As the collective voice of Lisa Lei, Juliet Shen and Vanessa Teck, we would like to express a timeline of events that occurred within the last few days that has led to our immediate dismissal from the OCA Summer Internship of 2013.
On Friday, July 12th, all interns participated in OCA Advocacy Day, which served as an opportunity for interns to meet with legislative staffers to speak about immigration reform. While we were given some time to prepare for our visits, it was not effectively communicated to us that we would be meeting with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). As such, many of us were surprised that we had a meeting to attend after completing our visits. It was assumed that the conversation would serve as an informational meeting about ADL, however ADL steered the conversation from hate crimes to red line relationships, indicating that they would not build coalitions. These statements inflamed and provoked many interns who felt strongly about the Israeli-Palestinian controversy. We were surprised that OCA, as a national advocacy organization, put us in an uncomfortable situation that deligitimatized our opinions about Pro-Palestinian activism. We engaged in constructive dialogue, but as the discussion began to heat up, OCA National staff quickly cut off the discussion, and we made our way back to the OCA National Center. This was one of few opportunities where interns were able to engage in a more social justice-oriented conversation. Although many wanted to continue, some felt marginalized and silenced when cut off.
Unfortunately, this event has been one of many in which the intern class has been unable to delve deep into critical conversations. While this meeting may have been one of the more visible events, our internship class has experienced multiple occurrences of demoralization within the OCA environment based on the interns’ interactions with the staff. As interns, we are eager to contribute and learn from the organizations that we are placed with, but in some cases, this type of working environment was never fostered. The ADL conversation, above all else, served as a catalyst to address these issues. Soon after, questions were raised about the climate of the ADL discussion and OCA’s relationship with ADL.
Shortly after at 10:32 PM on July 12, 2013, OCA National felt the need to send an email to an intern who had criticisms of ADL about what had happened during advocacy day. But instead, the staff in the email used the words “We’d like to make sure that your concerns with Wal-Mart were no longer an issue and to do a general check in” — in reference to the intern’s initial criticisms on Wal-Mart’s sponsorship before the internship. This created space to discuss ADL and the Wal-Mart Foundation’s relationship with the internship program.
On Monday at 6pm, one intern was brought into the office to speak with the OCA Staff. In this meeting, instead of having a constructive dialogue about OCA’s relationship with ADL and Wal-Mart, the Executive Director did not provide the space to have a constructive dialogue. The conversation soon moved from a constructive dialogue to OCA’s delineation from its original purpose and mission. First, they spoke about ADL and its record of supporting policies that racially profiled the Muslim and South Asian community. As a Pan-Asian advocacy organization, OCA’s relationship with ADL can be seen as problematic. Furthermore, questions were raised about what kind of relationship OCA had with Wal-Mart. When the intern asked, if the opportunity arose, whether or not OCA would discontinue relying and taking money from Wal-Mart, the Executive Director responded, “Well, wouldn’t we run out of corporations to take from?” The conversation lasted about 45-60 mins, and the Executive Director ended the conversation by suggesting that there is a time and space to advocate for issues. Thereby, suggesting that the convention beginning that Thursday was not the space to say anything at all.
Due to the events that took place on Friday, several meeting were held with numerous interns from Monday night to Thursday night, July 15th-July 18th, 2013. Each meeting raised concerns about the direction of OCA and that the internship experience did not provide a space to critically analyze corporate and organization sponsorships.
On that following Friday during the OCA National Convention, during the Youth Recognition Luncheon, three OCA interns participated in a private video that was posted on one of the intern’s personal and private Instagram. In the 14 second Instagram, captioned “This is how we feel about Wal-Mart,” individuals frowned, shook their head and illustrated an inappropriate hand gesture. This video was also found on the public settings of Facebook that led to the exposure of the video. This was intended to be a private video, which expressed personal opinions but was unfortunately made available to the greater public without our knowledge.
On Friday at 6:00pm, an OCA National Staff pulled the three interns aside individually to speak about the private video and expressed OCA’s concern about the content. After the conversation, one intern suggested that it should be taken down and then the video was removed immediately.
On Saturday morning, around 9:40 Lisa Lei was pulled in by an OCA National Staff to the Capitol Room within the hotel in which the convention was taking place. Juliet and Vanessa were also requested and joined Lisa in the Capitol Room at 9:54AM. After one hour, a National staff walked Lisa to another room, the Directors Room, where the Executive Director handed her a letter of Immediate Dismissal. The letter was read by the Executive Director and asked her to vacate the premises immediately. Questions were not allowed to be asked but was requested to follow up through a phone call or e-mail. Then, a National staff escorted Lisa Lei up to her room and escorted her out. Juliet was pulled in, dismissed, and given 15 minutes to pack and was escorted out. Finally, the Executive Director walked to the Capitol Room and Vanessa was dismissed and removed in the same fashion.
These are the events that have occurred. We want to express how these events are correlated to each other.
Although the video was inappropriate and intended only for friends, it was an accurate expression of our views. We own up to the fact that we were highly disrespectful and should not have produced and shared a video on OCA’s time. However, we stand by our beliefs that Wal-Mart’s presence in the internship program is inappropriate and problematic. OCA, as an advocacy organization whose tagline is “Embracing the hopes and aspirations of Asian Pacific Americans,” should recognize the deep damage Wal-Mart causes in our communities. While we recognize that the internship program was created with Wal-Mart as a partner, we hope to call attention to this concerning relationship and Wal-Mart’s influence over the direction of the program. At the most basic level, it creates a climate in which interns are discouraged and unable to speak out against an organization that marginalizes APA communities.
Wal-Mart has a long history of human rights violations, sweatshop labor, anti-union behavior, inaccessibility of upward mobility for people of color and women, and support of gentrification across the world.
In applying to the internship program, we were encouraged by OCA’s mission and thought that OCA would provide an environment for its youth to grow as individuals and advocates. As advocates in our own community, we support the history of OCA and hope that OCA will take the time to critically examine how we can work together to truly embrace the hopes and aspirations of Asian Pacific Americans, particularly for our youth community who will serve as our future leaders. As such, we the undersigned, call on OCA as individuals and advocates to separate Wal-Mart funding and the Summer Internship program. Please be on the lookout for our action plan.