We Have Always Had a Voice: No One Is Voiceless


Who will tell your story?

In community college, I had an American History professor who got to the chapter Asian-American History. He grabbed the whole chapter with two fingers, flipped them, and said, “We’re skipping this. It’s a small chunk, anyway.” Everyone in class turned to the back to look at me. I said nothing. I stayed in my place.

In the same class, a student said, “We need to drop a nuke on South Korea, get rid of those communists.” I said, “Do you mean North Korea?” She replied, “It’s the same thing. Nuke them all.”

In third grade a kid named Danny ran by in the playground and punched me in the face. He went to a corner and started meditating like he was a ninja. He made whooping noises while chopping the air.

I was embarrassed to bring my bulgogi and kimchi to school. The smell brought out howls and hisses. I’d beg my mom for anything else. And that was the start of a dedicated measure to conformity. Even if I did not say it with my mouth, I said it with my heart: I began to hate my own skin. I wanted badly to be white. I am ashamed to tell you how ashamed I was.

I became a chameleon with the skin of a mirror. I fed the vanity of others, stoking their flames, crafting a personality out of the person in front of me, from bestsellers and banter and every hit show. Always nodding. I shrank myself so others could feel large.

My voice was strangled. In a place of manic conformity, where one wrong move could make others cold or “not one of the good ones”—What else could I have done? But fall in line? Fold in half? Forfeit myself so others were comfortable?

But always, I had a voice.
The one God gave and entrusted: it is mine.
They can take your pen and your microphone, they can tape your mouth to silence you:
but no, they cannot take your voice.
They cannot tell your story.
It is yours.

I see my baby daughter who is like her mother, other times like me. We laugh at how similar our daughter is to both of us. And then there’s this unique part of her. Not like me or my wife. That’s my daughter’s. It is hers. Her God-given voice. My prayer is that she can live fully into who she is. My hope is for her world to never ask her anything else.

— J.S.

My Voice Was Taken


These last few week I’ve been reading about the many assaults against Asian-Americans, and I was hit with a lightning bolt of a memory I had nearly forgotten.

It is my very first memory. I was four on my first day of preschool. The only Asian in class. I didn’t speak English. When the teacher found out, she forced me to sit in the corner all day. She told me not to talk or turn around. I wept the entire day.

My mother, when she picked me up, cussed out the teacher and switched me to another school. But it was too late. A year or two later, as I learned English, I lost much of my Korean. The trauma destroyed my native language. My tongue had been burned of its millennia of heritage in my still-forming mouth.

To this day I can still understand Korean just enough, but when I try to speak I get tongue-tied. A block. It is apparent why. My voice was strangled. A teacher failed her “non-compliant” student. A system allowed racist violence against a child. A teacher did not understand she had a non-English-speaking American in her class, and instead of including him with even the smallest gesture, simply cut him off in a corner. The teacher was a cog in a system not funded with resources to equip their educators. That child never had a chance.

Our voices are still strangled. When I am yelled at violently in traffic because “Asian driver.” Spoken very slowly to by a cashier. Spoken over constantly in meetings. When people I supervise don’t take me seriously because they are not used to an Asian in the lead. When Asian jokes are told with zero hesitation. When people who look like my father go on a walk and are killed.

I realize I am lucky. My experiences are not as bad as others. My pain though, like any pain, is still pain. And I am not tougher for what I have gone through. I was made less. I was stripped of my home tongue. But no: I will not be stripped of my voice. It will not be taken. We each have a voice, gifted by God, just the one we are given. You have a song and it must break free. You have a microphone to pass to a young uncertain child, that they may sing too. Your voice. Speak. Your voice will carry you.
— J.S.

What We See Vs. What We Believe


A poem.

There are so many conflicting images. Peaceful protesters lying down in streets, kneeling and pleading, distributing masks and praying and holding signs for justice. Protesters separating instigators and educating witnesses. Then the burning buildings, looting, assaults, the provocateurs, outside agitators, the opportunists. Law enforcement shooting rubber bullets and tear gas, more knees on necks and backs, driving their vehicles through crowds unprovoked, even as crowds shout no. And images of officers and citizens kneeling together, hand in hand, reconciling, trying to understand.

I think it’s too easy to pick one image and make that the whole story.

Here’s what I see.
What I see is rioting and crimes committed, but even more, peaceful protests and people listening.

What I see is the black community disproportionately abused and killed. But even more, I see their deaths expose a coldness, that we’re unmoved and still, the response a dismissal and derision, as if they‘re a subhuman species, second class, their stories replaced with stats, “black on black,” and misplaced facts.

What I see is that the black community is not seen.
What I see are images of riots being weaponized to ignore pain: “What about the fires and looting and riots” in my inbox, and never once, concerned about racism and brutality on their street blocks. Instead it’s “Look at these burning buildings” and I feel them and I agree, and I also want to point to these burning black communities, they’ve been burning already for centuries while we had the luxury of apathy. You see good work undone by riots—but did you see good work undone by your quiet? I see both; I must see the bigger picture; and right now the pain is bigger, the protests are bigger, those are the thousand words in every picture.

If you wave around just the one image, then maybe you’re seeing what you want to see and you’ve looked for what you want to believe.

I see the violence and I condemn the harm. I also see protests and we have to march.

— J.S.

When I Ask If God Is Good


When I ask if God is good
I see a cross, an empty tomb.
What He writ large in the stars
is writ small for our wounds.
From the sky to my sin
He is re-making us again.
When nothing else is good,
He is the only one who is.
— J.S.