Slant

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SHIFTING THE RACE PARADIGM




Features THE FORGOTTEN REVOLUTION Our radical heritage has been lost in the generation gap.

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BY GORDON LEE

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“ WHY ARE YOU EVEN HERE?” Asian Americans in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. BY JEFF YANG

LADIES IN THE STREETS The transgender community’s debut in American history. BY RYAN KOST

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EVERYTHING WE DO IS RESISTANCE The usually conservative Lunar New Year parade breaks a few barriers. BY JESSICA PROIS

COVER LUIS NIETO DICKENS; CORKY LEE

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Departments

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May is the Month for API Resistance

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The Only Asian Person in the Therapy Room

FROM THE EDITOR

SPOTLIGHT

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Immigration is an Asian American Issue

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Sounding Off on “Go Back To China!”

CURRENT

READER’S VOICE

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A Rich and Long History of Resistance

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Sweet and Sour Sadness for General Tso’s Chicken

LOOKING BACK

KITCHEN

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A Subversive New Generation of Writers

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The Emergence of Yellow Power

CONTEMPORARY

WILLOW ARIEN

FROM THE ARCHIVES



S L A N T

From the Editor

A Heritage of Resistance the beginning of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, celebrated to commemorate the achievements and contributions of AAPI people in the United States. It was created by Congress in 1978 — celebrated during the first ten days of May — to honor two important anniversaries: the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants in the United States on May 8, 1843; and the completion of the Nation’s first transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869 when the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads met at Promontory Point, Utah to lay the last spike, in which 90 percent of the railroad workforce consisted of Chinese laborers. In 1990, President George H. W. Bush and Congress voted to expand the ten days into a month, with programming set up to celebrate the community and learn about the history. For me, AAPI Heritage Month symbolizes a heritage of resistance. President Obama, in his May 2016 proclamation for AAPI Heritage Month, states: “As artists and activists, educators and elected officials, service men and women and business owners, AAPIs help drive our country forward. Yet despite hard-won achievements, AAPIs continue to face obstacles to realizing their full potential.... Because a lack of detailed data perpetuates the false notion of AAPIs as a model minority, we are working across Government to improve data collection to counter existing stereotypes and to shed light on the realities faced and resources needed by the AAPI community.... Peoples of diverse backgrounds and circumstances have long come to our country with the faith that they could build a better life in America, and spanning generations, the story of AAPIs in the United States embodies this promise.... Let us celebrate the many contributions our AAPI brothers and sisters have made to the American mosaic, and let us renew our commitment to creating more opportunities for AAPI youth as they grow up and embrace the hard work of active citizenship, adding their unique voices and experiences to our Nation’s narrative.” In spite of having a month to celebrate their history and contributions, Asian Americans are often not seen as true Americans. Perpetually foreign, MAY 1ST MARKS

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May 2017

ASHLEY WU

ECHO CHEN

Asian Americans are rejected as members of American society despite the rich and significant role, however unpublicized they have played in U.S. history. This history is virtually unknown to those who have not lived it. Their role is cursorily mentioned, in high school history classes, perpetuating the idea that Asian culture is merely secondary to the “American” narrative. As a result, the vast majority of Asian Americans don’t know their own history. I created Slant as a way for me to tie together these relationships between the past, present, and future of the Asian American community. There is a divide of information, and as a result, history continues to repeat itself. Madrid philosopher George Santayana states, “Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” In the current state of politics, we are condemning ourselves to our past for which we either have forgotten or never learned, clouded by the constructed “model minority” narrative. It’s becoming increasingly important to self-educate and understand the true history, to come together as a unified community for the future. Let’s fix that, together.



S L A N T

Spotlight

The Only Asian Person in the Therapy Room BY JUDY TSUEI

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May 2017

Judy Tsuei with her daughter Wilder

family members holding hands, showing affection, sharing love. So it was just my own family that was fucked up. I returned to California and entered into an intensive outpatient program for my eating disorder. I went to 12-Step Eating Disorders Anonymous meetings. I discovered yoga. Throughout it all, I was always the only Asian person in the room. “You go to therapy?” a Chinese friend once asked me. “I wish I could go.” “But, you can,” I said. They didn’t. Why was I the only Asian person publicly getting help for things my friends told me they suffered from, too? Was it because we had all been taught to save face? When I told my mother I was in therapy, she was watching TV in bed. “Okay,” she nodded. My father promptly fell asleep. I could finally see that wanting their validation or wishing they would finally change so I could be happy was hopeless. All I could do was work on me. I set out to find what makes me thrive. I kept pursuing my writing and my life, vulnerably. I packed up my bags and moved to Kauai in Hawaii, because that was my dream of all dreams. Because I was no longer showing up in the same ways, our family dynamic had to shift. And it did — for the better. At 35, I told my parents about the book I’m writing about our lives together.

The destruction, my bulimia, my healing. “It’s going to expose a lot about you guys,” I warned. They said in agreement, “If it helps one person, it’s worth it. We’ve all changed.” Maybe I won’t be the only Asian person having honest dialogues and showing up in uncomfortable ways after all. We’re each learning how to braid the cultures we’ve grown up in. In our own ways, we’re making it work.

Mental Illness Isn’t Rare in the Asian American Community

22%

OF US-BORN ASIAN AMERICANS REPORT DEPRESSION

16%

OF YOUNG ASIAN AMERICAN WOMEN REPORT SUICIDAL THOUGHTS

2%

OF ASIAN AMERICANS WILL MENTION SYMPTOMS OF DEPRESSION

JENNIFER PICARD

ONE SATURDAY, a Chinese school teacher pulled me aside after I jogged there rather than driving with my mother. “Ni zhenme gao de?” What’s wrong with you? She wanted to know. “You’re getting too thin,” she told me. “Something’s wrong.” She was the only person to recognize I had a problem before I did. Not my parents, but a virtual stranger. On the night of prom, I binged for the first time. My 5'6" frame could no longer sustain the minus size 0 I had become. I ate to the point I actually passed out. Woke up, did it again. Woke up, did it once more. My body had no idea what was happening and my mind was freaking out. I was going to lose what little control I had in my life. I needed to find another way to stay small. One afternoon, after I had already gotten my acceptance letter into UC Berkeley, I was secretly watching television when my parents weren’t home, and came across an after-school special. In it, two Caucasian girls were bingeing and purging to stay thin. I had never heard of this before. Over the next 10 years, I would binge and purge my way out of my own existence, running from Southern California to Northern California to England to South Carolina to Shanghai, until finally, my body began to fall apart. My heart began to palpitate like that girl I watched on television many years before. I stopped getting my period. I realized I had been lying to myself that my family was cruel to me because it was cultural. I convinced myself that being hit on my palms with a rolling pin or being called a ‘slut’ because I wanted to wear a tank top to school was just what Chinese parents did. But in China, I saw these people who looked like my



S L A N T

Current

Immigration is an Asian American

Candace Chen speaks at a protest in SF′s Chinatown

Issue

the fastest-growing immigrant population in the United States today. According to 2011 Census data, almost half of all immigrants in the United States — 18.2 million — came from Asia. Currently, family sponsorship is the most common way that Asian immigrants arrive in the United States, with 55 percent of Asian immigrants coming through the family-visa system in 2012. However, while S. 744 creates new legal pathways for immigrants to enter the country, it also threatens family reunification by removing entirely the allocation for siblings of United States citizens. May marks Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. It is a celebration of the cultures of this diverse group, as well as an opportunity to educate the public on the past and present contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to the social fabric of the United States. ASIAN AMERICANS ARE

ASIAN AMERICANS ARE THE NEW FACE OF IMMIGRATION Asia now represents the largest sending region for immigrants. In 2010, 36 percent of new immigrants to the United States came from Asia, compared to 31 percent from Latin America. These numbers mark a dramatic departure from just a decade ago, in 2000, when new Hispanic immigrants outnumbered Asian immigrants three to one. According to the Pew Research Center, Asian Americans are the fastest-growing racial group in the United States, growing 46 percent over the past decade.

GROWING POLITICAL CLOUT Asian Americans are a growing political force, with an electorate that increased 128 percent between 1996 and 2008. In the 2012 election, Asian Americans turned out in large numbers for President Barack Obama, providing 1.5 million votes for his re-election and marked a significant shift for groups such as Vietnamese Americans and Filipino Americans, groups that have historically identified as Republicans. In addition, looking toward the future, the Asian American electorate is expected to double by 2040.

STRONG SUPPORT FOR IMMIGRATION REFORM Asian Americans strongly support immigration reform, 58 percent in favor of a pathway to citizenship for undocumented 10

May 2017

immigrants. And with 1.3 million unauthorized immigrants from Asia — roughly 12 percent of all unauthorized immigrants — immigration is an important and personal issue to this community. In addition, in 2012, 4 out of 10 of the top countries providing new American citizens were in Asia, contributing 34 percent of all naturalized individuals last year.

FAMILY UNITY IS KEY Family sponsorship is the most common pathway through which Asian immigrants arrive in the United States. Under current immigration law, immediate relatives such as parents, spouses, and children of U.S. citizens can immigrate outside of numerical limitations, and other relatives, such as spouses and children of permanent residents, adult married children, and the siblings of U.S. citizens, are subject to a cap of at least 226,000 visas per year. In 2012, 55 percent of all Asian immigrants who became permanent residents, or green card holders, did so through the family-preference categories. But while many Asian immigrants come to the U.S. each year, many would-be immigrants — mothers, brothers, children, and other relatives — are stuck waiting for a visa slot to become free. There are currently 1.8 million Asian family-based visa applicants waiting to be reunited with their families living in the U.S. — 36 percent of all people in the visa backlog. Waiting periods for people from the region can stretch into decades: Immigrants from China and India can wait as long as 12 years, while those from the Philippines can wait up to 23 years.


The Senate bipartisan “Gang of 8” reform plan creates flexible legal channels for immigration and eliminates this backlog. But it also threatens family reunification by removing the current category for the siblings of U.S. citizens and by placing age caps on adult married children of citizens. As Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) pointed out in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in April, siblings are an integral part of the family structure who “help each other find jobs, provide emotional and financial support and care for each other’s families.” The Senate immigration plan would also put the approximately 267,000 people in the U.S. who are both undocumented and LGBT identified on a pathway to citizenship. It does not, however, include provisions for binational same-sex couples to have the same right to sponsor their partners as heterosexual couples. With 15 percent of the LGBT undocumented population coming from Asia, LGBT inclusion in immigration reform is a serious issue for the Asian American community.

EDUCATION AND THE DREAM ACT ARE ALSO CRITICAL

DEBORAH SVOBODA; BING BRANIGIN

As a group, Asian Americans hold high levels of education: 49 percent of adults ages 25 and older hold a college degree, higher than any other race or ethnic group. But this “model minority” myth hides great distinctions. Half of all Vietnamese,

and more than 60 percent of Hmong, Laotian, and Cambodian adults ages 25 or older, for example, do not have more than a high school degree. Even more importantly, this myth marginalizes the needs of unauthorized Asian immigrant students. More than 200,000 unauthorized Asian Americans in the United States are eligible for the DREAM Act — roughly 1 in 10 DREAMers — which would provide legal status for unauthorized immigrants who came to the country at a young age and who complete high school and some college or military service in the United States. The DREAM Act — provisions of which are currently contained within S. 744, the Senate immigration reform bill — would ensure that young aspiring Americans, including those from Asia, have access to the American Dream.

THE FUTURE Asian Americans comprise a growing share of the immigrant population and represent diverse communities with varying social, economic, and political circumstances. Their voices on critical issues such as immigration reverberate to all immigrants. The Senate immigration reform plan is not perfect, but it would put the 1.3 million unauthorized Asian immigrants on a pathway to citizenship and help ensure equality and inclusion for this community.  — TRAM KIEU

Citizenship for Eleven Million rally in D.C.

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S L A N T

Reader’s Voice

Go Back to China! This was not my first encounter with racist insults, but for some reason this time felt different.

BY MICHAEL LUO MAYBE I SHOULD have let it go. Turned the other cheek. We had just gotten out of church, and I was with my family and some friends on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. We were going to lunch, trying to see if there was room in the Korean restaurant down the street. You were in a rush. It was raining. You decided that Our stroller and a gaggle of Asians were in your way. But I was, honestly, stunned when you yelled at us from down the block, “Go back to China!” I hesitated for a second and then sprinted to confront you. That must have startled you. You pulled out your iPhone in front of the Equinox and threatened to call the cops. It was comical, in retrospect. You might have been charged instead, especially after I walked away and you screamed, “Go back to your fucking country.” “I was born in this country!” I yelled back. It felt silly. But how else to prove I belonged? This was not my first encounter, of course, with racist insults. Ask any Asian American, and they’ll readily summon memories of schoolyard taunts, or disturbing encounters on the street or at the grocery store. But for some reason — and, yes, it probably has to do with the political climate right now — this time felt different. Walking home later, a pang of sadness welled up inside me. You had on a nice rain coat. Your iPhone was a 6 Plus. You could have been a fellow parent in one of my daughters’ schools. You seemed, well, normal.

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May 2017

But you had these feelings in you, and, the reality is, so do a lot of people in this country right now. Maybe you don’t know this, but the insults you hurled at my family get to the heart of the Asian American experience. It’s this persistent sense of otherness that a lot of us struggle with every day. That no matter what we do, how successful we are, what friends we make, we don’t belong. We’re foreign. We’re not American. It’s one of the reasons that Fox News segment the other day on Chinatown by Jesse Watters, with the karate and nunchucks and broken English, generated so much outrage. My parents fled mainland China for Taiwan ahead of the Communist takeover. They came to the United States for graduate school. They raised two children, both of whom went to Harvard. I work at The New York Times. Model minority, indeed. Yet somehow I still often feel like an outsider. And I wonder if that feeling will ever go away. Perhaps, even more importantly, I wonder whether my two daughters who were with me today will always feel that way too. But, afterward, my 7-year-old, who witnessed the whole thing, kept asking my wife, “Why did she say, ‘Go back to China?’ We’re not from China.” No, we’re not, my wife said, and she tried to explain why you might have said that and why people shouldn’t judge others. We’re from America, she told my daughter. But sometimes people don’t understand that. I hope you do now.

Memories of Racist Attacks When I was 7, my father had to explain ‘chink’ to me because our neighbors had spray painted it on our front steps. (I am also Korean) @melaniekdu A Caucasian lady approached me and said, “I hate to see your kind taking the jobs away from real Americans. Go back to your own country where you belong. We don’t need second rate teachers in America educating our youth. Your kind must go back or get shot in the head.” @luiyurilai My drill sergeants used say in the US Army we are not white black brown or yellow, we are all Army green. Yet when a fellow soldier called me “Private Ching Chong” I had to fight tooth and nail to convince my superiors that this was racist. I was willing to fight and bleed for my country, was born and raised in this country, yet had to fight to convince them I was as American as they were. @cefaankim

“Where Are You Really From?” “Where did you learn to speak such beautiful English?” In the NY public schools, just like you. It is a continual reminder that despite being American, in many ways, we will always be ‘other.’ @gerrymd A couple of times after picking up take-out food, people in my building have reprimanded me for taking the regular elevator instead of the service elevator — with the assumption that I am a delivery person, not a resident. @andrewwong Being Asian means dealing with ‘acceptable’ racism in America. I experience an incident a week. @hipguide



S L A N T

Looking Back

A Rich History of Resistance

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In the wake of the #AsianPrivelege response to #NotYourAsianSidekick and #BlackPowerYellowPeril   it appears as if there is a prevailing notion out there that, in contrast to other minorities, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) lack a history of resistance, and that this invisibility and dearth of civil rights history actually confers upon the Asian American community a form of racial privilege. Putting aside the second half of that assertion regarding privilege for a minute, there’s one other major problem: any argument that relies upon the assumption that Asian Americans lack a history of resistance is patently ahistorical.

HERE ARE 8 EXAMPLES OF AAPI’S HISTORY OF OPPRESSION AND POLITICAL RESISTANCE:

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2

1

As California mounted an escalating war against Chinese immigrants, White citizens took to the streets, razing Chinatowns and murdering Chinese migrants by the hundreds. But they fought back, more than one hundred thousand joining the largest civil disobedience in the U.S. fighting with arms, strikes, and lawsuits.

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May 2017

2 CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE AND RESISTING DISCRIMINATION › 1886

Legal and cultural bias prevented Chinese from finding work; many turned to owning laundries. San Francisco penned a “race-neutral” law prohibiting laundries in wooden buildings, impacting 95% of Chinese laundries. Yick Wo refused to close or pay the fine and was imprisoned. Wo sued for a writ of habeas corpus, and the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Wo, deciding for the 1st time that any law resulting in discrimination violates the 14th Amendment.

3 LABOR STRIKES AND COLLECTIVE BARGAINING

4 UNITED STATES V. WONG KIM ARK

› 1889

› 1898

Hawaiian plantations used the same tactics employed by slaveowners. The most important manifestation of ‘blood unionism’ was the Japanese strike of 1909. The strikers demanded equal pay for work, noting how Portuguese laborers were paid $23 per month while Japanese laborers earned only $18. “The wage is a reward for services done,” they argued, “It is not the color of skin that grows cane in the field. It is labor that grows cane.”

Wong Kim Ark was barred from re-entry under the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. The 14th Amendment established U.S. citizenship for “all persons born in the U.S. and not subject to foreign power” which did not apply to Asians. Ark argued that he was a citizen based on his birth soil; the Supreme Court agreed with him, establishing for the first time in the principle of jus soli which asserts that all derive citizenship based on their place of birth.

JENN FANG

1 CHINESE RESISTANCE AGAINST PURGES › 1867


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6

5 RESISTANCE AGAINST IMMIGRATION LAWS

6 RESISTANCE TO JAPANESE AMERICAN INTERNMENT

7 THE ASIAN AMERICAN CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT

8 JUSTICE FOR VINCENT CHIN IN DETROIT, MICHIGAN

› 1905

› 1943

› 1960

› 1982

In US v. Ju Toy, the Supreme Court rea�irmed the right of inspectors to make admittance decisions and subject immigrants to inhumane treatment. Within days, Chinese merchants engineered a boycott of U.S. goods in China. Worried that the boycott might destroy American trade in the China, merchants demanded that the agency treat Chinese with greater respect and that it refrain from an overzealous enforcement of the laws.

After the attack on Pearl Harbour, Japanese families were detained in internment camps by Executive Order 9066. Internees were forced to take a survey asking if they would be willing to serve the U.S. Army and forsake allegiance to Japan. Men who answered “no” to both questions, despite fears that it would invite harsher treatment, were referred to as “No-No Boys.” In the end, their fears were justified. Most “No-No Boys” were detained in prison.

Asian activists protested against the Vietnam War and detainment of political prisoners, and fought for reparations for WWII internees. Grassroots efforts spanned the political spectrum and worked on Asian-specific efforts, such as elevating Chinatown residents by hosting free clinics, as well as helping to advance larger justice causes through interethnic bridge-building. For the first time, the Asian American was introduced as a radical activist.

Vincent Chin was beaten to death after his bachelor party by two white men, blaming him for the fall of the Detroit auto industry. They received only 3 years probation and a $3000 fine. Helen Zia and Liza Chan staged street protests seeking justice for Chin, inspiring protests around the world. It was a devastating reminder that the consequences of complacency could be fatal, and that the justice system is imperfect for people of color. — JENN FANG 15


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Kitchen Chef Peng Chang-kuei cooking his signature dish, General Tso’s chicken

General Tso’s Chicken INGREDIENTS

Remembering the long life of Chef Peng Chang-kuei and his General Tso’s chicken

Chef Peng Chang-kuei, credited for inventing General Tso’s chicken, the dish universal in Chinese restaurants across the United States, died in Taipei at the age of 98. Peng brought the sticky, sweet-and-sour dish to New York 40 years ago. It became a favorite of Secretary of State Henry Kissinger at the chef ’s restaurants on Manhattan’s East Side and spread across the country. Before fleeing to Taiwan after the 1949 revolution in China, Peng was an official chef for the Nationalist government. Peng created the dish during a four-day visit by Admiral Arthur W. Radford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during the Taiwan Strait crisis of 1955. In the spur of the moment, he assigned it the name of a Hunanese general, Zuo Zongtang, who had put down a series of rebellions in the 19th century. “Originally the flavors of the dish were typically Hunanese — heavy, sour, hot and salty,” according to Mr. Peng. — WILLIAM GRIMES

DIRECTIONS 1 Crack an egg into a bowl, stir while adding 1 Tbs soy sauce. If you can get someone to hit a crash cymbal while you crack the egg, that’s ideal. 2 Cut chicken into 1 inch cubes, coat in the marinade. 3 Mix sauce in a separate bowl: 1 Tbs soy, 1 Tbs tomato paste, 1 Tbs rice vinegar, ¼ cup chicken stock, 1 tsp sesame oil, 1 tsp corn starch. Once you cook it, the starch will thicken things up and you’ll be in gooey Tso heaven. 4 Break a few chili peppers in half, remove chicken from marinade, toss in a new bowl with corn starch to coat. 5 Heat cooking oil in the wok to around 375° F.

NYC: Culture Capital

6 Fry the chicken in batches until golden, remove and drain on a wire rack over some paper towels. Be careful not to light any of this on fire.

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Jhal NYC

La Caridad 78

An Choi

Drunken Dumpling

Bengali Food Truck › Jamaica

Criollo China Eatery › Upper West Side

Vietnamese Eatery › Lower East Side

Dumpling Counter Shop › East Village

Kids from Queens sharing the flavors of Bangladesh with the streets of NY. It’s more than just about food, it’s us.

Cuban-Cantonese eats, like roast chicken & crispy pork dumplings in a no-frills space, since 1968.

Saigon street alley meets New York City meets bar. Enjoy the taste of Vietnamese pho and bahn mi.

Soup dumplings and pot stickers made with love. The rest is from local farms. Home of the XL XLB.

@jhalnyc

@lacaridad

@anchoinyc

@drunkendumpling

May 2017

7 Turn the heat back on and add 1 Tbs peanut oil and chili peppers, quickly stir-frying for 10 seconds, avoiding burning. Add garlic and ginger and stir fry for 20 seconds, add the sauce, stir for 1 minute. 8 Once the sauce is gooey, add the chicken and mix to coat well. Basically, marry the sauce and the chicken. 9 Add garnish and serve it up to your guests!

COURTESY OF PENG FAMILY; JACOB E. OSTERHOUT; JOSH BRUSIN; WISEGEEK; LINDARAXA; HAMAREE RASOI; NEXT PAGE MARY ANN TEMPLETON

Sweet and Sour Sadness

1 lb boneless chicken thighs Canola oil, for deep-frying 1 Tbs peanut oil 1 1/4 cups corn starch 1 egg 2 Tbs soy sauce Dozen dried whole red chilies 1 Tbs tomato paste 1 Tbs rice vinegar 1 tsp sesame oil Dash of chili paste 1/4 cup chicken stock 2 cloves of garlic, minced 1 Tbs ginger, minced


TIM HO WAN Dim Sum Restaurant › East Village Branch of an acclaimed Hong Kong chain specializing in dim sum served day and night with enticing small plate menus that have won the plaudits of food critics and hearts of foodies around the world. @timhowanusa

HISTORIC ORIGINS According to poetry, the unique culinary art of dim sum originated in China 2,500 years ago. It was originally an exclusive luxury made for the Emperor and his family, but it was also enjoyed by the wealthy. Eventually it became common to be served in tea houses along the Silk Road.


Contemporary

A Subversive New Generation of Writers

Real talk between writers Jenny Zhang, Tanwi Nandini Islam, and Slant writer Karan Mahajan on race, writing, parents, sex, and the ongoing creation of the Asian American canon. BY KARAN MAHAJAN

occupy a weirdly marginal space in American letters: a few successes, like Jhumpa Lahiri or Amy Tan, go mainstream, but otherwise these are authors you read if you are interested in the “Asian American experience”; they haven’t achieved the universality, say, of Jewish American writing. Asian American writers are in a position analogous to that of Asian Americans themselves: salubrious but maybe inessential. A new generation is challenging that. In 2008, Wesley Yang published an essay in n+1 about the Virginia Tech mass shooter; fierce, analytical, and dangerously confessional, it had a testy Naipaulian energy. Other nonfiction writers have come up concurrently or followed suit: Jay Caspian Kang, Hua Hsu, even provocateurs like Eddie Huang and Amy Chua. In fiction, Hanya Yanagihara, Ed Park, Jenny Zhang, Tao Lin, Tanwi Nandini Islam, Alice Sola Kim, Alexander Chee, and Tony Tulathimutte are renovating an ossified genre with outrageous and sometimes even hypersexual scenarios. Zhang and Islam also exemplify a style of online confessional essaywriting that draws blood — and thousands of politicized readers. Zhang, the author of the

ASIAN AMERICAN WRITERS

acclaimed poetry collections Dear Jenny, We Are All Find and HAGS, had just sold her first collection of stories to Random House. Islam’s debut novel, Bright Lines, was about to be the inaugural pick for the NYC Mayor’s Book Club. This being an Asian American story, parents were never far from the picture: Islam’s Bangladeshi American family weaved in and out of the background. “My mom keeps wanting to take a selfie with me,” she wrote at one point. The three of us talked about families, politics, and the cringes that come when your story is workshopped by a room of white writers.

Can you describe the paths you took to becoming published writers? Tanwi Nandini Islam: I worked in the nonprofit sector for ten years — as a teaching artist, a youth organizer. I began the novel in its most raw form when I lived in India. I applied to three MFA programs on a whim, and when I got into Brooklyn College, I got to really get into the novel. After I graduated in 2009, I went right back into nonprofit. Finding an agent [and selling the book] happened a couple of years later. [Islam runs the perfume line Hi Wildflower.] Jenny Zhang: I was interested in writing from a young age and pursued it singlemindedly, to the detriment of being a wellrounded person. I took too many creative

writing classes at Stanford, graduated, moved to San Francisco, worked as a union organizer and youth organizer while writing on the side, got into the Iowa Writer’s Workshop for fiction, stayed there for three years and wrote stories and a book of poetry, submitted my poems to a contest because I was dating a poet at the time and kind of just did whatever he did, moved to the south of France to teach high school, found out when I came back to New York that I won the poetry contest, published my first full-length poetry collection, Dear Jenny, We Are All Find, began writing essays for Rookie, all the while secretly revising my collection of short stories, and also working on a novel at the same time. I sold my collection to Random House right before 2015 ended, and since the first story in that collection was written when I was a sophomore in college, I guess it’s taken me thirteen years to find a home for it?

I’m interested in whether one underlying theme of Asian American writing is guilt — about becoming writers — and whether this is manifested either in content or in an urge to do other things besides writing. Does this ring true for you? Do you think this is changing for younger Asian American writers? TNI: It’s increasingly more annoying to me to think about what I write as falling into “Asian American” lit. I’m writing worlds in which people of color are just living, plain

JENNY ZHANG, KARAN MAHAJAN, TANWI NANDINI ISLAM

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Contemporary and simple. I think I’ve always known I wouldn’t fall into the professional doctorengineer-lawyer trap. JZ: On a personal level, having immigrant parents, who were traumatized first by living through the Cultural Revolution in China and then again by immigrating to the United States, drilled it in me: if you choose to follow this highly unstable career, you will suffer and have to claw your way out of a hellhole of misery for what could very likely be the entire rest of your life. So in my mind, I was like, If I’m going to end up in the gutter, then I might as well be the best writer I can be and go on every adventure. But on a macro level, a lot who want to pursue a creative field don’t have the same security that an upper middle-class white kid who comes from generations of wealth and college degrees might have. And because of that insecurity, Asians might be more likely to make sure they have a backup in case “being a writer” doesn’t work out.

It’s increasingly more annoying to me to think about...falling into “Asian American” lit. I’m writing worlds in which people of color are just living, plain and simple. TANWI NANDINI ISLAM

Who did you read and identify with most growing up? Was there an Asian American canon you connected with? Coming of age in India I consumed a colonial mix of Enid Blytons, Agatha Christies, and P. G. Wodehouses, but I didn’t get into Indian literature till I came to college in the States. TNI: God, I love me some Asian writers. But it was Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Bolaño, and 20

May 2017

There isn’t really a canon, which means if you are Asian American and writing, you’re automatically adding to it. JENNY ZHANG

Borges who made me want to be a writer for real. Arundhati Roy laced politics into tragic dysfunctionality, Amitav Ghosh’s In an Antique Land made the real and anthropological feel almost surreal. JZ: Growing up, I had to cobble together a scarecrow of things I loved from various different writers. Like, let me take some inspiration from Roth’s obsession with poo and masturbation and secretions and overbearing families, but I’ll pass on the misogyny and weird racist shit about black people, and then let me take the simplicity and tenderness and lushness from Jhumpa Lahiri’s stories but pass on the times when she’s borderline sentimental. There isn’t really a canon, which means if you are Asian American and writing, you’re automatically adding to it. Once I realized this, I became extremely protective of my writing — like literally zoning out whenever white people were talking about it. I didn’t want to clutter my head with ideas and advice from people whose only interactions with Asian American writing were limited to, say, Amy Tan and Jhumpa Lahiri.

in Chinese, but she doesn’t know the word for stickers, and there was this long debate in my workshop about whether or not a second-generation Chinese American immigrant would really not know the word for “sticker.” The absurdity of a room full of white, native speakers debating this was painful and hilarious. It’s a real detriment to the quality of these spaces when they end up being dominated by white folks. I WANT QUALITY. The way is to PUBLISH MORE ASIAN AMERICAN WRITERS. South Asians, East Asians, Southeast Asians, first and second generation immigrants, people who have been here for over a century, Asian Americans of every socioeconomic background, those who write about their identity in obvious ways and those who do not. Bill Cheng wrote about the blues in the South instead of about being Taiwanese American in Queens and everyone gasped. It’s like, “Get over it.”

Why does the “ethnic” novel, to use a highly imprecise phrase, seem obligatory? JZ: Somehow when we get into the realm of invented world — as in fiction — I think we are still resistant to the idea that any kind of specificity can still be compliant and even complimentary to the notion of “universal,” which is often code for the white experience. There’s also a sense when people pick up a book written by an Asian American writer, they want it to be useful in some way, like a textbook. That’s why Amy Tan was so embraced in the 90s.

Do you think Asian American writing can break out of the box, where it’s considered universal while holding on to ethnic markers if needed? JZ: In graduate school, I submitted a story for a workshop that had a character who is a Chinese American and immigrated to the United States when she was four and so speaks conversational Chinese but with plenty of gaps. There’s a line where the girl speaks to her grandmother

Dear Jenny,

Bright Lines

We Are All Find

Tanwi Nandini Islam

Jenny Zhang

Penguin Random House

Octopus Books

$16, amazon.com

$12, octopusbooks.net



Contemporary I wanted brown people to fuck one another and for that to be a hot, wondrous thing. TANWI NANDINI ISLAM

TNI: Girl, if you knew how many times people have said, “How are different from other Indian writers?” JZ: Yeah, I wrote about this in my Buzzfeed essay [on racism in literature], but I want to be afforded the right to be carefree, I want freedom, at the very least for my imagination. I don’t want to be burdened with the responsibility of thinking: How can this be instructive or valuable? I try to go into writing already believing anything I have to say, no matter how small or petty or weird, is already valuable. TNI: Well, I do think a lot about history, at least for Bright Lines and how to break that vibe was important to me. But I had to handle historical shit people are sensitive about. At the same time, there’s so much sex in my book, like, I wanted brown people to fuck one another and that be a hot, wondrous thing.

I’m fascinated by a thing both of you do very well which seems to be changing how people connect with the genre of ‘Asian American’ writing, and that’s the confessional essay. Who reads these essays? Who is the audience? TNI: It depends. When I write for a site read by “women” — their main demographic is white women in their twenties through forties. JZ: Right, well the confessional essay has historically been associated with women, and I think more and more now with women of color, trans women of color, people who have long been considered subaltern, alien, other. Part of this is because people who have historically been neglected, erased, and ignored wanna speak! But the problem of being an invisible minority in America is when 22

May 2017

you publicly say anything AT ALL about yourself, people are like, “WOW, I NEVER KNEW!” And it’s like, Calm down. I just told you my parents don’t use a fork to eat steak. I’m not trying to paint curiosity as inherently stupid. There’s also a real hunger to know, because Asian American lives are not often given a spotlight.

One point about confessional essays is that they seem “cool” or “youthful” in a way that ethnically marketed books just don’t. JZ: I think it’s also because confessional writing seems foolish, like only a dumb narcissistic self-obsessed girl would spew and reveal all this shit about her life. The flip side is that it does end up having a kind of “cool” cache to it.

Are you apprehensive of wading into the issue of race? It seems like it’s crucial to talk about but can put us in a box. How do you balance this? JZ: Because of BuzzFeed, I get a lot of really nice notes from young Asian Americans who seem to be coming into some kind of realization about their identity, often

The confessional essay has historically been associated with women, and more now with women of color, trans women of color, people who have long been considered subaltern, alien, other. Part of this is because people who have historically been neglected, erased, and ignored wanna speak! JENNY ZHANG

I do believe one thing people who want to have any kind of public life, and that includes writing things on the internet, have to just accept is that at some point they might be called out, blamed, shamed, or whatever. JENNY ZHANG

those who grew up in predominantly white spaces, and that’s always cool. TNI: I mean, at this very moment, we are writing about race. We cannot avoid it. When Jenny and I walk through our neighborhood, observe the blatant forms of white supremacy being unleashed in every interaction — it’s about race.

How do we balance a need to speak out against racism without descending into Tea Party style policing and shaming? TNI: I don’t troll people on their beliefs — God knows, I do not want to be trolled. I will sure as hell check myself by asking, “A) Is this offensive to anyone? and B) Is this necessary?” It’s important to me to be on the right side of things. JZ: I do believe one thing people who want to have any kind of public life, and that includes writing things on the internet, have to just accept is that at some point they might be called out, blamed, shamed, or whatever. I try to remember the very fact that I have a platform, that I get to say something in BuzzFeed or publish this conversation we’re having right now, that I know editors who will routinely ask me if I want to comment on something and if I say yes, that means I can get paid to say what I want to say and have it be on a site read by many — well that is power. That is power I have even as I’m writing about feeling powerless. This is the essential contradiction of writing about race.

KARAN MAHAJAN

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THE FORGOTTEN REVOLUTION


35 YEARS AGO, YOUNG STUDENT ACTIVISTS HAD TO FIGHT TO BECOME ASIAN AMERICAN. NOW, OUR RADICAL HERITAGE HAS BEEN LOST IN THE GENERATION GAP.

BY GORDON LEE 25


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ome might say it’s blasé to be Asian American. But just a few decades ago, things were entirely different. “Asian Americans” did not exist. We were not a category that was included in the United States Census (we were considered “Other”); “Asian American” was not a term that was ever heard on TV or read in the newspaper. If you were of Asian descent prior to the late 1960’s, you were, at best, “Oriental.” Back then, you had to choose to be Asian American. Around 1968 — a symbolic date for the beginning of the Asian American Movement — many of us decided to start calling ourselves “Asian American” because our worlds had been turned upside down. We had been deeply affected by the civil rights, black liberation, and anti-war struggles in the US as well as the struggles against colonialism and imperialism in Southeast Asia, China, Japan, Korea and the Philippines. In that context, choosing to be Asian American was about deciding to be Asian and not white. It was about rejecting racial stratification and stereotypes of who Asian people were in the United States, and taking a stand on the side of oppressed peoples.

and later motivated us return to and address the problems within our own communities. At a time when the Black Panthers were on the rise, and there was palpable anger over the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X, we were re-examining our identities as “Orientals.” “Asian American,” then, spoke to us. It was a refusal to allow white people and mainstream culture to define us. It gave us a rallying point that identified who we were and what we stood for during those times. It initially shocked some of the older folks, but they, too, would come to understand that “Asian American” was to “Oriental” what “black” was to “Negro.” Looking back, it was the dynamic political climate of the 1960s and ‘70s during the African American Civil Rights Movement that allowed us to overcome the very real barriers of language or history in order to come together as Asian Americans, and to build alliances with

other communities, which later resulted in the Third World Liberation Front. When I came to New York City from Hawaii for college, my experience was that it made little difference whether I was Chinese, Japanese, Filipino or Korean. We were all treated the same. We were all subject to the same stereotypes, to the same racist attitudes and values. Yet, being treated this way pushed us together. And, more importantly, being able to identify this as institutional racism helped us understand that it wasn’t because there was something inherently wrong with us as individuals, but something wrong with the institution itself. This was an incredibly liberating experience. Soon we were motivated to learn about our own cultures and family histories: the untold stories of Asians in America, the colonialism of Americans and Europeans in Asia. We felt anger at how our predecessors had been treated

As the story goes, it was a grad student at UC Berkeley, Yuji Ichioka, who coined the term “Asian American.” This new identity arose out of our common experiences in America, the experience of being treated as if we were all the same and of an inferior race. As a result, the differences in our home countries became less important and we were able to find a common interest and identity with each other. The term also broke with old ways of thinking, and symbolized a new way of looking at ourselves. The Black and Third World Liberation Movements, and people like Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael and Huey Newton inspired college students to question the way we were perceived (as the model minority), 26

May 2017

The AAPA striking as part of the 1968 Third World Liberation Front, at the SF State College to demand the teaching of the histories, struggles, and triumphs of their people on their own terms

PREVIOUS SPREAD CORKEY LEE; ASIAN AMERICAN POLITICAL ALLIANCE; ALAN OHASHI

BUILDING ALLIANCES


DEFINED OUT OF PROTEST Starting in the 1960s, a group of young activists shaped “Asian America� through a long decade of fighting displacement, serving their communities, agitating for revolution, and analyzing the intersections of gender, race, and class. From Little Tokyo to Chinatown to Historic Filipinotown to the West Side, in solidarity with Latino, Black, feminist, and international struggles, Los Angeles saw the rise of vibrant artistic and political movements.


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and how they suffered. We were amazed at their determination and achievements. Instead of feeling ashamed of being Asian, we began to feel proud. In this sense, Asian pride was anti-racist and politically progressive. We began to feel as if we were all a part of one larger community, but it also brought us closer to Blacks, Puerto Ricans, Chicanos and Native Americans, groups I would not have ordinarily felt close to. The injustices and racism exposed by the Vietnam War also helped cement a bond between different Asian groups living in America. In the eyes of the United States military, it didn’t matter if you were Vietnamese or Chinese, Cambodian or Laotian, you were a “gook,” and therefore sub-human. “The only good gook is a dead gook” was a popular saying. In fact, among people involved in the Asian American anti-war movement, there was a widespread belief that the Vietnam War was genocide similar to what had happened to Native Americans. And just as there have been hate crimes against Arabs and South Asians because of today’s “War on Terror,” Asians suffered similar injustices during the Vietnam War. 1975 is a fantastic example of Asian American community activism. Chinatown residents in New York City, both young and old, descended upon City Hall to protest the New York Police Department’s excessive use of stop-andfrisk on Chinese youth. “All it took was hair longer than a crew cut, or a pair of shades, or a cigarette, or a Chinese ‘kung fu’ jacket,” one teen wrote in a 1977 issue of Equality. “And we were number one suspects for having committed some crime.” This political spirit also unified us with non-Asian communities. The efforts of African Americans, for example, were a great inspiration to us. Through their struggles, we began to see that people of color were asserting their own identities instead of trying to fit into a white world. Without the African American movements for civil rights and black liberation, we would not have been able to understand institutional racism without an alternative direction to follow. 28

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When the African American community started asking questions about police brutality, lack of education, inadequate and unaffordable housing, and then, when they began acting on their new beliefs, we began wondering about ourselves and our own communities. Where were we in relationship to what was going on? Could we ignore what was going on around us and just keep on looking for Gum Shan? Would getting a “good education” to better ourselves be enough to build a new and different kind of society? It made many of us rethink our basic assumptions. We had learned that Asians had been subject to racism and exclusion, to economic exploitation and second-class status, and that we had a history of resistance. And other groups had similar experiences. As we studied US history from this perspective, we began to realize that it was the same system that was oppressing all of us, a system that regularly uses one group against the other to further and maintain their control and interests. There was a reason why we had a common interest with other people of color, with working class people of all ethnicities, and with women. Born in this era of social change, “Asian American” was a radical political identity — not merely an ethnic label. Asian American consciousness manifested itself through vocal opposition and organizing against the Vietnam War, against racist hiring practices, against urban renewal projects. We fought for the development of affordable housing, accessible health care and self-determination in our communities. Soon, we became a movement, and gradually, more people began to use the term

1

3

Instead of feeling ashamed of being Asian, we began to feel proud. In this sense, Asian pride was anti-racist and politically progressive.


2

Where Are All The Activists? They’ve been here this entire time. The community, which frequently fends off racist jokes, unfair expectations of being the “model minority,” erasure of history and community struggles, and accusations that it’s made up of lousy allies, is often excluded from national conversations surrounding race, social justice and activism. Here are 6 Asian Americans who helped change America for the better and fought the power on their own terms.

1   Larry Itliong was a laborer and prominent Filipino American leader in the farm labor movement.

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2   Yuri Kochiyama was an activist who worked with Malcom X. 3   Richard Aoki was an educator, college counselor, and early member of the Black Panther Party. 4   Helen Zia is a journalist and activist for Asian American and LGBTQ rights. 5   Mike Murase is an attorney, writer, and administrator who cofounded the Asian American Studies Center in UCLA. 6   Grace Lee Boggs was an author, philosopher and feminist involved with the Black youth in Detroit, MI.

6

GUTTER CREDIT

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BATTLING EVICTION On August 4, 1977, SF Sheriffs’ deputies and police confront demonstrators trying to prevent forced eviction of the hotel’s elderly tenants during the International Hotel Struggle.


“Asian American.” It took about eight years for most people in the community to adopt its usage. The term “Oriental” was no longer acceptable.

A NEW CONSCIOUSNESS With this new sense of identity came an Asian American consciousness that spread rapidly among high school and college students, and rippled into the community. By 1970, there were more than 70 campus and newly organized community groups with “Asian American” in their name. The term symbolized the new social and political attitudes that were sweeping through communities of color in the U.S. It was also a clear break with the name “Oriental,” and it reflected the widespread belief among young Asian Americans that we — and no one else — should define who we are. The more we examined our collective

NANCY WONG; ROZ PAYNE

Asian children join the Black Panthers during the 1969 Free Huey Rally in front of the Oakland CA court house.

histories, the more we began to find a rich and complex past. And we became outraged at the depths of the economic, racial and gender exploitation that had forced our families into roles as subservient cooks, servants or coolies, garment workers and prostitutes, and which also improperly labeled us as the “model minority” comprised of “successful” businessmen, merchants or professionals. We rejected these representations. We discovered that we had fought against racism and struggled for unions at home, and supported democratic revolutions abroad. And certainly, not everyone agreed with our perspective. There were

differences of opinion within the community between newer and older immigrants, between those with more money and those with less, and between those who wanted to assimilate and those who did not. The strength of the Asian American movement, however, was undeniable. It was a radical sense of consciousness, representing a shift in our political awareness. It was a discovery of empowerment, and provided us with an understanding of our connection to other people’s struggles, both domestically and internationally. But what does it mean to be “Asian American” now? Has racism been elim-

The more we examined our collective histories, the more we began to find a rich and complex past. inated? With America at war, is the internment of a people based upon race and ancestry a distant memory? Does being “Asian American” mean the same thing today as it did in the past? No, it does not. Thirty years ago, being Asian American was about seeing ourselves in a different way, about creating a new vision of what life could be, and changing the status quo. It sometimes feels as if the term “Asian American” today has nothing to do with the revolutionary spirit that it grew out of — or some people, being Asian American is nothing more than a label next to a box you check every 10 years during the Census. Perhaps it is time to do away with the term “Asian American” so that we can, once again, decide for ourselves who we really are.

Gordon Lee got involved in the Asian American movement in 1970 as a student at Columbia University, when students demanded an Ethnic Studies program. This essay is a collaboration among Lee and other activists and writers. 31


“You’re Asian, Right? Why Are You Even Here?” More Asian Americans are refusing to co-sign “model minority” status used to separate them from other non-whites.

BY J E F F Y A N G


BLACK LIVES MATTER A new civil rights movement is turning a protest cry into political force.


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ast year, only hours after the chilling killing of proneand-restrained Baton Rouge, Louisiana, resident Alton Sterling, the next police shooting of a black man burst onto America’s radar. Philando Castile had been gunned down in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, during a traffic stop. Horrified legions swarmed to Facebook and watched as Castile’s fiancée, Diamond Reynolds, livestreamed the bloody aftermath, reciting what has now become a familiar allegation of a cop pulling over a black person for a trivial infraction, and reacting to mundane words or gestures with deadly force. Then came the detail that, for Asian Americans, caused our hearts to leap into our throats. Here was Reynolds’ description of the cop, whose blurry image could still be seen, screaming desperately behind her, demanding that she show her hands: “He’s Chinese, about 5' 5" – 5' 6½".” He’s Chinese. And with that, the killing took on another form for us. In the wake of the shooting of Akai Gurley by NYPD officer Peter Liang, tens of thousands of Asian Americans took to the streets — not to demand justice for Gurley in solidarity with weary, enraged African-Americans who had seen this happen hundreds of times, but to plea for leniency for Liang, his killer. The argument they made was a logical one, according to the broken rules of justice in this country, and terribly sad: If white officers were going unpunished for killing black people, why should an Asian cop have to pay the price? In the wake of

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the revelation that the officer who ended Castile’s life might be Asian, I saw posts to my social feeds that sought to frame this as “another Liang,” another “Asian scapegoat” to be fed to the media and the justice system, another “tragedy with two victims,” a slowly rising drumbeat of rage and bitterness beneath the louder collective chorus of shock and mourning. Reaching out to some of the angriest individuals, I discovered they fit a certain pattern: They were immigrants who came to this country believing deeply in this nation’s promise. In their time in America, they, too, had experienced prejudice, but believed they had overcome it, through focus and fortitude. They had no hostility toward black people; on the contrary, they talked about beloved black coworkers, employees, associates, neighbors, friends. But they invariably saw them as “the good ones,” the exceptions who managed to rise above the endemic problems of their community, not because they were given “unfair advantages” like affirmative action, but because they “worked hard and earned it,” echoing an essay that was just published in the English edition of the Chinese newspaper Global Times, which called upon African-Americans to “learn from Asian Americans” by “valuing education and career success” and having the “determination to succeed even in the teeth of prejudice.” The next day, it was revealed that the cop had actually been misidentified by Reynolds in her moment of traumatic stress; he wasn’t Asian after all, but Hispanic, which prompted a new response from these voices that was just as telling: Relief and

PREVIOUS SPREAD DEVIN ALLEN; JONATHAN BACHMAN; EVAN VUCCI

A scene during the Baton Rouge protests in Louisiana after the police killing of resident Alton Sterling


CALLING FOR CHANGE Neal Blair of Augusta, GA wears a hoodie which reads, “Black Lives Matter� as he stands on the lawn of the Capitol building during a rally to mark the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March on October 10, 2015. Black men from around the nation returned to the capital calling for changes in policing and in black communities.


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Community members gathered at November 2015’s Black Lives Matter Friday demonstrations

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population has faced, because of our indifference, our lack of empathy or our outright embrace of a meritocratic mythology that labels our community a “model minority” and black Americans as a values-compromised “underclass.” Do we continue to ignore the ambient fear and disregard for blackness around us, or do we acknowledge that it is part of what we have assimilated — a structural element in American culture? Do we acknowledge the ways in which we were the beneficiaries of black Americans’ historical exploitation, or do we ignore that the root of America’s prosperity is its original sin, and that the rights all people of color now enjoy were won through the struggle to end slavery and the institutionalized oppression of black Americans that followed? Do we pursue the privileges that have long been associated with being a part of the dominant minority in this country, or do we aspire to a future in which no group can hoard social, legal and economic advantage, alongside a black community that has led the way in that fight for generations, against the greatest of odds and with the direst of losses? Do we continue to stand aside, ignoring the injustices black Americans face, thinking that it’s “not our problem,” or do we stand against these senseless,

horrific killings, recognizing that when it becomes our problem, it is too late? More Asian Americans are refusing to co-sign “model minority” status used to separate them from other non-whites.

LETTER FOR BLACK LIVES A growing number of Asian Americans are asking these very questions. Alert to the reality that anti-Black narratives undermine solidarity among minority groups, young Asian Americans responded to the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile by putting together a crowdsourced open letter meant to explain #BlackLivesMatter to their traditionalist mothers, fathers, uncles, and aunties. Drafted by millennial Christina Xu, hundreds of them came together over the past week to share their answers, collaborating on a crowdsourced “Letter for Black Lives” designed to be shared with parents, friends and relatives to begin a conversation around why Asians need to affirm our solidarity with the black community. Xu put out a call on Twitter asking other young Asian Americans to help her draft an open letter through Google Docs, about why they felt that Asian Americans should also care about police violence against black Americans. The letter also brought up a subject that Xu and many others felt really uncomfortable broaching with their parents: anti-blackness in Asian American and immigrant communities. It has already been translated into 30 languages, including Punjabi, Bengali, and Urdu, shared tens of thousands of times, and sparked thousands of conversations. One of those conversations was one I had with my own parents, who have always had sympathy, but not always empathy, with black Americans. I told them about the letter and its origins, as well as about the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. My mother’s initial response made me worry that the letter didn’t have an impact. “Why do people say ‘Black lives matter’?” she asked me. “All lives matter.”

ASIANS 4 BLACK LIVES

then dismissal, as they moved on to other matters — suggesting, in essence, this is no longer our problem. Increasingly, Asian Americans refuse to be used as a wedge group simultaneously propping up racist institutional systems that too often target Black men as victims. “It is too easy for us to be pitted against black and brown people as the Model Minority or even to just ignore current problems and be safe in the bubble of college-educated, suburban, professional, safe America,” notes Grace Hwang Lynch, “not realizing what we are quietly sacrificing for this ‘comfort.’” Crucially, the myth of the model minority obscures the struggles of working-class Asian Americans holding menial jobs who also face discrimination on socioeconomic grounds. “Do we choose a society where the lives of Black and Brown people — including Black and Brown Asian Americans — has value? Or, do we continue to uphold a system that places no value in the lives of nonWhite people, including our own; and wherein only some can place their trust in our law enforcement?” But this reaction is exactly why it is our problem. Because even if in this case the killer was not “one of ours,” we as Asian Americans remain complicit in the terrible toll the African-American


I began to explain to her the problem with the term “all lives matter,” that the phrase erased the urgency of the crisis being faced by the black community in particular. “No, no,” she interrupted. “I’m saying it’s asking for too little. Even a cat or dog’s life ‘matters.’ What the letter really says is black lives must be respected.” The letter works.

SPEAKING OUT AGAINST POLICE BRUTALITY Just mere hours before Philando Castile died, Alton Sterling had been shot in the back by two white police officers, and 557 other individuals have been shot and killed by the police force this year. So far. Run by the Washington Post, the tally is live; the numbers rose as I watched. Numerically speaking, most of the victims (238) of police violence have been White, but Black Americans (123) and Natives are being targeted at disproportionately high rates. Last year, the Washington Post’s analysis of police shootings in 2015 showed that black men were seven times more likely than white men to die by police gunfire while unarmed. Looking at data from 1980 – 2012, ProPublica found that young Black men were 21 times more likely to be shot by the police than their white counterparts. To some, these same studies prove that Black men are forcing the police to shoot them at higher rates because they are prone to greater violence. It is here that stereotypes regarding “quiet” and “submissive” Asian Americans can help shift perceptions when police blame their victims. In my various run-ins with law enforcement as an excitable preacher’s daughter, I have learned what not to do. Don’t move until the officers explicitly tell you to. Don’t protest. Don’t ask questions. Don’t claim you know your rights. Don’t try to be helpful by showing them documents they’ve demanded. (You have to wait for them to tell you to get them.) Use your words, but only to answer direct questions, preferably sticking to Yes or No. Don’t prattle on,

because small talk makes cops think you’re nervous, and in cop-brain this means you’re hiding something. Try not to cry. It can be difficult when every action on their part is suffused with the assumption of your guilt, even if you’re just sitting in the park with a book, trying not to breathe more than your share of the free air. Over time, the asymmetrical imposition of state power on vulnerable bodies has imparted its lessons, and “good” Asian Americans are increasingly convinced that it’s impossible to be good enough to escape a hierarchical system that insists upon casting non-Whites as perpetually Other and alien. Real life means that we need police, and many officers are honorable people who do a tough and dangerous job. But under the rubric of “public safety,” in too many sectors we’ve slowly allowed ourselves to become a police state where law enforcement is declaring itself immune from

media, the day after Alton Sterling was fatally shot by two of the city’s policemen. And unfortunately, a majority of my peers were not focused on trying to stop police brutality, nor the injustice that had occurred. Instead, my newsfeed was filled with people arguing whether the phrase should be #BlackLivesMatter or #AllLivesMatter. One of which, was a comment written by an Asian American woman who stated how she refused to support the #BlackLivesMatter movement since it did not include the Asian community. She discussed how Asian lives also mattered, and that the Black Lives Matter movement needed inclusion. That was her reason for not being a part of the Black Lives Matter movement. Because of the specific phrasing of #BlackLivesMatter, the movement therefore did not matter to her. I wish I were able to tell you that this reason only applied to this one

The truth is that many Asians believe that the Black Lives Matter movement doesn’t matter because it is a movement that does not directly include them. oversight, as The Washington Post writes, “policy that would make it more difficult for police to kill people and get away with it.” This is not only unhealthy for an ostensibly free and democratic society, it destroys all trust between law enforcement and their communities. That trust is the boundary between civilization and carnage.

WHAT #BLACKLIVESMATTER SHOULD MEAN TO ASIANS Last year, I remember that I decided to log onto Facebook to see what my friends and family were updating on social

woman. However, the truth is that many Asian Americans believe that the Black Lives Matter movement doesn’t matter because it is a movement that does not directly include them. In the same way, the term feminism is often looked down upon by men because they feel that it doesn’t apply to them. Even though the entire feminism movement is about equality for everyone, men often feel as if the movement only applied to women. Even though the #BlackLivesMatter concept was to bring about equality for everyone, I felt unsure that its meaning was that the lives of the Asian community also mattered. Through the phrasing alone, I didn’t think it continues on pg 41

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Letters for Black Lives LETTER #1

This is the first letter in the Letters for Black Lives project, a set of crowdsourced, multilingual, and culturally-aware resources aimed at creating a space for open and honest conversations about racial justice, police violence, and anti-Blackness in our families and communities. Since its conception on July 7th, 2016, this open letter has been drafted collaboratively by dozens of contributors on a public Google Document — and translated by hundreds more into 20+ languages. The original intent of this letter was to serve as a multilingual resource for Asian Americans who wanted to talk to their immigrant parents about anti-Blackness and police violence, but the project has since expanded to include messaging for Latinx and African immigrants as well as people living in Canada and Europe. All contributors to this project are united around one common goal: speaking empathetically, kindly, and earnestly to our elders about why Black lives matter to us. As many of us are first- and second-generation immigrants ourselves, we know first-hand that it can be di�icult to find the words to talk about this complex issue, especially in the languages that resonate most with our elders. Our hope with this letter and its translations is to make it easier for people to craft their own starting points, and serve as a first step towards more di�icult intergenerational conversations about race and police violence.

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randmother:

, Grandfather, G

le, Auntie Mom, Dad, Unc . We need to talk

ack k, but I have. Bl le who are Blac op pe nd ou ar sm s, my clas ates ve grown up ey are my friend You may not ha th e: lif y m of em. ndamental part I’m scared for th people are a fu y family. Today, m , es at m om ro , my Of and teammates an 500 people. y killed more th ad re al ve ha % e 13 ly merican polic ople make up on This year, the A though Black pe en ev k, officers ac e Bl lic en po be a, two White an si those, 25% have ui Lo in k ee et. n. Earlier this w CDs on the stre of the populatio g while he sold lin er St n man lto k A ac an named killed a Bl killed a Black m officer shot and e lic po a , ta so his girlfriend y in Minne affic stop while tr a The very next da g rin du r ca e police do not o Castile in his rwhelmingly, th ve O . named Philand on ed ok lo r-old daughter and her four-yea these lives. ng di en r uences fo face any conseq with every day. est friends live os cl y m of e m so ing reality that This is a terrify , our instinct is Americans face k ac Bl s er ng da . To shield about the rent from them ffe di Even as we hear e ar e w s ay liceman shoots int at all the w ing. When a po iz th sometimes to po pa em of d ea see so many their reality inst ult because you fa ’s im ourselves from ct vi e th k it’s r all, you might , you might thin a Black person d criminals. Afte an s ug th as ia good lives for in the med thing and build no images of them ith w a ic er m to come to A say, we managed hy can’t they? rimination, so w sc di ite sp de s ourselve see things. with you how I e ar sh to t an w I in this country. for being Asian n io at in rim sc hold promotions face di r accents, or with It’s true that we ou t ou ab ld us to le are rude me of us are to ip material.” So Sometimes peop sh er ad “le ” as al in us crim n’t think of us thinks “dangero dy because they do bo no , rt pa t n our . But for the mos do not gun dow we’re terrorists reet. The police st e th n w do alking when we are w y existing. rents for simpl pa children and ere brought Black people w y an M s. nd ie fr k ities, case for our Blac s, their commun This is not the ill. For centurie w r ei th ey had t , ns ry ai ves ag after slave th to America as sla for profit. Even t ar ap d not pe — rip t l suppor dies were no institutiona families, and bo ith w , es lv se em violence that eir lives by th under threat of ly nt to build back th ta ns co d an or own homes, allowed to vote is day. continues to th


In fighting for their own rights, Black ac tivists have led the opportunities not jus movement for t for themselves, bu t for us as well. Blac been beaten, jailed, k people have even killed fighting for many of the right Americans enjoy tod s that Asian ay. We owe them so much in return. We against the same un are all fighting fair system that prefe rs we compete again st each other. When someone is wa lking home and gets shot by a sworn prote peace — even if that ctor of the officer’s last name is Liang — that is an as us, and on all of ou sa ult on all of r hopes for equality and fairness under the law. For all of these reaso ns, I support the Bl ack Lives Matter mo that support means vement. Part of speaking up when I see people in my co even my own family mm unity — or — say or do things th at diminish the huma Americans in this co nit y of Black untry. I am telling yo u this out of love, be want this issue to div ca use I don’t ide us. I’m asking th at you try to empath anger and grief of th ize with the e fathers, mothers, and children who ha ones to police violen ve lost their loved ce. To empathize wi th my anger and gr me if I choose to be ief , and support vocal, to protest. To share this letter with and encourage them yo ur friends, to be empathetic, too . As your child, I am proud and eternally grateful that you ma hard journey to this de the long, country, that you’ve lived decades in a pla not always been kin ce that has d to you. You’ve neve r wished your strug Instead, you’ve suffe gle s upon me. red through a preju diced America, to br the American Drea ing me closer to m. But I hope you can consider this: the Am erican Dream cann your children. We ar ot exist for only e all in this together, and we cannot feel our friends, loved on safe until ALL es, and neighbors ar e safe. The America seek is a place where n Dream that we all Americans can liv e without fear of po This is the future th lice violence. at I want — and one that I hope you want , too. With love and hope

,

Your children

We are not looking to center ourselves in the conversation about anti-Blackness, but rather to serve as responsible allies — to educate, organize, and spread awareness in our own communities without further burdening Black activists, who are already doing so much. Please visit the #BlackLivesMatter site for more information on the core movement. We wanted to write a letter because changing hearts and minds in our community requires time and trust, and is best shaped with dialogue. We know that this letter is far from perfect: it’s a bit homogenized, not comprehensive, and even excludes perspectives. Most of the important work of the letter is not being done in the English version, which was meant to be a template for translators, but in the translations themselves. Because we view translation as a cultural and not just linguistic process, many of the translations have changed portions of the letter to better address particular experiences, whether it’s the role of imperialism in their immigration and assimilation or specific incidents in their community. Even beyond that, we encourage each individual to adapt this letter to their own needs to best reach their families. Every family has a different experience, and this is merely a resource for you to use. That’s why this letter, and its translations, are published with a CC0 Public Domain waiver. Our hope with this letter is to make it easier for people to start di�icult conversations, build empathy and understanding, and move us forward to real change. — Katie Zhu 39


#JUSTICE4AKAI March led by the Gurley family from Barclays Center to DA Thompson’s street in Clinton Hill on May 28, 2016. They delivered the message that DA Thompson has blood on his hands for recommending no jail time for Peter Liang for the shooting of Akai Gurley.


continued from pg 37

Asian Organizations for Black Lives

#Asians4BlackLives is a contemporary collective in Oakland, CA founded in support of #BlackLivesMatter after the murder of Eric Garner

ASIANS4BLACKLIVES; BALTIMORE ASIAN RESISTANCE IN SOLIDARITY; YELLOW JACKETS COLLECTIVE; API RESISTANCE

Baltimore Asian Resistance in Solidarity is an intentional learning community in Baltimore, MD founded during the Freddie Gray Baltimore Uprising

Yellow Jackets Collective is a queer and intersectional collective in NYC collaborating towards radical futures that centralize marginalized bodies.

API Resistance is a collective in DC founded to challenge antiblackness and white supremacy in the recognition that API liberation is bound with Black liberation

was directly fighting for equality for all. And originally I failed to see how #BlackLivesMatter mattered to the Asian American community. But, here’s the thing: It is true that Asian Americans face discrimination. But Asian Americans are not the ones currently being targeted. The problem with the All Lives Matter movement, is that we are ignoring the fact that black lives have been the primary victims of police brutality. In fact, research shows that American police have killed more than 500 black lives in the past year alone. Black people are five times more likely to be killed than white people. And, in most situations, they are unarmed, innocent individuals. These statistics don’t apply to Asian Americans. The other day, I read a true story about a black man who was afraid that a policeman would flag him down because his car’s license plate had expired. He was afraid of the possibility that a simple encounter could end his life that day. But, for us, when a policeman flags us down the road, we are fortunate to be able to think “I am going to get a ticket” rather than “My life is about to end.” When we walk down the street, we are

to explain that the thing is, the Black Lives Matter movement also affects Asian Americans. The label is “black lives matter” because black people are the most adversely affected. What the movement is trying to do, is to fix the most affected area first — before police brutality expands to other races. It’s similar to fire. If a house were to catch on fire, the firefighters would try to put out the fire in the house it started with. In the same way, the Black Lives Matter movement is trying to focus the problem on black lives first. If Asian Americans believe that this movement does not apply to them, they are wrong. Because essentially, we could very well also be the target of police brutality if this problem is never fixed. In addition, another common misconception is that this problem is one that will never be solved. In fact, one of my Asian American friends expressed his concern that his main issue with the Black Lives Matter movement is how there is no tangible solution. But, it’s important for all of us to understand that awareness is always a good step forward. Currently, there are more than 18,000,000 Asian Americans in the U.S. today. And within the 18 million Asian

For us, when a policeman flags us down the road, we are fortunate to be able to think “I am going to get a ticket” rather than “My life is about to end.” lucky to be able to do so without preconceived stereotypes that we are dangerous criminals. However, our situation unfortunately doesn’t apply to the lives of many black individuals. And hundreds of black lives have been taken by the hands of corrupt policemen who discriminate. When I see Asian Americans explain that they do not have anything to do with the Black Lives Matter movement, I try

American individuals, I hope that they begin to voice their opinions louder than ever for the violence and cruelty within our country. I hope they begin to understand how #BlackLivesMatter allows us to take the first step towards ending this injustice. And how it is a movement that Asian Americans especially need to be apart of. Because #BlackLivesMatter does matter to Asians.  41


ladies in the


streets B Y R YA N KO S T


S L A N T

Gene Compton’s cafeteria in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District

44

May 2017

It was also bright, and that was fine with the queens and the hustlers and the hair fairies and the queers who would crowd around the tables at night. “It was a good place to be seen,” says Tamara Ching, one of a handful of people who remembers the place, “to let people know that you were alive, that you survived the night.” If you were to go back to this corner today, you wouldn’t find much, just a big blue building with the corner doors boarded up. But if you happened to look down, you might notice a plaque sunk into the sidewalk, marking this corner as the site of something called the “Compton’s Cafeteria Riot.” In June 1969, patrons at New York’s Stonewall Inn spent two nights rioting after police raided the Greenwich Village bar one time too many. The Stonewall Riots are generally acknowledged as the beginning of the modern gay liberation movement. But history is too complicated for neat edges, and in the years leading up to Stonewall, other stories played out in

places like Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and San Francisco’s Tenderloin area.

ACCEPTANCE IN TENDERLOIN Three years earlier, on a “hot August night” in 1966 (the exact date has been lost to time) hustlers and transgender women (before “transgender” was a word in general use) fought police harassment, shattering the cafeteria’s windows, lighting a newsstand on fire and destroying a patrol car. Nearly everybody knows about Stonewall — President Obama declared the site a national monument in June 2016 — but that night at Compton’s, 50 years ago in August, is also part of the long history of struggle. History only becomes history in the retelling, and for many years, the story behind Compton’s Cafeteria was largely forgotten. If it weren’t for historian Susan Stryker, it might have been lost completely. On a spring afternoon, under a clear sky, Stryker sips a beer on the

HENRI LELEU

Gene Compton’s Cafeteria, on the corner of Turk and Taylor some decades back, was an all-night diner with big windows. It was the sort of place where the waitresses wore crisp uniforms and a cup of coffee didn’t cost more than a dime.


The Tenderloin accepted everybody. The Tenderloin was the central place of queerness. All the gay people, all the poor people, all the elderly, all the disabled lived in the Tenderloin.

An event held by the Imperial Court, one of the oldest and largest international LGBT organizations, at Gene Compton’s Cafeteria

TAMARA CHING

porch of her Bernal Heights home. She’s casual and frank as she talks about the rediscovery of Compton’s, which begins in the stacks of San Francisco’s GLBT Historical Society. Stryker spent a good chunk of the ‘90s and beyond there, first as a volunteer and later as the first paid director. In 1992, she’d finished up her doctorate at UC Berkeley, but couldn’t find a job. She was newly out as a trans woman and, she says, “employment discrimination is a really real thing.” So Stryker decided to read through the archive. Every inch of it. “I have turned every page,” she says. “I can’t say I’ve read every word.” Her first hint that something called the “Compton’s Cafeteria Riot” happened came in the form of a small notation in somebody’s abandoned effort to create a gay chronology. “At Compton’s Cafeteria August of 1966, gays and lesbians fought back against the police,” it read. The note was enough to get Stryker’s attention. The couple of dozen blocks that make up the Tenderloin neighborhood have always been known for vice, but in the 1950s, as the gambling economy crumbled, it became a home for the sort of folks who couldn’t find one anywhere else. People came from all over — from places as near as San Pablo and as far as Appalachia. “Kerouac said there was

a place for me, so I came to find out,” says Aleshia Brevard, who moved from Tennessee to a small place on Geary. “The Tenderloin accepted everybody,” Ching says. She’d grown up in San Francisco, an androgynous kid with a moon-shape face and high cheekbones. After her family moved to San Pablo, she’d take the bus in and crash with friends. The freedom was worth the commute. “The Tenderloin was the central place of queerness. All the gay people, all the poor people, all the elderly, all the disabled lived in the Tenderloin.” Growing up, Felicia Elizondo got called all the names — sissy, queer, joto. She came to the Tenderloin for the first time in 1963, a high schooler chasing a date up from San Jose. “I saw all these people and I was like, ‘Oh, my God. There’s a lot of people like me here in San Francisco.’” She started cutting class, taking the Greyhound bus to the depot at Seventh and Market streets. It wasn’t long before she and some friends had met a man name Cyril. He took them up to his room, and they watched as he teased his hair and put on an angora sweater and skintight pants. “He called himself a hair fairy.” Pretty soon she was doing the same. Both Elizondo and Ching ended up working the streets as women. Ching

can still list them, rapid fire: Eddy, Turk, Ellis, O’Farrell, Mason, Taylor — never outside those, never on Market Street, where the boys worked. “We were just trying to survive,” Elizondo says. “We were a whole bunch of people trying to figure out what the fuck we were and who we were.”

COLLECTIVE RESISTANCE For whatever reason — perhaps the promise of a story involving people who were something like herself — that mention of a riot at Compton’s stuck in Stryker’s mind. A few years later, as she looked through a program dated June 25, 1972 from San Francisco’s first Gay Pride Parade, she came across something more substantial. At the center of the program was an article that read, in part, “We’re here to celebrate the uprising at Stonewall, but don’t forget that gay militancy and gay pride started in San Francisco three years earlier.” The piece went on to describe a “hot August night” when “drag queens rose up angry at oppression by the police....” “I go to the newspapers, I check the weather reports,” Stryker says. “There are no hot August nights in 1966.” Still, she couldn’t shake the feeling that this was continues on pg 47

45


S L A N T

tamara ching following the life of

B Y M AT T H E W B A J K O

Born in San Francisco in 1949, Tamara Ching has lived throughout the U.S., spending time in Chicago, New Orleans, and Washington, D.C. In 1993 the transgender activist moved back to her hometown. Today, Ching is one of two transgender people she is aware of who were born in San Francisco and still living. The 63-year-old is multi-racial, having German, Hawaiian, and Chinese ancestry, and a former sex worker. She has consulted about trans and HIV/AIDS issues with a number of health organizations, from the Vietnamese government to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As part of Women’s History Month, state Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) announced last week that he had selected Ching to be included in a book being published by the upper chamber’s women’s caucus titled Women With Impact: A collection of stories about women who made a difference in the lives of Senators. “Tamara’s life has been anything but traditional,” Yee writes in his submission for the book. He added that for as long as he has known her, “nothing can keep this lady down.” She shared details about her life, from transitioning from male to female to navigating the city as a senior with mobility issues, during the second annual Howard Grayson LGBT Elder Conference. The March 30 event, hosted by the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, focused on transgender issues this year. Grayson was a longtime Milk club member who died in 2011. He worked for many years as a home care provider and was involved in senior issues. Ching took part in a panel discussion titled “Getting Old Ain’t For Sissies: Trans Life in Our 60s, 70s, and Beyond.” 46

May 2017

As the Bay Area Reporter has noted in several stories about LGBT seniors, information about transgender elders and the issues they are grappling with are often missing in studies researchers and academics have conducted. If they are included, the sample size is often miniscule. It is something the city’s LGBT Aging Policy Task Force hopes to correct with a survey it conducted in April, which pushed to see many transgender seniors fill out the online questionnaire. The issue is one that has been front and center over the last year for Sue Englander, a Milk club board member who is organizing this year’s elders conference. She said she was struck last summer when she heard trans activist Felicia Elizondo, also known as Felicia Flames, speak on a panel during a Milk club meeting. “Felicia said, ‘I am very frustrated. The T in LGBT is silent.’ I think it was a very decisive moment,” said Englander, 60, who is bisexual and a former nurse. By making this year’s conference trans-focused, the organizing committee aimed to give voice to trans people in hopes the rest of the community would listen. “We think that the community can learn from the specific approaches to trans life,” said Englander. “While the issues can be different, they can also be similar.” The program included welcoming remarks by Veronika Fimbres, a transgender activist and veteran who was embroiled in a fight last year over her request to fly the transgender flag over the Castro. Steve Toby, a certified therapist who has helped transgender clients during their transition, and Sandra Hall, director of mental health at Lyon-Martin Health Services, which has long served both trans women and lesbian patients joined Ching on the panel discussion.


continued from pg 45

something. So she kept digging. “There were traces of memory in the community about Compton’s, about Compton’s being kind of a queer hangout,” Stryker says. They were able to piece a narrative together, but outsider history can be hard to verify. These stories, stories on the fringes, don’t always add up the way we want them to. There aren’t always photographs or articles or interviews to rely on. The Chronicle didn’t print a word about the riot. Eventually, though, Stryker and Silverman caught a break in Amanda St. Jaymes, a woman who ran a Tenderloin hotel. She’d been at the diner during the riot, and her story, with no prompting, lined up exactly with what they’d found. “As soon as a we got that interview, we were like, that’s it, we have it.”

LEAH MILLIS; SCREAMING QUEENS DOCUMENTARY

SCREAM QUEENS Compton’s Cafeteria might not have looked like much, but for the people living on the edges, it was special. “Everybody hung out at Compton’s,” Elizondo says. “It was the center of information. You could come in, when all the girls were sitting down in Compton’s, and strut your stuff, or show off your husband. It was just utopia. We could be who we were.” When you worked those streets, you had to accept some truths. You had to accept that getting arrested meant being humiliated, it meant not working for a weekend. You had to accept that there might be awful men waiting for you, that if you disappeared, the police might not come looking. “We had to survive, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute,” Ching says. “It was just scary,” Elizondo explains. “A lot of girls didn’t make it.” Compton’s was usually a place away from all that, somewhere safe at the end of a potentially long night. In 2005, Stryker and Silverman released their documentary. They called it “Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton’s Cafeteria.” The two people they interviewed who saw the queens

There was tables turned over. All the sugar shakers went through the windows and the glass doors. I think I put a sugar shaker through one of those windows. AMANDA ST. JAYMES

and hustlers rise up that night, the queen St. Jaymes and an officer named Elliot Blackstone, have since died. “I think, at this point, it’s not a living memory anymore,” Stryker says. “It’s a historical memory.” But there is the film, and in it St. Jaymes describes the scene at Compton’s that night after an officer messed with a queen drinking coffee. In the days and months leading up to the riot, a lot had been changing. “Homophile” groups like the Tavern Guild and the Society for Individual Rights had been organizing. Vanguard, a group of radical gay youths, had just formed. The Civil Rights Movement was in full swing. Glide Memorial Church had begun welcoming the Tenderloin’s disenfranchised. To put it simply, people were feeling bolder — that queen with the coffee cup in her hand included. She threw it in the officer’s face. “There was tables turned over,” St. Jaymes says. “All the sugar shakers went through the windows and the glass doors. I think I put a sugar shaker through one of those windows.” Police called for backup, but the patrons spilled out on the street and kept fighting. By the end of the night, according to reports, a newsstand had been set on fire and a police car was destroyed. It was, Stryker says in Screaming Queens, “the first known instance of collective militant queer resistance to police in United State history.” Stryker dug into the time after the riot and found that city services catering to trans women and other queer people increased. That they had access

to things as simple as ID cards and as central as hormone therapy. That the police began to act more compassionately. Whether any of this was the result of what happened at Compton’s is hard, maybe impossible, to say. You can prove sequence, Stryker says, but not causality. But maybe that’s not the point. Maybe the point, as transgender activist Cecilia Chung put it, is this: “We should not try to pinpoint so hard one single event in history as what defines the movement. There are actually many, many events that demonstrate the resilience of our community.” One of the things that pushed Stryker to record this story, to spend years investigating whispers, was a hope that she might, as she put it, “make history in a way that historians don’t usually get to make history. I wanted Compton’s to enter historical memory.” By most any measure, she’s succeeded. On June 9, in a speech to mark Gay Pride Month, President Obama talked about the sorts of people who “ruffle feathers in the name of justice and equality.” He then, in the same breath as Selma, Seneca Falls and Stonewall Inn, mentioned “Compton’s Cafe.” One day later, Elizondo sent out an email to dozens of people. It was a bit jagged, line breaks and spaces where they might not have belonged. “This is the first time I’ve ever heard of my President Obama mention Gene Compton’s Cafe.” She had started crying when she heard about the speech, she said. The Compton’s Cafeteria Riot had become history.  47



EVERY THING

WE DO IS

RESISTANCE N E W YO R K C I T Y ’ S C O N S E R VAT I V E L U N A R N E W Y E A R PA R A D E B R E A KS A F E W B A R R I E R S BY JESSICA PROIS

49


S L A N T

Asian Americans march in the Lunar New Year parade to highlight issues they face while protesting against the GOP’s anti-LGBT platform

As one version of Chinese folklore goes, twelve animals competed in a big race across a river. The rat jumped in the ear of the kindhearted ox, who saw no problem giving the little guy a lift from one riverbank to the other. But as they neared the finish line — ahead of the others — the rat jumped off the ox and snatched first place. The ox came in a close second. The Year of the Rat is, then, the first on the Chinese zodiac calendar, followed by the Year of the Ox, and so forth, based on the order in which the creatures finished the race. This Lunar New Year, a multiweek celebration usually in January or February — this year January 28 — marked the Year of the Rooster. For thousands of years, as early as in the Zhou dynasty, roosters have been viewed “as in charge of time,” said Shenzhan Liao, the director of the school of Chinese studies at the China Institute, a cultural and education center in downtown Manhattan. “The rooster wakes up the day and is considered to be in charge of the light.” The rooster, the 10th year of the zodiac, is also symbolic of hard work and diligence, she added — always the first one up, with energy to take on a new day. Perhaps we New Yorkers might actually be roosters in human bodies? 50

May 2017

“While the Lunar New Year has always been important, it’s especially so this year, given our political climate. Celebrating holidays and Chinese culture is important when there’s uncertainty in the political field,” she said. “Cultural ties will never cease in importance.”

MARCHING TO A NEW DRUM Clara Yoon, another mother, took part in the Chinatown parade to support her Korean-American transgender son who came out six years ago. “I marched because I wanted to uplift the visibility of Asian parents who love their LGBTQ kids and to celebrate the different type of family in Asian immigrant community,” Yoon said Amid the annual parade, Li and Yoon were part of a large contingent of Asian American LGBTQ community members who took a strong stance on issues including queer rights and immigration. “This parade isn’t usually political — it’s more conservative.” Stephanie Hsu, a volunteer coordinator for Q-Wave, an Asian American LGBTQ advocacy group, said. “We actually got denied participation to the parade when we first applied in 2009. But we couldn’t stay silent this year because of things Trump has said.” continues on pg 52

PREVIOUS SPREAD MENGWEN CAO; JESSICA PROIS

ONCE UPON A TIME


CALLING AWARENESS The groups cited the GOP’s harsh anti-LGBTQ platform and Trump’s immigration orders as reasons for the Asian Americans speaking out. There are currently more undocumented Asian American immigrants than undocumented Mexicans living in the United States. 51


S L A N T continued from pg 50

Ancient Origins The Ancient Chinese calendar was a complex timepiece, with parameters set according to the lunar phases, solar solstices and equinoxes. The Chinese zodiac, the repeated cycle of twelve stations or along the apparent path of the sun through the cosmos. Each new year was marked by one of the twelve zodiacal animals, each represented by its reputed attribute — Long ago, the Jade Emperor wanted twelve animals to be his guards. He sent an immortal being into man’s world to spread the message that that the earlier one went through the Heavenly Gate, the better the ranking as one of his guards. The next day, RAT got up very early. On his way, he encountered a swift river and had to stop there. After waiting a long time, Rat noticed OX about to cross and jumped into his ear for safe passage. The diligent Ox did not mind at all and continued. After crossing the river, he raced towards the palace of the Jade Emperor. Suddenly, Rat jumped out of Ox’s ear and made his dash to the Emporer’s feet. Rat won first place and Ox was second.

TIGER and RABBIT came third and fourth because both were fast, but Tiger was faster. Rabbit got across the river by hopping on stepping stones and floating logs.

DRAGON was fifth and was immediately noticed by the Jade

The groups cited the GOP’s harsh anti-LGBTQ platform and Trump’s immigration orders as reasons for the Asian American community speak out. There are currently more undocumented Asian American immigrants than undocumented Mexicans living in the US. Marchers called for more awareness on social issues among the public and the Asian American community itself. “It’s different for Asians,” Li said. “Parents are more conservative and patriarchal. It’s just not something Asian parents are used to. Being LGBTQ might not even be seen as an option.” Hsu said for Asians, the idea of being queer doesn’t always jive with longstanding cultural beliefs. “Asians sometimes associate being LGBTQ with simply putting sex out there in general. It might not even have anything to do with sexual orientation — but just the idea of talking about sex and putting sex on display.” It’s even more difficult for undocumented Asians, who face a unique set of challenges when it comes to being open about sexuality. “Many Asian immigrants come out when they get to America because it’s more welcoming. If they had to go back, they might not be able to continuing living as out.” To be sure, traditional Asian culture can center around conformity, traditional gender roles and a duty to have children — and the very notion of LGBTQ issues can be a non-starter for immigrant parents. But among second-generation

Asians, that’s largely changing. For instance, among all ethnic groups in America, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are the most supportive of same-sex marriage, with 64 percent of AAPIs supporting marriage equality. Q-Wave is one group that’s helping to educate the Asian American community and family members of LGBTQ individuals. The nonprofit holds workshops around Asian American identity, helps translate materials for families who don’t speak English, fundraises and more. Another group, API Rainbow Parents of PFLAG NYC, also focuses on awareness among family members. “My mom is talking with other parents of kids who are LGBTQ,” Li said. “She is forming her own community.”

LIONS ARE DANCING The New York Chinese Freemasons Athletic Club hosts what’s believed to be the longest-running lion dance troupe in New York City. This year’s was be the club’s 61st annual parade. Back in the 1960s, there were fewer than 10 troupes participating in Chinatown’s Lunar New Year parade; today it’s more like 40 or 50. The dancers make it look easy, but that head can weigh up to 30 pounds, and swiveling it around on your forearms when you can see almost nothing but your feet requires a lot of flexibility, strength and balance.

Emperor, who said Dragon’s son could be sixth. But his son didn’t come with him. Just then, SNAKE came forward adoptive father; Snake ranked sixth.

HORSE and GOAT arrived. Very kind and modest, they each let the other go first. The Jade Emperor saw how polite they were and ranked them seventh and eighth.

MONKEY had fallen well behind. But he jumped between trees and stones, and caught up to ninth. Last were

ROOSTER, DOG, and PIG. These twelve animals thus became guards of the Heavenly Gate. 52

May 2017

The parading Lion Dancers run along the streets to bring goodwill and luck to everyone they meet

NEDERLANDSE WUSHU ACADEMIE XIA QUAN; MENGWEN CAO

and sneakily said Dragon was his


Karlin Chan, one of the club’s veteran lion dancers, joined the troupe at 10 years old, back in the late ‘60s. Chan explains the Chinese Freemasons practice a form of “southern lion dance” based on kung fu. You had to learn martial arts before the master of the system, your particular shifu as they’re called. When I arrive, about nine guys are hunched in a wide, low squat known as the “horse stance.” And I see that their teacher is a woman, Prima Lai. Martial arts is almost equally popular with men as with women in the US, so this shouldn’t be surprising. But lion dancing was traditionally reserved for men. And the same goes for membership in the Chinese Freemasons. “It was all a bachelor society,” Chan says. “Women were not allowed in.” The Chinese Freemasons, no relation to European freemasonry, came together in the late 1800s to support immigrants from China. This club remains steeped in tradition, with a Buddhist shrine taking up a large corner of the room. Back when Karlin Chan joined it was still all male, and all Chinese. But in the ’70s, they started letting non-Chinese kids who wanted to lion dance become members. And in the ‘80s, the Chinese Freemasons became one of the first New York troupes to welcome women lion dancers. Prima Lai joined the Freemasons 15 years ago, when she was 12. Her stepfather, a member, offered her a deal. “He said, if you join the Freemasons, you can get kung fu classes for free.” The catch? She had to learn how to lion dance too. There was only one other female member at the time, but for Lai that wasn’t an issue. “I think what I really liked about being in that class was that there was no special girl treatment,” she says. “You do the same number of push-ups, same number of sit-ups.” Today, Lai is an instructor, and there is definitely still no special girl treatment. Avril Saavedra, 17, joined the Chinese Freemasons last year after volunteering as a runner — someone who dashes into shops along the parade route to see if they’ll pay for a performance. “Once I came up here and I saw what it was,

I just thought it was the coolest thing ever. And I said, well, would it be possible for me to join, which was kind of out there for me because...I’m not Chinese.” Saavedra was born in Uruguay. “Surrounded by cows,” she says, laughing. “But my friend said if you’re willing to do a lot of work and to have a lifelong commitment to this club...then you can join us.” That’s as a trial member. Becoming a full member can take years. Despite their openness to new members like Saavedra, there are still only three active women lion dancers in the troupe out of about 60, something Lai attributes to the hardcore training, but also some lingering “anti-female traditions,” she says. “For example, women are not allowed to touch the head if they are on their period...because the lion head is supposed to bring you good luck and if you’re bleeding it’s bad luck,” she says. “I think...nobody wants to be that person to say, let’s forget what our ancestors told us.” Saavedra says she’s also aware

that some retro attitudes toward women persist, but “we as a group are trying to change that.” Next fall, Saavedra is moving to Boston for college, but she still plans to come back to lion dance in New York’s Lunar New Year parade, and to keep up her membership in the club. The Masonic commitment is real.

DANCING IN DEFIANCE Nighttime hits and the afterparty starts. Welcome to New York’s first queer lunar dance party: a designated “safe space” where several red qipaos and embroidered silk jackets flashed on the dance floor; and under gilded wooden dragons, porcelain bowls in hand (the cocktail of the night was sesame-chili infused). As the year of the Fire Rooster began, the venue pushed an unorthodox door policy: in addition to being of legal continues on pg 54

Yellow Jackets Collective hosts NYC’s first queer lunar dance party

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drinking age, those who wanted to enter were also asked to check their “white nonsense” as well as “toxic masculinity” first — and, if they were not Asianidentifying, absolutely no Asian cultural garb. Soon, lovers kissed in dark corners in the basement and the queue outside reached down the block. “I waited for this party all my life,” said Coco Layne, who kept finding herself at “white people’s parties in Bushwick”, wondering for years if she was the only queer Asian in New York. “This is a really beautiful way of celebrating each other, while the world is burning down outside: we’re here, we’re not going anywhere.” Now Layne commiserated with hundreds of others of her tribe, many coming straight from the Chinatown parade (which had been queerer than ever). She wore a red “kimono” from Victoria’s Secret, not her ancestral Taiwan, for the occasion, matched with plateaued Doc Martens, waist-long turquoise hair, coordinated eyebrows and winged eyeliner. “This [kimono] was appropriated by white people and then I took it back,” she said, laughing. “And every act from now until the end of the term should be a middle finger.” Under the nation’s new president, fond of China-bashing and hell-bent on drowning out America’s diversity, the party was both therapy and euphoric rebellion, a way to smash cliches of Asian Americans as a conservative, quietly well-behaved “model minority”. Honoring the survival and resistance of “queer femmes of color” also came with strict guidelines, however, circulated ahead of the event by the organizers, Yellow Jackets Collective, a “queer and intersectional Yellow American collective.” The party, designated to “maneuvering, scamming and burning white patriarchy to the ground”, had no patience for homophobia or transphobia, anti-blackness, fetishization or “yellow face.” The collective was born out of disillusion with a mainstream America they felt still did


not see them. By coming together, they found an outlet for the anger they felt had begun to choke them: why was it that even in a crowded queer bar, they felt so alone? “Whites love to decide what we are, who we are; why we are,” said collective member Michelle Ling Xuan, emphasizing that the Asian American person-of-color status was erased when they performed well, and highlighted whenever a token minority was needed. “Like, everything liberal about you comes from your proximity to whiteness, and everything conservative about you comes from China.” “Our anger comes from this inheritance of all of these ghosts our parents have been living with in this country,” said Parissah Lin, another member of the Yellow Jackets Collective. “There’s a bitterness and kind of insanity that comes along with this isolation and alienation. We try to imagine a future we haven’t been given.” As for Donald Trump, he was merely a symptom rather than the illness itself, according to the group. “This didn’t come out of nowhere,” Xuan stressed. “Trump didn’t just magically manifest himself into being and become super rich on his own. He came out of you, white America, so please take responsibility: this was literally hundreds of years of you building this empire and then your king came and sat on the throne. So why are you so fucking surprised?” “Almost everything we do now is resistance, whether or not we want it to be,” explained Jes Tom, a standup comedian and fifth generation Asian American. “Maybe we don’t want it to be, maybe we want to have a party and have a good time, but it doesn’t matter, it’s resistance now.” They had arrived in a cab with another partygoer, Sueann Leung, who was “too emotionally exhausted” to deal with the

racist, homophobic catcalls of the subway. “We’re queer, visibly together, and I receive a lot of harassment.” Since Trump’s campaign began, the city had recorded spikes in hate crime. “I can be in my regular clothing, with my hair up big, and it still becomes a racialized thing,” Leung said. “The moment I put up my hair, I promise you, at least two assholes will yell ‘geisha’ at me on the street. It doesn’t matter what I‘m wearing.” Tonight’s party was one of few places where Leung, a costume designer, felt safe playing around with stereotypes of her Asian heritage on her own terms: in crimson lipstick, an embroidered, vintage mandarin-collared silk dress, and textile peonies in her curled hair With the night marked the beginning of a tough year, the group tried to stay in the moment and enjoy an unprecedented sense of belonging. After all, Tom stressed, New Year’s festivities — no matter culture or origin — was all about family union, new beginnings, and good fortunes for the future. “And what do we need more right now, than a lot of good luck, right?”

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S L A N T

From the Archives

AN EXCERPT FROM

The Emergence of Yellow Power no longer afford to watch the black-andwhite struggle from the sidelines. They have their own cause to fight, since they are also victims of the white institutionalized racism. A Yellow movement has been set into motion by the Black Power movement...both are part of the Third World struggle to liberate all colored people. The Yellow Power movement has been motivated largely by the problem of self-identity in Asian Americans. The psychological focus of this movement is vital, for Asian Americans suffer the critical mental crisis of having “integrated” into American society. In the process of Americanization, Asians have tried to transform themselves into white men — both mentally and physically. Mentally, they have adjusted to the white man’s culture by giving up their own languages, customs, histories, and cultural values. They have adopted the “American way of life” only to discover that this is not enough. Next, they have rejected their physical heritages, resulting in extreme selfhatred...evident in the Yellow male’s obsession with unobtainable white women, and in the Yellow female’s attempt to gain male approval by aping white beauty standards. Yellow females have their own “conking” techniques — they use “peroxide, foam rubber, and scotch tape to give them light hair, large breasts, and double-lidded eyes.” The “Black is Beautiful” cry among Black Americans has instilled a new awareness in Asian Americans to be proud of their physical and cultural heritages. Yellow Power advocates

ASIAN AMERICANS CAN

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May 2017

self-acceptance as the first step toward strengthening personalities of Asian Americans.... The problem of self-identity in Asian Americans also requires the removal of stereotypes. The yellow people in America seem to be silent citizens. During the height of anti-Chinese mob action of the 1880s, Whites were “stoning the Chinese in the streets; cutting off their queues, wrecking their shops and laundries.” Perhaps, surviving Asians learned to live in silence, for if the victims of such attacks tried to go to court, they could not get a hearing. The phrase ‘not a Chinaman’s chance’ had a grim and bitter reality.” Today the Asian Americans are still scared. Their passive behavior serves to keep national attention on the black people. By being as inconspicuous as possible, they keep pressure off of themselves at the expense of the Blacks. They close their eyes to the latent white racism toward them which has never changed. Frightened “Yellows” allow the white public to use the “silent Oriental” stereotype against the black protest: The presence of twenty million Blacks in America poses an actual physical threat to the white system. Fearful Whites tell militant Blacks that the acceptable criterion for behavior is exemplified in the quiet, passive Asian American. The Yellow Power movement envisages a new role for Asian Americans: It is a rejection of the passive Oriental stereotype and symbolizes the birth of a new Asian, one who will recognize and deal with injustices. The shout of Yellow Power is reverberating in the quiet corridors of the Asian community.

PREVIOUS SPREAD MENGWEN CAO; RAUL CONTRERAS

BY AMY UYEMATSU, 1969




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