Are you a white supremacist? I found myself wondering on Memorial Day as I walked through Helen, Georgia with my mom & stepdad. Along the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the town of Helen is an alpine-themed getaway for many city folks. This past weekend Helen was a meeting of two Georgias, two Americas. Spanish-speaking families gathered for cookouts along the green grass in the riverside city park. The public park was alive with people enjoying the Memorial Day holiday while watching merry tubers float down the river.
Not far from this scene, a restaurant called Cowboys & Angels had live music. The musician, Joe, was sitting in full Americana regalia, from an American flag button-up shirt, cowboy hat with an American flag rim, and shiny American buckle. He sang country classics to a crowd wearing their own American regalia. All these people united under the banner of a meal, but for how long? Until someone is angry or disappointed, and this place turns into a death scene?
Can you blame me for this concern? On our way up from Atlanta that day, we passed numerous signs for a candidate running for US Congress with the image of an AR-15 underneath his name. His only campaigning was the image of this gun. Is it fear-mongering or the symbolism of a desperate America? We also passed churches with little American flags along the yard. The awnings of many churches were covered with `Welcome` printed on top of American flags. It had me wondering, does this mean the church welcomes you only if you are American? What does it mean to be American to these folks? What version of America qualifies?
Are these the signs of supremacy? A little less doom scrolling is absolutely in order. But after the white supremacist attack in Buffalo, New York, and the incomprehensible school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, I have to wonder, is a small town in Georgia next? Can I know that this type of violence won’t happen where I go? I am afraid it is hard to rule out the possibilities.
Our American epidemic of gun violence is unequaled, unchecked, and problematic. The ideologies behind mass shootings are grounded in racism, power, and hatred. While we know that banning assault rifles worked in the past, it is not often mentioned in the public sphere. Interviews with NRA spokespeople seem circular and mind-boggling. I could recall that the history of this country is steeped in violence. The profit motive ultimately drives us. From there, where will we get the motivation to take this problem head-on?
Instead, defenseless children are being asked to prepare for active shooter drills. That `solution` itself is looking at this problem as an inevitability. That is AFTER someone has arrived armed at a school. The situation in Uvalde is itself a horror. The students did have this training. It was the police that failed them. Where then can we turn for help?
From the comfort of my home, I have pondered. Yes, we have (a fraudulent application of) the second amendment. Nonetheless, most Americans want some form of legislation for gun safety. One great article that covers this issue in depth is To Change Mass Shooting (Truthout). A deep soul searching is in order.
We never know where it will be safe to hang out. Can I go grocery shopping or teach in peace? I can wither away in my angst, or I can take action. Democracy survives on citizen action. I will attend the March for Our Lives in Atlanta. There will be many other locations where this March is going on. We, the people working for a more perfect union must make our voices heard. Even if it requires uncomfortable, non-violent confrontation. The alternative, to live constantly in fear, is not acceptable.
Between leaving my birthplace and growing up in Atlanta, I had a five-year residence in Tanzania. From Canadian birth to my green years in Dar-es-Salaam, I lived on a trajectory that continues today. Between studying abroad and my international roots, it looked natural to travel from place to place.
I had little say over my early childhood moves, but I can trace some purpose behind the effort in these recent ones. Japan was both the fruition of a lifelong ambition and a stepping stone. I had always imagined living abroad. America under Trump was (and continues to be) damaging to the global image of this country. I felt my time in Japan served a professional and personal purpose. I presented a perspective that was both American and unique at the same time. Being based in Tokyo opened my eyes to healthy urban and car-free living. I also learned from the experiences and interactions with a global community of expats. Of course, Tokyo was also a great place to explore other parts of Asia.
While initially, I traveled with joy, during this pandemic, it feels a bit self-indulgent and exhausting. The purpose and style of travel have a lot to do with it. If I am traveling just to tick off a list, it seems a bit slimy. I would love to go prancing around Paris, but is there a purpose to it? I once traveled to Morocco, where I ate only fancy hotel omelets because I was scared to try the street food. How about the all-inclusive resorts of Mexico? I am not sure that Cancun resorts even qualify as the real Mexico. Even that moment when you roll off the tourist conveyor belt and buy a cold $1 Corona, this little introduction to Mexico seems like an impoverishment of the country and culture.
I suspect people travel for many reasons. Some, involuntarily, others with ambition. Many for an escapist vacation, and some for adrenaline fueling adventure. Casual travel lately is getting a bad name. Wasteful jet fuel consumption and Instagram-location-whoring aside, can there be any reasonable justification for voluntary trips nowadays?
In special situations, travel provides an opportunity to expand our humanity.This, for me, is really the most compelling reason to travel. If you take your 5th trip to Oman and jump between luxury hotels and canapés, I wonder what you bring home. While the Four Seasons can introduce a local herb to your cocktail, heart-expanding travel includes smelling leather hides treated with human attention. This kind of experience can differentiate between objectifying a culture versus connecting with others.
I can see a lot of what happens in travel nowadays as an extended spending spree. Instead of partying with fancy cocktails in a big American city, you can drink in a foreign capital with the same socio-economic class. Travel, now, seems like an indulgent extension of consumerist capitalism. Is there a limit to living for the `gram? How do you balance the potential for deep, meaningful travel with blind indulgence?
I look forward to any other travelers willing to share their insights.
Surrounded by green pines and sitting on the red clay along Blue Ridge Lake, I stared into murky green waters. Under the water’s surface, a fish moved between the shade and the sun. She swam above rotting foliage and around a fallen branch. I watched her swim as I was digesting the hour before.
“Where are you from?” The real estate agent asked me. I sense she was trying to size me up rather than have a conversation. I stared at her in mild shock and disbelief while trying to hide my angst. “I live in Atlanta,” I responded with blank eyes. I felt judged and was reluctant to gab.
Inside my head, I meet with my vagabond turmoil. My mixed bag of responses floats in my head. “I am from nowhere. I am from everywhere. A three-continent list would be the beginning of my life story and genealogy.” But really, who has time for all that? Actually, I no longer know where I am from. I am living in a constant state of flux. Identity, ultimately, is a limiting form of identification.
How to Belong in Georgia?
Lately, there is a more significant issue. I no longer know where I belong. I feel like that oil slick hanging in the finger of Blue Ridge Lake- challenging to mix and sprinkled with yellow pollen dust. This theme, where are you from, I have touched on before. In Georgia, and in particular, now, this is a loaded question. I think the more relevant questions are: “Can we get to know each other? Where are we going? How can we work together to get there?”
Today, I am from a place where old lessons mix with an even older desire. Another middle-aged lady asks the same kind of question in the next hour. I looked for a non-BBQ lunch option and saw a well-loved Cuban sandwich shop in downtown Blue Ridge. After discussing the yucca frita, she asked, “What is your nationality?” I told her my ethnicity and that my forefathers are from India originally. She told me I looked Latina, and I grinned in acknowledgment.”How about you?” I asked back. She responded with a short history, “I am Tampanea (from Tampa, Florida). My father was from Spain, and my mother was from Italy. And then, my husband from Cuba. So here I am, arroz con mango.” The expression was perfect! A strange mix of rice and mango. I smiled, and we went on to a chat about Georgia turning blue in 2020. She mentioned that in the mountains of Georgia, there are pockets of people from everywhere. Her words absolutely resonated. I remembered my days of grass-roots campaigning; Atlanta is that salad bowl type of mix.
Our Rich Heritage
After lunch and cortado, I strolled along the train tracks cutting through downtown Blue Ridge. On a parallel street, tucked between strip centers sporting Trump posters, a shop called The Joint caught my attention. The shop includes a Beetle parked out front and psychedelic colored furniture on the grass. Here, I found an Atlanta ex-pat. For a little while, we both lived in Homepark. The Mudcats, a local Atlanta band I followed, played at her wedding. We chatted briefly about Georgia and the changes in Atlanta. Between our old memories and the mountain air, I knew I was related and belonged somehow to the history of this red-blue patchwork state.
Heading back to the Airbnb, I pulled over for an irresistible photo. I spotted a real-life Trump Store behind a McDonald’s in a strip plaza adorned with for lease signs and potholes. Next door to the store stood a Vietnamese-American photo studio, and two doors further down was a Mexican restaurant, Mucho Kaliente. The dim-lit Trump shop sported a flyer for an Indian-American Labor Commissioner. Mr. Bhatt here poses with Trump as he campaigned for “Georgia First” & “America First.” That night, from my country farmstead Airbnb, I wondered how he would balance those with Trump’s racist rhetoric. I simmered on this while my Christian Korean-American host family cooked bibimbap downstairs.
Georgia Roots & Atlanta Dramas
Everybody I encounter in Atlanta is from somewhere else. The only people with ancient knowledge of the land in Georgia were pushed away. That now illicit history traced further back points at the ugly roots of our national story. The reckoning with our past is a step into what we are working towards. That is the only thing that will bring us all together. I am less interested in anyone’s background. I am more interested in their heart and how we can make space for all of us to belong. Atlanta is quickly gentrifying parts of its classic inner-city neighborhoods. Traffic along the 285 Perimeter gets worse annually. The effects of global warming make Atlanta even hotter. There are so many issues that touch all of us. It takes an understanding of where we want to go to work together.
Our Spiritual Evolution
A force moving us towards inclusion and cross-cultural understanding is the process of our spiritual evolution. One of my favorite books,The Road Less Traveled, puts it this way:
The notion that the plane of mankind’s spiritual development is in a process of ascension may hardly seem realistic to a generation disillusioned with the dream of progress. Every-where is war, corruption and pollution. How could one reasonably suggest that the human race is spiritually progressing? Yet that is exactly what I suggest. Our very sense of disillusionment arises from the fact that we expect more of ourselves than our forebears did of themselves. Human behavior that we find repugnant and outrageous today was accepted as a matter of course yesteryear.
Dr. Scott Peck
Dr. Peck builds his idea of spiritual development throughout his book. Essentially, energy and intention toward progress grow from individual effort. First, a person works towards putting their spiritual house in order, connecting values with action, purpose, and discipline. That effort is personal progress. From there, people work to bring alignment into their community. They empathize when others are wronged; they work with a sense of purpose in their day-to-day relationships.
We Do Love One Another
We unite against displacement, injustice, or “othering” which we do not suffer because of our spiritual evolution. The situation in Ukraine is an example of this. In western countries, there is a wellspring in support of Ukraine. (Of course, for another post, this support has a sharp edge. Why don’t we feel the same sympathy for the loss of life in Palestine, Syria, and Yemen?) I was in Japan when the world rose in anger against the murder of George Floyd. For a while, the Facebook group I admin-ed was a flood of support, irrespective of race. Later, in Tokyo, many locals and foreigners united for the Black Lives Matter march. In the US, mass shooting occurs regularly. How much longer till we bring together a balance of competing interests in the gun debate?
The very fact that we care about others speaks to our collective spiritual evolution. While the world gets smaller, thanks to technology and transportation, we can move towards a genuinely pluralistic society. We get there by working on what unites us rather than what divides us. A shared future, a shared planet, and healthier public institutions are the steps to make Georgia part of an even better Earth. Just as we seek ways to honor the rights of those we consider “different” from us, we can actively create a sense of belonging. We can work towards belonging regardless of political leanings, ethnic background, and economic class. There are infinite ways in which we can support one another. The goal, I believe, is to find how we are united rather than how we are different.
Mother’s Day just passed by, and while I love my mother, I think it is a strange day to celebrate. We were all brought here, by a woman, our mother, into this mortal life. Being born of a mother is one universal in a world of variations. Does that automatically make being a mother special? I am, by choice, child-free and wonder what we celebrate on Mother’s Day. I suspect it is more than the fact of a biological relationship. What if you have ongoing struggles with your mother? Is there still cause to celebrate? What if you had the mother from Mommie Dearest? It may be social taboo to discuss, but I wonder if anyone has a less than ideal relationship with their mother?
While my mother does not quite meet the scary Joan Crawford standard, our relationship sometimes feels like a roller coaster ride. Once, on Mother’s Day, in fact, I came from out of town to visit my mother. I drove us to a park a few miles away from her home. While we were there, I was test riding a foldable bike that was sitting in the trunk. As I checked out the bike, we managed to split up at the park. After not seeing me for a few minutes, she drove her car back home without me. I biked around looking for her. Later I realized I was at the park by myself, without a phone, my wallet, or any heads up about what had happened. Entirely confused about why I was left there, I ended up biking Atlanta roads without a helmet in the scorching heat to her house. The fury burned hot inside and out as I made it to her home. When I asked her why she left me, she said she was hungry and was sure I could make it home Ok. Without apology, she noted that I was so outdoorsy that I would have enjoyed the ride on my own. This same woman also loaned me money to buy my first rental property. Later, I realized she wanted the brag of telling her friends that her daughter owns a rental. Money usually came easier than compassion. Though things are getting better, I find myself constantly struggling to be understood.
Many other millennials are similarly examining their upbringing. Parental apology fiction is a new sub-genre. In these modern sitcoms, children confront parents with pain from their upbringing and get resolution. That fantasy seems a far cry from where I am. For now, it is enough that I got some insights into our tumultuous relationship. The book, Will I Ever Be Good Enough, has helped me understand some difficulties through the lens of personality. From it, I developed the understanding that it takes enormous effort to go beyond providing for physical needs. To care and nurture through disagreement is the hallmark of unselfish love. Supporting another’s self-actualization requires immense emotional reserves.
Hence, my pondering. Some women become pregnant involuntarily, unknowingly, and ill-advisedly. To be born of another human is the most natural thing. In reality, the right combination in the horizontal mambo can make most women into mothers. Biology comes before the choice for some. Being motherly, however, is not for everyone. Emotionally immature women have children to fill a void in their life. In other cases, young girls do not get sexual education and become mothers early in life. At the same time, our country is reducing the legal options for women to choose whether they want to bring a pregnancy to term.
So, the distinction is essential. Being a mother is quite different from being a Mom. Instead of motherhood itself, I propose that it is mothering that we celebrate on Mother’s Day. Biological mothers have varying degrees of warmth and lovingness. What we celebrate, then, is mothering. Those moments in which someone, sometimes an actual mother, cared for us. The celebration of caring, nurturing, and warmth is itself a cause to celebrate. To love when it is difficult or trying, or when there are disagreements, is what I set out to celebrate.
Thankfully, I have a big extended family. As our immediate family became a bit established, we were able to host aunts, uncles, and my maternal grandmother for a while. Their warmth and caring contributed to my development. Sometimes, others would see my point of view. I felt secure in knowing a world of support was around me. On Mother’s Day, I celebrate mothering, even if it comes from aunts, grandparents, or other close relations. If we are lucky, we have many people around us that contribute to our upbringing.
Flowers, like children, can grow on their own after a particular start. This natural process is the beauty of nature, that is she just grows. However, the blossoms grow bigger, more fragrant, and stronger through nurturing. In essence, to love it takes the ability to move through disagreement with love and respect. With time and reflection, I came to see some of the difficulties in loving rooted in traumas from the past. Thich Nacht Hanh has a beautiful meditation on developing compassion for parents. Inspired by this practice, I wrote a poem to remind me (and anyone else) of struggling with a problematic parental relationship.
Happy Mother’s Day to Mommie Dearests, Mothering Aunts, Grandmas, and Mothering Humans All Around!
Mother’s Day is the loudest Hallmark holiday. We were all born of the egg of some woman. But, the holiday can be hard to celebrate if you have lost a parent or have had ups and downs in your relationship. These three poems contain love, hope, and compassion for the various ways you might feel about Mom.
In spring 2016, before heading off for a long road trip to the American west, I wrote this small rhyme as a dedication in a little book I gave my mother. I knew I would be away on Mother’s Day, so I intended to leave her with a smile before I hit the road.
Dear Favorite & Only Mom,
It is not yet Mother’s Day,
But still I had to say,
Very early and only today,
You have such a wonderful way!
I count my blessings
And am in luck,
YOU are my mother duck!
When I am not there, and you are blue,
Read this book, through & through.
I am stuck on you, just like glue.
When you are through,
You’ll know, I love you!
By Sabrina Hassanali
Kahlil Gibran’s book, The Prophet, has beautiful wisdom on the essentials in life. This poetic meditation for parents shares how to see children.
Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday. You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far. Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness; For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.
By Kahlil Gibran
Intergenerational trauma can be unwittingly carried from grandparents onto their children. The following poem I wrote after contemplating this Thich Nacht Hanh meditation on how to see a parent as a hurt child.
Parents are people too and
Full of imperfections, pimples, and pet peeves.
Punch through the core of all of that.
Pained parents push away their progeny through preparations they pour into the little pieces of their heart.