This is the last time I talk about this for a while, because honestly, this is exhausting. However, I don’t quite believe in tapping out vehemently on Facebook when longer forms exist for expression. For the POC in America, for our allies, this one is for you. I think we all need a little pep talk. We need to figure out a way to keep going in this world that is not yet ready for actual, nitty-gritty revolution.
For Anthony Stephan House, 39, of Houston—the first to fall. For the other innocent black and Latino lives torn apart by shrapnel. Draylen Mason. Esperanza Herrera. For the 17 in Florida, 13 in Columbine, 5 in Jonesboro. For the students who walked out, every single one. For Jordan Edwards. For Trayvon Martin. For Laquan McDonald. For Tamir Rice. For Roshad McIntosh. For McKinney. For Ferguson. For Chicago. For Salem. For Washington, D.C. For L.A. For St. Louis. For Nashville. Austin. Houston. San Antonio. For Fruitvale Station in the Bay area.
For indigenous tribes reduced to jerseys and epithets like “The Redskins.” For the indigenous descendants and the NAH at UIUC who endured “Chief Illiniwek,” a fictional, disturbing racial caricature. For my acquaintance Xochi and others like her who had to endure 4 years at U of I while seeing heads of Illiniwek displayed in shop windows which historically called for something far more terrifying. For indigenous tribes pushed out of their homes into “reservation camps.” For those suffering under the continued erasure and claim of colonized history. For the sufferers of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
For Enrique and others who attempted his journey. For my Latinx students: Jennifer, Cianna, Michael, who are dealing with more than 5th graders ever should, anywhere. For the parents at my school who are advocates and activists. For terrified parents, suffering from border patrol scammers. For 120 days. For fellow human beings labeled as “illegal.” For the Chicano Movement. For parents fighting for their children, and children fighting for their parents. For love that most know distance and time before hugs and held hands.
For my third culture fellows. For Japanese internment camp survivors who lived through FDR’s heinous Executive Order. For ancestors who lived through the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and the Immigration Act of 1924. For the often invisible, insidious fight. For the five Indo-Chinese elementary students massacred in Stockton, 1989. For Vietnam War refugees. For the refugees. For the missing and murdered Chinese takeout delivery drivers. For #notyourasiansidekick. For Vincent Chin. For the Kaos who caught it all on camera. For Asians living in the South.
For students and teachers enduring systemic, rampant racism. For anyone enduring systemic, institutionalized racism. Insidious, nefarious, heinous racism that is far more salient than we know.
This one is for you.
Do not give up your name, even if your parents ask you to. Renaming is a way for assimilating, first generation parents to make it easier on the white majority. It is a way for them to take away your power. “Sherry” caused me far greater turmoil than “Yue.” Roll call was a punch to the face every time. Will my teacher linger too long, butchering those beautiful Chinese syllables and tone? Will they, time and again, apply English phonics to it, transforming it into an accusation, “YOU?” I would swoop in, ashamed for something I should not have been ashamed for, and say, “Just Sherry.” Once, the AP Lit teacher sarcastically snapped, “Well, that’s close” and caused the whole room to snicker loudly. Do not hold onto the anger, but let it make you stronger.
Do not let the stereotypes and misrepresentation define you. For too long, I squashed and repressed my voice, thinking I had to be demure, quiet, hiding behind those too prevalent giggling Geisha and Madame Butterfly images STILL TO THIS DAY popularized by eurocentric audiences (and transformed by Seattle). No, absolutely not. No more. My awakening doesn’t have to make you comfortable. I thank God daily for my internship at the UIUC Asian American Cultural Center, that I learned alongside daily from empathetic, culturally aware mentors and peers. Thank you for teaching me that tears show a greater warrior than shouting can, but that there is still time for shouting and protesting. Thank you for bearing the burden alongside me. Thank you for telling me that my anger didn’t need to dissipate. Thank you for not tone-policing. I found my voice through a small group of determined, hilarious, complex individuals who let me fight against the oppression of singularity.
Fight for your cause, whatever that may mean. If you are a policy maker, speak up. If you are a student, stand up and speak up. Do not EVER let a teacher reduce you to “girl” or “boy.” If they do, like they did to me, steel your spine, do not back down, and persevere. Walk out if need be. If you are a teacher, advocate and let your students voices be heard. Fighting for your cause, some days, might be just taking care of you. Do not let mental health and self care be brushed under the rug. This fight is exhausting, and it is different for everyone. Do not let someone define the fight for you. Do not speak out until you feel ready. That may mean you are the only APIA student, one of two POC, in your program. That might mean you may not be respected for your time or in that place. However, I did it for the sake of looking my grandchildren in the eye someday and saying, “I stood up. I did not back down.”
Know that you are loved, deeply and profoundly. If not by people, then I truly believe by a giving and gracious God. Do not be defined by their God. I believe you are made in God’s image, who no man, woman, child, or anyone has ever seen fully while alive. In my deepest wells of sorrow, I have turned to prayer because I believe my God is an activist and sees real, racial, social pain. When my mother tone-policed my poem yesterday and told me my feelings were wrong, I sent up a few prayers. She only saw my hatred, but didn’t see the cause. I always remind myself, if Jesus was furious enough to brandish a whip in the temple, I don’t see why I can’t write a righteously angry poem. I will share with you, though, she made me feel guilty anyways.
“Know thyself.” Only you know how much you can bear in this age of heartache and destruction. But know that you can create. You can build. You can connect. Know that there is a whole web of intersectionality out there. Know that even when Facebook “friends” might erase you, you are not invisible. Know that your fight is not alone, even if you are physically alone wherever you are. Know that you are not obligated to speak on behalf of entire continents or entire people groups when a teacher (or student) asks you, “So what do you think? I mean you are [insert who they “think” you are]….aren’t you?” Know that Mr. Rainer in 8th grade was being incredibly racist when he said, “Asian history is so cool because it’s all these people who look like each other fighting.” In that instance, 8th grade awkward self, you were validated in your anger. Stop feeling ashamed for being alienated by your teacher.
Know thyself. Know your eyes are beautiful. They are beautiful, they are beautiful, they are beautiful. Yes, they are small. That doesn’t warrant the: “chink” comments. Ever. Get rid of the glue, the eyelid tape, the “ulzzang” lenses. Your eyes don’t warrant surgery, ever, no matter the in-group and out-group pressure. EVER. Love your skin. Yes, you’re yellow, something that colorism in Asia won’t let well enough alone. DGAF. Be you. Don’t feel the need to subsist on Korea’s laughable set of foundation choices— choose other brands. Laugh at the haters crying crocodile tears. Love yourself.
This is for you, but this is also for me and for my future children (students, or mine otherwise). I want them to have a guardian who doesn’t fault them for being any size, shape, color, creed, gender, sexual orientation— who doesn’t fault them for being them. Who puts the unconditional in unconditional love. That’s my dream. To look my child in the eye and say, “These are your great-grandmother’s eyes. She survived the Rape of Nanking. These are your great-grandfather’s ears, who participated in Manchurian Resistance by not learning a colonizer’s language as a student in Beijing. This is your grandfather’s skin, who marched for APIA rights in college. These are your grandmother’s hands, who was a remarkable and well-known organic chemist. These are your uncle’s legs, a man who listens and walks contemplatively before speaking. This is your father’s smile, who went through medical school to help the under-served. This is my raspy voice I give to you, so that you too may speak up even amongst the turmoil. But really, the voice is yours.”
This voice is ours. Let it not be silent. It is a marathon, and yes, we should keep checking the minutes…but take care of yourself. The race is not finished until it’s finished.
*Note to the internet: please be patient if I do not moderate your comments. As urgent as I know all these issues are, I will be taking some time offline in self care over the next few days.