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How It All Began

Welcome to 2020! This is a blog that is dedicated to the information, discussion, and transformation of trauma and intergenerational trauma in the API communities.

In mid 2018, I collaborated with my dear friend and colleague, Kayla Chan, on a presentation surrounding the topic of historical trauma among API communities for work in the context of social services. My specialty was counseling for survivors of trauma, and hers gender studies. At the time, the presentation weighed heavily on the immigration history of various Asian ethnic groups, mostly east Asians. It was very well received, but neither of us thought much about it afterwards. However, the fire of passion for this topic was lit.

In January 2019 we decided to take the topic out to the community, and refocused on the discussion of the transmission of trauma across generations. Since both of us identified as of Chinese decent, we decided to concentrate on the experiences of Chinese immigrants but stayed open to those of other Asian communities. We also shifted away from social services perspective and, instead, explore the innate healing power in the Chinese arts and traditions. We envisioned a collective healing space where anyone can be a hub for healing.

The effort quickly paid off. In March 2019 we hosted our first community event, titled “Intergenerational Trauma: A Dialogue,” at Chinatown Soup, a non-for-profit organization advancing art, justice, historic preservation, and civic engagement in downtown New York. The workshop was done again in August 2019, although my co-founder Kayla had moved away and paused her input.

Through my workshop, I was inspired by the great work of many Asian and Asian American artists, and started figuring out how to collaborate to maximize the impact. The first collaborated endeavor will be an interview-discussion with Korean American artist Jaime Sunwoo on January 30th, 2010 at Chinatown Soup. You can check out the event details here.

This blog really started with my hope to keep informed everyone who’s interested in collective healing in the Chinese and the greater Asian communities. Therefore, the “event” section will be the first emphasis, and the “resource” section will follow with my recommendations for further readings to complement the workshops. The “blog” section will catch up as I write more topics under the umbrella of trauma among Asian communities. It will not be the most fast updated blog, so your email box will not be bombarded if you choose to subscribe, but you will find knowledge and inspiration here when needed.

Stay tuned.

The wound is the place where the light enters you.

— Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī

The Mind-Blowing Secrets of Our Genes

219 years ago, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck hypothesized that the characteristics that one acquired during the life time can be passed on to the next generations. This proposal was largely dismissed by his contemporaries. Roughly 60 years later, with the publishing of On the Origin of Species, Darwinism became the modern paradigm of evolution.

We have since believed that we are genetically predetermined beings.

However, centuries later, a rising amount of studies seems to indicate that Lamarckism might have had some truth. Epigenetic researches show that the experiences of our ancestors are quietly coded into the chemical modifications of our DNA, influencing the expression of our genes.

“When I work in my family tree, I understood the strange communication of the destine that unites me to my ancestors.”

C.G.Jung

It turns out that, after all, it didn’t start with us.

In his book It Didn’t Start with You, Mark Wolynn draws on his astounding personal experience of having once lost his vision and his expertise as a psychotherapist to presents a potent overview of the epigenetic studies on the transmission of trauma. My favourite part of the book is Chapter 2 where he summarizes:

“…biological residue of traumas your grandmother experienced can be passed down, with far-reaching consequences.”

He directs our attention to the fact that three generations – we, our mother, and our grandmother – at one point share the same biological environment. This blew my mind; I could not help but start racking my brain, looking for traces of stories that my mother has told me about her mother.

Echoing the maternal line, Wolynn states:

“…your father’s sperm continues to be susceptible to traumatic imprints almost up until the point when you are conceived.”

This particular piece of information has propelled the expansion of the “Intergenerational Trauma” workshops, setting me off on a series of familial inquiries into the life of my maternal grandma and my father. The details saved for the workshop, it shocks me how the experience of the family members I have never even heard of have been mysteriously shaping my emotional world.

Mark Wolynn elegantly articulates:

“Pain does not always dissolve on its own or diminish with time. Even if the person who suffered the original trauma had died, even if his or her story lies submerged in years of silence, fragments of life experience, memory, and body sensation can live in, as if reaching out from he past to find resolution in the minds and bodies of those living in the present.”

Once I recognize that I have been carrying the unspoken burdens of my ancestors, I know I could put them behind me, one step at a time.

This book provides exactly that. Spending years searching for answers to his deteriorating vision, Wolynn has found his way of healing, conceptualizing the “Four Core Languages” framework as a guide to help us tease out our languages that are in fact carriers of our ancestors’ pain and anguish. In each chapter, he lists questions to guide our reflections, and to facilitate the resolution of trauma by owning the sufferings and the resiliency that comes with. He emphasizes:

“Following our core language map can bring us face-to-face with family members who live like ghosts, unseen and ignored…Once we find them, they are set free and we are set free.”

This book is particularly useful for people who have done a decent amount of self-reflection, but couldn’t seem to be rid of the feelings that don’t have a substantiating root in their own life. It is important to recognize that no one book or theory holds all the truth. We must be our own curator when piecing together our unique map for healing.

However, one thing I find curious is the intentional or unintentional omission of, among the discussions of the massacres and genocides around the globe, the Nanjing Massacre. For a Chinese person, it defines what trauma is; it aches me to see the death of 300,000 (some source says 50,000) souls goes unmentioned. I shall write about that another day.

For those science-minded you, chase this book with a strong shot of Dr. Rachel Yahuda’s studies, or a less-intense but sufficiently-informative writing by science journalist Martha Henriques on BBC Future; for the hearts that are dying for a dosage of healing, try the short and sweet Then She Sings a Willow Song: Reclaiming Life and Power with the Ancestors by the Native American spiritual activist Gemma Benton.

“Our Ancestors knew that healing comes in cycles and circles. One generation carries the pain so that the next can live and heal. One cannot live without the other, each is the other’s hope, meaning & strength.” 

Gemma Benton

Event: Those Convos @ Family Dinners

逢年過節,家庭聚會上(不曾提起)的話題

Holiday season can be difficult. Those conversations at the family gathering dinners can stir up lots of feelings. After all the yummy food and gifts and wishes, it is time to sit down and find a way to feel better and move on.

We kick off the new decade with a new community dialogue featuring artist, Jaime Sunwoo, again at Chinatown Soup on Thursday, January 30th, 2020. In this workshop, you will:

  • Hear Jaime Sunwoo, a working artist, talk about how she transformed her family history of trauma into a powerful creative force in her artistic endeavours;
  • Understand how trauma can be transmitted across generations through biological, psychological, familial and societal methods
  • Engage in dialogues and activities to reflect how you are impacted by the intergenerational trauma and to facilitate personal and professional growth

Join us if you are:

  • a creative who is looking to find their unique identity and artistic presence
  • an advocate, social workers, clinicians, and community organizers who is looking to deepen their understanding of the transmissions of trauma
  • someone who feels stuck with their family dynamic and are looking to break free

RSVP here with Chinatown Soup.

Jaime Sunwoo is a Korean American multidisciplinary artist from Brooklyn, New York. She combines video, audio, sculpture, and storytelling to create sensory performances in galleries, theaters, and public spaces. Her works discover uncomfortable truths between humor and tragedy. She studied art at Yale University, and is an alum of the Laundromat Project for socially engaged art. She has collaborated with Whoop Dee Doo, and appeared on PBS’s Art21. Her work has been seen at JACK, Abrons Art Center, BAX, The Tank, Flux Factory, Open Source Gallery, DUMBO Arts Festival, and Art in Odd Places. She is currently working on Specially Processed American Me, a surreal autobiographical performance using SPAM, the canned meat, as a portal into her Asian American upbringing and her family’s experiences of the Korean War.