Actively listening to our students is the most important teaching strategy there is. We can decenter ourselves as teachers when we focus on what our students have to say and share every day, in and outside of the music classroom.
As educators, we can create necessary space in our music classrooms where students can be heard not only by us as educators, but also by their peer musicians. We cannot listen to our students only to respond to what they have to say; instead, we must listen simply to better understand our students and who they are.
Actively listening to our students requires us to hear the silences of our students as well. Instead of adhering to traditional music education class structure where one music director, conductor, and/or teacher leads and students respond and only speak or share when instructed to do so, we can actively empower all students to share their voices.
When students are encouraged to share who they are, we can then notice who is sharing their voice, ideas, and music in class and who is not.
It is important to note that speaking up and voicing our opinions is a Western societal norm.
In many non-Western cultures — the global majority — using one’s voice to speak up is not the norm. Understanding this nuance does not account for all silences from students, but it can allow us to better recognize the importance of understanding each student’s positionalities and cultural norms.
Questions we can ask our students to better understand them may include:
– What does using your voice mean? – What is the value of your voice? – When do you use your voice? – Why do you use your voice? – What does using your voice mean to you in the music classroom?
When we notice students who are not speaking or sharing, we can build opportunities for peer sharing without being under the duress of the teacher’s gaze. As educators, we can also allow students to ask us about who we are — in and outside of our educator roles.
The vulnerability in sharing who we are with each other is critical in building community in music education.
Written and published in NAfME Teaching Music August 2022.
Amplify Black and Asian Solidarity — today, and everyday.
Black communities, Asian communities, and Blasian (Black and Asian) communities have coexisted, intersected, celebrated, resisted, and protected each other throughout history. Solidarity in our communities is historical, present, and futuristic as we continue working individually and collectively in dismantling white supremacy.
Know that the societal narrative of “tensions between Black and Asian folx” is written by white folx for white folx to intentionally oppress Black, Asian, and Blasian communities. We must hold and create space for our complex, unique experiences as Black, Asian, and Blasian individuals. We must listen to each other’s truths in navigating our livelihoods to radically resist the inequities our systems perpetuate.
Read and learn about Malcolm X and Yuri Kochiyama, Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., James Boggs and Grace Lee Boggs, among many present day community builders within and across Black, Asian, and Blasian communities. Recognize the importance of intersectional activism and community building for Black, Asian, and Blasian folx.
Be radically truthful with yourself in your own understanding and/or reckoning of Black and Asian solidarity.
BLACK AND ASIAN SOLIDARITY IS A WARM, GLOWING EMBRACE, A COMMUNAL SPACE, A RESTING PLACE, WHERE OUR COLLECTIVE STRENGTH IS INUPPER CASE ALONG A YIN-YANG PENCIL TRACE, FILLED WITH HARMONY AND GRACE.
As an Asian American, I learned at a young age to suppress my emotions. Whatever I felt did not matter in the bigger context of what my family was doing in order for us to survive in America. I internalized that crying was always weak, and outwardly showing any negative feelings should not happen. In other words, being stoic was expected and celebrated, and if any emotions were shown (by accident), they could only be positive (read: internalized toxic positivity). The silencing of emotions was a generational cycle that I learned, and for a long time, perpetuated within myself and the people around me.
Dr. Jenny Tzu-Mei Wang (@asiansformentalhealth) reminded me that “emotional stoicism in Asian culture is not a deficit or a shortcoming. It was a protective mechanism against the brutality of poverty, colonization, trauma, and dire life circumstances that our parents and ancestors only hoped to survive.” While I still have moments now where I withdraw into emotional stoicism as a protective mechanism, I constantly try to remind myself that I do not need to retreat into this mode of cold silencing of my own voice, feelings, and thoughts.
As I continue to unlearn emotional suppression, I want to make sure that I make space for younger me, current me, and future me to simply FEEL. Simply allowing the feelings to exist, internally and externally, is a part of this unlearning. I did not and do not need anyone to “fix” my feelings, nor do I want to fix anyone else’s feelings. As suggested by @curious.parenting, “we just have to make room for them” — for our feelings.
This acknowledgment and existence of feelings also cannot be rooted in internalized toxic positivity, bringing me to this particular moment illustrated here. If I can allow the inner child within me to feel the rage, pain, and frustration of racism through forced assimilation, then I can also feel the combination of this hurt now as an adult. If I can allow the inner child within me to feel the rage, pain, and frustration of racism through forced assimilation, then I can continue to heal my inner child with my present self as an Asian American woman.
Our social emotional learning as educators, family members, and as people part of our global community must begin within ourselves. Social emotional learning must come with social emotional healing. It is my hope that you will resonate and find a space within yourself to feel and heal alongside my inner child in “We Are Golden”.
“We Are Golden” is a bilingual Mandarin Chinese and English, interactive musical ebook that will be released through F-flat Books (@fflatbooks) on Monday, January 31st, 2022.
We are golden. We shine bright with our golden light. Our community shines bright with your light. You shine bright, Michelle Alyssa Go, as you rest in Golden Power.
For my entire life I have taken the subway, Turning my head this way, then that way Who will help if I call out hey, Who will help if someone wants me gone today?
I stand here now as my heart burns with fury, I cannot simply say “do not worry”. Our community is enraged, we grieve and say again Another name, another life, gone and then…
Then what? To be an Asian American woman in New York City, Is to feel major and minor feelings woefully Is to stay alert hoping we don’t get hurt as we wait for our trains Is to be filled with sorrow, and our families, with pain
To be Asian American with my eyes above my mask Is to look all around me, each day that’s a fact Some may say that this was not racially motivated But to come together and make a change, for that we are morally obligated
I can feel my body shake as I speak I am tired of the Asian American woman characterized as “weak” I urge us all to care for each other Lend not just one but many helping hands to our sisters and brothers
Let us change how we care for homeless folks Let’s take action beyond the words that are deemed woke Let us cherish the lives and celebrate and thrive So we all may coexist with joy while we are still alive
Let us look around to each other not out of fear But for solidarity, hope, and love from and with our peers Without calling for incarceration We cannot harm more Black bodies in our 美国 “beautiful country” severed nation
For the Black and Asian communities We can heal together, and listen to each other’s stories We can address the mental health crises And interrupt the racism that kills our souls, minds, and bodies
Broken systems wrangle our humanity with stakes Two lives have been failed in a system meant to win and to break Us, We the oppressed, stressed and under duress Through the daily atrocities – but are still expected to perform at our best
Feel all the feelings this moment may bring You can cry, you have permission to do more than just languishing Care for yourself and remember we can care for our community Our liberation is intertwined together, our love and truths will set us free
Our voices matter, Hear our voices In life, we are always faced with so many choices Let us join, not only in moments of racial reckoning Not only when someone is lost or when hate is beckoning
Solidarity is not a rarity, it is a daily commitment we make In the actions we take to create change, with our youth, and to innovate our fate For I know, we matter more than just in Black History Month and Lunar New Year For I know, we are stronger together even as we shed our tears
For we shall not “divide and conquer” our communities in society Instead we will rise from unjust hypocrisy Despite injustice that continues to wear a cape of what’s “fair” Let us abolish what does not work, dismantle the inequitable air
Stronger together, our communities unite May our inner strength carry us through this night We, the people, will rise tall as the skyscraper heights And together, We shine bright with our golden light.
We are golden. We shine bright with our golden light. Our community shines bright with your light. You shine bright, Michelle Alyssa Go, as you rest in Golden Power.
I am strong. I am capable of more than I think I am, because I have the strength within me.
I am a listener. I listen to my students, families, and myself — fully, intently, and wholeheartedly. I listen to what is said aloud, and also to the silences of words unspoken.
I am an amplifier. I amplify my students in our world, not by “saving my students” nor by “being a voice for the voiceless”, but rather by holding microphones and megaphones to what my students share with me and each other.
I am a leader. I lead my students and colleagues in my classroom and in our world. We lead together in education and beyond.
I am a community builder. I build the community in and out of my classroom alongside my students. I am a part of the community that I help build each day.
I am a lifelong learner. I learn each day from my students, my environment, and our experiences together, and we learn from each other as we grow together.
I am powerful. I can decenter myself as a teacher yet I will still have power as a teacher. It is my choice how I choose to use my power each day, in every moment. With my power, I can empower my students.
I am a change maker. I create change in every moment I am with my students and my community. I create change with my students. I change with the changes I help make with my community.
I am important. Who I am is important. What I do is important. I am important.
Our collective humanity is comprised of our individual identities, cultures, and lives.
Too often, we overgeneralize each other’s identities and cultures. Such overgeneralizations spark and perpetuate harmful stereotypes.
People of the global majority are too often called on to validate, defend, and/or debunk these overgeneralizations – the very stereotypes that hurt us.
The notion of “a single truth” or “the universal truth” is white supremacy at work attempting to silence people of the global majority from sharing their identities, perspectives, and lived experiences for multiple truths to exist.
We each hold multiple truths.
Our lived experiences are truths.
Our identities are truths.
Our cultures are truths.
When one person of a marginalized racial identity shares a truth that conflicts with something another person of the same racial identity says, white folx will often question the contradiction and demand a singular truth from BBIA folx.
BBIA folx are too often pressured and expected to explain their truths without acknowledgement or compensation for the emotional labor such discussions take.
Pleas of “help me understand” plague the daily lives of marginalized folx who are not only undoubtedly experts of their own lives, but must too often serve as the unpaid “diversity, equity, and inclusion” consultant in white people’s lives. People of the global majority navigate through the stereotypes and “truths” written by white folx, and our actual lived experiences which are too often denied, denounced, and devalued. We are often gaslighted with relentless questioning to “prove” our truths.
Authenticity in the histories, traditions, identities, cultures, and lives of the global majority does not always show up in the form of literature and written scholarship.
Recognize and understand that the western written word too often perpetuates white supremacy.
The personal, aural sharing done by people of the global majority must be authentically accepted and valued by default.
Actively work to decolonize the idea of a “single” or “universal” truth in our collective humanity.
Listen intently without interrupting when we are sharing our identities, cultures, and lives.
Reflect deeply and internally on what we share.
Trust our truths as authentic by default, worth amplifying and celebrating when we share stories of our life experiences.
Affirm our individual identities and multiple truths within our collective humanity — not by inaccurately replicating our traditions or replicating what we do at all, but rather by amplifying people of the global majority who are doing the daily work of preservation and continuous creation of culture.
Empower our youth to truly hear, vocalize, and amplify each other’s multiple truths.
The truths of our youth are important and necessary or our collective humanity.
For too long, we have been socialized to ask and answer the common question “Where are you from?”
For many Black people and Indigenous communities, this question is triggering because of unknown and/or traumatic, severed pasts due to colonialism. We must remember that personal stories, lineages, cultures, and authentic histories have suffered from systemic erasure globally.
Asking “Where are you from?” continues to otherize folx who identify as BBIA, adopted, multicultural, and more.
For the AAPI community, this question reinforces that we do not belong, and is too often followed up with “But where are you really from?” — indicating a displeasure with and refusal of whatever answer originally given, as if to comment that a person could not possibly be from anywhere other than what is close to or matches the mental stereotype within one’s colonized mind.
Decolonize the idea that the question “Where are you from?” must be answered with a geographical location.
We are from what we say we are from, who we say we are from, where we say we are from, and anything we say we are from that is authentic to who we are.
We each have a multiplicity of identities, and we define for our individual selves if and how we want to respond to this question when we inevitably continue to be asked this throughout our lives.
Our intent matters, and our impact matters.
Reflect on the intent in asking and being asked “Where are you from?”
Regardless of whether the intent in asking meets a surface-level desire to know masked under the false pretense of curiosity that only satisfies the person who asks the question or aims to build one’s understanding, having internalized this question as a truth-bearer of identity, the impact of asking can be harmful, toxic, and traumatic, especially with repetition.
We must reframe the common question “Where are you from?” so that we do not further perpetuate stereotypes, nor do we reduce people to only be representatives of their assumed and/or authentic social groups.
Create and continuously recreate new questions with the intent of building deep understanding across communities and cultures. Involve your communities in this process of reimagination.
“What do you choose to share about your identity/identities?”
“Where do you call home?”
“Who is your community?”
Freedom dream new ways to define and share who you are — for yourself.
Listen intently and fully to the questions, ideas, stories, emotions, and arts shared with reimagined questions to understand your own self, your community/communities, and fellow communities.
From o̶n̶e̶ ̶h̶u̶m̶a̶n̶ ̶r̶a̶c̶e̶ to our collective humanity.
Language matters. What we say matters.
For too long, we have relied on the societal equalizer of being part of “one human race” to evade conversations of race, racism, and systemic inequities.
To say that we are part of “one human race” simply does not suffice. The phrase “one human race” causes erasure of identities, dismissal of injustices, and gross generalizations of cultures and peoples.
We can no longer seek to only “equalize” ourselves in systems that perpetuate injustice.
We protect us.
We advocate for us.
We build — for us.
We must take ownership in our relationships with each other — including in understanding our stories and struggles within our communities, and in building solidarities while celebrating joy across societally-set lines of division.
Our language can be an act of resistance.
We can shift our language to speak directly against the harm in systems that continue to uphold white supremacy.
Each of us has the incredible power to play and act upon our critical roles in our communities where we live, work, eat, and create joy.
Together, we can freedom dream new possibilities to uplift our own communities and each other’s livelihoods.
We are all part of our collective humanity, one in which we all learn from, contribute to, and build upon. Within our collective humanity, we rise against our own and each other’s injustices.
We take collective stands against systemic inequities that harm us all, white protecting each other’s individuality and culture.
We have a collective responsibility to build our shared humanity.
Beyond language is action in the form of individual, internal thought manifested in active, daily practice lived-out-loud and shared within and across communities.
Actively reflect on, respond to, and re-envision yourself, your community, and our collective humanity.
We are free to be free in our collective humanity.
How to describe myself as an Asian American woman right now? I used to walk on the street, go on the subway and turn the music up real loud I’m a musician, a teacher, and I want to feel the sound in my bones Instead I’m scared of having my teeth or head knocked off my orange-seated throne
Every day I gotta choose on my commute, dependent on my mood Do I go through my lesson in my head, keep my eyes down on my shoes No, I can’t, instead I stay alert all around me On a good day I’m listening to a podcast, out of 10 on a volume of 3
How do I begin to explain the daily negotiations When news, media, and law don’t acknowledge the racial motivations 360 West 43rd, I used to live next door Will it be me or my mom you’ll shut out on the concrete floor
What if I spoke up, how you like that? I’m dynamite, and a firecracker and I won’t be typecast I won’t stand for society’s erasure of my i-dentity I’m here for good measure, for no one’s pleasure, for us and our entities
Strong like chrome I can’t be sanded down And unlike a cassette tape, I won’t be rewound Even with my small feet I won’t let me be bound I can step in and out of Chinatown for my words to be heard and found
My dad emigrated from Hong Kong so my last name TSUI is Cantonese But (in Cantonese) I do not speak Cantonese, (in English) I’m actually Shanghainese But (in Shanghainese) if I speak Shanghainese, (in English) y’all go weak at your knees, And as MC Jin says, y’all better learn Chinese
But being Asian is more than just being from China I’m a member, a representative of the collective from major to minor AAPI, a political term for Asian American Pacific Islander Is not just about East Asians or me that you hear rhyming here
For the South Asians, Brown Asians, Black Asians in our society Undocumented Asians, adopted Asians, more than obeyers of filial piety Shouts to Tony Delarosa, Dr. Kevin Nadal We must be more inclusive than the diversity and equity institutional walls
GoFundMe, Go Fund us in our neighborhoods, our needs and wants Don’t need the blue eyes white supremacy dragon slanted, tilted, a-Flaunt Remember, the system is built on the backs of Black people and labor When we divide ourselves up we ain’t doing anyone no favors
Maxine Hong Kingston reminds me of my fellow warrior women And I want you to listen to the LGBTQ+ and Trans fams, the non-binary people and visions We must have more than just my mom’s good luck superstitions Trust y’all, we need to do more learning and listening on our mission
We’re NO model minority, we’re the global majority Our voices together are stronger than any authority So my call to action is for us is to truly unite We cannot do this alone, we need each other in this fight
Justice is not just is it’s for just us We cannot take the master’s tools to rectify or make just We can call to those in power to help our communities But we must step off each other’s subway stops for true cross-coalition unity
Let’s stand together and if you need some perspective Remember that this is lifelong work as one intersectional collective We are striving for the liberation of our marginalized peoples Each one of us is a hero, rest in power 13-year-old Adam Toledo
Black, Brown, Indigenous, Asian, BBIA BIPOC solidarity, We’re here united and we will rise today Black Lives Matter as we stand on Munsee Lenape Indigenous Lands Deep within us, we’re together, our hearts, souls, and hands
It’s 4.4, the anniversary of Dr. King’s final breath countdown AAPI history, lives, and arts in schools, Ethnic studies is the starting ground We must eradicate anti-Blackness, It’s not simply just stop Asian hate Ask “how can I use my voice to activate and stop ALL hate”?
And beyond that I’m asking that we spread so much love As powerful as the firebird’s flames and the peace of a soaring dove And to tell every kid we know in our lives and see, “You matter, and know your voice can set you free”
For my grandfathers and my grandmother, who I’ve never met I am your wildest dream each day from sunrise to sunset Today is 清明节 (Qing Ming Jie), a day that means literally clear and bright In many Asian cultures, it’s a day of rituals for our ancestors’ spirit and might
And for them, our ancestors, our presence, our future, for all to hear it’s not just we belong here It’s we belong – together.
For our ancestors, each other, this moment, our children, say this with me:
I shine bright with my golden light. I shine bright with my golden light.
Dear grandfathers, grandmothers, I will protect your daughter and son My mom and my dad, I will protect all our loved ones As my students say, our joy is revolutionary, Because we are golden, we are worthy.
Today, I want to end with Isang Bagsak. Isang Bagsak is a solidarity clap that originated in the cross-cultural fight unifying Filipinx and Latinx communities through Larry Itliong and Cezar Chavez. Isang Bagsak literally translates to “one down” and is a unity clap – to signal unity in movements together and that this moment is one down, of many more to go. I learned this from Tony Delarosa, and I am not the culture bearer of “Isang Bagsak”, I am a culture sharer. I, along with all of you, will start clapping together – slowly. As we gain momentum and the clap gets faster and louder, pulsating here in New York City, I will say “Isang Bagsak”, and right after you hear that, we will clap ONE TIME together – as a collective. Let’s do it.
Isang Bagsak 加油 (Jia You) My name is Alice Tsui. Thank you.
When you looked at my face And shied away from my gaze People were terrified in 2020 Of my mask and two eyes Used to regard me by my Asian persuasion I remind us that we’re all part of one nation We’re spreading animosity, said the Black Eyed Peas Can I have some peace, survive with my black eyes please Let’s come together as a world, let’s inspire Yet still I rise shouts to Maya Angelou, and Yuri Kochiyama It’s time for some introspection Take a look at yourself for that personal reflection Remember the sun doesn’t shine in only one direction And instead of hate, we can shine in one direction [and make some corrections]
Memorialize Lives Heroes Sherose They rose, They rise, we rise Still we rise, to remember and celebrate these lives
(The victims’ names are currently not shared due to reports of family members wishing to keep the names private.)
We remember them alongside so many fellow Asian American lives lost, and we will honor them today in our community and our joy.
My name is Alice Tsui (spelled T-s-u-i, and pronounced TSOY) and I am an actively anti-racist and decolonizing public school music educator in Brooklyn, New York. I am a lifelong New Yorker, grew up in Brooklyn [went to public school in NYC] and I am an ABC – American born Chinese daughter of two immigrants, two immigrants who are my elderly parents. I serve predominantly Black, Brown, Latinx elementary school students in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
In February last year, I was walking upstairs when a 5th grader stopped me and said “Ms. Alice, someone said you had Coronavirus.” I found out that it was another 5th grade student of mine who I had taught for many years. This week, a 4th grader called me “China” in my face. In those moments, I could feel my extreme rage – not at the student, but at the systems of our world that have led my students to say this. I was mad at the toxicity of systemic racism that we breathe in, and specifically – white supremacy for dividing the two Black girls who said this and me, an Asian American teacher [and woman] in this world.
A month ago, when I started to see the rise of anti-Asian violence yet again, but this time specifically against elderly people, I discussed anti-Asian racism with my fourth grade class. One of my 4th graders, a Black boy, told me “It [Asian hate] won’t be on the news until there are more people who die.” What does this say about what my Black and Brown students have already internalized about our society? I saw this same student this week who said “it’s on the news now”, but I reminded my students that it is important to question how the story is told, who is telling it, and what isn’t being said. Another 4th grader asked me if my parents were vaccinated and I said yes, they are, but I am scared for them to be outside and so I ask them to stay home as much as possible – because they’re Asian.
These are a few of the many, necessary conversations on race and racism that must occur in ALL schools – elementary, middle, and high schools. My call to action to you, everyone here, is to find the emails of the principals and teachers that either you, yourself, have gone to, are connected with, or are in the neighborhoods you live in, and not just the Asian neighborhoods.
These are the demands that are listed out in a letter I have already written and are available in a letter with resources at bit.ly/aapilettertoschools
Acknowledge and teach Asian American history, lives, and arts – including and beyond Lunar New Year
Create mental health spaces for AAPI educators and children to feel, process, and heal without the burden of educating others on [their trauma] and what racism is
Empower classmates and colleagues of AAPI community members to learn and speak against anti-Asian racism
Our children are counting on you.
Last year, one of my Asian American students said “To me, what Black Lives Matter means is that Black Lives are brightly illuminated. I want her to know that her Asian American life is also brightly illuminated. To the 13-year-old Asian American boy attacked by a group of teens throwing basketballs at his head in Flushing – your life is also brightly illuminated.
To my Asian American community, I see you, I hear you, and we are HERE. To my fellow Asian American educators – take up SPACE. To my fellow AAPI women, I feel your pain and my heart cannot stop feeling grief, and my racially occupied mind POUNDS with rage. I am here with you. I am worthy of safety, respect, and love. You are WORTHY of safety, respect, and love. To the allies, accomplices, and co-conspirators, I see you as we stand together in solidarity – and I hope you are doing everything you can, including the action item I named before, to support us beyond this moment.
To all AAPI children, including the children of the victims, I am here for you, and you can feel whatever it is you are feeling. Please cheer for the AAPI children who are bravely here today. As a teacher, and a fellow Asian American person, I want to tell you that you matter. Your feelings matter. Your identity matters. Everything about who you are matters. You shine so bright with your GOLDEN LIGHT.
Everyone, say this with me, for our children – “I shine bright with my golden light”. Teach the AAPI children in your lives to say this – for themselves.
I didn’t know what an affirmation was until I started teaching them to my public elementary school students, because no one ever told me or taught me that I mattered. I share these affirmations with you all for yourself, ourselves as a community who is healing, and a community that can celebrate our AAPI joy because our community that is GOLDEN:
I am worthy.
My voice matters.
We are GOLDEN.
We are WORTHY.
I want to end with this final note. My parents emigrated to the United States in the 1980s. They are in their 70s and 80s now, and after working so hard their entire lives to support my brother and I, I cannot stay silent, and I must speak out to protect my family, and all our families, so that they do not need to live in fear. I must use my voice, because I know my voice has power. Our voices have power. 加油 【Jia you – Add oil, let’s go!】
(This is a transcript of my speech made at the Stand Against Hate Rally in Chinatown, NYC on March 21, 2021)