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The Struggle to Love…to Struggle WITH Love

Juliet Shen and Vanessa Teck are two of the OCA interns who were terminated in 2013 for openly criticizing a major sponsor. Both identifying as activists and feminists in their early 20’s, they have shared experiences of isolation, pain, and fear. Since then, Juliet and Vanessa have begun a transformative journey to better understand how to root their movements in love.

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juliet

Juliet Shen

One year ago exactly, on July 19, 2013 at 11:05AM, I was fired from OCA – APA Advocates.

It’s been a rough year of self-reflection and unexpected turns, but I like to think that I’ve grown as a person and an activist. After being fired, I was the brunt of jokes and anonymous emails about how irrational and stupid I was, how I’d never find a place in the APIA community again, and how my career in DC was over. My idealistic bubble was popped — everything was reduced to a form letter of termination read in an empty room. I was defeated, and isolated myself in my college campus determined to not return to a community that cut us out without remorse.

After OCA, it became second nature to avoid certain individuals and organizations. This was perhaps unnecessary, but my discomfort was real. It can be difficult navigating the circuits of Asian America when you’ve pissed off one of the biggest organizations. I linked up with Suey Park as a friend and collaborator over our shared experience of being booted from nonprofits in the APIA community. It felt good to be angry. I was powerful again after being stripped of my autonomy and dignity, and stepped up to the mantle of “Juliet Shen – Feminist, Blogger, and Activist”. I was excited to be relevant again as a web warrior fighting for representation and justice. Of course, you know how that story ends.

Sometimes it’s hard to love a movement when it never loves back. The expectations for feminists and activists often don’t leave room for being human. I’ve come to find that most people who meet me for the first time have this idea of me as a “militant, man-hating, white-man worshiper”. This year, I joined a sorority and I started dating again. Somehow, these choices — choices that I made for myself and choices that make me happy — have dissolved friendships and alliances in my life. It was easier to grow a thick skin and become as bitter and callous as people wanted to believe I was. But ultimately, we can’t let peoples expectations of us limit and harden our hearts; that is the opposite of what activism should do.

I did come close to quitting. I wanted to experience life as a “normal” 21 year old and go out, have fun, and not worry. I almost didn’t renew Fascinasians’ domain and toyed with the idea of letting it fade away peacefully. I chose a year of self-care and self-love because activism was tainted with reluctance and pain. I was never radical enough, but always too radical for someone. I wasn’t angry enough, but my anger intimidated and alienated others. I didn’t feel good enough for anyone and struggled to find motivation to do anything at all.

Both OCA and Suey Park taught me the dangers of rooting my ideology in anger. And yet, this year has been cathartic. During theTwitter Clusterfuck of 2014, one particular hashtag appeared: #BuildDontBurn. That is where I learned what real community and humility meant. If OCA was the bad breakup it felt like, this was coming home to family. That’s what I always thought activism was supposed to be: individuals coming together and loving each other because they shared a dream that a better world was possible. The guidance and love from the people behind #BuildDontBurn reshaped my perspectives on ego, credibility, community, and organizing. I didn’t have to be “good enough” for anyone — I just had to act because there was injustice and discrimination in the world.

Ultimately, it is a privilege to not be political. Instead, I am reimagining activism in a positive, loving way. Tanzila Ahmed, an organizer and blogger, wrote about love as a radical tool. This year, I let myself be soft. I learned to love in more powerful and constructive ways. Love is transformative in all of its many forms, from platonic to romantic to revolutionary. The love and encouragement from OCA’s Class of 2013 Interns (shoutout to the McMansion!) and my mentors (have y’all read Reappropriate?) keeps me going today. And what of OCA? Well, I maintain that they were the spark that lit my fire…and Summer 2013 won’t be the thing that puts it out.

Love,
Juliet

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vteck

Vanessa Teck

After my termination from OCA last year, I lost myself. I began the summer as a fresh graduate with stars in my eyes, hoping that my experience in our nation’s Capitol would equip me with the tools to serve my community. Yet, after a harsh termination, the world scared me. I received anonymous messages telling me that it would be impossible for me to find a career within the APIA advocacy community, the space that I called my home for so long. I was told that I had made one of the biggest mistakes of my life. There was no room for dialogue, for I already felt the labels of a failed activist and student bearing huge weights on my shoulder. I loved the movement, but I felt as though it was no longer loving me back.

As a result, I entered my Masters program with angry eyes and a hardened soul. I knew that it would take a toll on me; my time, my health, and my overall well-being. Yet, despite multiple warnings from well-intentioned mentors about entering the ivory tower, I could have never prepared myself for the psychological train wreck that I experienced throughout this first year.I felt the need to prove myself, to prove that I belonged in a space deemed so illustrious by family members who have been taught that academia is the only road to success and by mentors who have equated academic achievement to overcoming institutional barriers. I constantly feared, with each new day in my program, that someone would call me out as a fraud. I worried that, despite my various involvements and successes, my work would never be seen as good enough, that I would never be seen as graduate material. That before I spoke in class, I had to spend precious time developing articulate statements, so that when I said them out loud, I was perceived as credible and qualified. I sat and stared at blank pages as I attempted to write my papers, worried that my inadequacies would appear the moment that I began typing. That opportunities to work with faculty members would come with risks of a larger and more public community discovering my incompetence and termination.

I never afforded myself the opportunity to fully deconstruct how the summer quaked my entire being. I went through a stage of coldness, focused solely on achieving and burying the pain that I felt each quarter, as if ignoring the pain would cause my questioning to go away. I was often told that my kindness and conscientiousness were weaknesses… that if I remained soft, I would not be able to shape others. I lost the power of my narrative and in doing so, I forgot how to love. It was not until I was invited to speak on a panel with Suey Park that I began to realize how much I was hurting… and how much of myself that I had lost. As an individual who identifies as an advocate and activist right down to my core, I spent more time resisting the system, rather than transforming it. I forgot that as a Cambodian American feminist and activist in Higher Education and Student Affairs… my presence in itself was already resistance.

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What if instead… we transformed our idea of activism into being soft? If it were about loving deeper, instead of fighting harder? If it were about creating transformative change through soulful relationships, rather than tearing each other down? What if activism was less about expertise, but focused more on cultivating a space where mistakes could be considered a form of resistance? Imagine activism as a living room in which we can all feel welcomed and at home, hearts warmed and united by our common struggles, rather than a process of putting on armor and preparing for war.

That’s not to say that protest organizing is not needed, but despite many activists who claim to fight for justice, we forget to be inclusive and place one another on a pedestal. We have expectations of others that we cannot even achieve ourselves. Nothing about that is visionary; it’s just a remix of the oppressive systems we want to transform in the first place. By claiming to be an expert in anything, we remove the ability of ourselves and others to learn and grow together. We are our own gatekeepers. It was remarkably easy to disconnect myself from the reality and challenges of crafting an inclusive climate, excused by the overshadowing of my anger, but by recognizing that my lived experiences are only one of many that have the potential to create change, I begin to decolonize what I have learned and transformatively humanize myself and others.

Since then, I have found love within the stories I have had the privilege of hearing. I found love in the struggles from fellow womxn of color, the achievements from student activists, the frustrations from other graduate students drowning in debt, and the clarity from those who have been told that they matter. Although I end this piece still fearful, I am thankful for the family that I have gained along the way. From the cutest OCA intern class ever to an incredible partner who pushes me to be fierce and proudly introduces me as a feminist, I no longer feel lost or alone. I am embraced by those in my life who continue to love me, whether I am “radical” enough or not, “critical” enough or not, “activist” enough or not.

I continue to struggle and am hopeful that I will continue to struggle because it will mean that I am still attempting to create my own space founded upon love.

Love,
Vteck

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You can find Juliet at her blog, Fascinasians, a website dedicated to curating news and experiences about and from the Asian Pacific Islander American community. To learn more about Vanessa, check out Project Ava, a social justice media company, dedicated to sharing meaningful stories. Currently, Juliet and Vanessa serve as the Co-Chairs for the Coalition of API Americans Collaborating Together to Unite the Southwest (CAACTUS).

TONIGHT AT 9PM: Asia Pacific Forum Looks Back and Forward with Grace Lee Boggs and Yuri Kochiyama

Grace Lee Boggs has been an activist longer than most of us have been alive. She cut her teeth as a young philosopher turned feminist during the 1940s, during the emergence of the black civil rights struggle during World War II, and she went on to become one of Detroit’s leading activists, along with her husband, labor and civil rights activist James Boggs. The daughter of a Chinese American restaurant owner, she may seem an unlikely ally in of the black liberation struggle, but she has been long served as a steward of the black power movement as well as new currents of racial justice activism today. She joined us from her adopted hometown Detroit, where she is developing new political philosophy that she terms “the Next American Revolution,” which she has recently turned into a book and a documentary.

On June 1, we lost one of our most iconic movement elders, Yuri Kochiyama. In her long career of activism, the indefatigable nisei freedom fighter mobilized for about half a century against racism and segregation, for peace and an end to US militarism, and for economic justice in the country’s most disenfranchised and marginalized communities. Her cross-cultural, cross-racial organizing work was thrust into the spotlight unexpectedly by her appearance in the famous photo of the scene of Malcolm X’s assassination, but she went on to blaze new trails in her own right. We now bring you an exclusive interview that Kochiyama did back in 2004 at age 83, just after she published her memoir, Passing it On, with APF alumnus and writer Andrew Hsiao. They are joined by Yuri’s granddaughter, who helped edit the memoir, for a special family perspective on what it was like growing up with this radical woman.

Fred Ho, Saxophonist, Composer and Radical Activist, Dies at 56

10 examples of #AAPI’s rich history of resistance | Reappropriate

Check out this awesome list of just 10 examples from our colorful and rich history of fighting back!

It’s conference season! Here is my schedule as of today:



February 20 - 23: Washington D.C. for the East Coast Asian American Student Union conference! My workshop will be on #NotYourAsianSidekick, online organizing, and Asian American feminism. I’ll also be speaking on a panel on Greek life and Asian American issues!

April 4 - 6: Philadelphia for University of Pennsylvania’s “Rethinking Activism” Conference. I’ll be speaking on a panel with Dr. Jan Ting (Temple University), Biju Mathew (NY Taxi Alliance), and Manar Waheed (SAALT) on activism in underrepresented communities.

April 24th - 26th: NYC for NYCAASC, the New York City Asian American Student Conference.

Interested in inviting me to your campus? Shoot me an email at julietqshen@gmail.com!

Jan 8

Calling All NYC Area High Schoolers!

The New York City Asian American Student Conference (NYCAASC) is honored to introduce our High School Liaison (HSL) Program. Every year, NYCAASC aims to empower high school students from the metropolitan NYC area by providing a space for activists and student leaders to engage in dialogue on racial, social, and political matters about Asian/Pacific/Americans.  


We are looking for talented and well-rounded high school students who are interested in participating in collegiate activism along with learning how a grassroots conference is organized through the HSL Program. Students will gain more knowledge on in Asian/Pacific/American issues, leadership, communication, networking, and professionalism. Furthermore, we will provide them with mentorship and guidance throughout their time in the program.


You can apply through the application form. If you know of any interested students for our program, please share this with them! They do not have to be ethnically Asian or Asian American to apply!  If you have any further questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to email our Associate Director at samantha.seid@nycaasc.com.


Register for 'Listen to the Silence' 2014!

Register now for the 2014 Listen to the Silence conference in Stanford, CA!

LTS is a one-day conference that features keynote speakers, workshops, a research forum, and a concert. This year, it will be held on Saturday, January 18th, 2014. We are looking forward to inviting a host of amazing guests including keynote speakers Beau Sia, Kristina Wong, and Nidhi Chanani, and concert performers JR Aquino and The Company Dance Crew. It is completely free and students of all backgrounds and ethnicities are welcome!

I was lucky enough to speak at LTS 2013, and I can vouch for the pure awesomeness and knowledge that comes with LTS. And bonus points for being free! Click through the link to register, or copy paste here:

http://goo.gl/tErypf.


For more information, please visit their (super beautiful and really cool) website at aasa.stanford.edu/lts.

Dec 9

Kindness for Weakness -- Vanessa Teck & Project Ava

Just recently, a good friend of mine asked me if he could ask me a personal question. Casually, I responded that of course he could, but I would have never expected the question that came next.

“What happened to your dad?”

Immediately my heart began to stumble upon itself. Should I respond with something sugarcoated so that it wouldn’t elicit further questions? Or should I be honest with him and myself? Earlier this month, I wrote a short blog on my tumblr in response to multiple comments on my identity development as an activist and feminist. Far too often, I have received well-intentioned statements about my strength as a womxn and Asian American activist (whatever that means), often ending in some “profound” revelation about daddy issues and the absence of a father figure as the source of that strength.

I heard it so often that I began to internalize it. I began to thank my struggles and hardships that my father put me through for who I am today. I was thanking the individual who was essentially absent from my life, while also completely ignoring the countless influential people I had surrounding me. How messed up is that?

My heart continues to skip as I write this because I do not often share my personal life with friends, let alone the Internet. It is considered taboo to speak about these issues and in respecting that, I lost a little bit of myself. I think often and fondly about how Project Ava has given me the courage to share my own true and real stories.

Like the many history books that we are forced to read during our schooling, hxstories like mine, like my family’s are nearly absent. Genocide in Cambodia? Oh, just a single sentence on page 421. Agent Orange and bombs scattered throughout the entirety of Southeast Asia? Yep, nope. Asian American feminists and heroines? Gotta search a database for that shit. Project Ava is at the core of my heart because it gives me the opportunity to share the stories that we are not given access to. Project Ava sheds light on communities and individuals that deserve to be heard in all their glory and authenticity.

So here we go. During much of my childhood, I grew up with an abusive father. Being the oldest child, I was often the recipient of that anger and frustration. Despite the situation becoming worse and worse as I got older, my mother continued to stay with my father because she believed in the idea of family. She believed that the strength of family and love could eventually overcome the hurt and neglect that poisoned our household. We were relocated to North Carolina for a year and things continued to spiral downwards. One day, my mom finally decided to give up on the idea of a “perfect” family, packed us up, and drove us back to Denver. Her love for us overcame her obligation to appease social constructions of whatever a wife is supposed to be. Her decision is why I am who I am today. She is the most courageous person that I know.

Wow, okay. I really just wrote that. I’ve come to understand that my passion for activism, equity, and inclusive excellence stem directly from her bravery and actions. I was often hesitant to share this story with anyone because I was afraid of being viewed as damaged. These are the narratives that are not often heard because our world teaches to us perceive them otherwise. Strong womxn? Obviously a man had to play some role in that. But… really, for myself and I am sure for many others, that is far from the case. I am inspired to be better and to love more because of the individuals who continue to love me. They gave me audacity and accepted me as an Angry Asian American Womxn who constantly started heated dialogues via her Facebook status and was on a mission to fight inequity.

My fellow activist and friend Juliet  (<3) of Facinasians shared this song with me earlier this summer during our internships in D.C. and told me that it reminded her of me. I have used it as a personal theme song ever since.

Don’t you take my kindness for weakness. Love or fear, the fear last longer. But love is stronger, so I stay loyal to love with honor. You got those who wanna take that for weak. Be prepared, they’ll test you in front of your peeps.
I have been told that I am too critical, too political, too radical… but isn’t it our mission as the next generation to question what we have internalized in order to challenge systems that continue to oppress our communities? Our passions and hardships should empower us, not shame us. At the same time, I have been told that I am too kind, too understanding, too hopeful… but isn’t love in itself a radical lifestyle? It is easy to be hateful, to be resentful. My mom showed me that love is the bravest thing you can choose to act on. Like my friend Tony shared with me, running on love is incredible. It is incredible because it requires us to constantly put others before ourselves, while also respecting our own needs.

I thank all of you for your love and kindness in sharing my story. I thank you for helping me to heal. It is from you that I have learned these valuable lessons:

  1. Thank and recognize the people around you who have given you the strength and support to be who you are. As a womxn of color, I am often told how I should behave. Never let someone dictate who you should be or what you should represent. 
  2. It is okay to challenge notions that exist and are commonly accepted, even if it means that you have to stand alone. Often, they are things that we have been taught, rather than authentic knowledge. Question it.
  3. While our experiences may be filled with much pain and hurt, regret should be absent. Negative experiences may have an impact on who we are, but love can also give us the agency to choose who we want to be.
  4. You need to dig deep for your roots, because often they are hidden from us. Our own stories are often kept from us, but it doesn’t mean that they’ve disappeared completely. Once you find them, stay rooted.
  5. Let your voice be heard. Cheers to the many individuals who are constantly pushing the boundaries of racism, sexism, notions of beauty, etc. People will disagree with you, people will attempt to silence you and tell you that you are being too sensitive, people will tell you that you need to pick your battles. Battles are not mutually exclusive, we’re all fighting the same thing. Your courage is exactly what we need.

To this day, my mom still wonders how she raised a child that turned out to be such a troublemaker (oops, Summer of 2013 will always be one to remember). I always just respond with a smile and a thank you.

It’s because of you, mom. It’s because of you.

Ava Love,

VTeck

It's Not All About Feelings - "In this case, I’m not sad or offended or victimized: I just think it’s fucked up."

by Janani Balasubramanian 

To be clear: I know that there are always emotions involved.  Participating in, witnessing, and responding to oppressive acts will always carry some degree of rage, sadness, anger, or any number of other feelings.  Those feelings do require care, healing, time, etc.  What I’m saying is that those feelings are a result of the systemic fucked-up-edness of those oppressive acts, not the other way around.  I don’t want responses and apologies all about feelings; I want political accountability.

READ MORE AT THE LINK.

Sep 1

“A Time to Hole Up and a Time to Kick Ass: Re-Imagining Activism as a Million Different Ways to Fight