I wrote this for a Classroom Ecology discussion post. Just wanted to share it in this space as well. Dealing with some ish. -YY
As a minority growing up in several regions across the United States, I have never experienced a sense of safety in mixed race company. From the moment I set foot on American soil, I knew I was an Other, bound by my slanted eyes and yellow skin. By the time I was in third grade, my classmates had already begun making fun of my eye shape by pulling at their own lids and asking repeatedly why my English was so good. Due to my parent’s continued graduate studies and reliance on visas to continue living in the U.S., we moved several times, and I was always the new kid in public schools. I remember getting kicked in the stomach repeatedly by an older kid at a friend’s house and mocked on the bus rides home from Kingsville to Perryville in Maryland. I was never safe, not as a woman and definitely not as a minority. I feel as if I have lived the dilemma Leonardo and Porter (2010) discuss in regards to minorities feeling caught between “becoming visible” and “remaining silent” (140). As a young student, I had so much to say but I was so scared of tokenization or being pointed out yet again as a Chinese person.
Speaking from the margins, I have seen students complicit in their privilege and ability to ignore the topic of race. When I was part of a student campus-wide initiative for sensitivity training at UIUC on behalf of the Asian American Cultural Center (AACC), we spoke with the administrative body and organized a campus conversation. Many minority and international students testified with horrific stories about how white students had begun a hashtag trend called #tooethnic when they saw minorities in the local bars. Instead of acknowledging these voices, many white students REPEATEDLY told minorities, told us, that it was “just a joke,” that we were “taking things too seriously,” and that we were taking things “out of context.” I was astounded by the lack of awareness exhibited by these students. As Leonardo & Porter point out, a brave coalition of minority students “participating in public race dialogue makes them vulnerable to assaults on many fronts” (140). The white students who stepped up to the microphone were standing right next to the diverse student panel, yet they couldn’t see the individuals on the panel because these specific students felt their personal identity was under attack. How do you tell someone that the privileged life they grew up in is segregated and, quite honestly, racist? How do you get someone to acknowledge privilege when they don’t even see it yet? How do you address these topics as a minority student and teacher? Is a safe space even desirable?
In terms of the violent spaces discussed in Leonardo & Porter, I have only really experienced this ecology in three separate settings. One was an elective English course we dubbed “Feelings” class with Avi Lessing my senior year in high school. By creating an open space where we could argue and come to terms with each other but also voice our narratives, I finally found my own voice. After I “spoke my truth” for one class, every single student, regardless of SES, race, or creed…told me they cared about me, hugged me, and they were sorry about the violence caused by the brutal, systemic microaggressions and explicit bullying within our school. They let me speak my piece, and I let them speak theirs. Before the end of the class, we made a vow never to share anything that was spoken within that 3rd floor classroom. Rather than cutting people off, it was more to secure the sanctity of that environment. There was something sacred about that space and what happened. Later, in my senior year of undergraduate, I worked as the communications intern for the AACC. I worked with Filipino-Americans, Indian-Americans, Sikh students, Muslim students, and best of all, our entire administrative staff was AAPI. For the first time in my entire life, I worked in an organization that was completely AAPI minority. I had professional staff who I didn’t have to explain where I came from or where my parents were from. They knew me. Through the AACC, I also participated in LeaderShape, a one-week campus-wide retreat that promoted intensified collaborative learning. The conference divided us into small groups consciously aimed to encourage intersectionality. Like Lessing’s class, we fought through racial stereotypes, in-group discrimination, and class differences. Through it, we realized how much more we cared about each other. How much we needed to be heard and how much we needed each other. I still think about Louie, Josie, EV, Destinee, Ellory, Elizabeth, Nate, and Natalie every single day. Further, we were asked to create visions to impact our campus and world. I have seen so many of my Leadershape classmates change their visions to realities, creating a more inclusive, inviting campus. Their contributions, wrought in violence and turmoil, were refined when unveiled to the larger community.
I am still grappling with the inequalities I see every day in this nation, on campus, and in myself. There is only one AAPI Heritage Month. There is only one Black Heritage Month. My old campus still has an unofficial, abusive mascot called “Chief Illiniwek” which promotes violence to indigenous students every. SINGLE. DAY. We still don’t talk about the Vietnam War civilian casualties or who killed Vincent Chen. Or, we talk about it and we ignore the real issues. Why are there so few minorities in our very own SED program? Where is the minority professional staff? Why do I still feel so invisible here? I only know that I want to not be silenced any more. I will cry, scream, shout, or whisper…but I will not be walked over any more. Maybe you won’t hear me. Maybe it isn’t my time yet…but I am too tired to not go on. These experiences have changed me. They have made me, violently or not, find my voice. In the novel Prep, an African American student said in regards to race, you have to make ripples and not waves. I am still trying to make my waves into ripples for this world.