Growing up in the heartland of America as a daughter of a first-generation, immigrant parents I have lived and grew through many traumatic and painful experiences that were the results of the different physical and social characteristics that I inherited at birth (e.g., my gender, ethnic background, the color of my skin).
I still remember vividly the first (of many) time a teacher was angry at me for speaking Vietnamese in a supposedly “English-only” class. I still remember the disapproving looks people gave my parents as well as the look of pity they gave my siblings and I as my parents handed the grocery clerk our family’s food stamps. And I still remember the first (of many) time I was closely monitor in a store and follow on the street.
For many of us who have survived major life battles and fought our way to be where we are today the present time can be frightening and disheartening time for us to live in. Particularly, the recent increase in hate crimes and ongoing news of police brutality targeting members of a specific race and community have brought many of us back to the reality that we didn’t come as far as we thought; that our past is still very much our present.
It’s during times of great anguish where we felt buried beneath layers of pain, anger, and despair that we wanted to give up and give in; and ultimately, escape from it all. Don’t. Stand your ground and embrace the hurt.
More than ever it’s important for us to not run away from our pain and history, but to own it — every single good, bad, and ugly deed that we’ve done and that was done to us. Because only when we’re able to fully acknowledge and own every corner of our past will we have complete ownership and control over our lives and future. And it’s only then that we will be closer to making any meaningful progress and lasting impact in the community that we’re living in and the world around us.
Borrowing the wise words from the respected actress, Viola Davis, as she was reflecting on her childhood trauma living in poverty and with an alcoholic dad to the class of 2019 Barnard College on the importance of owning one’s past:
History is not the past. It is the present.
We carry history with us. We are our history…We all are product of our environment…
Your existence is an amalgamation of every triumph, every hard-won battle...Every person who survived slavery, Jim Crow and the black codes, to the Trail of Tears, wars and passed their dreams on to you of love, of hate.
You are also the product of the other: Of silence, of apathy…of a parent, grandparent, ancestor who suppressed dreams and ideas, who died with lost potential and horrific memories of sexual assault, mental illness…
How about this as a novel idea: How about owning it?
Owning all of it. The good and the bad. Own every heroic deed, great idea. Own all of your memories and experiences, even if they were traumatic. Own it.
The world is broken because we’re broken. There are too many of us who want to forget.
Who said that all of who you are has to be good? All of who you are is who you are. It hurts, you rage, battle it out, ask, “Why?”
Then you forgive, reconcile, and use your heart, your courage and vision to fix, to heal. And then, ultimately, to connect, to empathize. And that empathy creates a passion for people. And it all is the fuel of the warrior, a brave experienced soldier or fighter.
Finally, as we are learning to embrace our past it’s equally important for us to be reflective and stay mindful about our present. Particularly, during these trying times where social injustice remains prevalence we need to be aware and remain conscious of our own privileges.
For starter, go through this privilege check list and keep track the number of items you can check off. Then ask yourself how can you extend your privileges to help others who belong in a marginalized groups in your area, city, and country. Once you have some ideas, make a list, and make it your daily/weekly/monthly/yearly goal to check an item of that list. This list will serve as an important thread guiding you to your grand adventure in life — your own hero’s journey.
So, my fellow life warriors…The choice is your and the choice is simple: march on and march forward towards your own hero’s journey. Enthusiastically and fearlessly.
And if anyone is interested in a thoughtful and pertinent read I highly suggest that you pick up the book, The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fracture World, by professor Jamil Zaki.
Additional good reads/resources: