Two years ago today I started my WordPress account. I could not have ever written publicly under my name without having lived in Chicago for five years.I write this on my flight back to New York City and my hometown after living in Chicago the past five years. When I got to Chicago I felt like that Britney Spears song- “I’m not a girl, not yet a woman. All I need is time, a moment that is mine, while I’m there you’ll see…” I had a lot to prove to myself and, in a large part, to my family. I wanted to show myself that I could make it on my own and that I could handle what came. I wanted to show that to my parents, too. I wanted adventures and to make my own life choices, What followed, I could not foresee.
My life in Chicago has certainly been a whirlwind- many rough moments and many triumphant ones. I loved my students, but didn’t know how to teach them. I was forgiving and didn’t know where that barrier lied. I gave of myself and didn’t know my limits. I found myself and continue to find myself overly self-critical, which has served me in some cases but not in others. And, I was at multiple schools. I taught so many different students, and lived so many places in Chicago. I tried so many new things. I loved and was loved back many times. My heart has broken romantically, professionally, personally, and with family, multiple times, and my heart has burst to the seams in other occasions. “Love lost is better than never having loved at all.” I’m glad I have lived by that.
More so than anything, I found my voice in Chicago and, in many ways, I affirmed my life’s mission- to make children’s living as humane as possible. I’ve seen awful practices and systems that stem from our treatment of children as lesser than, especially black and brown kids, and I feel the internalized and overt racism that comes from that. I am a decent teacher now, although I have a ways to go. I’m in a point in my career where I can reject job offers when I don’t feel schools are doing developmentally appropriate things for children and where I am unsure my mental health will be okay. I love my students and know many ways to reach them now, academically and emotionally. I build relationships with folk not because I want anything out of them but because I want to know them. And I write- two years ago today I started my wordpress account and have written publicly under my name in multiple places. I plan to keep writing publicly.
As I spoke of with my therapist, I have healthy ways of coping now that I didn’t have before. I do humane things for myself, like singing- I need to sing and make art to be well. I create affinity groups with Asian folk, Asian women, teachers, teachers of color, Asian teachers, POC political folk, Asian political folk, Asian activists, Chinese folk, Chinese American folk, singers, artists, because they build me up and help me break down what is happening in my brain and in the world around me. I see my friends, my oldest friends and newest friends, and they give me perspective on where we’ve come from, where we are, and where we’re going. I break things down, know what’s in my control and what’s not, and I move forward with everything I can change and what I can’t.
And, hopefully now I can breathe a little bit. My parents have been a big part of checking my wellness in the past, and making sure I’m not doing too much, and I’m so looking forward to living at home again. I’m worried in ways about the adjustment to moving back home, but I’m also so excited to speak Cantonese again. I’m so excited to eat my own food, to have my mom’s cooking. To see people who look like me everywhere in my Chinatown. To feel like I don’t have to fight to be Chinese or justify my language or educate others around my food and culture and customs. No, I get to just BE Chinese. That’s something very unique not to just Chinatowns but New York City in particular. And, I’m glad I have a space to call home. I know many folks with different intersections of identity, including Hapa folk and queer folks of color, don’t often have that space to breathe. I get to breathe.
I could not have done any of these things without having lived in Chicago. Living away from your home city is something I would recommend to everyone. It’s made me think bigger, larger, and in such new perspective. It’s made me broaden my vision and my dreams. I’ve completed all the dreams I had for myself right after graduating college five years ago- teach, and teach well. Get involved in teacher Union activism, and fight for a more equitable system for our students. Meet Karen Lewis. (I’m proud to call her my friend today alongside all my rank-and-file teachers in the Chicago a Teachers Union). Honor my uncle Vincent Chin’s legacy. Sing and sing well. And, make change happen. Now I have the distinct privilege to broaden those dreams and dream bigger.
Part of that dream, really, is to have my parents and family by my side as I fight this fight the rest of my life. When family, a core part of me, doesn’t understand who I am and what my vision is for life, I know I have to fix that. I know I have to fill that gaping hole in my heart.
Now I get to broaden those dreams and do exactly what I did in Chicago in NYC. I’ll keep writing. I’ll keep live-tweeting in an attempt to get real news out there. I’ll keep finding new allies. I’ll keep making change. I’ll keep building our movement. I’ll keep learning and growing the rest of my life. I’ll continue to fight in solidarity with others, listen, step up and step back, and fight this larger fight. And, deeply, I will continue to believe people can change, because if I truly believe I can change the world with little ole us, then I have to believe we can all change for the better. We will do this, together.
Thank you, Chicago. I will miss the food, the great street grid that is so easy to understand. I will miss the progressive spirit and activism that you have- I don’t know if any other city has that same spirit, but I could be wrong. And, most of all, I will miss the people. I wept on this flight because I’m so proud of everything we did together, and, while I know that work is not done, I’m so sad I won’t be there with you all in person doing the work on the ground. Thank you, thank you. I love you all.