The new moon today marks the beginning of a new lunisolar year. In the Chinese zodiac where the years cycle through 12 celestially ordered animals, 2021 is the Year of the Ox.
Oxen are the hardworking creatures in the background. They’re faithful, industrious, and cautious, never demanding praise for their efforts. (I’m an Ox, so I’m a little partial.) What’s your sign? If you don’t know, you can find out on this site.
When I was growing up, this holiday used to make me wince. I knew it would be a day where white people would catapult “kung hei fat choy!” at me. Many meant well, wishing to honor what they thought to be a day of cultural significance for me. Instead, it was a sore reminder of the monolithic and one-dimensional way white Australian culture understood what it meant to be ‘Chinese’.
“Kung hei fat choy” is a new year’s greeting meaning, “wishing you great happiness and prosperity” in Cantonese. My family speaks Mandarin, so for years, I had no idea what they were saying to me. And more to the point, we don’t celebrate Lunar New Year because mainland China adopted the Gregorian calendar when it formed a republic in 1912 after overthrowing the imperial dynasty.
Under the communist regime led by Mao Zedong from 1949, anything considered feudalistic, religious, or superstitious about the holiday was stripped, including the use of traditional greetings. The Lunar New Year only started being celebrated again after Mao Zedong’s death in 1976.
Around this time of year, it’s not uncommon to see articles showcasing the superstitions or taboos Chinese people are said to observe and well-worn jokes about how much Chinese people love money because our new year’s greeting is a wish for prosperity.
These stories fix Chinese culture as an exotic curiosity, uniform and unchanging, summed up in a set of strange customs.
It erases our diversity of 56 ethnicities and 297 or so living languages. It collapses together the diaspora who safeguarded ancestral traditions, the revolutionaries who fought for egalitarian, anti-imperialist, and socialist ideals, and the dissenters who challenge the abuses of their government at enormous personal risk.
, my people have been on my mind a lot lately.
In the last week, there has been a devastating series of hate crimes against Asian Americans. Activist Amanda Nguyen drew attention to these crimes on social media, highlighting how incidences have soared during the pandemic when COVID-19 was blamed on Chinese people. Erin Chew along with the Asian Australian Alliance has similarly traced anti-Asian hate crimes in Australia. Assumptions of our inherent dirtiness and disease resurfaced time-worn stereotypes of the ‘yellow peril’.
In response, I’ve seen people in my networks calling for Asian voices to be included in movements for social justice.
As we carry our struggles into the Year of the Ox, I offer this email as a reminder that who and what is categorized as “Asian” is infinitely diverse. We cut across national, ethnic, religious, colonial, class, political, sexual, and dis/ability lines.
Including our voices means including more than one and holding space for our differences.
As a light-skinned cis-het able-bodied East Asian woman who presents as middle-class, I’m shielded from the worst examples of racism. Because I choose to speak against imperialism and white supremacy, much of the hostility I endure is the backlash to my refusal to play the ‘model minority’; my rejection of white patronage.
A source of pain I don’t often discuss is when I’m seen as the non-threatening option for diversity and inclusion. White people have asked me to explain the Black Lives Matter movement to them, saying “you make racial issues seem less scary”, intended as a compliment. When they cut down my Black and Brown siblings, why do they think I would not bleed?
Yet within our own communities, Asians need to reckon with our internalized oppression. Many of us carry anti-Blackness, conditioned to believe as European colonialism exported around the world the lie that light skin is enlightened. That whiteness is the epitome of beauty, purity, and virtue.
Some of us, especially those who are the most privileged, hold out hope that playing the model minority will pay off. If we agree to keep our heads down and stay silent about racial injustice, we’re promised a slice of the white supremacy pie. Some have waited for this slice all their lives, compromising their dignity and integrity in the process.
When we ask for our voices to be included in the movements for social justice, we need to ensure that we don’t speak for and speak over our Black and Brown siblings, our kin in the Global South, and our beloved Indigenous, queer, trans, disabled, Dalit comrades, fighting for their survival.
, the tarot card I drew for us this new moon is The Star.
The card shows a woman kneeling at the edge of a pond, pouring two pitchers of water. One is poured into the rippling pool itself, while the other is nourishing the lush, verdant land. The sky is adorned with eight-pointed stars, while an ibis (sacred to the Egyptian god of knowledge and writing, Thoth) is perched on a tree in the background.
The Star encompasses all the luminescence of inspiration, hope, and healing. This card portends that you’ll enter a period of renewal, finding both the spiritual sustenance and inner strength to carry on. You’re no stranger to suffering and destruction, but The Star reminds you to take courage and trust that the blessings that will come your way will be as abundant as all the celestial bodies glittering in the night sky.
May the Ox be kind to you this year.
P.S. One of the most powerful and compelling books I had the pleasure of reading last year is Asian American Feminisms and Women of Color Politics edited by Lynn Fujiwara and Shireen Roshanravan. Do not miss Stephanie Nohelani Teves and Maile Arvin’s essay ‘Decolonizing API: Centering Indigenous Pacific Islander feminism’ (ch. 5) for a critique of how the ‘A’ recolonizes the ‘PI’.
P.P.S. Please come follow me on Instagram @helenaliu.