“… Without a sense of identity, there can be no real struggle…”
Whew, now that we’ve got that pesky business of spending time with the family and feasting on the genetically modified turkey out of the way, we can now, as a nation, get down to partaking in the real reason for the season. Whoever came up with all of these Hallmark holidays is a marketing genius and for those about to shop I salute you. However, the purpose of this post is not to discuss consumer capitalism but to open a dialogue on a topic that has long been on my mind. One of the most powerful articles I have come across in my brief time as a blogger was written by Jana-Rae Yerxa, an Anishinaabe social worker and former professor. In her essay, “The Unravelling of a Colonized Mind”, Yerxa describes the internal struggles she experienced, “With a colonized mind, I believe I know who I am and do not understand that this isn’t so because I’ve become the distorted image of who the colonizer wants me to be and remain unaware of this reality.” She likens the colonized mind to cancerous cells that instead of betraying your body are at work attacking your inner self, one’s core or identity, as “the thoughts in your mind work against you and eat you up from the inside out.” When I first came across her writings I felt like an addict who finds NA, finally someone who gets it, who gets me. And more importantly, someone else who is hurting in such a way that I can relate to some, if not all, of her pain. I have shared before of my experiences and processes in shedding the colonized mindset. Of realizing the government of the country that saved me from an orphanage in Saigon was the same one that destroyed me. So now that I know that I’m not the only one, I have a duty, a burden if you will, to help pass along this declaration of independence that we no longer need to seek our validation from our captors.
To be clear, the purpose of this writing is not to condemn the American government for it’s role in Vietnam, there have been enough articles and essays covering that well-trodden ground. The message, if I can presume to be so bold, is that unless we are part of the elite, ruling class we have all suffered from the effects of colonization in some form or another. My guess is if you’re reading this blog, you are probably not on the dream team of bankers and billionaires who are intent on making all of us serfs on the neofeudal, global plantation. For some readers, this will be a “no shit” moment, “it’s about time you woke up, Jeff Nguyen.” But for others, there is still a nagging sense that something just isn’t right, that the powers that be who claim to only be looking out for our best interests sure seem to be making a handsome profit off our interest in obtaining affordable healthcare, housing and wages. When the spell of our captors is broken, it can be a frightening time as we are compelled to analyze and critically dissect every piece of information spoon fed to us since grade school. Some would prefer to leave that to the gatekeepers in our midsts, the massive corporate media outlets tasked with deciding for us what information we really need to know. Power we give away is power that does not need to be taken by force and so we make the job of our captors a little easier. Another point I should clarify here is that my intent is not to “blame the victim” for their subjugation. I know all too well that it takes all of our energies to work and feed our families. That leaves little time for leisure much less concentrated thinking and activities devoted to opposing the seemingly indomitable institutions towing over every aspect of our lives. Rather, it is a call to connect to our shared humanity so we can begin healing from the emotional and physical traumas of our captivity.
Like Lennon and McCartney, in my life there are places I remember and places I would prefer to forget. While I am forever grateful for the American family that adopted and raised me as their own, even they could not put Humpty Dumpty back together again. I have walked through the valley of addiction and boxed with the shadows of depression. I have suffered from a form of survivor’s guilt that originated when I was told at a young age that the plane that tried to take off from Saigon before mine crashed in a rice paddy killing 134 people. I have had a lifetime of difficulty in forming attachments beyond (and sometimes within) my own family. Just as recovering addicts share their experience, strength and hope with newcomers, I hope that my not-so-humble writings has helped to bring some measure of comfort or solidarity to others who are still raveled up in the colonized mindset. One of the strongest influences for me as a teacher has been Paulo Freire who recognized, “The teacher is of course an artist, but being an artist does not mean that he or she can make the profile, can shape the students. What the educator does in teaching is to make it possible for the students to become themselves.” When our sense of self is based upon “internalization of the oppressor” and “adoption of his guidelines”, we end up trying to dismantle the master’s house with his own tools, as Audre Lorde once noted. Thus, “No pedagogy which is truly liberating can remain distant from the oppressed by treating them as unfortunates and by presenting for their emulation models from among the oppressors.” It is time to stop allowing our children to be taught that robber barons and slaveowners were the ones who built this country, rather than the hunched backs, calloused fingers and sweat-soaked brows of the immigrant and slave laborers of colonial America. It is time to set the captives free.
Peace and solidarity to all readers.