In 1998, when I was 11, we got the internet at home. My mom, a public school teacher, thought it’d be useful for me and my little sister to do our homework. She has always been very forward-thinking about technology, and computers were a part of our home life for most of my memory, thanks in no small part to the deep discounts educators used to get on Apple machines.
I remember the first time I knew that the internet was going to change everything. A couple years after we first got online, I somehow found my way to an AOL message board about philosophy — I thought of myself as a serious intellectual even as a kid — and had my mind blown by a group of users discussing feminist theory. Although the ideas they discussed were fascinating, that’s not what really blew my mind.
The real game-changer was discovering that there were people out there in the world who wanted to talk about the things I so desperately wanted to discuss. Why did I feel so different from my peers? Is there anybody else out there who is like me? How can we live together as human beings?
The internet became a critical lifeline to the world outside my isolated, extremely white suburban surroundings. I learned about ideas and people I would never have encountered — and learned about people I had encountered in a new light. It was in communities online that I learned the language to describe my experience as a queer person of color; as an Asian American; as a mixed race person.
Twenty years ago, I wrote to Grace Lee Boggs completely out of the blue. She had no basis for knowing who I was or what I was involved in. In fact, I had only recently learned about Grace through the research of my friend, Jung Hee Choi.
In the spring of 1998, I was 27 years old and officially a PhD student at UCLA. However, I had little prospect or expectation that I would finish my degree or become a professor. Instead, my life revolved around student activism and community organizing. Foreshadowing the Trump counterrevolution at the national level, Pete Wilson’s terms as governor served as the last reactionary gasps of power from the white soon-to-be minority and the conservative political forces in California.
Similar to today, we activists were toiling 24/7 to organize protests and build the resistance. Communities of color led a series of massive, inspirational demonstrations in response to Propositions 187 (attack on immigrant rights), 209 (banning affirmative action), and 227 (outlawing bilingual education), as well as police brutality and assaults on workers rights. Nevertheless, we fretted that we were constantly on the defensive—not just from the Republicans in California but also from the Clinton administration’s pursuit of corporate globalization, mass incarceration, and neoliberal austerity measures.
I was convinced we needed a revolutionary movement; and I would do my part to ensure that Asian Americans would step up and join with other communities of color at the forefront of the struggle. Much of my time in this period was devoted to organizing two connected events held in Los Angeles in May 1998. The “Serve the People” Asian American community activism conference brought several hundred people to UCLA to recount the historical lessons of movement building and share strategies from contemporary organizing.
During my last year of university, I decided to explore beyond my close-knit group of friends and join some new clubs while I still had the opportunity. During Clubs Week, when all the clubs on campus set up booths in the common areas, one that caught my attention was the Asian Students’ Society. When I walked up to their table, the girl there told me non-Asians were welcome.
“I’m Asian,” I told her. She blinked at me.
I still joined, paid the dues, and went to one event, because I become stubborn when I’m made to feel that I don’t belong somewhere. Unsurprisingly, I was the only one at that event who looked like me, and not one person among the hundreds of attendees did anything but politely look past me.
The experience stayed with me, because it drove home a point that until then had been a vague constant in my peripheral awareness: In North America, when we say “Asian,” we mean East Asian. (I went to school at the University of Toronto, but although Canada’s relationship with race differs from ours in important ways, they have generally treated their Asian diaspora similarly to the US—unlike, for example, the U.K, where “Asian” has historically referred primarily to South Asians.) As a brown Asian American of Pakistani descent who often gets mistaken for Arab, I am used to not being included in this category that I clearly belong to.
You don’t know me, but I’ve been with you since the very beginning.
I was organizing on-campus screenings when Justin Lin made Better Luck Tomorrow on nothing more than some shoestrings, a little spit, and a handful of maxed out credit cards. I shelled out my movie ticket money for American Pie and Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle, and even gritted my teeth through the (many, many, shitty) sequels despite my being the polar opposite of these film franchises’ target demographics. I was there for you in Flashforwardand Sleepy Hollow and Selfie. I have supported you for over a decade as an immensely talented actor and one of Asian America’s break-out stars, and no one was more thrilled than I when you landed the part of Sulu in J. J. Abrams’ reboot of the Star Trek franchise; few actors deserved the opportunity more.
Asian American actors are a special bunch: to a person, you all seem to be thoughtful, reasoned, caring and politically conscious activist-actors who are deeply knowledgeable about mainstream media’s (under/mis)representation when it comes to people of colour. Perhaps it comes from the years during which you are forced to toil in acting obscurity as one of the industry’s few Asian American actors or directors, but when at last you get your “big break”, most of you use your newfound platforms to force a conversation on media diversity and better representation. I experience a moment of joyful anticipation every time I stumble across an interview with an Asian American actor, because — whether BD Wong, or Constance Wu, or Daniel Dae Kim, or Daniel Henney, or Aziz Ansari, or you — you use your respective spotlights to force a necessary conversation about Hollywood’s diversity holes. And, you all always have really great and thought-provoking things to say.
Many outside the adoptee community are surprised when they learn that this country can and will deport international adoptees. Yet, that is exactly what could happen — and has already been happening — for an untold number of adult adoptees.
Most Americans — including many prospective adoptive parents — assume that international adoptees acquire automatic US citizenship with the completion of adoption paperwork. That is simply untrue. The citizenship of international adoptees is dependent upon whether or not their American citizen parents have separately sponsored their petition for US citizenship, even after adoptees have already begun life in America.