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.

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!

safe.

i’m not sure how to do this anymore.

i keep thinking about how absolutely unfair it all is.

do people ever remember the things they do if it didn’t viscerally impact them, but it altered someone else’s personhood?

i don’t ever want to give the past and people who have hurt me that much power. what does that say about me?

i’m so tired of going back to this, but what else can i do except write?

i can be happy and relaxed, but out of no where, i just feel so small and sad that men always take things without our permission.

i think the hardest part about it all is that i compartmentalize my life in ways that make it nearly impossible for me to be fully honest with the people i love.

i am so angry, so angry, so angry.
and then on some days, i am okay.
i am happy, even.
i wouldn’t be this person without that hurt.

this poem is dedicated to the men who have hurt me in big ways and small. i’m not happy with it yet, but like life, it’s a work-in-progress.

Safe.
4.30.19


i have never felt safe with a man–
not since you.
not since early morning, glazed eyes, limp arms, heavy heart,
soul-floating.
 

out of body experiences are not
always
euphoric.

i have not felt safe since
5 months of acting–
brave face,
plastered smiles,
heart-racing, fingers laced
l o v e,
we called it.
my performance was so convincing
i nearly believed it too.

i have not felt safe since
dark club nights,
white fingers, condescension,
alcohol and swaying and not enough time to say
no.

i have not felt safe since
hot hands, clocks ticking,
cars and traffic and too much noise,
shallow breaths,
followed by months of silence.

when i think about
the fear i feel,
i also think that
living in safety
does not mean we are
where we belong.

sometimes a poem
is a placeholder
for the next hurt,
because there is always
a next time.

sometimes it is shock absorption,
a place to lay your head,
a salve for throbbing hearts.

sometimes,
the poem becomes a swan song,
becomes a fight,
helps you route your way
to happy,
to closing doors,
to safety.

 

a long overdue life update & 26th birthday request

Dearest family and friends,

It’s been quite some time since I last posted an update and so much has happened in my life. I tried really hard to make a cute newsletter to email to everyone, but after a lot of technical issues, I figured posting on my blog would be much easier.

I’ve been living in Pittsburgh for the past year and am now in my second year of a five-to-seven-year-long PhD program in Sociology at the University of Pittsburgh.

I’ll admit, moving across the country has its challenges. Building new friendships and creating a whole new community out of nothing is hard. Concepts like “imposter syndrome” and “microaggressions” and “structural inequality” have never felt more real than they do when I’m in the academy. I’ve had some very low lows, and the highs didn’t seem very high.

I spent the last year trying to understand how my studies and my research could have a bigger impact. Was a PhD the right path to tackling the myriad of social problems we face today? Did anything I think actually have value? Would people at the university ever take me seriously? Being a young womxn of color in an institution built to serve upper class white men was and is not easy. Unfortunately, I went into a tailspin and retracted into my own head, taking a break from activism and being involved in the community.

But, now that I’m turning 26, I think it’s time for me to regain the fight and courage I had when I was in California.

For my birthday, in lieu of gifts, I’m urging my loved ones to consider donating to Yemen Aid.

Those who know me know that I’m always highly critical of humanitarian and development aid. I’ve asked friends who are knowledgable about the war in Yemen to recommend organizations that are impactful, transparent, and ultimately have the interests of all Yemenis regardless of their religious and ethnic identities.

To me, the traumatic effects that war has had on the people there should be a topic on everyone’s mind.

Over 10% of the population is internally displaced. 85,000 children have died of starvation (a conservative UN estimate) since the beginning of the war in 2015. 14 million people are at risk of famine. These problems don’t even touch the issues of trauma and physical violence inflicted on the Yemeni people.

To be honest, the neglect from the international community is absolutely sickening. I see the news headlines and read posts from my friends who have worked with Yemenis, and things just feel hopeless. Our political leaders have shown zero interest in caring for survivors of war. And our nation funds and supplies many of the weapons that Saudi has used in their attacks on Yemen.

It is pretty clear that the problems faced by Yemen (and exacerbated by the culture of war that we all engage in) won’t be solved by a simple birthday fundraiser. But, I have always believed that consciousness raising can change lives. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be spending 7 years of my life trying to become a professor.

I’m urging you, even if you cannot donate, read about what’s happening in Yemen. As an educator and researcher, it would make me incredibly happy to know this (lengthy) post sparked something in you and helped you learn about an issue you may have not understood before.

This is a link for my fundraiser for Yemen Aid. If you feel compelled to donate to another organization related to Yemen relief, please let me know. And as always, if you have questions or just want to catch up on life, I’d be so happy to!

Thank you for continuing to be a part of my life in little and big ways. I hope that this next year will bring us all a little more peace and clarity.

With love and light,
Christina

if they come for me

if they come for me,
don’t cry on the television.
don’t let them tell you
not to make it
political.

when a white man,
who is angry and believes
i have taken
something from him,
walks into a
classroom,
grocery store,
church,
nightclub,
synagogue
and shoots with reckless abandon,
know that this could have been
prevented.

if they come for me,
search my computer,
look through my phone,
scour my social media accounts
for proof that i was here.

when the media
tries to demonize me,
and the public lets them,
you can try to defend me
and remind them that i was
human
too.
you will probably fail.
they already know what they believe.
they have already won.
i am dead, after all.

if they come for me,
hold each other close.
laugh about the things i said.
talk about the dreams i had.
eat all of my favorite foods.

when people organize to march,
prepare for the worst.
there will always be a worst.
more grief,
more anger,
more fear.

if they come for me,
do not leave flowers where
my body was found.
do not speak my name in hushed tones.
do not make it a battle cry
either.

when my family holds a service,
let them grieve in peace.
do not wear red.
on New Year’s, you can
wash your hair and
sweep the floor.
all the luck has left us
anyway.

if they come for me,
you can be angry,
confused,
overwhelmed.
loss will do that.
remember to breathe,
even if i am not.

when enough time has passed,
speak.
write.
make them listen.
do not let them come for another.

if they come for me,
what will you say?

if they come for me,
let them point fingers.
they will label it “mental health”,
forget the word “terrorist”
because his skin is pale.

if they come for me,
you will know the truth.
you will wish you could have
protected me from men
who hate me
because i am me.

the war is far from over.

make change.
do not be quiet.
let them hear how
loss sounds.
let them see how
seeds grow.

you are coming for them now.

when the talkative become speechless: a.k.a words are important and we should learn to use them more

For as long as I can remember, I talked. Words would fall from my mouth like mahjong tiles clanging against the old wooden coffee table at my 奶奶 and 爺爺’s house after my brother and I fashioned them into tall towers—we didn’t actually know how to play mahjong the right way.

I don’t know what my first word was.

Probably “meat”, which is highly ironic considering my fifth year of pescatarianism.

I just remember yapping for hours on end, telling stories, asking questions, making up games. My mom and 婆婆 would tell me not to talk so much during dinner because the food would get cold. Of course, I never listened. There was just too much to express before bedtime, and my brother was always a keen listener.

Maybe that’s why we got on so well.

As I grew up, I quickly learned that my voice had meaning, power. Being outspoken meant being listened to. It made me feel valuable. I’m lucky in that there had never been a time in my life where I felt like I couldn’t use my voice or like the thoughts I formed into coherent sentences didn’t matter.

Then,

I moved across the country. I left behind my family of keen listeners. I traded my words for safety, as if the silence could protect me from feeling so alone.

I have never felt as voiceless or as powerless as I have while in my first year of my Ph.D. program. I went from being a person who chats non-stop, who always has an opinion, who knows what she believes and ardently expresses those beliefs, to being silent and doubtful. I felt like a stranger in my own head. Every time I wanted to say something in class or in a conversation with peers, I stopped myself. I thought about what others would think of me.

I’ll be honest. I don’t think my voicelessness was initially conscious. At first, I thought being quiet and observant would be helpful to understand my new surroundings. But, over time, I felt there was an aura of overall unwelcomeness that I couldn’t put into words, much less give a response to. Silence seemed easier than questioning. And then, the silence became so loud to me, that I just resigned to giving up. Participating in class felt more scary than folks assuming I was unprepared or unintelligent.

Being a “minority” in a doctoral program is hard. It fucking sucks. It feels like nothing you do will mean anything, and if it does, people will assume you got to where you are because you’re filling a quota. It seems easier to keep your cards hidden.

I didn’t realize how much I missed talking until I lived in New York for the first half of the summer and visited home in California for the last. The feeling that Genie has when being released from his lamp–that’s what it felt like. I could breathe and speak words into existence, and I just felt so goddamn free, it was overwhelming. I didn’t have to pretend to be someone else, or think twice about what implications my words would have on how seriously I was taken as a graduate student. I didn’t have to whisper, “I’m good enough” to myself at night or think it constantly in my head during the day.

When I got back to Pennsylvania, I was beside myself. I thought about how it felt to be voiceless just several short months prior, and I couldn’t handle it. I called my mother crying and in a panic. I told her I couldn’t do it anymore. I said that no one here understands, that the feeling of being alone is so consuming, that I missed home and having people speak to me and me speak to them. I believed it before, but even more so now, that human beings need communication, to be understood and validated.

I do have the most wonderful of parents. They encourage me and tell me it’s okay, and they say the words I need to hear in the very few moments I have none. They told me that it’s okay to come home, that they wouldn’t be disappointed in me.

But, this is a new year. I’m telling myself that the only person I need to impress is me (cue the indie coming-of-age film soundtrack). I’m starting fresh and trying to relearn my way back to the girl who stacked up mahjong tiles, who made up stories, who happily told her kindergarten teacher that her favorite place to go in the world was Macy’s with her mom. I have a lot to say, and maybe this year, I’ll finally feel comfortable/confident/capable enough to speak.

 

 

for those working with refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers.

to volunteers, social workers, legal professionals, case workers, and any & all folks whose career it is to advocate for asylum seekers, unaccompanied minors, refugees, and migrants coming to the US:

You deserve more than the resources given to you to do the impossible.

I worked for what seemed like a long time, but in the grand scheme of things, was not a long time, in refugee services. In my young adult life, refugee resettlement and non-profit work is the only “real” professional expertise I hold. I speak from my own experience and this perspective may not be shared by all in the refugee/migrant/asylum seeker services space.

In my time working for a Southern California-based non-profit (founded and run by refugee womxn), I thought being a martyr was being a good employee and a good person. I thought that because I myself was never a refugee and my family were never refugees (although fleeing political persecution, separating from family members, and seeking economic security is still traumatic af), I had to sacrifice more and somehow prove that my being present in the workplace was worthwhile. I spent nearly every moment thinking about if I was doing work that would be perceived as (or was in actuality) taking advantage of refugees and asylum seekers. I was ashamed of my Western upbringing and comparative lack of hardship because of being born and raised in the United States. I felt guilty for being a beneficiary of wars and political conflict that destroyed the lives of the very people I was now charged with assisting. I found it, and still find it, incredibly unfair that the very randomness of the country and family you are born into will dictate so much of your life.

The guilt was overwhelming. That guilt translated to self-deprecation and a lack of self-worth. I worked hours on end to prove that my being so young and in charge of so much was not a mistake. If you have never felt out of place or unworthy of your accomplishments, I suggest you teach English and Job Training Workshops as a 21 year-old to people your parents’ age who were doctors, teachers, nurses, and legit professionals in their home countries. I will never forget the look on one of my ESL student’s face when he asked me how old I was and he told me he used to be a nurse in Afghanistan, but struggled in California to find any kind of job in the medical field. It absolutely crushed me.

And so, I did everything I could to try and be of service to the detriment of my own mental and physical health. It just seemed like that’s what needed to be done.

It is hard to explain the kinds of emotional and physical labor to people who have never worked with a refugee. My parents thought I was sacrificing too much. My friends didn’t understand why I would work such long hours and also volunteer on my days off. They told me to take breaks, to stop caring so much.

The thing is, when you’re immersed in the world of refugee issues, it seems like everything you do is too little, too late. And so, you work double-time. You sacrifice more and more of yourself: of your time, of your energy, and what little emotional capacity you might have left.

And still, it feels like what you’re doing is not enough–is never enough. The hours I put in wasn’t just to help someone learn English or teach soccer or whatever activity I was tasked with that day. I thought that it was my duty to take the pain and suffering of families and feel it all for them so that they never have to. I thought that taking on the burden was doing the work, but that is only part and parcel.

In my experience, the refugees and migrants I know never wanted me to take on their burden. They wanted to be heard and listened to, to feel like their anguish was not being consumed for some sort of satanic pleasure, to know that their lives meant more than the little social services they were being provided with.

For those on the frontlines, for the ones who do everything in their power to reunite migrant families and give them some sort of happy ending, there are no words that can explain the kind of work you do. The work you are doing now is nothing like what I had to do. But, I know what it’s like to drown out despair with cheap wine and carbs, to spend seemingly useless hours on government case files while wishing you had more time to spend more moments with program participants, to have a barely livable salary and still donate your extra $$ and time to the refugees and immigrants you meet.

I know it that it must feel like that is necessary. And still, I need you to know that it is also necessary for you to be at your best. There is no one else in this country that can do what you do. We each have our own unique set of strengths that are necessary for us to give these families some kind of justice. It sounds silly, but I know you skip meals, forego bathroom breaks, and spend all of your free time worrying & figuring out contingency plans.

Don’t.

When I worked the longest days and ate the least, I was at my very worst. I did the least amount for the folks I cared about. I thought I was being helpful. Instead, I became resentful and angry with the system, with the people around me, and with myself. I couldn’t stand up for my needs or for the refugees who depended on me to advocate for their rights.
For those protesting, trying to visit families in detention, spending time calling their representatives, and more, I know that you might not be thanked in the way you deserve. I am here to say that I am grateful to you. As a product of immigrant families, as a former refugee services worker, as someone whose friends are victims of war and persecution, I am grateful to you.

At the other end of the spectrum, I know that sometimes, you are thanked too much and feel guilty for even getting praise.
My advice?

Take the praise, and let it keep motivating you. We need you now more than ever. When I was given thanks by refugee families and individuals, by my boss, by government officials, I felt happy, then was immediately hit in the gut with a gnawing feeling of unworthiness. I felt completely inadequate because I thought there was always more to be done. Of course, there always is more to be done. But, we cannot do things alone, nor can we pretend that our work isn’t worthy of accolades. You chose a path that is difficult, to say the least. It’s imperative that you recognize people are grateful to you and that you do deserve their gratitude. When my mind was clear, that feeling of gratitude motivated me beyond any paycheck.

Looking forward, there are a lot of reasons to feel hopeless. There are a lot of reasons to become depressed and disillusioned with what our country was and continues to become. Our nation’s history shows us that we do not have a great track record of treating racial, ethnic, and religious minorities with any kind of compassion or “equality”. And yet, I still firmly believe we have the capacity to change that. Maybe it’s naïveté, or maybe it’s just that I have witnessed a lot of win’s in the time I worked in California. The losses, of course, still eat away at me. There are people whose cases I worked, and I have no idea what has become of them. I think about them and their families with relative frequency. In my experience, I’ve had more losses than wins. But, maybe that’s why the wins are always so magical.

In this political moment, it doesn’t feel like there will be a win anytime soon. But, I have hope that there will be. Organizations like the ones you work for, people like the ones you work with, migrants like the ones you advocate for–they are stronger than we all think. Maybe it’s that I still believe in revolution, in social movements, in the power of the people. But, I know that what you do is not useless, is not impossible.

I am so proud to live in a time where you exist. What you do today and tomorrow matters. It matters for yourself and for every migrant family being impacted by this administration’s inhumane immigration policies.

Take care of yourselves and of each other. Know what your rights are. In this moment, we are all targets. It was a different political time when I was in refugee services, but so many things scared me in my work. In the darkest hours, I leaned on my boss. She became my rock in this work. Find someone to lean on. We are living in complicated and increasingly scary times.

Throughout the past several years and reflecting on these past weeks, I have found that one thing is for certain:

we are all we have.

in solidarity and love,
Christina

[photo banner from No Walls No Borders]