Digging Out After Atlanta, Part 1

In the days following the March 16, 2021 shootings in the Metro Atlanta Area I received texts and emails from several friends asking how I was doing and how I was feeling. 

As an Asian-American elder, their support was a balm for a very painful week. Our family friends left a handwritten note of support on the front porch. One friend brought home-cooked food and another brought a bouquet of flowers from her garden. They were wonderful acts of love.

I spent time talking with Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) friends and family about what they were experiencing and trying to comfort them.

Toward the end of the week I noticed that most all the expressions of support came from my newer People of Color (POC) and White friends. From my oldest White friends: almost nothing. It made me wonder what prevented them from understanding what I was feeling. Perhaps it is a lack of information about my personal and family history, or an assumption that my experience is not so different from theirs. Or perhaps it’s because I have grown and will no longer settle for the damaging Model Minority narrative, and as a result my expectations of my friends has changed. I hope they will learn and grow in their understanding of (and outrage at) anti-AAPI racism.

Stop AAPI Hate in its most recent report, noted 3,795 hate incidents aimed at AAPI people between March 19, 2020 and February 28, 2021.

It has been a year of increasing violence toward AAPI people and, as a result, fear of being attacked  — even though many non-AAPI people are unaware of this. Every day includes a new report of AAPI people being harassed and assaulted.

I was chatting with a woman at the dog park soon after the shootings when she asked about the stick I was carrying. “My walking stick,” I said, then added to take advantage of the educational moment – “I’m carrying it in case I need to defend myself.”

Woman: But here, really?

Me: Elderly Asian people are being attacked every day. A woman was beaten and robbed in Daly City yesterday.

Woman: But was it in the daytime? (incredulously)

Me: Yes, in broad daylight.

I suppose the idea that only people walking at night are subject to attack is somehow psychologically protective, but it’s illogical to think that an elderly person would make a point of walking alone at night. And “that kind of violence can’t happen here” is easier to assume than “the person in front of me could easily become the victim of violence.”

Photo: mural from my elementary school

The AAPI community is invisiblized by the dominant U.S. White Supremacist culture* and our issues are rarely covered in the media. We are not supposed to be seen or take up space. Have you ever had those assumptions about your AAPI friends or colleagues? Is it annoying if they ask for something you hadn’t anticipated? Do you think of them differently if they behave this way?

Over the past month I have been thrown back to traumatic memories of growing up in an all White Midwestern town. Walking to and from school young boys would regularly pelt me with racist catcalls: Ching Chong Chinaman! . . . Where are you from? . . . Why don’t you go back where you came from?

This last question made me perplexed and angry: I was in the town where I’d lived since age 2.

Even when I was older, perfect strangers would ask me, “Where are you from?” And when I told them where I lived, they would reply “But where are you really from?” Until I moved away from the Midwest, it seemed like someone was always reminding me that I was a perpetual foreigner – despite being a native, complete with a Midwestern accent.

In third grade I had a racist teacher who bullied and emotionally abused me every single day. She would criticize me in front of the whole class. She complained about the way I walked and the way my shoes looked. She made me cry nearly every day. Despite trying desperately to do what I thought she wanted, the racist tormenting continued for months and there was no way to escape.

We were memorizing the multiplication table and had a poster with all our names and stars indicating which parts of the table we had memorized. One day my teacher asked me to recite the table and when I stumbled under her intense gaze, she made me walk over and tear my stars off the poster. I was crying so hard I couldn’t barely see the poster. I was being tortured by an adult who had enormous power over me.

But racism doesn’t exist because of mean people. It exists because “race” as a designation, was created to systematically shut out and push down People of Color and build wealth for European-American people. The social construct of “race” carved us up so that some could be pushed down and others (White folx) could be lifted up. Remember that there is no significant biological difference between human beings.

All the news of the past month and the past year – being killed for being Black, Latino, Asian or Indigenous – has been going on for centuries and is, in fact, the norm in this country. It is what this country was founded upon and what continues to fuel our economy.

I hope that what I have written is profoundly disturbing – especially if you have been upset by recent acts of racial violence. You should not be surprised at all because our economic, military, workforce, policing and incarceration, and land “ownership” systems are all working precisely as designed: to extract as much money and control as possible from communities of color and the natural environment at whatever cost. This includes making food, medicine and clean water difficult or impossible to access – and outright killing people.

The panorama of visible and invisible violence in this country hurts me, hurts my family and hurts millions upon millions of people who are survivors of racist violence spawned by the society that we live and breathe.

My hope is that even if you have not experienced racist violence yourself, you will be moved to action.


*The Doctrine of Discovery made the creation of the U.S. possible. If you are a person of faith, has your faith group formally denounced the doctrine? Check here.

The White Supremacist system was created to enslave people kidnapped from various countries in Africa by turning them into property so they could build the U.S. economy with unpaid labor. It was created to try to obliterate Indigenous People from their own Turtle Island in the quest for land, to steal the labor of Asian immigrants to build railroads, farms and then entire industries, and to demonize people from Central and South America, the Caribbean, Africa and beyond to take advantage of their labor to fuel the U.S. construction, agriculture and service industries.

Part 2 of this blog post continues here: https://theshoreline.net/2021/04/17/digging-out-after-atlanta-part-2

Digging Out After Atlanta, Part 2

Part 1 of this blogpost begins here.

My family, friends and I have been revisited by painful racist experiences on an unending loop this past month. A waking nightmare. Violence and hate have a snowball effect as they re-traumatize people who have experienced it.*

Reading news about the treatment of Mario Gonzalez who was a survivor of one of the March 16, 2021 Atlanta shootings compounds the pain. Mr. Gonzalez survived the shooting and was handcuffed in a squad car for four hours. He was not notified that his wife, Delaina Yaun, had died — for hours. I suspect that Mr. Gonzalez was treated this way because he is Mexican, and not White. Not only was he traumatized by the violent situation and subsequently, the murder of his wife, he was further traumatized by being kept in handcuffs for hours, for no discernible reason other than the fact that he is Mexican.

Based on US Census data from 2010 100 million is the number of people I imagine might have been re-traumatized** by racist violence in the last year. We also need to include the violence of racist policies like qualified immunity for police or the imprisonment of children near the U.S.-Mexico border.

I have heard from White friends that they don’t have enough time to become informed or get involved. So my question is, What is the threshold at which this crisis of racist violence becomes both urgent and important enough to take action?

Does it need to impact 300 million people? Does it need to directly impact your child? Does your spouse need to be attacked or killed to make it urgent and important? Do you need to be attacked on the street or in your home?

I don’t mean simply violence against AAPI people. I mean violence against all People of Color. This is not a rhetorical question. This is a real question aimed at saving lives. When does inaction stop and outrage and engagement begin? For people of faith the bar is higher because every major wisdom tradition centers the Golden Rule: Treat others as you would have others treat you.

I am hurting and angry following the Atlanta area shootings in March. I just lost a close relative and am grieving that loss at the same time.

My capacity to work on projects is diminished and I need to rest more. Yet with the energy I have I am still organizing because as a person of faith, a mother and a grandmother, I feel called to justice. 

The Dalai Lama was asked “How do you find time for meditation in your busy schedule?” And he replied that meditation is the most important activity each day, and everything else must revolve around it. Unless you are incarcerated or completely incapacited, you have control over your schedule and your priorities.

If you feel led to do something, consider these actions:

  1. If you have 5 minutes – Reflect on which parts of this blogpost triggered emotional reactions in you. Then answer the question, what is the threshold at which this crisis becomes both urgent and important enough for me to do something? 
  2. If you have 10 minutes – Text or email your AAPI friends/colleagues and ask how they are doing. Offer to talk (though they may not want to talk right now). Tell them you are thinking about them and send your love and support. Let them know they can reach out to you.
  3. If you have 15 minutes – Read the latest Stop AAPI Hate Report on hate incidents aimed at AAPI folx in the U.S.
  4. If you have 30 minutes – watch Professor Viet Than Nguyen’s interview  (25 minutes) on the Roots of Anti-Asian Hate from U.S. Colonialism to Anti-China Asian Rhetoric.
  5. If you have one hour – attend the Asian Americans Advancing Justice Bystander Training
  6. If you have more time and interest, here is a list of readings and actions to take and organizations to support.

Tips on Things to Avoid

  1. Avoid equating your experience, if you are White, with what People of Color are experiencing. White folx certainly experience pain and trauma, but it is not what I am talking about here, nor is it the same.
  2. Spend less time talking (or writing) and more time listening to friends and colleagues of color. Equity means centering voices of color: giving them more air time because they often don’t get enough.
  3. If you are White, avoid going to People of Color to process emotional reactions to anything I’ve written or something you have read or heard recently. (Note: sometimes the emotional response may take the form of a logical argument. Rather than writing an argument, just sit with your feelings.)
Photo by the author

We should all be on a deep and truthful learning journey to turn away from the environment we inhabit that normalizes racism, and particularly, anti-Blackness. I am on my own journey to root out any vestiges of anti-Blackness in my heart, to decolonize my body-mind-spirit and to learn from others who carry an even heavier burden than me. I am open to hearing from anyone on this journey who has already overcome their defensiveness and fragile feelings, and is interested in heartfelt dialogue.


*From traumainformedcareproject.org

“Becoming ‘trauma-informed’ means recognizing that people often have many different types of trauma in their lives. People who have been traumatized need support and understanding from those around them. Often, trauma survivors can be re-traumatized by well-meaning caregivers and community service providers . . . Understanding the impact of trauma is an important first step in becoming a compassionate and supportive community.”

**For me being re-traumatized means tightness in my stomach, an inability to focus, fatigue, fear and sadness from the uncontrollable replay of traumatic memories. An analogy might be a bad car accident or other close call experience that is triggered when seeing or hearing about similar events.

The Power of Generations, Part 2: Legacies Across Time


20160829_gg-bday-closeup-small-e1543971619225.jpgLiving in a four generation family allows me to experience the waxing and waning of life. From my perspective as Obaasan (grandmother), I can observe our family’s generational inhaling and exhaling — a rising and falling that feels like a force of Nature.


My grandson is learning to wave at people. His hands go up and bend at the wrist in a whole hand greeting. He also greets trees, the sky, and the mobiles hanging in his room. His waving has recently become beckoning – as in “let’s go closer,” “please bring that to me,” “I want that!” In this way he draws more of the world toward him day by day.


Waning/Getting Smaller

My mother is focused on me, her friend Jan, her grandkids and great grandkids, and her caregivers. She can see very little and has trouble remembering things but she loved going to her favorite Japanese restaurant for her 95th birthday and wore the tiara and held the scepter I brought for her. She keeps asking why she is so lucky and is quick to say, “I love you.” Her world is her room, her favorite restaurants, and the street she lives on. And as her world gets smaller she is focusing on what is most important to her.



I continue to downsize, having moved from a 1500 square foot house to a 660 square foot apartment – on my way to a space that is even smaller. The space constraints have forced me to find homes for things I truly don’t need and ask hard questions about what I need vs. want and what my children and grandchildren could possibly use from my household.

I think it makes sense to lighten our load as we get older, and this applies to all our attachments in life. It occurred to me that aging is a process of letting go, and graceful aging is a process of letting go consciously. In letting go we can release what is unnecessary and gain freedom. This culling practice – weighing what is really key – has resulted in focusing me on what I really want in life.


Past and Future Meet in Us

I have been having flashbacks and flashforwards with my grandchildren. When my 6 year old granddaughter and I work on a jigsaw puzzle together, I flash back to a rainy summer day in the Wisconsin woods bent over a jigsaw puzzle with my grandmother. I learned to love the slow, satisfying process of finding where each piece fits and wonder if this conveys to my granddaughter as we work on our puzzles.

20160731-4 generations.jpg
Photo by Kristin Anderson


When I watched my son help my 95 year old mother out of the car recently I flashed forward to being helped out of a car by my grandson years in the future. This feeling of actions echoing across time has me paying attention to experiences that mirroring unexpectedly.


Spiritual Legacies

Every Sunday I bring my 5-year-old granddaughter to my Quaker Meeting. She attends First Day School (Sunday School) and part of our worship service, partakes of food and plays with her friends.

Some day she will know what this means to me. My parents belonged to churches but were not attenders. My Grandma Suzuki identified as a Christian from an early age and practiced until her death at 100.

Grandma was born in 1891 when there were few Christians in Japan. Even more rare was that fact that my grandmother was a Christian because of her grandmother who would have been born about 1850. Christianity was illegal then and Christians were being persecuted under a system that had existed for nearly 250 years. I will never know my great great grandmother’s religious life story, but am grateful that this grandmother to granddaughter transmission is happening over 100 years later.


Invisible Legacies

As guilty as I feel knowing only a little about my family genealogy, I am struck with the feeling that every day I unconsciously embody something of my foremothers and forefathers. Whether it is as simple as rocking babies to sleep or helping elders, or as complex as forming a spiritual life, I am trying to pay attention to the invisible legacy passed down through me.

My Shintaido teacher, Ito, taught me that martial arts kata (literally, “forms”) carry and express non-verbal knowledge from their creator. We practice the forms in order to understand, in a timeless way, one person’s wisdom. Ito also said that we need to bring ourselves fully to the kata – to use it to express our deepest self. This is a perfect analogy for embodying all of our family legacies while fully expressing ourselves.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

– Mary Oliver  From the poem, “The Summer Day”


The Power of Generations, Part 1:  Grandchildren & Grandparents

Photo by Kristin Anderson

I am carrying my eight-month old grandson around the house, trying to help him let go and go to sleep. As I chant “Ne-ne Ko-ko, Ne-ne Ko-ko, Ne-ne Ko-ko. Yoh-oh” (sleep baby, sleep baby) over and over, I remember my grandmother carrying me on her back before my afternoon nap, chanting the same thing. I can almost feel myself in both roles at the same time – grandchild, grandparent. A special magnetism helps span these generational roles.

Just Enough Distance

While my relationships with son, daughter and elderly mother are very active and dominated by the present, when I interact with my grandson and my granddaughter I’m often thinking about my past and their future. I am remembering my grandmothers – my grandfathers both died before I was born – and imagining my grandchildren remembering me.

I wonder what they will make of the story about Grandma Suzuki’s purse? I used to lie on Grandma’s bed as she sat in her chair crocheting and sometimes she let me explore the contents of her purse. I loved the way she would unpack and explain its contents  – hard candy (always), tissues, rubber bands, a small plastic bag for restaurant leftovers, glasses, I.D., paper and pen. I learned about the Great Depression through her thriftiness, as expressed in her purse.

Grandma Suzuki was my ally. I remember her standing up for me a few times, against my parents’ criticism. In retrospect I think it was because, although she lived with us, she could see my situation from some distance that my parents didn’t have.

The Legacy of Ethnic-Cultural Identity

Seeing my grandchildren allows me to map the flow of my family’s ethnic* and cultural identity.

My Hapa** granddaughter has green eyes set not too deeply, a nose like mine, fair skin and strawberry blond hair. To the outside world she’s Caucasian although she’s ¼ Asian. She has a recessive gene for blond hair that snuck into my Japanese-Chinese DNA from a distinctly non-Japanese person. As I think back to that unnamed ancestor I wonder how my granddaughter will form her racial and ethnic identity.

My Hapa grandson has dark brown hair, and brown almond-shaped eyes. To the outside world he’s seen as Asian, although he’s ¼ German. Though still a baby, he seems to have inherited a stocky German build. And I wonder how he will form his racial and ethnic identity.

We are shaped by what others see in us more than I’d like to think. To some extent my grandchildren’s identities will be formed by their appearance and how others interpret their ethnic identity. Still, I hope to contribute what I received growing up with a Japanese-speaking grandmother and parents who spoke only Japanese until they entered Kindergarten. Some through line of leaving rural Japan for the U.S., settling in California and surviving the Great Depression, being uprooted and sent to concentration camps in the desert during World War II, resettling in the Midwest and starting all over and, for me, growing up in an all white community and being called out regularly for being different until I reached California.

My grandchildren both share this strand of family history, and I will be curious to see how they use it to construct their identities.

Family Stories

Perhaps because my parents and grandparents left behind almost nothing written about themselves, I’m particularly interested in passing on family stories that say something about our values and how we’ve lived our their lives as a result.

My maternal grandmother worked in a large sweat shop after she came to Chicago and was living with my mother and father. She took the bus to and from work and sometimes brought piecework home to sew and make extra money. My mom said that they knew Grandma was a really good seamstress. Grandma told me that one winter it was so cold as she waited for her second bus that her fingers were numb and the bus transfer fell out of her hand without her knowing it.

I was aghast when I found out that both my grandmothers had worked in a sweat shop, but my maternal grandmother was quite matter of fact about wanting to work and not stay home all day. All the ladies were Japanese so it was a good environment. To my young girl’s mind she seemed non-plussed by it all but in retrospect I realize that her husband had died about that time, most likely from the stress of losing his business when he was sent to concentration camp and that she had been uprooted from her community in Pasadena, California and lost most of her possessions. It was gaman that I was seeing – “enduring the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity.”*** This is a uniquely Japanese and highly prized trait that doesn’t extend much past me as a Sansei (third generation). Though my kids know it and have observed it, I think it will likely be only an interesting cultural trait for my grandchildren.

Experiences that I share with my grandchildren will resonate through their lives in ways I can only imagine.

Religious Legacy

Every Sunday I bring my 5 year old granddaughter to my Quaker Meeting. She attends First Day School (Sunday School) and part of our worship service, partakes of the food and plays with her friends.

Some day she will know what this means to me. My parents belonged to churches but were not attenders. My Grandma Suzuki identified as a Christian from an early age and practiced until her death at 100.

Grandma was born in 1891 when there were few Christians in Japan. Even more rare was that fact that my grandmother was a Christian because of her grandmother who would have been born about 1850. Christianity was illegal then and Christians were being persecuted under a system that had existed for nearly 250 years. I can only wonder about my great great grandmother’s religious life story and I’m grateful that this grandmother to granddaughter transmission is happening over 100 years later.


I write all of this in the hope that my grandson and granddaughter will remember and reflect upon their Japanese and Japanese-American ancestors, as remembered and lived through me, and that they will pass some of this along to their grandchildren.

*I use the term ethnic because “race” is a social construct, not a biological phenomenon.

**Hapa – “of part-white ancestry or origin.”  Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

*** The Art of Gaman: Arts and Crafts from the Japanese American Internment Camps 1942-1946, Delphine Hirasuna, Ten Speed Press, Berkeley.