Saturday, March 13, 2021

Fueling Misperceptions

According to the U.S. Census, only 1.3% of Maine’s population is of Asian ethnicity. If these statistics are compared to the 1.3 million people who live in the state, that means that there’s only about 17,000 Asian people in Maine, which sounds large, but it really is not. Due to the large percentage of this group that reside in the inner cities, many people I know, who live more rurally, have met very few Asians in their lives.

To me, this poses a very startling realization. In the circle of people I know, which is admittedly small, I might be the only Asian person they’ve ever really known. And while this does not seem particularly profound in itself, I daresay it is. Because of my singularity, I hold a responsibility to represent my culture, and possibly, influence the way which it is perceived.

For example, I, a Chinese American teenager, have struggled with acne in the past. However, one might look at me, notice that I am of Asian descent, and assume that is a trait of the majority of Asians, without further knowledge or research. This particular assumption is for the most part harmless. It is a deduction based on unverified facts and what this person has observed. However, sometimes these assumptions are not just about acne. Sometimes these assumptions are spread to the entirety of an ethnic group, causing hurt and misunderstanding.

This is important for us to realize because the way we act has the ability to fuel or dispel such perceptions.

You see, when we interact with people, especially those who don’t know us as well, we are not just representing ourselves. In these situations, our behaviors are the representation of our cultural group, ethnicity, etc. Why is this? Each person, thing, or experience influences one’s perceptions of the world, and for us who are “minorities,” we not only affect how they view us, but also, how they see all of our ethnicity as a whole.

And while every person should live with a mindset of responsibility and hold themselves with integrity, I feel that for those belonging to a minority, this truth is even more so applicable.

Truthfully, whether people care to admit or not, we, as humans, group people together by any factor that can possibly be compartmentalized. This, for better or worse, applies heavily to aspects such as ethnicities, especially ones that are foreign to us.

Is this about forming unfair, unjust perceptions? Yes. Does prejudice play a major role? Also yes. However, this is not a matter of them, we cannot control them and trying to do so will only spark anger and division. Rather, this is a matter of you and me. Whether we like it not, our actions and behaviors can and will affect the perceptions of others.

The responsibility we hold has the power for radical change, in both us and others. In our actions, our speech, and our relationships, we can be the embodiment of millions before and around us, and this is a power both motivating and potentially dangerous.

My intention is not to intimidate but rather to inform and, hopefully, encourage change in each of you, regardless of your ethnicity. I urge you to reflect on yourself and ask, “Who do I represent? As a representative, how am I portraying them? Are my actions doing their part to positively present the bigger culture I belong to, or are my actions able to fuel misperceptions?”

Monday, January 4, 2021

Letting Go

Here’s the thing about death: there’s a certain amount of finality to it. But there’s also another type of grief, sometimes more complicated than the grief that death carries. This is the grief of a person who is still alive. And yet, this type of loss is something we can face multiple times in life. So why exactly is this experience, the act of letting go, so hard to bear? How do we get through this?

The first question is easier to answer than the second. Why is it so hard to let someone go who is still alive? Oftentimes, this is so hard because we have the knowledge that they are still alive. And we, as hopeful creatures, hold onto them because we know it’s still possible that they will return to us. Logic only goes so far, and when we are in an emotional state of turmoil, we have a higher chance of entertaining hopeful fantasies. These, however, can sometimes be the root of our inability to let go.

Now, I’d like to be clear. I do not mean that we should stop being hopeful. Instead, I would like to differentiate hope and hopeful fantasies, two very different ideas with drastically different effects.

Hope is gentle; it is warm. This is the feeling that envelops us in the dark and provides a light. Like an invisible companion, hope keeps us focused on the light in front of us instead of the dark.

On the other hand, hopeful fantasies are as simple as this: still fantasies. Made up by our idealistic minds, these daydreams immerse us. When we dive into these figments of reality, we play with emotional fire. With our minds as the ultimate author, we can create a world where the hurt didn't happen, where the darkness is convenient. And this is a dangerous state to be trapped in.

I’m writing this post because I’ve had a hard time with this lesson. In fact, I’ve been struggling with it for almost four years. In sixth grade, I had a friendship breakup, and I just recently was able to let go of the hurt, and subsequently, the person.

Why was I unable to let her go? There are two big reasons:

  • My identity was not strong at this point, and I allowed her to become part of my identity
  • I knew logically she was gone, but I comforted myself with an unhealthy coping mechanism of hopeful fantasizing.

These two factors largely played into my struggle. As I stated, my confidence was, well, in a word, not matured. Unlike today, I relied on my friend as my “friendship spine” instead of making my own definition of friendship. In doing this, I allowed myself to be morphed into something I couldn’t hold together without her. This dependency wasn't healthy and limited my growth.

The other factor was that of my fantasies. I got twisted into a world where we were still friends, where she was still a part of my life, and the fallout hadn’t happened. And this held me back a great deal.

I knew these were unhealthy, so why exactly did I keep coming back to them? The answer is simple: this fantasy world was very attractive to a lonely person. They submerged me into a tangle of webs, so deep down, that I could not find the end of the rope. Our minds, the most powerful part of who we are, then provides us with these fantastical escapes. And because of this, I continued to flirt with the unhealthy attachment.

So, I had to let go of these worlds. And I’m not going to lie; it wasn’t easy. Sometimes, I would fall back into these patterns. But today, I can look from the shore and see how far I’ve come. Because during this time of “letting go,” I have not only found closure but also a clearer definition of what is healthy in a friendship.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Paradox

Observe the world around you--
How narrow is your view?
Each and every taken breath
Is traded for another’s death.

In battle a soldier dies--
Just so his country will rise.
The joy of a baby is born;
A person succumbs as others mourn.

A random shooting occurred,
Nearby, a disease just cured,
Around the world a girl is bought,
While a couple ties the knot.

Just as life gives, it takes.
For every joy there befall aches,
But hold to hope my friend,
Jesus is coming; there will be an end.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Nameless

Have you ever watched The Force Awakens? Episode Seven is all about the rising up of new heroes within the Star Wars Universe. One of them is a runaway stormtrooper, a classic bad guy turned good. During the movie, he goes from a soldier known simply as FN-2187 to Finn; someone who assisted their small group in the endeavor to take down the controlling First Order.

From that point on, we fail to see Finn as a stormtrooper, a weapon of war. He’s not one of them, a nameless soldier taught to follow orders from birth. Instead, we see him grow as a character. By the end of the movie, we’re rooting for him. We witness a dramatic change; he goes from being known as FN-2187 to Finn, who helped save the Resistance.

Personally, I’ve noticed that my viewpoint changes when I know the person’s name. Suddenly, instead of looking at an army of stormtroopers and thinking that they are all inherently evil, we’re left wondering how many Finns are in that mass? How many people are like Finn, trapped behind a mask they have never been able to separate from themselves?

Just like in the Star Wars Universe, we have stormtroopers on this earth. However, these people don’t wear physical masks (COVID doesn’t count), but the mental masks we put over their faces.

I’m talking about the millions of orphans worldwide. I’m talking about the thousands of babies that get aborted each year. I’m talking about the millions of kids who are labeled with trauma or a learning disorder, and then, they are never given another regard.

Now, please picture me. Most of you, who are reading this, have at least an idea of who I am and have read some of what’s in my heart. Let’s go back back to an orphanage in Southern China in 2006. It’s more crowded than it should be. Wails of anguish and abandonment fill the empty spaces. Do you see all the children surrounding you? Now, look at me; do you see me there in the crib?

It’s easy to picture me because you, the reader, know me. But it’s harder to picture me in an orphanage, isn’t it? Because I’m not one of these nameless orphans, I’m Juliese Padgett, someone whose heart you have had the opportunity to see. I bet you can’t see me the same way you see those other kids in the orphanage. Wait, there were others?

How many of those kids around me had the potential to help other children like them? How many could have grown up and changed the world in their own special way? How many of them got that chance?

Does this change the way you picture them? It changes my perspective because those kids were my companions in the orphanage. We might not have had a personal relationship, but we were siblings in our own way. I might never be able to see their faces or have a personal relationship with them, but I know they are far from nameless.

The takeaway of this post is this: Don’t just picture the mass. Take time to see the reality: there are millions of individuals; each has a face, emotions, and a name. It's easy to see a statistic but harder to see a person. When we remove the masks that we have placed on specific groups of people, we change. And, with this new perspective, we are given the chance to love people, to be mentors, and to become family. But ultimately, this will never happen if we see these masses as nameless.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Perceptions

Recently, I’ve been writing a narrative about my birth mom. Instead of the story centering around my birth mom and me as a child, it’s about what follows after she leaves me. I’ve only written a few pages into the story, but I’ve already learned quite a few lessons.

Something I’ve realized is that I always write her as a perfect character. And as I reflect more and more, in every situation I have ever written her in, she has never had a fault, or at least one which I didn’t control. Because of this, I have forgotten a fundamental truth: my mom is like every other person on this earth--flawed and deeply so.

Weird enough, I never realized I saw her in this light until I started to write my story. Usually, when shaping a character, I use elements and characteristics from someone who has impacted my life. If my characters were to look in the mirror, I know that their reflection would be a spitting image of me. And that is why a lot of times I do abandon my stories because more of myself comes out more than I am willing to share. Through my characters, I have the power to channel my perceptions, thoughts, and even my soul.

When I sat down to write my mother’s story, I found it more challenging than I anticipated. For the first time in my writing career (if you can call it as such), I didn’t feel like I could write this character from the parts of me that I had never shown to anyone. Why? Because this character isn’t supposed to be me. This character is my mom, and even though I am a part of her story, she holds different values and opinions than I do. I came to realize that in order to write her correctly, I had to take her out of the box I had made for her.

Even though I’m only pages into this, my perceptions have already changed. My mom is not a graceful heroine, she's not infallible, and she makes mistakes that should not be applauded. She’s young, has her skeletons in the closet, and does things that she regrets. It makes her so much more real to me, and at some moments, I can almost feel her pain, but that’s not the story I want to write. My story will be one of redemption. It will be the microphone for those voices who have never been heard over the roar of the crowds.

At the end of the day, I am aware that this is only a work of fiction, and only God, the ultimate author, can write our stories. However, I feel this is a story that He has given me for a purpose.

He gave me this story to show that perceptions can be narrow and that adoptees, in particular, can have twisted notions of their birth parents, which usually end up falling in one of two categories - good and bad. This may not apply to every adoptee or even any adoptee, but I choose to believe that while every person is flawed, everyone can have redemption.

And perhaps that’s what gives me the most closure. I know that if I never go to China, if I never meet my mom, if our paths never cross, both of us are going to be okay. She doesn’t need me for closure, and I don’t need her for closure. Wherever our stories go, I know we will both get our redemption stories.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Patchwork Quilt

People like to compare life to a puzzle, and I think there’s a lot of truth and metaphors within that phrase. However, I like to think of my life as a patchwork quilt. 

No one thing, culture, set of people, or lifestyle has defined me. I’m a unique mix of all these things; all these elements have made me into the intricate and frankly, complicated, person I am. 

I think there’s a beauty to patchwork quilts. A lot of times it’s random colors and cubes that you wouldn’t put together, but somehow it works. Back in the day, quilting groups would bring swatches of cloth that meant something, or could be linked to a memory. These small pieces of fabric, from different people, were sewn together to create a blanket that holds mysteries and memories; while all different, they come together to form a stunning piece of artwork. 

Our lives are a lot like that, aren’t they? These “swatches” are pieces of our lives, from our birth to our today; all these pieces are sewn together to create a single thing, in this case: us. Each “swatch” holds a story; it holds memories of days past and so many people have invested time and energy to ensure that it can be the best possible. Maybe, instead of imagining our lives as a puzzle that needs to be completed, we should see our lives as a quilt that is in the working, filled with days past all sewn together to represent who you are becoming. 

Now for the fun part! We are going to imagine this quilt. Have a picture in your brain? Good. Now I want you to look at some of the individual pieces of fabric.What do they look like? What do they represent? What pieces of your life make up your quilt? 

Here are some of mine: 

God. He was the first one to pick up a needle, the first one to begin this quilt. His swatch is of Him holding a little girl, who is me. All this time, He’s had his hand in my life, leading me exactly where He wants me. He’s the only one who can see the end result of this quilt, and He’s the one making sure all the threads are tight and secure, while preparing more squares to be added. 


China. One of the first sewn pieces, it’s rather big because China has made such a large impact in my life and I don’t want to forget that. I like to picture this fabric as a smaller version of the Chinese flag.

My birthparents. I can’t really imagine what this one looks like; it's just two people holding a baby. All we can see is their backs. But still, they are essential to include, even if part of that patch is a mystery. 

My family. If there’s any doubt, I love my family, and they are my people. Of course they would be one of the biggest squares on here. I like to picture this part as six people embroidered onto the fabric, all holding hands. 

My friends. This patch is interesting as it’s not as big as you would expect. But the details are impressive. Four of my closest friends are in the forefront, while shadows of other people linger in the background. I think this cube represents those who are with me, and those who aren’t anymore. It’s bittersweet, but that’s what gives this quilt so much depth. 

The Newest Flower, Okay, you guys had to expect this one. This book was written when I was trying to grasp how I felt about being different, and the opportunities and growth I’ve had from this book have shaped me in so many ways. 

Gotcha Days. I like to see this section broken into little squares, each one holding a memory from earlier Gotcha Days. It’s a bright, cheerful cube, and you have to use a magnifying glass to see all the little engravings. But this cube represents celebration, a joy that cannot be measured, so this is one of the most priceless swatches to me. 

I could go on and on about all the little moments that have brought me here, but I’m not going to do that. These are some of the most notable squares in my quilt, and these ones showcase my journey. I would like to challenge you to reflect and find out which ones best showcase your journey, and think about why. May you all be blessed as we all continue to add swatches to our own quilts. 

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Grief

People always talk about grief and loss when someone dies. 

“One more smile, one more brush of hands, I’d trade everything for one more chance.” 

I’ve witnessed grief, and I’ve had my share of death. And yes, there’s a part of me that would give so much to go back, to rewind the clock just so I could sit in the person’s presence.

But beyond death, we grieve for losses in our own lives. And this grief, while less understood, is just as painful and overwhelming. 

“One more smile, one more brush of hands, I’d trade everything for one more chance.” 

When I say this quote outloud, the first person who comes to my mind isn't a relative I've lost to death; it isn’t even my old friends of whom I've grown apart from. 

Who I’m actually grieving is my birthmother. 

What we don’t realize is that grief isn’t something you just put in a box and bury. 

Something I wish I had been told years ago is this: You can still grieve someone who is still alive.

Up until now, I never realized the fact that I needed to grieve. And maybe that is why the Lord gave me a vivid dream of a mother who was in desperate need to find her lost daughter. When He gave me this, it showed me just a fraction of the grief that she was feeling, and in turn, made me realize that I, myself, am grieving. 

And so, as I came to this conclusion while writing a letter to my birthparents, in honor of  Mother’s Day, I commented on how much I just wanted to be able to hug her and tell her just once, in person, how much she did for me--just like how the mother in my dream so desperately wanted to do the same and hug her long lost daughter.