The Water Tiger goes to Washington

Kevin John Fong
3 min readMar 31, 2022
Photo: Kevin John Fong

2022 marks the year of the Water Tiger. Unlike cartoonish images of a drenched, miserable feline, tigers (along with most other big cats) are powerful and proficient swimmers. Should you have the chance to see a swimming tiger, you might notice fearlessness, beauty, and ease, as if nothing could keep her from reaching her goal.

Photo: Yuvraj Shivhara|Unsplash

1962 was the most recent year of the Water Tiger and at that time, the world was embroiled in the Cuban missile crisis. This year, we find ourselves in the midst of multiple crises — Covid, climate change, economic instability, the ongoing struggle for racial and gender justice, and war.

How might we engage the spirit of the Water Tiger to guide us through these times?

There is no better example than the Honorable Ketanji Brown Jackson. Last week, she approached the edge of a rather perilous body of water — The Senate Judiciary Committee, and she jumped in, swimming with grace. These waters, steeped in patriarchy, may not have considered the notion that a Black woman would survive the crossing. And yet, there she stood, before a phalanx of photographers and politicians — calm and confident — on the first of her three-day journey.

Credit: Win MacNamee|Getty

“Will she be OK?” I wondered. “How might I fare in that situation?” One after another, senators who seemed set on excluding the likes of Judge Brown Jackson from their sacred pond, hoping to push forth a counter-current powerful enough to take her under. But she continued, and kept her head above water.

What these politicians did not realize was that Judge Brown Jackson was buoyed by the strength of millions of people — ancestors, friends, family, colleagues, admirers, and descendants — who cheered her on. While she must have felt this support and care, we all knew that she had to face the water alone, with faith that her path bends towards justice. In spite of each question, diversion, tactic, and dramatic flourish, Judge Brown Jackson remained steadfast.

The most telling moment for me came when Sen. Ted Cruz asked Judge Brown Jackson whether she thought babies were racist. She replied, “Senator…”. Then she took a breath - pausing for eight seconds. Instead of lashing out, Judge Brown Jackson harnessed the spirit of the Water Tiger. That pause provided her with the strength, dignity, and determination to focus on her goal and cross the water, without harming herself and those who intended to harm her.

Toward the end of her journey, Judge Brown Jackson shared a story from her time as a student at Harvard, questioning if she belonged there.

“I was walking through the yard in the evening and a Black woman I did not know was passing me on the sidewalk and she looked at me and I guess she knew how I was feeling and she leaned over as we crossed and said ‘Persevere.’”

Persevere.

When we find ourselves in uncomfortable places –when we are that proverbial cat in water — we can call upon the power and steadfastness of the Water Tiger. Nothing — and no one — will stop us from swimming to the other side.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

1. Who or what represents your water? A person or place that you might find uncomfortable or threatening?

2. How can you draw upon the spirit of the Water Tiger to confront something or someone in your life?

3. Think of a person, like Ketanji Brown Jackson, who represents the spirit of the Water Tiger. How might they inspire you?

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Kevin John Fong

A cultural translator and racial healing practitioner, Kevin works to weave people and possibilities to cultivate communities of belonging — www.kahakulei.com