What is life like for you these days?
I’m trying to pursue a role at a company that is more values-aligned with, in terms of my interest in community service and social justice. Ever since I graduated and became an adult in the real world, I’ve been looking for my place and trying to figure out where I fit in, in the context of my community and also the rest of the world. Lately that’s taken a turn towards social justice, combatting systems of oppression and prejudice. Its been a transformative year.
How would you describe your experience of community in your life right now?
At the root of it, I’m Asian American, Chinese and Filipino. I have the traditional Asian American struggle of ‘where do I fit in?’ There’s a spectrum and because I am closer to the American side of the spectrum, I didn’t fit in with the Asian kids in college. When I talk to my parents about it, they say “you’re not Asian, you’re American” — they wanted to give me the experience they never had. I understand that but it’s a little bit unnerving for them to erase my culture like that. The world sees me a certain way, because I’m different and the world interacts with me a certain way because of the way I look, and that informs my identity as a person. And it informs my communities, the ones I feel like I have access to and the ones I don’t feel like I fully fit into. That’s been my biggest struggle with community. I don’t see a community that has my experiences, that is on the same part of the Asian American spectrum as I am.
Very few of my Asian-American friends even consider themselves to be people of color; it’s only the people who care about social justice. If you’d asked me two years ago, I would have said the same thing. I’ve talked about this a lot with my Asian-American friends, and I think the root of it is that people who feel like they’ve been marginalized in one way don’t like to admit that they have privilege in other ways. My parents don’t see that their lighter skin tone makes a huge difference. It's a struggle finding other Asian-Americans who understand our privilege but also understand how we are underprivileged too.
I missed out on the camaraderie and the sense of belonging. Race or ethnicity is a default line to divide into communities by, because you automatically share so many experiences. So it’s hard abandoning that as my main source of community.
Where do you feel a sense of community?
I can think of so many more communities that I tried to fit in but failed [laughter].
What are those?
The tech community. I’m never gonna be a techie. I’ve given up on that. I never wanted to, I never saw code until halfway thru college. I was not one of those people who started at 4 years old and always wanted to do that since they were a toddler. Because of that and because of my gender and who I am and the way I look and express myself, I’m never gonna fit in quite as well into tech. Also because of my priorities. I don’t find many people who are passionate about the things I am [i.e. education, social justice]. I can’t do something if it’s not doing something. I found that out pretty quickly while working in computer science. And working in the industry solidified that. But there’s a growing number of people working to change that.
Also the hip hop dance community. I didn’t start until my sophomore year in college. Dance was a different way to express my creativity while also moving. I tried it. The community was great for a while. It got very cliquey, and it got kind of political. I started seeing the ugly side of people in power or leadership positions, and I didn’t like that. Also, most people didn’t understand the roots of what they’re doing, and it actually feels a little appropriative to me. I also don’t like this culture of “you have to pour your 100% of your time into this or your not a real dancer.” I got annoyed with some of the heteronormative culture; I tried to bring it up to different dance directors but none of them knew how to respond. Instead of hip hip, I do east coast swing and lindy hop now, and that is a MUCH more inclusive community. And the places that I learn it are really great with the language that they use, like they’ll say “lead and follow” instead of “men and women” and they encourage everyone to learn both roles. It’s amazing. I really like it, I love it.
What do you think are characteristics of communities that are doing it right?
Communities that, from the get-go, have rules about being kind and compassionate and speaking and acting from a place of compassion and understanding. Giving people the space to say what they think and be heard and respected. Everyone in the community needs to be able to speak up and be heard and respected.