APAHM Tributes: Day 6

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 5

APAHM Tributes: Day 5

Today is the fifth day of #APAHM and the first day of Ramadan.

Although I am not Muslim, I’ve always really enjoyed seeing my friends celebrate Ramadan with their loved ones.

So, I’m taking the day to celebrate and uplift the many Asian Muslims in the US and across the world. Islamophobia has done a lot to racialize Islam as a faith of only those from the Middle East. But, Asians are the largest group practicing Islam in the world.

Asian Americans who don’t practice Islam or identify as Muslim still should acknowledge the many ways that Islamophobia negatively impacts our communities. Just several weeks ago, a white supremacist intentionally ran into a group of South Asian pedestrians in Sunnyvale because he suspected them of being Muslim. Dhriti, a 13 year old middle school student was critically injured in the attack. Her family is currently seeking donations for her hospital care.

Luckily, there are groups already forging interethnic & interreligious solidarities around the U.S.

The first group I’m highlighting is #VigilantLove based in Los Angeles, California.  The group formed between Japanese American and Muslim American communities in Southern California. They’re hosting their 4th Annual Bridging Communities Iftar (for those who don’t know, an iftar is the meal that those who are fasting consume in order to break their fast). While I haven’t been able to attend one of their iftars, I have always wanted to.

The next group which I only learned about through the work of Deepa Iyer, is South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT). What I love about SAALT is how despite being a national organization, they really work to support community-based organizations. They work on a lot of progressive issues that I’m passionate about and discuss the importance of intersectionality in their programming.

If you are at all interested in supporting these groups during Ramadan or just want to learn more about them, click some of the links above!

And Ramadan Mubarak to all my friends celebrating. Inshallah, I can celebrate with some of you in person!

APAHM Tributes: Day 4

APAHM Tributes: Day 4

Okay, I know it’s only Day 4, but I’m already so overwhelmed with what people or organizations to highlight next. Let me just say, this is a good problem to have. There are SO MANY cool people doing wonderful things for the #AAPI community and Asians in the diaspora that it’s hard to know who to elevate.

While I am a big fan of every person and organization I’m highlighting this month, today is my #fangirl moment.

I’m picking out two incredible Asian womxn who inspire me to think bigger and be bold in my own creative visions.

Nancy Wang Yuen is a sociologist at Biola University studying race and the entertainment industry. Her book, Reel Inequality, dissects how people of color are undervalued, underpaid, and underrepresented in Hollywood. It’s a reel eye-opener — [insert cheesy sitcom laughtrack].

Not only is Nancy a brilliant cultural critic and writer, but she’s FIERCE on Twitter. I’m talking a real-life legit public sociologist utilizing social media to disseminate research and interesting things to the masses. She’s my social media idol.

She also writes pieces for mainstream media outlets like Elle, Remezcla, and Huffington Post. Honestly, I don’t know where she finds the time to write, attend media events, make time for her students, and be there for her family.  WHY DO WOMXN OF COLOR ALWAYS DO IT ALL AND MAKE IT SEEM SO EFFORTLESS (even when it’s totally not and they always put 150% of their time and effort into everything). I honestly just want to slow-clap it up for Nancy just for being her. YOU GO, NANCY.

I’m also going to put out a shameless plug and say she also was kind enough to sit down and talk with me on my podcast last year about Crazy Rich Asians and the importance of seeing yourself represented in tv shows and films.

Honestly, Nancy is the person I turn to when anything in Hollywood seems a little…off. She’s usually the first one to say, “yep…that’s racist”, but does so in a way that makes you understand the ramifications of these things. It’s truly a unique and important skill that I don’t know I’ve fully developed yet…but I’m working on it.

Next on the list is someone who I totally wish was my friend, but we’re not friends. I do think we’d get along though judging from how our past selves used fan fiction to cope teen angst and adolescence.

Yulin Kuang is a writer, director, and filmmaker. What’s so cool about Yulin’s work is how many iterations her films and series go through…it’s honestly a real privilege as a viewer to watch how her ideas change over time. Her series, I Ship It, started off as a mini film on YouTube, then expanded to a web series on the CW Seed, and now there’s a sequel to the web series that will actually air on the CW this summer. As someone who dabbled in Harry Potter online role playing (okay, I’m a real nerd, I know) and read other people’s fan fiction pretty often, it was so cool to see how the idea of fan communities could be used as premise for a mainstream film/series in a way that wasn’t cheesy or over the top.

I saw her speak on a panel in LA once after she released her short video series, Tiny Feminists and I just wanted to go up and hug her on the spot. This article highlights some of her other work — Kissing in the Rain is easily one of my next favorites. It’s so simple, but ultra-hilarious.

Now, Yulin, is writing for Jade Palace, a new film from New Line Cinema, and I couldn’t be more excited for her and for what this means for providing increasingly nuanced representation of Asian families in a broadening media landscape.

Thank you, Nancy and Yulin for doing things that little me always dreamed of doing. Y’all are true inspirations.

Have any recommendations for other #AsianAmericans who work in the entertainment industry? Drop me a comment and enlighten me!

APAHM Tributes: Day 3

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!

APAHM Tributes: Day 2

APAHM Tributes: Day 2

I think being considered Asian American is a little bit of a misnomer, not because I think the term is inadequate, but of how quickly someone’s history is dismissed once you hear or see that term. It’s as if once you add the “American” addendum to the “Asian” label, people think they know you.

It’s what a lot of the Chinese and Japanese American activists from my research on Asian American activism in the 1970’s struggled with. It’s what I’m still struggling with.

I’m going to be clear about this. Being Asian American does not mean we only consider our Americanness and Asianness in isolation. I believe that our identity as Asian Americans has to be intricately tied to our history as a diasporic people. We are and have always been in movement, sometimes by choice, but often times through force.

For today’s highlighting of AAPI figures, I’m thinking a lot about how our histories of immigration & displacement, and the interconnected legacies of imperialism shape our identity and our future as a force for progressive social change.

A lot of what I know about my identity as an Asian American is informed by those in the Asian diaspora who actually aren’t “American”. I believe we learn a lot about ourselves when we think about just how broad our community can be.

Arundhati Roy has been my favorite author since high school. The God of Small Things entirely changed my ways of thinking. I had never felt so strongly connected to a novel before. When Ammu tells Rahel that the things you say can make people love you less, it felt like my lungs collapsed. I remember saying horrible things to my mother as a snarky teen, and Roy just knew how to tear into my heart, but in the best way possible. And this was a work of fiction.

Her non-fiction writing, I didn’t discover until later. Her biting criticism of British imperialism, of Hindu nationalism, of forces that tear apart families and countries speaks to me in ways that I never knew was possible. The way that I think about myself as a colonial figure, as simultaneously oppressed by white supremacy but also as an oppressor who benefits from Western imperialism and U.S. nationalism makes me uncomfortable and extremely angry.

I think, as Roy’s novels and articles have taught me, this kind of uncomfortability is the beginning of a deep interrogation of how we fit in the world. While #APAHM is a celebration of our accomplishments and the triumphs of our ever-widening community, it must also be a call to reflect on our harrowing past, and how we can work to move forward together.

What authors, thinkers, and artists in the Asian Pacific Islander diaspora have pushed you to think beyond the limits of a fixed nation-state based identity? Share with me your thoughts!

Celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

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!

a conversation between sides

a conversation between sides

you ask
how sacrifice
builds.

you ask
how loss
strengthens.

you ask
how broken
people
mend other
broken people.

keep asking,
and i will show you

my mother
and her pharmacy degree
tucked away in a home office.

my father
and how he leads in a room
where my grandfather’s voice still
rings.

my yinyin and yeye
and plastic flowers
we put near gravestones.

my popo
and how she refuses
to leave the house
my mom bought for her.

you ask
how is this a dream.

keep asking,
and i will show you

photo albums, army trunks, mahjong tiles.

keep asking,
and i will show you

rain-damaged letters, ink-stained newspapers, calligraphy brushes.

keep asking,
and i will show you

rice flour, reused pie tins, boiling water.

you ask
isn’t this America?

keep asking,
and i will say
this is the America i know.

keep asking,
and i will say
this is the life we have made.

keep asking
and i will want to show you
to the door.

instead i ask,
what does your America look like?
how different does your love look?
what does your America have that i cannot find in mine?

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

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: When [Immigrant] Womxn Are Loud and Unapologetic

Magic Mic: When [Immigrant] Womxn Are Loud and Unapologetic

I’m transfixed by a line I’ve seen drawn multiple times, in varied angles and tones, for girls and young womxn.  On one side, I have experienced countless examples of strong, multi-dimensional womxn who were and are vocal leaders.  But sometimes, those womxn also veer into the other side.  And why shouldn’t they?  They are human, after all.  But, it is troubling that the side that often wins out in times that matter is the one that tells us that our voice may matter, but it doesn’t matter quite as much as someone else’s [read: a man’s].  We are told more times than not to be strong, vocal, and fearless only to an extent–to not let our bravery and strong-will frighten or emasculate a man.  Because if our voices are too loud, they’ll be unappealing.  This has been reinforced in both subtle and very overt ways. It would be naïve of me to conclude that my cultural upbringing has no bearing on how such a paradox exists.  I feel like if I want to understand this constant struggle on a broader level, I then need to look internally and at my immediate surroundings.

As a child, I don’t recall a time when I was ever told by my parents that I couldn’t do something because of my gender.  They never said I couldn’t wear a certain color or do a certain activity or play with a certain toy because I was a girl.  And while they never sat me down and said outright, “Christina, you should be able to do or say whatever comes to mind because you are a smart, capable girl,”  they told me in little ways that what I thought and what I had to say mattered, even if I didn’t think it might.

This nurtured me into a pretty confident womxn.  Not to say I was or am fearless, because fear is a wonderful motivator.  But, I became motivated despite fear.  The womxn in my family taught me to be that way.  Not because they are self-proclaimed feminists, but because I think their very survival depended on their confidence and motivation.  Womxn, especially immigrant womxn, are taxed with an incredibly difficult responsibility to nurture, cultivate, and defend.  And they do all of this while instilling a strange sense of traditional patriarchy.  It is a constant source of confusion for me.

My maternal grandmother raised her children nearly on her own, coming to the US without her husband to raise my mother and her siblings.  She worked odd jobs, isolated and unable to speak English.  Her determination and tremendous sacrifices taught us all how important it is to value yourself, your family, and your education.  My mother was raised, essentially, in a very matriarchal household dominated by womxn.  And yet, despite such an upbringing and sense of strength, I believe that culturally, we were still taught that for womxn, speaking up too much or talking too loudly shouldn’t be done often, if at all.

When I visit home and see my grandmother, we can’t exactly understand each other due to language differences, but we understand our tone and we understand the past.  We talk about expectations, or rather she tells my mother about her expectations of me as a womxn and as a granddaughter.  In one instance, my mother translated that my grandmother said my voice was too loud–like thunder.  It would, in essence, detract the right kind of company.

And it’s funny to me, because here is this womxn who had to be thunderous and loud and prove to everyone that she could raise her children on her own and protect them from the perils of the world.  Several months ago, I would have taken much more offense to her remark.  But I think I get it.  She had to fight to be heard, to support our lives here, to just be.  She had to be this way in order for us to survive–why would she want that kind of fight for me?

But, what I think she and many other immigrant mothers and grandmothers fail to understand is that having a voice like thunder has helped us more than hindered, and it can continue to help us. We should never apologize for being loud, for protecting our right to be heard.  And although they fought and yelled to be heard, it doesn’t mean we have to stop there.  I don’t think womxn should just be heard.  We should be validated and consulted and included in everything having to do with us.  And maybe my grandmother is tired, as any womxn who has gone through her struggles might be.  But, her being tired motivates me even more to speak more loudly, more clearly, with more conviction.

So instead of thinking my thunderous voice is a weakness or a criticism, I will say thank you.  I will smile and tell my grandmother in broken Cantonese or via my mother that my loud voice is a tribute to her and the sacrifices she never wanted to make, but knew she had to.  And if she ever saw thunder* strike the sand, like in that scene from Sweet Home Alabama, she would know that womxn like us create beauty out of our strength and through our voice.  And that is not something I will ever want to change nor would I ever apologize for.

*technically in Sweet Home Alabama, it was lightning, but who’s really keeping track?