We Are All Cyborgs: Being Asian American and Doing Organizing Online | #APAHM2014

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Guest-post by Cayden Mak (@Cayden), 18MillionRising.

I recently remarked to a longtime Twitter friend that I feel we live in a magical time, and I always wonder if young movement folks in the past felt that way, too. My friend suggested that not every generation gets to feel that way but there are definitely moments that people live through when they know they are in a magical time. I feel confident saying we live in one such time, but there’s still a question of what we’re going to do with that magic.

The internet has played no small part in the moment we’re in. More than ever, young people are connected to each other, having conversations about the things that matter to us, from pop music to police violence. We’re realizing there are more of us than there are of them, and that’s an incredibly hopeful thing. We live in a time of rapid reinvention, and at a moment when the conversations we are having online—for better or worse—are catching the attention of the mainstream.

For me, the internet always filled the gap between the community where I live and the one I long for. Growing up, finding my peers in the suburban Michigan town where my mom bought a house after she and my dad divorced was a challenge. I didn’t lack for friends, but there were conversations I wanted that I just couldn’t have with them. I was itching to define my politics, which is something I ultimately found online.

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Call to Action: Here’s how you can help free the #ElPaso37!

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Earlier last week, I wrote about the El Paso 37, a group of between 35 and 40 (or as many as 100, according to one report) Punjabi men who have been detained in an El Paso Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility for nearly a year awaiting an entry decision. Held under prison-like conditions,  the Punjabi men — most between 20 – 30 years of age — are all escaping threats of  violent political retribution for being members of a Sikh minority party in Punjab, and are seeking political asylum in the United States.

The process for seeking asylum in the United States involves an asylum seeker demonstrating “credible fear” of physical violence to ICE if returned to the country of origin; if credible fear can be demonstrated, a second interview to establish a parole decision — parole is granted if the applicant is neither a threat to public safety nor a flight risk — is to take place no less than 7 days after the “credible fear” interview.

It is at this step that the El Paso 37 have been stuck for nearly ten months in the El Paso detention facility. Although most have demonstrated credible fear, and have further provided documentation that they are not a flight risk, these asylum seekers are being held — seemingly indefinitely — awaiting their parole decisions. They have not been charged with a crime, and yet have had virtually all freedom removed from them. Instead, these forty arguably non-violent asylum seekers — who each should have received a parole decision last year — have instead been senselessly detained for far longer than is reasonable under the watch of armed guards, at a total cost of nearly $1.9 million dollars to the American taxpayer.

The case of the El Paso 37 is a clear example of the need to engage in comprehensive immigration reform of our current system: one characterized by inefficient or arbitrary red tape while it simultaneously mandates that prospective immigrants live in administrative limbo — unable to work, to marry, to travel —  for months or years at a time while awaiting ICE decisions. It is a commonplace story that applicants awaiting visa decisions are separated for years from their family, unable to even return to their country of origin for such personal events like a sick parent or a dying sibling lest they nullify their application; alternatively, affianced couples may be forced to live in separate countries for years while awaiting marriage-based green cards. For the El Paso 37, as for every hopeful immigrant into the United States, dealing with this country’s broken immigration system too often results in a life interrupted.

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I’m an Asian American woman, and I’m not your happy ending

A billboard outside of LAX. (Photo credit: Christine Lu)
A billboard outside of LAX. (Photo credit: Christine Lu)

I remember seeing this billboard on my first trip to Las Vegas. I was really young — maybe a teenager — and this was long before I became an Asian American feminist and “hacktivist”.

This was during my “Asian-spotting” phase, when seeing Asian things gave me a secret thrill. So I remember this racy billboard as one of the first images greeting me as we rolled onto the Strip, and I recognized myself in it.

But I remember also being confused: why was me, my identity, my Asian-ness being portrayed in this way? What did being Asian have to do with being a naked woman? And, ‘happy ending’? What did that mean?

I’m a little older now, and I can now look back at that moment with equal parts horror and disgust. This — this — was one of my first images of Asian American womanhood; and this is the image of Asian American womanhood that still shapes the self-identity of too many young Asian American women today.

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