January 28, 2024

Culture Shock: A Journey to New Perspectives

There’s something almost absolutely satirical that my journey towards appreciation of my heritage came through culture shock. Unlike most international adoptees, I’ve never had this great desire to study my native language, to go back to my home country, or to test my DNA to learn familial connections. I’ve had my own identity struggles, but in my latter teenage years, I developed a sense of confidence and contentment where I didn’t feel that more cultural knowledge was something I needed or particularly desired.

A great deal of this self-assurance can be accredited to the way my family has approached both adoption and cultural heritage. My family’s done an outstanding job embracing my story, from attending Chinese New Year celebrations, to celebrating Gotcha Days, to the ever-constant positive reinforcement of my home culture. This isn’t always the case in multicultural families or situations - and for this, I am grateful that I never experienced the negativity, hostility, or assimilation of culture that other adoptees and multiethnic stories have gone through. 

And I suppose, raised with an overwhelmingly healthy approach to my story and culture, I wasn’t prepared for the emotional culture shock that moving to Springfield, Missouri would prompt. 

Because I was moving only cross-regional, I didn’t expect many shifts. But that’s the amazing thing about travel: it provides the opportunities to learn both more about yourself and the world around you. The culture shock we experience can be such a positive incentive to broaden understanding. And like all things, culture shock is a phenomena that is multifaceted and unique to the backgrounds we have previously come from.

Living in Springfield for school revealed a lot of cultural disparities, from the South’s curious obsession with potatoes with every single meal, to coats coming out in fifty degree weather, to Wednesday night church being a calendar event for most people. And I’m sure there’s things about Maine, from our very strange habit of slurring any word that ends with an -a (sō-da becomes so-d/er/), our love of red hot dogs and soder called Moxie, and how in winter, we all adjust our agendas to properly defrost our cars (or, often, to do snow removal).

Point in case: there’s a lot of surface disparities between cultures that are truly subjective in nature; they add dimension and distinction to our lives, a sense of identity, but beyond that, they don’t typically alter our entire worldviews or core values. 

There are, however, more subtle occurrences of culture shock that can clash with our moral values. Naively, I didn’t think much of this type of shock would occur - especially not in relation to my cultural identity as a Chinese American.

Demographically, Maine and Missouri aren’t that different in terms of racial diversity - both are predominantly Caucasian states. However, living in Missouri I experienced the subtle culture shock of living in a state with more historic racial violence, discrimination, and a conservative demographic compared to Maine’s liberal majority. 

This may sound strange, but for one of the first times in my life, I carried with me this awareness that not only was I Juliese Padgett, but right behind that was the knowledge, sometimes the paranoia, that I am also Asian, Chinese. I don’t know if I could ever properly explain this phenomenon, but I existed in a different sphere because of my cultural and genetic background. 

This is something that I’ve felt before - I think it is safe to claim that most people not within the majority ethnicity have experienced this dysphoria. However, never to this degree had I experienced the overwhelming feeling that Asian, Chinese was stamped on my forehead. Never to this degree had I brushed against a historical narrative of such racial pain. And that’s something I can’t quite articulate either - sometime during my time in Missouri, I became ultra-aware and even ended up personally affected and weighed down by the almost imperceptible racial cries that plague Springfield, Missouri. 

To give a quick history lesson, Missouri, like most of our states, was inhabited by Native Americans. In the 1830s, Native American tribes west of the Mississippi River were [legally] driven out of their ancestral homes and forced to relocate. The path they trekked is most commonly known as “The Trail of Tears”, where an estimated 60,000 Native Americans died, even more suffering emotional and psychological trauma along with physical injury. The trail’s name is symbolic, a reminder I dare say, of the tears shed during this 2,200 mile journey. 

Only a little earlier, Missouri, only a territory, had requested recognition as a state. At the same time, Maine was on its way to being recognized as a state. James Tallmadge Jr, who submitted Missouri’s request, had listed Missouri as a state with restrictions on slavery. However, the southern states that bordered Missouri didn't believe the issue of slavery within a state should be a federal matter. Eventually, the government came up with a compromise: Maine was introduced to the United States as a free state, whereas Missouri was introduced as a slave-holding state. This was better known as the Missouri Compromise, and contributed to many of the tensions that ultimately led to the Civil War. 

After the Civil War and into the early days of WWI, many in Missouri (and, important to note, other states as well) were upset by the now free people of color and came to be part of the Ku Klux Klan. Better termed a terrorist group, members of the KKK would commit acts of horrendous violence towards black people and other minorities. The members of this group were the farmers, merchants, doctors, ministers, and politicians, of the state, which made the act of convicting them nearly impossible - witnesses declined to testify, resulting in the continual violence and breeding of white supremacy. Eventually, the KKK infiltrated the Missouri government and churches, passing laws and integrating subtle beliefs into congregations that allowed them to continue their violent actions under the protection of the law (both government and morally). 

This of course, is only a sliver of the racial history that Missouri has been a part of - I encourage you to explore more resources to gain an informed picture of the racial history of our nation - but just these three historical moments in Missouri’s story explain just how inhospitable Missouri was to a person of color or of diverse ethnic origin. Unfortunately, though Missouri has made progress, if we’re not aware, our histories have a tendency to shape our worldviews, and sadly, many in Missouri still have perspectives that discriminate against people groups, consciously or unconsciously. 

Now why did I take you on that long-winded history lesson? As I stated previously, I’ve never held a particular investment in cultural appreciation because it had never been an aspect that had ever been threatened. But that changed when I moved to Missouri - here, there is cultural tension and underlying pain that revealed to me just how important it is to properly appreciate heritage and culture. It’s easy to pass over this undercurrent within cultural establishments until your own cultural identity has been called into question.

Here in Springfield, cultural groups are subconsciously having to constantly establish themselves, planting themselves like trees and standing firm in their cultural identities. That’s why it’s fascinating to me that Springfield also has, hidden in plain sight, ethnically diverse, true-to-culture restaurants that are sharing with the world authentic recipes that entire cultures have bonded over. Now isn’t this a curious thing? A city with such a history of violence and assimilation can indeed harbor such culinary diversity. 

To me, this poses such a beautifully tragic picture. It’s beautiful that people groups are able to share food that has brought together their peoples for centuries. The first time I stepped into an authentic Chinese restaurant that served food I remember gobbling up on the other side of the globe - I cannot put into words how empowering it felt to go to a restaurant where it was like stepping back into Asian streets. Having always experienced the typical Asian American restaurant (which is a whole different blog post), it was validating. It was beautiful to see culture embraced and so boldly existing. 

But there’s also a note of tragedy to this - until you’ve made the conscious choice to adopt different worldviews, you might not realize just how much it means that culture can exist this proudly. That’s because, to most people, they don’t realize how profound something as simple as authentic ramen can be to us. There’s a note of tragedy because what I learned, perhaps a bit pessimistic in view, is that to everyone else, it’s a nice restaurant. They don’t see the affirmation that’s laced in every detail, that stays with us far longer than we could ever stay ourselves. 

It was at two authentically Asian restaurants (Corner 21 and Karai Ramen) that I first realized the value of my culture shock. Though it was painful, though at times  it made me want to change myself, though it came with heaviness, I have been unable to look at the world through the same lens as before. It was not until I was in a place of uncomfortableness that I was able to recognize the value I desire to have regarding both my own culture and all the cultures around me. Because my culture was always so celebrated, because I was never faced with the identity perplexities that I was faced with this fall, I never realized that learning my culture and taking pride in it is a privilege. What a privilege it is to carry my culture - what a privilege and honor because, if we’re not careful, this can be taken from us, written by someone else and I’ve found that story ends in the erasing of personhood. 

I don’t want to erase my personhood. Part of my personhood is the fact that I am proudly Chinese-American, and the longer I’ve been in Missouri, the less I’ve taken this for granted. I know that to some, I might always have that stamp on my forehead, and I haven’t fully come to peace about that, about my ethnicity being seen and judged before my other qualities. But I do know this: the heritages of thousands of people before me was brutally taken from them. I feel the cries of the Native Americans, the slaves, and the POC’s affected by Missouri’s history when I’m in the Springfield area. It is heavy. It is unexplainably heavy, but I am grateful for the discomfort. I am grateful I experienced a culture shock that shook me down to my identity - because I see with new eyes what thousands before me weren’t able to celebrate. What a gift to see. I take pride for those who couldn’t, I take pride so perhaps others might experience even a moment of culture shock that brings them through their own journey of new perspectives.

September 6, 2022

What's in a Name?

“What’s in a name?”

More than just titles or mere adjectives, names hold a great power over us. They act as an encompassment of who we are, where we’ve been, and who we’ve come from. Names are commemorative of our belonging, our place in this world. 

However, as an adoptee I’ve had to reflect on my names. I have been given more than the average person. What names do I carry and what do they mean to me? Which names do I let define me? 

At my first breath of life, my first cry, I was given a name. Though I have no memory or knowledge of such a name, I know that it could easily be translated into “love”. 

The name Guang Yueyin was given to me in a crowded orphanage at six weeks old. Listed on all my records, this is the name I’ve associated with China. It represents my beginning. Yueyin, meaning ”earth, moon, and stars” points to the Creator of those things who was looking out for me during this time. 

The moment I was put in my mom’s arms, I earned the name Padgett. As my adopted surname, it represents the family and the unit I’ve been adopted into. It too means love, a love deep enough to sustain me an ocean away until the long wait was over. 

Juliese. Deriving from two names and without a dictionary meaning, this name gives me the freedom to grow into who I’m becoming while simultaneously knowing who I’ve been. Crafted in love, the name itself echoes prayers prayed, in love, over me before I myself came into being. 

Laced together, Juliese Yueyin Padgett tells a story of who I belong to, where I’ve been, and who I am. All of our names tell these stories. My many names could confuse me. I could put value into a single name. But the very act of renaming represents redemption. Renaming recognizes who you have been, what has been done, and clothes you, in love, in new glory, for a new chapter. 

“And you will be given a new name by the Lord’s own mouth. The Lord will hold you in his hand for all to see—a splendid crown in the hand of God.” (Isaiah 62:2b-3)

This is the prophecy prayed over God’s people. Think of it. The renaming the Lord does throughout history clothes his people in new glory. 

Abram → Abraham (father of many)

Sarai → Sarah (princess) 

Jacob → Israel (God wrestler) 

Naomi → Mara (bitter) → Naomi (pleasant)

Time and time again it is demonstrated to us that being renamed is holy. So holy in fact, that the Lord renames us after salvation takes place. Renaming signifies a physical redemption. And redemption is simply a by-product of a love so deep it could not settle for less than a union of adoption. 

That’s why, even though my birth mother whispered a name over me in love, I recognize that being renamed Juliese is proof of redemption, and I reach my hands out to receive this new name. Going from “_____” → “Juliese'' represents God’s redemptive hand in my journey.

Someday, be it God’s will, I might gain yet another opportunity to be renamed. Padgett → “____”. I will take up a new surname representing another unit the Lord has given me, a different version of the same redemption story. And even though I deeply take pride in carrying the Padgett surname, I know I never really lose the names given before, so I look with joy towards the names the Lord has to give me still. All these names add up to make a story that’s uniquely mine, that’s laced together to represent a picture of God’s holiness in my life. 

So what’s in a name? 

Holy redemption, rooted in love. 

And if that’s the case, I’m blessed to carry so many names.

July 27, 2022

Cultivating Healthy Racial Discussions: Some Questions

As the topic of racial reconciliation continues to prevail through our media, the necessity for healthy racial discussion becomes more and more obvious. These conversations can be challenging, controversial topics to host, making them generally avoided because we’ve never been taught how they should be conducted. Unfortunately, there is no perfect blueprint to lead these conversations. However, if you’re seeking guidance, there are certainly good signs and bad signs to look for when you begin these discussions. Some of these signs can be spotted by honestly reflecting on the following questions:

1. What role do I play in this conversation?

Reflecting on your role previously prepares you for what can be an intimidating discussion and can help guide your conduct. 

  1.  Am I hosting or am I in the position of being educated? 

As the conversation host you hold a responsibility to listen respectfully, have patience, and ensure the conversation continues to be productive. On the other hand, perhaps you are less versed in the unique facets of racial history and you’re in the position of a student. In this role, it is your job to acknowledge areas of ignorance, ask questions, and of course, learn. 

If you are the host, I ask you to reflect: 

  1. Is the person opposite of me as educated in racial facets?

Though learning will occur in any position you happen to play, you may know more than the person opposite of you. If you do, it is important to know the other person’s range of knowledge and be able to lead the conversation without sounding like you are preaching to them. 

  1. Am I in an emotional position to calmly talk about my racial worldview with another person whose views might differ from my own?

Can you hear something you might disagree with and handle it with love? If the person opposite to you says something that doesn’t sit right, are you capable of pointing out the inaccuracy without attacking them? Will you continue to be able to teach with love and patience? Being a host requires continual calmness and emotional maturity. It’s not easy, but I promise it’s possible!

  1. What parts of my racial narrative are painful? If these wounds are reopened, am I emotionally mature enough to not transfer that pain to the other person?

In our vigor to see racial reconciliation, sometimes instead of acknowledging and treating the hurt racism has caused, we can end up transferring our pain to others. It is important to recognize our pain in order to healthily express it. 

  1. Is the person I’m talking to willing to learn?

If the answer to this question is no, you can answer any questions, have conversations, but if they are unwilling to learn, it is your responsibility to wipe the dust off and move on. It is not worth sharing our deep values with ears that aren’t ready to learn.

  1. What more do I have to learn?

Sometimes, when we take the role of teacher, we can easily convince ourselves that we know it all. But we do not. Racial reconciliation is based upon learning and embracing others’ unique perspectives and requires an openness to learn. Humbleness is also equally important because we do not want to alienate those opposite of us and thus lose our opportunities. 

If you are the student:

  1. Am I willing for my views, my comforts, to be challenged?

If your answer is no, then this conversation won’t go very far. If you’re not willing to be challenged, for your views to be called into question, it simply means that this makes you uncomfortable. And that’s completely totally normal. It takes time, but if you’re willing, soon your answer to this question will change, and that’s your green light!

  1. Does the person I’m having this conversation with have a healthy racial worldview?

As a learner, it is important to learn from someone healthy! Ask yourself: 

  • Does this person openly admit to their limited perspectives and biases? 

  • Do they seek mutual growth during these conversations?

  • Do they have a diverse social circle? 

  • Do they use respectful terms that reinforce a person's/group’s value?

If these all sound like your person, then they sound quite healthy! The biggest most important quality of a healthy teacher is that they do not leave you feeling ashamed for your developing racial journey. If they do, please do not continue these types of conversations with that person. 

  1. What previous experiences in my life have shaped some of the mindsets I hold?

Reflecting on what has shaped our mindsets is powerful - what has shaped what you believe? Knowing the roots of your mindsets allows you to better communicate why you hold a certain view, and discussions will allow you to reflect on if that association is healthy or not. 

  1. How has racism hurt me personally?

Everyone has been hurt by racism. Everyone. We carry deep, inflicted wounds from the racial injustice that have influenced our lives. Knowing how racism has hurt you personally allows you room for both empathy and healing. 

The topic of racial reconciliation isn’t an easy one - the discussions aren’t always going to be comfortable and they require a willingness to let go of previous mindsets. But, in learning how to have these discussions, we cultivate a healthier racial worldview and perhaps in turn, can share this growth with others. My friends, there is so much healing to be had in this topic, and I hope your reflections help you pursue the beauty and the growth that discussion on racial reconciliation can provide. 

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