Nearly 70 years ago, my grandparents boarded a ship, crossed the Pacific Ocean and came to a new and wonderful place called Dallas, Texas. They were some of the first Chinese to be in the city. As believers and well-educated, they had by the hand of God escaped persecution. It was in a day and time that no one knew what to do with them. My father was often mistaken for being Mexican. He and his brothers went to the white school, and were beat up for being “Korean” during the Korean War. As cultural pioneers in their time, my family bears the legacy of consistently wondering who we are and where we belong.
Although the Chinese Exclusion Act had been lifted in 1943, it was the Immigration & Nationality Act of 1965 that ended the tight national quotas and allowed large waves of Chinese to come. The recent immigrants had a dissimilar cultural narrative to my parents’. They remembered the old country and what is was to navigate this new land as an alien. My parents were both born and raised Americans. They grew up during the civil rights movement and walked through segregation. There was a different sense of being an outsider.
I grew up attending a majority white/Latino school and belonged to a small Chinese church. In this cultural dichotomy, it was ironically with those who looked most like me that I felt most alien and lonely. We didn’t speak Chinese at home. I didn’t use chopsticks. I wasn’t smart enough to have aspirations of attending Harvard. At church, the measuring rod had been brought out, and there was a distinct sense that we were not Chinese enough. It felt like we were being asked, “what is wrong with you?”
While at school, it was obvious that I was not one of the white students. My parents still considered a “B” as failure, required me to play piano since 4-years-old and strongly pushed for a practical profession, like being a pharmacist. In high school, I distinctly remember transitioning between both worlds and feeling the tension. My identity was one of question marks and often not belonging. In that insecurity came a rejection of myself. I deeply just wanted to belong somewhere.
Then thank God, college came. Over Vietnamese noodles, my Caucasian best friend stole my fork and forced me to learn to use chopsticks. She had spent her adolescence overseas and understood the sentiment of being a minority. It was there that I found a community of believers, who simply asked me who I was and met me there. We came with different stories: white, black, Asian, Latino, rural, urban. Our one unifier was our faith. I learned to ask more questions and to listen to what others’ cultural experiences were. We connected in terms of our vulnerability and stories, and in terms of our shared hopes and fears. There was a surprising common sense of insufficiency and feeling like an outsider. I learned to accept myself and that my primary identifier was not in terms of race or demographics, but being the beloved of God. I most belong in His tender, loving arms.
Now it has been over a decade since that season, and I am navigating one of the most culturally diverse cities in the States. Prior to this time, my husband and I have been a part of majority Caucasian congregations. As we visited local churches, we stumbled upon what we thought to be an unlikely candidate, a small church that has an Asian pastor whose wife is African American. It’s a simple, no-frills place, with both the rich and poor. The congregation is 40% black, 40% white and 20% Asian. Eyebrows raised yet? Yeah, in cynicism, ours too. There has to be a catch!
Yet, we have never been so quickly welcomed in a community. We have been challenged to live the gospel.
This is a people who put their money where their mouth is: serving struggling students, walking with the brokenhearted, praying for every person who comes for communion.
I have never seen anything quite like it.
In the last few years, our country has felt racially electrified, with factions feeling more distant and little agreement to be reached. In this space, I wish you could see what I’ve seen. Last week, I watched an older, dread-locked, African-American gentleman joyously welcome a blond-haired toddler and sweep him up into a neighboring seat. The familiarity of the gesture was stunningly beautiful and brought tears to my eyes. It’s a simple act that should not be so striking, but it is. It was a taste of God’s heaven on earth, of His church feeling out an unlikely unity under His grace and love. We are still exploring, but this church is starting to feel like home, like a place to belong.
Aimee is an Asian American physician, recently married to the love of her life. She loves deep, honest conversation, being silly with her husband and pondering God’s presence in this broken world. She is honored to contribute to Red Tent Living, but requests anonymity in respect for her personal and professional privacy. b