May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. According to asianpacificheritage.org, the month pays “tribute to the generations of Asian and Pacific Islanders who have enriched America’s history and are instrumental in its future success.” In recent months, a larger topic of conversation has been brought to light following the the uptick in racial attacks on Asian Americans. As these stories increase in the news cycle, Sounds Like Nashville has invited Nashville singer/songwriter Gabe Lee to share his personal thoughts on the conversation. Lee is of Taiwanese heritage and was born in the states after his parents immigrated in the 80s. In this powerful letter below, Lee pens his thoughts and experiences with our readers and what we can do to combat hate.
In the last few years especially, there has awakened a major focus on deep seated issues of race and culture here in the United States. To be clear – and not at all to suggest that these instances aren’t also happening elsewhere in the world – it is within the genetics of our America: a melting pot of creed, race, and religion – that makes this conversation so poignant, compelling, and absolutely necessary for this country to continue being great.
At the root of it all is hate. Hate is a powerful word, a triggering word. Most all of us have at one point been scrolling the news, or reading a comment section, and felt the lightning strike: that burning desire to respond aggressively, break something, weaponize your doctrine into one long run on sentence and fire it into the social media abyss. Poof. That’ll show em..right?
What is the answer then, to hate? It’s not a trick question.
Love! No not corny, heart shaped candy box of chocolates, a dozen red roses, lobster ravioli and a bottle of red wine kinda love…although that does sound good right now. But love in the form of respect, in the form of community, camaraderie, and the willingness/openness for basic communication. You might say, ‘Gabe Lee you’ve been listening to too much Willie Nelson,’ which in all honesty on any given day would not be an incorrect assumption. But that basic standard of respect, one’s civil right in other words, has been devalued right before our eyes. In so many words, I’d like to discuss a small piece of that from a second-generation Taiwanese-American, Nashville son’s point of view.
When asked by the editors to do an article for AAPI appreciation month, my thoughts flew to the slogan many Asian Americans have rallied behind in recent months, “Stop Asian Hate.” Disturbing video of seemingly gleeful bullying toward folks of my own similar background, immediately raises concern for the well-being of my parents and other family in the US. I was born and raised in Nashville, TN. My parents immigrated in the early 80s for education, found jobs, and settled down here. Growing up in the church, making friends in school, and being taken in by folks who would become like adopted family (since all of our extended family was back in Taiwan), I can safely say that Nashville is my very definition of home. Perhaps it is the people I’ve chosen to surround myself with, or the very warm southern hospitality that has tourists and passers-by alike coming back, I’m constantly reminded that my 30 year experience in this town has been a blessed one.
Our songwriter community as well, has a strong familial aspect, the like of which you would find at Revival, Whiskey Jam, and Bobby’s Idle hour to name a few. One of just a few country singer songwriters of Asian descent, I have always felt that my songs, work, and relationships speak for themselves. As we prepare to pick up where things left off last March, I hope that this spotlight on Asian American culture brings more folks around to the idea that a book should not be judged by its cover. And if that’s how you prefer to perceive the world then, well, don’t be surprised to be surprised!
There are, and potentially always will be, forces, trends, and outlets focused singularly on dividing people. It’s an old devil’s trick, used so often for so long that honestly it’s a little shameful we’re still falling for it. Songwriting I believe is one part I can play in bridging the gap between these divides, after all stories are meant to be shared! So be good to each other folks, and listen to more Willie Nelson!