Tag Archives: Miyoung Yoon Hammer

On Purposeful Forgetting

A response to  Miyoung Yoon Hammer’s “Psychological Homelessness: Healing Intergenerational Wounds” and Hsu Huan-Zung’s “In Karmic Tones.” Dr. Yoon Hammer’s article can be found in SANACS Journal #4

By Felix Huang

There was a time, on occasions when I returned to my hometown and stocked up on leafy greens at one of the Chinese supermarkets, or got my boba fix at one of the ubiquitous tea houses, I would feel the urge to scream, “People, there’s a whole world out there, beyond your nice little ‘#bobalife’ bubble, full of racial injustice and trauma and microaggressions and stereotype threat!”

Although I grew up in one of the Asian ethnoburbs of the San Gabriel Valley in LA, I attended a small, predominantly white college. There I experienced up-close systemic and institutional racism, alive and well even in an organization full of kind, well-meaning people. And as much of a bubble as the college is, it’s also in many ways a microcosm of wider American society. Thus since graduating from said college, my eyes have been shaped to identify the pervasiveness and effects of such systemic racism.

I never actually acted on my urge to scream at those in my hometown, and admittedly I knew not everybody’s story. But nonetheless, I felt a little like one returning to the cave in Plato’s allegory.

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My family history is one of trauma. My maternal grandfather fled mainland China for Taiwan in 1949, but since he was not a Kuomintang member, he wasn’t taken care of by the KMT government as many other mainlanders in Taiwan (外省人) were. Most members of his family did not make it out of mainland China, and some, including his father, were imprisoned and tortured to death by the Communist government. Meanwhile my maternal grandmother, a benshengren (本省人 – Han people who were already in Taiwan prior to 1949), grew up with an abusive, alcoholic, and often absent father, and without her mother, who had passed away when my grandmother was quite young.

These stories were relayed to me at a young age. My immigrant mother made sure I knew where I came from, transmitting not only Chinese and Taiwanese history, culture, and language, but also our family history, including the sordid details.

My family is certainly not alone in having a traumatic history, but I found out that many of my peers were not told their stories of family trauma until they were much older, if at all. And they seemed to do just fine, or even better, without knowing.

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Regarding the healing of intergenerational memories, Dr. Miyoung Yoon Hammer wants her children to “know who they are and where they come from… but… not be weighed down by the darkness of the painful memories that threaten to become their intergenerational family legacies” (SANACS 4, 73).

Meanwhile, Pete Hsu suggests “staying in relationship: conversing and sharing and being together, fighting and rejecting and breaking apart, understanding that something in us will hang on and heal and get back to the business to growing. And, as our stories entreat us, that though much is lost, much abides.”

Many times I feel paralyzed by my awareness of systemic racial injustice.

But for whatever reason, my awareness of my family history has not had the same debilitating effect.

I’m sure being here in the US and more than a step removed has something to do with it, whereas racial injustice is a close, everyday reality in America. The spatial distance from the family history has been beneficial in that I am deeply aware of it, but not formed so directly by the negative effects of it. The awareness of the stories has cultivated greater empathy for why my maternal grandparents live in fear and have tribalist tendencies, but I’ve avoided being negatively shaped by and prisoner to the effects of their story. I am neither ignorant of nor merely reactionary to their story, but rather there is a knowing accompanied by a sort of purposeful and dialectical forgetting.

I’m still trying to figure out how to apply that process to the trauma of being a person of color in a white supremacist society. But spending four months recently in Taipei, Taiwan has helped. In Taiwan, people no doubt have an awareness of being Taiwanese, but because the fabric of society is different, there is not nearly as much identity policing as in the States. As a Taiwanese American, I was subject to a little bit of the policing (you’re not acting Taiwanese enough), but also felt a sense of belonging, and was granted a respite from many of the specific issues I deal with in America. And I’ve come back as less of a reaction to the white supremacist structure, but no less aware of it.

Maybe there is a time to disengage, to no longer be in relationship, to “take a break.” And then maybe there is a time to come back to it.

We need to interact with our legacies. In order to converse and share, as Pete suggests, we need to have material to share and converse on. But we can also, where possible, take control of our legacies and actively write the next chapters, maybe even changing the story arc. And that might require some purposeful forgetting. There’s a difference between ignorance, never knowing in the first place, and purposefully forgetting, moving on.

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Sometimes I still want to scream at my Asian American peers in the SGV, and other times I wonder if it’s better that (what I perceive to be) their blissful ethnobubbletea existence shouldn’t be shattered.

And sometimes I wonder whether learning about my family trauma at such a young age was more helpful or harmful.

When the Zimmerman verdict was declared, I ceased to wonder. This is why we need to know, because we East Asian Americans may have escaped some of the more obvious effects of injustice and trauma for now, but it sure as hell is affecting others.

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UnknownFelix Huang is a contributing writer for Dime Magazine, a basketball lifestyle magazine. Check out his articles here, as well as his blog here.

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Miyoung Yoon Hammer’s article, “Psychological Homelessness” can be found in SANACS Journal 4, 2012-2013.  Order your copy HERE.

The issue of “Healing of Memories” will comprise the afternoon session of ISAAC’s 5th Symposium, which will be held on October 5th at Evergreen Baptist Church SGV.

5th-symposium-cover

Registration Available HERE.

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Kim Bok-Dong on “Comfort Women”

Kim Bok-Dong. Photo Credit: Wiesenthal Center

Kim Bok-Dong. Photo Credit: Wiesenthal Center

On Monday, July 29th, the Simon Wiesenthal Center is hosting human rights activist, Kim Bok-Dong at the Museum of Tolerance. The 87-year-old Kim is one of the few surviving Korean “comfort women”: women and girls forced into sexual slavery by Imperial Japan during World War II. Her story delineates a harrowing experience of countless sexual assaults beginning at the age of 14. Exacerbating the pain of her experience is years of shame and secrecy in her personal life alongside denial and avoidance from the Japanese government.

Kim’s talk will cover the history of these atrocities and the ongoing struggle to deliver historical accuracy and justice for the over 200,000 victims of these crimes. Her voice is especially pertinent now in light of Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto recent public statements defending the practice of forced sexual slavery in wartime.

Kim’s effort to advocate for herself and other victims is, in part, driven by the fact that very few survivors remain. Kim’s hope is to see to it that “the Japanese government resolves the problem as soon as possible while we elderly women are still alive.” Meanwhile, some suspect the Japanese government is hoping that, as the victims die off, the issue will also be forgotten.

However, as described by psychologist Miyoung Yoon Hammer, an intergenerational transmission process occurs within families and cultures, making traumas of one generation pertinent to the next. Yoon Hammer comments that: “Legacies are transmitted from one generation to the next. Legacies are not always explicitly passed down, but instead can be done at an unconscious level.”

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There is no charge to attend the Kim Bok-Dong event, but RSVPs are required. RESERVE YOUR TICKETS HERE.

Read more about Kim Bok-Dong and the Comfort Women issue at AP: The Big Story.

In Karmic Tones

Comments on Miyoung Yoon Hammer’s “Psychological Homelessness: Healing Intergenerational Wounds.” Dr. Yoon Hammer’s article can be found in SANACS Journal #4

Things happen to us. These things make us who we are today. And things have happened before we were born, in our parents’ lives and our grandparents’ lives. Stuff maybe no one even remembers, and yet also making us who we are today.

Dr. Miyoung Yoon Hammer is a psychologist. She looks at life as a psychologist would, seeing people as more than distinct and discreet units, but as a part of bigger things. So our troubles and experiences are not just because of who we are. But who we are is of all our troubles and experiences.

Stories and Systems

An example: as a young man, I had a habit of compulsively wrecking cars. I’ve lost count, but in my first 15 years of driving, I must have been the cause of 3-dozen accidents. [*] Was I just an awful driver, careless and dumb? Or were things going on in my “systems” pushing me to drive too fast, too close, too tight?

The technical term for what we’re describing is “systems theory.” And a systems approach is a beautiful thing. It’s realistic and thorough. It doesn’t take a psychologist to understand that we’re all active participants in our environment, impacting and being impacted by what’s around us. [1]

Miyoung seems most interested in the systems between generations. How the events of prior generations persist in impacting the present generation, even after those events are forgotten.

In my example, my father died in a car wreck when I was very young. The details surrounding the accident are vague and rarely talked about, except every once in a while, at a bar, with someone who used to know my dad back-in-the-day. And even then it’s confusing: what a great person he was, but what an awful lot of trouble he had gotten himself into.

Miyoung talks about her father too. As a 10-year-old boy, he escaped communist North Korea, leaving his family home in hopes of waiting out the war. He never made it back, and instead immigrated to the other side of the world to start a family. And the cost of that choice was high. He left a seminary position in Korea to work in a factory in Canada. A time Miyoung describes as “demoralizing.” And her mother toiled under a similar burden, embracing an ambitious resolve to leave her family behind to pursue greater professional goals. Later, Miyoung would make a similar decision to leave her family home and pursue an education on the other side of the country. Her mother’s response was, “Well, I left my mother so I guess it’s fate that you are leaving me.”

Miyoung describes these heart-wrenching stories as steeped in the “two themes of loss and resilience,” themes that impact her present day choices, experiences and relationships. She goes on to talk about the tension between loss and resilience plays out in her life. In the tension she feels navigating her different worlds: Korean – American – Seventh Day Adventist. This tension is summarized in her marriage a non-Korean man from a different religion. A choice that crushed her parents’ “hopes and dreams for putting down deeps roots for their family in America.”

Generational Karma

Miyoung gives a heartfelt account of an experience that I’ll call, for lack of a better term, generational karma.

In my cursory understanding of Buddhist theology, karma is the enactment of the Law of Cause and Effect. Meaning, simply, that whatever happens makes something else happen, and those “something else happens” are connected to the initial “whatever happens.” I drop a vase; my karma is a broken vase. I plant an apple tree; my karma is apples.

In Miyoung’s story, parents from one generation are seeing the effects of their causes played out in their daughter’s life. Only what they’re seeing is not what they’ve hoped and planned for. But more simply the natural effects of their actions. So Miyoung’s parents pioneer a trail of leaving home (literally and symbolically) to forge a new life. And Miyoung herself leaves home and forges new a life.

An apple tree is planted and apples are gotten.

In my story, the turns of a father keep rippling into his son’s life. A vase is dropped and a vase is broken.

Equilibrium

There is another aspect to systems theory, what I’d call equilibrium. In a family, it’s the idea that the assembly of people in the family attempts to balance itself. So family members are pushed into playing different roles. For example: a blamer, a distractor, a computer, a leveler, and a placator. [2] And, once a system is in equilibrium, it tends to stay that way.

Thinking about Miyoung’s intergenerational stories, I wonder how families seek out and maintain equilibrium through generations, playing out a back-and-forth across the ages, having an elder drop out of a role as a descendent fills it in. There’s a harmony in these shifts. A grandfather is a carpenter; his son is a poet; his grandson is a carpenter. Reminds me of the old idiom, “Talent skips a generation.” Or the Rilke poem, “Sometimes a Man Stands Up During Supper.” [3]

But in many of our stories, we’ve seen a generation of massive disruption throwing family equilibrium into chaos. Miyoung talks about it in the trauma of uprooting and transplanting plants, the trauma of immigration, disturbing a natural pattern. So now, instead of a family smoothly balancing itself out within and in-between generations, the system is in survival mode, just trying to re-establish itself as viable.

I can imagine Miyoung’s pull to this graceful back-and-forth when she laments having grown up without her grandparents, losing track of the rhythm of her family’s intergenerational system. I can feel my own version of this pull, missing a physical father while being propelled into life by an invisible and unconscious father in my mind.

Loss and Resilience

I like Miyoung’s invitation to listen, not jump at answers. It’s a beautiful nod to the therapeutic process. Another wonderful part of therapy is an old and resilient idea: the interventions don’t matter as much as the relationship. [4] It seems to me that intergenerational wounds do, over time, re-establish balance. Immigrant families do plant deep roots. Barriers of language and culture eventually make way for common ground. We, more recent immigrants, can see this in older immigrant cultures, cultures that have become more distinct cross-culturally American.

So I conclude my thoughts by humbly bypassing Miyoung’s request. I suggest that there is a solution, one that is slow and patient and full of love. It is staying in relationship: conversing and sharing and being together, fighting and rejecting and breaking apart, understanding that something in us will hang on and heal and get back to the business to growing. And, as our stories entreat us, that though much is lost, much abides.

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[*] An exaggeration. I did sit down and add it up once. It was a fairly large number, but inflated by including minor fender-benders.

[1] Systems theory is very broad and includes work in many different disciplines, including biology, engineering, and economics. In psychology, it can refer to several areas of study. In this post (and in Hammer’s article), I’m using the term within the parameters of Family Systems Psychology. A downside to systems theory, detractors might comment, is that it takes away from individual rights and responsibilities, turning personal problems into collective problems.

[2] These are roles identified by the “Mother of Family Systems Therapy,” Virginia Satir. Satir believed that families can get stuck in playing out these roles instead of developing healthy, authentic and flexible identities.

[3] “Sometimes a man stands up during supper and walks outdoors and keeps on walking, because of a church that stands somewhere in the east. And his children say blessings on him as if he were dead. And another man, who remains in his own house, stays there, inside the dishes and in the glasses, so that his children have to go far out into the world towards that same church, which he forgot.” From A Book for the Hours of Prayer, translated by Robert Bly.

[4] This theory has proven to be fairly rigorous. In recent meta-analyses by the American Psychological Association, Norcross found that “the therapy relationship makes substantial and consistent contributions to patient success in all types of psychotherapy studied (for example, psychodynamic, humanistic, cognitive, behavioral, systemic). The therapy relationship accounts for why clients improve (or fail to improve) as much as the particular treatment method.”

Hot Off the Presses! SANACS Journal #4!

The long anticipated SANACS Journal 2012-2013 is now available in trade paperback for order HERE. Available now for 19.00USD. 

This issue features articles from Asian American Equipping Symposia II & III.

AAES II: “The Lost Coin”

  • Esther Chung Kim – “Traditioning” Both Ways: Re-Interpreting Christianity for Asian Americans
  • Amos Yong – What Asian, Which American? Whose Evangelion? Whither Asian American Evangelical Theology?
  • Charlene Jin Lee – A Response to Mirrored Reflections

AAES III: “Healing of Memories”

  • Richard J. Mouw – Shalom and Confucian Harmony
  • Miyoung Yoon Hammer – Psychological Homelessness: Healing Intergenerational Wounds
  • Andrew Sung Park – Healing the Wound of Asian American Christian Families in the Context of Confucianism and Christianity
  • Annie Tsai – Healing of Memories: Three Identity Wounds from Confucianism in Asian American Christianity
  • Jeney Park-Hearn – First Response to Park & Tsai
  • Andrew Lee – Second Response to Park & Tsai
  • Amos Yong – Asian American Historicity: Problems and Promises for Evangelical Theology
  • Henry Kuo – Forgiving From Liminal Space: Locating Asian American Theologies of Forgivness

Book Reviews:

coming soon: SANACS 4

SANACS Journal #4 is undergoing final editing and will be available soon!

This issue includes article contributions by: Esther Chung Kim, Amos Yong, Charlene Jin Lee, Richard Mouw, Miyoung Yoon Hammer, Andrew Sung Park, Annie Tsai, Jeney Park-Hearn,  Andrew Lee, and Henry Kuo. Also find book reviews by: Justin K.H. Tse, Paul Junggap Huh, and Amos Yong.