By Cat D. Nguyen MA.Ed, RYT
Earlier this year, I sat lost and seeking catharsis at an ecological yoga retreat in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca. I had come with a heavy heart hoping to grieve the global suffering induced by the pandemic, the splintered state of my life, and the snuffed candle in my heart which had once burned for education. By the seven year itch of my teaching career, I had witnessed the paradoxical failings of the factory-like system to produce whole and conscious humans. Instead, we were trained to group, track, and ship students off like cogs in a machine. I saw children of color fall through the cracks because of systemic racism and witnessed the oppressive ravages of poverty, hunger, and violence on their minds and spirits. I experienced the culture of competition that taught students to stomp on the backs of others to get ahead. I felt the reigns tighten of centralized districts who treated teachers like workhorses and bound them to Sisyphean boulders of bureaucracy.
I was ready to walk away for good, but I felt a stirring within to pause.
Intuition and luck brought me to Barbarenas where I began my healing journey. There, I breathed deeply and re-connected with nature’s vibrational frequencies. I sat, flowed, and danced with artists, healers, and sages. Most importantly, I asked the universe for direction, and she answered: Go home, put your roots into the ground, connect to who you are and what makes you feel whole.
With the help of my friends, family, and a personal guide, I began to compassionately reflect on that splintered void and to seek honest answers to painful questions left looming in my heart: Am I good enough? Am I worthy of love? Am I a good person? Why am I here? The answers came to me at a pedagogy workshop in the mountains after much reading, reflecting, and discourse with phenomenal people.
Yes. I am a valuable human being worthy of love. There is a river of consciousness within, and it’s time to narrow the streams that perpetuate the lies that say I’m not good enough or loveable. I can re-direct my focus and the quality of my thoughts to that which is integral to feeling life-giving wholeness. I can become the parent for myself I so dearly needed as a child and find the mean between extremes within my thinking. I can be a hollowed singing bowl and let compassionate self awareness fill me and be my North star.
And my calling? Silence at first, followed by a rush of compassionate energy permeating within and throughout: Teach your students how to love themselves, to embrace who they are, to listen to their gut, and to break the chains of internalized and external oppression. Lead them out towards the warm light of consciousness and truth and instill in them the courage to help others do the same.
I cried cathartically under the moon and felt sad it had taken me so long to walk out of my allegorical prison. For years, I’d come to the precipice of change and turned from that bridge to a new happier existence because of fear. But I found along my path mentors and guides-- particularly experience and heartbreak which has been my greatest teacher.
While I have much to learn, my cup is full and my heart is healed as I answer this call of conscious teaching. The how's I'm sure will form organically as I embark on a new chapter at the Intellectual Virtues Academy in Long Beach, California where I'll be teaching art and the tenets of good thinking.
The words of Václav Havel, a leader in the Velvet revolution that liberated Czechoslovakia from Soviet rule resonate with me deeply:
“The experience I’m talking about has given me one certainty: the salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart..and in the human power to reflect. Without a global revolution in human consciousness, nothing will change for the better, and the catastrophe toward which this world is headed will be unavoidable.”
Behind the woke terminology floating around the streets and social media in response to the rise in Asian American hate crimes, there lives a painful and neglected history of discrimination against the AAPI community.
While social media has brought this issue to the spotlight, it is important to understand the roots of this hatred and social media’s role in perpetuating the appeasement of collective guilt without effectively doing much to eliminate discrimination and prejudice against Asian Americans in the United States.
While the reposts of standing in solidarity with the AAPI community have sparked important conversations, will the issue be knocked off the “woke” stage and soon forgotten as the next hot-button issue emerges?
Conversation and solidarity are only the first steps towards collective healing and evolution. By looking soberly at the deep-rooted history of discrimination and racism against Asian Americans, we can begin to unsow the seeds of prejudice against not only Asian Americans but all people of color in America.
Further, it is important to understand the instances of blatant racism and microaggressions that almost every person of Asian descent is bound to experience in the United States during their lifetime. Woven throughout the tapestry of Western history, the monolithic view of Asians and the East are harmful, derogatory, and one of the main causes for the hate crimes committed against them today.
A timeline of major instances of discrimination and hate crimes towards Asian Americans:
People v. Hall (1854)
The racist trope of Asians coming to America to steal jobs was born when Chinese Americans first came to the United States during the California Gold Rush. When news of mountains of gold in the West swept through China, thousands of men arrived to look for jobs in the railroad and mining industries. This racist assumption led to the initiation of crimes committed against this group of people solely because they were Chinese. One such significant crime that showcased the helplessness felt by these people was the murder of Chinese immigrant Ling Sing. Ling was killed by an American man named George Hall who brutally shot and murdered him. George Hall and two companions had entered a Chinese mining camp in the pursuit of gold. When they were discovered by a miner who worked there, the three men beat him down brutally. Upon hearing the commotion, Ling Sing rushed out to help his injured coworker but ended up being fired at by George Hall. When his family appealed in court for George Hall to get arrested, they were shot down by the California Supreme Court when it ruled in People v Hall (1854) that people of Asian descent could not testify against White people in court. Thus, the testimonies of witnesses and the family of Ling Sing were not allowed to be used as valid evidence. Hall walked away free and Ling Sing never got justice for being murdered.
Bubonic Plague, San Francisco (1900-1904)
The Coronavirus pandemic isn't the first time the entire Asian community has been unfairly blamed for the spread of a disease. In fact, the first recorded time this happened in the United States was in the 1900’s when the bubonic plague hit San Francisco and spread throughout the country. The first victim in the state of California was a man of Chinese descent which resulted in the entire Asian community being blamed and ostracized for the epidemic. China Town was then placed under strict supervision, and government officials forbade anyone but White citizens to go in and out of the city. The Chinese residents of the city were also subject to harsh home searches and property destruction at the hands of the San Francisco police.
Japanese Internment Camps (1942- 1945)
In 1942 following the Pearl Harbor attacks, President Roosevelt’s administration issued Executive Order 9066 sending all people of Japanese descent to internment camps called “Assembly Centers”. Assembly Centers were located in remote areas, often reconfigured fairgrounds and racetracks featuring buildings not meant for human habitation, like horse stalls or cow sheds, that had been converted for that purpose.This order affected 120,000 people, many of whom were American citizens. Anyone who was at least 1/16th Japanese was evacuated, including 17,000 children under age 10, as well as several thousand elderly and disabled residents.
In Los Angeles, 18,000 Japanese-Americans were incarcerated, 8,500 of whom lived in stables. Food shortages and substandard sanitation were prevalent in these facilities. On August 4, 1942, a riot broke out in the Santa Anita Assembly Center, the result of anger about insufficient rations and overcrowding. Fearing a riot, police tear-gassed crowds that had gathered at the police station.
At the Topaz Relocation Center, 63-year-old prisoner James Hatsuki Wakasa was shot and killed by military police after walking near the perimeter fence. Two months later, a couple was shot for strolling near the fence. Many more cases of crimes against the citizens were reported but the camps remained open until 1945.
Japanese-Americans were detained, isolated, and completely stripped of their civil rights in an incapacitated attempt to find ‘spies’ amongst the Japanese-American population. However, no such ‘spy’ was ever found and many of them returned to great losses including vandalized homes and businesses. This horrendous infringement on civil rights highlighted the glaring systemic racism born out of a lack of understanding and the US Government’s deeply held view of a racial hierarchy.
Vietnamese Fishermen and the KKK (1980s)
At a time where many Vietnamese people had just experienced devastating losses and destruction at the hand of the United States’ Army, they took up shrimp harvesting or ‘shrimping’ as they called it, in the South to find some solace in difficult times. However, this solace was short lived as soon after, the racist trope of Asians coming to steal the jobs of White people was reborn, but this time the White Supremacist Organization, the Ku Klux Klan took hateful actions against the Vietnamese people. Ku Klux Klan leader Louis Beam led his followers in commando-style attacks where Vietnamese boats were set ablaze and their crab plants were bombed in order to ensure that they would be unable to continue with their shrimping businesses. Hooded Klansmen patrolled the waters, circling the Vietnamese boats like the pirates who encircled the refugee boats escaping Vietnam during the war.
The Vietnamese Americans encountered devastating losses at the hands of the KKK. However, the Vietnamese prevailed. In fact, they thrived. By 1984, one fisherman reported that of the 150 boats docked in the harbor, maybe 25 were owned by Americans. The Vietnamese began to dominate the shrimping industry and their success saga continues today.
Attacks following 9/11
Following the 2001 attacks on the twin towers in New York, a surge in hate crimes towards Muslims and people who were perceived to be Muslims, specifically South Asians spread. Numerous people of South Asian descent were targeted due to the color of their skin and were blamed unfairly for the September attacks. Over 1000 cases of hate crimes against people perceived to be Muslim have been recorded to date. A White aircraft mechanic by the name of Frank Silva Roque, murdered a Sikh man named Balbir Singh Sodhi after he mistook him for being a Muslim. Just before shooting Singh, Roque had told an employee of an Applebee’s restaurant that he was “going to go out and shoot some towel heads.” A few days following the September 11 attacks, a man by the name of Mark Stroman shot and killed a Pakistani immigrant Waquar Hassan at a grocery store in Dallas, Texas. Two weeks later, Stroman proceeded to kill an Indian immigrant and a naturalized U.S. citizen, Vasudhev Patel while he was working at a convenience store at a shell gas station. After Stroman was questioned about why he shot the two men, he said in response to an interview with a local radio station, “We’re at war. I did what I had to do. I did it to retaliate against those who retaliated against us.”
There were also numerous other recorded and unrecorded instances of hatred against South Asians following 9/11.
Racism in Everyday Life
Racism against Asian Americans has been a long standing issue originating from the first time they entered the United States and were viewed as a ‘threat’. However, the conflict extends beyond this perception to include microaggressions experienced by Asian Americans daily.
A microaggression is a comment or an action that is subconsciously rooted in a harmful and derogatory stereotype or notion against a person belonging to a marginalized group. Although these ideas may seem small it is extremely important to note the painful history that has led to this idea being perceived as it is today. Where did these ideas come from and why are these notions so hateful?
Here are the most common and troubling stereotypes that perpetuate prejudice and discrimination against people of Asian descent.
Asians as the ‘Model Minority’
A model minority is a group of people who are seen as the ‘standard’ to compare other minorities to. The term originated in the 1980’s when Asian Americans were used as a scapegoat by prominent White leaders to mask the glaring systemic racism that was ravaging the Black community. The Model Minority stereotype, a racist notion that completely invalidated the struggles faced by the Asian American community, perpetuated a “White is Right” message that has caused millions of immigrants to “White-Wash” or “Americanize” their children. Many Asian Americans were taught to hate their own culture and completely assimilate to Western culture to be successful. It has created an unfair connection between Asian American success and the annihilation of Asian American identity.
Asian American Stereotypes in Media and Culture
Over 18.6 million people identify as Asian or Asian-American, but this growing population is not reflected in Hollywood. Asian-Americans are almost as invisible in Hollywood as they were fifty years ago, as studies show only 5.3 percent of roles in 2014 films were Asian (Smith et al., 2015). Asian women in film are unfairly painted as either a “dragon lady” or a “china doll” and Asian men are stripped of their masculinity and painted as effeminate nerds, karate masters, or comedic jesters with exaggerated accents.
The infamous “model minority” stereotype that portrays Asians as intelligent, hardworking, and ambitious, does more harm than good. It boxes Asians into an “othered” role, deeming them as passive foreigners without dimension. These stereotypes do not just stay on screen, but instead bleed into how Asians are perceived outside of media, leaving detrimental cultural and social consequences and leading to feelings of inferiority.
In addition, the erasure of Asian-Americans in Hollywood perpetuates the idea that Asians are still foreigners, unworthy of well-rounded representation and storytelling. Historically, some films have actors don yellowface, such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), where Mickey Rooney plays a bucktoothed, slant-eyed Mr. Yunioshi (Rajgopal, 2010). This practice has remained in more recents films For instance, instead of casting Asian actors, Cloud Atlas (2012) featured Jim Sturgess and Keith David in yellowface; their makeup is meant to make them appear ethnically Korean to fit the futuristic Korea
in which part of the movie was set (Rose, 2016).
There has always been a lack of diversity and appropriate representation of the population in Western media. However, the spotlight now shines on this issue as the emerging portrayal of Asian Americans challenging stereotypes in the media has brought on a rebirth of Asian American identity. In music and culture, the Korean wave of music, T.V. shows and products appeal to audiences by placing young and attractive Asians at the forefront. Asian American artists like Tokimonsta, Zhu, and Mitski are re-framing concepts of Asian-ness by highlighting the universal experiences of being human. In TV and film figures like Aziz Ansari, Ali Wong, Dev Patel, and Awkwafina are helping international audiences reconfigure what it means to be Asian today through honest and complex portrayals.
Fetishization of Asian American Woman
Asian American women have been portrayed by the West as obedient, docile creatures and fetishized for their “exotic” features. This harmful stereotype causes Asian women to be objectified as sex symbols and placed into a limiting grouping. The origin of this stereotype was in America’s first immigration law, the Page Act of 1875, which sought to exclude East Asian women from the country because of the assumption that they were ‘sex workers’ and ‘temptations for white men,’ making their immigration illegal and not allowing existing Chinese-American women at the time from becoming citizens. The Western lust of Asian women has led to an unfathomable amount of human trafficking particularly in South East Asia. The west is indirectly responsible for this as they are the largest consumers of pornographic material of Asian women and children. These people are trafficked and sold to organizations that take videos of them performing forced sexual acts that are then posted to pornographic websites that are mainly consumed by men in the western hemisphere of the world. The search ‘Asian’ is one of the most common in pornographic websites. This is a direct result of the harmful fetishization that has led to so many women and children losing their freedom to satiate the desires of predatory men on the other end of the world.
What can be done?
In all of the instances above, it is evident that the Western view of Asians as a monolith is incredibly damaging. From the time, all the Chinese were blamed for the spread of the bubonic plague to the targeting of South Asians following 9/11, it is plausible that this racist ideology causes nothing but hatred and destruction. It causes people of Asian descent to be seen as nothing more than a stereotype. Although it is impossible to achieve a ‘color blind’ society, it is not impossible to achieve a more inclusive and accepting one. When a person takes steps to understand why certain stereotypes and notions are racist and the history behind them, they are already on their way to becoming a true ally. There is a long and arduous journey to be taken in order to reach a society where people are no longer discriminated on the basis of race; however, it is an essential and important one that is worth every sacrifice to ensure that future generations are able to live in a safe and accepting society.
By: Cynthia Kim-Eumie Shockley
My body houses the stories of my past.
My eyes have seen the ripe red blood of my little brother’s flesh after one of my father’s many bursts of anger.
My ears have heard the shrieking screams and heaving sobs of my unhappy mother.
My nose has smelled the liquor on my breath and sweat after blacking out, again.
My mouth has tasted the salty aftermath of my first and unconscious sexual encounter (the cum, then the tears when I came to and realized what had happened).
My skin has felt both the open palm of painful punishment as a child and the trembling, eager hands of boys who thought raping me made them a man.
My heart has felt it all--the pain, the shame, the guilt… but it has also felt immense joy, liberation, and love.
I don’t share this for pity. On the contrary, you’ve probably experienced some of these Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE). At least 61% of adults have experienced at least one type of ACE. According to studies, more ACEs = worse health and wellbeing.
I share my story to show you that your past does not determine your future. We can understand patterns then use our intuition and wisdom to intentionally choose a different path.
I chose the path of healing.
My path to healing required a devastating blow, a crumbling of my foundation. My father contracted a brain virus. To survive, I left college to help my mom run the family business. Here, I developed a raw, honest relationship with my parents. The veil of authoritarian parenting was lifted, and I saw my parents for who they were as human beings who also had their own traumas influencing their belief systems and behaviors. Forgiveness, compassion, and respect were forged where only resentment, anger, and fear had existed.
During this time, I also experienced an intense ego-loss. I had left UCLA, my sorority, my dance team, and all my clubs in the middle of my sophomore year. Who the heck am I?
Writing became my first healing tool. It became a powerful way for me to process the changes I was going through and to define my truths. Sitting down at my laptop, click-clacking away, I create a safe space for my thoughts and feelings to be important and valid.
After my parents declared bankruptcy, we moved in with my aunt and uncle. I began working a 9-5 job to save up for tuition, but still felt lost as to who I was. I had always danced, so I decided to reconnect to myself that way. Through what I can only call fate, there was a pole dance studio five minutes from me. I decided to give it a whirl, and gosh am I glad I did.
Unveiled Fitness was a sacred sanctuary for women from all walks of life to feel, allow, and play. Here, I learned that I was the only one who owned my body. Here, I learned to be fully present in the moment. Here, I learned to love my body and the spirit within. Here, I was not a victim of abuse and rape, but a survivor, a thriver, a goddess reawakened. I became a pole instructor here, teaching beginners, inspired to guide and catalyze others’ awakenings.
When I went back to UCLA, I couldn’t find a pole studio with that same energy, but I found a yoga teacher who brought in that playful and healing spirit to her classes. Nicole Doherty became my teacher trainer, not only teaching me how to teach yoga, but how we can heal trauma through other ancient methods like reiki, breathwork, and shamanic healing.
By now, I was in full tilt with this holistic healing path. I was jazzed to join a Mindfulness Meditation club. I took courses at the UCLA Mindfulness Awareness Research Center to build my own practice and began facilitating mindfulness to children and the UCLA community.
Along the way, I met the love of my life and now-husband. He respected me and uplifted me in ways I’d never felt from a man, and I saw a future with him that was aligned to my reclaimed values.
Before leaving LA to live with him in Minnesota, my teacher Nicole invited me to a shamanic healing experience (it’s like guided imagery but more interactive, self-guided, and spiritually-focused). This introduction allowed me to later on have a private shamanic healing session with Nicole in which I experienced being my 5-year-old self and meeting my young parents to speak the truths I couldn’t speak before. I got to forgive them, and forgive myself in this journey. Whether that experience was imagined or not, the benefits were very very real.
I still use all these healing tools to process my truths, to re-write my story, to embrace the present moment, and to check in with and soothe my inner child. My body houses the stories of my past and it houses my dreams for the future. These healing tools allow me to kindly hold space for my traumas while reclaiming my power to design my life.
I am now an Integrative Health Coach running my own business empowering Mamas and Mamas-to-be to discover their own path of healing and know their power. I offer the very tools that have worked for me & collaborate with a wide range of healers to share radical healing experiences. This is something little-Cynthia would never believe she’d ever have the guts or grit to do. Yet, here I stand.
You are not a statistic. No matter the traumas of your past, you are an infinite being of light who absolutely has the capacity to pause, re-program, and manifest the life you deserve.
Feel free to reach out for your free Consult Call to connect and explore how we can support each other in this wild ride of life.
Cynthia Kim-Eumie Shockley is Founder and Owner of Mighty Mama Coaching, LLC. She is a Health & Wellbeing Coach who creates a warm and inspiring space for Mamas and Mamas-to-be to know their power and live their legacy. She is innately warm and curious, but she has refined her skills as an engaged listener and activator in her lifetime of study and 8 years of work as a healer.
As for Cynthia’s own healing journey, Cynthia realized that human health depends not only on the wellbeing of the body, but on the wellbeing of the mind and spirit as well after a family trauma. Though she was drawn to healing through writing, art, dance, meditation, and yoga, she felt trapped by a message: that being a medical doctor was the only way she could credibly heal others. In 2015 she moved to Minnesota to follow her heart, teach yoga, and apply to medical schools. Through a series of timely events and a personal leap of faith, Cynthia ended up right where she was meant to be--in her Health & Wellbeing Coaching Masters program. There, she learned more about Yoga & Ayurveda through a travel abroad program in India, Shamanic Healing, Mind Body Science, Functional Nutrition, and Coaching for Groups. On top of that, she learned so much more about herself, her purpose in life, and how she will pursue that purpose with grit and grace.
By: Catherine D. Nguyen, Writer & Editor
Ulysses Gonzales may look like the boy next door with a pleasant grin and piercing, kind eyes, but he is far from ordinary. We meet in a café formally called The Gypsey Den in Downtown Santa Ana. The small chain dropped what they felt was a derogatory descriptor in the name, but a free-spirited atmosphere still emanates from the hodgepodge collection of art on the walls and shoegaze music playing in the background. It’s an appropriate backdrop for Ulysses’ story filled with darkness, mythical imagery, and an ever-present strand of hope and resilience.
We sit and chat for hours, and I’m surprised by his openness. He's in a reflective place in his life after accomplishing great success. Ulysses is an artist from Garden Grove, California, and his psychedelic works of cultural figures and surrealist imagery have amassed him over 100,000 followers on social media and the support of celebrities like Joe Rogan and Pauly Shore.
His works are bright, metaphysical, and gently subversive: a purple-glowing Albert Einstein with his third eye ablaze, a colorful rendering of Kobe Bryant in a parallel universe, Macaulay Calkin’s home alone face melded into the iconic “Scream” composition. Sometimes his art is darker. Alien fetuses glowing in a radiating womb, phantasms melting off the canvas, menacing portraits of cultural icons like Hunter S. Thompson in a Dali-esque landscape.
His work, perhaps emblematic of symbols within our collective unconscious, also provides a window into his own psyche. As he speaks about his past, I get the impression Ulysses has catalyzed his experience into fuel for art. He lives, breathes, and eats art. Tragedy happens? He puts it into a painting. A midnight revelation? He starts creating right away. It appears his evolution as an artist will be unstoppable because he constantly strives to be the best version of himself.
Daggers, Bullets, & Wolves
Ulysses’ path to becoming an artist, like his art, has been full of bright, surreal moments juxtaposed with heavy imagery. From dodging bullets at a Garden Grove party to protecting himself from wolves in sheep's clothing, Ulysses has had to follow his instincts to get out of sketchy situations and to escape predators in his life.
According to Ulysses, wolves have been a recurring image in his subconscious for years and appear in his art as well. While the wolves in his dreams used to be a source of terror, they’re now a symbol of empowerment. “My spirit animal is a wolf because I always want to be surrounded by positivity and the power of a wolf pack," he writes on Instagram.
Regardless of the danger that has encircled him in the past, Ulysses traverses through experience following knowledge and love like a compass and uses his art to cast light on shadows in his psyche. Sometimes Ulysses finds himself in stoic solitude or communal utopia, but it seems he's most at home when he's facing fear and bringing his imagination to life.
But, things weren't always like this.
There was a time in Ulysses' life when he felt deeply stuck. He was in a situation for years that sucked the creativity and joy out of him. One fateful day, a work injury caused him to lose vision temporarily.
"It felt like there were scales on my eyes and blood was coming from them. The pain was excruciating."
When he eventually regained his vision, Ulysses made a decision: he would leave and travel the world.
His first stop was Europe’s longest and most storied pilgrimage route, El Camino de Santiago. Ulysses walked alone day and night for a month to heal from his broken relationship and to chart his next steps in life.
"It was one of the most challenging experiences of my life. [The walk] didn't heal me from that relationship but my art got better."
After backpacking El Camino and stumbling upon the "outsider" art of Montmartre, France, Ulysses became inspired to create. The scales from his eyes fell and he remembered his first muse: his mom.
“When I was a kid, my mom would make me copy one Van Gogh painting at time until I had done like twenty. Then, she put money on the table and said, ‘now go do your own art’.
Since then, Ulysses has continued evolving and pushing the limits of his craft. He works non-stop and is constantly creating through various mediums from paint to murals to graphic art, and now to NFT's.
Rise to Fame
Ulysses has garnered much success through the internet. With 107,000 Instagram followers, Ulysses says he's developed a strong presence on social media because he cultivates authentic connections with his followers and produces quality content they love. Ulysses shared that he sometimes asks his followers what kind of content they want to see and then creates and delivers it. His Instagram live videos display him in the process of creating murals, art, or participating in challenges.
The exposure from social media cultivated an organic reach that has opened doors for him. One encounter in particular changed the course of his career.
After two years of creating and posting his work on social media, celebrities like @PaulieShore and @JoeRogen began to take notice.
Joe Rogen even promoted Ulysses' work after seeing a 40-foot tall mural of Rogen being abducted by aliens. After Rogan personally reached out to Ulysses to purchase a surreal painting of Hunter S. Thompson with swirling, glowing eyes and a cigarette draped from his mouth, things took off for Ulysses.
“Once he purchased one of my paintings, I began to get messages from people all over the world asking for me to make copies of the original for them.”
The notoriety propelled Ulysses into the spotlight where he now uses his platform to convey a message to his audience:
"Don't be afraid to look fear in the eye. Buy the ticket, take the ride!"
Currently, Ulysses is working on two different 40-foot murals in Los Angeles and continues amassing a huge following. He has expanded his art into Cryptoart, clothing, animation, and even has a custom line of PC mods parts.
"Wherever I'm at, I'm going to make money with my art," he says, "I'm just getting started."
For more of Ulysses' art, follow him on Instagram @ugonzo_art or visit his website Ugonzoart.com
For clothing and prints, check out https://linktr.ee/ugonzo_art.
How breaking out of the norm helped me live my most empowered life
By Valerie Low
My second time attending Burning Man in 2016 changed the course of my life. My campmate Kevin told me about a quote that he saw in a porta-potty:
“Ask not what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive.
Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
Since then, I’ve been using it as my compass, living life, following my inspiration - discovering what makes me feel ALIVE.
A month after the burn, I ended up selling and giving away most of my belongings. I left my 2-bedroom apartment in the suburbs of LA, set out to travel the world with only a 40L backpack.
After traveling through 5 different countries being a backpacker, I was back in LA the next summer. Since I'd already given up my apartment a year before, I thought I could at least find myself a temporary home for the next few months. That's how I got an RV right before Thanksgiving of 2017.
I’d never even been inside an RV before I bought one.
The second day living in the RV life by myself out in the desert of California, I asked myself, “What now?”
I’ve traveled the world, I’ve got my dream RV, but what do I do now?
I had been an engineer, a marketing manager, started and ran my own company, and now I thought:
I am going to do WHATEVER I WANT.
I spent the next two months living out of my RV, mainly in the desert, off-grid. I spent my days drawing, practicing guitar, cooking three meals for myself, fixing up the RV, doing yoga, and watching the sunrise and sunset.
I enjoyed the stillness of the desert. Many days the only movement I saw outside my windows were birds flying in the sky and other RVs coming and going in the distance.
Other than enjoying nature, there were many things I needed to learn and many challenges I needed to face on my own.
One night out in the desert there was a huge wind storm. My RV was shaking wildly from the wind, and I could hear a loud banging noise on the roof. Was it some sort of animal? Or was it from the wind? I didn’t know what it was. I even considered calling the police! And I was so scared the RV might tip over from the wind. It was a sleepless night as you can imagine.
And there was another night, out in the wild, when a rat got into my RV! I was terrified! Nowhere else to go, nobody to call for help. I had to spend the night with the rat running around the RV.
Other than these unforeseen incidents, there were many things I needed to learn.
One of the first things I got to learn was how to drain and clean my black water tank (literally cleaning my own shit!). There were some messy attempts but that’s when I was reminded, ‘when we don’t mind getting our hands dirty, there are many things we could accomplish!’
At the beginning of my RV life, I thought my lesson for this chapter would be self-empowerment. Though it was very much about empowering myself, I quickly realized it was more about SELF-LOVE.
I was all by myself, with my own thoughts. Without stimulation from the outside world, I was my only source of entertainment, care, and love.
That’s when I realized even a greeting from a barista at Starbucks used to give me a sense of connectedness. These seemingly unimportant events in society were also a source for me to feel loved.
Now that those seemingly unimportant events are gone, I depend on myself to give me all that I need.
THIS IS THE JOURNEY. It’s a journey of me loving myself!
Other than the external challenges I was facing, many days I spent fighting a war within myself, feeling lonely, disconnected, scared, and exhausted.
Without having a place to escape to or distract myself with, I learned to be present with those feelings. Instead of pushing them away, which creates more tension in me and makes me feel worse, I let them be. I learned to keep them company. I learned how to comfort myself.
There’s a poem by Rumi that I share a lot with my friends:
“The Guest House” by Rumi
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Negative emotions could be clearing me out for new delight.
I’ve been shown again and again, by befriending these challenges and accepting these negative feelings, that I am able to learn from them, and always, I seriously mean that - it ALWAYS leaves me feeling stronger, wiser, and lighter.
Other than my usual meditation practice, drawing mandalas helped me a great deal during this time. It’s another form of meditation, another way of training my focus. When I draw, I can hear myself talking clearly. I listen to the conversations in my head as if I am listening to a podcast. Breathing into any uncomfortable feelings that come up and observing my thoughts as they are.
The same capacity I have built to experience the negatives, helps me in experiencing the positives.
I’ve come to find that self-love is not simply taking a nice long bath or buying myself ice cream. It’s the way I talk to myself, being my own best ally, and taking 100% responsibility for myself - both physically and emotionally.
I’ve come to appreciate myself even more, finding joy in the littlest things around me.
My capacity to feel joy gets bigger and deeper as I allow myself to experience challenges with an even more open heart.
All of these experiences have equipped me to keep traveling on this earth with more ease and compassion. Learning to appreciate and love myself, I can better appreciate and love others.
Valerie Low is a nomad, entrepreneur, yogi, burner, and avid traveler. She’s always on the hunt for new coffee shops, experiencing new cultures, and learning how to say thank you in a new language. Connecting with people from all walks of life is her superpower. She dreams of a world without borders. Using compassion and inspiration as her compass, calling wherever she lands home.
Follow her journey on wwww.flowwithoutborders.com
In 2016, I moved to Vietnam to teach English in Bien Hoa, Vietnam because I was magnetized to the epicenter of where my story began. It was this period in my life that I fell in love with Vietnam, its people, and its complex history. The Vietnamese have a history of kicking ass like Lady Trưng Trắc who avenged the murder of her dissident husband by leading the great rebellion against China in 248 AD and Võ Thị Sáu, a sixteen-year-old school girl, who fought the French occupation and whose death led 980,000 Vietnamese women to join the movement. I was especially reminded of this strength and resilience when I visited Ky-Quang Pagoda. Founded in 1994 by Thich Thien Chien, Ky Quang cares for more than 200 disabled, orphaned, and abandoned children.
As I entered Ky Quang’s grounds with my friend, Tran Anh, we were greeted warmly by the staff. In the courtyard filled with flowering banyan trees, children from five to thirteen played and giggled with the sweetness of innocence. As we moved past them to the medical ward, I was told by Anh to brace myself for what I was about to see. She explained that during the (Vietnam) war, toxic chemicals were poured into the rivers and ingested by the Vietnamese, North & South alike. As a result, illness and genetic deformities like cerebral palsy and hydrocephalus or swelling of the brain began to spring up in the offspring of the people who ingested and had contact with the poison.
She paused and I stared blankly at her. I would later come to understand that she was referring to Agent Orange poisoning, a herbicide mixture used by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War. Much of it contained a dangerous chemical contaminant called dioxin linked to cancers, diabetes, birth defects and other disabilities .
There is often a layer of desensitization that protects us from feeling the world’s cruelties. Sometimes it’s a logical filter, willful distraction, or numbness: all are coping mechanisms and none are inherently wrong. But it wasn’t until this moment that these coping mechanisms melted in me, and I began to feel viscerally the experience of others.
I walked into the medical ward on the second floor and instantly began crying. I muted myself so as not to disturb the others but the tears continued. Before me, a row of infants suffering from hydrocephalus, or swelling of the brain, stared up at the ceiling on small cots. Their digits moved sporadically as they sensed us. One staff member, an older woman with kind eyes, who watched over the babies welcomed us. She advised us not to get too close, so I spent the afternoon whispering prayers of love and encouragement to them, hoping I could one day return to them.
That was five years ago. Chùa Kỳ Quang 2 Gò Vấp continues to care for these children. My hope is to raise awareness and funds to support these children, but my ultimate goal is to find a cure for hydrocephalus to give these infants a chance at life. If you are compelled, please feel free to donate to this cause. I've also started a bi-monthly community yoga class in Orange County where all proceeds will go to the care of these children. Your donation will go directly to this orphanage and will go to the care of these children.
By Catherine Phương-Đông Nguyen, MA.Ed.
How breaking up with hyper-connectivity and the illusion of intimacy gave me a new lease on life.
4 minute read
Years ago, while living in Vietnam, I had a moment of clarity spurred on by a night of inebriation that changed my perspective forever. After a gut-punching break-up, I chucked my smart phone over the balcony of a five-story building, and then had the best sleep of my life. The next morning, I was like Oh fuck...what did I do, but then I got up, made a strong, tall glass of Vietnamese coffee, and had the most productive day I’d had in weeks. I understand my actions may be viewed as reckless and wasteful, but frankly, I needed to break up with hyper-connectivity.
I liken the destruction of a phone to the end of a relationship because of the attachment I’d developed to this sophisticated mass of aluminum, ceramic glass, and wizardy gadgetry. According to CNN Business, Americans average about four hours a day on their phone, up from three hours in 2019.  I was obsessed with my phone, constantly texting, clicking, infinite scrolling, and sliding. It got to the point where I started to develop carpel tunnel syndrome and dreamt an iPhone chord connected my spine to a matrix-like motherboard. Yikes! But the worst part about my phone obsession was the illusion of intimacy with all my “friends” generated through social media.
There are 3.8 billion social media users worldwide.  That’s almost half the world’ population. The constant stream of free-flowing information from this $84 billion industry dumping into my brain distracted me from the reality that I only engaged with 10-15 of these folks and only actually liked about 4-5 of them. So, what was I doing for hours and hours from the time I woke to the moments before I closed my eyes? Browsing through a menagerie of people’s lives, mostly people from my past, and wondering what more I could have like all the shining projections on my screen. Comparing, reminiscing, fixating on things, moments, and people.
The night I threw my device into the ether, I was fixating on a Vietnamese guy named Duy. Duy was born and raised in a war-torn city that had been ravaged by chemical warfare. He was the youngest of four sisters and understood the transient nature of love, especially coming from foreigners from other nations. His grandfather was an American soldier who impregnated his grandmother during the Vietnam war. At the end of his tour, his grandfather left and was never heard from again.
Duy lived the left-behind reality of love undone. And yet, we two, from opposite sides of the world met in his hometown and sparks flew. When I first saw Duy, he was managing a popular expat bar in Bien Hoa called Nation. He moved through the crowd of Vietnamese and white faces with confidence towards me, and my pheromone-fueled fantasy took flight. It didn’t matter to me that we could barely understand each other or that I was leaving for America in a few months. As I got to know him, I compartmentalized the pang of guilt of how my leaving would affect him. I was disconnected from this unpleasant reality and allowed myself to be enraptured by the Asian mystique: motorbiking throughout an exotic yet familiar land, arms wrapped around a mysterious man, discovering the real pulse of the city and my own.
But the truth was that I was more in love with the idea of this man than the man himself. My obsession with the serotonin-soaked experiences had clouded my judgment, and the breakup shattered my illusions. This loss was a heavy reminder of all the friends and loved ones I’d lost that year and who I continued to yearn for and think about. Perhaps, I moved across the world to grieve these losses and achieve some kind of catharsis, but at my fingertips was a constant reminder of my past, my failures, and all my heartbreaks. I was ready to let it all go. So, I held the phone in my hand and threw it all out into the night.
The morning after was sobering. Breaking up with hyper-connectivity and the illusion of intimacy forced me to sit with myself. I realized all the distraction was beginning to negatively affect my psyche. Studies have shown a correlation between hyper-connectivity and depression, particularly among young adults.  I was tired of walking through life in a fog, so I made a decision. Rather than viewing the world through an augmented lens, I would try to be more fully present. Rather than taking pictures of moments and food, I would experience the moments and the food. Rather than plugging in my headphones, I would strike up conversations with people. Instead of rummaging through ten feeds, I would read, reflect, and write.
When I unplugged myself from distraction, the world opened its infinite beauty to me. As I rode my motobike on Võ Thị Sáu, the main road in Biên Hòa, I listened to the city’s euphonious soundscapes: the undulating chatter of people buying and selling, going and leaving, car and motorbike horns blaring at one another, and the endless sound of engines rumbling and roaring. At the market, the freshness of the plants compounded by the aroma of spices and herbs drew me in toward the center of the market, perhaps representational placement as the flavor heart of Vietnamese cuisine. Instead of snapping a picture, I chatted with the spice lady and marveled at her twinkling eyes as she laughed at my broken Vietnamese. While sitting on the corner of a dirt road getting my motorbike fixed, instead of gawking at my phone, I watched how hard the mechanic was working in the hot sun and how the grease stains on his hands reminded me of my dad’s hands after a long day of work. I watched a barber cut a close shave on a man while kids played soccer in the street and reveled in simplicity and honest work and play.
I became more deeply present and connected to myself and the people around me. You know the part in Harry Potter and Half Blood Prince when Dumbledore says: "I am not worried, Harry," his voice a little stronger despite facing his impending death, "I am with you.” That shit fucks me up. The gift of showing up no matter what is inspiring and something I took for granted. I think my students as well as (my friends and family) can feel when I’m with them or when I’m checked out thinking about bacon cheeseburgers or ex-boyfriends. My point is that the beauty in life is found in moments, and if our faces are always shoved into our phones, we’re bound to miss many beautiful ones. You don’t have to toss your smartphone in the garbage, but you can assess introspectively if hyper-connectivity is keeping you from truly living. I don’t know when or if I’ll rejoin the smart phone nation, but if I do I’ll be sure to check-in to life first.
-Catherine D. Nguyen
 Lin, L.y., Sidani, J.E., Shensa, A., Radovic, A., Miller, E., Colditz, J.B., Hoffman, B.L., Giles, L.M. and Primack, B.A. (2016), ASSOCIATION BETWEEN SOCIAL MEDIA USE AND DEPRESSION AMONG U.S. YOUNG ADULTS. Depress Anxiety, 33: 323-331. https://doi.org/10.1002/da.22466