Without Mud, There Can Be No Lotus

May is Mental Health Awareness Month – and for those of you who haven’t had a chance to read it – I’m passing along an April NYT article on “Languishing” which has been a common, shared experience for so many of us during this triple pandemic year of COVID-19, economic instability, and racial reckoning.

Mission Capital is honored to be a part of a collaborative network of community partners, who will be co-hosting a convening on May 25 at 8:30am to discuss Mental Health and Nonprofit Needs: Stress Management with NAMI.

In today’s blog, Mission Capital Consultant, Minh Ha, shares her personal lived experience of how she’s navigated the racial inequities and tragedies of the last year…as well as a playlist for our weary yet courageous souls. We are grateful for Minh’s fearless leadership as we press onward to “become the change we want to see in the world.” – Madge Vasquez, CEO Mission Capital

I’ve tried to put my feelings about 2021, which feels like a personal attack gifted to us by 2020onto paper three separate times. No words seem to do my feelings justice, and perhaps that’s because I’m not sure I know what justice means anymore.  

I think all my hair started falling out again (the first follicle exodus happened in early June 2020) in late February as the hate crimes against Asian folks in America took over the breaking news doom scroll cycle. I thought we reached the crescendo with the Atlanta shooting that aimed for Asian sex workers, but it was quickly followed up by the Boulder shooting, which was followed by Adam Toledo’s murder, a FedEx attack on the Sikh community, Daunte Wright’s execution just miles away in Minnesota from where a jury would find Derek Chauvin guilty on three counts of murder, around the same time we lost what would be the joy of Ma’Khia Bryant’s future and Shane Nguyen’s 56th birthday.

The background music to this saga: the bills across state legislatures trying to make examples of my siblings by denying them health care, the imminent city sweeps of our friends experiencing homelessness, and India’s ongoing COVID crisis as we emerge from quarantine, could shatter glass. To live at any cross-street, intersection or roundabout of oppression right now is to be exhausted every time we get a news update. It bites more and more from my physical form, little by little, day after day.

Every time I ask my friends how they’re doing, because of our own traumas and the enduring violence of constantly seeing members of our respective communities being tossed around headlines about who had the target on their backs this time, the overwhelming answer to “How are you?” is “I’m tired.” We. Are. Tired. I feel chewed up and spit out and reduced to an Instagram graphic that some of my friends are trying their hardest to share and slightly less hard to grasp conceptually about a trauma they may never experience. I can say that because I do this too. This constancy of being tired whittles at my hope as an ally, as a survivor, as a washed-up organizer, as a soft, mushy human stalking about on this dying planet. If hope is a discipline, I am chaos, I contain multitudes. It is harder to mobilize these sentiments into action when the dehumanization is relentless.  

I can’t shake the venomous feeling that the messengers of power made an example of a Black child, of a girl like Ma’Khia, because of the cries for justice communities demanded in the name of George Floyd’s cruel, cruel passing. I remember learning from underneath a door crack how abusers create fear and demand submission to their authoritative power by making examples of the most vulnerable in our nuclear units. Their violence is a marketing campaign, not for the vulnerable they’ve beaten into submission but rather any witnesses standing by, those potential allies who may have more privileges or powerful resources such as physical, social or financial capital. A message I learned early is simple: “If I can do it to them, I’ll have no problem doing it to you.” Institutions of power know it best: none of us are free until all of us are free. It takes me back to the day I learned about the Jamestown alliance, a union of indentured servants and African slaves, laborers alike, whose aligned and organized efforts for labor justice would result in punitive consequences that served to divide them and shatter their allegiance to each other. The venom seeping through me today is from the same 402-year-old playbook. I grow tired at the lack of innovation. 

Let the antidote be creativity. I still derive dopamine from art while mainlining a steady stream of pop culture to the face. My current salves are listening to the same three Victoria Monet songs on repeat for weeks, rewatching Bowen Yang give voice to thee iceberg that defined a generation, a binge of The Nanny, fiction by Asian authors that is anything but escapist (and only makes me descend deeper into the personal sadness I haven’t even begun and won’t begin to cover in a blog post I write for work) and practicing my love language, of course: making playlists.  

My dear friend Abel once observed that there are times when I explain things better through song. I am too tired to say anything poignant or risk hearing that I am articulate or eloquent as though it could possibly still hit my limbic system as a compliment. All I have is rage. All I want is respite. So, here is a track list I crafted for the never-ending occasion of grieving this moment. Take a listen and get some rest. You look tired. 

are you tired yet? – a playlist by minh ha 

1. “Halmeoni” – Emile Mosseri – Minari (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Halmeoni means grandmother in Korean. It’s the grandmothers and my other elders that I think of most lately. It was so, so hard to watch Minari and at the same time, nothing was more cathartic for me, an Asian woman who can’t stop sobbing. 

2. “Good Days” – SZA – Good Days
Miss Solana’s songwriting skills always captures the mood. Lie down on a blanket outside, get your dosage of vitamin D, look up at the breezy trees and let her lyrics wash over you. 

3. “No Face” – Haley Heynderickx – I Need to Start a Garden
Haley understands a lot about the human condition. As she explains, “Its about trying to love people as kindly as you can… or else you will end up like the character No Face from the Miyazaki film Spirited Away.”

4. “I Can’t Breathe” – H.E.R. – I Can’t Breathe
Vallejo, California local H.E.R. is a Black Filipina American Grammy and Oscar winning singer-songwriter who asks  us a question to which we still don’t have an answer. 

5. “Thugz Mansion” – 2Pac – The Best of 2Pac
This song once played on shuffle when I was hanging out with the aforementioned Abel, back when we plugged iPods into aux cords connected to wired speakers to play music, which is a very vintage sentence. 

He’s the one who reminded me of the mention of Latasha Harlins and the lady at the liquor store, Soon Da Ju, who Tupac asks to come home. The thirtieth anniversary of Latasha’s death was the same day as the Atlanta shootings. 

6. “This Is America” – Childish Gambino – This Is America
When this song debuted in 2018 and became a radio staple, I used to see nice young children singing this song with glee as their parents smiled watching them from afar, nary a second thought or raised eyebrow to the song’s lyrics. I am so curious to talk to those parents now, or at least find their Instagram handles and see what they’re posting. 

7. “Pretty Ugly” – Tierra Whack – Whackworld
If “this is fine” were a song. 

8. “All The Noise” – Su Lee – All The Noise
If “mentally I am here” were a song.

9. “Your Best American Girl” – Mitski – Puberty 2
Love doesn’t overcome everything. Mitski gets that. And in the wake of Atlanta, every single memory of my unexamined life went under a microscope for me to rehash every detail, every microaggression, every racist blunder I swept under the trauma rug until I finally approved of how my Vietnamese mother raised me. 

10. “Godspeed” – Frank Ocean – Blonde
First, this is an original Frank Ocean song, not by James Blake. Second, it’s my favorite song to cry to in this pandemic. I always feel humbled when Frank reminds us of the power of mountains.  

If I have learned nothing else from this most mediocre year indoors, it’s that the bad feelings do not go away until they properly pass through my aching, ailing, nutrient-deficient body. For those of us that are the most tired: I need you to rest, to feel the pain and heartache, to let the grief flow through you, because turning numb is not an option. To recover from exhaustion of this magnitude is to regain the ability to dream big. Dream big we must, for what awaits us on the other side of our vaccinations is a hunger for accountability, momentum around a moment and earnest minds that may finally be open to brainstorm the answers we already know to the question “How do we build a society to address harm without relying on structural oppression?”¹

¹This is a question adapted from Mariame Kaba’s We Do This ‘Til We Free Us in her reference to a concept by Kwame Ture. 

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