Author Archives: apicrossroads

Allying as Means of Resistance

If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.

-Lila Watson and friends

Asian Pacific Islander is a compound label rarely critically questioned by the general population.  However, this label flattens many differences and invisiblizes distinct experiences, histories, and conceptual frameworks of the group members it encompasses.  The identity “Asian American” was constructed intentionally and politically in resistance to racism and oppression facing separate and distinct ethnic groups in the 1960’s.  The ethnic landscape encompassed in Asian American has absorbed more recent waves of immigrants, including Indians, Hmong, Vietnamese, Laos, Thai, Tibetan, Cambodian, and Nepalese just to name a few.

There is something to be said for building movements and people power by unifying many different groups around a cause.  But if not handled respectfully and sensitively, such grouping can replicate the same dynamics of silencing and invisiblizing these groups are working to overcome.  It also brushes over the nuances each specific community has to offer from their cultures, histories, and values.

In broad, general strokes, Pacific Islanders have a very unique way of constructing their identity around centers and place, and so are capable of holding a sense of identity that is not confined to just one ethnic box.  This kind of identity construction and conceptual framework is increasingly relevant in the U.S., a country where the number of multiracial individuals grows every day.

The stories of life in the Pacific Islands also demonstrates the self destructive and inhumane economic global frameworks we as superpowers have locked nations into.  Many islands’ economies have to rely on remittances, rather than forging their own destinies in self sustaining ways of life, because they are locked into economic systems that do not allow them to be autonomous and independent.  This stems from the values framework that informs and shapes the actions of superpowers, in which mankind’s existence is plotted on a linear progression, and islanders’ sustainable lifestyles are degraded and “backwards”.

Pacific Islanders are only one group among us with stories and solutions that we don’t hear.  Among those we as Americans recognize as Pacific Islanders, there are even more identities and stories invisiblized under that label.  Racism tells us it is not possible to make time to listen to those stories.   We live in structures of power that are not held accountable to the most marginalized and exploited communities.  We have not learned how to bring those marginalized voices to the forefront, so that we can make decisions that are just for everyone who is impacted by the outcome.  We are still learning to negotiate, to exchange, to grow, to learn from what those with fewer voices and less “power” have to teach us.  We are absorbed in a myth of linear progression, believing that the way the world works today is the sum of natural evolution.  That any deviance from this hyper competitive pathway is a fall back into savagery and subpar living.

But there is more to life than this message we are forced to consume.  There are other values to hold, other rules to guide our lives, through which we can find fulfillment, peace, and happiness.  It is through being allies we can learn those, and liberate ourselves.  Before I conceptualized the ally identity as being reserved specifically for white people, or straight people.  But every person can be an ally in a space which they share with someone whose story and experiences they don’t know or live firsthand.  There are always minorities within minorities, and we must learn to engage with each other to defy the invisiblization and marginalization racism forces on us.  In taking time to learn the stories of those more silenced than us, we reclaim our own humanity.


The Tension between Charity and Justice


Recently I read an article on Other Asians about an amazing and idealistic nonprofit called The Supply.  The stories these founders tell are touching and inspirational, and far be it from me to put down anyone with the drive to make dreams reality, especially for those with no access like the kids in the slums The Supply works with.  That said, I’m still going to be an asshole and bring up some points to complicate things.

One quote from John really resonates with me:

For me, going to Africa taught me what it means to live in the US. The American dream is not only given to you, it’s shoved down your throat. When I see Americans and even myself especially, I’m pissed off I don’t have the newest apple product. They constantly teach me how live.

I feel that when privileged Americans visit wherever it is in the world that teaches them how much better off they are than those living in the global south, they don’t go on to question how such enormous disparities in living conditions arose.  Yes, education can be a great equalizer, a pathway to gain access to privileges, to empower individuals and their communities to improve their conditions.  But how were these huge gaps of inequality created in the first place, making education a necessary and plausible step towards closing them?

It’s not so simple as blaming all the world’s problems on the U.S., but the U.S. is a huge influential global force.  But I think it’s really fucked up to visit a tiny village in Africa just to be reminded how materialistically wealthy and privileged we are in the U.S. and come home thinking “Damn, I’m so lucky not to be in their shoes!”.  At what costs did we gain our wealth?  If you’re curious, take a look at the native Americans, slavery, the Philippines, Mexico, Nicaragua, Guam, Puerto Rico, Micronesia, and Vietnam.  Just to scratch the surface in exploring how many of the U.S.’s actions, policies, and interference have been in the interest of our own economic, political, and military ideals.

Lately I’ve been exploring the tension between charity and justice, between what is necessary now and what will really transform the root causes of inequality.  I love the fierce passion and pursuit of idealism that shows through in these men’s words.  But without a deeper critique questioning how our own wealth and privileges were built, this is only a band aid solution, and not part of a longer journey to transformation and justice.

Yes it is my education that has enabled me to ask such critical questions of nonprofits, to draw connections between slums on another continent and the political and material reality around me in the U.S.  I’m not trying to invalidate the work of these men or any other nonprofits who work for good.  I’m saying yes do service, yes help others, AND always ask why there are so many people who need “help” in the first place.  And explore that.  I’ve been searching for the point of entry where my privileges as an American empower me to make a difference NOT in a slum across the world, but in my own community where agribusinesses exploit migrant labor to provide “fresh” produce year round, and my precious Forever 21 clothes are made by sweatshop labor… and when I see my move, I’ll make it.

Rosie Glade is an American Ethnic Studies major at Willamette University.  She is a second generation Filipina American and fully intends to spend her life organizing, challenging, and freedom dreaming.

1/8, half, hapa, part, quarter still equals=100% Human

At the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center, there is a model of historic Japantown in downtown Portland.  It shows all the Japanese owned businesses that were operating pre-World War II.  These businesses are no longer in Portland today.  Not because Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans were lazy, or made bad business choices, or just decided to stop running their businesses.  These businesses and properties were seized, and their owners interned during World War II.

The Legacy Center has a small exhibit about the experiences of these interned Japanese immigrants and Americans.  You see the areas they had settled into, the lives they were forced to leave behind, and the conditions they were forced to live in when they were interned.  Through pictures, displays, and poetry, this exhibit drives home how Japanese immigrants and Americans integrated into their communities, and how they were ripped apart from the U.S. fabric by internment, communicating who is allowed full membership in America, (ie whites), and how if communities of color are “behind”, it is because racist policies and actions continually destroy progress they make.

There is also a temporary exhibit in the Legacy Center: kip fulbeck: part Asian, 100% hapa.  It explores reactions of hapas to the question, “What are you?”, and teases at the ideas of essentialized races that drive such questions.  Although yes, lineage can be simple as having one parent who grew up in one country and another parent who grew up in another, the greater migration and mixing of humanity is more intricate and complex.

Visit the hapa exhibit and ask yourself: What does it really mean to be “half white, half Asian”, or to try and quantify any other kinds of “mixtures”.  Why is it important to us to identify these categories, when white people are allowed to just be white?  If you want more grounding and discussion, APANO is hosting a tour and discussion this Thursday night, August 4, with karaoke after!

Educate and liberate.

Integration Gets Lost in Translation

It’s a long way off, but the diligent and organized are beginning plans for 2012 elections season now.  The Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon tries to build across generational and ethnic boundaries within the larger identity of Asian Pacific Islander, and language can be a significant barrier in integrating the most marginalized members of our community.

Proper translation requires more than language fluency.  It’s a specific skill set, requiring a translator to be able to mentally juggle listening to one language while correctly translating the meaning into another language.  This is a difficult task, and requires special care because certain concepts and phrases do not translate cleanly and directly into other languages, and vice versa. it would take experience, skill, and care to properly translate words like education equity and affirmative action in a way that actually makes sense.

Sometimes it seems as simple as finding someone who is multi-lingual to bridge gaps in language, because in our dominant narrative taught in the U.S., we relate to other cultures or countries by superimposing our own.  For example, saying Eid is Christmas for Muslims is a very reductivist explanation that obliterates the specific historical context it actually grew from and the meaning it holds for those who celebrate it, because it is in fact very different from what traditional Christmas celebrants are thinking of.

So many cultural frameworks and world views are embedded in language.  It’s not this objective medium of communication devoid of values.  As we move forward into a future in which People of Color are predicted to make up the majority of the census population within the next fifty years, how do we achieve true plurality and integration as opposed to flattening the nuances and differences embodied in languages?  There has to be a balance struck between identifying the commonalities in humanity we can build relationships from without invisibilizing and marginalizing differences and world views that make us unique.  But how?

Marching to Our Own Drums

What would taiko infused hip hop sound like?  What would a Japanese American hip hop artist have to say about his or her experiences living here?  These are just two questions that filtered through my mind as I enjoyed “Drums @ Work, Drums @Play”, a short and sweet concert performed by Portland Taiko’s artistic staff.  Brief exposure to taiko imparts a sense of powerful beats, but in the course of an hour I realized how much range and versatility is possible with a drum and two sticks.  The program was kept interesting by changes in formation, movement, and props.  A folded sheet of paper made just as much audio impact as strong hits of sticks.  The layers of rhythms were mesmerizing.

Even more important than the art of taiko drumming is the story behind taiko drummers.  The art of taiko started in Japan, and since Japanese immigrants came to the U.S. the art has evolved and changed.  It is not a static, imported art form, it is written and shaped by the lived experiences of drummers.  People may call into question the authenticity of taiko drumming that strays from its original roots in Japan, but who has the authority to even define authenticity?
It’s very important for Asian Americans to have power and agency over their own stories, rather than catering to what others think their story should be, like what taiko is supposed to sound like or how it’s supposed to be performed.

This is connected to the way racism perpetuates singular images of Asians constructed by those in power to push forward a certain agenda.  It happened when Filipino men came to the west coast to work.  Whites disseminated stories that Filipinos were stealing their jobs and their women, neither of which were true, and both of which play on racial fears and contruct clear boundaries between self, those in power, and the other, those without.  Although this racism does not always play out in the same overt ways, it is still subtly manifested in the daily experiences of Asian Americans.

I think that the racism that leads to outrageous bills such as HB 87 in Georgia, that has consistently defeated racial equity bills like Senate Bill 742 in Oregon, is an arm of the same system of racism that causes people to ask where I’m from when they see my brown skin, never able to accept from the start that I am American and I am from here.

Art is a way to tell our stories, and the variations and nuances of taiko drum rhythms are like the variations and nuances in the stories of Asian Americans.  We are warriors, we are playful, we are light hearted, intense, wise, we are subtle and layered.  One Asian American cannot be used as the representative or model for the entire socially constructed Asian American race, whether you would use that Asian American to reinforce something positive or negative.  It’s still racist to lump entire populations together to an extent European Americans have not been.  However each of us came here, and however each of us live, we are here now.  This society should weave our experiences, knowledge systems, and histories into this country’s fabric, instead of perpetuating the message that white Americans are the only ones who are from here, and the rest of us are the foreigners.

X Men Fans Beware

Reading a critical analysis can really kill the joy in watching any movie these days, but hey, it’s better to be critical than conscious.

Table For Two: Arturo and Andrea catch up on X-Men: First Class


Public Transit Access for Youth!

Making connections between public transportation and sustainability!  If you’re passionate about environmental justice, click here to vist OPAL’s website!

TriMet Youth Pass: Creating our transit riders of the future

By Grayce Bentley and Katherine Westmoreland 

link to article below