by Tasha Jun
Sophia is the Greek word for Wisdom, and Propel Sophia seeks out the voices of truly wise women and asks them to share worked examples of how they express faith in daily life. Pull up a chair at Sophia’s table, won’t you? There’s plenty of space.
We sat at the table, sharing in our love for crispy French fries. I was looking forward to getting to know this new friend and eager to hear more of her story.
She leaned in and told me she wanted to ask me something, and I could tell our conversation about fries was about to shift. She said, “I know you write and talk a lot about being Asian American. Do you ever think it’s because of a desire to feel special?”
I took a deep breath and wished we were still talking about fries.
It wasn’t the first time I’d been asked something like that by a fellow believer. And while I understand that most of the people who have ventured to ask me something like this aren’t intending to be mean (though some are), and are genuinely unfamiliar with the stories and struggles of people of color, the question still stings. It implies so much about the way they see the world, understand history, and the narrow group of people that they are willing to listen to. It tells me they think I should be quiet and that stories told from my voice should be mistrusted and not taken seriously.
It took me a minute, but after a breath prayer asking God to help me respond with wisdom and love, I told my friend about how many years I had spent hiding who I was. The impact of racism isn’t only what makes the headlines. Shame, cultural assimilation, the erasure of Asian Americans, and the resulting familial fractures so many of us face, has produced deep grief. And that ongoing grief is compounded by questions like these from those who I am supposed to call spiritual family.
I told my friend about when I was brand new in my faith and my high school youth group gathered to watch A Christmas Story. I was the only Asian American and the only person of color in the room. I sat through most of it, relating to none of it even though it was named an American classic, and cringed with discomfort while Chinese restaurant staff started singing Deck the Halls and everyone in the room laughed their heads off while, “Fa ra ra ra ra…” filled the room. Everyone, except for me.
I shared about the times when I was a teenager, praying every day that our family could find a church where we fit, and then watched when no one approached my mom after service, and wondered how she could ever experience real community with women who wouldn’t speak to her. I spent time in my white friends’ homes, and saw their moms laughing about “those people who couldn’t even speak English,” and these were “church ladies.” How was I able to experience real community with these women’s sons and daughters without hiding and discarding large parts of myself?
It wasn’t until college, when I spent hours in Scripture, that I realized He never intended for me to hide.
I read and re-read Exodus, and shook with my own holy fear when God spoke to Moses through a burning bush on Mount Horeb, and introduced himself with a name that affirmed Moses’ birth heritage and called him out to lead with purpose and intention. He was a God who gave meaning and matter to Moses’ Hebrew identity, loss of identity, multi-cultural identity, refugee identity, and foreign identity.
“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” -Exodus 3:5-6
Over many years of wrestling and communing with God, His word made it clear that my heritage, my ethnicity, and my cultural identity were never meant to be small players, but instead, embraced and central to the way He designed me to know Him, reflect Him, worship Him, be loved by Him, and love others in community.
It was never about me trying to make myself sound special to a world afflicted by long held systems and strongholds of racism and oppression. It was always about the imago Dei becoming visible through me. I tried to explain this as gently as I could to my friend over that plate of fries, and though she listened, she changed the subject as soon as she could.
As a Christ follower, wife, friend, sister, daughter, writer, and an Asian American mother to three Asian American kids, I am passionately committed to welcoming my own healing and embracing my cultural identity, so that others may know the God who sees them. At our table and in our messy minivan, we talk about what it means to have cultural identity, and how finding your identity in Christ doesn’t mean ignoring important parts of how we’ve been fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). We celebrate our mixed family heritage loudly, with food and books that represent our identity. On screen and out in public, we notice color and say, “doesn’t God make beautiful color and culture in those who are different from us?” We tell our kids the truth about wrongs, so that they may hope and lead us forward towards Shalom in a way only they can.
More than anything, I long for my kids and other Christians of Color who get stinging questions over fries, to know they are beloved deep down into every divinely-purposed detail, so that they can grow into image bearers who know how to love others in the same way.
Tasha Jun is a melancholy dreamer, a biracial Korean American storyteller, wife to Matt, and mama to three little warriors. As long as she can remember, she’s lived and stood in places where cultures collide. Writing has always been the way God has led her towards home and the hope of shalom. You can find her on Instagram, sign up to stay in touch and receive her free monthly notes on belonging, cultural identity, and faith, here, and find more of her writing over at her blog.