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)
“Music is dance AND dance is music!” exclaimed a first grader today. This declaration made me critically analyze and reflect on my own understanding of music and dance. Here are a few thoughts I have:
The forced division of music and dance into separate disciplines that do not interact is colonization at work. There is nothing that dictates the separation of the two aside from the colonization of our minds.
The lived intersection of music and dance is critical to multiple cultures of the global majority. The intersections vary for each culture – all of which should be amplified in the arts.
Music and dance simply do not exist separately. In certain societies, no general terms exist for music and dance.
Start your research at the indigenous music and dance of Papua New Guinea, Suyá, and Blackfoot peoples. This is a non-comprehensive list and simply a suggestion for a starting point.
The convergence of music and dance is not monolithic and cannot be applied universally to all cultures. Generalizing will only lead to erasure of individual voices in each culture.
Take critical care in understanding the nuances of music and dance in cultures of the global majority. We must always care deeply for BBIA peoples, their individual realities, and their collective experiences as practitioners of music and dance.
Upon reading and researching, decolonize your understanding of music and dance as separate art forms. Arrive at new understandings of music and dance as you continue to learn.
Authentically envision arts in your community to include the bold and unified intersection of music and dance. Once again, there is nothing that dictates us to uphold the status quo of white supremacy aside from the colonization of our minds.
Empower musicians and dancers to critique and redefine the narratives shared when music and dance come together. Actively critique and redefine the narratives as the convergence of music and dance renews itself through each musician, dancer, and arts practitioner.
On the complexities of yellow and yellow peril, and offering an alternative: Golden Power.
A non-comprehensive list of what WE ARE NOT: We are not yellow foreigners your yellow fever yellow peril invisible dangerous coronavirus exotic model minorities a monolith the enemy.
“Yellow Peril” is a racist term that has been used to describe Asian people as a danger to the Western world. The term was coined by Russian Sociologist Jacques Novikow in 1897 and used by Western empires and white people in power, including Kaiser Wilhelm II, to encourage colonization of Asian countries and people. Using “Yellow Peril” perpetuates xenophobia and anti-Asian hate.
“Yellow” as a color for Asian people stems from “Luridus”: “Lurid”, “Sallow”, “Pale Yellow” – a label assigned by Swedish taxonomist Carl Linnaeus. “Luridus” was also used to characterize unhealthy and toxic plants, and “yellow” helped reinforce an irrational fear of and danger from the perpetual foreigners: Asian people.
“Yellow” and “Yellow Peril” have been denounced and reclaimed by people of the Asian diaspora. Only Asian people can decide for themselves whether to denounce or reclaim racist terms that have been used against us. If you are not Asian, you cannot decide for us. Each Asian person’s voice is valuable, and yet does not speak monolithically for all members of the Asian diaspora.
Asian Americans: We actively renew racist rhetoric in our language if we do not understand the intersectional history of standing for and with Asians. We can embrace the history of activism that comes with “yellow peril” and denounce its usage when used by non-asian folx to describe our humanity. We can bravely share our narratives because each one of us matters – individually AND as part of the Asian diaspora.
I want to offer an alternative. Golden Power. GOLDEN. POWER.
Affirmations for my Asian American community: We are Asian. We are American. We are Asian American. We are Golden.
Rise up in solidarity. Speak up to protect BBIA. Embrace our Golden Power.
As an Asian American child, I never spoke of myself as someone important, a voice to be heard, or an identity to be seen and valued. I never spoke an affirmation about my identity. In fact, I never knew what an affirmation was until I started teaching affirmations to my students.
When I started hearing from fellow educators and families about anti-Asian hate that our children nationwide are facing, all I could think about was what I could say to Asian American youth. What can I do to help empower our Asian American kids, and frankly, all fellow Asian Americans? What would I want my younger self to be able to say?
Here are my (starting) affirmations that I share for my Asian American youth and the entire Asian American community:
I am a voice that matters. We have voices to share stories, sing and dance, and express ourselves. We are too often told not to and instead, lumped together as a broad category of people who are forced into the model minority myth. We want to and can be seen and heard by our realities. Our voices matter.
I am worthy of safety, respect, and love.
We need safety through the actions of others and allies speaking against anti-Asian hate and violence. We deserve to be respected. We are worthy of love every day, all year long. We are worthy of safety, respect, and love.
I am part of the Asian American community.
We are a community filled with diverse people. We are not all the same, and yet we are all part of one community. We ALL belong. We are part of our Asian American community.
I am my own Asian American identity.
We have our own individual experiences that define us uniquely from each other. We dispel monoliths and labels that only generalize who we are. We decide who we are. We are our own Asian American identities.
I am Asian American.
As a child, I never said to myself that I was Asian American. Now, there is a power in my voice every time I say that I am – as if I am speaking a truth that has too long been disregarded, unheard, or not valued. I am Asian American. We are Asian American.
Asian Americans, I empower you to speak these affirmations out loud, write them daily as you may need, and revisit them as we continue to face any hate. It is my hope that what I shared can provide solace, support, and joy – or truly, whatever it is that you may need.
And yes, that is me feeling truly so joyful and excited because I got a sticker (displayed on my sweater) of the first Asian American person I ever saw on television – the Yellow Power Ranger. It was the first time I saw myself.