Thursday, November 28, 2013

New Meaning of Thanksgiving for the Alive Again

Like my cohort of the over-educated, social activist sect in the East Bay (snicker), I shun Thanksgiving -- or at least the trite ahistorical Pilgrims and Natives having a feast variation. However, that said, I do appreciate the days off and tradition of gathering with family and friends to out cook each other. This year we plan on having little feasts with folks instead of one big one. I am especially looking forward to the very non-immigrant act of making apple pie from scratch with my 4 and 2 year olds. They like "helping" mommy in the kitchen. 

The best tradition of all is giving thanks. But, even that, like Valentine's Day, has turned into a consumerist nightmare that basically says, treat your partner well one day out of the year. Thanksgiving too has become an annual occurrence that means giving thanks for the good things we have in our lives instead of bitching about what we lack and want to have, then hypocritically rushing off to the pre-Black Friday sales. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Honoring United States Laborers on Labor Day 2013

On Labor Day, let's remember the unfree labor that helped build the US during and post slavery.

On Labor Day, let's honor the exploited labor from the peonage and bracero programs and continued mistreatment of Mexican labor in our fields and factories today.

On Labor Day, let's not forget the contributions of Chinese laborers that despite being singled out as an ethnic group for anti-immigration and numerous anti-labor policies, still managed to bring the US the transcontinental railroad.
On Labor Day, let's honor those that labor at home raising our future.
On Labor Day, let's honor women's labor in its many forms and how women continue to fight for fair wages and other important issues like maternity leave and child care.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Beyond the "Spectacle"

As media attempts to divert us with "spectacle," in the aftermath of the Manning verdict, to repulse or appeal to our biases/sensibilities, let's not forget we live in a police state where individuals risk incarceration, torture, and life for revealing criminal acts committed by the government.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Returning from the Dead (Literally)

It is my birthday this week. Instead of "happy birthday" cheers, I am hearing, "Wow, you almost didn't make it to this birthday...ya, happy birthday, forreals." It gives me pause, and I am reminded, indeed, I almost did not make it to this particular birthday. Let me share with you my harrowing tale as to why.

I was going through a very public tenure battle starting 2011 that ended two years later. For some of you that do not understand tenure, it is the most important promotion given to professors in the academy. It is when your colleagues, the university, and those in your field deem your work valuable. It also means lifetime employment and safeguarding ones intellectual freedom. It is a big deal.

Though I met all the qualifications and more, I was denied tenure. Keep in mind, I was the only Vietnamese Professor in the Sciences, Social Sciences and Humanities at a university with 44% Asian Americans and Vietnamese represent the second largest population in this group. Subsequently, it was the students with allies from cross ethnic groups that mobilized and fought for my tenure. Their saveVnow campaign, as well as support from scholars, politicians, and community leaders across the nation, factored into me receiving my promotion.

However, this victory did not altogether have a happy ending. Under the stresses of the tenure battle, including, sadly enough, assaults within my own Asian American Studies department – shortly after turning in my successful tenure appeal, my body crashed! I had been five months pregnant but lost my child. I then hemorrhaged nearly all my blood supply requiring 14 rounds of transfusion. Almost immediately afterwards, I went into cardiac arrest. The team of doctors and nurses lead by a young Sikh physician worked on resuscitating me. After 30 minutes, she announced that protocol was over, meaning, the team could stop, but she would move forward and asked who would join her. They all said YES!

They aggressively tried to revive me (breaking a few ribs in the process I may add) telling each other that I was a mother of very young children, then 3 and 1. They proceeded to try to revive me for another 30 minutes, then an hour before finding a faint pulse. I was clinically dead for a total of 90 minutes before that point – I had no oxygen to my brain for that duration!

Still I was not out of the woods. With most of my organs not working, I fell into a coma and I kept alive only by machines. In this condition, I even underwent emergency surgery to decrease likelihood of dying from a blood clots. I was in such a delicate state that moving me for surgery proved life threatening. In general, prognosis for survival was slim. Family and friends traveled from everywhere to be by what they thought would be my deathbed. At the slight chance of survival, doctors predicted that I would not be whole and that it would take a year of in-patient care for me to learn to partially talk and walk again. Even so, my husband, who never left my side, remained vigilant and hopeful for a full recovery.

Miraculously I survived and was able to talk and walk within a week. Hospital staff dubbed me the "hospital miracle," a "modern medical wonder." They regularly visited me while in recovery with teary eyes. They said they had never seen a case like mine, "one in a million," they claimed. The confessed they prayed for me and had their families pray for me. Similarly, my family and friends looked at me like I was a ghost. Having seen me completely unconscious with tubes everywhere, they could not stop crying and hugging me, in disbelief I was remotely responsive. All this attention was overwhelming because I was not aware of their experiences in the living world as I was busy dying.

In fact, when I was in a coma for over a week, I knew I was dead. I knew every day that if I did not return to the living soon, it would be more difficult to even try. But, in spite of knowing I was already in the other world, I willed myself to keep fighting. My only thought was not about tenure or anything related to work; it was my children.

I imagined them as adults sitting together viewing old images of themselves as toddlers with their adoring mother looking on. I could not allow myself to die and leave my children without a mother to protect and guide them through lives. I had one wish and that was to hold my children again, to simply enjoy being in their presence. So, I fought against all odds to be back with the living, to be with them. Now every moment I spend with my children is like a dream come true.

My fantastic journey to the after world and back taught me a few things: first, that a parent’s love has no bounds; and that our children can bring us back from the dead. I thank my family's love for fueling my miraculous return to life. I understand I almost did not make it to this birthday and appreciate the Universe for giving me this precious gift. This has been the most meaningful birthday yet.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Art and Omen

Art work sent my way with much concern and love
is lost in the postal black hole
Poetry carefully selected, neatly wrapped
returned to deflated sender without explanation
Here I am, the muse, the enthusiast, the grateful, 

the lonely without message
Only a cruel universe with ear to my heart would
deprive me of art, of words, of sustenance
Omens are annoyingly dreadful

Art: Chau Thuy Huynh
Poetry: Pham Van Binh

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Honoring Our Ancestors

Happy Tết Thanh Minh (Qing Ming, Hansik,...). 
I plan to honor/remember my ancestors on this auspicious day when spirits gather.

Friday, March 29, 2013

My Name Is Pariah

Ping encourages me regularly to write down my story. It is the teacher, humanist, and warrior in her to support. But, with each silence, she says, "don't worry, your story will come. In the mean time, I will lend you my voice, my words." Our strongest weapon against the violent assaults in academia against women of color is our VOICE. Thank you Ping for lending yours through your writings! In solidarity and peace. Fortify!

My Name Is Pariah
by Ping Wang

“Ping,” said my colleagues when they learned my promotion denial, “just stay quiet till we have a new president, and you’ll have no problem to be promoted.”
“Ping,” said another, “if you make ‘noise,’ no college will ever want you, no matter how breathtaking your resume is.”
“Ping, don’t complain to the human rights department if you still want to teach here. It’s equivalent to taking poison and hoping that your enemy will die. It’s a suicide.”
Suicide: an act of taking one's own life…may stem from social and cultural pressures, such as isolation, bereavement or estrangement.
I know what they’re saying. That’s why I stay quiet since I started teaching in 1999. Quietly I taught MWF 8:30-3:30, three weeks after my surgical labor, still wobbling from a torn birth canal. Quietly I watched my colleagues got their early promotions with 1/7 of my publication while I was denied the promised opportunity. Quietly I complied when I was told I couldn’t teach poetry, or fiction, even though I was hired as a poet and fiction writer. Quietly I cut 1/5 of my salary to do service: create new curriculum, expand the writing program, establish the Chinese program, serve on different committees, organize conferences, bring visitors from China, curate permanent photo installations for the administrators...
For 13 years, I kept my mouth shut and worked. Creative Writing became the most popular major. I hired every single faculty in the department, and helped establish the Chinese department. I brought 45 visitors to the campus. I organized over 30 student readings, mentored and nurtured many students into great poets and writers. I published 10 books, won book awards, national fellowships and Distinct Alumna Award, gave hundreds of readings, lectures, key-note speeches, served on EPAG, Freeman Grant and ACTC committees, judging for NEA, PEN, Griffin…
For 13 years, I’m the first to arrive in my office, the last to leave. The security guard knows my blue Honda, parked 7 days a week outside the Old Main, even on New Year’s Day. My kids know it’s impossible to make me sit down on the couch. They no longer ask me to take them somewhere for a family vacation.
For 13 years, I have no time for my family. I give my bone marrow to the college.
For 13 years, I made hundreds of dinners for students and faculty, elaborate banquets that require weeks of preparations, food made for joy and peace.
My photos adorn the President and Admission’s Offices as symbols for harmony.
Everyday I endure pain: joints, muscles, stomach, TMJ, IBS, depression, loneliness…
For the dream that I’d be an equal, someday, if I keep quiet and work hard.
Until I was called into the office: “ Promotion denied. You’re not enough.”
Until my appeal was rejected. “You’re just not enough.”
Until the FPC chair pointed her pinky at me, “Ping, you’re nothing.”
Until they try everything to stop my Kinship of Rivers project.
Until they cut all my teaching fund.
Until they dismantled the Creative Writing major.
Until they ignored my pleas to stop the retaliation and let me teach in peace.
Until they hired a five-lawyer team to Shock & Awe me into dust.
Until lies run rampart about my demand for a “large sum of money,” my refusal to mediate.
Until I become the Pariah on the campus: nobody looks at me; nobody speaks to me, nobody knows me, nobody returns my email, including those I hired, sheltered, worked with, co-taught with, traveled with, shared meals with…
That’s when I realize I will never ever be an equal, no matter what I do, no matter how quiet and low, just because I’m a Chinese, a Chinese woman, a Chinese woman immigrant, a Chinese woman immigrant who dreams and speaks in America.
In fact, the more achievements I make, the deeper is my trouble, the more violence. It goes so deep it can no longer be explained with logic. The refusal to support the Kinship of Rivers project cost the college about $250,000 potential grants, and much coveted publicity. The dismantled writing major will cost thousands of dollars of potential tuition. The legal battle is costing the college thousands of dollars, its invaluable reputation.
The slander and estrangement are costing my life…
All because I ask to stand as an equal to my colleagues, to teach and research as an equal in an institution that relies so heavily on the principles of justice, diversity, internationalism, and academic freedom.
Academia has become a violent place, especially for women of colors, especially for those who dare to speak.
I watched the violence unleashed upon Soek-fang, Kieu Linh, Rosalie Tung, Sun, Feifei, Carmen, and many others. I watched my sisters flailing, writhing, dying alone. I stood by with my mouth shut hoping it wouldn’t be me next. I worked with my teeth clenched hoping I’d be spared. I endured waves of retaliations praying they might stop some day. I called and emailed begging for a face-to-face meeting to resolve the conflicts, NO MONEY NECESSARY. Finally, my attorney sent a sample complaint hoping for an internal resolution…
My private complaint was answered in court. It blasted me into the public arena for a “hunger game.”
That’s when I realize that my silence is a suicide that kills myself from inside, a homicide that killed Soek-fang, almost killed Kieu Linh, a genocide that is killing the entire group of women of colors in academia, one by one, thousands by thousands…
Read my story, our story, Soek-fang, Kieu Linh, women from Presumed Incompetent, every detail backed by emails and legal documents, every word soaked with tears, sweat, blood...Call EEOC, Human Rights Department, Chronicle of Higher Education, AAUP, NAS. They’ll tell you they’re overwhelmed by discrimination claims.
And if you dig, anywhere, you’ll unearth the skulls and bones of women of colors upon which the Great Wall of American academia is built.
Kieu Linh, assistant professor at UC Davis fighting for her tenure, described how she came back from her “90 minute clinical death:”

It was cold there, littered with bones. “Eat us, eat our bones,” they begged, “so that you’ll have strength to go back.” I held them, bones like roots that won’t die, brown, red, black, yellow…I cried, “No, I can’t you, sisters.” “But you must,” they ordered. “You must take us back to the living and tell them what they’ve done to us. Eat us so we can live, so you and your baby daughter can live. Eat us!” So I ate. Every bite I made, a sigh was released from the bone, as if she knew her story would have a chance to see light…

Genocide: a deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group… —Merriam -Webster

Before I spoke, I was dying slowly from exhaustion, shame, doubt, violence…
After I spoke, I’m dying from isolation, estrangement, retaliation, intimidation, terror and heartbreaks…at a much faster speed.

To speak or not speak, it’s no longer an option.

I am dying no matter what, being a woman of color, an immigrant who dares to dream for equality, justice and truth in American academia.

If I’m given a death sentence for this dream, then let me die with my mouth wide open. Let the public eye be my shield. Let the public conscience be my weapon.

Let me be the Pariah if it means no other women of colors will have to go through this again, if it means my children and sisters can live with some dignity.

Speak, if you don’t want to be the next in the “Hunger Game.”

In poetry, we seek truth. In poetry, we unite to stop this violence.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Perfect Peacemaker by Ping Wang

I am honored and humbled that internationally renowned poet and fierce warrior in the academy, Ping Wang, created this sublime poem for me.

The Perfect Peacemaker
for Caroline Kieu Linh Valverde and all the peacemakers

I know pain—whips in air, then flesh
I know scars—keloids mapping the skin
I know hunger—scrambling food for the old and young
I know cold—breaking ice with frost bitten hands
I know work--7/24 till I drop from exhaustion
I know silence—steely wall from eye to eye
I know slander—snake in tall grass
I know sneer—daggers into the liver and spleen
I know rumor—vermin from tongue to tongue
I know fear—worm holes in the brain
I know torture—top down, bottom up, inside out
I know Shock and Awe—its engulfing mushroom cloud
I know deaths—journeys to hell and back
I know rich—in the sea of greed and power
I know light—in the tunnel of despair
I know love— fuel from the earth core

I know phoenix…rising from the radioactive dust

Ping Wang

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Who Killed Soek-Fang Sim by Wang Ping

For those that wondered what happened to me in the past few months, the poem below may explain things a bit. 

From the masterful pen of Wang Ping

"Who Killed Soek-Fang Sim"

I’m one of them, Soek-Fang
Already assuming you’re just another
Dumb teacher, dumb scholar, dumb woman
Just because we share a yellow face
A funny accent, and an eternal doubt
Between our eyebrows: are we good enough
Will ever be good enough
In this fruited plain and prairie?

I’m one of them, Soek-Fang
As I sat watching the rumor shroud you--
Poison gas seeping into your breasts
Heart, lungs, liver, spleen, tongue, throat…
Till every drop of blood, every cell of our being
Is filled with this cancerous doubt:
Are we good enough? Will ever be good enough?
In this gas chamber of slander
We die from inside, a lone alien
Under the purple mountain majesties

I’m one of them, Soek-Fang
Filling vita with our bone marrow
Books, honors, awards, student evaluations
Testifying how we’ve changed their lives with ours…
Oh how we toil with our blood and dream
No holiday, no weekend, no vacation
No time for family or children…
Only our vita bigger than this institution
This nation, this civilization…
Only this yearn to be seen
Through your glass of justice
As “good enough equals”
Under the beautiful halcyon skies

I’m one of them, Soek-Fang
Killing you with my silence, my quick
Belief in this whitewashing slander
Even though the truth is just a button away:
You’re a great scholar, a passionate
Teacher, a generous colleague…
You should have been the face of this college, this nation
With your roots in China, your birth in Singapore
Your PhD from London, the only international
Degree as a crown jewel for the global mission
Yet I assumed your incompetence
Because of this internalized belief--
We must toil on our knees for a foothold
From sea to shining sea

I’m breaking through this gas chamber, Soek-Fang
This alabaster tower dimmed by our tears
I refuse to believe this whitewashed lie--
“Not good enough, will never be good enough”
Just because of our yellow face, our black accent
Our brown immigrant feet…refuse to please
On our knees…in our deathbeds
In the name of diversity, human rights
I refuse to swallow the doubt
That kills you and me, sisters and brothers of all colors
Across the amber waves of grain

I’m rising, Soek-Fang
We’re rising, Soek-Fang
If the law doesn’t give us justice
We’ll make it with our mouths
If justice becomes a cover for lies
We’ll burn through it with our eyes
If lies smear our dignity
We’ll paint it with our blood
If the bloody corporate money drowns our right
We’ll bridge it with 7 billion hearts
Across sea to shining sea

Take our hands, Soek-Fang
Fear is not an option, Sisters
Failure is not an option, Brothers
And we are going
From sea to shining sea
Under the beautiful halcyon skies
Over the purple mountain majesties
Across the amber waves of grain
In this fruited plain and prairie
Till we reach the land of the free

Soek-Fang Sim, a Singapore Chinese immigrant, taught International Studies at a Midwest liberal art college. The rumor had it that she was a poor teacher and scholar. She didn’t pass her third-year review and soon died of breast cancer at 35.

Her legacy.