One of the first Asian American activists I met as a young man was Dixie Riley, back in the old Asian American Renaissance days. She was a powerful presence, thoughtful and outspoken. What was striking to me about Dixie was that, despite being committed to social justice and having a critical nature even if it made people uncomfortable, was the fact that Dixie was always warm and open. This ran counter to the stereotypical image of an activist: strident, (self-)righteous and grim martyrs with no sense of humor or social skills, who spend more time yelling in people's faces than engaging in critical discourse. I am ashamed to admit that in those younger days I took on various aspects of that self-righteous militant persona because that's what I thought activists did. That you had to be serious, to wear your emotional armor, and fight the good fight with pursed lips against the powers that be. Dixie lived her life as an activist and put any of my young militant posturing to shame.
Over the years I would still see Dixie at various rallies and community gatherings, and though in her later on in life she fought against breast cancer she remained active and engaged. One minute, she would be handing you a copy of a critical letter she wrote to an establishment or community organization and asking what you thought of it. The next she would beam you her smile and ask you how your girlfriend/boyfriend/partner was, how life was. I saw her just a few weeks ago, at a reading celebrating social justice. She was in a wheelchair, asking me for my address so she could send me copies of a couple of letters she had written then asking me how Juliana's pregnancy was going. She was still bright, engaged, warm. She was an example for us younger activists: that the community came before ego, that great community workers were committed but humble, that you could be critical and intelligent while remaining thoughtful, and loving.
This weekend, I got a call telling me the sad news that Dixie had passed away. The Asian American community, and the many other communities that valued and loved Dixie, have suffered another devastating loss. We hope she is at peace at last. Thank you. The best tribute we can give you is to march onwards. The work isn't done. But you have more than earned your rest. We move on for you and hold to us your memory, your example. Rest in power.