Asian in Movement

Hi friend!

Honestly, I can’t believe it’s only been a month since we last chatted. I feel like SO MUCH has happened. Like it feels like way more time has gone by even though it’s still only a month lol. UGGHHH where do I even start.

I think to sum up this past month, it’s really been a dive into African American and civil rights movement history in the US. And also reflecting on where API’s fit into all of this.

I think last time we chatted I was chillin in Charlotte, getting ready to go to the POC Momentum Training. The training itself wasn’t as much what I was expecting, although that’s not to say it wasn’t good or I didn’t learn anything. I think I was expecting to feel a tremendous amount of growth, or have a sort of epiphany or “aha” moment, which I didn’t really have. Instead, I found myself in a place of struggle and tension in my body and in my mind.

Charlotte, NC

The training was mainly black trainers and participants. This might be because this was held in the south, but I’ve also found that “POC” movement spaces tend to be dominated by black folks. With that said, I think it was a really great space for black and southern folks to connect and talk about their experiences. I found it harder for myself to develop more meaningful relationships – although I’m not sure if it’s because of the racial dynamics or because of myself usually needing some time to get used to a space. Maybe both.

One of my biggest takeaways is the framework they use to describe movement work and the importance of all the work together. I’ve also been very apprehensive about the usage of mass protest in movement work lately just because we’ve seen so much of it but I feel like we haven’t seen any tangible changes. However, the training has highlighted to me the real importance of mass protest in changing narrative and how it creates space for all these changes to happen on the ground.

Beautiful sunset at the Franklinton Center at Bricks during the POC Momentum Training

Some things that I left questioning or struggling with:

  • The use of violence in the movement. We did an activity where people moved to a side of the room depending on whether they strongly agreed or strongly disagreed with the statement. One statement was something like, “an armed resistance is necessary in order to win.” On the strongly disagree side (which there were not very many of) and in the middle (also not very many) was mostly latinx and asian folks. On the strongly agree side was a majority of the room and almost all black folks. It made me think about why this dynamic existed. It made me realize how much of the black experience I just simply didn’t understand. It also solidified my views on this issue. I think in almost all cases, nonviolence is the way. However, we can’t rule out using violence, especially in instances of war, mass killings, genocide, etc.
  • The necessity to move the middle to our side. When we think about how we “win” what we want, we often think about needing to move the middle to our side. The middle typically being, middle class, white people. I have always been on the side of, yes, this is how we win. Someone brought up that when we do this, it forces us to continue to center whiteness in all of our work (our messaging, strategy, tactics, etc) and is that really what our movement is about? It’s definitely a question that I continue to think about and struggle with.
  • API narratives in the movement. Where do we even fit in? The whole training shared movement history and events led by black leaders and latinx leaders, but there was definitely a lack of API identity and narrative in the training. It seems like we are constantly on the sidelines.
  • How much I still have to learn. There were so many well studied people at this training it made me realize how much I don’t know about the histories of our movements.

After the training, I rented a car and began my southern tour. I’ve never spent so much time in the south nor have I been to so many southern cities before. In Atlanta I volunteered for Stacey Abrams and AAJC Atlanta. For Stacey I knocked on doors in an middle-upper class black neighborhood – this in itself was an entirely new experience for me. Seeing a whole neighborhood of nice houses occupied solely by black families for me was really refreshing, especially coming from MN where middle class POCs basically just live in white neighborhoods. The same was true when I was doing voter engagement with AAJC in a predominantly Korean neighborhood.

Edmund Pettus Bridge, Selma, AL

I visited civil rights museums and sites in Atlanta, Montgomery, Birmingham, Jackson, and New Orleans. The sites like the bridge in Selma or the location where Rosa Parks decided not to give up her seat were all memorials. They honestly had less impact on me than I expected. I guess I don’t really know what I was expecting. The different museums in each city were helpful for me to get perspective of how different events shaped the cities and how they shaped the movement as a whole. It was also helpful to see similar events told in different ways.

I ended in New Orleans. It was nice to be in a larger, more bustling city. Although, I guess I didn’t expect it to be so touristy. I volunteered for VAYLA on election day and did some Asian American polling surveys. The precincts were heavily Vietnamese. The surveys were interesting because many folks would say they cared about issues like, the environment, immigration, education, etc. However, for the Trump approval, many also marked that they strongly approved of his job. I’m like…uhhhh okay? Lol. It presents an important insight into the understanding of politics that communities actually have.

Overall, the Southern Tour was good for me to see and experience the south, visit museums and get a richer understanding of civil rights history. To see a vibrancy of African American culture in these cities, especially Atlanta, was also really nice and different than what I know. However, I think 1 day in some of the cities was just not long enough. It actually wasn’t even 1 day in some. I’m beginning to realize that less is actually more. I wanted to stay longer in Atlanta with AAJC, and NOLA with VAYLA, but I couldn’t because I had to leave the next day.

I saw this photo in multiple civil rights museums I visited in the South. Something about it really resonated with me. It’s not the flag or the voting message, but more so the youth and determination. I see in their eyes and faces the same eyes and faces I see in our youth today.

So from NOLA I flew to the Facing Race Conference in Detroit. I think it was a good culmination to all the things I had been experiencing – the training, the museums, the election. The keynotes were great. They talked about things that really resonated with me, like how we cast people aside in movement work and how we treat them as disposable, how we need to dream bigger and more creatively, and how it’s okay to let things die in order for new things to bloom (made me think of SOY). The sessions were mediocre. I also attended the API caucus at the conference and it was helpful in finding some community in such a large (3500 people) conference.

Facing Race Conference in Detroit

As I was walking around Detroit after the conference I had so many questions I was contemplating:

  • How do we create an API movement and narrative that recognizes both our complex diversity of identities and struggles, AND unifies us to recognize and use our power?
  • How do we as API’s show up in movement space – claim space as our own, share our rich histories and struggles, AND understand our place in history as upholders of white supremacy?
  • How do we as API’s dig deeper into our familial and organizing histories and tell those stories?
  • How do we dream bigger as a movement about the systems and world we want to create?
  • How are we as a movement fighting for the soul of America?
  • How do we shift the broader public from seeing racism and oppression as unfortunate, to seeing racism and oppression as unjust?

As I thought about these questions I could feel the struggle of growth inside of me. The struggle where you don’t really have an answer to whatever you’re thinking about but you know that the act of struggling through it will lead you to growth. That moment felt really great.

That said, networking is difficult for me in large spaces like that. Even in a medium sized training space like POC momentum it was a bit difficult. I think partly it’s because I’m an introvert. But the other piece is I think there is a constant feeling of being an outsider. It’s the perpetual foreigner syndrome lol.  I think this shows up everywhere, including movement spaces, due to lack of representation, acknowledgement, and understanding of our narrative. I think API folks not speaking up in spaces is caused by that feeling AND also continues to perpetuate these feelings amongst others. That said, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I show up in spaces. How I as an Asian American claim space and what it means for me to do that.

I’m now in Baltimore. I think I always create expectations of a place and what my experience will be and that experience never turns out the way I expected. Go figure, right? That’s the story of life haha. But for some reason I still create these expectations. Here in Baltimore, I thought it would be easier to set up meetings with all these API orgs in DC, but it’s turning out to be harder than I expected, for a variety of reasons (some of which were out of my control). But I have a little over a week left and need to take control of the situation. So that’s been kind of the downside so far.

My original plan was to go to Philly for a week after this and Boston for a week after that. As I said before, less is more. So I decided to come back to Boston later (when I also do NYC) and spend 2 weeks in Philly. I think it’s a good decision. 1 week goes by too fast!

Anyway, I feel like I’ve done so much. It feels like it’s been forever, even though it’s just been a month. I do miss some aspects of home, like the idea of a home to go to. Routine. The ability to ask people to hang out with me. I can’t believe I’m only 3 months in. I’m still excited to see what comes next. The best part is that each week is new. While I don’t know what will happen, I know that each week I will have a new experience and that still excites me.

Wow that was a lot. Lmao. Hope you’re doing well. Love you.

nick


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