AJC 2012 part 1: The Panel
This year I was fortunate enough to be accepted as a speaker for a youth leadership panel at the Advancing Justice Conference in Chicago. It was a fantastic weekend full of really rad people, icons, leaders, and organizers from all corners of the country.
Unfortunately my panel was disrupted in a way that left everyone in the room more despondent than motivated, so I’d like to take some time to quickly say what I originally wanted to say. The panel’s title was “Seeing the Personal as Political” and revolved around campus organizing, Asian American identity, and how the two intertwine.
I spent most of my childhood and adolescence in Scottsdale, Arizona. Scottsdale is an upper middle-class suburb of Phoenix with very little diversity. However, my brother was briefly interested in the Azn Pride movement in the 90’s and had Azn Pride, Got Rice, and other stuff plastered all over his room. It was a pretty messy combination of Scottsdale, casual and blatant racism I faced on a daily basis (including some white children doing the eye-slant and chant “Chinese Japanese, dirty knees look at these”), somehow stumbling upon Angry Asian man when I was 9 years old, and going to Chinese school on the weekends.
I was heavily racist and sexist. I will say that just to put it on the table. I made “women in the kitchen” jokes, allowed people to call me “chinky” and the “Asian Invasian”, and made homophobic, transphobic, and bigoted remarks while still parading myself as a liberal Arizonan.
I think there comes a dark period of time in everyone’s life (especially Asian Americans) when they go through an identity crisis. I literally had a fever break and woke up a new person. To me, saying that I am Asian American is saying that I’m not the other white meat. I’m not just my ethnic make up. I’m a living document of oppression and injustice against my people. I am the conglomeration of two worlds, two cultures, two names, two histories, and two identities. Finding and accepting my identity as an Asian American woman (and womanist) has been the greatest thing to ever happen to me.
I learned about my identity through this blog. I had an idea of it at first, but once I created it and started listening to and talking to other bloggers, I was addicted. I fell in love with Helen Zia’s Asian American Dreams. Bao Phi’s Song I Sing. Daryl Maeda’s Chains of Babylon. Women of Color writings like Colonize This! bell hooks. Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai’s poetry. Yellow Rage. Spoken word poetry on youtube and Rocky Rivera. The virtual world became my classroom for an unofficial major in Asian American studies.
And when it comes to campus organizing, someone at the conference said it best: “We’re all at varying levels of readiness”. We as organizers and advocates for the Asian American community cannot expect someone to immediately enjoy and embrace an identity and history that we sometimes shove in their faces. For campuses dealing with apathy, it gets tough. It’s a battle we all face. It may be difficult at times, but we can navigate the blurriness that often comes with the Asian American community. Simple things like finding balance between social and educational events by student organizations. Bigger things like collectively working with other student groups, states, campuses, oppressed peoples, and political believers in order to form a more united and stronger force.
We are not alone. We cannot do this alone. We have to remember that oppression is connected and includes class, gender, sex, race, age, immigration status, ability, and wealth. This conference was huge in that I was refreshed by the number of people who did remember the intersectionality of it all.
I’m disappointed and irritated that the panel space was disrupted in such a way by such a person, but it is what it is. For those who attended the panel, thank you and I hope you enjoyed what we could contribute. I was very aware of the drastic change in power dynamics during the disruption and also of the breaching of our safe space as a place for us to let our ideas and experiences flow. I understand that when it comes to money and funders, things get complicated fast. But there are some lines that once crossed, earns you a permanent grudge in my mind.