An open letter to legal immigrants by Jeff Zhao

(read on Medium)

As a documented immigrant to the United States, I unequivocally stand with DACA recipients.

There is a lot of talk about white bigotry, anti-immigrant racism, and the cruelty of the Trump administration. Many of these points are valid, and I encourage you to continue listening to the voices of those affected by DACA. But now I speak directly to communities of legal immigrants — people just like me.

Don’t let your personal sacrifices taint your worldview with cynicism and bitterness. While you and your parents may have had to make huge sacrifices to become legal permanent residents or citizens in the United States (I know we did) that should color your perspective with more empathy, not less. The wall between legal and undocumented Americans is reams of paper thick, but the enthusiasm with which the Trump administration seeks to deport hundreds of thousands of young people should remind you that were it not for flimsy legal protections they’d send you away with equal zeal.

Don’t project dissatisfactions with your life onto innocent people. Like me, you’ve probably looked longingly out a window (or more likely, into a digital screen) at people living their life with undeserved frivolity while you are (as usual) working hard — paying your dues — making the necessary sacrifices. Why do they get rewarded for taking shortcuts? It’s easy to misapply this frustration onto DACA recipients for “skipping the line”, but just like the myths of undocumented immigrants being drains on the economy or minority students getting free university tuition, it’s simply misguided. Before DACA, undocumented students lived in constant fear of deportation, their family being separated, or opportunities being denied to them simply due to their immigration status. Mental health deteriorated. It became a massive feedback loop of suffering.

Don’t treat DACA recipients as a generic brown-skinned conglomerate. Put a face and a story to DACA. Not every DACA recipient is Mexican. Their parents are often not that different from your own. Having parents who successfully navigated the complex immigration landscape is a tremendous privilege. It may be the greatest contribution your family ever made to your well-being. If you found out tomorrow you were undocumented, what would that mean for you?

It’s time to look in the mirror. It’s no longer enough to be a neutral party or ignore our own prejudices. We have hidden in blackness and faded in whiteness for too long. Stand up for your brothers and sisters.

Seniors in Japan by Jeff Zhao

Most of contemporary society glorifies youth and associates it with beauty, freedom, and happiness. (As they say, "live fast, die young, and leave a good looking corpse.") Most young people think of life as over by the time they hit 60 or so, and accordingly, we have a great deal of anxiety about not being successful enough, not being "far along" enough, and hitting thirty. By then, you're halfway dead!

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munewari zero / 胸割りゼロ by Jeff Zhao

Tomorrow I begin my munewari tattoo with Horitoshi 1st. It is the beginning of a long, painful, and hopefully cathartic process. This labour is an important and necessary part of connecting with my Buddhist faith. I love exploring the city and all it has to offer, but this is the primary reason I am in Tokyo for three months. I was supposed to come here with someone who was precious to me, but that person has gone away from me, so I have found renewed purpose in something else.

I booked my ticket to Tokyo for August 10th. It's the date I finished my Texas 4000 for Cancer ride in 2012. Since the ride ended, I've been searching to reclaim that feeling without success. I've accepted that my Texas 4000 days are behind me but I believe there are still many undiscovered things in the world capable of making me feel.

Getting this tattoo and the Texas 4000 ride are in many ways the same:

  • It is a test of endurance - the ability to overcome pain and fatigue in the mind.
  • It simplifies my life - I wake up, eat, work, get tattooed, eat, work, sleep. That's basically it. Simple. Ascetic. Pure.
  • It can be hidden - I picked the munewari style for many reasons, but largely because it can be exposed or hidden. It's my choice whether I show it or not.

Below are some pictures that are similar to my design, which has a lot of meaningful symbolism. A few friends have encouraged me to take progress pictures and I think that's a good idea.

Arriving in Tokyo by Jeff Zhao

After a tense moment with Japanese immigration, I made it to Tokyo.

My form says I'm visiting Tokyo for tourism. The clerk asked me about work and seemed to think I was an indigent vagrant. I told him I was taking three months vacation (mostly true) and he raised an eyebrow. After some page flipping, he stamped me through, and I vaguely sensed his sadness as he waved on the next in a long line of foreign visitors.

If you're going to stay in Japan this long (three months), make sure you book your return flight and have your confirmation ready to show - they do ask. I am now legally required to leave this country no later than 11.8.