Anyone’s Activism

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth in the pursuit of social justice by our 2017 Mike Honda Writing Fellow, Amanda Ong. Read her first piece on identity, second piece on Tam v. USPTO, third piece on power, fourth piece on feminism, and fifth piece on Columbia’s xenophobic vandalism.

(c)2017 Kevin Chu

(c)2017 Kevin Chu

In the face of the immigration ban, students of my college reacted quickly. Within the day after the executive order was released and during the entirety of the following week, our campus hosted a group of protesters at all times—sometimes in masses including at least ten percent of the student body at any given moment.

Student groups organized, and they organized quickly. Despite the other responsibilities of being a full time student—classes, homework, extracurricular activities—the students of Columbia University were determined to show the administration that this issue deeply affected our community, and addressing the ban is of the utmost importance. They produced a list of demands, and some professors even came out in support of student actions. Movement happened fast.

Within a few days of the executive order members of Columbia’s administration too condemned the ban. This was unsurprising, as they have condemned Trump in the past, some going as far as to say that Trump and Pence together constitute “a president and vice-president that challenge the central idea of a university”. The administration also released statements urging students from the affected countries to avoid leaving the U.S. until further notice, and set up for pro-bono legal services for students who may be affected.

Columbia student groups are continuing to push for the administrations to provide greater legal support as well as free housing over the summer for students from the seven countries who will not be able to return to their homes in summer. Though provisions are unconfirmed, the University administration has come out stating that they are going to continue to do what they can to support students.

While politically mobilized college students are often put down as being oversensitive and unable to produce any real change, I believe that there is a lot to be learned from the work of student activists. Already in my six or so months at this university, I feel like I have learned so much about political mobilization.

Even when change can feel so slow college students are quick to act. They turn their passion, their empathy, into organization perhaps even faster than they churn out papers. In the past, I have heard many adults condemn college students and their intense dedication to activism. They say that college students should be focusing on their studies, that these are not things we should be concerning ourselves with.

In many ways the mode in which my peers have worked around the immigration ban should be modeled—it shows us that you do not have to be a professional organizer, nor a politician, nor a pro-bono lawyer to fight for these issues and instigate change. You can be a researcher, an artist, a computer science fanatic.
Anyone can advocate for human rights if they decide it is important to them. These students are pre-med, double majors, members of multiple clubs, and work part-time, but still they make it their business to protect the rights of the human. All they need is some time, a voice, and a community to make significant changes.

I have learned from these students that you do not need to commit your life to activism to be an activist. If your passion is programming or dance, you may commit your life to that, and still be an activist during dinner table discussions, still spend free moments pressing for the safety of other people, and still do whatever you can to support those people and organizations who do commit themselves entirely to activism. Anyone can be an activist—and everyone needs to be an activist if we want to create real, meaningful change. So be an activist; in any way you can.

– Amanda Ong

How To Make Others Care About Advocacy

Editor’s Note: The last post about ECAASU yesterday was a post-workshop thanks.

ECAASU: East Coast Asian American Union

The University of Pittsburgh’s Asian Students Alliance Advocacy Chair asked the question how to raise advocacy in the community had me struggling for a useful answer which isn’t good enough so I provide a better answer here.

  1. Ask religious orgs who may have an advocacy-related bend like CMU’s IVCF (it seems that Pitt’s InterVarsity has no presence anymore, yikes, though they’ve other groups):

    I’m [name], the University of Pittsburgh’s Asian Students Alliance Advocacy Chair. We promote Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) culture with social, cultural, and political events, notably to counter hatred or violence against AAPI.

    I’d love to meet about speaking at IV’s next cell group about God’s love for all humans, Asian American or otherwise. There is profound sadness at the loss of His vision when we belittle and degrade each other for being of a certain ethnicity, in our case, Asian American, at a time when easy casual xenophobia regarding immigrants and free Asia-bashing as taking jobs and fomenting anti-American competition breeds a resentment of Asian American students, international especially. God’s love for all His children as individually beautiful does not warrant the pooling of all Asians and Asian Americans are somehow being a monolithic bloc instead of individually beautiful creatures. The talk will be nonpartisan thus complies with all legal restrictions on both our organizations and UPitt guidelines on student activity. God hates hate and to speak about it to IV would be our pleasure and hopefully yours, too. Let me know!

    University of Pittsburgh Asian Students Alliance
    3959 Fifth Ave – WPU738, Pittsburgh, PA 15260

  2. Ask the Office of Cross-Cultural and Leadership Development for ideas:

    ASA asks how we can improve our advocacy impact, to get more students to care, to use what techniques work for communications, to recruit more students, to get more attention/media/attention.

    maybe also the same of CMU’s equivalent if appropriate, perhaps not.

    But ask the same of parallel orgs under the same office.

  3. Get a graphics designer to put out more media, like how big orgs like Amnesty International or Human Rights Campaign put out fancy info graphics on their media channels all the time. AAAFund is trying to do this same thing, but we lack a graphics designer.
  4. Submit letters to channels where like-minded folks read like advocacy-related, The Pitt News,

    The University of Pittsburgh’s Asian Students Alliance Advocacy Chair promotes Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) culture with social, cultural, and political events, notably to counter hatred or violence against AAPI. Whether you’re concerned for AAPI, want to take action to right wrongs, want to find out how to protest injustice, to find jobs which protect AAPI legal rights, or how to prevent such hate, Pitt ASA wants YOU!

  5. How to make others care about advocacy? Get them to make a personal connection. It could be very very personal, so it may truly be personal one-on-one work. That’s difficult and slow. Not a great answer, I guess, other than to host, say, open office hours.

    We’re giving away free unlimited coffee & donuts to come talk about AAPI advocacy for 20 minutes with us! Come meet us! Schedule at our Calendly.

  6. Hope you networked with other advocacy-oriented groups at ECAASU! Whether yes or no, post in the Facebook group!
  7. Lastly, be encouraged and recharge to ensure you’ve the energy to last even when times aren’t well. Call folks like me to do so!

Hope that helps but comment below if not.

Thank You ECAASU

ECAASU: East Coast Asian American Union

I had the great pleasure and honor of facilitating a workshop ECAASU2017 today, “The United States of Asian America.” This post is just 1 of many post-ECAASU and this time, I comment on that tagline.

A Facebook post popular today is about how America’s greater thanks to this politically charged environment. Same for Asian America. Today, our community involvement, political interest, civic engagement, empowerment, and a desire for a public life are at record highs. From humanitarian orgs in San Francisco to mental health advocates in San Gabriel to pan-Asian Advocates in DC to political greatness in Chicagoland to legal defense funds in NYC & LA to community leaders in Florida to 2017 election work in NJ & NoVA to Santa Ana to celebrities in LA to professional networks in Dallas, Asian America is rich and rife with unity and mutual energy. We have the diversity of people, financing, talents, professions, and connections to continue making our community ever greater.

Asian Americans paid a steep price for most of American history in blood, sweat, and tears for our role in America today. We’ve been attacked for our mere existence here. We’ve been sent to concentration camps (FDR’s words) for being loyal Americans. We’ve been legally excluded from immigrating because of xenophobia. We’ve been bullied, belittled, and micro-aggressioned for going about our lives. I speak of our community lovingly, eloquently, and with unity because you have shown me this heartfelt feeling in heart and mind and action.

Attendees came searching for many things: inspiration, professional connections, an update on AAPI politics, credible ways to get involved, answers to student advocacy, and a path from protest to power. I hope I provided all. I encourage all to continue this work as our community has always invested that kind of work to enable this fortunate present day. AAAFund stands with ECAASU and its attendees, past, present, and future, in the shared work to empower Asian America. Onwards and upwards together and forever.

Comment below if you want to connect with us, ask us something, get help, get an answer, anything.

Three US Representatives Issue a Statement on the Shooting af Virginian Asian American

U.S. Representatives Grace Meng (NY-06), A. Donald McEachin (VA-04) and Bobby Scott (VA-03) issued the following joint statement today on the recent shooting death of Jiansheng Chen, a Chesapeake, VA. resident, who was playing Pokemon Go.

Jiansheng Chen on his 60th birthday.

Jiansheng Chen on his 60th birthday.

Late last month Chen, 60-years-old, was fatally shot by a neighborhood security guard; police are presently investigating the incident.

“We are deeply saddened over the death of Jiansheng Chen. We are also concerned about the manner and circumstances in which he lost his life. Many questions remain and need to be answered, and we call on local authorities to conduct their investigation thoroughly and expeditiously. We must know how a game of Pokémon Go turned into a fatal shooting.

“It is our hope that Congress will act in a bipartisan manner to ensure law enforcement personnel receive high quality, evidence-based training in non-lethal de-escalation tactics. We must continue to work together to emphasize the need for reasonable and effective polices that reflect our nation’s moral obligation to keep our communities safe.

“At this difficult time, we send our thoughts and prayers to the Chen family, and we eagerly await further information from law enforcement about this tragic incident.”

Our Names, Our Place, and Our Stories

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth in the pursuit of social justice by our 2017 Mike Honda Writing Fellow, Amanda Ong. Read her first piece on identity, second piece on Tam v. USPTO, third piece on power, and fourth piece on feminism. See also the positive reactions at #saymename worthy of a Not In My Town mention. Related is the official CU response.

My Name
Since I arrived at Columbia University as a first-year undergraduate student last fall, I have been lucky to see what is largely a culture of inclusion, discussion, and activism on campus—rarely subject to crimes of hate. But then last week multiple reports came in stating that nametags were being ripped off of the doors of East Asian students. All across campus, doors of were vandalized. As an East Asian student, I cannot pretend that these acts of vandalism do not drive a certain kind of fear into me. At the same time, I have been amazed to see how this campus incident has also brought the campus’s East Asian community together in ways I never could have imagined.

Every undergrad living on campus is welcomed into their dorm room for the year with a decorated nametag on their door, a small token to show the residential life’s welcoming of all students. That nametag stays on students’ doors throughout the school year—not just as an indicator of who lives in the room, but also as a validator of every Columbia student’s place at the University.

​It’s more than worth noting that the large majority of those targeted were students with East Asian first and last names, as opposed to students with western first names, indicating that the act was more so one of xenophobia than racism. But for the Asian American community it’s important to remember that xenophobia and racism do not exist independently of one another, as Asian Americans are often incorrectly pegged as “perpetual immigrants”, never to truly be American.

​Following the reports of these vandalisms, the Columbia’s Associate Dean of Multicultural Affairs Melinda Aquino sent out an email to East Asian student groups and clubs. “The growing climate of xenophobia furthers the impact of this action and the anxiety felt by many of our students,” Aquino said in her email, referring to the immigration ban ordered by the Trump administration the week prior. Aquino also said that she and the University’s Bias Response Team were making efforts to support and do what they can to make sure there is greater security for the students who may be affected.

​I cannot pretend that these acts of vandalism do not drive a certain kind of fear into me—not a fear that my own name tag will be ripped down or any fear of such petty acts, but a fear of exactly what Aquino addresses, “the growing climate of xenophobia.” In the less than three weeks alone, the air of xenophobia has felt more present than it ever has in the entirety of my young life.

​American is the only nationality I have ever known. While I identify very strongly as being Chinese-American, China itself has always been a foreign place for me. My grandparents were all born and raised children of Nationalist China, and have very strong identities in this Chinese government that lived for less than forty years. The China of today is not their home China, and it was never going to be mine. I am American and always have been; that’s just a fact. But in a world that’s becoming more privy to alternative facts, I also know that there are people who want to try and take that away from me.

​To desecrate our names is to try and tell us that we have no story, no right to be here, that we do not belong to the Columbia community or even America. But my name in Mandarin is Weng Qi Xin. Weng is my last name, it can be traced back to the Zhou dynasty thousands of years ago. Qi is a character from a poem written by my ancestor: every member of a generation has a character from the poem in their name, and the next generation has the next character of the poem in their name, and so on and so forth. And Xin means heart. My grandfather chose it for me when I was born, as only a promise then of what I could one day embody. Our names carry stories, and to try and take them away from us is to try and strip us of our personhood. I have a story and I have a right to be here, both at this school and America.

And many East Asian students felt the same as me. Soon after news of the incident was released, Columbia’s Asian American Alliance released a statement on the incidents that has been signed by many students and groups alike, multiple students published op-eds on the meaning and importance of their names, others came together to create a video to share the stories of their names, and many East Asian students wrote their names of their mother tongues onto the nametags on their doors in an act of solidarity.

While the threat of xenophobia looms as we face such incidences, we must remember ever more to be strong and steadfast in our identities. We must remember that to be American is something that belongs to us as much as anyone else, and that cannot be taken away—even as they may try. We must fight this culture of hate and fear, as Columbia’s East Asian students have shown us to do. By speaking up and telling our stories, by engaging in political movements, we can challenge the culture of xenophobia and bring security to our community: our names, our bodies, and our stories.

Columbia University residence halls

John Hasan, Columbia Spectator, (c) 2016
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