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 Language Choice & Why It Matters

I’ve had a dilemma of sorts for the past couple of years when engaging in and outside of social justice circles, and that is the dilemma of language and word choice.  And I specify word choice, because the English language is vast and dynamic, and still we collectively make the choice to use terms and phrases that disempower specific groups of people.  It’s infuriating because we have, for example, about a dozen ways to describe a “womxn”, but some choose to say “bitch”. Now, there are some who state that it’s simply a reclamation of terms, but that’s a blog post for another time.

 

Some cite our newfound language awareness and complaints with the use of some terms as “political correctness” or language policing. And in some ways, it is. But, I don’t necessarily see those things as fully negative.  Why shouldn’t we try and inform our political system to be cognizant of the emotions and beliefs of all people, especially minority groups who don’t often have full representation within the government system?  And why shouldn’t we attempt to hold ourselves and others accountable when we all say things that make other people feel vulnerable and shitty?

 

The issue is that a number of people believe language policing isn’t our job. And it isn’t really because people can say whatever they want. But that doesn’t mean our language and continued usage of that language doesn’t come without consequence. When we call out people who speak in ways that are harmful for ourselves and those we ally with, we are providing a form of engagement that gives others who are not as well-versed in specific theories or modes of thinking an opportunity to learn about why language choice is so crucial to liberation for vulnerable communities.

 

Another form of contention in and out of social justice spaces is the idea that language is a minor issue in comparison to the immense, physical realities faced by disenfranchised or underrepresented people. In a sense, policing language is not as important to critically engaging with policy and lived experiences. Why should we focus on the use of terms that may make people uncomfortable when we could be dealing with housing segregation or the gender wage gap,or whatever other social issue that needs to be reworked?

 

While I see the merit in such an argument, I think the problem I have comes from the idea that we as activists or allies or whatever you define yourselves as can only focus on one thing at a time. Can people who are decent human beings not call out language that is problematizing AND advocate for structural changes? Because the fact is that language impacts us in profound ways, whether we like to admit it or not.

Language has the power to uplift communities in times of need. And conversely, it has the power to bring us down and remind us of the oppressions we have endured time and time again.  It can make us angry, overjoyed, withdrawn.  To overlook the true power of language is to overlook the very nature of how we choose to engage in our world.

We shouldn’t dilute the importance our language choice has on our experiences and how we interact with one another.
 I don’t think we should have to police our language and hold back on saying things that matter to us because we’re afraid of being call out.
But, having a more heightened awareness of the impact our word choice has on those around us is imperative to creating a space that is inclusive and diverse in a way that goes beyond surface-level forms of inclusion and diversity initiatives found within corporate, academic, creative, and even social arenas.

 

Because if we can’t reflect on co-opting terms and phrases that marginalize some people while it benefits or privileges us, we’ll just keep furthering ourselves from physically creating a better, more just society.

 

Magic Mic background image created by Elena Nuez.

Magic Mic: Why Do Womxn Never Have the Rights to Their Own Bodies?, or “What Happens in Vegas Definitely Does Not Stay In Vegas”

Don’t get me wrong.  I love being a womxn and I am lucky that I have strong role models who taught me that being a womxn of color is beautiful and uplifting.  But, that does not mean that I don’t hate some of the things that come with being a womxn in this society.  These are things that combat our own identities as full, self-sufficient human beings, and ultimately undermine any sort of fight for equity in public spaces.

I think it is plain to see that we as womxn are often subconsciously, and sometimes very consciously, seen as objects or prizes to be won in chauvinistic expressions of dominance.  And let me say, it is exhausting to be both a human person with human emotions and an object at the same time.  It is a paradox I no longer want anything to do with.

Part of such a paradox is the age old male pastime of catcalling.  Can you just imagine how catcalling worked in the Shakespearean period? “Oh, wench, behold at thy forks!”** I don’t know if I’d laugh or just stare in confusion.   However, there are numerous, much more serious and well-written articles and videos about womxn getting catcalled.  I don’t think I have to write something else explaining how shitty it is.  A popular video campaign illustrated just some of the reactions men have when they see their mothers being catcalled on the street.  It’s shocking to me because you can see the discomfort for the men at watching their mothers objectified.  And yet, these men will never fully understand what it means to be living in a body coded as womxn.  Catcalling is just one awful side effect of such a truth.  And while catcalling is serious, disturbing, and oftentimes, fear-inducing, what happens when people go beyond verbal abuse and seep into the physical?

In Las Vegas, the “City of Sin”, the lines between catcalling and physical violations blur quite quickly.  The city’s motto of “what happens here, stays here” is an atrocious ploy to convince people of all genders that you can be on your absolute worst behavior and get away with it.  Now, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, as I’m sure not all of Vegas is that terrible, but the essence of such an environment negates any real semblance of control a womxn has over her own space.  A person’s body, whether you identify as a womxn or not, should belong to you; you, and no other party, should get to decide what happens to your body.

Let me clarify for Las Vegas’s sake.  I do not think it’s wrong to go to a club, to want to dance provocatively or sexually.  Hell, I’ll admit that dancing around in sparkly outfits to R&B tunes is one of my favorite pastimes, minus the sparkly outfits, because glitter always gets on your face.

It is not wrong or unusual to dance with other people, if that is what you choose to do.  The key here is the choice.  Some womxn choose to grind up on other people or be grinded upon (I don’t really know the terminology), and they shouldn’t feel bad or feel the need to justify that choice.  When the dancing is a consensual act between people, it’s fun, albeit maybe a bit awkward if you’re not a great dancer.  But, when a person, usually a man, grabs your ass as you walk by or refuses to remove himself from your person, a part of your humanity as a womxn withers away.  You’re humiliated.  You think that this should have been anticipated in such a situation.  You lose the expectation of respect for yourself that you know you deserve.  And you’re reminded again that you are object, then womxn.  Never womxn by itself, period, end of story, human.

I will reiterate this as a reminder for myself and for womxn everywhere.  The location you are in has no bearing on whether it is okay or not for someone else to infringe on your space and your body.  Whether you’re in a club or in a pub eating burgers with your friends, it is never an okay thing for someone (read: a man) to implant himself, take up space, and prove his male dominance at your expense.  Being in Las Vegas or in any party-setting is not an excuse for them to “cut loose”.  If you’re a person who thinks it is okay to violate another’s space, to infringe on a womxn’s body in certain contexts, I don’t want you in my life in any context.

Because although I wish that what happens in Vegas would actually stay in Vegas, the dehumanizing, physically visceral experiences faced by womxn happens in rooms and on streets of every city in every part of the world.  We can no longer chalk it up to situational occurrences of bad judgement or issues of self-control.  Your body is yours and as a womxn, I will fight for our collective right to be safe and protected in our bodies, regardless of place.

 

**I literally typed “Oh girl, look at your legs” into a Shakespearean translator.  I’ll admit I spent a lot of time on it afterwards.
* Magic Mic background image from Make & Tell

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.

Magic Mic: On Periods and Policing Women’s Bodies

Weekends give me a lot of time to think and gather my thoughts about the host of issues we have in our world. Magic Mic Mondays is an opportunity to share my perspectives, vent frustrations, and cultivate discussions.

As a teenager, I got my period pretty late in comparison with my peers. And just like the time I said I wanted glasses because I thought they were cool, me wishing to get my period was one of the silliest things I could have wished for.

Despite mandated health classes in late elementary to middle school, no one really explained how periods work or why they’re important.   And even if they did, the information definitely did not stick. All I knew was that as soon as it happened, I’d probably get boobs. And that was the dream. Then, I’d grow armpit hair and be able to have children and maybe a boy would fall in love with me. Thanks, societal standards of beauty, for messing with my little kid brain. Things were a lot simpler then…or maybe just I was simpler then.

Anyway, even though I wanted a period before I got one, I am definitely not a fan of periods now. And it is not just because the idea of blood rushing out of my body scares me, even if it only is several teaspoons worth. But because what it means to get your period and the lack of discussion about menstrual cycles in general is extremely troubling to me.

I will wholeheartedly admit that I myself am part of the problem. I don’t even know if I have ever called a period a “menstrual cycle”, much less had an in-depth discussion about it with people who didn’t identify as women.

In public, I say “my aunt is visiting”.

You know, there goes Auntie Flo, at it again, with her inconvenient timing and “hanger”-inducing irritation.   I know women who refer to their cycle as a “dot” (pardon me, but it’s more like a flood or river coursing through…a dot just makes it sound so easy to deal with). And I know other women who just don’t speak of it altogether.

The feminist in me just thinks periods are like the patriarchy. It impacts literally everyone and we still don’t talk about it. And because of that, it holds every single of one us back.

I really would like to be like the women who celebrate their cycles and Mother Nature & the moon for what periods represent –the ability to create life. As joyful as it would be to just embrace being a woman and hopping on the “treat yourself” bandwagon with all of it’s period subscription box glory, I just don’t think periods are representative of that anymore.

And I think it’s problematic when that’s the only solution people can come up with. I mean it is great that there are companies who target women and want to make their periods easier to deal with. I think that does say a lot about where we are going as a consumer-driven society. Yes, we make a profit on women during some of their most vulnerable times, but at least we give them options!! Pads with wings, tampons, pantiliners, pads with no wings…the options are really endless. I’m bashing on those companies a lot, but really, I do think the availability of those companies and having others invest in them is important and it tells me that women do have more a voice in the marketplace.

But, being a feminist, and an inclusive one that at, means listening to other narratives and needs. And when menstruation holds young girls back from attending school*, is used as a tool to control and trivialize incarcerated women**, and shame women into thinking they’re not good enough at home or in the workplace, I don’t think it’s enough to simply say you should be proud to be a woman, buy a subscription-based box of menstruation goodies, and move on.

See, we’re quick to talk about the magic and fragility of birth, but get embarrassed or upset at the mere mention of a vagina.

And we’re quick to protect our unborn children, but not the vessels they grow in. (And the simple fact that we refer to women’s bodies as vessels is proof enough that we devalue women at every opportunity we get)

And even still, we make women pay a ton of money for feminine hygiene products, but give condoms out for free.***

So what can we do as a community to help alleviate these issues? How can we tell young girls not to be ashamed of their periods or empower women to believe that they too are deserving of access to safe and healthy ways of caring for their bodies? How do we stop belittling and humiliating women because their time of the month is gross and you just don’t want to think about it?

There is no one answer, but it’s about time that we started the discussion. Auntie Flo wants to stop being yelled at every month. She’s tired of being the scapegoat, and I’m tired of calling her out.

——-

*While menstruation and inadequate access to feminine hygiene products does heavily impact girls’ education around the developing world, it is not a quick-fix issue. Gender politics and women’s rights, in general, need to be discussed and handing out free pads to girls around the world is not going to be what solves gender-based discrimination in the education system and workplace.

**Dehumanization of inmates in prison, especially for female incarceration, is done through a variety of means. I could have an entire series of Magic Mics on the “criminal justice” system in the US and privatization of prisons. Withholding feminine hygiene products is just the cherry on top of a system that contributes to self-deprecation and hatred. A prison inmate in the link above describes it perfectly: “Prison makes us hate part of our selves; it turns us against our own bodies”.

***This is not to say I don’t think condoms should be free or not free. I think having fair and equal access to contraceptives is very important and completely necessary. But, the issue is that condoms often are accessible for free whereas feminine hygiene products (pads, tampons, menstrual cups, etc) are not and are, in my opinion, much more of a necessity.