“Was it possible that, coming to America with certain illusions of equality, I had slowly succumbed to the hypnotic effects of racial fear?”
– Carlos Bulosan, America is in the Heart
As much as I want to participate in a #BlackLivesMatter march or any other forms of civic engagement, I cannot bring myself to do it because I am torn between showing solidarity in my frustrations over systemic injustices, and staying at home with my family that finds these kinds of things chaotic and irrelevant to us. The latter stems from the effects of the model minority myth—why should Asian Americans get involved in racial politics? Have we not achieved success through hard work and sacrifice, even if it meant immigrating to a different (foreign) country for a better life? As a second-generation Filipino American, raised by immigrant parents who came to the United States during the People Power Revolution in the Philippines, I feel that I am part of a generation that is beginning to see its first revolution that calls for more active voices from all different social groups. And yet, I cannot bring myself to (actively) take part in the movement or know where to begin. (It seems like I am just trying to rationalize my lack of involvement, but in light of current events, I have been thinking about how critical things are becoming now.)
Every news article and op-ed piece that comes across my newsfeed on multiple social media outlets, I feel frustrated, scared, and confused. I can read all I can about uprisings, police brutality, violence against Black people, systemic racism, etc. But I am never sure of how to enter into the conversation. I see online threads of people arguing over a certain issue, and I want to participate and give my opinion or correct someone’s ignorant statement. But I cannot bring myself to do it, for fear of being called out for not educating myself enough to actually give a valid point. Maybe this is a condition of being instructed to “speak when spoken to” or “keep quiet and continue working” so that I can avoid getting into trouble or dishonoring my family’s reputation. I notice a gap between my parents’ ideologies and my own ideologies—their political and social views derive from the Reagan era while mine derive from taking liberal studies at a four-year American college. So there is always a clash in our discussions that involve the Baltimore uprisings or the Obama administration. I try to refrain from sounding too preachy or too liberal at home, for the satisfaction of my parents because they worked hard to provide for us. Who wants to listen to a young woman who has the privilege to get a higher education and live comfortably at home?
But here’s the thing: I am a young woman of color who had the privilege to receive higher education and live in a middle class, suburban neighborhood. My parents did everything they could to provide my brother and I with food, clothing, and shelter. We could even afford to eat at restaurants, go shopping, and have a gym membership. All these things, and I can be content with my life. But these things are temporary and privileged. If I were to be stripped from this kind of lifestyle, what would I have left? I refuse to let these things define me as a person because, despite having these privileges, not everyone will recognize that I am the type of person who can have them. Bottom line: I am not White, but I am also not Black. No matter which way I shift on the color spectrum, no one will be satisfied with my privileges, my opinions, my existence.
The best I can do, in my position, is to write. Writing and storytelling are powerful tools that can help the silenced find or be given their voice and be heard. In the words of an incredible professor, who teaches a course called Black Women Writers, “Black love is revolutionary.” Love is not limited to a romantic partner or a family; it reaches out to a community, a lineage, a womanhood, and most importantly, a self. Through the novels I read in her class, such as Paule Marshall’s Praisesong for the Widow and Edwidge Danticat’s Krik? Krak!, I learned how to understand my own lineage and heritage and appreciate all that my ancestors have done for me and other Fil-Ams to ensure that we can get a higher education and make a change—from the native tribes in precolonial Philippines to the manongs in America to my parents in New York.
The best way I can give gratitude to my lineage is to write. I can write about my views on the antagonization of people of color in mainstream media. I can write about why #BlackLivesMatter is also an issue for Asian Americans, since both groups have been disenfranchised by white supremacy and patriarchal society that enforced interracial and intraracial tensions. For now, I am sharing my experience as an Asian American millennial woman through blogging. But I know that I cannot limit myself to written words. Some day, I hope to help young people understand why these issues should matter to them and how they can become active participants in the movement. My way of reaching out to them is through writing and eventually through social action and interaction.