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About The Asian reporter. (Portland, Or.) 1991-current | View This Issue
February 3, 2014
TALKING STORY IN ASIAN AMERICA
The little pieces and
the bigger peace
My wife gently pointed this out to her
yoga teacher, who responded by
expressing regret at offending my wife.
Ogh. And herein lies our puzzle-piece
problem. My wife was not struggling with
a personal offence. Not at all. Nowhere on
our precious little planet do an individual’s
feelings matter that much. This yoga
teacher insisting that a personal apology is
plenty, then pushing on, is like cramming
a puzzle piece into place. A misplaced piece
is not the right peace, and no amount of
pushing power will make it fit.
What our shared future requires
This brings us back to our office
lunchroom — those quiet women, their
eyes sweeping their task, their fingers
elegantly paused mid-air. Each little
puzzle piece matters. The big picture
depends on each considered carefully.
There are a thousand little puzzle pieces
on that office lunchroom table. On our
shared continent too. If you ask any of
Portland’s 1-in-5 foreign-born, a dozen
pieces are badly handled, daily. And this
goes without accounting for mistakes
made with ethnic minority kids who, as
their beloved teachers will tell you, now
number about half of our city’s classrooms.
Given these demographics, sorting out our
puzzle pieces right, will assure us a nation
of joy. Bursting with creativity. A bigger
and less self-centered America.
Here are three examples of small puzzle
pieces, not carefully considered, not under-
stood for the bigger picture each is a
perfect part of.
Last week, my wife went to a new
neighborhood yoga center. She was excited
by the school’s website with its opening
lotus set inside a stylized mandala. The
former is epistemologically central to
Buddha dharma; the latter is a core
construct of the Hindu religious tradition.
Because both concepts are gifts from
Mother India, because both my wife’s and
my family’s homelands, Thailand and
Indonesia, are neighborhood recipients of
this grand matriarch’s cultural legacy, we
are happy every single time our new
homeys adopt an ancient element already
deep in our bones. Well, maybe not every
On this occasion, in this River City
neighborhood, that yoga studio placed a
buddha statue in front of the practice
room, in front of the practitioners’ pointed
feet. The problem is, every properly
parenting Thai — as well as every other
Southeast Asian Portlander — teaches her
kids to never point their feet at others, and
never-ever at holy ones. Respect and
reverence are at the tough and tender
heart of our cultures. This is true back
home; this is true right here.
Here are a couple more examples.
Last month I walked in on a well-
meaning young man apologizing to a
brother for entering a neighborhood
mosque in shoes. Like the yoga instructor,
this Portlander was framing the issue in
terms of a New Worlder inadvertently
offending an Old Worlder’s personal
sensibilities. And again, it was off point.
Those traditional cultures with three or
more millennia of resilience under their
belts, don’t worry so much about each
instance of hurt feelings. Not so many
issues are taken personally. Imagine those
ladies personalizing their task of putting
their puzzle together. Impossible. We’d
never see the big picture for all the time
and attention squandered on individuals
A final example. Last year, a visitor in
our mom’s home realized that only he was
rubbing her grandson’s bushy head.
Affectionately mussing his hair the way
mainstreamers do. More embarrassment
ensued for both our guest and our boy,
when the guy grabbed even more
emotional space by addressing his error as
if it were personal offense for our kid.
It’s not. The boy’s a knucklehead. It’s not
about him. It’s about your head and mine,
it’s about all our minds, and each small
place each takes in the big puzzle of this
blessed continent, a shared space we’ll all
have to share a bit better.
And sharing better will require our
dominant culture to take three steps back
from what George Harrison generously
called the “I Me Mine” paradigm.
Translation: Your little puzzle piece, my
little peace, mean not so much in the
grander Bhagavad Gita (Song of God) — as
Mother India would put it.
Which cycles us right back to where our
column began — standing next to those
metaphorical ladies, each hovering a long
moment or two, over their careful con-
struction project. Their 1,000-piece puzzle.
Endangered turtles face
new threat in Indonesia
Cambodian police break
up protest for TV license
Guantánomo Bay in
here are these lovely ladies in our
office lunchroom. Daily each
lingers a long-long moment over a
slowly assembling table-sized jigsaw
puzzle. A 1,000-piecer. It takes them a
week or so, of a quiet minute each, to
patiently put it all together. I envy their
sharp focus. I’m awed by the complexity of
the big picture their persistence produces.
These women own the tools necessary
for our complex times. Times when the
U.S. can no longer rely on mechanized
bone-crushing power as a global problem-
solving methodology. Not even our
Canadian and British best buds consider it
cool. Not anymore.
Domestically, America’s inadequate and
unkind social institutions can no longer
afford to roll the way they do. The
racialized ruts directing our schools and
commerce, our mainstream’s systems of
justice and public administration, simply
cannot contain our energetic immigrant
and refugee streams. Not the numbers, not
New American families’ ambitions. No
The arithmetic is plain. The numbing
financial and spiritual costs of our nation’s
endless warring abroad; the thick cost
column of a continent gained by native
nations’ ethnocide, of an economy built on
slave labor, of a union punctuated by
episodic expulsions of entire ethnocultural
communities — will be nothing. Nothing
compared to the enormous ocean of
bitterness we’ll surely produce if the
fundamental mindsets animating these
soul-grinding systems are left in their ugly
or communal health
Continued from page 2
returning to the beach where they were
born every year.
“It’s alarming in a place like Derawan,”
he said. “Protecting the species alone is not
enough. There has to be consideration
about the capacity of the food itself, the
Seagrass is part of an important
ecosystem, providing food, shelter, and
nurseries for different types of fish,
mammals, and invertebrates. It helps
maintain the health of coral reefs,
mangroves, and marshes, while also
preventing erosion and keeping water
clear by trapping sediment coming from
A 2011 global survey found that 14
percent of all seagrass species are at risk of
going extinct, largely due to pollution,
coastal development, deforestation, sedi-
mentation, sewage runoff, and dredging.
Green turtles are classified as
endangered on the International Union for
Conservation of Nature’s Red List of
Continued from page 5
Continued from page 6
when police tried to break up another
protest. Those protesters were demanding
the release of 23 other demonstrators who
were arrested during a recent crackdown.
The government imposed a ban on
rallies and street marches in Phnom Penh
after a wave of election protests in early
January. The ban followed a violent clash
in which at least four people taking part in
a labor protest were shot dead by police.
The bid for a television license comes
from Mam Sonando, a fierce government
critic who is the owner and operator of
Beehive Radio, one of the few
opposition-aligned stations in Cambodia.
He led the rally in front of the Information
He also asked for a license for
broadcasting a relay of his Phnom
Penh-based radio station.
protections. What Guantánomo Bay tells
us is that human rights are not universal,
implicitly affirming the humanity of U.S.
citizens against the “inhumanity” of those
who are not.
Guantánomo Bay is no longer news. The
revelation that some of the prisoners were
tortured did not accelerate its closure. The
presence of Guantánomo has become a
normalized cost of U.S. citizenship, an
overhead built into preserving “our”
collective freedoms so “we” can continue as
a democracy founded on law and justice.
But as history has already shown, who
“we” are is subject to change. If we
abandon our commitment to due process
and civil liberties, especially during times
of heightened conflict, then we abandon
ourselves to a future in which we too might
be perceived as a threat.
THE ASIAN REPORTER n Page 7
There are a thousand
little puzzle pieces on that
office lunchroom table.
On our shared continent
too … Sorting out our
puzzle pieces right, will
assure us a nation of joy.
Bursting with creativity.
A bigger and less
Actually, each of them are much like a
ports commissioner, mindful of the “port”
part of Portland. Each understanding how
each puzzle piece is essential to the big
picture, but only if gently set in its proper
place. A small space. Not a lot of room for a
The Asian Reporter’s
Expanding American Lexicon
Buddha dharma (Pali, Hindi): Teachings of
Epistemology: The philosophy of how we
know what we think we know.
George Harrison (1943-2001): British musi-
cian and humanitarian. Composer, vocalist, and
lead guitarist for The Beatles. Along with Pandit
Ravi Shankar, Mr. Harrison is credited with
introducing classical Indian music and Hindu
spiritual constructs to 1960s and ’70s western
popular culture. His 1970 release “I Me Mine,”
contrasts western self-centeredness with eastern
self-minimization. Vedic traditions posit that
ending personal and world suffering begins with
Heads and feet: Many Old World cultures
consider all things, from micro to macro, as
ordered in nature’s way. Naturally, our heads are
high and our brains do higher functions.
Naturally, our feet are low and smell bad. Heads
should be given high respect, shoes and all the
lowly stuff of street life should be left outside of
the sacred space a wife makes of her home. Her
family protects the high place where she nurtures
Lotus: A water-born plant, set out as a
metaphor for each human soul doing his or her
very best, growing out of the dark nutrient soil at
a pond’s bottom, and with a little looking and
trying, grows toward the enlightenment of the
sun. Once on the water’s surface, a lotus blossom
Mandala (Vedic, Hindi): A kind of spiritual
blueprint of our universe.
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