Just being there at Losar Tibetan New Year and standing with our Muslim American neighbors
The woman at Jewel Heart temple recognized me, saying, “We have met before,” but she could not remember my name.
“I came last year for Losar,” I said. “And the year before.”
I was a little embarrassed to admit I was like those once-a-year-Christians my Catholic School nuns used to complain about, the folks who only went to church once a year on Christmas. “If they are only going to go to church once a year, they ought to at least go on Easter. Easter is the more important holiday,” the nuns said.
However, I was even worse. Not only did I only come once a year, I did not even arrive until after services had ended — the three-hour services, I should add. I passed the restless children playing outside in their Tibetan silks, “Are services still going on?”
Still, the idea of sitting quietly in the temple kitchen with big brother Ujjen and his lovely wife Dolma, drinking warm butter tea and eating sweet spiced rice, had been calling to me for weeks and drew me to temple despite a multitude of obstacles facing me that day. I was determined to make it to temple no matter how late to pay my respects on this holy day, Losar, the Tibetan New Year.
I found solace in the quiet ritual of helping out in the temple kitchen. I did not really know anybody, so I busied myself with serving a little, cleaning a little, organizing the fruit and bread offerings a little. I did not really do anything useful. It was more for me than for anyone else.
I just needed to be there.
The obstacles I faced getting to temple for Losar services were nothing more than trying to fit a lunar holiday into a solar calendar, trying to go to church on the “wrong” day; yet I think about what the people in Orange County faced when trying to get to a fundraiser held by an American Muslim nonprofit for relief work in the United States.
A recently released video by the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR-LA) show a few hundred protesters gathered outside the Yorba Linda Community Center in February yelling horrible things at families and children walking into the fundraiser, such as, “Go home terrorist” and much worse. Elected officials Congressmen Ed Royce and Gary Miller and Villa Park Councilwoman Deborah Pauly not only attended but also spoke at the protest rally, stoking the hate-mongering.
An Indian American woman who attended the fundraising event with her 10-, 5-, and 2-year-old children told Salon.com how traumatizing it was for her children to simply walk from the car into the event. How does one explain this to children?
I can imagine this walk. I prepare for it whenever I take my children to events or rallies that might turn political or worse.
Thankfully we have never had to face hateful taunts, but we always have a plan. (Actually, I even have a plan when we go downtown after a University of Michigan football game, in case we encounter any drunk people.)
Sometimes I choose to stay home. Mostly, I am careful. I am alert. I stay away from the crowd. I try not to get photographed. I hold little hands tightly.
Afterwards, I am always grateful to have been a part, like when the Dalai Lama and President Obama came to Michigan. I marvel at how the Japanese American community is standing up, even as Peter King launches his controversial hearings on radical Islam in the United States.
In the end, sometimes you just have to be there.
Note: My thoughts go out to all the good folks in Japan, Hawaii and the Pacific affected by the tsunami. Wish I could be there to help.
Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is a second-generation Chinese American from California who now divides her time between Ann Arbor and the Big Island of Hawaii. She is an editor of IMDiversity.com Asian American Village, lead multicultural contributor for AnnArbor.com and a contributor for New America Media's Ethnoblog. She is on the Advisory Board of American Citizens for Justice. She team-teaches "Asian Pacific American History and the Law" at University of Michigan and University of Michigan Dearborn. She is a popular speaker on Asian Pacific American and multicultural issues. Check out her website at franceskaihwawang.com, her blog at franceskaihwawang.blogspot.com, and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.