As an ‘oriental’ kid, who immigrated to the Detroit area and spent 10 years of formative youth in the 313, I came up in a black/white racial binary that rendered me invisible. Yeah, I meant to say ‘oriental.’ We weren’t ‘Asian’ yet.
I was privileged to have an upper middle-class upbringing that valued education, but not so privileged to have a home life that was volatile and unsafe. I left home for the first time at 15-years-old, and dropped out of high school to work full-time at a dry cleaner.
I worked in the front of the store, so the hands-on work of pre-spotting stained collars and crotches, pinning numbers on dirty clothes, and bagging the final products was finished by evening, when I had a lot of down time between ringing up the slow trickle of customers. I passed the time by indiscriminantly reading whatever book was lying around–the Internet wasn’t a thing yet.
On one of those boring evenings, my co-worker, an older black woman, filled the time by scolding me for doing a shit job on sewing shirt buttons. She punctuated her angry in-my-face tutorial on how to sew straight and secure buttons by picking up the trashy crime novel that I was reading and waving it at my face.
“You need to stop reading this trash and get that GED,” she yelled. She then went on to brag about how her son got his GED and takes night classes at OCC (Oakland Community College).
College. I wanted that.
During those teenage years spent living on the streets in my car (a used Yugo that I proudly bought for six hundred bucks), in a runaway shelter, and couch surfing with friends, I learned how to live hard but not be hard, by watching people who struggled the most. Those people were black people. My well-meaning white friends couldn’t share their privilege with me even when they wanted to, and they definitely didn’t know how to help me to help myself. At one point, my white best friend’s good-hearted parents brought me to their parish priest to talk about adopting me, but I resisted because I knew this.
When I finally got my GED and made it to the University of Missouri, I wore out my library card reading about the lives of black people. I wanted to know why the black folks I knew had worked so hard for generations, but didn’t move forward the way white folks did. It was the lessons from black accounts of slavery, civil rights, racism, feminism, and daily struggle that fueled me to leave the Midwest and do something about social justice for my own Asian and Pacific Islander American community. I’m living testimony that the struggles of black people in America literally matter to an Asian American.
This is why it’s ‘BLACK’ lives matter, and not ‘all’ lives matter.
As Robbie Clark, organizer with Black Lives Matter Bay Area explains in a 2015 Washington Post article, “What we’re saying right now is that all lives will actually matter when black lives matter–and black lives don’t matter right now. So we need to say black lives matter to change that.”
Today, I’m speaking on this as a cancer-patient-turned-advocate and doctoral student researcher at UCLA, who is building a career focused on health disparities among sociocultural minorities. If I stay silent about the unspeakable violence against and murder of black people, I would be guilty of taking everything but the burden–I would be exploiting black lives. This is why black lives matter to me.
If you are a non-black ally who wants to support the #BlackLivesMatter movement, one good way to starts is with the people in your life. The API community is crowdsourcing a letter to explain Black Lives Matter to their own folks that you can check out and edit to your liking HERE. They also still need help with translating the letter into different languages and spreading the word, so hit them up if you’ve got skills.
UPDATE: GangsterLog 07.13.2016One year ago today, Sandra Bland was pulled over and arrested by a Texas State trooper for not signaling while changing lanes. Three days after her arrest, she was found dead, hanging in her jail cell. The medical examiner ruled it a suicide, but her family disagrees. This past Sunday, my friends and I attended what was planned to be a small gathering of a couple hundred folks in support of #BlackLivesMatter in Los Angeles. Instead, thousands of people showed up and the meeting was moved outside to a nearby park. We then took to the streets marching peacefully and mournfully, while voicing our outrage. Of course, media coverage only mentioned that the march shut down the 405 freeway. What they didn’t say is that thousands of strangers across many different races marched peacefully together for miles across Los Angeles without a single arrest or incident. I’m posting this video from the march in honor of Sandra Bland and too many other black lives lost to police violence. #SayHerName
It always only lines up in retrospect–the consecutive days of splitting headaches upon waking, nerve pain coursing through my body, and extreme fatigue. But sometimes headaches are an independent event, nerve pain can be attributed to post-herpetic neuralgia, and I live with chronic fatigue as a consequence of permanent lung injury regardless. So, it’s hard to distinguish between symptoms of shingles and symptoms of life after cancer, until that fated stripe of horizontal rash blows up across my backside.
Following cancer treatments, shingles (aka “herpes zoster” or “adult chicken pox”) became my nemesis, and post-cancer immune suppression, my kryptonite. Despite getting the shingles vaccine last year, which protects against half of the various strains of herpes zoster, I’m now a six-time shingles survivor in as many years. Where’s my wristband?
Since I’ve unwittingly become somewhat of an expert on managing my own brand of shingles outbreaks, thought I’d share some immediate actions that I take to Jade Up and speed the healing. Maybe one of these tips will be a gem for someone else in the struggle. These are not recommended remedies for everyone, so please remember that I am not a doctor. I just play one on my own body.
Jade Gangster’s Shingles Outbreak Top Ten Pro-Tips:
1. Call the doc and get on anti-virals, like yesterday. Move on it. There’s only a short three-day window from onset to get started on anti-virals, which make the difference between the virus taking weeks versus months to run its course.
2. Quarantine. Until the rash disappears, keep to yourself and notify the people in your life as needed. Stay away from babies, elderly, sick people, and other canaries in the coal mine who may be immune suppressed.
3. Don’t scratch, it ain’t vinyl. Do not touch the rash. I like to apply coconut oil topically to soothe the itches, because I prefer naturopathic remedies. But I hear calamine lotion may do the trick. Also, icing the area can help. Continue reading →
A few days after I first felt the nickel-size lump on his rib cage, the mass changed from soft and squishy to hard and firmly anchored.
The vet decided to surgically biopsy the entire lump for analysis, because the initial needle aspiration drew some blood in addition to fat cells. Some dogs develop harmless lipomas (benign fatty lumps) as they age, and at ten years old, that could’ve been the case for Malcolm.
“I have good news and bad news,” said the vet, calling me back with the pathology results. “Bad news is that it is a soft tissue sarcoma. Good news is …”
Sarcoma. My heart cannonballed straight to my stomach.
“… we can remove it, get a 3 cm margin … good prognosis … oncology consult … maybe chemotherapy or radiation …”
I was so used to hearing all the words coming from the vet, that I could’ve finished most of his sentences for him. But as I received those words, they felt less like a diagnosis, but more like a curse. How could this be happening? Why Malcolm??
In all my years of life after cancer, I never wondered nor asked why cancer was happening to me. I used to worry that I maybe missed out on a critical step in cancer patient development. But instead of wondering, ‘Why me?’ I’ve always thought, ‘Why not me?’ For whatever reason, I never got angry about having cancer. People kept telling me that I would be and should be angry, but I don’t think that I ever will get angry about the plain fact of being hit by cancer. I don’t really know who to be mad at. Caught in the storm of life-threatening illness, acceptance has kept me centered in the places where my power still rises–even through depressed times, when those places may only be tiny blips on a seemingly flat line.
But this was different. Why in the hell does Malcolm have cancer?? I was mad at me. Continue reading →
Five years ago today, in the thick of scary drastic cancer treatments, I wrote this documentation of what it was like to get fitted for a radiation mask. At the time, I was only writing for my private care circle of generous-AF-good-hearted helpers. For some reason, this particular post generated some very moving responses from my friends. This led me to listen to their encouragement to share my personal cancer writing more widely, and I can’t thank them enough for pushing me to leap. Ever since, I’ve made so many meaningful connections with other people hit by cancer. If you haven’t seen it, here is the blog that grew Jade Gangster, my cancer-blogging alter ego …
Imprint of a Radiation Mask GangsterLog Stardate 05.24.2011–Yesterday’s radiation planning visit resulted in the production of this pictured face mask for the purpose of immobilizing my head and shoulders during treatment. I should preface by saying that I didn’t show up to this appointment carrying a ton of fear. On the contrary, I was actually treating this visit as a formality before I had to complete radiation treatments that were annoyingly interrupting the main event of my bone marrow transplant. So, it was a surprise to me, when fear crept in and took me out like a sniper … READ MORE
Huge thanks to these special friends, mentors, and relatives who keep rallying for me to keep on writing–Susana Ming Lowe, Jo Ann Madigan, Jennie Chin Hansen, Sherry Agnos, Eric Schmitz, Amy Schmitz, Michael Lerner, Brad Zebrack, Rob Schilling, Peggy Saika, Art Chen, Josie Camacho, Victor Uno, Sherry Hirota, Russell Short, Geraldine Lee, Simon Davies, and many other incredible people.
“No offense, but I hope I outlive you,” I laughed, after explaining that I was given an 80% chance of 2-3 years before the cancer returned.
“You should do,” Uncle Ian replied.
But now that Uncle Ian has actually left the world, I wish I didn’t outlive him. I was just playing. He’s leaving behind so much family.
Maladaptive or not, one of the ways I sometimes cope with being young and cancerous is to think, “If I die now, at least I won’t leave behind a husband or kids.” I don’t mean to come off fatalistic. It’s just a less cliché version of, “It could always be worse,” that helps me live with the ongoing threat of a shorter stay on this planet.
Until our reunion in more recent years, my memories of Uncle Ian were limited to fuzzy images of his taller-than-I-could-see-the-top-of build and cheery pink complexion – one of the sets of grown-up hips and elbows that framed my early childhood memories in Hong Kong and England.
It wasn’t until after cancer hit, that I found the courage to reconnect with family members who were estranged as a consequence of my parents’ divorce. Before cancer, I worried about the possibility of rejection. But almost dying made me grow a pair – so to speak. I knew it was now or never.
Over these past years of getting to know Uncle Ian, he became so much more to me than the accomplished politician, innovator, and thought leader that characterized his professional career. He is the soul mate to one of my favorite people on the planet, my Auntie Ophelia, and lovable patriarch to their kids and grandkids. He told me endless life stories with humility and pride, and helped me fill in the blanks of otherwise lost family history. I feel damn lucky that I got to experience even a drop of his wisdom, wit, integrity, and generosity.
Not to mention, he was a tough Words With Friends player, who hesitated to even start a new game with me when I asked, because he already had five games going. After I somehow convinced him to start a sixth game with me anyway, I eventually got an email from him one day warning, “It’s been five days since you put down a word.”
On April 14, 2016, Ian Macpherson peacefully left the world. Today, he was laid to rest in a ceremony of thanksgiving for his life at St. John’s Cathedral in Hong Kong.