Black and Asian Solidarity

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 IN UPPER CASE
ALONG A YIN-YANG PENCIL TRACE,
FILLED WITH HARMONY AND GRACE.

Unlearning emotional suppression

https://www.instagram.com/p/CZOCsU8sUPV/

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.

As you rest in Golden Power, Michelle Alyssa Go.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CY5HjjlMjpq/

我们是金的。
我们是金的。

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. 

我们是金的。
我们是金的。

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.

Affirmations for Teachers

https://www.instagram.com/p/CYScDlrMbLY/

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. 

Affirm And Amplify Individual Identities Within Our Collective Humanity

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. 

Full Instagram Carousel: https://www.instagram.com/p/CUYpknqMC_R/

Reframing the common question “Where are you from?”

Language matters. What we ask matters.

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.

Full Instagram Carousel: https://www.instagram.com/p/CRkoH8lsNsI/

Asian American Affirmations

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.

If you are not Asian American and you want to #STANDFORASIANS, I encourage you to share these affirmations with the Asian Americans in your life and speak out when you see or hear something, donate regularly to organizations who are helping Asian American communities, use your platforms to speak about solidarity with the Asian American community, sign all the petitions you see supporting us and what we need, and do all that you can to truly advocate for us. Educators of Asian American youth, I urge you check in with your students, and to share these affirmations with your kids. We need you.

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.

I “am”

It is a privilege that I only first experienced overt, daily racism from walking down the street because of my Asian skin due to COVID-19.

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.

Then the end of May came with white womxn weaponizing Blackness, Black lives continuing to be killed on American screens with the world’s eyes watching, and very literally, NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE. 

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.

Immunity

Close your eyes. Take a moment to envision an American person.

Now open your eyes.

It isn’t me.


It was in elementary school when I came home one day and told my mom that I was American. She chastised me, as if I had burnt her as badly as overcooked, inedible rice.

“No, you’re not American. You’re Chinese.”

Elementary school me was confused, but didn’t talk back (#filialpiety). I knew not to bring it up again, because I had learned that saying this was just wrong in my mom’s eyes. To her, saying I was American was equal to saying that I was white and that I had abandoned my Chinese roots – almost in shame. I took that to heart, and have never said “I am American” to her again.


I don’t remember exactly when I learned the term “Asian American”, but I remember feeling some type of identification with it. To a high school me, this term was for people who “weren’t Asian enough”, and simultaneously “weren’t American enough” – but rather just existed in this middle haze. A term that did not diminish me because of something that I wasn’t. A term that unified people who also felt that they “weren’t enough”. In what we lacked, we strangely found unity. I stopped saying that I was Asian, or Chinese, or American, and now always say that I am Asian American, specifically Chinese American. The two words must come stuck together like two tapioca pearls up a bubble tea straw, of an order I made in English.

“We Asian Americans need to embrace and show our American-ness in ways we never have before. We need to step up, help our neighbors, donate gear, vote, wear red white and blue, volunteer, fund aid organizations, and do everything in our power to accelerate the end of this crisis. We should show without a shadow of a doubt that we are Americans who will do our part for our country in this time of need.” – Andrew Yang (Washington Post)

Reading this severely angered my Asian American self. My identity that I had so strongly valued in its togetherness was separated, with one prioritized over another. I felt my Asian Americanness separate and unequal, with Americanness prioritized – no – STOMPING OVER AND SPITTING AT at my Asian roots. Is my existence as an “American” insufficient? Do I have to prove how “American” I could be? I already know the answers to both of those questions; I can never be sufficient or prove my “Americanness” no matter how much red, white, and blue clothing I don.

 “We are still, in the public eye, a perpetual foreigner.” – Tzi Ma (Time) 

“One moment we are Americans, the next we are all foreigners, who “brought” the virus here… our belonging is conditional.” – John Cho (LA Times)

Every day when I walk my dogs, you see my eyes and think FOREIGNER. Then you see my mask and you think COVID-19 – not because everyone else is or isn’t wearing a mask, but because I’m wearing a mask. What’s worse – my un-American eyes or my disease-ridden mask? I only feel somewhat safe when I have two medium sized dogs whose leashes are attached to my physical body, and even then, am I really? I no longer know how to react to being a Brooklyn, New York Asian woman if acid gets poured on someone else who is one also. I’m not safe alone. I don’t know if or when I will be again. If Jeremy Lin is pleading for people to “just accept us as humans”, is my existence beneath humankind?


“To be Asian in America during the time of coronavirus is to feel very alone. You might think that everyone’s alone during the pandemic. But it’s a different form of isolation carved out by that insidious model-minority myth, with its implication that as long as you worked hard and didn’t ask for handouts, racial inequities could be overcome.” – Cathy Park Hong (NY Times)

“Like fame, the “model minority” myth can provide the illusion of ‘raceless-ness.’ Putting select Asians on a pedestal silences those who question systemic injustice. Our supposed success is used as proof that the system works — and if it doesn’t work for you, it must be your fault.

Never mind that 12% of us are living below the poverty line. The model minority myth helps maintain a status quo that works against people of all colors.

But perhaps the most insidious effect of this myth is that it silences us. It seduces Asian Americans and recruits us to act on its behalf. It converts our parents, who in turn, encourage us to accept it. It makes you feel protected, that you’re passing as one of the good ones.” – John Cho (LA Times) 

I’m only American on the few days my dad made me ham sandwiches for lunch in elementary school because I asked for it instead of my Shanghainese or Cantonese rice dish. I’m only American when it’s convenient for the media to celebrate the successes of people whose faces resemble mine. I’m only American when the model minority myth works in my favor and has duped my parents into believing in the possibility of achieving an “American dream” where hard work could overcome racial inequities. Am I, and are others, truly included in #AllAmericans, one that extends beyond activism by and for Asian people, one that stands in solidarity with the disproportionate deaths of LatinX and black people due to societal inequities? While we all support healthcare workers (or at least I certainly hope we all do), when will we truly support each other without perpetuating further discrimination – Asians included? Am I really that radical by saying EVERYONE, STOP HATING EACH OTHER?


In my middle school, the loudspeaker blasted “Proud to Be An American” as sung by Toby Keith daily after we recited the pledge.

“And I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.” – “I’m Proud to Be An American”, Toby Keith

Will I ever be free?
Will my parents ever be free?
Will my fellow Asian Americans ever be free?
Will Black, LatinX, Indigenous, and all marginalized groups ever be free?
Will America ever be free?

When you closed your eyes and imagined an American, did your own reflection come into the view of your eyes? Did you envision yourself? Are YOU free? Do you want to be free in America?

But questioning all of this, isn’t enough.


“I don’t want your love and light if it doesn’t come with solidarity and action.” – Rachel Cargle

My mother survived the “Cultural Revolution” in China. By the way, “Cultural Revolution” is read as cease all education, subscribe or die from the Mao Zedong’s Little Red Book, starve every day of your childhood, shut up or else during the house raids at my grandparents’ house, and the death of my grandfather – based on the little that my mother has told me.

I don’t know that I’ll ever be or feel fully free, but the one freedom I will never cease to use is my freedom of speech. My mom didn’t have it, and is terrified to use it now. I don’t blame her, but I can’t sit silent. Because of my parents immigrating here, I have this right, whether my “fellow Americans” acknowledge me and the fact that I can exercise it or not. I carry a lot of privilege to be able to use it, even if I feel it diminishing these days. But I have to take my chances.

Vaccines are never 100% effective, and I don’t know if any will be created that are in my lifetime. There’s one I’m testing out now, every single day and in all aspects of my personal and professional life.

I’m sharing this vaccine with you.

EU9dSGVXsAE0WFE(Source: Hate is a Virus)

It is okay to be fearful. I am.

But don’t stop in the tracks of hate. Immunize.

Immunize until you can picture yourself when I ask you to close your eyes. Immunize until you can picture EVERY SINGLE GROUP.

And then immunize again. We need all of the immunity we can get.

P.S. Additional immunizations include #washthehate and #RacismIsAVirus. Feel free to triple up.

Pronouncing Names RIGHT, Not “White”

I wrote the following excerpts in Fall 2011 as part of two blog posts for Generasian, an Asian American interest then-blog-and-publication (now multimedia platform) at New York University.

My American name is Alice Ann Tsui, and the only thing about my name that makes it “Asian” is my last name. My Chinese name is 徐晓兰 (Xu Xiao Lan in Pinyin) – which, at one point in time, Google Translate interpreted as “Dawn of the Orchid.” That translation sounds quite epic, but does an exotic meaning exist behind every Asian name?

In an 8asians article contemplating this question, Koji Steven writes:

When [people] ask what [my son’s name] means, they want to hear something more fortune cookie. Something like, “Wind blows down the north face of Mount Fuji.” I have no idea what the heck that means but it sounds pretty darn exotic doesn’t it?

I have come across this experience myself quite a few times. Questions such as “what does your Chinese name mean” often imply that the inquiring person expects a unique meaning dissimilar to any possible story of the Western name. However, Steven continues:

I wonder if people with more traditional Western names are asked what their names mean. I’ve never wondered what John meant or what Lisa means…

According to this site, John means “God is gracious.” And Lisa… means “God’s promise.” Maybe because the names are so common, I’m surprised to find out that they have such deep meanings. I wonder if Johns and Lisas know.

My parents never explained my Chinese name to me as “Dawn of the Orchid.” To this day, the actual meaning of my Chinese name is quite lost in translation and I only know that my mother and I share the same character of “orchid.” As for my American first name, I have never gotten any further explanation than hearing from my parents that they liked the name Alice because they thought it was “nice sounding.” My middle name Ann was given to me as a suggestion from a nurse present at my birth.

Using the same site Steven used, Alice means “noble,” and Ann means “He (God) has favored me.” I am quite sure my parents do not know that the combination of Alice Ann has this prescribed meaning, just as I do not understand my own Chinese name.

While the etymology of names in English may reveal more than what is apparent to the naked eye, the same goes for names in Asian languages and, in fact, names in all languages worldwide. Common names simply get a bypass on the question, although the truth is that each and every name is unique. Every name has a unique story behind it, and while etymology may be fun to research, we define what our names mean through our life stories. It’s not “West versus East,” but rather “Common versus Uncommon,” respectively. (Tsui, The ‘Exotic’ Asian Name)


When I was in elementary school, I had a very diverse class setting but Asians were still the minority. While I consider my elementary school experience as a happy and great one, there were moments of bullying that I will never forget. My first instance I remember was when non-Asian students would ask me how to pronounce my last name: Tsui. I would phonetically say it slowly: “TSOY, like the t and the s are blended together.” But that response was merely followed by remarks including:

Soy? Like soy sauce?!

Tee-soy? Haha!

Suey… suey suey suey!

Tissue!

(Tsui, Asian Kids are the Most Bullied)


The excerpts I have included continue to resonate with me deeply today, 8 years after I have originally written them. I was reminded of these experiences by Hasan Minhaj, the political comedian and host of Patriot Act, in his recent videos discussing his experiences with pronunciations of his name. Most notably to me, Minhaj recounts a time when he was auditioning and his name was mispronounced – and he himself reiterated that it did not matter.

Within the first minute of another video, Desi-American kids and Hasan Minhaj start off by naming how their name is actually pronounced, but then pronounce it the “White” way.

Why are names still being mispronounced and colonized (also read as: appropriated) today?

Why is there a “White” way to pronounce names with roots in non-English languages? 

As an educator, I have seen and heard other educators mispronounce butcher and Whiten names for convenience sake. What is “convenient” for the educator is inflicting harm on a child’s identity. Too often, we have learned that as long as we try our best to say it, that’s all we can do. NO! We MUST do better and get it right – right not in the way of how we may know to pronounce it from a prior experience teaching a student with the same name, but right in the way that we are saying a specific child’s name exactly the way the specific child wants us to say their name.

In fact, let’s forget the educator perspective for a moment. What is “convenient” for another person to say, is HURTFUL to the person whose name it is. Equally if not more  appalling is when I hear people anglicize names – such as from “Juan” to “John”, or when my mom was given an “American” (read: White) name (that by the way sounded NOTHING like her Chinese name) because her Chinese name was “too hard” for her coworkers to pronounce correctly.

My name DOES matter, and who I am, does matter. (Minhaj, 2019).

My parents chose my name “Alice” not because of its meaning in the baby book dictionaries (I doubt they even looked in those), but rather because it was “easy to pronounce”. Somehow, prior to my birth, my parents already internalized the idea that having a non-English first name would make my life more difficult, or perhaps even their lives more difficult as non-native English speakers. This “easier” first name seemed to be defeated, however, by my “impossible-to-pronounce” last name.

Since I had a last name that was “difficult to pronounce” for most English-speakers, I started to believe that the accurate pronunciation (by my account) of my last name was insignificant. It took a long time for me to become somewhat comfortable with correcting people with how to pronounce my name, and to this day I still sometimes give up after 2 or 3 tries and the other person does not say it properly. These messages of my name having exotic (read: interesting for the story, not for the actual transliteration or pronunciation of the name itself) meanings while simultaneously being unpronounceable were communicated to me as a kid, and people with exoticized and/or mispronounced names should not feel the need to shed their cultural skin for a more colonized one. There is NO such thing as a name that is too difficult to pronounce. There is NO such thing as a name that does not matter.

My name matters. As I wrote 8 years ago,

we define what our names mean through our life stories (Tsui, 2011).

Tell your life story with how YOU want your name pronounced.

Take the time to make sure another person’s name matters as well.