First, Mihee is a friend and colleague.
Second, I am in awe of my friend and colleague.
When I review a book by a friend, I am always a little nervous. What if it isn’t very good? What if I disagree? What if it just does not feel it was written by the person I know? Well . . . from the first sentence, I was hooked. This book is very good: culturally provocative, theologically solid and written with a narrative flair.
It begins with a honest and telling sentence.
“I know. It’s a bit cliche, making paper cranes-especially an Asian person doing origami.”
Mihee, a Korean American Presbyterian immigrant woman, takes us on a journey of honest self-discovery employing a wry sense of humor, keen cultural insight and an ability to ask and respond to powerful questions with which we can all identify.
In the first part of the book Mihee unpacks some of the realities of growing up as an Asian American women in the United States. As one who has a degree in Asian American Studies, I think Mihee does a wonderful job at surveying the vast ways in which Asian Americans in general and Asian American women, in particular, face exclusion and otherness. Mihee captures the nuances of being Asian in a society that often thinks of culture and race as a conversation between Black and White.
when the teacher is reading from
some book about the history of the people around her
something about pilgrims, slavery, wars, the Great Depression
it is supposed to be her history, too
but no one looks at her and things that
this yellow girl belongs in the same story
the story of America
An excerpt from a poem that Mihee wrote, paper margins, page 44-45
The last part of the book dives into some theological thinking, but not in a way that one might expect. The tone does not change, nor does the weaving in of personal stories that give depth to the thinking that we are asked to undertake. I love her nuanced look at “fragmentation” not as a negative occurrence, but as a process that we must all go through, culturally and theologically. What makes Mihee’s treatment of both culture and theology is that she does not call us to follow a tidy linear progression, but rather to an embracing of a spiraling web that does not create anxiety and confusion, but rather liberation and discovery.
As I reflect on my own faith journey, I realize a number of painful pieces that make up who I am. Some pieces I have chosen for myself, but other pieces have been forced upon me, whether according to assumptions and stereotypes, or in relation to categories about race, culture, gender or generation. I am learning how to feel this fragmentation by embracing the disjointedness as my own unique experience while recognizing the necessity for engagement and inquiry. I am slowly realizing how I have navigated and continue to operate and live through this fragmented existence. – page 74
In the end, Making Paper Cranes is not a book that should be limited to only Asian Americans, women or church folks, but rather this book should be read by any and all who yearn to know better and understand the complexities of American culture. While Mihee’s story is told through the lens of a Korean American Presbyterian immigrant woman, when we think about American history, in reality it is the story of us all.
Mihee includes a GREAT bibliography on race, culture and theology. Some highlights:
- Off the Menu: Asian and Asian North American Women’s Religion and Theology edited by Rita Nakashima Brock, Jung Ha Kim, Kwok Pui-lan and Seung Ai Yang
- Feminist Theory and Christian Theology by Serene Jones
- Asian Americans: Oral Histories of First to Fourth Generation Americans from China, the Philippines, Japan, India, the Pacific Islands, Vietnam an Cambodia by Joann Faung Jean Lee
- Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White by Frank Wu
- Colonize This!: Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism (Live Girls) edited by Daisy Hernandez and Bushra Rehman