belonging, Community, Values

On Belonging: From Hopes for Chinatown to Black Lives Matter to Anti-Asian Sentiment to Racial Solidarity

I became interested in making art about belonging in 2016, coinciding with the beginning of this Presidential administration and its policies which told Muslims, Mexican and Central American migrants, and trans people: “You don’t belong here.”

Over the past few years, the importance of belonging has been continually affirmed by the way othering characterizes American society now: political divisiveness, racism, xenophobia, the increased visibility of white supremacist groups, the murders of Black Americans by police and vigilantes, and the failure of the justice system to value Black lives.

Whenever I hear of a “___ while black” incident, I see it through a lens of belonging: white privilege allows a white person to feel entitled to police another’s belonging. It’s on the same spectrum of othering with victims in the movement for Black lives. Ahmaud Arbery’s murderers didn’t have to say, “Go back to where you came from” or “You don’t belong here” because that’s implicit in the decision to follow him while carrying a loaded firearm. When no one is charged for murdering Breonna Taylor, it communicates that being Black entails an exemption from belonging in a civil society where citizens can expect to be safe in their homes and live free from senseless state violence. When the justice system fails Black victims of police misconduct, it says that Black people don’t belong to the privileged class for whom justice will be served.

This spring, fear of the coronavirus triggered latent Sinophobia to become explicit in a wave of anti-Asian incidents. Art institutions posted pledges to speak up if they witness anti-Asian hate. (While I appreciate the allyship, I resent the necessity of promising to do the right thing. Decency should be enough, but othering robs us of our humanity, so we have to reiterate that we deserve basic civility.)

Yuanyuan Zhu—who works at Chinese Culture Center and has been an enthusiastic, crucial collaborator of my belonging projects—experienced a hate incident in San Francisco in March. In my Hopes for Chinatown project—bridging Art, Culture, and Belonging and 100 Days Action’s Art for Essential Workers—YY shared her hope for Chinatown:

“Less discrimination. More understanding.”

Photo of artwork being installed on graffiti-covered plywood covering storefront windows.

Christine Wong Yap, “Hopes for Chinatown,” 2020, site-specific public art: participation, hand-lettering, digital print, 80 x 148 inches and 96 x 48 inches. Commissioned and installed by 100 Days Action for Art for Essential Workers. Photo by Jeremiah Barber.

In the past 10 days, despite the ongoing pandemic, American uprisings have sprung up in all 50 states to insist that the police misconduct and anti-Black state violence will no longer be tolerated.

I am hopeful that this is an inflection point in history towards social change. As individuals and communities facing reckonings, the time is ripe for Asian Americans to confront our anti-blackness and white supremacy. In fact, coronavirus-related anti-Asian sentiment provides an opportunity to develop our understanding of systemic racism and the need for Black solidarity.

We APAs want to stop anti-Asian hate. We want people to know: We are not the virus. We want to not be perpetual outsiders. We want our belonging to not be conditional.

If we truly want less discrimination and more understanding, we have to do our part: to recognize that we have benefitted from advancements in civil rights won through Black struggle, to acknowledge that the model minority myth has been used to invalidate systemic oppression faced by Black people, and to address and rectify anti-Blackness pervasive in our communities. We have to stop othering Black people so we can see our struggles for justice and belonging in America are connected and intertwined.

 


Resources


Black Lives Matter Solidarity Statement and Phrases in Chinese

As a public service in language accessibility, I asked the Chinese Culture Center to share the text of their solidarity statement with me so I can post it here. You are welcome to copy and paste the Chinese phrases for use in activism supporting Black lives and justice.

Chinatown in Solidarity with Black Lives Matter
華埠與“黑人的生命很重要”堅定地站在一起

CCC adds our voice in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and all people who are committed to justice and equity.

We are deeply saddened and outraged by the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and the countless other lives lost to state-sanctioned violence. We send our heartfelt condolences to the families, hold space for your pain and rage, and share in a feeling of loss for those who are mourning loved ones taken from their communities.

Chinatown and Asian Americans across the country are deeply committed to equity and empowerment. We honor and acknowledge the leadership of the black community during the Civil Rights Movement that paved the way for many Asian American organizations to rise up and serve our communities. Institutional racism and violence against black lives must end.

舊金山文化中心與“黑人的生命很重要”運動及致力於正義和平等的所有人發聲。

我們對喬治·佛洛依德和哈迈德·阿伯里被謀殺以及其他無數因國家暴力行為而失去生命的人深感痛心及憤怒,為此保留空間以感同身受。

華埠及全美各地亞裔群體齊心致力於平等與民權。我們尊重及感謝非裔社區在民權運動期間的領導,為許多美國亞裔組織的崛起和社區服務的發展鋪平了道路。針對非裔群體的制度性種族歧視和暴力必須結束。

Black Lives Matter.
黑人的命也是命。
黑人的生命很重要。
黑人的命是珍貴的。

No justice, no peace. 沒有正義就沒有和平。

⁣⁣In solidarity,⁣⁣

CCC Team- Hoi, Jenny, Jia, Sheng, Weiying, Yuanyuan
中華文化中心團隊: 梁凱瑤,  梁凱欣, 柳嘉潔, Sheng, 于濰穎, 朱媛媛

For our AAPI community members looking for a place to work on personal development and learn more about solidarity, check out Chinese Progressive Association’s Asian American Racial Justice Toolkit at www.asianamtoolkit.org/.
對於美國亞太裔社區成員,如果想咨詢關於個人發展並了解更多團結一致的信息,請訪問www.asianamtoolkit.org/,查看華人進步會的“亞裔種族正義工具包”。

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Citizenship

Points of Reference: Alone Together, Part I

Some points of reference from a pandemic-stricken NYC.

News is coming out faster than I can process. Here are some articles, podcasts, and other references on my mind lately.

The Negatives

Rising Sinophobia

Someone close to me was spit at, in a Sinophobic, coronavirus-fear-fueled incident, last weekend in Manhattan. The next day, I read this:

“Spit On, Yelled At, Attacked: Chinese-Americans Fear for Their Safety” by Sabrina Tavernise and Richard A. Oppel Jr. (NY Times, March 23, 2020).

It is disheartening beyond words. There are so many things to be upset about:

  • As if a global pandemic wasn’t enough bad news, humans turn against each other.
  • The flattening dehumanization of racism—the racist doesn’t care if you’re Chinese or any other Asian nationality, whether your family has been here in the US for generations, whether you are actively serving society as a doctor fighting coronavirus, or whether you work in a community organization around belonging.
  • This is happening even in liberal bastions like San Francisco Bay Area and NYC, with large Asian and Asian American communities.
  • Attackers are weaponizing the very thing we’re all terrified of right now—aerosolized or projected bodily fluids—in a perverse act. Paradoxically, the racists could be asymptomatic carriers spreading coronavirus to those who they claim to be guilty of spreading disease.
  • When the attackers are other POC or immigrants, the rift in racial solidarity can feel especially hurtful.
  • Scared Chinese families resorting to arming themselves—aided by loose gun laws and fear mongering, and possibly under-educated about handgun safety, self-defense legal and moral issues, and systemic analyses.
  • Bystanders did nothing.

The dearth of leadership from the White House

A corresponding disaster compounding all of this. I really feel for the nurses and doctors who have to salvage a mess that could have been managed better.

 

The Positives

What to do about rising Sinophobia

  • Report anti-Asian incidents at standagainsthatred.org and caasf.org.
  • Some of us have racists/xenophobes in our families. We have to pick our battles, but consider that these attackers probably have family members who might have pre-empted these attacks with reason, empathy, and gentle disputation.
  • Asians and Asian Americans need to show up for other immigrants and POCs, not just our own self-interests. We can’t expect racial solidarity when we don’t show it.

Learn from the Center for Anti-Violence Education.

  • Sign up for “Bystander Intervention Training: Responding to COVID-19 Scapegoating and Hate” this coming Monday and Tuesday. Check the Center’s website for more online classes.
  • See their tips, especially the third image on what to do if you see someone being attacked or harassed.

 

 

 

Proactive politicians & arts institutions

Not waiting for leaders to lead

In contrast to the White House, S.F. Bay Area and NY politicians have been more proactive in restricting movement.

Arts institutions have also been more assertive, closing museums and studio programs before reluctant, slow-moving bureaucrats call for such closures.

I’m grateful to be allied with arts institutions who have taken leadership when leadership was lacking.

I’m also glad to see institutions heeding the call from artist-activists to donate gloves and masks to local hospitals, just as MAD Museum did last week.

 

 

View this post on Instagram

A huge THANK YOU to our Deputy Director of Exhibitions and Operations @hendrikgerrits and team for leading the charge to collect all of the Museum’s masks and gloves to donate to the Montefiore Medical Center (@montefiorehealthsystem ), in order to provide our city’s healthcare workers with the #PPE that they need to continue their lifesaving work. #Repost @hendrikgerrits with @make_repost ・・・ Our team at MAD Museum is donating all of our masks and gloves to Montefiore Medical Center to help protect our city’s healthcare workers who are putting everything on the line to take care of us. Thanks for the inspiration/suggestion @tin20000 Thanks for coordinating @shabdshabd #stayathome #madmuseum #strongertogether

A post shared by Museum of Arts and Design (@madmuseum) on

If you have PPE to donate, or need donations of PPE, visit GetUsPPE.org. It’s the combined efforts of several grassroots, DIY acts, such as Mask Crusaders.)

New Podcast: Staying In with Emily & Kumail

Humor, relatability, psychology

A new podcast by Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani, with proceeds benefitting those affected by COVID. You may know Kumail from Silicon Valley or his woke tweets.

What I love about the first episode is listening to a funny couple that loves to be funny together. I also really related to some of their personal story. (You never know who is immuno-compromised, and how much this impacts the caregiver.) And finally, Emily’s advice is grounded in her background as a therapist.

 

Free Face Mask Patterns

pink/grey/cream hand-made face masks on a black cutting mat

Face masks sewn based on the the Fu Face Mask pattern from FreeSewing.org, using in-house materials.

I’ve been sewing face masks for the past few days, using the “Fu Face Mask” pattern from freesewing.org. [Here’s a printable pattern.]

I’m offering them for free to front liners, essential needs workers, seniors, people with compromised immune systems, people with underlying health conditions, or their caregivers. I’ve been sending them directly by mail.

Next week, I’ll donate 20 to emergency food pantry workers at Make The Road NY, an immigrant-rights organization.

I figure that something is better than nothing, and the less masks consumers use (and the more we can launder and re-use masks), the more masks will be preserved for doctors and nurses.

I’m using materials I already have, rather than order online, in order to preserve supplies. I’ve been using yardage leftover from home sewing projects, as well as past art projects. It’s been satisfying to re-purpose things that I made with positive intentions around happiness or human flourishing into something that might help people in tangible ways now.

If you’re interested in making masks, check out artist Stephanie Syjuco’s findings from prototyping various mask options. She’s using a modified “Deaconess” pattern, as her aim is for volume.

 

 

View this post on Instagram

For those interested in sewing masks: I tested out three designs that are currently circulating and here are my findings. The “Deaconess” design does seem the best for mass production and quick use while other designs could be better for personal fit and customization. I also posted this as publicly viewable on my Facebook page if you want the direct links to the patterns. Please note that these are NOT a medical alternative to proper PPE (personal protection equipment), and these are “last resort” items that can be considered due to lack of supply. I’ll be moving forward with producing “The Deaconess” model in quantity (with minor modifications) at home while under shelter-in-place, because it seems like we have reached the point where they are needed by others… Good luck out there, everyone! 👉🏽👉🏽👉🏽 PS: link in bio to crowd-sourced Google doc of hospitals and medical centers across the country seeking mask and PPE donations. Before seeking to donate home-made masks, please find out first if they will take them! 👈🏽👈🏽👈🏽

A post shared by Stephanie Syjuco (@ssyjuco) on

 

Here’s a nice article about this grassroots movement: “A Sewing Army, Making Masks for America,” by David Enrich, Rachel Abrams and Steven Kurutz (NY Times, March 25, 2020).

 

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