Awkwafina on Saturday Night Live!!!
And why should adoptees care?
Why should the church care?
Here’s a quick summary from Wikipedia: Awkwafina is an “American rapper, actress, and television personality. She is best known as an actress for roles in the 2018 films Ocean’s 8 and Crazy Rich Asians.”
I think Awkwafina’s road to SNL helps us think about our own journeys in five ways, which will ultimately equip us to understand ourselves more, and love others with a deeper appreciation for who Jesus is and who the people around us are.
1) Intersectionality, 2) Narrow Road, 3) Equifinality, 4) Multifinality, and 5) Reality.
Last week I wrote about identity development, how we feel a sense of belonging to particular groups.
When I was younger, I remember a handful of people trying to reconcile why an Asian-looking kid had white parents, “Where are your real parents?” “So… does that mean they didn’t want you?” “You’re not from North Korea are you??” “Chinese!” For many transracial adoptees (i.e., adoptive parents are a different race than child), those racially charged questions of belonging and self-worth are currently happening on a daily basis.
The need to explain our credentials in a public space can make us feel awkward, unwanted, and foreign.
But that’s just one of my identities. I also believe in forgiveness.
The idea of intersectionality helps us acknowledge those other interwoven aspects of ourselves that might be shared with many others, or that operate even more uniquely to our own story.
Consider categories like faith and religion, gender and sex, marriage, education, your role(s) in your family and community, class/income, whether your parents are still alive, any caregivers incarcerated, mental health, physical traits, your access to transportation and housing and food, personal preferences, etc. The list could go on for all of us.
I really appreciate how Awkwafina uses one of her identities (e.g., celebrity) to support and advocate for those who share some of her other identities (e.g., woman, Asian American, etc.).
So I’d encourage you to think about and acknowledge those pieces of your own experience, and just notice how sometimes you think and take perspectives in one frame of mind, depending on who you’re with, and you might switch to another here and there at any given moment, based on context (or your digestion?).
How are you using your local and specific identities to celebrate and lift others up?
2) Church, the road is narrow enough. How are you making it more narrow?
First Asian American woman in 18 years. That’s not necessarily surprising, considering the spirit of our times, but it’s still sharp enough to trigger an examination of our own hearts and attitudes toward others.
Awkwafina tells her story about how she was 11 years old, waited outside 30 Rockefeller Plaza 18 years ago to see her role model Lucy Liu host SNL (the first Asian American woman to host).
She didn’t have a ticket, “But I just wanted to be near the building. And I remember how important that episode was for me and how it totally changed what I thought was possible for an Asian American woman.” –Washington Post
This past weekend I was part of an informal (but still organized) conversation in our local church; the men and women were invited into a dialogue about gender roles/expectations, and how deficiencies in the church need to be addressed for the ultimate purpose of growing in our ability to honor God, serve each other, and love people as Jesus loved people.
I think, for the church, the conversation also needs to extend beyond gender. I just wonder how many people have waited “outside of the building,” without being invited in?
How has the church (locally and globally) made the road to hope and relief more narrow for you than it needs to be? I mean, typically, what gets in the way of the message of the Gospel? People who need the Gospel.
Too much criticism. Condemnation. Pride. They think they’re better than you. They look down on you. Make you feel judged. Or present Jesus in a way that’s so distorted that it just feels icky (I like Propaganda and Trip Lee version). Or, the incongruence between what they say they believe and how they actually live their lives is laughable. I’m guilty of all of these.
That’s why it’s a dialogue. Both sides come together, suspend their judgements, and listen, learn, look past the imperfect delivery of information and really seek to understand the propositions rather than their messengers.
“For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” -Matthew 7:14
It’s just really cool how, if you step into a worship service on Sunday, look around and there’s a room full of people, each person representing that different “narrow” pathway, ask one of them how they found it!
In the case you didn’t check the link, here’s one of those testimonies:
Simple definition: same end, different beginning.
How many people have stood on the stage to host SNL? On its 43rd season, a lot. Of course there’s some kind of pattern, but overall I’d say the pathway to the SNL stage probably looks different for every guest.
What was your pathway to adoption?
That’s one of the most common questions I’ve heard from other adoptees, it burned in my heart for many years too. Why was I adopted? What happened?
You actually might not know, and that can feel incredibly painful and frustrating. Or, maybe you couldn’t care less. I’ve shifted through both ends of the spectrum throughout the years.
Regarding pathways, there are some common narratives.
For example, caregiver died, mother was unfit, environment was too adverse, there was no one to take care of the child, it was the best decision, I was left in a box, someone found me in the street, etc.
The challenge, the inspiration, and take-away message we get from Awkwafina’s pathway to SNL is to leverage our lives as a platform for the good of many others. It’s real easy to get sucked into and stuck in the inverse perspective, the “me-centered” mindset, and ruminate on those unanswered questions (yes there are many, and they can hurt). And I’m not discounting brain-based barriers. Mostly, I’m stirring hope-filled pathways and the idea that your very own circumstances can be the pathway to your special brand of true life.
Simple definition: same start, range of endings.
Awkwafina started out as Nora Lum. I started out as He-Seong Lee.
Her mom died when she was 4, she went to live with another caregiver.
My dad died when I was 2, I went to live with another caregiver when I was 2, then also when I was 4.
What did you start out as?
For adoptees, it’s separation from caregivers. Decades of research shows that it can actually change the structure of the brain if experienced at an early age. There’s a ton of research out there to demonstrate that, but I wanna keep it simple here.
Your struggle with emotion regulation, feelings, thoughts, threat, fear and anxiety, depression, might be from early trauma. So there’s a lot more we could talk about regarding this idea, this is just to put some language onto the experience of multifinality.
Some adoptees recover from trauma. Some don’t.
If you want to learn more, reach out to someone in your local church, mental health clinic, community counseling program, they can help get you started to learn more about it. Feel free to reach out to me too!
Fascinating how the same seeds can have different endings. It’s about the soil. In terms of creativity, content, personality and those things that our popular culture currently values, Awkwafina was blessed with good soil. She took the seeds of whatever she experienced along the way and made it work for her.
I think it’s an awesome picture of what God initiates and does spiritually for His people.
One caution for us: be careful not to turn horizontal measurements into vertical ladders.
Which basically lead to nowhere, but they make you think you’re better or worse than the person next to you; that’s not reality.
The challenge to you and I is to think on these ideas of intersectionality, the outward perspective, equifinality, multifinality, and to put these toward the service of the good of many other people regardless of their identities, in our very own communities, at your company or organization, for your friends and families, for your children and spouses, for other nations. You have the choice to do that.
Here’s what I mean. In her SNL monologue, Awkwafina reminds us that she’s not a crazy rich Asian. She still buys 12-packs of underwear at CVS.
I think that points to the idea that we’re a culture of comparison. We look at the person glorified in social media, or the one right next to us and size ourselves up based on arbitrary measurements (height, weight, status, education, basically all those identities I mentioned in the first point).
That’s so exhausting.
Where does it stop? You can’t keep up.
I like Simon Sinek’s infinite perspective. We’re not here to necessarily outdo our neighbor. We’re here to love them.
Adoptees, this is hard. We’re constantly comparing, trying to fit in. And yes the struggle is real. No matter what age you’re at.
But, as we avoid the pitfall of turning something horizontal (basic human differences) into something vertical (worshiping certain people/traits/identities over others), we will certainly be in a better position to embrace our own pathway and make the pathway truly better for those around us.
Okay so that was quite a ride.
2) Narrow Road
I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions. Feel free to leave a comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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featured pc: AsianCrush