We belong together.

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.

Times Square Takeover to Stop Asian Hate 4.4.21 | Photo Credit: Sang Cheng

We are GOLDEN

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 

  1. Acknowledge and teach Asian American history, lives, and arts – including and beyond Lunar New Year
  2. 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
  3. 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.

I matter.

You matter.

We matter.

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!】 

Thank you. 

(This is a transcript of my speech made at the Stand Against Hate Rally in Chinatown, NYC on March 21, 2021)

Who am I to SPEAK OUT?

I recently attended a professional development entitled “Empathy, EQUITY, and Excellence; Inviting Diverse Perspectives on Repertoire and Responsiveness”. My immediate reaction to any workshop on equity is one filled with hesitation, caution, and skepticism – especially because of how loaded the term “equity” can be, and how often it unfortunately can be misused (especially when equity is interchangeably used with equality). I quickly felt grateful, however, for a person of color as a keynote speaker – especially having sat through so many workshops where a white person would colorfully use the buzzwords of “equity,” “equality,” “diversity”, “justice”, and “inclusion” (to just name a few) to almost fill their quota of saying the words loud and proud.

Keynote speaker Dr. Danielle A. Brown, founder of My People Tell Stories, helped me feel less apprehensive upon defining equity, diversity, and inclusion as separate entities that must cohesively exist in our teaching. Dr. Brown then continued to discuss a concept of “universality” – specifically universality and the music educator:

“There are two ways that the concept of universality will work against you as a music educator:

  1. you believe in the concept that ‘music is universal’
  2. you believe that you have overcome the ‘music is universal’ concept

(Brown, 2019)

I felt guilty right away. I have definitely uttered those words “music is universal” with nothing but good intent that we could all “speak the language of music” – but good intentions are not good enough, and I know that good intentions do not mean the actions are free from harm or wrongdoing. Then this slide came up on the screen:

Universality of Dominant Culture

Be careful that your use of the word ‘universal’ is not merely a euphemism for ‘superior’ or dominant culture.”

(Brown, 2019)

My mind was blown! Music was and is not universal. Music is not universally understood, and how music functions in each community, culture, and society varies. It made sense, but I could only focus on the number of times I have personally labeled the music I have taught as being “a way for all people to communicate”, even though I do not represent all people, all cultures, all ideas.


When our workshop separated into smaller group work with fellow educators, we were first asked to create playlists that represented our own identities. That seemed fine, harmless even because we were speaking our individual selves ONLY.

It was as if I was almost waiting to be triggered in this work when we were then tasked with creating playlists of repertoire selections. After putting up my selections of “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera (for legato, tone, and self-empowerment), “Own It” by Black Eyed Peas (for harmony, articulation changes, and self empowerment), and “Duke’s Place” by Duke Ellington (for unison playing, and jazz to be included in the traditional orchestra setting), the following selections came up for me to write on our chart paper from my fellow orchestra teachers:

  • “African Adventure” by Robert Sheldon with this description:
    • “When it comes time to celebrate the musical colors of Africa, combine forces with your string group and percussion ensemble on this stylish concert work for the developing ensemble. Repetitive rhythms and a catchy melodic hook propel the piece forward as it develops momentum and dramatic flair. Substitute Orff instruments for the melodic percussion for an even more authentic timbre. A guaranteed favorite!” (J.W. Pepper).

  • “Hanukkah Habenera by Tim McCarrick:
    • “‘Carmen’ meets Hanukkah in this remarkably clever combination of The Dreidel Song; Hanukkah, O Hanukkah and Bizet’s famous Habanera from his most famous opera! It all works amazingly well, with shifts from minor to major, a seamless bass line, and lots of tongue-in-cheek humor! What a hoot! Highly recommended! (J.W. Pepper).

  • “Dragon Dance” by Michael Story:

I could feel my hand begrudgingly writing these especially horrid selections up, as if there was some permanence and upholding of the racist status quo that I committed by even charting them up. It seemed as though my fellow orchestra teachers felt proud of their answers, and “inclusion” of repertoire they believed to be representative of their students.

Dr. Brown warned,

“Don’t assume students will always identify with their cultural heritage.” (Brown, 2019).

Is it really “inclusion” if each piece was written by a white man?

It is really “diversity” if the only allusion made to culture was in the title and then peppered into the description as if it were seasoning on a dish?

What killed me the most, though, was when one teacher eagerly stated,

“I teach ‘Dragon Dance’ because I think my Chinese kids like it.”

There’s nothing like something hitting you personally, and that hit me really hard. If I was that Chinese kid in your class, did you even ask me? Did you even find out more about what dragons symbolize in my culture? Did you ask me if I, or my Chinese peers, identified with Chinese culture? Did you even WANT to know all these things, or were you just giving yourself a pat on your back for being “inclusive”?

I grappled with this catastrophe – of teachers who lived under this false pretense of “doing good”, perhaps even with that good intention, but actually perpetuating harm to their students. I wanted so very badly in that moment to speak out, but felt so silenced by the overpowering whiteness that permeated in that room which would have made me out to be “that one girl of color who is a young teacher and just angry.” (And yes, I say girl because unfortunately my word often continues to be degraded due to my age). Yet, I myself have been that person who at first “taught hip hop” because I thought black kids could “relate” to it – without even asking. Who was I to say that someone was wrong? Who am I to SPEAK OUT?

At the end of this small group work, I could only bring myself to cross out that line I charted that “Dragon Dance” was “representative of Chinese kids”. I re-wrote:

“representative” of Chinese kids.


I continue to wonder what would have been the right move in that moment. I can’t help but feel simultaneously guilty to have upheld the status quo, but also continue to feel protective of who I am and what I share, and my own growth in understanding this important, necessary work.

To my fellow music educators, and educators at large – consider the following as a first step:

  1. Ask. Ask your students first about who they are, what they identify with, and what they perceive to be part of their identifiers. It isn’t always race, ethnicity, and gender, and don’t assume their answers because it is DANGEROUS to assume. Perhaps more importantly, listen to what your students say. Don’t just ask for the sake of asking.

After all of this, I could only conclude that music really isn’t universal. Do not blanket what you perceive to be music that is cultural OVER me as if it is some protective shield through which we can connect under.