If Luck is Your Love Language

“Remember, Dear, tomorrow is the new moon,” my better half said to me.  “It’s the start of Lunar New Year, so wheel out the trash tonight. All our luck will be thrown away if we wait til tomorrow.” The Lunar New Year festival is the same as celebrating Christmas, Thanksgiving, and everyone’s birthday rolled into a single two-week celebration.  The custom is to give your house a good spring cleaning, right up until the start of the new moon, but just not too well. You would not believe how easy it is to sweep away the good luck with the bad luck of the old year. A smidge of dust left behind is wabi sabi, which is the Japanese philosophy of embracing the imperfect and transience.  If you described the dust bunnies under the armoire as wabi sabi and elegantly intentional, you earn instant hipster cred. You also avoid offending any kitchen gods, who insist your house cleaning is kept to a minimum for the first 3 days of the holiday. Whatever you may do, don’t risk sweeping away your good fortune for the year1. We adopted our children from Vietnam and have since adopted the culture and traditions of their birth country. We observe the other holidays on the calendar like the Mid-autumn festival2, but for the Lunar New Year, we usually go big. I don’t want to present that we are in any way authorities on Asian culture or experts in raising a trans-racial family, but just want to share a certain cultural perspective. 

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1I can see how this grew to become a bedrock tradition–the maid needs a break!

2A.k.a. Wok-tober fest

Our house is decorated for Tet not long after we pack away our Christmas ornaments. We hang red-and-gold paper carps and tasseled dragons on our Tet tree, which is a small, fake, bare-limbed “tree” budding with yellow apricot blossoms. The yellow blossoms signify some ancient symbolism and put to mind the start of springtime.  We hang strings of faux giant red firecrackers and yellow and red banners painted with Chinese blessings. Despite the wintry weather, our home carries an air of optimism, of expectation, and hope that spring might be around the bend. Mua xuan den!

Another tradition is the handing out of lycee to the kids. Lycee (pronounced lee-sea), are lucky ornate red and gold envelopes with some money folded within. “I wish you long life and good health,” they say as we ceremoniously pass the envelopes from both of our hands to the both of their outstretched hands, as is the custom. We studied up on the culture of our kids’ birth country to help them understand their heritage. 

We are regulars at the Chinese New Year festival circuit, Tet-heads. We hit a few events each year. We have seen Chinese opera stars, plate-spinning circus jugglers, Falun gong ballerinas, folk dancers, and musicians representative of every region on the continent. At these events they often have displays of fire crackers: miles of red bandoleros snaking across parking lots in red paper. The acrid smoke drifts in heavy clouds for minutes, ears assaulted, and all our collective bad juju of the year shooed away. 

Lion dancers are our favorite, though I must stress the caliber of performances lay in a widely arcing range. I urge you to spend the money to see top-notch acrobatic performers. It’s thrilling to see nimble kung fu artists animating their dazzling costumes to the pounding narrative of the percussionists. On the bottom of the lion-dance scale, we sympathetically witnessed busboys at the Chinese buffet traipsing between the tables to anemic accompaniment, basically phoning it in. We are always appreciative of the intention of this tradition, the frightening away of evil spirits and welcome a year of good luck. 

Food is the best part of the holiday and, of course, we feast.  Toutes les cuisines d’Asie are on le menu at our home.  Sushi, dumplings, curries,  both egg and spring rolls, steamy bowls full of pho and miso and hot-and-sour… From Korean barbecue to bulgogi, biryani and banh mi, we absorb the culture…gustatorily.

We are crazy for all things Asian and Vietnamese. When we adopted both of our kids from Vietnam, our adoption caseworkers impressed upon us to learn and practice the traditions of their culture. “Take every opportunity to raise your kids with hands-on experiences in their culture,” we were instructed, through their senses–touch, taste, smell… Acculturation of Vietnamese traditions and cultural competence is critical knowledge that we, as adoptive parents, must teach our children. Ignoring this aspect of practicing the customs of their cultural roots will hinder them from fitting in with their Vietnamese peers. Our dual-culturalism has instilled greater self-esteem and confidence in our kids. It also has lessened the risk of marginalization and self-consciousness. The goal of the trans-racial adoptive parents is raising a child who easily fits in with peer groups of their own ethnicity.  Ignoring the child’s culture leads to stress, trauma, and marginalization that might mess up your kid for life, we were warned. Adoptees who do not receive this cultural support may lead to a damaging alienation by their Vietnamese peers, in our case.  This paradox was succinctly observed by Eddie Huang, author of the memoir Fresh Off The Boat, who wrote: “Chinese people questioned my yellowness because I was born in America, then white people questioned my identity as an American because I was yellow.” Eddie Huang experienced this dichotomy of disconnect felt by adoptees despite not being adopted himself. 

Let me tell you a story that demonstrates the impact of negating the birth culture of a trans-racial adoptee. We were at Vietnamese Culture Camp held at the YMCA of the Rockies3 in July of 2004. Families who adopted kids from Vietnam met for a long weekend. The purpose of these camps is for families to gain exposure to their kids’ birth culture and for us parents to network and learn parenting techniques for our unique families. The camp counselors lead our kids in typical summer camp stuff: games, teach traditional music and dance, martial arts, language lessons. The children enjoy Vietnamese food, put on plays, and hang out with children that not only look like themselves, but also have a shared story. The parents attend sessions where we learn how to help our kids deal with racism, how to make a decent Vietnamese dish, listen to talks by child psychologists and social workers, to network with other families, and tools to raise a kid with a robust cultural identity.   

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3Hilarious anecdote: Checking in to the half-star facility, the college-aged clerk working the front desk wore a name tag with her name and  “Hope College.” “Wow! Isn’t that in Holland? My in-laws live there,” I said. We were local Coloradoans at the time. She blurted, “The food is terrible!”  “What?” I said, blinking. The girl with Hope by her name pretended she didn’t say a thing. The moment came and went like a sasquatch sighting. I couldn’t believe my ears.  “Name which the reservation is under and your credit card, for incidentals,” she said, suddenly all business, eyes trained on her monitor.  As foretold, the dining experiences did not quite approach the threshold of “institutional.          

There was a simultaneous meeting at the YMCA of the Rockies by the Vietnam Adoptee Network. Their organization was comprised of the now-grown-ups who were brought to America as the babies in Operation Babylift at the close of the Vietnam War. They were welcomed by new families almost forty years ago, but were raised primarily  minus any benefit of experiencing their Vietnamese cultural identity. Adoption social scientists didn’t grasp the impact of neglecting the birth culture then as they do now.  We parents sat in on a VAN panel where they shared stories growing up. They  survived ostracization, not fitting in at school or their neighborhoods, how it felt being the only kid of color in their county, questioning the motivation of their birth families and their adoptive families.  Their stories of depression, grief, hostility, suicide, and anger were impactful and moving. We parents were observing first hand the control aspect of a social science experiment that we were benefiting from, why we did what we did as parents of kids adopted trans-racially.

One of the panelists tried to lighten the mood by sharing this story. He was a music teacher in Seattle. One of his students, an Asian boy about twelve years old, took drumming lessons from him. The panelist explained how the boy’s white mother consistently picked him up after his weekly lessons month after month. But there was that one time that the pupil’s father picked him up. He was white, too. The panelist came to the rational conclusion based on this latest development and made a sincere and innocent attempt to develop a rapport with his student and his family, “Oh, you’re adopted? Cool, me too.” The dad scowled and stormed away, dragging his son with him. The music teacher was perplexed. Shortly afterward the mother called him, irate, and chewed him out: “We haven’t told Timmy he was adopted yet! How dare you!”4 The Vietnamese panelist who was raised up by well-meaning people yet also marginalized as an outsider in a cultural vacuum and traumatized because of it, witnessed the continuation of the cycle. A double-whammy of denial. The fear and ignorance of the parents’ actions with no regard to Timmy’s present and future mental health left all of us gob-smacked. After all these years of mulling this story over, I can’t help but ruminate over the critical role culture and cultural sensitivity play not only in our trans-racial family, but in the successful navigation of our trans-racial world.  I hear stories regularly that mirror the experience of the VAN panelist.

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4As he retells the story, I hope he embellishes with this knee slapper: “We haven’t told Tran Nhat he’s adopted yet, drum teacher–How dare you! Now beat it!.”

In full disclosure, I had a brief phase of denial like Timmy’s parents.  When our social worker explained the science of acculturation to me, I accepted the information as fact. When it was impressed upon me to reshuffle my life-long personal identity, modify my so-called culture to absorb another one, a foreign one, I leaned forward and said, “Sure, no prob.” To teach our little ones their culture, we as responsible parents, had to learn it and practice it ourselves, even register a fluency in it. Well, duh, I have been drilled on the lesson.  However, hard reality could not convert my curmudgeonliness:  I was résistant.” Actual execution of my directive had molassified. My better half eagerly coordinated get-togethers with families who already adopted from Vietnam, months before we even had a child placement. Phooey. The strong urging that we attend Vietnamese culture camps? LOL, utterly repellent. Logging hours of study for Vietnamese cultural nuance? I sorta had other stuff to do despite what I agreed to do when I was in the social worker’s office. Also, with no endpoint in sight for the adoption, I felt time was on my side.

Perhaps the new role of fatherhood was freaking me out. Or rather, fatherhood with an asterisk. I wasn’t just preparing to change diapers and anticipating how I’ll need to tip-toe during nap times like typical dads, but to commit to absorbing a foreign culture.  I realized the commitment to do both was a privilege, a blessing, after a few heart-to-hearts with myself. Also, the prospect of future trips to Vietnam sweetened the deal.

The adoption of our daughter turned out to be a twenty-months wait. By the time the black-and-white photograph of Our Li’l Sweet Pea’s fuzzy head arrived, I banked up enough emotional I.Q. to think beyond myself and my irrationally stubborn self. I jumped into the culture not for my daughter but with my daughter. 

The Tet rituals seem to sharpen one’s focus better for a successful year. Ever draft your New Year’s resolutions on December thirty-first, scheming for incredible personal developments? Did that enthusiasm for personal reinvention fizzle by the day of Epiphany? Perhaps the two weeks of the Lunar New Year propel us with a tad more gumption, motivated by luck-harvesting rituals. But maybe it’s not luckiness and good fortune we get from nearly cleaning the house and lighting firecrackers. Maybe it’s hope we get, hope which manifests our good fortune. You go where your thoughts take you.  

So, that’s my take of one aspect of our family’s adopted culture. By the relinquishment of a little control I was adopted by my kids’ culture in a sort of mutual adoption. New worlds opened when I swept my reluctance under the rug.

Take care of yourself, ok?

Greetings Hope Community! I am writing to you as the team leader for the Public Events subgroup of the Culture Action Team.   Public events.   Yeah, that is about as daunting right now as it sounds. Our team has been meeting and thinking about ways that we can contribute to the culture on campus, writing some blog posts to share, and have plans for a series of podcasts and yes, an in-person gathering is on the horizon! Look for an announcement soon!

Amazing examples of culture-building surrounding events are happening all around our campus. Have you noticed that taking time out of your normal schedule to join an art event can elevate your mind and spirit so that you can actually be more productive? Check out some of the events on here!  Have you attended one of the events sponsored by GROW? Spearheaded by the Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI), GROW is a campus-wide collaboration of promoters, allies, and influencers working towards building a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive community. And check out ALL of the events connected with GROW here! Make sure you check out the offerings from the Asian Student Union (ASU) which is organizing a series of events this month. Also, The Theatre Department is offering a virtual play reading of Ike Holter’s Exit Strategy next Friday as part of The Many Voices ProjectClick here to register for your virtual ticket!

As we approach the break, our team is thinking about taking care of ourselves and we want you to consider doing this for yourself as well. We know that we have been extending our time and energies in a multitude of ways to care for and educate our students. This has been a herculean effort. This time a year ago, we were facing the beginning of the pandemic and the future was unknown. One year of our lives has been under the cloud of Covid-19. Take a moment to acknowledge not only the toll this has taken but also how far we have come with learning new technology, finding different ways to connect with our students, new methods of teaching, and so much more.  

What have you done for yourself lately? We know you are pulled in many directions to take care of others and we see how you have stepped up as heroes to do this. Please give yourself the grace to take care of yourself as well. We have been blessed with what seems like an extraordinary amount of sunshine this winter. Put on a few layers and take a walk. Maybe invite a colleague that you used to enjoy running into in the hallway to join you. Perhaps say no to a request, so that you can save a yes for a project that feeds your spirit!  

Are you getting enough sleep? I just read an interesting article about how many of us are staying awake at night in an unconscious effort to try to get some control over the loss of personal time, but it is robbing us of much needed sleep. Try putting your work away, breathing some nice lavender essential oils, and going to bed an hour earlier.  Is there a book you have been wanting to read for your own pleasure?  Pick it up! 

I know many of you need the time of breaks to catch up on work. I know I have some work projects in my break plans, but try to make a point of not engaging with other work colleagues.  Is there an email you need to send? Think twice if it is necessary to send it over a weekend or break. Use the schedule send function to have it appear on Tuesday morning to the recipient. Try to take at least two days to really disconnect! Creative ideas are more likely to present to our brains when we are taking a break from the daily tasks. Productivity is also increased when you come back to work refreshed and rested after a break.  

Wishing you a restful and enjoyable break and remember, take care of yourself, ok?

Election Incident Report and Response

Dear Campus Community,

As we enter the last week of a difficult election season there may be incidents of disrespect, microaggression, or hostile acts.  Unfortunately, we are anticipating and preparing for this because of incidents that happened after the 2016 election to Hope students by Hope and Holland community members. To be prepared to respond quickly to these behaviors, we have created an Election Incident Report form. Similar to the COVID concern form, the purpose of this is to capture incidents and respond quickly. 

If you experience or witness acts of hostillity, harassment, or discrimination, please submit a report  and a staff/faculty member will connect with you to provide support, resources, and initiate further follow-up.  

Last week, Drs. Sonja Trent-Brown, Richard Frost, Trygve Johnson, and Gerald Griffin called on each of us — students and employees alike — to actively foster a campus environment framed by belonging, understanding and grace during this election season.

Belonging: Everyone here feels it’s their Hope. Together we celebrate diversity and together we share in defining Hope.

Understanding: Even when we don’t agree, we work to understand each other better and move forward. We disagree well. We can respectfully discuss emotional and consequential issues.

Grace: We extend our best to each other and we believe the best of one another. We strive to foster a culture of trust and accountability. Our culture is free from threat, intimidation, gossip and retaliation. People always have someone they can turn to for help.

Thank you for doing your part to build a campus community where our actions reflect our name: HOPE. 

Sincerely,

Mark Brice, Assistant Director of Residential Life
Sara Dorer, Equal Opportunity and Compliance Coordinator
Jevon Willis, Assistant Director of the Center for Diversity & Inclusion

For additional election resources and events, please visit the Elections 2020 website.

Will you join us?

Recently, we (Michelle Bombe and Jack Mulder) had a conversation about our experiences with the culture of Hope College and we want to share it with you.  We invite you to read these stories and consider our own invitation to you, which we offer below. 

From Jack Mulder:

Before being on the Culture Action Team, I didn’t know a lot about Michelle, but I knew that she often chimed in on issues where I knew I disagreed with her.  We’ve both been at Hope for a long time, and have seen, and have each taken part in, events and moments in the life of the college when our opinions were put on display.  Many of those times were times when it would have been clear we disagreed.  At a Christian college that prides itself on taking the difficult “middle way” between sectarianism and secularism, we often need to speak up about the direction in which we hope the college will go.  We’ve both been invested in Hope College and its culture for a long time, and that means our emotions can run high when we’re talking about this institution.  Yet our emotions only run high because we both care so deeply about Hope College and its culture.  So at the very moment when we’re most divided, we can also recognize a deep unity in our love of and commitment to Hope.

When I first was appointed to the Culture Action Team, we had only been in pandemic mode for a few weeks.  The Steering Committee and Covid-19 Response Team had just recommended that we send a few notes to some folks to encourage them.  I tried to do that with some people on the Culture Action Team, to which I’d recently been appointed.  I picked some people I knew I agreed with on some things and some people with whom I knew I didn’t agree.  So I figured I’d carry that attitude forward when we got into our subcommittees. 

After our first subcommittee meeting, I thought that Michelle and I were coming at things in a somewhat different way and so I thought it’d be good to check in with her since our work would be on culture, and we hadn’t established much rapport to that point.  While we knew of each other, I don’t think we’d ever really talked one-on-one before and certainly not at any length.  So I asked her to have a virtual cup of coffee. 

We’re all in an odd boat together right now because of the pandemic, and that can help us sympathize with one another.  After talking briefly about just what the previous month or so had been like, Michelle and I started talking about what the last few years had been like.  I can’t speak for Michelle, but I’m a major weeper.  Things have been hard over the last few years at Hope.  The fact that they have been hard is an objective reality, but they have been hard in different ways for different people.  We didn’t dwell much on the reasons for the difficulties and for who took which side on any number of matters.  We just started by recognizing the pain that each of us felt over the last few years. 

This brought us to more cultural and ideological rifts that are somewhat more stable in the way that they divide us.  Michelle noted how she has worked for years in defense of the rights of LGBTQ folks.  We spent some time recognizing that there are real harms there and that we need to find ways to reach across the aisle in understanding the dignity each person has in her own right, especially as someone created in God’s image.  At the same time, I was able to discuss how, as a Catholic Christian following the sexual and reproductive teachings of my Church on a largely Protestant campus, the language of safe zones carries the implication that, as a Catholic, I am unsafe, and how I long for a better discourse in which people can thoughtfully disagree while not being perceived as a threat to another person. 

I think we both understood that we have some way to go, individually, as an institution, and even as a culture, before such a better discourse presents itself.  But I think it’s fair to say that our time together really humanized each of us for the other.  We cried together and, I felt, understood a fair amount about what the other cares about.  I hope we’re able to talk more with each other.  I feel much more optimistic about the prospects of doing so and of talking with colleagues with whom I disagree.  Not because we’ll agree, but because we might be able to understand the person with whom we disagree.  Once that comes first, then maybe we can have better dialogue, more fruitful academic exchange, and a more lively and enjoyable culture.  

From Michelle Bombe:

This year will mark my 30th year of teaching at Hope College.   When I moved to Michigan 30 years ago, I had a small base of friends mostly consisting of theatre faculty and staff that I had gotten to know in my previous work with Hope Summer Repertory Theatre.   But in a short time, my friend base widened from the theatre department into other areas of campus as I served on committees, worked on grants, and team-taught with colleagues in other departments.   I didn’t have local family and quickly my faculty and staff friend group became family.   We welcomed new babies, raised those children together, celebrated artistic work and professional development, and worked together to support our LGBTQIA community.   We also grieved over many losses together.  Indeed, those losses,  some of which included attacks on the LGBTQIA community, but also divorces, tragic accidents, job losses, and ultimately deaths of dear colleagues,  most of which brought me to my knees in despair but my faith and the bond of my faculty and staff friends helped me cope with the pain and loss. 

However, I also recognize that while my friendship base has continued to expand as new faculty and staff have joined Hope, that I do not have a personal connection with an increasing amount of folks at Hope.  The divisive issues on campus and the way they have previously played out have contributed to a rift that feels like protective walls built against pain and hurt. 

When I joined the Culture Action Team, I did so out of a real desire to be part of changing the narrative at Hope. I appreciated the conversation and the action steps organized by the group.  After a few months of large group meetings, the team divided up into subgroups.  I was delighted to find that my subgroup were people outside of my friend group at Hope.  Our sub-team was charged with public events and our group started meeting in the spring to consider what those events could look like during Covid-19 and what would be some steps to improving the culture at Hope.  

After a few of our group meetings, in mid May I received an email from a fellow team member,  Jack Mulder, to have a virtual cup of coffee together to discuss our committee work or any other Hope issues.   I admit that the request stopped me in my tracks.  I didn’t have a previous connection to Jack, other than knowing that we were often on opposite sides of several divisive issues at Hope.   How should  I respond?    Should I ask for another team member to be present?   I sat on that late afternoon invitation overnight.   I wrestled with those questions, but in the morning light, I decided that I needed to walk the talk and respond to his gracious offer by assuming good intent and be willing to meet him with my full self.   

What happened on that zoom virtual cup of coffee was really beautiful.   Jack and I spent some time getting to know each other, our family life, and the stress and concern we both shared of life and teaching during the pandemic.   I felt my shoulders start to drop.  I felt compassion and empathy for Jack and I felt he mutually held that space for me.   We moved on to the pain and hurt we have both experienced during our time at Hope.  My friends often poke fun at me because tears are usually pretty close to the surface for me.  I cry when I am happy and when I am sad, but honestly, I was discovering that they don’t come as easily when I am anxious as I had been feeling all spring.   Well, catharsis happened for me in that zoom meeting as Jack and I cried together, each recognizing the pain of the other.   Jack and I found common ground, it turns out we are both criers!  But what was really happening is that we were creating a personal connection.   We will likely continue to disagree about some issues, but now I feel like I can come directly to my friend Jack and have an honest conversation with him about an issue because we have a basis of respect and caring that is the base that can hold our differences.

“I see you.  I hear you.”

 I take this as the foundation of any friendship.   I know that is what our world is craving and I believe in the power of seeing and hearing each other’s stories to heal.  

I asked Jack if I could call him brother at the end of our call.   I know that sounds cheesy, but that is what I felt on my heart that day and what I carry into my ongoing work with Jack.   When I was a youth, a popular song by The Osmond Family (don’t judge!)  played over and over on my record player.  

“He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.”    

 Amen.  

Conclusion

We would like to invite you to do something similar.  Sometime in the next six weeks, invite someone at Hope you don’t know very well to talk.  You don’t need to choose this person because you disagree, but don’t choose this person because you agree, either.  We hope to include as many faculty and staff as possible, but also don’t want to put the load on only a few people, so we suggest only accepting one invitation.   Not to worry if your first invitation was declined, that’s a good sign!  Try again with another colleague.  We even suggest zoom to minimize any worries up front.  However, don’t be paralyzed by the fear that you need to get something done for “the culture” of Hope.  Don’t feel bad if you only talk for 35 minutes.  We suggest you reserve an hour, but you needn’t fastidiously fill an hour.  Just be kind, be interested, and learn about the other person.  Start by asking about any highlights of the person’s time at Hope.  Perhaps gradually you might learn about some of the person’s unique challenges at Hope.  But don’t force it.  

Ask this person to talk because you know that it will require something of you.  What might it require?  It should require you to be vulnerable in at least some way (even if it’s a way you can build on later).  It should require you to decide in advance not to try to win.  But it should also require you to choose not to shut down, either.  Offer something of yourself to the other person not because it’s your hobby horse, but because it really matters to you, and learn about what matters to the other person.  Don’t try to move mountains, either.  This is just a first foray into a better relationship with someone at Hope. 

If you receive an invitation like this, take your own risk and assume good intent behind the invitation.  If all that comes from this is a little awkward laughter about how this is difficult to do, then just recognize that that is itself a little further than you were before talking.  Our experience has been that, ever since our conversation in May we already listen to each other differently at meetings.  We’re a little more willing to root for the other person.  We’re a little more willing to believe that there’s something deeply good about which the other person cares.  We have a groundwork now that, we think, will allow us to talk with each other if and when disagreements arise in the future.  

We think that this is a small, though for some of us, difficult step that may help us each move Hope in a better direction.  For our part, now we long for community not in an abstract way, but for our community; the one we both inhabit, and we want the culture of Hope to be one that recognizes itself in each of us and each of us in it.  Will you join us?