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Immigrant stories go unheard because we stopped answering this question

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Immigrant stories go unheard because we stopped answering this question

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the authors and does not represent NextShark’s views. 

“So, where are you from?”

My D.C. friend’s obviously Asian date bristled at my attempt at small talk. After some backtracking, tensions calmed and I learned she was born in Hong Kong. But the exchange caught me off guard. The question was a natural way to start a conversation with me back in my rural hometown — one I came to welcome as a rare opportunity to talk about my parents’ home country of South Korea.

But thanks to ideological frameworks like critical race theory, these kinds of conversations have become fraught with angst and hostility. Cultural exchange requires openness and vulnerability, but structural theories that remove agency from individual actors allows the most privileged among us to use outrage as a substitute for knowing how to communicate their own stories.

In practice, critical race theory is dangerous for all immigrants. It tells us to be proud of our heritage, but also warns us to be picky about who we share it with. As a result, CRT has simply empowered new gatekeepers instead of increasing discussion as originally intended. And while exclusivity may feel powerful, in reality, keeping others at arm’s length allows them to ignore us until it’s politically convenient. Each and every one of us must push back by becoming advocates for our unique origin and story.

Growing up Korean in a rural, largely white area could be lonely, but I got good practice with small talk and answering conversation starters like SWAYF – “So, where are you from?” It’s a question I’m still answering today. Each time I see it as a chance to talk about my culture, and in turn, to take responsibility for what others know about Korea. Answering questions about my heritage means I never feel unheard.

It’s definitely more interesting than discussing the weather.

In return, I’m always sure to ask people the same question. And I’m often surprised at how so many white Americans can break down their heritage — “I’m half-Irish, a quarter German and the rest is a mix of European. Some Cherokee, too.” Hispanics tend to clarify their origin countries as I did.

The current generation’s dislike of SWAYF is self-sabotage. The idea that it’s not worth the emotional labor to teach others about your heritage is one that reeks of privilege and a deep-seated contempt for the less educated. That’s the kind of attitude that gets us minorities painted with a single brushstroke.

For Asians, demographic realities mean we cannot pass up any chance to teach. We make up only 6% of the US population, or one-sixth of nonwhites, split further by our diverse countries of origin. Our voice will always be smaller and less generalizable. Allowing all our cultures to be co-opted by CRT is a disservice to that diversity and the struggles of prior generations, and I’m sure other immigrant groups feel the same way.

We shouldn’t ignore the history of racism in America, but we shouldn’t stop contributing our unique stories to the discussion either. For example, Asian American success is treated as an outlier, resulting in a lingering suspicion that we have embraced critical race theory out of convenience, or worse, have “benefitted from white supremacy.”

This oversimplification comes from all sides. Conservatives point to minority successes to refute systemic racism. This tends to focus on East Asians, which ignores the very real trauma of black slavery and also leaves Southeast Asians unheard—especially refugee groups like the Hmong. Meanwhile, liberals push “faculty lounge” language like “Latinx” that average people don’t use, and use whiteness to dismiss any deviance—soft bigotry at best, toxic gatekeeping at worst.

As someone who wants to explain where he’s from, the best piece of advice I can give is to answer, “My parents are from _____.” It answers the spirit of the question, moves the focus off you to your culture, and keeps the conversation moving—all at once.

If you cannot hold a conversation past that, work on it. Dig into the experiences of your elders—where they come from, why they immigrated here, and how you represent that journey. For example, my Korean small business background isn’t universal, but knowing it well means I have perspectives that anyone can learn from.

Sure, researching family history can be triggering for children of immigrants. Many of us have had “We gave up so much for you!” thrown in our faces during heated arguments or to justify authoritarian parenting. Refugees will have to face the scars of war. But unless each of us takes on the responsibility of untangling and owning our heritage, others with their own agenda will speak for us.

Critical race theory’s huge scope overwhelms its believers with a desire to leave no one behind, making them easily swayed by the loudest among them. Instead, we should step back and learn to speak for ourselves first. There’s no shame in SWAYF. You may learn something new or even make a friend.

So…where are you from?

Josh Shin is a Korean American writer and Young Voices contributor with an MA in economics from George Mason University. He also holds undergrad degrees in sociology and psychology from his hometown of Bakersfield, CA, and hopes to bridge the gap between them. Follow him on Twitter: @joshuabshin.

Featured Image via Dragon Pan

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As sports fans let ‘Fire Nagy!’ chants fly around Chicago, Bears safety Eddie Jackson says, ‘We hate it, honestly’

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As sports fans let ‘Fire Nagy!’ chants fly around Chicago, Bears safety Eddie Jackson says, ‘We hate it, honestly’

“Fire Nagy!” chants broke out yet again Monday night during the Bulls game at the United Center as Chicago sports fans continue to express their displeasure with Bears coach Matt Nagy at games — regardless of the sport and venue.

Bears fans unleashed the chant during the Week 11 loss to the Baltimore Ravens — the Bears’ fifth straight before a Thanksgiving win against the Detroit Lions. Over the last week, it has echoed at Bulls and Blackhawks games and on Monday night included a taunting variation of “Hire Nagy!” directed from Illinois basketball fans to Notre Dame fans after Irish football coach Brian Kelly was reported to be leaving for LSU.

It’s likely to continue Sunday at Soldier Field if the Bears can’t keep up with the 9-2 Arizona Cardinals. But at least one Bears player hopes it won’t.

“We hate it, honestly,” Bears safety Eddie Jackson said Monday after practice at Halas Hall. “The fans have got to understand that doesn’t help anything. Y’all want us to play better, do better, that’s not helping when you all are sitting up there and chanting that.

“But I get it. The frustration, longtime Bears fans have been going through this for a long, long time, so I understand it, but it’s not helping the situation. I feel like it’s just making it worse. We just continue to rally around each other and look upon ourselves to get this turned around and block out all the outside noise.”

Jackson made clear the Bears “owe it to Chicago to go out here and play our best ball.” He wasn’t complaining as much as noting that Nagy is “still human, we’re still human,” and not many people want to be booed at their jobs.

It’s just another thing the Bears have to tune out as they try to focus on their final six games — and the uncertainty of the organization’s leadership after that.

Last week, a report surfaced on Patch.com that Nagy would be fired after the Lions game. Nagy’s bosses left him to refute the report to the media before Bears Chairman George McCaskey met with players a day later to say it was not true.

It made for a strange week for players, coaches and Nagy, but they were ready to move past it Monday when they returned to practice from a long weekend. Jackson said he thought players reported back with high energy.

Nagy said he enjoyed the time away with family while sneaking in work early in the morning and at night, “when you can steal some time and not get yelled at for it.”

Jackson is in his fourth season playing under Nagy and said he thought the coach showed “resilience” last week in dealing with the ongoing job speculation.

“I feel like it’s got to be tough, but for him to come in and still lead us and not show any signs of weakness or letting that affect him, that says a lot about him and his character,” Jackson said. “And for us, for him to be our leader, (it’s) just to fall behind what he’s doing. I feel like it’s tough, but he’s handled this situation very well.”

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Horse troughs, hot tubs and hashtags: Baptism is getting wild

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Horse troughs, hot tubs and hashtags: Baptism is getting wild

By Ruth Graham, The New York Times Company

Russell Moore’s baptism in 1983 was a decorous occasion, or at least as decorous as possible when the main event consists of being plunged underwater in front of one’s entire church. The ceremony took place in a formal baptistery inside his family’s Mississippi church, with a painting of the Jordan River — where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist — behind the tank. An organ played softly in the background. Moore wore a long white robe.

But a few weeks ago, when it came time to baptize Moore’s 14-year-old son, Jonah, the scene was very different. Jonah wore a T-shirt. Moore wore sneakers. A full rock band, including drums and an electric guitar, accompanied. And Moore, who is the public theologian at Christianity Today magazine, submerged his son in a galvanized steel livestock trough hauled onstage at the church just for the occasion.

Baptism is getting a little bit wild.

In South Florida, members of Family Church gather on the beach for afternoon baptisms in the ocean, bracing themselves against the waves and keeping an eye out for sharks. At Walk Church in Las Vegas, leaders set up a folding tub in the courtyard of the middle school that they use for Sunday services. In Mansfield, Texas, Creekwood Church rents out the Hawaiian Falls Waterpark, where twisting slides tower over the ceremony.

“I would have probably thought a decade ago that not having a traditional baptistery would feel disconnected from my tradition,” Moore reflected a few days after his son’s ceremony, which took place at Immanuel Nashville, where he serves as minister in residence. “But I’ve found it to be the opposite.”

Performing the age-old Christian ritual in a more informal style “conveys this isn’t your grandmother’s church,” said Drake Osborn, pastor of teaching and liturgy at Grace Church in Waco, Texas. His congregation moved into a former bowling alley in 2016 but never considered installing a built-in baptistery. Instead, Grace Church uses a foam model bought online for about $2,500.

Matthew Busch, The New York Times

The Rev. Drake Osborn introduces, from left, Camryn Duffy, Rebecca Proffitt and Kaley Birchfield before they speak at their baptisms at Grace Church in Waco, Texas, on Nov. 14, 2021.

The shift has taken place as many pre-21st-century symbols of church life have fallen out of fashion in evangelical culture, especially among churches that are expanding or building new facilities. Sanctuaries are now “worship centers,” and steeples and stained glass are out. Natural light is often eschewed in favor of a black-box theater aesthetic optimized for flashy audiovisual experiences and online streaming.

It’s not just the architecture that is changing. Contemporary evangelical baptisms are often raucous affairs. Instead of subdued hymns and murmurs, think roaring modern worship music, fist pumps, tears and boisterous cheering. There are photographers, selfie stations and hashtags for social media. One church in Texas calls its regular mass baptism event a “plunge party.”

Scarce, too, are the traditional white robes. Instead, many churches hand out custom T-shirts for the occasion, with slogans like “#washed,” “Best day ever,” “No turning back” and “Meet the new me.” The fabric is typically a dark color for the sake of modesty when wet.

“We live in an age where people like experiences,” said Mark Clifton, pastor of Linwood Baptist in Kansas, which closed up its built-in baptistery last year and now uses an inflatable hot tub. “It’s not that it looks better, but it feels better. It feels more authentic, it feels more real.”

The hot tub, Clifton said, is also easier to fill, requires almost no storage and lets people gather around to view baptisms up close. “It’s not the container that matters,” he added. “It’s what is going on in the person’s heart.”

1638281924 675 Horse troughs hot tubs and hashtags Baptism is getting wild

Scott McIntyre, The New York Times

Whitley Edward, 9, prepares to be baptized in the Atlantic Ocean in Palm Beach, Fla., by the Rev. George Estornell of Family Church on Nov. 7, 2021. (Scott McIntyre, The New York Times)

Baptism is a core Christian tradition dating back to the earliest days of the church. Depending on one’s theology, the ritual is a component of salvation or a symbol of it.

Facilities tend to flow from theology. In traditions like Catholicism that baptize infants by sprinkling or pouring water on their heads, the equipment required is minimal, although it can be ornate: a bowl on a stand and perhaps a small pitcher. But many of those who practice “credo-baptism,” or the voluntary baptism of believers as an outward expression of faith, require the person — usually a teenager or an adult — to be fully immersed in the water. For the congregations in that category, including Baptists and charismatics, that means plumbing, heating equipment, maintenance costs and potentially hundreds of gallons of water for each event.

In the United States, indoor baptisteries — along with steeples and ornate architecture — were initially a mark of class. Baptisms in lakes and rivers were commonplace when those were the only practical options. But they were also messy, rustic and subject to the whims of weather. In the 19th century, some urban churches without running water painstakingly carried water into the church to set themselves apart from rural churches. The indoor facilities became prevalent in the early 20th century, when technology and the growing respectability of adult baptism made it feasible for more churches to install them.

The typical baptistery is behind and above the pulpit, with stairs on the side leading off to a hidden dressing room. Pastors often put on hip waders to enter the tub with the person to be baptized, who stands in the water until the moment in the ceremony in which that person is dipped briefly but dramatically backward into the pool.

As those 20th-century churches have aged, however, their once-modern baptisteries have come to look old-fashioned, too.

“It’s like eating organic food,” said Chad Seales, a professor of religious studies at the University of Texas at Austin who has written about the history of indoor baptisteries. The middle and upper classes now embrace the “primitive” as a mark of authenticity.

The change is not just a matter of style. Built-in baptisteries are bothersome. Mold and leaks are a constant problem, and because the tanks are larger than most portable options, they take longer to fill and heat. “Maintaining baptisteries is very expensive,” said Evan Welcher, until recently the pastor at Vine Street Bible Church, in Glenwood, Iowa, which operates two large 19th-century church buildings on the same block. (It’s a long story.)

These days, Welcher eyes newer, ostensibly hipper baptism facilities with something like envy.

“We have two baptisteries, and at different times they both leaked,” he said. “The cattle trough looks really easy; it looks so much better. People might say ‘Oh, the cool churches do it,’ but it actually looks like a better way.” Vine Street, which has baptized four people this year, spent around $3,000 to fix a broken heating pump in one of its facilities a few years ago.

Those “cooler churches” are often “church plants,” or new congregations established by an existing church or denomination with the goal of evangelizing in a new location. They typically begin by meeting in rented facilities like schools, movie theaters or storefronts, and they are attuned to events and aesthetics that will attract crowds.

Historically Black churches have generally maintained a more formal tradition, said David Latimore, director of the Betsey Stockton Center for Black Church Studies at Princeton Theological Seminary. The Black church “has always resisted the pull of informality for informality’s sake,” Latimore said. Since baptism is a ritual of belonging and “citizenship,” it had a kind of double meaning for much of American history. “There’s a great and heavy sense of the profound sacredness of this ritual,” he said.

1638281924 4 Horse troughs hot tubs and hashtags Baptism is getting wild

Matthew Busch, The New York Times

Rebecca Proffitt is baptized by the Rev. Buck Rogers in a baptismal pool at Grace Church in Waco, Texas, on Nov. 14, 2021.

No matter the level of spiritual solemnity, baptism offers a moment of spectacle, a perk especially for religious traditions like evangelicalism, whose architecture is often utilitarian, and which otherwise emphasize invisible shifts in personal belief as the site of greatest drama. Pop star Justin Bieber posted photos to Instagram last year of his baptism outdoors with his wife. It was “one of most special moments of my life,” he wrote. (He had previously been baptized in an NBA star’s oversize bathtub; repeat baptisms are controversial in some circles but not unheard of.) Other celebrities, including Demi Lovato, Mario Lopez and Christian hip-hop artist Lecrae, have been baptized in recent years in the Jordan River in the West Bank.

Adriana Robles, 21, was baptized a few weeks ago in a trough at Momentum Las Cruces, a nondenominational church in New Mexico. She had been baptized as a toddler in a Catholic church, she said, but it was important for her to participate as an adult as a demonstration of her commitment to her faith. She was nervous beforehand, she said, and the water was cold. But coming out of the water to the roars of music and cheers, “I felt like God was with me in that moment.”

But it doesn’t take a hip setting to make baptism a boisterous occasion. On a recent Tuesday night at First Denton, a large Baptist church north of Dallas, more than 200 college students and a few family members gathered for a Baptism Night held by the church’s college group, Overflow. Last fall, the event was postponed because of a leak in the baptistery — discovered when water began dripping down the walls in the hallway below — but on this night it was in shipshape condition.

“We see baptism as a celebration,” Jared Gregory, the college pastor, told the congregation. “Things are going to get a little rowdy.”

About a dozen students had signed up in advance for the ritual, and others felt moved to volunteer on the spot. The men changed clothes in a dressing room on one side of the baptistery; women on the other. One by one, they stepped down into the warm water, where Gregory was waiting for them. He plunged them backward, declaring them raised by Christ. One by one, they burst out beaming, sometimes with tears streaming down their faces. And each time, the crowd went wild.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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Boulder Valley school board recall organizers fail to return petitions Monday, ending recall effort

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Boulder Valley school board recall organizers fail to return petitions Monday, ending recall effort

An effort to recall three Boulder Valley school board members is over after petitioners failed to return signatures by Monday’s deadline.

The recall was based on concerns about decisions made by the school board about the coronavirus pandemic, including requiring face coverings. Named in the recall were Kathy Gebhardt, Richard Garcia and Lisa Sweeney-Miran.

Organizers had 60 days to gather 15,000 signatures for each petition. The Boulder County Clerk’s Office announced on Twitter that none of the three petitions had been returned with signatures by Monday’s 5 p.m. deadline.

“Our office now considers this recall effort over,” according to the tweet.

Garcia said the news came as a relief.

“We don’t have to hassle with it any more, and we don’t have to spend all that money on a recall,” he said. “I really think the Boulder community would have voted it down, even if they had collected enough signatures. They know we were just following the orders of the health department and will continue to follow the orders of the health department.”

The estimated cost for a school board recall, whether for one board member or all three, was about $670,000. The school district’s current mask requirement aligns with a Boulder County Board of Health mandate for all students and staff in all schools and child care facilities to wear masks to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

In a written statement, Sweeney-Miran said she’s thankful for the district’s partnership with Boulder County Public Health, the leadership of Superintendent Rob Anderson and “the wisdom of our Boulder Valley community in declining to sign this failed recall effort.”

“I look forward to continuing to focus on the important work of our school district and on continuing to put the best interests of our community first; there are so many exciting things that we’re working on in BVSD,” she wrote.

Gebhardt thanked the community for their support by not signing the petitions.

“I will continue to listen to all voices as we work together to address the impacts of this pandemic,” she said in a written statement. “We will now be able to continue using our resources to support our students, faculty and staff rather than to the costs of another election.”

The petitions listed eight reasons for the recall, including ignoring dissenting opinions, demonstrating a “callous disregard” for students’ physical and mental health by mandating masks and promoting coronavirus vaccines authorized for emergency use.

The nine petitioners provided a joint written statement Monday in response to the end of their effort.

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