Just recently, a good friend of mine asked me if he could ask me a personal question. Casually, I responded that of course he could, but I would have never expected the question that came next.

“What happened to your dad?”

Immediately my heart began to stumble upon itself. Should I respond with something sugarcoated so that it wouldn’t elicit further questions? Or should I be honest with him and myself? Earlier this month, I wrote a short blog on my tumblr in response to multiple comments on my identity development as an activist and feminist. Far too often, I have received well-intentioned statements about my strength as a womxn and Asian American activist (whatever that means), often ending in some “profound” revelation about daddy issues and the absence of a father figure as the source of that strength.

I heard it so often that I began to internalize it. I began to thank my struggles and hardships that my father put me through for who I am today. I was thanking the individual who was essentially absent from my life, while also completely ignoring the countless influential people I had surrounding me. How messed up is that?

My heart continues to skip as I write this because I do not often share my personal life with friends, let alone the Internet. It is considered taboo to speak about these issues and in respecting that, I lost a little bit of myself. I think often and fondly about how Project Ava has given me the courage to share my own true and real stories.

Like the many history books that we are forced to read during our schooling, hxstories like mine, like my family’s are nearly absent. Genocide in Cambodia? Oh, just a single sentence on page 421. Agent Orange and bombs scattered throughout the entirety of Southeast Asia? Yep, nope. Asian American feminists and heroines? Gotta search a database for that shit. Project Ava is at the core of my heart because it gives me the opportunity to share the stories that we are not given access to. Project Ava sheds light on communities and individuals that deserve to be heard in all their glory and authenticity.

So here we go. During much of my childhood, I grew up with an abusive father. Being the oldest child, I was often the recipient of that anger and frustration. Despite the situation becoming worse and worse as I got older, my mother continued to stay with my father because she believed in the idea of family. She believed that the strength of family and love could eventually overcome the hurt and neglect that poisoned our household. We were relocated to North Carolina for a year and things continued to spiral downwards. One day, my mom finally decided to give up on the idea of a “perfect” family, packed us up, and drove us back to Denver. Her love for us overcame her obligation to appease social constructions of whatever a wife is supposed to be. Her decision is why I am who I am today. She is the most courageous person that I know.

Wow, okay. I really just wrote that. I’ve come to understand that my passion for activism, equity, and inclusive excellence stem directly from her bravery and actions. I was often hesitant to share this story with anyone because I was afraid of being viewed as damaged. These are the narratives that are not often heard because our world teaches to us perceive them otherwise. Strong womxn? Obviously a man had to play some role in that. But… really, for myself and I am sure for many others, that is far from the case. I am inspired to be better and to love more because of the individuals who continue to love me. They gave me audacity and accepted me as an Angry Asian American Womxn who constantly started heated dialogues via her Facebook status and was on a mission to fight inequity.

My fellow activist and friend Juliet  (<3) of Facinasians shared this song with me earlier this summer during our internships in D.C. and told me that it reminded her of me. I have used it as a personal theme song ever since.

Don’t you take my kindness for weakness. Love or fear, the fear last longer. But love is stronger, so I stay loyal to love with honor. You got those who wanna take that for weak. Be prepared, they’ll test you in front of your peeps.

I have been told that I am too critical, too political, too radical… but isn’t it our mission as the next generation to question what we have internalized in order to challenge systems that continue to oppress our communities? Our passions and hardships should empower us, not shame us. At the same time, I have been told that I am too kind, too understanding, too hopeful… but isn’t love in itself a radical lifestyle? It is easy to be hateful, to be resentful. My mom showed me that love is the bravest thing you can choose to act on. Like my friend Tony shared with me, running on love is incredible. It is incredible because it requires us to constantly put others before ourselves, while also respecting our own needs.

I thank all of you for your love and kindness in sharing my story. I thank you for helping me to heal. It is from you that I have learned these valuable lessons:

  1. Thank and recognize the people around you who have given you the strength and support to be who you are. As a womxn of color, I am often told how I should behave. Never let someone dictate who you should be or what you should represent. 
  2. It is okay to challenge notions that exist and are commonly accepted, even if it means that you have to stand alone. Often, they are things that we have been taught, rather than authentic knowledge. Question it.
  3. While our experiences may be filled with much pain and hurt, regret should be absent. Negative experiences may have an impact on who we are, but love can also give us the agency to choose who we want to be.
  4. You need to dig deep for your roots, because often they are hidden from us. Our own stories are often kept from us, but it doesn’t mean that they’ve disappeared completely. Once you find them, stay rooted.
  5. Let your voice be heard. Cheers to the many individuals who are constantly pushing the boundaries of racism, sexism, notions of beauty, etc. People will disagree with you, people will attempt to silence you and tell you that you are being too sensitive, people will tell you that you need to pick your battles. Battles are not mutually exclusive, we’re all fighting the same thing. Your courage is exactly what we need.

To this day, my mom still wonders how she raised a child that turned out to be such a troublemaker (oops, Summer of 2013 will always be one to remember). I always just respond with a smile and a thank you.

It’s because of you, mom. It’s because of you.

Ava Love,

VTeck

Written by vteck

Vanessa Teck, a daughter of Cambodian refugees, is committed to rooting social justice in radical love. She is a Masters Student in Higher Education at the University of Denver with a focus on cultivating culturally engaging campus environments, student activism, and facilitating the persistence of AAPI students. Vanessa is the co-founder of Project Ava, a social justice multimedia storytelling company, and the co-chair of the Coalition of API Americans Collaborating Together to Unite the Southwest (CAACTUS).

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