I just wanted to swim with the other kids

Originally published on Patriot Not Partisan

BJ_1980
Me in 1980 – 4 years old.

When I was growing up, our neighbor had an above-ground swimming pool, a rarity in the tiny backyards of the homes on the Southside of Chicago. We could see the pool from our kitchen window.

I often played with the kids who lived in that house and considered them friends. But come summertime, they naturally spent their days in the pool. On any given day, lots of neighborhood kids could be seen playing in that pool. I wanted to play, too. After all, I was a neighborhood kid. But my parents said it would be impolite to ask — I needed to be invited. I watched them play from our kitchen window, sometimes even wearing my swimming trunks just waiting … but that invitation never came.

That’s the first time I learned that I was different from the neighborhood kids. Chicago was — and in many areas still is — highly segregated.  We lived in a white neighborhood. As a half-Filipino, half-white child, I was generally tolerated in my neighborhood, but never fully accepted (outside of my best friend and his family). At my Catholic elementary school, a few of my classmates would call me a “Filipino fart.” In high school, the kid who sat behind me in homeroom would often tell me to “go back to your country, wherever that is.” When I told the teacher about this, he told me to “just ignore it” and asked if I had finished my work. He completely dismissed my concerns, instead of addressing the situation.

Although I brushed off the racist rhetoric and actions, it did significant damage to my soul. I was severely wounded. I would bury myself in writing poetry, listening to heavy metal and dabbling in whatever substance I could get my hands on. One day, I wanted to end it all. And I almost did.

Twenty years later I found myself surrounded by people who accept me — and even celebrate me — for who I am. Of course, I knew there was still hate in the world. I wasn’t naive. I knew many people, especially blacks, Hispanics and gay people, still faced significant discrimination. And I always tried to stand with them. Although an ally against racism, I no longer felt like a victim. The wounds I endured in childhood were permanently healed, I thought.

Then Charlottesville happened, and more specifically, President Trump’s response. Like most Americans, I was shocked and saddened by the events of Saturday. And I was stunned by the tepid response given by the President. But I dug into my diversity training playbook and gave him the benefit of the doubt. As someone who has always been rich, white, straight and male, he cannot possibly understand what racial discrimination feels like. And on Monday, Trump at least made an effort to say the right thing.

Then his press conference on Tuesday happened. And the wounds in my soul that I thought were long healed began to flare up. When President Trump said, “there are bad people on both sides,” that little boy in his swimming trunks staring out the window occupied my mind. When the President said, there are “many fine people” among the neo-Nazis calling for an ethnic cleansing of our nation, the faces of the boys calling me a “Filipino fart” appeared. And when Trump promoted his winery in Charlottesville — “one of the largest wineries in the United States” — that teacher who dismissed my concerns was back.

In my diversity training, I learned there are actually very few racists in the world. Most people are just ignorant. I always thought our President fell into the latter category. But after his passionate statements Tuesday, and his continued unwillingness to consider the hurt his words have caused, it’s difficult not to consider him a racist.

And if you’re willing to overlook this fact and still support him, then you are no better than my high school teacher.

Chris Cornell’s suicide rooted in depression

Everything appeared to be alright.

Reunited and on tour with his original band, Soundgarden, Chris Cornell tweeted at 8:06 p.m.:

#Detroit finally back to Rock City!!! @soundgarden #nomorebullshit.

The band roared through a blistering 17-song set, playing the grunge sound they helped invent, including hard rock radio staples like “Outshined,” “Black Hole Sun” and “The Day I Tried to Live.” Much has been made about the telling encore the band performed that night, “Slaves & Bulldozers,” that includes a snippet of Led Zeppelin’s “In My Time of Dying” with Cornell belting the eerie lyrics:

In my time of dying, I want nobody to mourn.
All I want for you to do is take my body home.

However, Soundgarden performed that same song combination two weeks earlier in Concord, North Carolina. And if fans are seeking foreshadowing of his death through song lyrics, several of Cornell’s own songs provided such insight, such as the closing verse of “Searching With My Eyes Closed,” in which he verbalizes the battle inside his mind:

Stop you’re trying to bruise my mind,
I can’t do it on my own.
Stop you’re trying to kill my time,
It’s been my death since I was born.
I don’t remember half the time if I’m hiding or if I’m lost.
But I’m on my way.

Like the many rock lead singers who committed suicide before him, Cornell turned his depression into beautiful music, and his deeply personal lyrics were treasured by fans who were suffering alongside him.

Everyone has internal demons — that voice in the head that is constantly telling a person to take the dishonorable, destructive and/or selfish path when confronted with a dilemma. Most people are able to silence that voice. But for someone suffering from depression — when in a depressed state of mind — that voice can become overbearing. There are multiple ways to deal with this. Drugs and alcohol are highly effective at silencing that voice, albeit temporarily. Another effective way is to somehow dispel that negative energy through activity, whether it be physical or artistic, such as songwriting and performing, as Cornell did beautifully.

But you never know when that voice will come back. And if it comes back when you are mentally susceptible, you never know what you are capable of doing. For Chris Cornell, like thousands of others every year, the permanent solution was suicide.

Contemplating suicide? Call 1-800-273-8255.

Trump, America about to deny Jesus

Deuteronomy 10:18-19 – “For the Lord your God…loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”


Donald Trump is likely going to sign an executive order tomorrow banning child refugees from Syria from entering the United States. Unlike his bans on other nationd that will last 100 days, his ban on Syrians is indefinite, a.k.a. permanent.

This means the families that are in the process of adopting parent-less Syrian children will not be allowed to proceed with their adoption. This means that Christian organizations that relocate child refugees to families in the United States, like Samaritan’s Purse and World Relief, will no longer be able to do their work. These children will likely die.

There is a lot of ambiguity in the Bible. Even contradictions. But the Bible’s stance on welcoming immigrants is clear.  There are more than 50 references in the Bible regarding “aliens,” “immigrants,” “foreigners” or “strangers.”
Remember, baby Jesus himself was a Middle Eastern refugee. And throughout his life, he was very clear on how we should treat refugees. In every instance Jesus comes across the downtrodden, he welcomes them.

His expectations of us in dealing with refugees is clear in Matthew 25: 34-46. This is the well-known passage where Jesus tells us that the key to pleasing God is to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, etc. In verse 35 he tells us to “invite in the stranger.” Here, it’s important to note that Matthew was written in Greek, and the original word for stranger was “Xenos,” which can be translated to English as “immigrant,” “foreigner” or “stranger.”

Donald Trump is going to sign an executive order denying refugees tomorrow. And in the process, our nation will be denying Jesus.

Most Trump voters aren’t racist, but hopefully they can understand …

Three days after the election, my Facebook and Twitter feeds are still dominated by post-election chatter.

A well-written, insightful piece by college student Cassie Hewlett has popped up numerous times on my feed, shared by numerous friends who were Trump voters. Cassie states it perfectly:

With the results of the presidential election stirring up a vast amount of emotions, I think it is important to clarify something: just because I am Republican does not mean I am heartless.

She is right. I was heartbroken when a student of mine came to class feeling like she could not express her happiness with the election results in classrooms because academia is – let’s face it – dominated by liberals. And claims like “Trump voters are racist, sexist, homophobic” caused her to naturally become defensive, because she is not any of these.

Harsh rhetoric automatically shuts down any chance of conversation. It makes one automatically defensive.

Ironically, the frustration expressed by many Trump voters of being labeled “racist” comes from the same emotional place as the anxiety expressed by those disappointed in the election results. So many of my minority  (racially, religiously and sexuality) friends are posting messages of genuine fear and a sense that they don’t belong in America. These feelings stem from the harsh rhetoric Trump has used at one point in the campaign, for instance saying most Mexican immigrants are “rapists and murderers” or calling for a complete ban on Muslims.

Again, harsh rhetoric automatically shuts down any chance of conversation. It makes one automatically defensive.

For us to truly come together, those of us who dislike Trump need to stop applying blanket labels to his voters. And Trump voters need to understand that many minorities are scared, not because their candidate lost, but because of a genuine fear that has been instituted by the past rhetoric of our President-elect.

Please, tell someone who is genuinely afraid that you respect them, support them, love them and that you will be there for them.

I cried this morning, but not for me

I cried this morning, but not for me.

As an upper-middle class, gainfully employed, relatively healthy, Asian/white male, I will do great under a Trump presidency.

I cried for my Latino friends, like my 9-year-old son’s friend who last spring in 2nd grade was fearful he would have to go “back” to Mexico, a place he doesn’t ever remember being.

I cried for my black friends, who for the first time since before the Civil Rights movement, have a President who refused to strongly denounce the support of the Ku Klux Klan, and who believes stopping and frisking them for no reason is an excellent crime-fighting tool.

I cried for my sick friends — those with “pre-existing” conditions –who now face the prospect of losing their health insurance, again.

I cried for my gay friends, who now will have a vice president who truly believes their sexuality is an illness and supported conversion therapy as a legislature.

I cried for my Muslim friends, who will face the prospect of being deported simply for their religious beliefs.

I cried for my female friends, like my wife, who have worked so hard to break gender stereotypes, who now have a President who finds it totally appropriate to judge women solely on their looks and use them as sexual objects.

I cried for my children, who will grow up under a President who thinks its OK to bully others you disagree with, calling them names and using social media as a bullying tool.

I’ll be OK. It’s my friends I’m worried about.

Dad, I really miss you

bj_1988

It was the summer from hell. It started on Memorial Day.
A tearful call from my mom … she said they were OK.
But the their home for many years — it was on fire.
It was caused by a fan that had a faulty wire.

What would they do? I flew to Chicago to help them find an answer.
Complicating matters was my dad’s spreading cancer.
We consulted with insurance, they set them up in a hotel.
But not used to his surroundings, my dad got out of bed and fell.

For the rest of the summer, a nursing home is where he’d live.
It wasn’t what we wanted, but without a home there was no alternative.
Living out of luggage, my mom spent hours bedside visiting her spouse,
While juggling insurance and reconstruction of their house.

Keeping my dad in the loop every step of the way,
Making it handicap accessible so in his home he could stay.
But he increasingly grew weak, they hospitalized him to be cautious.
The cancer was spreading so fast, the only place to go was hospice.

On Sept. 20, 2014, I got the call I’d come to dread.
My Ninong was on the phone to tell me my dad was dead.
I had braced for this moment for more than 10 years.
But all that preparation didn’t stop the tears.

Dad was sick for so long, but his will you couldn’t bend.
He beat death many times, but cancer was his end.
A few days after his funeral, while we were still all very sad
Their home was finally ready, but it was weird without my dad.

Looking at his handicap-accessible room, which he never would see.
I felt a breadth of emotions sweeping over me.
Hard to believe it’s been two years, the time really flew.
I still think about him every day. Dad, I really miss you.

Thank you Tita, Manong

Manong and me.

With both parents working and no living grandparents, I was the kid who bounced around from home to home after school. One of those homes was Tita Oding’s. She lived in an attic apartment on 112th and Avenue G, just kitty-corner from Annunciata grade school. She told me she would watch be from her kitchen window during recess. Once the school bell rang, I’d race across the street and up the 13 stairs to her apartment. I was always greeted with a warm smile and hug, and a Filipino cookie (Barquillos were my favorite). I would do my homework, watch some TV and graze on awesome Filipino food. Around 5, depending on the day, I’d say goodbye to Tita Oding and walk a few blocks, either north to the East Side Little League field for a baseball game/practice, or south a few blocks to meet my dad, who would always promptly be home at 5:30.
Manong Jun was like a drop-in member of our household. Although he was technically my cousin, he was significantly older than me, and was more like an uncle. I adored him. He took me to concerts (including the first of a half-dozen Cheap Trick concerts I’ve attended), he taught me a lot about electronics (lessons that I — and many others — have benefitted from whether its setting up surround sound for a relative or managing audio at my church), and “rescued me” from the Chicago Skyway after my first car accident. He was such a good role model. He truly lived his life selfessly, and would sacrifice anything for the people he loved.

I never had the opportunity to thank Tita Oding and Manong Jun for the impact they had on my life. They moved more than a decade ago back to the Phillippines. I became busy, with a family of my own and a growing career. At times I thought I should write them, but Facebook and email seemed so impersonal. I meant to send a card and letter, but never etched out the time to write one. I could’ve called, but I just don’t like long phone conversations.

After my dad died two years ago, my mom and I talked about planning a trip to the Phillippines together. This visit with my mom would be perfect. I would finally be able to express my gratitude to Tita Oding and Manong Jun, in person.

But it’s expensive to fly to the Phillippines. There were too many family and work commitments. It made sense to save up for such a trip rather than charging it. Maybe next year. Or the year after that.

Tita Oding died last March. And Manong Jun died last night. They died not knowing how thankful I am. They died without knowing how much they impacted me. They died without knowing how much I love them.

A character trait they both enforced in me was the importance of family. Friends are great to have, but when it comes down to it, blood is thicker than friendship. I failed to heed this wisdom. I was too busy with my own life to thank them for helping to make me who I am and how much they mean to me. And now they’ll never know.