Uproarious laughter erupted from the otherwise quiet Sycamore Room; inside this room, one of the many Orange Conference Meet-Ups was coming to a close. Meet-Ups allow for the thousands of conference-goers to break into smaller spaces, for connection and conversation around specific topics or commonalities.
Before we wrapped up this particular Meet-Up, we awarded what turned out to be the most coveted prize, hence the high-fives and hilarity: cans of Spam! To the majority of conference attendees, this canned pink lunchmeat might seem like a gag gift. However, to the individuals at our first-ever AANHPI Meet-Up, it was a beloved trophy that, in the moment, symbolized our connectedness as an ethnic group.
A good Spam recipe is one of the many experiences that bring together the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander people. Even for the few among us who don’t like Spam, we know the distinct savor of a dish like Spam Garlic Fried Rice. Spam-love unites us, as do our unique challenges and triumphs that are deeply rooted and deeply buried.
One challenge that is deeply rooted in the AANHPI community is that of invisibility– the phenomenon of being unseen, forgotten, or disregarded as a people group. Growing up in America, I experienced this often during conversations about race, as they featured two colors: black and white. There was a whole chunk in the middle of the color spectrum that was missing! I had to constantly choose whether to disappear by banding with my gold-to-brown brothers and sisters or deny my distinct color and try to assimilate with a majority. Underrepresentation was an understatement.
This challenge was only compounded because, culturally, we were raised to keep our heads down, avoid rocking the boat, and excel in school so we could make money to care for the older and younger generations. Essentially, some of our invisibility is a self-imposed survival mechanism.
But God did not create people to be invisible. Throughout Scripture, He reminds us that He sees us, hears us, seeks us out, and knows us. At the same time, if we as Christ-followers, empowered by the Holy Spirit, are to be a reflection of His character, then we also are called to see, hear, seek out, and know one another.
We also see in Scripture that the diverse tapestry of humanity was woven by God, with great importance and intention. In fact, so many Biblical accounts lose some poignancy if details of race, ethnicity, language, history, or culture are erased. Consider Moses, Esther, Daniel, Jonah, the woman at the well, the upper room on Pentecost, a Savior named Jesus…
God didn’t dip paintbrushes and splatter colors across the canvas of people, by happenstance. Therefore, it is imperative to make way for cultures like AANHPI to be seen and heard — not because we place all our identity in our ethnic backgrounds, but because our ethnicity and cultural connectivity were given to us by God, on purpose. To set those factors aside or act as if they should have no impact is to waste His resources and deem His plan negligible. Like Esther, our pigmentation and placement are divinely ordained, for such a time as this.
AANHPI people are not raised to speak out; so creating faith-centered spaces where we can get excited over Spam together allows the healing, rebuilding, and restoration that needs to take place. And as we are continually restored by the Holy Spirit, we are led into new spaces to help restore others, which is the gospel of Jesus, come to life.
Invisibility is prevalent in the AANHPI community, but it is not unique to us. Here are some challenges and resources you can dive into, to help someone feeling invisible, whether in the AANHPI community or not, feel seen and experience restoration.
– Take on a posture of presence, not prying. Simply being available speaks volumes.
– Create spaces for people to share their stories. This can mean gathering those of similar backgrounds, as well as giving opportunities for a people group to share their stories with others (a panel, a class, one on one, etc.). The goal is to see and be seen, hear and be heard and restored to help restore.
– Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. Let’s choose to not be so easily offended if someone “asks the wrong question” or uses the “wrong” term. I have as many questions for others as others have for me, so we need to choose grace.
– Don’t assume people have all the answers about their history and heritage. Especially in the AANHPI community, because our cultures are barely covered in mainstream American history courses, we are on our own discovery journey.
– See others for who God made them to be — and this unapologetically, absolutely includes their ethnicity and heritage. Avoid colorblindness. Embrace the intentionality of God’s design and purpose.