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.
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.
I (currently) do not walk outside with as much fear as I did in March, April, and early May. I am not completely stressed by the idea of running errands alone, nor do not feel like I need to have my two medium-sized dogs with me when I am out. The fear still exists, but I suppose not quite at the same level. Now I can, with privilege, negotiate what is more terrifying again: COVID-19 or anti-Asianness.
Don’t get me wrong – anti-Asian sentiment is still unfortunately alive and well in the “United” States. I am reminded by it whenever I see the “kung-flu” headline that seems to keep resurfacing in tweets, public statements, “news” reports, and presidential rallies. The videos of the Asian woman who was burned with acid outside her home in Brooklyn, NYC and the elderly Asian man being attacked in San Francisco will forever be stamped in my mind. And so many more. I will never unsee the horrors of this reality.
As AAPI month came to an end, solidarity with Black folx was of necessary and immediate urgency. I almost laughed at all my own “issues” I’ve had the past few months because really, my personal confrontations with racism felt like uncooked pieces of rice in a larger bowl of atrocity noodle soup.
I am an Asian American music educator teaching Black and Brown children in New York City. I’ve founded the music program at my school. I’ve seen my children grow up. But most importantly, I will never truly understand what it means to be a Black and/or Brown person. Never. I also know that for some readers, racist judgements (#urban #titleone #poor #lowincome #badneighborhood #unsafe #achievementgap are a few) were made upon reading the first sentence because you are already trying to envision who I am, and who my kids are. I’m no savior. I refuse to be, and I will never be.
My elementary school students and I talked about the anti-Asian hate openly. My students didn’t understand why it was happening, but yet, some blamed the bats that people supposedly ate. As the only Asian-identifying educator in their schooling thus far, I constantly feel the responsibility to share who I am and my AAPI identity with my kids. “I do not eat bats”, I shared, “and not everything you see or read may be true”.
After the killing of George Floyd amongst many others, my first 8:00AM Orchestra class online included the following questions and statements from students:
This was not a time for me to teach them ANYTHING about “Orchestra”. These statements didn’t just last for that hour. They came up again and again in the days and weeks afterwards, all the way through the end of the school year. I was and continue to be the learner because We Obtain Knowledge Everyday.