For the third session of the "Dear Venerable..." Series, 33 participants, joined SFYAD online on 26th September to discuss cultural identity with our guest Venerable for the session. SFYAD invited Venerable Man Kuang, abbess of Dallas IBPS, as the guest, with SFYAD officer Katrina Chak hosting the session.
The United States has diverse cultures with individuals who identify as various cultures, ethnicities, or religions. Some of our participants may have been born in the US, immigrated when they were young, moved to the States to study, came to work at a later age. All of them bring different cultures with them. Hence, how does one identify with one culture or many cultures? Some may have questions like, "How do I harmonize these different cultures that I identify with?" Hence, this session sought to answer these questions.
The participants raised many questions on Slido, for example, "I grew up in multiple cultures, but yet I cannot identify with a single one," "How can I communicate with someone who misunderstands my background?", and "How can I share my background as a Buddhist with people around me?" This session was slightly different from previous sessions where Venerables just answered the questions raised by the audience. This session was more interactive, where participants had the opportunity to share their experiences and opinions throughout the session.
When first arriving in the States, Venerable Man Kuang shared that cultural identity is a big task, as she found out about misunderstandings regarding her culture and background. To this day, some people still have prejudice towards her profession and religion. However, Venerable Man Kuang felt that it was not an actual problem but an opportunity to explore and understand the differences between cultures. As a monastic, she broadened her view and builds positive affinities with people from various backgrounds and cultures.
Venerable Man Kuang also shared Venerable Master Hsing Yun's story: Venerable Master traveled from his hometown, Yangzhou, China, to Taiwan. In Taiwan, people called him the "monk from China." In contrast, when he traveled to China, people called him the "monk from Taiwan." In the beginning, Venerable Master tried to understand his two cultures. However, he later stated that he is a global citizen. In other words, Venerable Man Kuang wants everyone to learn from Venerable Master Hsing Yun, to open our minds and face the situation in front of us.
Joanna from Fo Guang Shan Hawaii shared that she's proud of who she is as a mixed-ethnicity individual. She mentioned that it is alright if others do not understand her culture, but it is her responsibility to enlighten and share this information with them. From Hsi Lai Temple, Joey also shared that becoming a Buddhist did not narrow her spirituality but expanded her mind instead. Knowing both cultures helped her understand her spiritual self more. Selene Chew, SFYAD president, shared her story of identifying as a Buddhist as she practiced and learned more about her faith. Winson Yang from SFYAD shared that to reach out to more people who may have an interest in Buddhism, he used to take an uber to San Bao Temple in San Francisco all the time.
In her concluding remarks, Venerable Man Kuang shared a video from Paul Lin from Dallas YAD. In the video, Paul shared that he immigrated to the States from Taiwan when he was young. He was grateful to learn about many cultures and faiths in the US as they helped him understand others better and strengthened his faith in Buddhism. Venerable Man Kuang concluded the session, saying that we should take the initiative to take that step forward to understand others and their cultures and be open-minded. This can also help you deepen your understanding of yourself and find your self-identity.