For my last entry, I tried something new for this blog: I reached out to several local and national Asian American activists and asked them to write about their first protest. Protest could be broadly defined as an action to stand up for what you believe in, and did not necessarily mean picketing or marching.
The responses were varied – as to be expected for any blog, especially one that concerns activism and community action. Looking at the responses, however, indicates that this idea is a necessary one: even the detractors indicate the idea of Asian American activists is offensive or ridiculous. Which just proves how important it is to create this space, in opposition to the idea that Asian Americans are not a people, do not have a voice, do not take action and stand up for their communities.
And of course, thanks to those who wrote in positive notes encouraging future installments! I’m glad you liked reading those stories as much as I did. I also hope the existence of this space and these stories continue to be interesting and useful to our communities. Here, 5 more local and national Asian American community folks write, in their own words, their story.
Just a few weeks into my college years, planes smashed into buildings on the Atlantic coast, and a few weeks after that was my first protest.
The energy behind it was all desperation and no strategy, but we were mourning and we were terrified, and that was all we could come up with. Early October of 2001 was a very intimidating time to be speaking out about anything, although the ‘issues’—the ‘War on Terror’ and plans to invade and occupy
Of course, the bombings happened, as did the invasion and occupation of
Over the years that followed, my investment in protest faded, and a number of recent experiences—controversial tenure decisions at my college, relief work in post-Katrina New Orleans, working through loss and trauma following acts of personal violence—have made me critically rethink how change and struggle happen in communities. I focus a lot less on ‘protest’ today and more on other political expressions: writing, art, direct action, inquiry and reflection, visioning, and movement-building projects. I can get quite embarrassed, in an amused way, about my rudimentary understanding of protest back in the day—that is, practicing visibility and noise and deciding that was enough. But I also know that those experiences opened up something that got me to where I am now. I’ve learned that protest seldom yields victories, change, or justice, but for those of us engaged in struggle, it has the potential to grab onto an unsuspecting person’s spirit, shake it, and burst open entirely new terrains of the possible.
-Stevie Peace is a writer and organizer out of
In August, 2007 in Seoul, Korea just down the hill from the Samsung-owned, grand Shilla hotel, I participated in the 1st public protest/demonstration against Korea’s continued, systematic practice of exporting Korean citizens to western countries. Today, these citizens are being taken away from their families against their will and are currently being exported at the rate of 2,000 per year and upwards of $30,000 each, most of them being sent to the US. And this is a completely legal practice which the governments of not only
-Eun Jin Lee, registered voter and human rights activist.
The first protest I ever went to was against the Gulf War when I was in 7th grade. The thing is – I didn’t actually go.
The kids in my class had organized a walk out of school – it was during Ms Downes’s social studies class – through a daisy chain the night before. I knew of their plans, and it never once crossed my mind to actually go. Yes, I was vaguely aware that war was being waged for less than noble causes, and that real lives were being affected. I would not have considered myself completely ambivalent to politics.
In fact, that president had inspired a lot of political expression in me; my first political campaign event was to support Dukakis in the 5th grade, and the first time I wrote a letter to a politician was to Bush I during the Tiananmen protests of 1989.
But there was something about this walk out that felt inauthentic, which is part of why I chose not to go. Plus, it felt like a "cool kids" thing to do - and at my school, I wasn't one of the folks who felt comfortable among them. It may have been part of why the only kids left in school seemed to be all the ones who weren’t white. It’s as though we had looked 10 years into the future and found out our kind is much more often tokenized than valued at public demonstrations, and just decided to skip that whole mess from the get-go.
Of course in the intervening years, I’ve been a part of countless protests, some beautiful, and some terribly ugly; some peaceful, and some that turned violent; some powerful, and some – I hate to say it – pointless.
But on that day, I turned down the chance to stomp my boots through concrete because I didn’t understand the point. Moreover, I didn't feel wholly welcome. It's part of the reason why I later learned we should never be shy to lead our own demonstrations, or more than that - our own delegations in larger demonstrations.
- Giles Li is a Chinese American spoken word performer and arts educator in the
I had left home,
For four years, I lived in a small city,
My first public activism action happened around that time as well, via online the social network Myspace.com with a well known Cali Rapper, Plucky Xiong. He had created and sold a t-shirt that promoted humor by degrading Hmong females: How to Court a Hmong Girl. He deemed this idea to be OK, because he wasn’t good looking, as if that was an excuse to find joy in the history of Hmong Womyn’s suffrage. The words and visuals on his t-shirt included three steps: 1 and 2 were to play two commonly known instruments to the Hmong people for courtship which were a piece of leaf, nplooj and a wooden mouth harp piece, ncas. If those two steps should fail to win her heart, the last step should definitely work with the help of his friends; take her against her will or in Hmong, zij kiag. This kidnapping of a Hmong female where marriage would follow, can be interpreted in different ways in where the two individuals agrees to stage this act, because their parents oppose their relationship or worst, taking her against her will.
I expressed concerns to his photo where he proudly sports the t-shirt and in caption: no offense ladies. He messaged, saying he understands me and he is pro-Hmong too, but he’s doing it from a different approach, which clearly defeats his Pro-Hmong claim.
While this t-shirt promotion was happening, heated news was circulating about the Hmong community regarding exposed events that had taken place in
-Linda Her, Artist Activist using Art as a Social Changing Tool.
"If you're gonna dream, dream big. It's free." Azzam Alwash, Iraqi Engineer struggling to restore the environment in
" 'Power yields nothing without a struggle', but how one struggles is now a very challenging question." Grace Lee Boggs, Asian American Activist.
This is dedicated to my friend
There were other, more serious and impassioned protests in college - to fight for expanded curricula for the histories of people of color and a more diverse teacher population, to protest nuclear weapons, war and militarism, against sexual harassment in medical school, and so forth, but just like those first protests, these began with idealism,
something which children have in abundance, if we'd only listen.
Protests are an expression of ideals and principles, and a hoped for connection to the ideals and principles of others. I'm so glad to be an American - to live in a country where dissent is tolerated, and at its best, welcomed. Protest is part of the dialogue, a balance to authority and power, which can corrupt and ignore divergent points of view. I welcome and await the voices of those younger than me, the voice of Bao's baby girl and others of her generation. The voices of the young, or really anyone who protests out of idealism and connection to causes bigger than themselves, are transformative and vital.