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My Turn

by Dmae Roberts


From The Asian Reporter, V30, #02 (January 20, 2020), page 6.

The new decade

The year 2020 has begun with turmoil. Fires raging in the Australian Bush (many say due to climate change) have killed at least 25 people and billions of animals there. Weíre teetering on the brink of war with Iran while already still involved in wars in other countries in the Middle East. Scores of tents of houseless people line sidewalks and the edges of freeways of many cities, including Portland, while weíre told the economy is doing well. Refugees still await deportation in prisons, some that once held Japanese Americans during World War II.

Itís troubling but understandable when people are afraid and pessimistic about the future. Yet we have to hang onto hope. Itís what keeps us going.

It feels like I have lived with fear and insecurity about our future in this country since I was a little kid. When my family lived in Reno, Nevada so many decades ago, I remember our third-grade teacher leading our class in "duck-and-cover drills" in which we hid under our desks to protect ourselves against a nuclear bomb blast. In junior-high health classes, part of the curriculum involved first aid due to radiation sickness. Now, students of all ages in schools and colleges practice lockdown drills because of potential mass shooters.

As humans, we have the innate ability to adapt. Most of the time, itís a good trait. It helps us survive. But sometimes it works against us. We get used to the bad things, which dull our urge to rebel or fight against whatís unfair or potentially dangerous. Adapting can help us maintain optimism, though. We need to believe there is hope.

I recently asked Facebook friends to post about their wishes for 2020. Many of the responses were about the need to promote "mass resistance" against war and "end poverty and homelessness." All of them reflected the "unsureness" of what is to come. Yet one response, from Kilong Ung, who survived the Cambodian genocide, asked "how does one manage to laugh, love, live, let live, and forgive, and be kind, while navigating through current situations?"

By the time some of you read this, the Lunar New Year will have already arrived (the Year of the Rat: January 25, 2020 to February 11, 2021). Chinese mythology signifies The Rat as a sign of wealth and surplus. Some horoscope predictions say the Year of the Rat has many "fantastic prospects" and that people born under the sign are able to control their destinies. Another prediction for the Year of the Rat assures us itís time to turn over a new leaf and take a fresh look at the world. Thatís actually good advice for everyone. And really, doesnít every Lunar New Year prediction claim prosperity and good life? Perhaps thatís a cultural way to have hope. We need that.

At the end of 1999, people feared Y2K. When 2000 actually arrived, computers did not crash because of the millennium bug, which some people believed would cause the machines to not properly process the year "2000." It didnít happen. Several things did happen a year later, but it wasnít about computers. Sometimes fear can be useful to help people avoid pitfalls and danger; other times it can stop them from moving forward and solving problems. In other cases, fear keeps us from optimism and action.

As I attend celebrations ringing in the Year of the Rat, I like to think about the annual Lunar New Year practice of resolving old debts and past quarrels. Thatís a good way to mend fences. And itís something we should do as a country. Another tradition, "lucky papers," encourages simple declarations of good wishes that are typically hung in doorways. Iíd like to see these messages sent to people directly. We all could use good wishes.

Another custom, paying respects to our ancestors, has always struck me as symbolic but essential. Itís the act of honoring those who have come before us. Flowers, food, candles, and incense are presented at family altars for a loved one who is no longer with us. The familyís fortune, it is believed, is directly tied to its forebears. Just because someone has passed doesnít mean they should be forgotten. Itís the same with history. Just because something is in the past does not mean it will not impact the future.

Sometimes when weíre too adaptable, we forget our history. We donít notice the connection the past has to our actions in the present and how those actions might lead to bad outcomes that could have been avoided had we learned or remembered those old lessons. We have a lot to do during this Year of the Rat. There is much to fix and make better. And amid all that, we need to hang onto hope.

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