Mihee Kim Kort has released her first book on Chalice Press. And Making Paper Cranes:
Toward an Asian American Feminist Theology is exactly what it says it is.
Mihee was a seminary classmate (and intramural flag football teammate) a decade ago. Since then she’s been a blogging partner and a contributor to PLGRM, the magazine I help edit. She’s a clear and honest voice.
I’ll be blogging through the book over the next few weeks.
A word about my method. I’m not an Asian American woman. My experience of this book is that of a white guy who knows and thinks highly of the author. That’s perhaps not the best draw for a book, but I think any author would take it. In reading Making Paper Cranes I’m trying to understand better my friend’s experience, as well as that of the many Asian Americans that make up the church in which I serve. Finally (and this is not that big of a stretch, is it?) I’m looking for myself.
Collision and Fragmentation
The soil of Mihee’s project is her experience of collision and fragmentation. Born to Korean parents, Mihee grew up in the American west, surrounded by white people. Her recollection is vivid:
Growing up going to mostly Anglo schools in Colorado, I got along with anyone and everyone. My close friends were Anglo-American and African American, and I had one Latina friend. I had a few Asian American friends, but in terms of those who were non-Anglo, there were only a few of us. I never received any overtly violent gestures of racism but there were those typical cliché moments when a kid would chant at me in an annoying, singsongy way, speaking gibberish and asking if I understood it, or our class would get a new student who happened to be Asian but Chinese, and the teacher would ask me if I spoke Chinese and if I could translate for them. Every so often there was a breakdown of groups, whether for kickball teams at recess or for projects in class, and though I remember watching groups of white kids sit together immediately, and the black kids slowly congregate together, I would look around, wavering, trying to feel out where I felt I belong the most.
Her upbringing yielded the “ongoing encounter of stereotypes, expectations, standards, and conflicting worlds” that she calls “collisions”. Those collisions, in turn, produced a kind of “fragmentation” for Mihee, “a disjointed state, like being in the middle of a pile of shattered, broken puzzle pieces.”
I’m struck by the violence of these images. Hidden in that violence, though, is a loveliness trying to emerge. This is where the book gets its title and central image: the paper crane. Recalling her experience of folding cranes with her mother, Mihee describes the task as making “something delicate and lovely out of [an] intersection of creases.” There’s gospel in there.
These collisions and their resulting fragments are all around, born by people I see every day. Half of the people I share a presbytery with don’t worship in English, and most of those are Asian. My experiences with them bear evidence of the kinds of collisions and fragmentation Mihee is describing. Clearly, I need to do more to understand them, to listen to them, and to honor their experience.
I’ve known collision and fragmentation too. They seem to be markers of modern life. The variety explored in Making Paper Cranes is specific, and it produces specific effects that need to be heard and understood. In listening to it, I’m eager to pay closer attention to the creases, collisions, and fragments of my life to see, as Mihee has seen, what “delicate” and “lovely” things they offer.
Read Bruce Reyes-Chow’s review of Making Paper Cranes here.