07/25/2017

My Asian American Story

A friend asked me what my AAPI experience and history were. The simple query freed me to tell what I’ve wanted to for my own spirit but also my ideal of story telling as a superior method of empowering and inspiring others to speak out about their #NoAlternativeFacts experiences. The recently explosively popular and deservedly so story “My Family’s Slave” by Pulitzer Prize-winning Asian-American journalist Alex Tizon is inspiration for telling our tale. He is also the author of Big Little Man: In Search of My Asian Self which is directly relevant to the AAAFund’s work to empower our community and our blog’s years-long attention to the minority myth. I dedicate my story-telling here to him.

I grew up unwares of AAPI issues or identity. In suburban New Jersey with a 2% Asian town, race was neither identity nor problem as we were all friends. A safe existence in a safe area so nothing to say about childhood identity. Fast forward to college. While CMU has an infamously apolitical bend, its Asian population was 28% & thus the easiest identity to which I attached firmly. Through the big 3 “A” (Asian) orgs, ASA, TSA, and ACF, I spent not only my whole social but also existential time in the world of Asian identity. It however was largely social so I invested nothing political, charitable, cause-wise, or community-wise. It was just for fun. I finished college and started work. Six years of crummy underpaid (50% of industry average) jobs made me seek an outlet for being so uneducated in the practical workplace. After all that academia, harmed by being too meek to get what I wanted, it was time to compensate. After the inspiring 2008 elections, I volunteered with the organization which gave me all of my then political education, Asian American Action Fund (AAAFund), to write about religion and politics, chosen to be a combination of 2 already infamously controversial fields. Writing reflectively, speaking truth to power, hearing from the formerly religious, and seeking truth eventually led me to quit Christianity in early 2017. My values disallow crass, naked, unrepentant sinning while preaching holiness which perversely justifies and tolerates sin, a hypocrisy opposing so many ideals. Politics is merely 1 defiant albeit widely visible expression of that hypocrisy. I’ve come to feel how conservative church-brainwashed Asian-Americans Christians forfeit personal values and identity to gain short-term acceptance, compassion, and belonging. I’m now emotionally secure enough to rise above whitewashing as belonging.

I quickly awoke to how historical and my childhood media and cultural values formed my appearance and self. Wanting to know my identity’s twists and turns, past and present has become a daily consuming work. In 2010, I became AAAFund’s Executive Editor which let me professionally express my desire to empower alike awoke folk. I’ve spent hours weekly since then on this work. I thank my wife for supporting me in this time. It’s all-consuming because there is no other Asian American political news source. AAAFund’s name has the word “Action” in it beacuse we’re not innocent witnesses like bystander journalists idly scratching out a story, we unabashedly advocate the truth, name names (we’re legally a PAC thus our core purpose is to fund candidates and campaigns), taking sides, and taking action. While journalists currently experience a life-or-death struggle over their purpose and the truth, we’re able to take decisive action. We seek not to be neutral but to be truthful and the truth is partisan. It has always been, just now, it’s back for revenge. I feel this is a fuller expression of my citizenship, humanity, and skills.

I recently became a parent to a son and a daughter which accelerate the urgency of seeking joy, contentment, and self-awareness. This work knows no end, but I’m pleased to live in this era of rapidly accelerating attention to AAPI identity. I’m grateful for my position in life and this work to understand my identity is deeply gratifying. Hopefully my story inspires someone to do the same.

For more, read #myasianamericanstory or @myamericanstory & follow our @aaafund.

The Ties That Bind

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

Ta Boo, Mom, and me
Almost a year ago at this time, my great grandmother died.

​My Ta Boo was very old—verging on her mid-nineties—and common sickness was what led to the end of her long life. Her life spanned worlds I will never know, more war and poverty, loss, time. Even at the end of her life she was still quietly enduring small battles, for health, life, and a place she could call home in a rapidly shifting society.

​In the youngest days I knew her, Ta Boo was old. She hadn’t originally wanted to come to America, but the story is that her gambling in Hong Kong led to money owed to loan sharks, which led to immigration out of the country, which led to a few years spent with my mom’s family in their home in America.

​Ta Boo lived in New York Chinatown in a small apartment next door to her church, which was red brick with the façade of a cross in slightly different colored brick, and was across the street from a public elementary school yard. She had lived in that same apartment in that same building since before I was born, before her husband, my Ta Gong died, since my mom was a kid—almost fifty years by the time she passed away.

​Her apartment itself was just a bedroom, maybe eight by eight feet, a living room that consisted of a TV, a fold out table, and the old couch that my parents gave her when they moved out of the city over twenty years ago. She had a small bathroom, and in the perhaps four by three feet between the living room and bathroom, a stovetop, sink, and fridge.

​We visited Ta Boo every year—I hated New York as a child because I could only ever associate it with humid summer days spent in her cramped apartment, sitting on the floor or her couch playing Pokémon on my Nintendo DS. Ta Boo didn’t speak much English, and I only knew words of Cantonese, but she had a relentless habit of pulling me down on the couch next to her, rubbing my hands between hers, and saying, “Leng neoi, leng neoi. Good girl, good girl.”

When I was little and she still walked, sometimes we would take her out along Mott Street for xiao long bao, look into the beauty store where she used to work, into windows at silk qipaos, pass the smelly fish markets, all while she would offer to buy me box turtles sold on the side of the street.

As a second generation Chinese American, I have never too strongly felt the common first immigration dissonance of belonging neither in America or China: I always held firmly that my home was in America. Instead I often experience moments like the ones with my Ta Boo, moments that feel like strings connecting me to other lives—lives completely different from the usual privileged, white suburban one that I was living. These moments live in me, connecting me to all these lives that I have not lived and yet are a part of who I am: as it is when you come from an immigrant family.

This week I attended an event on the gentrification of Chinatown and the tactics used to displace poor Chinese Americans and make Chinatown an increasingly wealthier and whiter space. Families are dishonestly evicted, many who know little English and with no means to get justice for what has been wrongly thrust upon them. These people live in small apartments under poor living conditions, and are cheated out by landlords who want to raise the rent. I am reminded of the recent statistic that, despite the façade of the wealthy Asian model minority, Asian Americans face the highest poverty rate of any ethnic group in New York City, just over a quarter of all Asian Americans in the city living in poverty.

And then I think of my Ta Boo. I remember watching her over the years as she stopped being able to walk, then couldn’t stand, soon couldn’t breathe without an oxygen tank, until she could not help herself. I remember how my mom said she thought the landlord was waiting for Ta Boo to die so he could raise the rent.

And in a matter of seconds, I am reminded of why I have to care about these people and these issues, though they often feel so unrelated to me. These people of Chinatown at the mercy of poverty and gentrification could be anyone—they are grandmas, brothers, great uncles. They are all of the lives we did not live, but are a part of us as the children of children of children and so forth of immigrants. They are the people connected to us by even the thinnest of threads.

As we look to future legislation there are many issues that must be addressed. But I urge us not to forget those often forgotten, I ask us not to forget these people. I ask us not to forget Chinatown.


If you feel so moved by this piece, I ask that you please look at some of the following links to the websites of organizations seeking to combat gentrification in Chinatown and the greater area of New York.

  • http://www.mfy.org/
  • http://caaav.org/our-work/programs/chinatown-tenants-union
  • http://www.chinatownartbrigade.org/

 

Fmr President George W. Bush: “Not the America I know”

I never thought I would be quoting former President Bush, Jr. Like many of you, I am with Aziz Ansari in a weird position, wistfully watching old speeches by President George W. Bush, wishing that our current president could show that level of empathy and understanding to reach out to and speak at an Islamic center. To be president of all of us, not to divide us.

I’m in this weird position because in college and after, I was convinced that President George W. Bush was the worst US president ever. That the PATRIOT Act, special registration, and the Iraq War were disastrous measures. I still believe this. And then I watch this simple act of unity and community, and wish that we currently had a president this eloquent. Who understands “that America counts millions of Muslims amongst our citizens . . . who make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country. And they must be treated with respect…That’s not the America I know, that’s not the America I value.” No, really. How our standards were lifted by President Obama, and how far they’ve fallen.

It turns out that the W administration had principles and certain bright lines they weren’t willing to cross. After 9/11, President Bush reassured his Secretary of Transportation Norm Mineta, that they wouldn’t repeat internment.

In the uncertain days after the 2001 attacks, when Arab-Americans feared hate crimes and government overreaction, President Bush turned toward Mineta at a Cabinet meeting.

“We know what happened to Norm Mineta in the 1940s, and we’re not going to let that happen again,” Bush vowed. (McClatchy DC)

Right now, it’s not clear that the Trump administration has any such scruples or limits.

-Caroline

What I Have Learned Since the Election

anger questions

Editor’s Note: This is the third 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, and bio intro.

It has been months since the night Donald Trump was made our country’s President Elect. I’ve listened to many people voice their fears and concerns since then – people expressing anger, sorrow, hope—it often has felt as if there are no words left for me to say. Still, I find myself here and Trump’s inauguration pressing forward with not much more than my words to give. So let me give.

The morning after the election, I cried for hours. I grieved. I raged. I felt afraid and hopeless, and in that moment no reasoning could have helped me. I had almost never felt so much like I didn’t have a voice before.

I was angry. I was angry that so many people in our country were willing not only to dismiss racism, sexism, homophobia, and violence, but also to uphold those discriminatory values institutionally. I was angry about the future of the world this set forth for me and other young people: a world where women do not have rights to their own bodies, people of color are systematically excluded and disparaged, and members of the LGBTQ community are told they are wrong for being who they are; a world where violence is condoned above justice and peace. I was angry that any man, no matter how unqualified the man, was valued above any woman in this country, no matter how qualified the woman. I was angry with the people who supported him, and then I was angry with myself for feeling such hatred.

But in this was the first thing the election made me realize: we are entitled to our feelings whether they be grief, anger, or even hate. It’s important that in trying times we allow ourselves to just take a moment and feel. We must do what we can to heal, and a large part of that involves letting ourselves feel. I could not be angry with myself for feeling the hate I felt, I just had to rise above it.

Thus lends the second thing I learned. While we have to let ourselves feel anger and hatred, we can’t let them consume us and we can’t act on those feelings. In the words of my professor the week following the election, it is very, very easy to mobilize around anger and hatred. It is much harder to mobilize around hope, and around love, but it is what we must do.
Even when we may feel hopeless, cynical, and full of the world’s hurt, I believe we still must make the choice to focus on love, hope, and compassion . I know it is hard and I am privileged to be able to make that choice. But if it is a choice we have, it is the choice we should make. This is a part of healing. Sometimes healing means taking time off, consolidating your thoughts, and relaxing, because these are things we need to do in order to move on. Sometimes healing means knowing when it’s time to move forward, or knowing when to take the high road even though it’s hard to. I don’t want to simply be angry with Trump supporters because they didn’t understand my values, or because their actions hurt people I care about. I need more than anger. I need them to understand my values so I must also understand them. Even, no, especially when we are polarized, communication and compassion are crucial. We must live day-to-day doing our best to communicate our values of equity and justice to others, and doing our best to have compassion. We must live every moment knowing that the hatred and marginalization that exists and has always existed in our country should not be normal, can not be normal. Instead we must normalize compassion. We most normalize love. We must not become the enemy.

Finally, this election reaffirmed to me that it is not enough to just post, talk, or believe in the tenets of equity and justice. We must engage in concrete political action. If we only believe and do not firmly act, we just take up space in the activist community. Inaction and silence threaten the very cause one theoretically supports. Whenever we can, we must give whatever we can to the causes we believe in. Regardless of whether our actions manifest as organizing Big Protests or dinner table revolutions or giving money or keeping one’s representative accountable, we must find ways to act.

This is what I have learned from the election. Despite the disempowerment I have felt, I must choose to learn, empathize, and act. There is still hope. There is always still opportunity for us to coalesce and fight for our rights, for what is right. I intend on being a part of that of that fight—and I hope you do too .

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