Tag Archives: SANACS Journal 2012-2013

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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


Registration Available HERE.

Book Review: Russell Yee’s Worship on the Way

Russell Yee’s Worship on the Way takes an intelligent and accessible look at Asian American Christian worship. Yee‘s passion for the Asian American Church  shows in his work, crafting a systematic answer to what he calls “the most basic questions: Does culture really matter? What does being ANA have to with how we worship? Why can’t we all worship the Christian way?”

Russell Yee

Russell Yee

Focusing on Christianity’s unique flexibility, Yee compares the Christian Bible’s myriad translations to the single form of Arabic that Islamic scripture requires. Missionally, he refers to 6th century Bishop Gregory’s instructions to take from each culture “whatever is holy, whatever is awe-inspiring, whatever is right.” In the same vein, Yee quotes Pope Alexander VII, “Do not in any way attempt, and do not on any pretext persuade these people to change their rites, habits and customs, unless they are openly opposed to religion and good morals.”

In the Asian American context, Yee talks about the Asian American experience in terms of history and culture. Part of what he’s doing is using these ingredients  explain the  underdeveloped state of a distinct Asian American Christian worship. To help explain that, he uses the concept of Asian American culture as “Emergent, Delitescent and Latent,” meaning it is new, hard to see, and full of potential. He’s optimistic when he  describes this condition as the “freedom to shape the future instead of perpetuate the past.”

Worship on the Way, ISAAC Symposium 4.

Worship on the Way, ISAAC Symposium 4.

I particularly liked the chapters on “Explorations” and “Expressions”. These sections detail Yee’s practical work and ideas on the practice of Asian American worship. Some simple take-aways for me are:

  • The revision of individualist language in songs to reflect a more collective culture. In other words, changing the I’s and Me’s into We’s and Us’s.
  • A multilingual choral version of “God is So Good.”
  • The compelling nature of spoken word. There’s something in the reciting of poetry that’s a different kind of meditative experience that singing songs or hearing sermons.

Also, a point regarding the audience for this book: Yee’s book is useful as a study on Christian worship in general. He presents a strong case for going beyond allowing culturally specific worship forms, and embracing the value, necessity and unavoidability of it.


[1] Another version of this review was originally Posted on Amazon.com

[2] Worship on the Way is also reviewed by Paul Junggap Huh in SANACS Journal #4.

SANACS 4 Now Available in PDF!


SANACS Journal Issue #4 is now available in PDF!

Cost is $9. Purchase HERE.

From Cover Ups to First Responders

KorAm Journal reports on KFAM’s Domestic Violence Conference 

Domestic Violence has long been a scourge of the Korean American community. KorAm Journal reports that 80% of all Asian domestic violence cases in Los Angeles involve Korean Americans. Also, in a 2000 study, Shimtuh found  42% of those surveyed report knowing another Korean woman who was being or had been abused at the hands of her partner.

Sadly, Korean American churches have a reputation as havens for spousal abusers. The church’s response has too often taken the form of telling female abuse victims, “This is your test from God, this is your cross to bear.” Or mistaking forgiveness for a call to cover-up, taking on an attitude of “Let’s not talk about it, let’s forget it.” [1]


K. Samuel Lee. Photo Credit: KorAm Journal

The good news is that the tide is shifting. Korean American leaders in the community and the church are working to change old patterns of abuse and cover-up, turning former enablers into effective first responders. KFAM’s Domestic Violence Conference, led by Dr. K. Samuel Lee worked to promote a new attitude among Korean American clergy to “be a sanctuary for victims… to be a place of helping, healing and hope.”

Dr. Andrew Sung Park also addresses the problem of DV in Asian American Christianity in his SANACS Journal Article “Healing the Wound of Asian American Families in the Context of Confucianism and Christianity.” Dr. Park’s article spells out an integrated response to the issues of sexism, suicide, child abuse and domestic violence.


[1] Quotes taken from Dr. K. Samuel Lee’s presentation at KFAM conference.

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.


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.


[*] 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: