APAHM Tributes: Day 6

Y’all. I didn’t realize how hard it would be to keep up with these tribute posts when traveling!

Today, I wanted to give space to highlight the work of 18 Million Rising who are also posting some kickass stuff on their social media for #APAHM. Honestly, if traveling prevents me from updating as frequently as I’d like this month, you should just go to their instagram for #AAPI knowledge goodness.

Some activists I really admire, like Jenn Fang from Reappropriate and Mark Tseng Putterman, are part of their team (and I didn’t even know it)!

What makes me so impressed and captivated about 18MR’s work is their inclusive approach to Asian American identity. They don’t just focus on South Asian or East Asian Southeast Asian. The Asian American community has expanded tenfold since the 1965 Hart-Celler Act (though of course there have been Asians of all ethnic and national identity backgrounds in the US since like the 1800s — just go read Erika Lee’s The Making of Asian America) and it’s so exciting to see AAPIs working together to collaborate and talk about what being Asian American actually means in this day & age. Expanding our understanding of AAPI identity allows for an expansion of our activism, and it’s really uplifting to know that there are people working on this together.

PLUS, they talk about the role of colonialism, slavery, and the genocide of indigenous people as core components to how we should understand our role as a minoritized community, both oppressed and oppressor in different circumstances. It’s damn refreshing to not have to tiptoe around Asian Americans’ anti-Blackness and ignorance of settler colonialism’s impact on Native peoples.

Honestly, just go follow them on twitter already. They host Twitter Town Halls regularly and activate some really stimulating online dialogues. If you’re not AAPI yourself, you can still learn some interesting things from their feed!

And this closes Day 6 of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month! My posts might end up not being a daily thing because of my spotty wi-fi and hectic schedule, but I will do my best to try and update things regularly.

Until next time…GO FOLLOW 18MR ON SOCIAL MEDIA ALREADY.

xoxo.

APAHM Tributes: Day 3

It’s Day 3 of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month already and I haven’t dropped the ball yet!

I’m definitely, severely procrastinating on finishing my thesis, but this is still related because it’s about #AAPIs…right? So, this is fine.

Anyway…for today’s edition of #APAHM tributes, I thought it would be appropriate to highlight two really cool people that I actually know and that younger Christina would have loved to know too.

I think a lot of young Asian Americans have similar stories about feeling out of place in our youth. I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood and had always felt like I needed to compartmentalize my life into different categories because of my Chinese heritage. I didn’t have many well-known cultural icons who I could point to and say, “see, so and so is doing this thing, so it’s not weird that I do it too!” when interacting with my non-Asian friends.

So, today I want to acknowledge the tremendously hilarious work of Kristina Wong. Some of you may already know her or have heard me yap on and on about how cool she is on my podcast earlier last year. Kristina is a performance artist and comedian who I am so thrilled to be name twins with! Her latest exploration into the realm of social justice and comedy is her web series, Radical Cram School–basically a “Sesame Street for the resistance” wherein she teaches young Asian American femmes and nonbinary kiddos about social issues. It’s so amazing. I binged all six episodes in one night last year.  And Kristina and her colleagues are working on producing season 2! If you’re interested in supporting their work, you can donate to Kristina’s birthday fundraiser here.

Next up is my new friend, Jasmine Cho, the founder of Yummyholic.  Jasmine just got a research grant to pursue research that connects the art of baking to mental health. She’ll be running trauma-informed bake therapy sessions with clients and staff members of Center for Victims in Pittsburgh. She’s just super rad. But, the reason I’m highlighting her today is because she singlehandedly wrote and illustrated a children’s book that features Asian American heroes. She legit inspires me all the time and she doesn’t even know it! The book isn’t yet available for public purchase, but it will be VERY SOON on Amazon. You can preview it here, and you should, because it’s so good. SO. GOOD.

My ideas of the world would have expanded earlier on if Jasmine’s book was in my life before. I remember as a kid constantly checking out an illustrated book of the story of Fa Mulan literally every month because it was the only children’s book I could find in my elementary school library that had anyone who looked like me in the story.  (AND AS A SIDE NOTE, I JUST FOUND OUT THAT THIS BOOK WAS WRITTEN & ILLUSTRATED BY TWO PEOPLE I INTERVIEWED FOR MY THESIS. What is the universe even doing?? Anyway, check that book out too).

Today, even in the midst of prejudice, I’m hopeful for young AAPI kids because of the strides that Asian American womxn have made to create the cultural productions we ourselves needed as children.

Kristina and Jasmine, y’all rock and I am proud to highlight you both today!

Celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

It’s May 1st. Your social media accounts are probably brimming with posts about Asian Americans for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (#APAHM) and/or #MayDay (for labor rights).

Well, time to add a post from me into the mix.

I always talk about how when I was younger, I clung to figures like Mulan and Lucy Liu because they were the only Asian womxn I knew of. But really, my mom was my first Asian American hero. And work had always been a part of my momma’s life. Growing up, she worked two jobs, was always tired, but made it seem easy. She always reminded us that even though she worked tirelessly, her own mother worked that much more. When I think about how my grandmother must have been exploited in sweatshops and fish factories, I think…this isn’t the past. This is still happening all the time to other #AAPIs and immigrants. This isn’t the “better life” that we assume will be waiting for us.

What I’m arguing now for #APAHM, is that labor rights and celebrating the accomplishments of #AAPI folks shouldn’t be done in isolation. AAPIs have been a source of exploited labor for generations. Let’s not forget our past (eg: Chinese railroad workers) or pretend like our communities aren’t currently fighting exploitative employers in restaurants and nail salons.

The lack of representation of AAPI people in the media, in the academy, in spaces throughout the US is troubling. The exploitation of our work, whether it’s minimum wage (or lower) labor or hitting the bamboo ceiling in corporate and academic environments, isn’t going away anytime soon.

How do we feel hopeful without ignoring the constant struggles we endure?

In these times, I turn to the many amazing #AAPI folks doing incredibly important, enriching things for our community and beyond.

This month, I’m going to highlight #AsianAmericans and those in the diaspora who do some really cool things that I think y’all should know about (some related to labor rights, but some also not).

FIRST UP:

– Artist, Natalie Bui has illustrated a great post documenting the history of Vietnamese manicurists and their struggles: https://www.instagram.com/p/BucsCDihrVG/

– Ai-jen Poo’s work with the National Domestic Workers Alliance has given support and resources to domestic workers all over the country–many of whom are of Pacific Islander and South Asian descent: https://www.domesticworkers.org/

MOREOVER, Ai-jen has collaborated with incredible womxn like Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood & Alicia Garza of #BlackLivesMatter to start the Supermajority, a national membership group for womxn across the country to mobilize, run for public office, and hold public officials accountable: https://supermajority.com/about-us/

Have people to tell me about that are part of the #AAPI or Asian diasporic community? Drop me a comment!

solid(air)ity.

empty promises
coat the surface,
smoke at the top of my
newsfeed

proof for your social media
that you care enough
to walk in
our shoes

i don’t want you
to put yourself
here.

i don’t want you walking
with me,
or talking
for me.

align yourself
with some other
ally.

i don’t want your
solidairity,
made from
nothing–
angry faces
on facebook posts.

when i give my people,
my pain,
my sacrifice,

walking in my shoes
does nothing
but trample on me
more.

take your “walk in her shoes” heels,
your op-eds,
your yellow-fucking-fever.

you made me sick,

and i’m still
recovering.

Magic Mic: I Don’t Want To Be An Inspiration

We have a problem.

Our world tends to do this thing where we create icons out of normal human people who do or have done really great things.  Martin Luther King Jr., the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Malala, the list goes on.

I get why we do this.  Sometimes it’s a power move so the political, economic, and social elite can say “see, look at this [insert minority adjective] person who did something cool and I care about diversity and issues”.  And then they can turn around the next day and do something so maligned with the very cause or people they say inspired them.  

Sometimes it’s just so the oppressed can have someone to look towards, so we can feel like we are a part of something bigger.  And we are given a false sense of hope in creating and recognizing a better world because how are we supposed to measure up to the likes of these great icons?

I’ve felt this to my very core.  Growing up, I actively sought out Asian American actresses, political figures, and entrepreneurs. (And by “sought out”, I mean I googled these terms heavily).   On the surface, it was beneficial for primary school-aged Christina to see examples of such figures.  But, I was simultaneously taught that these things were pyramids–that there was only room for one Asian American icon in every industry.  And this made it very difficult for me to see that I too could do things that changed lives for the “greater good”.  I didn’t know that figureheads are meant to be starting, not ending points.  We conveniently didn’t learn that lesson in school.

Creating inspirational figureheads boils people and the movements they’re involved in down to individual action, impulsive thoughts of good-will.   We tokenize figures of morality and teach our children that it is normal and okay to do so.  They become the “good Negro”, or the “empowered Muslim girl who defied odds and speaks out against radical Islam”, or the “really smart Asian who’s a doctor and isn’t living in poverty, so why can’t other minorities step it up?”.  They become respectable figures in history, and we forget that that’s not all they were or are.  We freeze them and their many contributions in time, like an insect in amber.  We forget that they too are flawed, have histories, made mistakes.

Overlooking those things when we teach young people about role models does them no favors.

We’re now unintentionally (or maybe very intentionally) teaching people that you need to aspire to inspire–to become moral icons or you’re not living a worthwhile life.  

When people ask about the mark I want to leave or what my legacy will be, I laugh.  Not a hearty, full-bodied laugh by any means.  More like a scoff or chuckle under my breath.  Because the concept of becoming an icon or a legacy is just so laughable to me.  It’s not to say that figures like the ones I mentioned in the beginning of my post have no place.  It’s just that we use them as reverse scapegoats.  We say that we have them already, so we don’t need more representation.  We deconstruct their very identities, untether them from their contributions and surrounding histories.  You cannot talk about Martin Luther King Jr. and not talk about civil disobedience and Black Power.  You cannot talk about Malala and not talk about the “War on Terror” and Western imperialism.  And yet, this dissociating path is one we’ve been on for quite some time.

In opposition to this, I’ve come to realize that I do not want to be an intangible icon of inspiration for Asian American womxn and young girls. I don’t want my current or future goals to be sterilized, removed from my very beliefs.  

I don’t want to be an unsung hero(ine) or one whose name is written across posters and murals in inner cities & corporate buildings alike.  

I don’t want children to look at me and my story, and think of how impossible it is to accomplish these things for themselves because look, there’s already one Asian womxn doing it, so I can’t do it too.

I don’t want anyone to think they have to escape their very identities and histories to be considered a value to this society–that their race or gender or sexuality will hold them back so they have to blend in, make it invisible, become palatable.

And likewise, I don’t want to become a posterchild for corporate greed on designated days when we collectively celebrate someone whose ideals went against everything that corporation actually does.  The idea of US financial institutions celebrating things like MLK Day when predatory lending and housing segregation still traps many Black Americans in systems of poverty has not lost its irony on me.

It’s about time we start holding ourselves accountable and ensuring we don’t need inspiration to be good people.

Instead, when we do talk about inspirational figures, we need to also teach about their actual beliefs, the difficulties they’ve faced in combating harmful institutions, and how we can actually celebrate their contributions without tarnishing their beliefs.  We do not need intangible representations of justice, peace, civil rights.  We need reality, we need history, we need solidarity.  We need to teach young people that figureheads have their place, but you don’t need to be a figurehead to play a role.  And you don’t need to be the first womxn or first Asian or first LGBT or first [insert any other minority ever] to accomplish something.  We don’t need more “first”s.  We need more seconds and thirds and fourths, and on it should go.  Christina from fifteen years ago needs to know that being an icon is overrated and there is no shame in not being the first.  

I hope that Christina fifteen years from now is not an inspiration.  I hope that she is not a role model or moral icon.  I hope and wish that she will be a true partner, someone who stands (or sits when she’s tired) in solidarity and with strength.  I hope she rejects the notion of being inspirational and instead helps others become their own inspiration in whatever form that may take.  I hope she speaks truth to power and is never written about in history books that relegate minority group struggles to a paragraph at the end of a chapter.  The inspirational figures before and after us deserve better than to be bookends, their lives whittled down to instagrammable quotes and references in well-intentioned speeches about perseverance and diversity.  

But, if I do become an inspiration, I promise to try my damnedest to destroy the pedestal that keeps me so far removed from the people I’ll work alongside.

 

*Background image from Pinterest.*

Magic Mic: On Community Organizing as Art

I have been reflecting on the words of Melissa Harris-Perry as of late.  When she came to speak at UCI several months ago, I didn’t think her words would still be floating over and under the thoughts in my mind.  She posed the question, albeit a rhetorical one, of why schools cut funding for art and music first out of every other extracurricular.  Why is it that those forms of expression, of truth telling and soul-baring, are the first to go in any underserved community?

From my limited experiences and exchanges with those entrenched in the struggle against multiple forms of oppression, I am convinced that organizing and activism are artistic expressions—that living and being, surviving, in the skin and body we are born in is in itself an act of art.  And like any form of art, there is always competition, always a battle of what group is more oppressed, what group deserves to take up this space and why.  But those who work in the struggle, who dirty their hands and engage in unpopular, unpretty forms of art, are true testaments to why we continue to do what we do.  This form of art is no competition and we have to remind ourselves that we are not like typical artists who battle for spots in museums or amphitheatres.  We are always the painter and the painted, the oppressed and the oppressor, the survivor and the ally.  We do not exist in vacuums or in antigravity chambers.  We remain hopefully grounded and groundedly hopeful.

It is my understanding that our very voice and body is the only thing we have control over.  And as such, in any struggle, we have to reaffirm our own abilities to create art, even when the powers at be refuse to acknowledge our talent.  And, like any good artist, we have to know when our space needs to be given to another.  We have to know when to step down, hand the brush over, and let someone grow into their own form of expression.

That form of expression is not, does not have to be, happy, carefree, understandable to everyone.  I don’t know any artist that isn’t unhappy at times, displeased with status quo or commenting on the state of society.  Organizing is no exception.  One of the most frustrating things that I come across when explaining resistance and the struggle is how people perceive movements as unhappy: too serious, too dramatic.  One response I have is that oppression is dramatic, living is dramatic.  If you can’t understand that, then you don’t understand art.  But more than that is the simple fact that organizing and resisting is a loving act for and with communities.  That those who continue to struggle for justice and acknowledgement of their very humanness must seek joy in the darkest of places and times.  That when we fail to do this, we fall into a darker place than whence we came.  If art is about a reflection on life and survival, then we in the struggle are all goddamn Van Gogh’s and Picasso’s in the making.

Because I don’t care what form of injustice you are fighting against.  I don’t care if you’re bad at drawing or painting or singing or dancing.  You are an artist.  You are survival and joy and anguish wrapped into one.  You are deserving of painting your life on a canvas, even if that canvas is the street and your paintbrush is a marker on poster board.  And if anyone, ever, tells you differently, know that the only form of art they’ll ever understand is one they have to pay for. And that is not your fault, they are not your audience, and you should never apologize for your right to exist as an artist, activist, human being.