Dear 45, on behalf of children of colour

This post was originally published on my previous website on January 12, 2018.

Dear Mr. President,

First thing first... I’m Canadian. You’re not my President. Yet time and time again, you’ve dragged all of us—women, people of colour, advocates, allies, global citizens, Kingdom people—into this through your comments and your actions.

Yesterday, you called the homes of millions of people a term that I struggle to repeat on my blog. You—the man that holds the most powerful political office in the world—used a vulgarity in one of the highest offices in the world that many, if not most, people rarely to never dare to use in their own offices, schools and homes. That alone is an abuse of your power.

But this letter isn’t to tell you to watch your language—you should probably know that. This letter isn’t even to tell you that I’ve been to Haiti and that it’s beautiful, or that one of the most precious girls in my life is from Africa and that she is beautiful. Plenty of people are doing that, and I will let them speak on behalf of all of us who work every single day with the resilient, beautiful, incredible people of the Global South to breathe beauty and love and wonder into this messy world.

With Happyness, who I’ve sponsored through Compassion Canada for seven years, at her Compassion centre in Tanzania.

With Happyness, who I’ve sponsored through Compassion Canada for seven years, at her Compassion centre in Tanzania.

No, this letter is on behalf of children of colour who live in America.

You see, in this season, I’m trying to work on giving people the benefit of the doubt. I’m trying to work out of the overflowing grace of Jesus in the way I respond both privately and publicly to events, people and situations in my life. So even though the cynical side of me absolutely does not want to, I’m going to try and approach your comment under the assumption that you are simply ignorant. That your racist comment comes because as a white man that grew up in America, you are simply ignorant to the experience of people of colour in America / North America, and you are ignorant to the ravaging effects that your comments have on young, impressionable children of colour.

So, I humbly ask you to hear me out for a few minutes as I explain.

I grew up as a first-generation Asian-Canadian in a primarily white neighbourhood just outside of Toronto, Canada. I was privileged to have some exposure to cultural diversity, since Toronto is one of the most multicultural cities in the world. But my primary experience was one where whiteness was default and everything else was Other.

It starts innocently enough. Maybe it’s Remembrance Day (that’s Veteran’s Day, for you) celebrations at school. The history class that goes along with it is about the trenches in Europe and the men and women that fought those wars—for freedom, for liberty. The assignment that goes along with it is to see if your ancestors fought in those trenches. My classmates go home, and come the next day with stories of their grandparents who are war heroes. Their ancestors are celebrated for their contribution to the peace and freedom that we enjoy here in Canada today.

But my ancestors did not fight in those trenches. So these little doubts enter my mind: Are my ancestors weak? Does my family not contribute to making Canada peaceful and free?

Then maybe it’s a trip to the movies. Maybe it’s every trip to the movies I ever took throughout my childhood and youth. The main character is always white, by default. Their experience is always one that white people have, or at least “default Americans” have, so why not just cast a white actor, since, remember, whiteness is always default in the world I grew up in. It’s the same story when I turn on the T.V. or read books.

There are never people of colour in those stories. Definitely no Asians. Definitely no Asian heroes. So those little doubts are reinforced: Is the experience of people like me not worth depicting in the media? Is my experience always second to the default of whiteness?

Then maybe it’s a few innocent enough comments I heard ever so often. “Your dad says that word funny.” “Nothing’s more Canadian than summers at the cottage and winters at the ski resort!” “I love Chinese food. You’re so lucky, your mom must make Chinese food every night for dinner.” “Can you say something in Chinese?” “There are terrorists in the Philippines, right?” “I would never go to China.”

But I’ve always understood my dad, even when he enunciates every syllable in comfortable as if it’s a Filipino word. My family has never had or wanted a cottage, and we’ve never been skiing. And so on. And those little doubts start screaming: Is there something wrong with the way my family operates? Is there something so exotic or different about Chinese food and language that makes people so interested in it? Is there something wrong with the countries that my family is from?

Are the places I’m from sh*tholes?

In Cebu City, Philippines—my parents’ home city—in 2014.

In Cebu City, Philippines—my parents’ home city—in 2014.

I’ve come a long way, Mr. President. I am so proud of where I’m from. I am so proud of the diversity that I and my fellow people of colour bring to this country, and the stories we can start to tell.

But yesterday when I heard about what you said, my mind immediately went to the black, brown and yellow kids all over North America who have had those little doubts bouncing around in their minds all their life. And I was bowled over with grief at the realization that the most powerful man in the world had just validated their deepest, darkest doubt by stating that the places they're from are sh*tholes.

I know it’s hard for you to understand because you’ve never experienced what I just described to you. But I hope you can try.

I hope you can start to listen to the experience of people of colour in America.

I’ll end off with this:

To my white friends... This isn’t about anti-whiteness. This isn't about discounting who you are, what you contribute to this world, or implying that your whiteness is wrong. I want you to know that from the deepest parts of who I am. What this is about is recognizing that people of colour experience a wildly different America than you do, especially in times like the one we’re in now. And we want you to hear our experience so that you can begin to link arms with us in change. It’s not just about the way we teach history, or represent in the media, or the passing comments we make... it’s much more systemic than that. But we can start to change those systems of oppression when we hear each other, hold each other, and build each other up.

To those from Haiti, countries in Africa, Mexico, El Salvador, and other countries in the Global South, and especially first generation kids in North America... I know for many of you, it will be a long time—maybe never—before you get to see the place you’re from again or for the first time. And based on what you see in the media, sometimes it’s hard to believe that those places are beautiful. But they are. They are not sh*thole countries. They are even so much more than “very poor and troubled”, as the President put it when he tried to rescind his vulgar comment today. They are places that were created by Creator God—just like you. And even in the midst of messiness and brokenness, that same Creator God has a deep desire to reconcile and redeem and restore and because of that, the place you are from is home to many beautiful, wonderful, divine stories of hope and restoration—stories just. like. yours.

Stories just like the one I hope we can start writing as we move forward together.

Dear Sweet Little Girl

This post was originally published on my previous website on January 1, 2016.

This all started with a little boy just a little younger than you and your brother.

This entire day, it happened because of Aylan's tiny, lifeless body washed up on the shore of the Mediterranean.

And quite honestly, sweet girl? I was discouraged for once. This optimist wasn't so hopeful this time around. I didn't let my heart hope for even a second... I thought I knew that Aylan's photo would cause a lot of retweets but not a lot of actual action.

I had accepted that all that would come across the air to Canada from Syria would be more stories of despair.

Yet here you are.

I suppose I forgot that there are good people in the world. I forgot that there are many, many people just waiting for an opportunity to birth Love into this world.

Because yesterday, sweet girl, I saw Love birthed into the world like I've never seen before. I saw the Body of Christ come together and come alive and bear His image to you and your family in one of the most beautiful ways I have ever seen.

I can only imagine how confused you must feel right now... They told you that you were coming to Canada, and then you got on a plane, travelled 16+ hours and were put up in a strange hotel in a strange city for the night. Then in the morning, you were shuffled out of that room and told to wait in the lobby.

Your poor parents were told nothing of a sponsoring group... Nothing of the God-sent apartment that had been rented for you or the sweet family with beds made in their spare room just waiting to host you for the week while the aforementioned apartment's paperwork goes through. Nothing of the team of people who have sourced furniture and found Arabic-speaking doctors and researched schools... none of it.

I can just imagine how disorienting this must feel. Like maybe this was all a bad idea after all.

And when I saw the tears and relief in your parents' kind, weary, and courageous eyes as our translator told them that we had been preparing to welcome them for months, my heart could've just about burst.

When the whole lot of us huddled into that conference room of that hotel - the whole mismatched group of us, beautifully brought together because of a desire to welcome you - and your papa said that thing about feeling like we are your new Canadian family? Oh, little girl, I think even the toughest of us were tearing up.

Because this is it! This is the Love we get to share in the midst of a broken world. And how could we ever say no to this? How could we dare to miss this?

And then we went to that restaurant serving up meals from your homeland and okay, the whole party of us? We were hard to miss.

So a regular at that restaurant leans to the waitress and asks What on earth is going on over there? and the waitress tells her the bits of our story that she's gathered in all of five minutes of us being there and soon after that regular customer leaves, that waitress is over at our table letting us know that our entire tab had been picked up by that stranger.

But it didn't stop there. That waitress herself picked up the tab for our coffee afterwards, and the owner sent you home with a box full of meals on the house for your first week in Canada... A taste of home to help with the homesickness.

And I'm realizing that we live in an ocean of grace. We live in a world where people are ready and waiting to birth Love into this world, and we can believe in the hatred we see on the news, or we can believe in Love.

Dear sweet little girl, it is just all too fitting that your family is ringing in the new year in a new country with a fresh start lying ahead. Yet I can only imagine how tough this coming year will be for you. It will be a long process of getting accustomed to life here - one that will at times be messy and frustrating, yet also, we hope, fulfilling and incredibly beautiful.

Know that we, your new Canadian family, will be there with you every step of the way.

Because sweet girl - we believe in Love and we pray that you and your beautiful family will come to believe in Love, too.

Dear Aylan (Part Two)

This post was originally published on my previous website on September 26, 2015.

You, little angel—I think you changed the world.

The last time I wrote to you we were all still reeling. We were just learning your name and your story and how we could have saved you and we were all shocked numb.

And I told you that all I could pray is that you did not die in vain. "That your death would, if not convict us, then embarrass us to action."

If I'm honest with you, Aylan? I wasn't feeling very hopeful when I signed off on that letter. I was angry.

I was angry that we would forget you.

But you know what? We haven't yet.

There are people all over the world telling the story of your people, hearing the story of your people and most importantly, welcoming the stories of your people into their own stories by opening their borders, their homes, their lives.

It became real this week, Aylan. Mennonite Central Committee matched our church family with the first of two refugee families that we will be welcoming into Canada and into our lives in a few short months.

And yeah, we have zero clue what we're doing.

Because there are fears and doubts and worries and just the straight-up inability to speak Arabic, you know?

And wow, there's those nasty things people say on the internet about you and your people, little Aylan. How come we blame you for wanting a share of the security, the laughter and simply the breath in our lungs that we take for granted every single day?

And then there's this huge task ahead of us of finding an apartment and doctors and people to show our new friends how to ride a Canadian bus and shop at a Canadian grocery store. And then there's preparing for the stories and the trauma that this family might carry on their shoulders after their long, long journey out of a war zone and into our lives.

But here's the best part: we serve a Jesus who has filled our community with hearts to serve and gifts to share—doctors and teachers and expert-apartment hunters and people who know Arabic-speakers. And the most awesome people who are willing to spend their days finding and sorting furniture and household items to fill our families' not-yet-found apartments and others who are willing to clear their garages for a free place to hold it all in the meantime.

This is community.

This is how we come together as the Body of Christ to respond to the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War.

We're smack in the middle of history and when it's all said and done we want to be remembered as the generation who welcomed the strangers as if they were Christ himself, running into Egypt, fleeing Herod's slaughter as a refugee.

I remember reading an article back in Grade 10 while writing a history essay. It told the story of a boat filled to the brim with Jewish refugees and bobbing on the shores of Canada.

And I remember being so angry, Aylan, because do you know what happened next? We turned them away. We listened to our fear of the other and we told them straight-up to turn around and they sailed straight back to their deaths in those horrific concentration camps.

I remember thinking it—if I had the chance I would have let them in.

And here's that chance. Our chance to respond with love and open arms, so that a student much like me, writing her own history essay many, many years from now, will be able to say—

We welcome refugees.

We Welcome Refugees Edit.jpg
I was a stranger and you welcomed Me.
— Jesus (Matthew 25:35)

Dear Nameless Boy

This post was originally published on my previous website on September 3, 2015. Soon after publication, the boy was identified as 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi.

This picture of you ravaged the world yesterday.

You stopped me dead in my tracks and yeah, the world isn't sure how to go on.

But then we will.

And I'm sorry, sweet little boy.

I am so. angrily. horribly. sorry.

And that sounds pretty pathetic and oh how worthless it is to you now, but I somehow have to say this anyway, for the sake of those that will come after you.

I'm sorry that we will solemnly shake our heads at that photo of you—today's top story—at six o'clock and then enjoy laughter and family time at the dinner table at seven.

I'm sorry that this week we're ready to cry an ocean of tears, and next week you'll be but a distant memory as we, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, embrace the first week of school and the flurry of activity that comes with it—things you'll never have the opportunity to know.

I'm sorry that as my country's leaders campaign to become the most powerful person in this country, we are more concerned with scandals and with pensions and with daycares and with rich guys and a squandered 90k than we are with you. I'm sorry that you and your people aren't a big-ticket campaign issue and I'm sorry that my people don't care enough to demand that you are.

I'm sorry that we think you're the government's problem.

I'm sorry that being sorry just simply isn't enough.

Because sweet boy, I'm downright embarrassed to tell you that as more than 2,500 men, women and children just like you have perished on the Mediterranean this year, here in my homeland—a place of luxury that you could probably only dream of—we've been "fleeing" our own homes to go on vacation. We've been up in arms about a lion. We've been seeing who can make and try the craziest foods at my city's annual exhibition. We've been arguing with each other over the saddest, most pathetic things.

Oh, I squirm while saying this to you—we've been living mindless lives instead of loving you until you're simply able to live.

We've filled churches on Sundays while you and your people filled boats and sailed straight to death—and are we really being the Church or just filling steepled buildings hollow?

Because we're full of empty good intentions and real-sounding excuses when we should be full of the love of Christ.

And sweet boy, this is my apology, this is my outcry, but mostly this is my confession.

Because while that mortifying picture of you should anger me and convict me until I'm nothing short of doing a radical thing like boarding a plane and personally escorting a family like yours to safety, the embarassing truth is that I'm probably going to tap out this blog post, retweet a few links, maybe make a donation, and then forget while I go to university to learn how to save the world when what really needs saving is you.

Here is the truth, tiny little nameless boy: I don't have the answers.

My soul aches a thousand aches to say that. I don't have the answers. I don't know what to do. I don't know how to save you and I don't know how to end a war that is continually pushing more and more of your people into the same situation as yours.

And I will never understand any of this while I am on this side of heaven.

Here is where I would usually write something to the effect of, “What I do know is that I serve and cling to a Jesus who has already overcome all the brokenness in this world.”

And yes. Yes, I do. I certainly, most definitely do. That is always and enternally humanity's blessed hope.

But for your people that are still bobbing on the Mediterranean, I'm not sure those words are enough—unless my people act on those words like they are true.

And for my people that are still mindlessly bobbing around our luxurious world, I think those words might be too much—we take them as a licence for inaction when we actually have a role to play in overcoming the brokenness of this world.

Nameless boy, I feel like weeping as I say this all to you.

And I simply hope and pray that you did not die in vain.

That your death would, if not convict us, then embarrass us to action.

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name; you are Mine!
— Isaiah 43:1