Bao Phi

Bao Phi has been a performance poet since 1991. A two-time Minnesota Grand Slam champion and a National Poetry Slam finalist, Bao Phi has appeared on HBO Presents Russell Simmons Def Poetry, and a poem of his appeared in the 2006 Best American Poetry anthology. Read more about Bao Phi.

Posts about Society

Cambodian Son: Minneapolis Screening and Q & A with director Masahiro Sugano on April 15

Posted by: Bao Phi Updated: April 9, 2014 - 10:55 AM

DEPORTED TO THE TWIN CITIES. 

TUESDAY // APRIL 15, 2014 // 7-9 PM 
HAMLINE UNIVERSITY-KLAS CENTER (3RD FL)
1537 TAYLOR AVENUE
SAINT PAUL, MN 55104 

Director Masahiro Sugano will be in attendance for a post-show Q and A.

From the website: Cambodian Son documents the life of deported poet, Kosal Khiev after receiving the most important performance invitation of his career—to represent the Kingdom of Cambodia at the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad. Kosal would travel to London having only taken two flights prior; first, as a 1-year-old refugee child whose family fled Cambodia and, then as a 32-year-old criminal “alien” forcibly returned to Cambodia in 2011. The film follows a volatile yet charming and talented young man who struggles to find his footing amongst a new freedom that was granted only through his deportation. Kosal’s London representation is a triumphant moment for many people in his life, both in America and Cambodia. The film traces the impact and significance of this moment for Kosal, his friends, family, mentors and a growing international fan base. Armed only with memorized verses, he must face the challenges of being a deportee while navigating his new fame as Phnom Penh’s premiere poet. After the performances end and the London stage becomes a faint memory, Kosal is once again left alone to answer the central question in his life: “How do you survive when you belong nowhere?

I was able to exchange some emails with Anida Yoeu Ali of Studio Revolt about the film, in anticipation of the premier here in Minnesota on April 15.

1) What drew you to Kosal Khiev and this project?

Masahiro (director) and I were introduced to Kosal by a mutual friend, another Khmer Exiled American (KEA) I knew in the US. Our mutual friend raved about Kosal’s poetry and said that we should really meet him, especially since I was also a spoken word artist once upon a time in Asian America. (Masa’s personal telling about his first encounter with Kosal is very touching, so feel free to read it here:

https://vimeo.com/31372665

Then one night Masa comes home and tells me that he just heard Kosal’s life story in one sitting. He was moved by the whole experience and he said this guy has something special and that I should really take the time to hear him kick a poem. Being the jaded old school spoken word artist that I was, I didn’t really believe Masa but then I remembered that Masa doesn’t usually rave about spoken word poetry so Kosal must have moved him deeply. On another night, Kosal came to visit us and in the middle of my living room I asked if he would kick a poem. That poem was “Moments In Between the Nights” and it grabbed my guts and shook me teary eyed. Since that moment sometime in July 2011, our paths have intertwined into both a journey and collaboration.

We believe Kosal represents something bigger than himself – ideas around compassion, the transformational power of art, and justice.

2) As it is National Poetry Month, what is it about poetry and spoken word that makes it a useful vessel for such a heavy subject?

Spoken word woven with musicality, theatricality and the raw energy and charisma of Kosal offers an element of entertainment that enables a mainstream audience typically unsympathetic to the deportation of convicted felons to have a new guide into the issue.

Kosal has a voice and it’s powerful and inspirational. We truly believe that his story and poetry should be heard on an international scale. We believe he has the power to unite and open up minds and hearts. He became a reformed man inside the US prison system as a result of arts programming. This means that reform is possible and art can be transformative. Kosal is living proof. We don’t need more punitive forms of justice but rather options that are restorative and transformative.

3) What is the goal of this film?

Our goal is to reach millions with this film. Laws can only be changed if we can change the culture which created the policies. We want people to humanize the issue of deportation through Kosal’s story. We want people to experience his story in order to tap into compassion and a sense of justice. Kosal’s story is complicated and has everything to do with history, geo-politics, war, circumstances, and failed systems which created him, then destroyed his life, and now rebirthing him once again.  

4) Where can readers learn more about deportation?

Please read the “issues” section of our press kit and/or our movie’s website for this information:

http://cambodianson.com/about/issues/

Trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EHiUw0v8YSs&feature=youtu.be

Orbit: Remembering Brandon Lacy Campos

Posted by: Bao Phi Updated: August 26, 2013 - 10:52 PM

 

 

 

When I looked through my archive to select a picture for this blog post, all but one of the photos I found had Brandon surrounded by friends.  For those of us who knew him, this is not a surprise.  He was such a magnetic soul – many of us were drawn to him, to his brightness and his candor, his poetry and his politics, his serious commitment to social justice and his hilarious stories that often veered into “too much information” territory.

For me, my memories of Brandon include Lord of the Rings trivia contests, walks under starlight far from the light pollution of the city, and getting pulled over in a rental car on the way to a funeral.  Lots of camping trips, nerd of color bonding sessions, soccer games in Powderhorn on Sundays, and poetry readings.  Like many others, I was grateful to have Brandon in my life, with all the different collisions and intersections and sheer joy that he brought with him. 
 
When I got the news of his passing months ago, I was far from home, far from the people who were mutually close to him, all of us in shock, all of us in mourning.  It was as if we, his friends and community, were in orbit around him, and with Brandon gone suddenly we all spun and reeled in space, lost.  I still have not been able to process and deal with losing him.  
 
This weekend would be his birthday -  I reached out to several community members, most of whom are from Minnesota or have roots here, to share a few words of reflection and honor his memory.  Here are their responses.
 
 
 
Dear Brandon: I remember a conversation with you in your kitchen at a party at your Powderhorn apartment.  You said something like ‘Why do I have to choose one race/ethnicity to identify with?  Why can’t I choose multiple races/ethnicities?  And it should be up to me, not others, to define how I identify.”  Years later I realize this conversation was a catalyst for my own journey as I grappled with my identity as a transracial adopted Asian American.  My recent visit to NYC wasn’t the same without seeing your bright eyes and hearing your laughter, but I could see and hear all of you when Justin and I visited the memorial by your apartment.  I brought flowers that reminded me of Minnesota – hope you liked them.  I almost didn’t take that trip to NYC but now I know I made the right decision.  Your legacy will live on and it confirms some of the challenging work I’ve done in the last year - I know you are standing in solidarity with me.  Thank you forever for being an eternal light in my life.  Thank YOU for all of your love and support for so long.
 
E. Lee (12.7.2012)
 
 
Brandon was just always "Up In It". Whatever "It" was at any given moment, whether or not *you* knew it or not, Brandon knew it. So that, whether we were infiltrating a predominantly white nerd convention (Convergence) with a gang of nerds of color in 2007, or discussing intersections of neoliberal economic policies and racism at the 2008 Midwest Social Forum, Brandon could be counted on to bring a fresh, engaged, and passionate voice to the conversation. He occupied so many spaces at once (mixed, queer, HIV positive, activist), that it seemed like he was always pushing every boundary, every category, and every comfort level at once. In that way, he made me feel less alone, and more okay in my own intersectional identity. Like many people, the thing I will miss most is his laugh. That, and his irreverent sense of humor -- the way he was always stretching the limits of the acceptable. If it needed to be said, and if it didn't need to be said, he would say it.
 
-Shannon Gibney
 
 
You know how there are some people who just fizz with energy and creativity and a sense of both hope and love? And they manage to fizz like that while still having this strong sense of politics and clarity about who has too much and who is struggling just to get by? That would be Brandon. I first met Brandon when he was a 19 year old University of Minnesota student, deeply involved in the gay fraternity. Even though he was 14 years younger than me, the two of us did some serious growing up together.  Together we would move from local to national organizing and back again, sharing gossip and vision, always fierce about claiming the midwest as being a powerplace that the coasts just kept ignoring. Brandon had that energy that drew people to him, lots of people. There was no way to ever know all of the people who Brandon claimed. They lived in every neighborhood and often had very little in common with each other, except for Brandon. That intensity and that big wide net of people and experiences also meant Brandon was a person who could hide when he struggled. He lived dozens of lives at every single moment, and in some of them, he was in a lot of pain. In others, he was the bright and shining star that everyone turned to face. I am still learning a lot from Brandon and imagine I will continue to learn from him for years to come. I miss him - his sassy and his serious, his family focus and his wild ways. 
 
-Susan Raffo
 
Brandon and I first “met” on FB 4+ years ago. I had been checking out people on our mutual friend Bryan Thao Worra’s page, saw a picture of Brandon and thought he was quite adorable. I asked Bryan to “introduce” us to each other and soon received a friend request from Brandon, once accepted I received my first post from him. It simply read, “We should make out some time”. I had absolutely no idea at the time how Brandon and I would change each other’s lives…….. forever.  My lover, brother, sister, roommate, child, teacher, student, collaborator, muse, source of inspiration, frustration, anxiety and many grey hairs, I loved all of him like no other. Brandon continues to never be far from my heart.
 
-David Berube
 
 
This note is the opening up of doors to the heartbeat and love that was Brandon Lacy Campos .  It’s not an easy task to write about someone who was so prolific on many levels from writer, to activist, to womynist, to fairy chef, etc.  Brandon was my sister/brother.  Our love and activism for our Communities of Color, Queer folks, Afrofuturism brought us together.  We met during our tender years at the University of Minnesota and bonded.  We understood the need for organizing friendships, communities, and movements across identities/ class/ gender expression/ immigration status etc.   I love Brandon’s fierceness, tenderness, and protective nature.  We cried a decade later as he said I loved him unconditionally, saw the good in him & held space for people even as others tore them down.  We smiled at the memory of us almost in each others lap, hugging in a love seat during his first going away party in MN.  He reminded me of my goodness as we caught up in NYC and we had a way of making each other cry even when we wanted to be hard.  When you are his family, he would hold people to account anywhere, such as the bathroom line as he overhead them talking trash about my character.   Thank you Brandon for your love, light, words, and sharing during your challenging time.
 
-Seyi Adebanjo
 
 
My fondest memory of Brandon Lacy Campos is the year my wife and I hosted a poetry reading in the backyard of our former residence in south Minneapolis.  Brandon was in town and he, along with several others, blessed our space. It was always a joy to have him around and to hear him read his work.  Through his writing, community activism, and his very presence, Brandon always had a way of making his own personal journey a shared purpose for us all to connect with.  Thankfully, this remains true today.
 
-Rush Merchant III
 
 
We met through activism and poetry. The greatest gift he gave me was to call me family and mean it. Brandon loved life, but understood that he was not perfect, nor did he need it to. He was an advocate of many causes, loved in many circles. But what I miss the most is his laughter and vulnerability. He was a caring person. We behaved like brothers and treated him as family. So much that he became tia Brandon to my little girls and one of Santiago's godparent. I miss his randomness, his nerdyness and the teasing we would have between each other like siblings. But also his ferocity on the mic. He was an amazing writer, who always impressed me with his words. He was a good definition of community, he always brought people together from different places. He is still doing that today. 
 
-Rodrigo Sanchez-Chavarria
 
 
The poets gather and we begin to build images and histories of you.  You are hard to write about Brandon.  There aren’t enough words to convey what you have meant to me.  You had a vulnerability that made me want to protect you.  You had a darkness that made me want to run from you.  You had a smile that always caused mine.  You were smarter than most people I know.  It was always a joy to see you lay the smack down on someone.  Side eye and all, you weren’t afraid to bring it and sometimes reckless in the conflict you wrought.  You loved big, always willing to give yourself over to people, that’s why people loved back so much.  I miss the fun parts and I want to forget what was hard but I can’t because that was part of our journey as well.  I miss you, every day.  I have lost a part of my life, and we all mourn the future we wanted with you.  So much of what is good in me is because of our friendship, of the world we created together, of our conversations and our laughter.  I pray that the ancestors have taken you home and I know that I will see you again, poet and revolutionary friend.
 
-Coya Hope Artichoker
 
 
It’s so hard to put into words what Brandon has meant not only to me, but to my family as well.  Brandon came into our lives like a whirlwind and continues to remain a very strong presence in our home.  I have so many favorite memories of Brandon that it is hard to select one, but there is one that does stand out the most and it is one that I hold onto dearly.  It was one simple phrase and gesture he made to me while I was in New York City a few years ago for a conference.  We went to a show together and while we were waiting for it to begin, he gently leans over, leans his head on my shoulder, and whispers, “I’m so glad you are here.”  It was the simplicity of that moment, in the midst of a vibrant environment, that defines best who Brandon is.  He was very open about his strengths, but also his faults.   The beautiful thing is that he didn't let himself be defined by either.  To us, he was Brandon, B, Tia Brandon, Amor.  And that’s who he will continue to remain.
 
-Nubia Esparza
 
 
 
This Saturday, Aug 31, Palabristas: Latin@ Word Slingers will be paying tribute to their departed collective member, Brandon Lacy Campos, who passed away last November 9. 
Palabristas members will perform Pedro Pietri's classic 'Puerto Rican Obituary' as well as one of Brandon's own poems, as part of an event called COPArty: A Music, Poetry and Dance Fundraiser for Copa Comunidad Midwest 2013.
 
Copa Comunidad Midwest 2013 is a gathering of leftist/anti-imperialist futbol (soccer)players and supporters from around the country - four days of futbol, food, fiestas, good folks and fun. 
 
COPArty will also feature poet Chaun Webster, music from Silva Sol, aon jarocho and Big Quarters, and DJ sets by DJ Dang!, DJ Sarah White Black, and DJ Mamadu. The event runs from 9pm to 2am at Bedlam Theatre, 2714 E 27th St. Minneapolis (just off the greenway at 27th Ave S).
 
There is a $10 suggested donation, but nobody will be turned away for lack of funds.
 
All proceeds go to help cover the costs of Copa Comunidad Midwest. Members of Palabristas thought it was a fitting space in which to pay tribute to Brandon, as Brandon played soccer with members of Palabristas who are now part of Left Wing TC soccer team, the host team of Copa Comunidad.
 
For more information, please contact Left Wing TC at leftwingtc@gmail.com

 

 

 

Letters Home: the shootings at the Sikh Gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin

Posted by: Bao Phi Updated: August 16, 2012 - 10:24 PM

 

 

 

Like much of the Asian American community, I was stunned and saddened to my core a couple of weeks ago to hear about the terrible murder of Sikh people in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.  Adding to the tragedy, there seems to be little empathy or coverage of this terrible event in the mainstream American press and consciousness.  What little there has been in the mainstream press has been problematic.

Shortly after the incident, I received an email from Preeti Kaur with a poem about the hate crime.  I was floored by it.  I asked Preeti to write an artist's statement and her thoughts for this blog.  Her response follows, with a link to her full poem at the end.

 

On August 5, 2012, while morning services were starting at the Sikh Gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, a gunman barged into the place of worship with assault weapons. For over two hours, he terrorized the worshipers -- an innocent crowd consisting of faith scholars, elderly, women, and children. He ultimately shot six dead, seriously wounded three others including a police lieutenant, and ended his terror by fatally shooting himself to death. Posthumous investigations indicated the killer, Wade Michael Page, was a decades-long out-spoken member of white supremacist groups and bands.  

 

As an American and a practicing Sikh, I was deeply aggrieved that this could happen in one of our places of worship. In times of grief, poetry can give us the space to connect our personal grief with external grief.  Letters Home is a collection of poems which seek to connect the tragedy in Oak Creek with the larger narrative of violence in the name of a deep-seeded racial hatred in this country.

 

The Oak Creek shooting calls us to seek the guidance of Bhagat Singh Thind, a Sikh from Punjab, India, who fought for the United States in World War I, but was denied American citizenship because of xenophobic laws during his era.

 

The Oak Creek killings rekindle our American remorse for the heinous murder of Balbir Singh Sodhi, the first person killed in a hate crime after 9/11, for being an immigrant practicing his faith by visibly emphasizing his difference in wearing a turban. Practicing Sikh men, and some women, wear a turban to cover their long, unshorn hair, which they maintain as a commitment to acceptance, and to being a distinguishable beacon of sanctuary in times of danger. Yet in America, this difference exhibited by practicing Sikhs, especially in the post-9/11 years, has meant being subject to bullying in schools, being subject to racial epithets or violence in society, to the most extreme punishment: death.

 

Oak Creek calls on the Sikh community itself, again spotlighted in a time of tragedy, to respond with the dictates of our teachings: compassion, resilience, and a lived strength, especially in a time of loss.

 

Oak Creek re-awakens our historical amnesia and reminds us of the Bellingham Riots of 1907, where the Asiatic Exclusion League, a xenophobic organization of the time, violently ejected over 400 Sikh lumbermen from a Washington lumber-town.

 

Oak Creek brings alive Vincent Chin, a Chinese American who was killed in Detroit in 1982 in a hate crime which has been historically labeled a case of mistaken identity. One cannot help suggesting, in this era of extreme Islamophobia played out on the national policy and media theaters, that perhaps Sikhs, who might look like a version of the so-called 'enemy' to people with crude knowledge of the world, were 'mistaken' for an alternative target-- a Muslim target. No one deserves brutality for being stereotyped as an enemy, no matter what their faith. No one deserves a political climate which justifies racist collective punishment. In the last two weeks alone our nation has seen eight attacks against places of worship, most of them Muslim places of worship. America needs to address the political climates which give vigor to hate-based violence within our borders.

 

Oak Creek also calls us to question collective punishment and supremacist ideologies around the world, from the 1984 pogroms against the Sikhs in  Delhi, India, to the recent March 2012 massacre of villagers in Panjwai, Afghanistan.

 

Finally, Oak Creek should evoke a dirge of grief from all Americans. The symbolism of white supremacist violence against a place of worship inhabited by people of color is something our country witnessed in the 1963 bombing of a Black church in Birmingham, Alabama during the Civil Rights movement.  We have moved mountains since then, yet mountains remain. 

 

President Obama still has not visited the families of the Oak Creek victims, as he has done in other recent mass-shootings in our nation, leaving many to wonder why a tragedy against a minority racialized community does not deserve the dignity of a President's gesture of shared national grief. What happened in Oak Creek is an American tragedy. I grieve for America.

 

Excerpt of poem Letters Home:

 

please forward to the 50 states/ the white house/ all territories/ the flagged patch on the moon

 

america:

enter

the gurdwara door is open

our bare feet like cracked glass

our covered heads bulletproof from ego

we turn our backs on bellingham

build our gurdwaras from post traumatic cinder

of bombed birmingham black church

nina simone sings tera bhaana meetha laage*

to tune of mississippi goddamn

gunpowder lines noses of children

left behind wailing mummy papa we will never forget you

‘the love that forgives’ a lullaby

which sears obedient

into a bittering lemon

 

i stand half mast, america

i grieve for my future son, america

i grieve for all nights, america

 

i grieve for all nights

 

 

*A Sikh prayer invoking acceptance of sacrifice. Literally, it means “May I experience Your will as sweet to me.”

 

 

For complete poem, please see here.

 

 

Preeti Kaur attended Gurdwara at the local Sikh center in Minneapolis for years as a student. She currently lives in California. Her poetry can be found at Qarrtsiluni Literary Magazine, The Loft's ¿ Nation of Immigrants? spoken word CD, the South Asian Magazine for Action and Reflection, and The Sikh Review.

Lin. Sanity.

Posted by: Bao Phi Updated: July 21, 2012 - 10:58 AM

 

A few years ago, there was buzz about an Asian American basketball player from Harvard named Jeremy Lin.  His name bounced around mostly Asian American pop culture and news sites, including my very own blog:

 

http://www.startribune.com/local/yourvoices/98959829.html 

I remember thinking, I hope he’s able to fulfill his dream and play some minutes on an NBA team. 

Fast-forward to now, the Summer after Linsanity when he electrified the Nation, with terrific gutsy gameplay and one hell of an underdog story, while earning the league minimum.  This summer, as Lin became a free agent, an unexpected fiasco emerged around what team and what contract he would be offered, and in the recent weeks Lin has become the most debated and visible Asian American public figure in my adult life. 

During the height of Linsanity in February and March, when those of us basketball fans and Lin fans could scarcely believe what was happening, Boston-based spoken word artist and activist (and father of a darling set of twins) Giles Li contacted myself and Beau Sia, with an idea for the three of us to collaborate on poetry about Jeremy Lin.  Since the three of us live in separate cities spread out across America, we decided to each write a poem and work with a video director, and plan to release them concurrently.

Lin’s knee injury put our plans on hold, and we had planned to release the videos when the Knicks offered Lin a contract.  Well, anyone who has been following the news knows what’s unfolded in the last two weeks.  Giles has recently released his video, a hit amongst many Asian Americans and basketball fans. 

I spoke to Giles about the video and his feelings on Lin, as an artist, as a lifelong Celtics fan, as an Asian American, and as a father. 

 

How long have you been a Jeremy Lin fan?  When did you first hear about him?  

 

I live in Boston, so I first heard Jeremy Lin's name on the local news when he was captain of the Harvard basketball team. I had a general awareness that there was an Asian American kid on that team who was impressing people with his game, but it wasn't until he had that huge game against UConn his senior year that I realized he was making his way onto people's radars as a potential NBA player. I mean, UConn has been nationally ranked my entire life. Some of the greatest basketball players in history - both men and women - have come through UConn. And here was Jeremy Lin almost single-handedly giving Harvard - Harvard?? - a chance to beat them. 

By the time he had that great summer league game where he outplayed John Wall, Jeremy Lin was on a lot of people's mock draft boards, some even had him as a late first-round pick. Alas, he wasn't drafted and I figured he'd missed his shot. At that point, it didn't even register as a disappointment for me. A lot of talented players don't make it to the NBA.

There was a great high school player in Boston in the 1980s named Eugene Miles, who was considered as good as Patrick Ewing was at the time. I happened to sit next to him on a bus several years ago, and I learned about how hard it had been for him to make a living as a basketball player, even though everyone around him had told him he would be a star since he was a kid. I figured the same thing had happened to Jeremy Lin, and at least he had a Harvard degree to fall back on.

 

What was it like for you during Linsanity?

 

First and foremost, it was weird to root for a Knicks player because I'm a lifelong Celtics fan and they're in the same conference. I don't have that problem anymore.

But as much as I was excited and energized by Jeremy Lin and his story. I could feel myself subconsciously bracing myself for the inevitable backlash, which would have more than a little to do with his race. There were plenty of Asian Americans who were prematurely trying to cut him down to size too, probably because they didn't want to be seen as Jeremy Lin fanboys.

But what was joyous about that moment in sports history is that his story was so familiar to so many of us. Scouts and coaches and players took one look at his face and assumed he was not on their level, and that was his biggest obstacle. It wasn't lack of hard work or talent or practice or connections or even luck that stalled his career, it was primarily the fact that people looked at him and couldn't imagine that guy actually being competitive enough to make it at the highest level. And he proved so many people wrong and still couldn't shake all the doubters.

And that's common for us as Asian Americans isn't it? People are more comfortable assuming from the jump that you're not good enough than actually assessing you as a person and deciding for themselves based on evidence.

 

Beautiful poem, and Ash did a great job with the video.  How did you two end up working together?

 

We've been friends for a long time, and we have been planning to work together for at least five years, but we never found the right project that we both could be invested in the right way. Actually, Ash did that amazing video for your "No Offense" poem last year before he and I could figure out how to work together. But because for the last 10 years, many of our conversations have been about basketball, this just seemed like the right time to finally get it going. I think the piece I wrote is pretty strong and honest, but Ash's work on the visuals was really flawless - that's why it's started to catch on with people online.

What is kind of interesting to me is that this piece was written and mostly shot when Linsanity was still a thing. It was written from the point of view that mainstream American was finally able to attach something "Asian American" to a universally positive feeling. That was a first in my lifetime, and it made me happy that it was happening while my kids were still little, that maybe the world they grow up in will be more informed by that positivity.

But unsurprisingly, time has proven me wrong - and this American culture fell back into treating Asian Americans the way it prefers - as targets of vitriol and hatred. And now that the cultural context and media landscape has changed, it has become a much more sad piece to me. My kids growing up as Asian Americans may feel every bit as invisible and devalued as I often did.

As a parent that hurts a lot.

 

A lot of people, especially Asian Americans, seem to really be resonating with your poem and video.  I've been reading a lot about Jeremy Lin, and one thing that strikes me, is that a lot of people's mindset and vocabulary are still stuck in very white-Black paradigms when I feel like this is a phenomenon very specifically informed by Lin being an Asian American.  I feel like your poem is a much more nuanced exploration of race and identity.  Care to comment? 


Even at the height of his popularity, when there wasn't much backlash against him yet, there was already a backlash against all the "new" fans he was bringing into the fold.

There was an idiotic assumption among some non-Asian folks that Asians and Asian Americans never paid attention to basketball until Jeremy Lin hit. As I said, I've been an NBA fan my whole life, and the reason is that both my father and mother raised me that way. The mainstream narrative was about how unusual it was that the American-born child of Asian immigrants played basketball; that's not unusual. What is unusual is that he kept going for it after countless people took one look at his face and told him he wasn't tough enough, or wasn't athletic enough, or wasn't competitive enough.

And as spoken word performers, we both know this, but there are very few fields in which Asian Americans can start making a name for themselves and not be met with some surprise. And again, we both have experience with this: sometimes that surprise is tinged with doubt, anger, or disbelief.

And during the height of Linsanity, a lot of the commentary was tinged with the same stuff. There was a widespread assumption he would fall to earth, that he'd eventually reveal himself as a so-so player, but if you look at his history as a basketball player, he has produced at every level. He was a legitimate top-tier college player, he was a successful summer league player, there was actually more evidence of him being better than average than there was of him being worse than average. The assertion that he was a below-average guard was based almost solely on his race.

I read Devin Gordon's piece on the GQ blog about race and how it's not being named as a factor in mainstream discourse around Jeremy Lin, even though it's affecting everyone's perceptions of him. I appreciated that he did that; at the same time, it took a well-known mainstream white journalist to give that point of view legitimacy. As Asian Americans, we almost aren't allowed to talk about race politics because we're met with that same doubt, anger, and disbelief that our experiences with racism carry any water.

But anyway, I'm not trying to prove anything to anyone. Mainly, I believe Jeremy Lin is important to the world in which Asian American parents are raising Asian American kids. That's the main reason why he matters to me.

 

Watch Giles' video here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jdS11u1ScN0

 

 

Giles Li is a father of two who serves the immigrant community in Boston through his work with a Chinatown-based nonprofit agency. He also used to maintain a career as a spoken word poet, which took him on the road and away from home.  Now a father, he finds that he produces creative work when he feels like it, which works out well for him and his family.

 

 

 

Vincent Chin: 30 Years Later

Posted by: Bao Phi Updated: June 18, 2012 - 8:38 AM

 

Vincent Chin

Vincent Chin

 

 

 

On June 19, 1982, Vincent Chin was at his bachelor party at Fancy Pants, a strip club in suburban Detroit.  Two white out-of-work autoworkers, Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz, began trading insults at Chin from across the bar.  “It’s because of you little *expletive deleted* that we’re out of work,” witnesses say Ebens yelled at Chin.

 

At the time, anti-Japanese sentiment was high.  Many blamed the decline of the U.S. auto industry on Japan – I remember the pressure to buy products with a “Made in America” sticker or patch on them, even though I was just a boy.  Vincent Chin, a 27 year old Chinese American draftsman, was not Japanese, and had nothing to do with the auto industry.

 

After the altercation, Chin and his friends parted ways, but Ebens and Nitz weren’t done.  They went looking for Chin, reportedly paying a friend $20 to help look for him.  They found him at a McDonalds, dragged him outside, and one of them held Chin down while the other brutally beat him with a baseball bat.  Four days later, Chin died – five days before his wedding.

 

Both Ebens and Nitz got three years' probation, a $3,000 fine, and $780 in court costs.  To this day, neither of them have spent a day in jail.

 

I will repeat that: Ebens and Nitz sought out an unarmed man, held him down, and beat him to death in front of witnesses, and to this day they haven’t spent a single day in jail.

 

How does one make sense of that.    In a few days, it will be the 30 year anniversary of his murder, and still, thinking about Vincent Chin is like ripping open an old, raw wound.  Even after years of struggling for change, of witnessing terrible injustice after injustice, of trying to educate yourself about institutional racism, how do you make sense of this.


How do you reason with people who *still* don’t think racism exists.   

 

Sure, there have been many much less visible incidents of horrific racist violence against Asians before Chin.  And unfortunately, many after him.  That just makes it worse.  It is a reminder to all of us, that our lives simply aren’t worth as much as a white person’s.

 

The race of the perpetrator is important, absolutely.  But so is the race of the victim.  Statistics show that in the U.S., if the victim of a crime is white, the perpetrator is far more likely to endure harsher punishments, including the death penalty, than if the victim is a person of color or Native American.

 

But still, even armed with this disappointing knowledge: no jail time served for the brutal murder of an Asian American man.

 

I’m not even a vindictive person.  Punishing Ebens and Nitz won’t bring Chin back.  Nor will it even the scales for all of the people of color who have suffered from the racism in our legal and penal system.

 

Still.

 

You can talk about how this all started at a strip club, and how we should be critical of all men and their patronage of such places.  Just as long as you ask yourself, do all men regardless of their race fear death by baseball bat by going to a strip club.  Is that a reason to murder anyone.

 

The fact that he was Chinese American and had nothing to do with the auto industry – it still would have been horrible if he had been Japanese and worked for Honda.

 

And still – Fong Lee was killed in 2006, in a case that is highly suspect, by a police officer with a history of violence both while on duty and at home in his personal life – he was given a Medal of Valor for shooting and killing Lee, a teenager.

 

Lili Wang was murdered in 2002 by her classmate, Richard Anderson, who had stated he had a “preference” for Asian women.  Richard shot and killed Lili, a married woman, after he was allegedly frustrated that she had turned down his advances.

 

In 1992, 10 years after the murder of Vincent Chin, 16 year-old High School student Yoshi Hattori was looking for a Halloween party with his friend.  They knocked on the door of 30 year old Rodney Peairs and his family.  No one answered so they began to walk away.  Bonnie Peairs, Rodney’s wife, looked out her window, spotted “an Oriental person,” and called out to her husband, “Honey, get your gun.”  Rodney Peairs shot Yoshi Hattori point blank in the chest, killing him.  His defense was that Yoshi, a Japanese exchange student, had an "extremely unusual manner of moving", one which any reasonable person would find "scary”. 


Peairs has also never spent time in jail for the murder of Yoshi Hattori.

 

There are also the countless Arab, Muslim, and South Asians who have been harassed, beaten, and murdered, both prior to 9/11 and afterwards, including 78-year-old Gurmej Atwal and 67-year-old Surinder Singh, gunned down and killed while on an afternoon walk in Sacramento.

 

It’s not just us Asians.  25 year old Mexican immigrant Luis Ramirez was brutally beaten and killed by two white teenagers – who were acquitted of all serious charges and face 7 to 23 month sentences.   Trayvon Martin, a teenager, was killed by George Zimmerman – it was a long time before Zimmerman saw the inside of a jail cell.

 

Justice is not even on our side when we act in self defense.  CeCe McDonald, a local transgender African American, defended herself when she and her friends were verbally and physically assaulted outside Schooner’s in South Minneapolis.  She faces three years in a men’s prison for defending herself.

 

I’m not saying that I like the prison-industrial complex of this country.  However, I do believe it is worthwhile to look at the inequalities.  Koua Fong Lee was driving a car that malfunctioned, and another family was killed in the accident.  He did not flee the scene – and his own family was in his car – and yet no one believed him when he insisted it was an accident.  His own family was in his car – why would he endanger their lives as well?  He spent three years in jail before the Toyota recall put his allegations that the brakes malfunctioned into a new light, and he was freed.

 

Contrast that to Amy Senser, who killed Anousone Phanthavong in a hit-and-run, knocking him nearly 50 feet, fled the scene, and did not turn herself in until days later, after she had consulted her lawyers.  She was not jailed during the trial, and though she is convicted of two counts of vehicular homicide, and though there was expert testimony that Phanthavong was flung onto her car and there was no way she could not have known she hit a person, the jury inexplicably sent her a note saying they believed her.

 

Who you believe says a lot about you. 


And the list goes on.  John T. Williams.  Oscar Grant.  Chonburi Xiong.  Michael Cho. Cau Thi Bich Tran.  Tycel Nelson.  And these are just the more well-known names.  How many more dozens, or hundreds, of nameless brown people are killed twice: once by murder, and again by a racist judicial system.

 

30 years later, and we can’t forget Vincent Chin.  And we shouldn’t.

 

There is no way for me to make sense of this case.  I try to write intelligently about it, and all I have is unbridled, bottomless anger.  I feel provoked, to my core.  That one of my earliest memories is that kids were calling me chink and I had to ask my dad what it meant.  To have a lifetime of micro-aggressions and not-so-micro aggressions directed at you, stacked on top of people telling you your experience and insisting that racism doesn’t exist towards your people, and to top it all off, that people can murder you in the street in front of McDonalds and get a slap on the wrist for it.  And though Vincent Chin’s tragic murder is relatively invisible, it’s horrifying to think his case is actually one of the more visible, known cases of anti-Asian violence.  I feel that there is no room for love, or reason, in a world like this.  I feel tired, and defeated.  Stupid and useless. 

 

Of course, if there is any bright side at all to this, it is that the memory of Chin and the blatant injustice has galvanized many Asian Americans to activism.  I asked some respected Asian American activists and community workers to talk about this case for my blog. 


I asked them two questions:  What do you remember about the first time you heard about Vincent Chin?  Why do you think this case is still important, 30 years later?  Their answers follow.  I thank them for their time, and energy.


I do not remember how or where i first heard about Vincent Chin, the white men who murdered him, and the justice system that supported them to walk free -but it wasn't until my college years. I do remember feeling awful that so many years of my life had passed before his story made its way to me. This was something i should have learned in elementary school and discussed throughout my adolescence along with Emmett Till's case.

 

This case will be forever important and forever relevant. Here I offer questions.  What is acceptable for this country to mourn and permissible to bury? What is convenient about the collective unconsciousness surrounding Vincent Chin's case? Asian Americans are still seen as perpetual foreigners, another axis in how People of Color are racialized. How have devastating instances of brutality and injustice upon Asian Americans been confined? How even our struggles are "outsiders within"? How in celebrating our strength and power we are welcomed? 

 

Eva Song Margolis is a Minneapolis-based activist.

 

The gruesome Chin murder forced us to ask deeper questions and seek more complicated answers. It is elementary to answer the question “Who Killed Vincent Chin;” Ron Ebens and Mike Nitz killed him. But a more complicated answer is white America’s creation of the “Yellow Peril” stereotype killed Vincent Chin. The anti-Japanese and anti-Asian fervor in the U.S. reached levels not seen since Pearl Harbor. Corporations, elected officials and celebrities alike were drawing comparisons between the sudden rise in Japanese automobiles to the invasion of Pearl Harbor. The Chin case forced us to ask questions about how as a community we interfaced with the state and the courts when our civil rights were violated. Have we successfully and faithfully applied these lessons since his murder?


In the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, have we failed to ask the deeper and broader questions that the Chin murder case taught us to ask? Where was the massive public outrage over the 1,400+ Arab, Arab Americans, Middle Easterners and other “non-whites” being detained without regard to their civil rights? How critical have we been to the steady flow of legislation being passed in the name of “homeland security” that violates our basic civil rights?

 

Daren Rikio Mooko is an activist and Associate Dean of Students at Pomona College

 

 

The first time I heard about Vincent Chin was in 1995.  Ping Chong's company presented a performance piece that included baseball bats and a dramatization of Vincent Chin's murder.  I was shocked, especially because I grew up in Detroit and knew nothing of the case even though it happened in my own city.  Either my parents shielded me from the murder because I was a child or because they didn't think it was important to share what happened with me.  I found out years later that the Asian-American community was gathering in basements right across the street from my elementary school, to discuss what to do...and I never knew it was happening. 

 

The case is still important because these kind of hate crimes still exist today, in our own backyards: in Chicago, in Tulsa, in Minneapolis.  Vincent-Chin-violence happens today, yesterday and unfortunately as an Asian-American woman, I know incidents will continue to happen tomorrow.  Because we, as Americans, as a global community, are not "post-race" by any means.  Understanding racism is a lifelong commitment.  Race is not easily understood; the actions of violence that have continued since Vincent Chin's murder 30 years ago only further amplify the need to address the complexities of race in the United States if we want to evolve as a nation.

 

Sun Mee Chomet is an actor, playwright and collaborator who lives in the country of St. Paul, Minnesota.

 

The first time I learned about Vincent Chin to any great extent, was when I first watched the film "Who Killed Vincent Chin?" directed by Christine Choy and Renee Tajima-Pena.  I had been invited to perform in an Artist Exchange event at the Asian Arts Initiative in Philadelphia as part of the 20th Anniversary remembrance events of Vincent Chin's murder.  What I remember most is the interview of Lily Chin, Vincent Chin's mother, in the film.  She recounts the last moment she had spoken to Vincent--had seen him alive--before he went out that night to his bachelor party.  She talks about how she was entreating him to stay home because he was getting married the next day.  And in both reassuring her and dismissing her, he had responded to her not to worry or to make a big deal out of because it would be "the last time."  And his mother says that she told him, "Don't say 'last time'--it's bad luck," and as the fatal import of that last exchange with her son comes rushing in on her, and she breaks down at the end of the interview, sobbing uncontrollably.  In that moment as I watched this part of the film, I saw my own mother.  I could hear my own mother in her story--that could have been my brother.  That could have been any Asian/Asian American man.  In that moment, Vincent Chin's murder became personal to me.


I believe the Vincent Chin case is still important because  it reminds us that racial violence continues to be perpetrated against members of our community, particularly young Asian American men, as was the case in Fong Lee's murder in Minneapolis in 2006.  It also reminds us that in such cases, we still face a tremendous and disheartening battle in trying to acquire justice. Finally, it demonstrates the urgency for us as a community to develop a consciousness in which  Asian/Asian American people believe in true solidarity and coalition.   For this belief to be realized, people in our community need to recognize  the importance of learning our own history from our own perspective, to be  proud of our own culture, and to resist internalizing racist and sexist  images of ourselves.

 

Michelle Myers is spoken word poet, activist, and educator in Philadelphia, PA.

 

 

Pan-Asian Voices for Equity, Minnesota (PAVE-MN) are organizing a local community event honoring Vincent Chin.  The event includes local artists, activists, and spoken word artists, as well as a live-stream of a national panel of Asian American civil rights leaders.  More information here:

 

http://pavemn.wordpress.com/2012/05/30/standing-up-then-now-v-chin-30/

 

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