

I’ve spent the last four days scrambling, collaborating with colleagues, and piecing together “remote learning” plans for another group of third graders who I’ve had to leave, this time with no real date of return, due to school closures. 

 Over the course of the last 365 days, my family and I have been through a journey of travel and grief; life changes, hope, and social distancing. I’ve lost track of how many versions of “The New Normal” I have lived through to this point since March of last year. 

I still bring myself back to that Air China flight from SFO to Beijing. I was scared and anxious. I didn’t know what to expect. Things that happened around me were already so different from what I was used to, and I hadn’t even set foot on new land yet. I had to adapt right then and there. 

Currently, I continue to move freely about this airplane cabin of life, confined to my own home, hours on end. Fear of the outside. New ways of navigating the interior, and forced to adapt. There’s nothing to do but make the most of the situation, meet basic human needs, find entertainment value in things, and keep the blood circulating. Eventually, I’m hoping that I and everyone else will land.             

A year ago, I had one of the most beautiful life experiences that ended up helping me through some of the most difficult ones down the road, and I am thankful everyday for that time in my life. Even though at one point I was anxious, and wasn’t sure it was going to end, I wouldn’t have gotten there without that long flight.

declutter, family, favorite things

The Great Grandma Collection

My grandma on my Dad’s side lived in San Francisco during my early childhood. For many years, she was a hairdresser at Emporium Capwell who enjoyed recreational shopping trips that were powered by a generous employee discount. She was a saver and a  shopper and a collector of many things. I loved visiting her house in the city because it was a unique and visually interesting experience. She lived on the second floor flat of a 3 unit building on Duboce Street. It was filled with an eclectic and colorful archive of items that she proudly displayed. I distinctly remember a large piece of wall art that had two blue peacocks adorned in rhinestones standing face to face in front of some ornate building. It was funky and fuzzy and very fun to stare at. In the living room she had mannequin heads that wore wigs of various styles. I assumed that they served as references to her in-home haircut and styling appointments. No table was left without a cloth or doily, many of which were of the crochet and bright-colored nature. She had other things stacked and organized according to systems that only she could understand. 

When I was about 11 years old, a little while after she officially retired from Emporium, she moved out of the city and moved in with my parents and me. She became an official member of suburbia. I was excited to welcome her into our home. She was warm, funny, and kind. I learned more about her quirky collecting nature and witnessed how she managed her belongings within a living space that was definitely more limiting than her place in San Francisco. She scaled back, but she still utilized various types of containers to store her many beloved treasures. She took the city bus around Vallejo so that she could bargain-hunt while everyone else in the house was at school or work. She tucked things away into the compact spaces in her little bedroom (formerly my childhood bedroom), and catalogued scraps of paper mementos into envelopes and perfume boxes.      

An envelope that was packed away. Glad she saved them for another day.

Grandma was also a social butterfly in her close knit circle of friends within the Filipino community. She regularly attended many gatherings and events and I loved seeing her get dressed up for dances and celebrations. She owned traditional formal Filipino dresses, ternos with high butterfly sleeves, and Maria Clara gowns with beautiful coordinating skirts and shawls. She also had other endless outfit options for whatever the specific occasion called for, whether it was a big outdoor picnic luncheon at a park, or a formal holiday party fundraiser event. 

The costume jewelry and accessories that went with all of her looks were truly something special too. She owned hundreds of necklaces and earrings. Bracelets and watches were endless. A couple years after Grandma passed away, my husband and I held a garage sale and we sold a good amount of her accessories (after I hand-picked and held on to my favorites). Yet, I’m STILL currently discovering MORE hidden collections today in and around my childhood home. 

Uncovering the Great Grandma Collection has recharged my motivation and goals of buying less fast fashion or mass-produced clothing and accessories. It’s much more interesting to imagine the stories behind someone’s previously loved items. It’s also fun to know that I can sustain the life of that object for at least a little while longer and add another bit of history to it. If I could meet Grandma again, our shopping philosophies and ideas of home decor and organization wouldn’t match up. But I’m glad that I can enjoy the outcomes of some of her past shopping trips (at the most thrifty price; $Free.99). I’m thankful and honored that I can unlock a new layer of excitement for some of the items that sparked her interest and self-expression decades ago.

She was quirky. She was chic. She wanted to archive the small moments and big milestones of her life, so she labeled the envelopes of her mementos with short descriptions that were scrawled in grandma cursive. What better way to learn even more about her and honor her by incorporating some grandma flair into my own life, and document it the way that she would have wanted to? Thank you for shopping and saving, Grandma. Your style and your stories will come back again, and they will live beyond the collection of envelopes, bags, and containers that I love to rediscover.

balance, declutter, family, gratitude, health and wellness, live in the now

Keep the Original

December brought on a big wave of house reorganization and another much needed reminder of the People Not Things philosophy. The story remains pretty much the same since I started this blog. 

I still have too much stuff. 

I have more than enough. I went “shopping” in cabinets, closets, and the garage. I rearranged and recreated new living spaces all around the house. I transformed my living room with less than 3 simple furniture moves and now I have a new and noticeably better open space that also sometimes doubles as a behind-the-scenes home gym. 

The inventory is constant. I just hadn’t stopped and evaluated it since the summer. My kids discovered new old toys; awkward additions to their brand new Christmas gifts. I was reminded of how much blank paper I have in the house. Unopened printer ink cartridges that I forgot about sweetened the deal.

I still believe that I have enough craft supplies to entertain the most bored child who ever walks through the front door. I came up ahead and “made money” with gift cards that were freed from the junk drawer. Free crafts and caffeine might make for an epic rainy day experience. If it happens to be a high UV day, the family and I will be thoroughly protected from the sun AND from germs for many years with the amount of sunblock and hand sanitizer that I found.

The rediscovery of all this great stuff came with a price, even though I didn’t make any new purchases. I easily spent hours sorting through piles, bags, and papers. My kids had their share of screen time sessions (when they weren’t playing with their old new toys)  as I wrangled clothing, shoes, and USB charging cords. 

I learned the same lesson all over again. Every item or group of items in my house requires varying amounts of time and attention. Reusable grocery bags sometimes delay the departure to the store by about two minutes due to the trip back inside the house or to the other car to get them. On a cold day, three to four warm winter coat options are nice to have, but storage and maintenance, along with the decision-making process could easily add up to the equivalent of total coat-wearing minutes altogether. 

The one item that holds the most value after this recent decluttering session is one of the new board games that my daughter got for Christmas. She asked me to learn and play the game with her at the height of the “stuff shuffle”, and I was a bit stressed. Initially, I didn’t have enough patience to focus because I was devoting my time and my thoughts to the things that needed to be put away. It was a poor showing of being present.

Luckily, my board gamer husband and YouTube stepped in, and we all learned to play and enjoy it around the family table. I then realized that the neatly stacked pile of other board games (new and vintage), that are rarely played deserve time and attention. Playing Plastic Bin Tetris for an hour in the garage to either put something away or apprehend an item isn’t as fun. 

A reminder.

I’m once again trying to slow down the stream of incoming items that arrive here. I am aware of the inventory. I have a lot of stuff. I have the people. The amount of time and energy however, are unknown and limited. Some of the clutter will outlive some of the people. It’s a morbid thought, but it’s real. 

So instead of cleaning the cleaning supplies tomorrow, I’m going to enjoy all the things that will never fit into a basket or a box on a shelf in the cabinet: Eye contact. Hugs. Holding tight and laughing. Sending a genuine text to say thank you. Tastes and smells, and certain sounds that keep me grounded. Letting go and breathing.

I’ll never be able to store these things away and rediscover them later in their original form. But there’s time for all of it now. I’m sure of it.

I’ve cleared the space.       

family, gratitude, health and wellness

That Was Fun

It’s a real gift to access any bit of information that you need on demand. I could have just done the math, but the answer to my question was a tap away, so I just looked it up. 

It’s been exactly four months and 23 days since I lost my dad. 146 days. I know what this length of time has felt like, but I wasn’t aware of the exact number. It’s already felt like at least a year. 

So much has happened, including vacations, the transition back to work, and the celebration of birthdays, family milestones and gatherings. I’ve been blessed to have my family with me, direct household and extended; at least one member close by at all times, even at work. 

It’s a rare occurrence when I am completely alone with the time and space to just be involved in my own thoughts with no other tasks or to do’s. These times often occur in the car on solo drives from here to there, 10-15 minutes at most. When I’m behind the wheel, especially on sunny cloudless blue-sky days, I reminisce. I remember the days that he would drive us back home from San Francisco from my grandma’s house. We never said much on those drives, but I still felt safe and connected to him. Other memories include road trips up to the lake for a camping trip, or back down from the mountains, heading home from a ski weekend in Tahoe. 

Sunny day windshield memories live on in my mind, and the most recent ones hurt the most. The day of his funeral and burial was one of the most beautiful days I’d ever seen in the Bay Area. The convoy from Vallejo to San Francisco was a bittersweet tribute to his life, and I had no choice but to catalog a new memory in my mind. The way the sunlight hit the hearse and that little back window with the weird curtains to shade his casket was a new memory of saying goodbye to Dad. 

I said goodbye yet again a month or so ago, and it caught me off guard. Mom and I spent the morning preparing Dad’s truck to be officially handed down to a dear family member. We made sure it started and we cleaned it up a bit. We decided to bring it back to my house. She drove the truck, and I followed her and drove behind for the 12 minute journey back home. There wasn’t one cloud to be found in the sky.

Once the tears came, I decided to make it a full on emotional release. I cued up my Bob Marley playlist, and watched dad’s truck lead the way back home. Every turn and stop gave me glimpses and memories of him picking me up from school, and towing the family boat. I wasn’t able to see him through the window or in the side view mirror driving this time.  

Mom and I arrived safely and parked the vehicles in the driveway. I wiped away the remaining sun-blinding tears so I could ask her how the truck was running. She was happy and excited that it was running well.   

“That was fun!”, she said.

I was so thankful for that little moment and those three words. The simple statement reminded me that the memories that I invite back into my mind are fun memories. The outer layer of sadness from loss is real, but the fun times that I’ll always know are still there, just like those cloudless blue sky days.

https://howlongagogo.com/

declutter, family, favorite things, travel

Temporary Treasures: Midwest Thrifty Wardrobe Challenge

 I will be traveling to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan soon. It’s time for our annual summer trip to visit my husband’s side of the family. 

Packing for this trip used to be a bit stressful. However, I’ve figured out a different approach that allows for packing light (aside from the kids’ items).

Two summers ago, my husband and I took on the challenge of traveling with just the essentials (underwear, swimwear, footwear), and the outfit that we wore on the first day of travel. Then we purchased all  of the rest of our clothing at St. Vincent’s De Paul and Goodwill. To make it even more fun and interesting, we set a budget of $20 each. 

We did pretty well. I found some fun items that I thought were cute and fit my style. Some were worthy enough to keep and bring back home to California. Other pieces were stored at the in-law’s house for the next summer, and the rest of it was donated back to the thrift stores before leaving town.  

This year I would like to level up the challenge. I plan on sticking to the $20 budget. However, at the end of the trip, I intend on donating all of the items back to the thrift stores before we leave, passing on my temporary treasures to someone else who may enjoy them next. This is also a preventative effort to not add new items to my closet back home.

The fabulous new (and temporary) wardrobe for my Midwest vacation is waiting for me in the thrift shops of Menominee, Michigan, and Marinette, Wisconsin. I’m beyond excited.

I must choose wisely. I have to feel comfortable enough to wear the clothing, but not get too attached. I will let go of my personal style expectations, and perhaps take on a new style for a week or so.

As stated in my previous post, anything is possible within nine or ten days. Photo gallery to follow. Obviously.

Until Then,

Enjoy some photos of the last two rounds of my Midwest Thrift Challenge



balance, family, gratitude

Ten Day Hero

Recently I learned that a lot can happen in the span of nine or ten days. In March, I traveled to the other side of the world. It was a bit of a whirlwind trip, but it taught me that I can take on challenges and gain some life changing perspectives in less than two weeks. 

On Memorial Day, my father died unexpectedly. The initial stage of raw grief went on for over a week until the final formal farewell. It just so happened that his funeral and burial fell on the ninth day after his death. The nine days that led up to it were the toughest days of my life, just waiting to say that final goodbye, ready to transition to the gone but not forgotten state of mind. It was more proof that you can do anything in nine or ten days.

Since then, I’ve been living life nine days at a time. Mentally, it’s a manageable increment. I can set goals and appreciate the good in life. I can do what needs to be done while acknowledging that the new void isn’t going to go away or ever be filled. Living in the now is ideal, but in the current circumstances, looking forward and looking back in nines and tens seems like a good approach at this time. 

Throughout this journey, there’s been one true hero who has helped me power through this new life without dad. 

Mom. 


She has helped me organize and reorganize my thoughts and my things. She’s been there for my kids and my husband, helping us with what we may need day to day. She gives the kids daily doses of spontaneous laughter and silly sessions that only grandma can provide. She’s taught me how to enjoy going to the gym.

Similar to our adventure back in March, she decided to embrace a travel opportunity that was bittersweet. She decided to still go on an Alaskan cruise that she and my dad had booked last year. The decision was a challenging one to make, but she did it. She left home for a bit and saw the sights. She enjoyed the time with other family members, all in the spirit of my dad. Ten days later, she came back, even stronger and more positive than ever.  

Everyday, she shows me and reminds me that I am brave, just like she is, even as we stand at the edge of the deepest type of sorrow, when the tears just flow during those odd spontaneous moments. 

I told her I was proud of her, and I admire her for how strong she is. She responded by saying it’s because of me. I’m not sure if she knows my secret. I’ve just been following her lead.

She’s the true ten day hero.

Grandma returns home after ten days at sea.


family, favorite things, thailand, travel

Always Travel with Unicorn Glue

It’s a good feeling when the first “real day” of travel adventure begins during an international vacation. Roughly 24 hours after our arrival in Bangkok, the family was ready for our first outing beyond the resort hotel property lines. Our mission was to locate unicorns.

Unicorn Cafe was our destination. My cousin’s wife Anne spearheaded the endeavor, and I was all for it. We were vacationing with four young ladies ranging in age from 5 months to 8 years. The quest to find a place that had cute, unnaturally colored desserts, sparkly unicorn decor, and toys and gifts galore was a fun tourist goal for us. It was a quest for buried treasure to locate this establishment in the busy city of Bangkok by means of multiple modes of transportation.

We rode the complimentary hotel shuttle boat that took us along the Chao Phraya river to the nearest BTS Skystation. Here, we accessed the city’s rapid transit rail system. The trains were crowded, but very clean, and easy enough to maneuver through.

After we disembarked, we spent about half an hour learning the lay of the land on foot. I was thankful for Anne, the leader of the pack, who kept us motivated and on track with our route. Along the way, we stopped in a McDonald’s for a restroom break and GPS calibration. Then we pushed on and passed by various street vendors, powered through the thick heat and humidity, and walked up and down flights of stairs on pedestrian bridge walkways.

Finally, after walking down a few more narrow alleys as scooters and tuk-tuks zoomed by, we rounded one last corner and arrived. The storefront had department store style glass windows from floor to ceiling that really featured the over the top unicorn theme. It visually welcomed the weary tourist with energizing tones of pink fluff, pastel baby blues, and mixed patterns of plush and pleather. A white unicorn statue was on display by the front door. It was a life-sized version of some toy that I may have owned in the 1980s.

The family took over the Unicorn Cafe for a good hour or so. Desserts were consumed. Toys were purchased. Ice cold water was chugged. The all important photos were taken to document the experience and post online. I definitely discovered a new travel tip. Sometimes unicorns and sugar are the glue that holds families together during international travel. It makes for good photos too.

How do you keep family vacations enjoyable when you travel with extended family?   

Check out Unicorn Cafe on Facebook