“My” writing process.

This year I will be teaching writing for basically the first time. (If I’ve taught writing in the past, it was within the 30 minutes I “pushed in” to service special education students in Chicago, which meant little more than conferencing with a student or two about their writing.) Frankly speaking, I just don’t know how to teach writing. I don’t know how to help students feel interested in telling their stories and generating ideas. I don’t know how to help students craft their stories in different ways. I don’t know how to make student writing theirs.

When I was a kid, I hated writing in class. I would typically be the last one to hand in a writing piece because I didn’t know what to write. I hated when teachers pushed different ways of writing, like creating a hook, making a plot twist in a story, and writing an interesting ending. I hated having to write in different ways and forms, and I hated the mechanical aspect of revising and editing my writing. While my writing was often good, I hated the writing process that was pushed on me- I just wanted to write and have it done with. Oftentimes even now, I’ll type and publish my first drafts of writing.

Then, all of a sudden, when writing wasn’t a school assignment, I just…wrote. Growing up in Chinatown, Manhattan, I had so much to say but didn’t know who to say it to or how to say it. I would watch what to say to my new middle school friends because I had been teased in elementary school and, you know, girls can be mean in middle school. I couldn’t really articulate my thoughts and feelings to my parents, who spoke no English- my grasp of Cantonese was not good enough (and still not good enough) to convey the depth of my thoughts.

So writing became my way of communication. The first medium was my Xanga blog (how ancient are we?). I would give my username to my middle school friends who I wanted to read it, and at some point we were all “friends” on Xanga. I wrote sentences at first, silly ones, and enjoyed the fun comments and “eProps” my friends would give. Then I’d write a paragraph, then paragraphs. By the time I got to high school, I was writing in lengths that I enjoyed. It got easier to write essays in high school, and then at Columbia, where I’d have a paper due practically once a week. By the time I left college, I shared posts on Facebook and was ready to write my students’ individualized education plans (IEPs) in depths that expressed who my students were as people.

I found myself revisiting entries from years ago to reflect on how I’d grown as a person. How I enjoyed wandering the streets of SoHo as a kid, looking at the new fashions, and looking for sales to be as trendy as I could be. How I’d told someone I liked them for the first time, and, when rejected, knew I was just proud of being brave. How I was trying something new, and being bold, and loving my friends.

I also found that, after some point, I was writing very personally about myself. It helped me understand what I was going through, and it helped others know where I was. More so than that, people related to what I wrote and shared stories of their own heartbreaks and triumphs. They were inspired to write and share. We were empowered together, and not just about our lives- but about movements, around racism and classism, and about our students.

This February, after pushed to a breaking point of sorts, I wrote my most publicized piece yet- on the case of Peter Liang and Akai Gurley. I was angered at the comparison of Peter Liang and my uncle Vincent Chin- I didn’t think the comparison worked at all and was disrespectful to both my uncle’s legacy as well as Akai Gurley and the black community. I had to remind myself- I want to reach my community in a way that calls into the conversation and helps reflect. I wanted Chinese folk to understand Black Lives Matter and understand, most of all, why supporting Peter Liang was problematic.

I quickly realized that maybe a “first draft” was not enough for what I wanted to do. I called many friends whose writing and BLM commentary I respected. After a nonstop few hours, I finished a first draft- and realized I needed help on the legal lingo necessary to talk about manslaughter and the specifics of the Akai Gurley killing. My older brother told me my tone was off- it was too “sassy” and would turn off people in the community. I wrote and rewrote for a whole day, asking folks across the country for their edits, finally hitting the PUBLISH button on Medium after I got tired of rereading and rewriting.

There are some things I feel I’m qualified to write about, including my own experience, but writing about others’ experiences, and writing pieces that deign to represent a whole swath of people, is more dangerous. I know I have to be more thoughtful about it. I often don’t feel authority to write about others, but I know I have to in order to make change in education, and in the world around me.

Years after elementary school, I think I’ve learned the lessons my teachers were trying to teach me. Writing has helped me get to the point of what I want to say, and has improved my own teaching. In my second year teaching, a friend of mine asked me, “Wow, your words are so confusing. How are you a teacher?” Now, in my fifth year, and yesterday night, I offered advice to a teacher friend of mine to craft her words carefully and thoughtfully while teaching. I realized then I had bettered my writing process. I was thinking carefully about not just my writing but my choice of words, brevity, and making stories interesting.

I typically don’t write unless I am drawn upon to write, but I think I just need to keep writing. There’s so much to say, after all, and I think I know now how to do it in ways more sustainable than before. A number of my Chicago friends and I started a little writing group to help support each other in writing, sharing this frustration about writing.

I hadn’t realized how important writing had been in my life until I had to consider teaching writing. And I hope, in the next few weeks and months, that I can accurately convey that importance to my own fifth-graders. And, who knows, maybe that process will become theirs, too.

The move back home.

Being back in New York, after having lived and worked in Chicago for the past five years, has been much more emotional and confusing than I thought. I feel complicated about being here, yet I know people dream and kill to be in New York City. I’m here because my family is here and I wanted to be closer. But, I’ve also been using this time as a refresh. To recharge after all that’s happened in Chicago, take stock of what I have done and want to do, and keep tight to my vision. And, to gain perspective on the girl I was before I moved away from NYC and the woman I want to be moving forward.

The whole past month I have been looking for physical and emotional space to decompress all of this- it’s been a lot. I’ve been handling things like a champ, but I also get really anxious about whether I made the right choice and how I’m going to build my life here. It also has been bewildering trying to figure out my support networks here, my places and people to go to for imbibing and talking through teaching and singing. Finding a space for all my stuff, too, also made it hard to feel adjusted.

I have been back in New York City for over a month now. In that period of time I:

  • served as an Illinois Bernie Sanders delegate at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia
  • got my certification as a New York State Grades 1-6 Students with Disabilities teacher
  • went through 8 interviews, and accepted a job offer as a fifth-grade special education ICT co-teacher
  • moved back home with my parents and purged a lifetime of belongings, finding a space for the lucky possessions I decided to keep #KonMari
  • continually caught up with old friends
  • walked almost every day around NYC
  • joined a choir
  • started my first days of school with students.

Again, a lot.

In terms of teaching, I wanted to find a place where I could prioritize building my relationship with my parents and support in a way that’s healthy for all of us, while also teaching kids in an integrated environment AND kids who look like me. I wanted to find a space where I could keep learning. My school is pretty nice- there is definitely more funding than what I had in Chicago Public Schools, which makes a difference. And I get to teach Latino and Chinese students, meaning I can practice my Spanish, Cantonese, and Mandarin. Phew! Lots of veteran teachers, too, and the community here feels tight.

Living with the parents has certainly been an adjustment. Dad still wants me to get home at a certain time, and I’m not about it. Dating? I’m basically a monk until I move out- how does a person date when they live with their parents? And the questions- so many questions! But I will say that being home has been somewhat nice- I have my own space here, and I’m kept in relative quiet while I try to get reading or writing or work done in my room. We share materials so I don’t have to buy more stuff. I’m more content with having less. Thinking forward, I don’t have a set timeline on moving out- financially, I could move out really whenever I wanted, but I have things to accomplish at home, and it’s so nice co-sharing everything. I also am in between about saving money to buy a place- I don’t know if I ever want to buy anything, but I know saving money works best if I live at home.

I have a lot of rebuilding in terms of support networks, too. I know a lot of people in NYC by virtue of growing up here, but friends who you’ve seen sporadically over five years is very different from friends who you were used to seeing at least once a month, if not more. I’m going to have to work proactively on rebuilding those relationships while seeking out plenty of new relationships.

Overall my head has been swirling since I got back. I keep referencing Chicago in my understanding of teaching and politicking, and maybe that’s okay- it’s my experience, after all. It will take time to get into the groove and the acronyms and the culture here in NYC public schools. For the most part, all of my stuff has a space- and now I have a teaching space- now I need to feel like I fit within it all.

Goodbye, Chicago.

Two years ago today I started my WordPress account. I could not have ever written publicly under my name without having lived in Chicago for five years. 

Yes, I wept on this flight. Yes, I am human.

I write this on my flight back to New York City and my hometown after living in Chicago the past five years. When I got to Chicago I felt like that Britney Spears song- “I’m not a girl, not yet a woman. All I need is time, a moment that is mine, while I’m there you’ll see…” I had a lot to prove to myself and, in a large part, to my family. I wanted to show myself that I could make it on my own and that I could handle what came. I wanted to show that to my parents, too. I wanted adventures and to make my own life choices, What followed, I could not foresee. 

My life in Chicago has certainly been a whirlwind- many rough moments and many triumphant ones. I loved my students, but didn’t know how to teach them. I was forgiving and didn’t know where that barrier lied. I gave of myself and didn’t know my limits. I found myself and continue to find myself overly self-critical, which has served me in some cases but not in others. And, I was at multiple schools. I taught so many different students, and lived so many places in Chicago. I tried so many new things. I loved and was loved back many times. My heart has broken romantically, professionally, personally, and with family, multiple times, and my heart has burst to the seams in other occasions. “Love lost is better than never having loved at all.” I’m glad I have lived by that.

More so than anything, I found my voice in Chicago and, in many ways, I affirmed my life’s mission- to make children’s living as humane as possible. I’ve seen awful practices and systems that stem from our treatment of children as lesser than, especially black and brown kids, and I feel the internalized and overt racism that comes from that. I am a decent teacher now, although I have a ways to go. I’m in a point in my career where I can reject job offers when I don’t feel schools are doing developmentally appropriate things for children and where I am unsure my mental health will be okay. I love my students and know many ways to reach them now, academically and emotionally. I build relationships with folk not because I want anything out of them but because I want to know them. And I write- two years ago today I started my wordpress account and have written publicly under my name in multiple places. I plan to keep writing publicly.

As I spoke of with my therapist, I have healthy ways of coping now that I didn’t have before. I do humane things for myself, like singing- I need to sing and make art to be well. I create affinity groups with Asian folk, Asian women, teachers, teachers of color, Asian teachers, POC political folk, Asian political folk, Asian activists, Chinese folk, Chinese American folk, singers, artists, because they build me up and help me break down what is happening in my brain and in the world around me. I see my friends, my oldest friends and newest friends, and they give me perspective on where we’ve come from, where we are, and where we’re going. I break things down, know what’s in my control and what’s not, and I move forward with everything I can change and what I can’t. 

And, hopefully now I can breathe a little bit. My parents have been a big part of checking my wellness in the past, and making sure I’m not doing too much, and I’m so looking forward to living at home again. I’m worried in ways about the adjustment to moving back home, but I’m also so excited to speak Cantonese again. I’m so excited to eat my own food, to have my mom’s cooking. To see people who look like me everywhere in my Chinatown. To feel like I don’t have to fight to be Chinese or justify my language or educate others around my food and culture and customs. No, I get to just BE Chinese. That’s something very unique not to just Chinatowns but New York City in particular. And, I’m glad I have a space to call home. I know many folks with different intersections of identity, including Hapa folk and queer folks of color, don’t often have that space to breathe. I get to breathe. 

I could not have done any of these things without having lived in Chicago. Living away from your home city is something I would recommend to everyone. It’s made me think bigger, larger, and in such new perspective. It’s made me broaden my vision and my dreams. I’ve completed all the dreams I had for myself right after graduating college five years ago- teach, and teach well. Get involved in teacher Union activism, and fight for a more equitable system for our students. Meet Karen Lewis. (I’m proud to call her my friend today alongside all my rank-and-file teachers in the Chicago a Teachers Union). Honor my uncle Vincent Chin’s legacy. Sing and sing well. And, make change happen. Now I have the distinct privilege to broaden those dreams and dream bigger. 

Part of that dream, really, is to have my parents and family by my side as I fight this fight the rest of my life. When family, a core part of me, doesn’t understand who I am and what my vision is for life, I know I have to fix that. I know I have to fill that gaping hole in my heart.
Now I get to broaden those dreams and do exactly what I did in Chicago in NYC. I’ll keep writing. I’ll keep live-tweeting in an attempt to get real news out there. I’ll keep finding new allies. I’ll keep making change. I’ll keep building our movement. I’ll keep learning and growing the rest of my life. I’ll continue to fight in solidarity with others, listen, step up and step back, and fight this larger fight. And, deeply, I will continue to believe people can change, because if I truly believe I can change the world with little ole us, then I have to believe we can all change for the better. We will do this, together.

Thank you, Chicago. I will miss the food, the great street grid that is so easy to understand. I will miss the progressive spirit and activism that you have- I don’t know if any other city has that same spirit, but I could be wrong. And, most of all, I will miss the people. I wept on this flight because I’m so proud of everything we did together, and, while I know that work is not done, I’m so sad I won’t be there with you all in person doing the work on the ground. Thank you, thank you. I love you all.

Life updates.

This is the end of my Chicago chapter. Friday I finished packing all of my things, and I shipped six boxes to the East Coast. Yesterday I had breakfast with my housemates, kissed and hugged folks goodbye, and sobbed into many used and unused Kleenexes.

Yesterday I flew away from Chicago for good. I’ll be back to visit my second home, the Second City, Chicago. But my first home, New York City, has been calling me back. After five years of being in Chicago, it’s time to go home.

Oftentimes in Chicago I miss being Chinese- speaking my language, eating my food, seeing my family. Here, I fight to be Chinese and to do all the things that make me feel Chinese. I fight hard to teach in Chicago, as I will in NYC. But most of all,  I miss my family. I want to build something larger for myself, and I know I can only do that when family is closer by. I’m so looking forward to building a relationship with my parents and family that I can only do as an adult.

Yesterday, when I flew from Chicago, I didn’t fly into NYC. Yesterday I flew to Minnesota. I flew in a day early to see my college friends. Today I represent the Chicago Teachers Union for the first and last time as a delegate at the American Federation of Teachers Convention. Currently I sit poolside in my hotel room, applying for elementary special education teaching positions in NYC, and reflecting on the past few weeks, months, years.

This is the end of my Chicago chapter. This is my last duty as a Chicago Teachers Union Local 1 member. Thursday, I return to NYC, my first home. I’m so sad. And, and, I’m so excited.

Peter Liang Was Justly Convicted- He’s Not A Victim, Says This Niece of Vincent Chin

I wrote about Peter Liang and Akai Gurley a few weeks ago, and was pushed to write further because of a certain NYPost article trying to conflate Peter Liang with Vincent Chin, who, as I write here, is my uncle. Lily Chin is my great-aunt and the sister of my maternal grandmother. Over many long hours, I wrote an article on Medium yesterday night. It’s gotten a lot of hits so far, so you may have read it already. Hope you enjoy.

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When I first heard about Akai Gurley’s killing, that a Chinese American police officer, Peter Liang, had shot Gurley to his death, I knew to be prepared for tough conversations around police brutality, Black lives, and the Asian American community. I knew there would be strong emotions surrounding Officer Liang, especially after Officer Liang received a resounding “guilty” verdict on the count of second degree manslaughter of Akai Gurley.

Still, I did not expect more than 10,000 people, predominantly Chinese Americans, rallying in Brooklyn and around the nation on Saturday in defense of Officer Liang. I was more surprised that some of my cousins attended the rally in Brooklyn.

I understand people’s instinct to stand by others in their community, but the anger and protests in support of Officer Peter Liang are misplaced.

The only time I‘d ever seen such a large rally of Asian Americans was in footage of the Vincent Chin case. At the height of Detroit’s auto-industry crisis in 1982, Vincent, a Chinese American man, was having his bachelor party, when a group of white laid-off autoworkers called Vincent a “motherfucker,” mistaking Vincent as Japanese, and blaming Vincent for taking their jobs. Two auto-workers, Ronald Ebens and his stepson, Michael Nitz, chased Vincent down and beat him to death with a baseball bat.

Unlike Peter Liang, the two men, Ebens and Nitz, walked away from the case.

Eben and Nitz never served time for killing my uncle Vincent.

When those two assailants never served a day in jail, different Asian American groups coalesced nationwide by the thousands to protest Vincent’s death, its surrounding injustices, and for rights for Asian Americans.

Lily Chin, Vincent’s heartbroken mother, fought for years to get justice. My maternal grandmother and my great-aunt, Lily’s sisters, flew across the Pacific to support Lily, eventually bringing my parents to the United States. Lily mourned until she passed in 2002.

I bring Vincent up because a freelance writer, Shirley Ng, referenced Vincent today in a NY Post op-ed comparing Officer Liang to Vincent and Private Danny Chen, a Chinese American who committed suicide after constant racial harassment from fellow soldiers. Ng claimed Asian Americans have never had justice, citing Vincent and Danny’s cases as why we should support Officer Liang. She further stated Asian Americans were “united” behind Officer Liang.

Her article was insulting and wrong. Vincent Chin has far more in common with Akai Gurley than with Peter Liang.

Like Akai Gurley, my uncle Vincent was killed because he was a person of color.

Like Akai Gurley’s family, my family continues to mourn the death of a son.

Ng does not speak for me, nor does she speak for the entire Asian American community.

Injustice is injustice. We should all agree that 1. People should not be killed, and 2. People who kill other people should be held accountable and face the consequences of their actions.

That night, Officer Liang pulled his gun from his holster. Unlike what Ng stated, the gun didn’t just go off- Officer Liang pulled the trigger. Officer Liang didn’t provide medical attention or call for an ambulance- instead, he bickered with his partner over who would call this in. Officer Liang may have not intentionally killed Akai, but he did, with his reckless actions.

Akai Gurley died because of Peter Liang’s actions, accidental or not. That’s second degree manslaughter.

The signs “One tragedy, two victims” held up by protesters do not apply here.Officer Liang may have been shortchanged by a police institution that did not train him properly and then abandoned him, but he is not a victim. His actions directly and unjustifiably caused the death of another.

The situation Officer Liang created is vastly different from the situations of Asian Americans who are harassed, trafficked, robbed, deported, or killed for being Asian or Asian American. Jessica Klyzek, a woman who was handcuffed, struck by police, and threatened with deportation at her place of work, is just one recent example of many.

Vincent Chin and Danny Chen never killed anyone. They are victims, and can no longer speak up for themselves.

When those defending Officer Liang argue “he never meant to kill anyone,” they spout the same reasoning Eben and Nitz used to avoid prison for my uncle Vincent’s murder. That’s unacceptable.

It’s hard to put ourselves, Asian Americans, in Akai Gurley’s shoes. Truly, I cannot imagine police officers conducting vertical patrols or pulling guns out in the stairwells of Chinatown apartment buildings without reasonable suspicion. I feel no danger in being shot in my own apartment complex as an Asian American.

What we can do is try to empathize with Akai’s family after the death of their son.

Ng proclaims herself a Manhattan Chinatown native, and I am as well. I grew up near Danny Chen in Manhattan’s Chinatown, and attended his middle school a few years before him. Danny could have been any of my friends. Vincent is my family. Our families and our communities, mourned and fought for them.

While I understand the knee-jerk reaction that the Chinese American community has to protect a Chinese American officer, we, as a community among others, must hold Officer Liang accountable for his actions.

Do these protesters want Officer Liang exonerated? To get a more lenient sentence? Or is the support a distorted way of saying, “Why do we treat Chinese cops like this and not white cops?” I share Twitter user@bomani_jones’s confusion: “it’s hard to tell if the peter liang (sic) supporters are upset he got convicted, or upset that other cops don’t get convicted *but* he did.”

I do believe Officer Liang received different treatment than other non-Asian police officers who have committed similar, or worse, acts of violence. Butinstead of arguing Officer Liang deserved an acquittal or a lenient sentence, I believe police officers, regardless of race, who kill anyone under similar circumstances, should be convicted of unlawful homicide and go to prisontoo, alongside Officer Liang. Officer Liang is awaiting sentencing, but, as with any defendant convicted of manslaughter by a firearm, Officer Liang should serve prison time.

The New York Police Department employed Peter Liang to protect the public trust. Officer Liang failed that night. He may have been unaware he was complicit in a system of injustice that preys on Black lives, yet he voluntarily operated in that system. Let’s analyze the facts, prosecute those who commit crimes, and continue to fight for victims and their families.

If we are to move forward from this, we all need to stand against the systems that brought Peter Liang into the stairwell where Akai Gurley stood. It was no accident that Officer Liang was in a public housing stairwell and not one in a private housing complex. Decades of “broken windows” and “stop and frisk” policing, housing and income segregation, prison-industrial complex, and flat-out anti-Black racism led Officer Liang’s superiors to place him there. We must re-imagine what policing looks like in our communities so that such tragedies are avoided in the first place.

When the Asian American community fought for Vincent Chin, and then for Danny Chen, we built power from within. More importantly, we built power across and coalitions between many communities. We fought for accountability, federal hate crime legislation and protections of military personnel. While the Saturday rally might have united some in the Chinese American community, it certainly has divided us from others who have been harmed and continue to be harmed by this system of injustice. I urge my Chinese American and Asian American communities to think long and hard about which side of history we are on and what it means to support Officer Liang. We must fight for the justice Akai Gurley and his family deserve, just as we fight for the justice Vincent Chin and Danny Chen deserve.

This post was originally posted on Medium. Thanks to all my friends and family who provided so many thoughts on this complex and nuanced issue for justice. My good friend Belle Yan contributed to writing this piece.

Pushing our candidates.

Another Facebook post from last Saturday, January 30th, as I considered how we make change in our dysfunctional Chicago systems.

“Just talked to Alderman John Arena at the opening of Pinocchio at Filament Theatre. Talked through the layoffs and teachers contract, and how I thought CPS only cared about money (He claimed that every day of operation costs CPS $10 million so a 8-day teachers strike could “save” CPS $80 million, even with make-up school days), our political climate, and the sad state that #HomanSquare was glossed over and it took the storm of#BlackLivesMatter and many, many protests shutting down the city, execution, and cover-up of #LaquanMcDonald getting shot by police to get coverage on the outrageous criminal justice system. Talked through with him and his wife about how amazing Susan Sadlowski Garza is, and how the on-the-ground work of canvassing and getting to know the political process is exciting. Also about how ridiculously complacent people were under Daley that led to this in the first place. Talked about how electioneering went on everywhere, including when Dianne Daleiden was running against Pat O’Connor, and O’Connor’s guys were running around electioneering.

I’ve been very disillusioned by this process and this government as of late, but I’m glad to have people like Arena, Scott Waguespack, Sue Garza, Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, Will Guzzardi, who represent us now, and the countless others who’ve run and who are running, like Timothy Meegan, Zerlina Smith, Tammie Vinson, Dianne Daleiden, Theresa Mah, Anne Shaw, Byron Sigcho, and Pete DeMay, amongst others. And, of course, those who help them get elected like Brian Cerullo, Melissa Rubio, Thomas Pietrzyk, Liz Brown, others.

“Maybe you’ll run for political office one of these days,” Arena told me near the end of our conversation. My boyfriend agreed completely and said he would back me if I ever decide to run- “Ten years from now, Annie, you’ll be ready and perfect for political office. You stand up for what you believe in.” While I don’t think I’d want to or be good at political office, I’m glad I have people who believe in me. And regardless of what happens in the future, I’m glad for what Chicago has taught me- push for the best people who actually put boots and ears to the ground, understand the issues, and will rep everyone. My friends teach me everyday that, if you can’t find anyone to run, do it yourself.”

I stand with #AkaiGurley. #APIs4BlackLives

Yesterday, a jury began deliberating about whether Peter Liang should be found guilty for manslaughter and official misconduct for Akai Gurley’s death.  If you don’t recall the case, a little over a year ago Peter Liang, a young cop with the NYPD, was patrolling a stairwell of a housing project when he heard a noise, shot off one bullet from his gun, and killed resident Akai Gurley. According to more articles, Liang and his partner didn’t call for assistance for four minutes, while Gurley’s girlfriend rushed to Akai and attempted CPR.

What complicated this for me and people I know is that Liang is Chinese American- some Chinese folk say Liang is being used as a scapegoat in this larger movement for police accountability. It’s easier to pin police accountability coverage on an Asian person, the community pushes, than to hold white people accountable. Other orgs, like CAAAV in NYC (disclosure- I used to volunteer with CAAAV back in my college years), are standing with Gurley’s family, using the hashtag #APIs4BlackLives to call for broader racial justice and police accountability measures toward black lives.

Let me backtrack for a sec, because my thinking on #APIs4BlackLives has shifted over time. Let me share how I initially responded to Michael Brown’s death and Darren Wilson’s acquittal in November 2014-

Why does this hit me so hard? So I heard that Michael Brown’s mother was marching with protestors tonight. That she was upset and protesters alongside her were also upset. I thought about all of the places that Michael’s mom must’ve seen and gone to in order to find justice for her son. I thought about all the sleepless nights, all the legal stuff, all the national and local press coming to her for questions. In seeing her public statements, in not condoning violence, in trying to push positive change, I wondered how much strength was needed to even say those things. Such class, grace, in such an indecent time. (Facebook post, Nov. 24, 2014)

I thought of Michael Brown’s mother and how she must have been feeling. How much she must be suffering. How much she’s being asked all the time to be this strong figure as she mourns her son’s death, how she continually seeks justice.

And then, the empathetic, sympathetic, but crucial mistake- I tried to relate, in my very honest but tunnel-visioned way, as a person who’s gone through some loss but who’s not black

Many know that I am the niece of Vincent Chin, a Chinese American man who was mistaken as Japanese and was killed as such by two laid-off autoworkers in 1982 Detroit. His death led to a nationwide Asian American movement calling for racial justice. As I comb through my family history, I find out more and more about how my revolutionary great-aunt Lily Chin dealt with the death of Vincent. She was a fighter. And her experiences fighting for Vincent mirrored some of what Michael Brown’s mother must be going through:

And I thought about my 2nd great aunt Lily Chin.[…] Lily would be asked to go around the country to give statements, to stand in front of the camera, before, during, after the multiple trials where our family finally lost. […] According to my 8th great aunt, Lily just wanted to move on from Vincent’s death. But she couldn’t escape it. She moved to China to forget, and then even in China Chinese reporters would go to find her […] She never got peace […] And that’s probably part of the reason why my family doesn’t talk about Vincent very often. Because they’ve been asked to death by strangers.

I can’t imagine what it is like to lose a son, but I further can’t imagine having to push so hard for justice, talk to hundreds of strangers, while not getting that justice, all while trying to stand on your own 2 feet. I’m so tired of this. And I’m thinking of Michael’s mother right now. (Facebook post, Nov. 24, 2014)

I tell these stories often because who I am as a person is so tied to Vincent’s death- my political sense, my sense of justice, my tie to the Asian American community. And, even though I never met my uncle, I still mourn Vincent Chin, as many who are unrelated to him do.

My friends understood the empathetic impetus behind my response. But they, geniuses as they are, rightly, rightly pointed out that

this was not about me. This was not about Vincent, either.

This was about the systemic injustice toward black people in the United States that allowed for the killings of Michael Brown, Rekia Boyd, Laquan McDonald, John Crawford, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Walter Scott, Natasha McKenna, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, all the others on basically a daily basis.

I was telling a friend of mine Monday that I could go to a police officer today to ask for directions, knowing full well they’re not going to stop and frisk me. I don’t look dangerous, and no one ever thinks I’m a threat, because I’m an Asian woman. I might get the “me love you long time” crap, the “exotic” or “dainty” looks and comments, but I’ve never been physically threatened (except as a teen at school) for my looks or for my race. No one flinches when I walk past (I think). The model minority myth tells people Asians are timid, so no need to worry there. I walk alone on Chicago (and when I’m home, NYC) streets with my pepper spray, but I’ve never had to use it. I don’t worry about getting arrested, and I don’t worry about someone shooting me in the stairwell of my apartment building.

I’m not worried about the economic, social, and mental effects that simply being black in America creates. I’m not.

As a person of color who’s not black, I am under systematic oppressions, sometimes different oppressions, but definitely, definitely not the same kinds, the most persistent kinds, that black folk are. Because, everyone, we live in a world that is fundamentally, economically, historically anti-black, and we need to recognize this, own this in all its parts and ways, and change it.

Liang and the Chinese community supporting him don’t see the larger picture- that we’re all under this guilty anti-black system. I didn’t understand it for a long time, either. The institutions that allegedly don’t provide CPR training probably, probably should do more training on how to use guns. The institutions that target black and brown folk disproportionately can’t change based on a few anti-bias trainings. Meanwhile, people are killed and continue to be killed. And those people getting killed? On the whole, they’re not Asian American like me. Not that Asian Americans don’t get killed in hate crimes, but that’s not the focus here.

As I’ll continue to chant at marches, “The whole damn system is guilty as hell.” I’ll continue to fight against this anti-black system. and I’ll continue to stand as one of many #APIs4BlackLives.

Back to writing.

My principal emailed our staff tonight and informed us that there wouldn’t be any teaching positions lost in this latest round of budget cuts announced today. For now, I’m safe from a layoff.

I took a long, self-imposed hiatus for writing for self-preservation’s sake, and felt like a part of my soul was not able to breathe. Emotionally I could not handle the dysfunction and chaos surrounding me. Thank goodness for friends and family who helped get me though.

Time to breathe free and write, fam.

Chinese New Year with my students.

So I’m going to start back writing again on this blog. It’s been hard to write as so much has been happening, but I think I’ll start a bit at a time, including with this entry I put on Facebook:

On being a Chinese teacher-

I teach in a mostly Latino school, and we’re doing some lessons on colonial culture, which the kids are very disconnected from. So we decided to teach about a culture the kids don’t know so kids can practice looking at a culture they don’t know well- Chinese culture, through the lens of Chinese New Year. I read a book, showed them pictures of my CNY celebrations, and they wrote about the holiday, then about their own holidays, customs, and traditions. They had so many questions and were so excited that we didn’t finish the lesson in any of the fourth-grade rooms! “We have to go!” “No, but can we stay and finish?” This bulletin board took some loving.

Chinese New Year Bulletin Board

Now, all over the school, I’m a mini-celebrity. Kids in all grades are telling me I’m a snake, asking me about my family, my language, how to say certain words in Chinese (I speak Cantonese), the kinds of Chinese foods I eat, what they eat, and where they can see the Chinese New Year parade in Chicago.

I love being Chinese American. I love being a part of many cultures. I love that I can take parts of each and make a unique me. And, I love that I am aware of this so I can help my students do the same.

Happy Lunar New Year, everyone.