Saturday, September 2, 2017

When Hope Shines In The Midst of Chaos, Catastrophe and Crisis

I took this picture at Universal Citywalk
in Hollywood. Kids of all ages, size, shapes
and color played together on a hot
summer day. If only us, as adults,
can do the same. 
It's been an eventful two months not just in my personal life but in the world. 
It seems as if I barely exhaled in between personal and world events as I have a nasty habit of holding my breath during stressful times. 

With #45 as our country's leader there's not a morning that goes by that I haven't been horrified, frustrated, appalled and angered at what our nation has come to. I struggle with living my life in its "normal" state with the atrocities that affect us all. 

Last month, on August 12, the violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia between white supremacists and counter-protesters created a ripple of fear across the country. I won't get into too much detail about the event since you can search it on the internet to find more information. Or, click on the link above. 

I woke up that Saturday morning with images of white males brandishing backyard torches splashed across my Instagram and Twitter feeds. CNN's live feed on my computer told me it started with a "Unite the Right" rally protesting against the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue who symbolized the Confederacy. Anti-racist protesters rallied against white supremacists who yelled "blood and soil" including numerous racial epithets. 

While my chest constricted with fear I sat in disbelief that in 2017 I was witnessing what I've only read about in my books. Nazi flags held high while arms raised in Sieg Heils. 

"How is this happening?" I kept asking myself. I sat and cried forgetting to breathe. 

Right when I thought it couldn't get worse a car plowed into the throng of anti-protesters killing a young 32 year old woman named Heather Heyer. 

Heather Heyer. 

She died fighting for what she believed was right. For someone who's gone to two marches this year I understood why she was there. My heart broke in that moment. For her, for our country and for our future. 

#45's initial remarks after the tragic events of Charlottesville did not allay my fears. 
"We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence. On many sides.” Repeating the phrase "On many sides." He did not specifically call out the neo-Nazis, the KKK and white supremacists for their actions which further encouraged their agenda. 

Although he did issue a revised statement a few days later I viewed it as too little, too late. 

Helplessness filled my days while my anger was directed at people I knew who elected this waste of space. Were they okay with all this, I wondered? 

I wanted to write a blog post immediately after the horror at Charlottesville but what could I write that didn't add to the noise already out there? I didn't want to write a rant. What was the solution? 

I didn't have one. Choose love? It seems so simple but like my Facebook friend said, "It's easy to choose love when you're privileged." 

As an immigrant I'm no stranger to racism. I grew up with Filipino immigrant parents who spoke in heavy accents. I've witnessed white people denigrate my parents in grocery stores, banks and restaurants. I grew up with a dad who railed against the white man. 

When we became U.S. citizens I thought it would erase my parents' accents. I remember being embarrassed of my parents wishing I was born with blonde hair and blue eyes so I could fit in. 

Growing up I've been teased for my chinky eyes and bongo lips. My last name was fodder for every derogatory variation cruel kids could come up with. Chinkaforte was the favorite of my elementary school classmates. I was tormented and bullied in my first, second and third grade classes in Inglewood. 

I don't know when the presence of racism diminished in my life but it did. We moved to Norwalk at the beginning of fourth grade where the teasing and bullying stopped. I haven't experienced discrimination in the last twenty years although my parents have. 

Now I ask myself often: what kind of world will my granddaughter, future grandchildren, nieces and nephews grow up in with #45 as our leader? Every day that passes brings us backward, undoing all the hard work of his predecessor. 

The following weeks after the events in Charlottesville my view was one of despair. Every white person I passed in my daily life was suspect. Do they hate me? Are they undercover white supremacists? That white man didn't smile at me he must be a racist. That white lady bumped my cart in Target she must be a racist. Those white teenagers staring me down must be racists. 

Who the hell wants to live like that?! I do not. 

I'm not one to close my eyes to the truth I don't want to see. Watching the hatred on my computer screen compelled me to look within and face my own form of racism. Yes, we all have it in us. I contemplated on how I also contributed to this problem in my own life with my thoughts and actions toward others. 

The question I asked myself was: how can I come to a resolution of my own prejudices toward others? Let's face it, we are part of the problem we see on our television screens. 

Shortly after my self-reflection Hurricane Harvey, a category 4 storm, hit Texas hard on the last Friday of August. Helplessness and horror once again filled my days. I didn't personally know anyone who lived in Houston, Texas but one of my favorite writers, Brene Brown, made it real for me that morning. 

Even though CNN aired live footage in Texas it was Brene Brown's post that showed me the severity of the situation in Houston. 

I am aware that misinformation is rampant on the internet. I've seen memes on my feed that show grocery stores selling a case of bottled water for $99. I've also seen images supposedly taken from Hurricane Harvey but in truth were taken from another disaster. The tweet from Buzzfeed News below sheds light on misleading news. 

As the week unfolded with more tragic images (real and fake) from Houston I noticed something bright piercing through the catastrophic chaos: hope. 

People were coming together to help; to save; to rescue. There were no boundaries for the acts of kindness that shined in Texas. I read stories of ordinary people acting in heroic fashion. One example of this are these Mexican bakers who baked pan dulce for victims after being trapped by the floods. 

Or the images of a white man carrying an African American child in waist high water; or the African American man carrying two small white children through the flooded streets of their neighborhood. {Please note: I won't post all of those images here as there is so much misinformation on the internet but I've added one from a tweet below.)

I know there are hundreds of stories of unsung heroes in our country doing what is right regardless of race, political stance, gender identification, religion or citizenship. 

My mind is still reeling from the fact that it had to take a crisis for Americans to lay down their differences and exemplify the good in all of us. 

Watching people come together for Hurricane Harvey victims showed me that the solution begins with me. It's simple. We choose to help without bias or agenda. 

With all the gofundme pages and internet scams flooding our social media feeds it's difficult to determine which organizations are legit. Many are reluctant to donate to companies wondering if their money will be used appropriately. I get it. 

Of course, there is always the American Red Cross. [Update: Since I published this blog post several reports came out on why donating to the Red Cross is not a good idea.]

But Brene Brown brought up a need I never thought of. Underwear. I had one of those ah-ha moments when I saw her video on her Facebook page. I include the video below that has a link where you can donate underpants for those displaced from Hurricane Harvey. 

Let's talk underwear! #realtalk #Harvey
Here are three ways to give NEW (still in package) underwear. Please keep in mind that we need a variety of sizes for men, women, boys, and girls, including XXL.
2. Collect new, packaged underwear and mail it to the address below. It’s our local Hillel and they are collecting for us. This is a really great neighborhood or school project. If you’re purchasing, we recommend Hanes or Fruit of the Loom. UFE doesn’t process or give out anything but underwear!
Undies for Everyone
1700 Bissonnet St.
Houston, TX 77005

[Disclaimer: I'm not paid by Brene Brown to advertise. I'm posting this because she presented a need not many of us think of and one I know is not a scam.]

As I write this another hurricane is on its way toward Puerto Rico. Hurricane Irma is touted to be a Category 3 storm and I can't begin to imagine the devastation it will cause. 

When we are not living in the midst of disaster and experiencing trauma it's easy for us to become ambivalent to those who are. In the past 10 years where I've fought against human trafficking and volunteering for my causes I've heard numerous times, "You can't save the world. Focus on your own life. Help your family, instead." 

While that may be true and I do help my family when they are in need I can't pretend to be blind to the plight of others less fortunate than my family. From my years of volunteering for various causes I've seen that any help, big or small, makes a difference. 

I encourage you to do your part as I am with mine. If the organizations I recommended above doesn't sit well with you then I ask that you research to see which ones are not scams. 

We are all one.