Isaac is a beautiful soul. He is a faithful member of the WCC family and senior at the College of William & Mary. He is also one of mine and Alison’s adopted students—a part of our family. I hope you will hear his heart. If you’re a member of the WCC family, I especially hope you will hear that causal and loose rhetoric like ‘chinavirus’ and ‘kung flu’ is anything but harmless. I’ll let Isaac explain why. Please, hear your brother in Christ. ~ Fred
To My Closest Friends at WCC,
It is a wonderful feeling to write to you and share some thoughts with you in a turbulent time. I know that this season has been incredibly difficult for many of you and know that my family and I are praying for God to do his miraculous work each day for His children that he so loves. It has been a five year gift full of surprises, joyous parties, and many warm hugs and I could not be more grateful that you have adopted me as your child.
To Fred, Allison, and Ian, Thank you beyond words for adopting a skinny, crippled, nerdy Korean adolescent into your family and nurturing him to befriend the unfamiliar faces, the cobblestone walkways, and the copious amounts of soda that you have at your disposal in this town of Williamsburg. You are my family and Ian, I owe you a game of Madden when I visit.
And to you church, thank you. Thank you for caring the burden of Christ’s love and spreading it throughout the community. You’ve done it remarkably for me and it should not stop. Your willingness to fight poverty, racial injustice, and historic levels of ignorance during the Covid-19 crisis is a right and worthy effort. Keep asking God for an open mind, then listen to the students, fellow brothers and sisters, elders, and children around you and see what you can do.
So many weeks ago, Fred asked me how the coronavirus adversely affects Asian American students at William and Mary. And seeing that I am one of many, let me share some thoughts on how a virus can affect Chinese and Korean students in particular.
First and foremost, I know I will always be seen as the foreigner in a largely white America. Yes, a smart foreigner who has his allegiance to this country questioned on a yearly basis and one who does not have the ideals of Western nonhierarchical Christianity running through his veins. I am always asked which Korea I am from as if that is some way to protect the safety of Americans distancing themselves from communism. And most frustratingly, I know coronavirus will make my ethnic roots weaker and force Korean Americans to be seen as lesser citizens in the places we are the minority. I imagine the same for my Chinese brothers and sisters. When the President of the Free World calls you a “foreigner” worthy of extradition to a country you left in your infancy, you realize that there is no home for you in this world. A house maybe, but no home.
Yet, Asian American racism is not a broad form of physical violence and verbal trash talk. It is highly dependent upon where you live and who you interact with and it becomes weaker the more north you go in the States. Most Asian Americans live in ethnically singular areas and create their own little sanctuary towns filled with Asian marts, schools, banks, and baptist churches. Yes, the Billy Graham speak is still palpable to us. We try to be a model minority because we know that is how we bring honor to our families.
In other words, there is little effort to seek equity and more effort to create a copy of our own heritage here in the States. Yet, this is also the biggest problem. When I entered Williamsburg, I knew my mental perspectives had to change.
No it really isn’t about physical features like small eyes or yellow skin, but it is more the fact that the story of Americanness has been shaped by its economic and political might. I as a Korean American have always felt dumber than, poorer than, more legalist than the enlightened Anglo American Jonathan Edwards stereotype, and thus have always tried to prove that I am worthy of my place in society. Yes, the precise feeling is that I do not have a home. And maybe this is why Heaven is more comfortable as an idea to me.
So it is the inability for a town like Williamsburg to see how different Asian Americans are that is its greatest weakness. I am not talking about political diversity, I am talking about value and moral diversity. Asian Americans struggle with the idea of personal freedoms, individualistic rights, and a professional world valued in dollars. We prefer family, respecting our elders, and sharing the wealth that is ours. It is not about performance metrics as much as it is about honor and shame. And the most shameful act is to speak another’s story as if you empathetically know something. In Asia, that is not advocacy, that is just an uninformed prideful fool who does not know his place.
And our parents do not make it any better. Trust me, our parents think straight-As in high school is average and getting into an Ivy League school is the standard expectation. Failure is the worst title you can bestow because you have now become a laughing stock amongst your peers.
And that is why we feel shame when the coronavirus is called the “Chinavirus”. Shame that we are responsible (and trust me we will be the scapegoat before we know it), less than, stupider, and less worthy of equal treatment because we do not measure up to the brilliance of the Western world. Having a 3.6 GPA at William and Mary was bad enough. Now it is our fault for infecting the world. I am not a mosquito or a beast, and surely no sleazy sex addict, but I’ve been emasculated into one.
In 1854, Horace Greeley, editor of the New-York Tribune newspaper, wrote a xenophobic and racist editorial opinion supporting the popularly demanded exclusion:
The Chinese are uncivilized, unclean, and filthy beyond all conception, without any of the higher domestic or social relations; lustful and sensual in their dispositions; every female is a prostitute of the basest order.
So WCC, when I am asked how WCC can help the outsider and in particular Asian Americans, I reply, “Tell us we are worthy of our heritage”. Tell us that we are good enough and that we aren’t crippled as Jesus did to the Samaritan women. And stand up for us when we are dining with you in Merchant Square’s restaurants and someone says “Who is that?” Put your arm around our shoulders like a mamma cub protects her children. And treat us with love like we matter as much as your own children would. And it is in this that people like me will gain the courage to fight the sin in this world. I am not asking for you to speak up on our behalf because you are not Asian, but I am asking for this church in all your courage and or obedience to Christ to give us a shot to be at being loved just as you are in Christ. And this happens when you invite us into the most sacred and guarded places of American society: Your homes, your picnics, your fishing trips and most of all your conversations. Acknowledge that we are different and embrace that. Jesus came for the Jews and the Greeks. He did not say that we had to surrender our ethnicity as Christians. I am a Christian just as you are. Born of different skin, palate, and language, but I consider it an honor to call you my brothers and sisters in Christ. It is really just that simple. Yet, when I walk around in everyday America I wonder how each person sees me. And for as much you all have loved me with unbelievable grace and love, my childhood insecurity keeps me wandering and pondering hoping to find some resemblance of a permanent home. Yet, I know I am a nomad and I guess some of you know that feeling all too well particularly in these times.
What I know is true is that our God doesn’t employ accountants, legal scholars, or judges to gauge our earthly accomplishments and allegiances. You and I won’t show honors that are pinned to our lapels and our beloved banknotes masked in trusts will never hide or replace our sins; rather, you and I will be judged by what we did with a man named Jesus Christ and how we either took him seriously or we did not. Nothing more and nothing less. The Book of Life is calling your name.
Look to the Cross.
~ Isaac K. Ahn