Remarks delivered at Columbia University on Friday February 22nd, 2013 at 8:07pm:
My first speech was right here, where I'm standing now, 6 years ago. I was a sophomore and it was horrible. I threw up all over myself.
I'm feeling the same kind of anxiety right now since you’re all here for something that means a lot to me -- ECAASU -- which is finally at my alma mater, and finally at my hometown. (Yeah, I'm from here... so when they ask me, "Where are you from?" I'm like, "here!" But when they ask, "No, but where are you really from?" Then I'm like, "Uhm...the United States of New York [censored] City!")
So ECAASU has hit the big 36 -- Happy Birthday ECAASU! -- so I figure this is the right appropriate to delve within and remember how ECAASU was founded.
36 years ago a man named Allan Bakke applied to UC Davis School of Medicine. He got rejected, so he sued the school saying that the reason he was rejected was because he was white. He said that had he been Black or Latino, he would have gotten in. He actually won the case -- the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in his favor -- and he got to go to medical school. This was a big slap in the face to Black and Latino students all around the country, especially those of the Third World Liberation Front at San Francisco State University who had been fighting for ethnic studies at the time, and also to those responding to the concept of "white affirmative action" -- a.k.a. "legacy admissions" -- by supporting the form of affirmative action as we know it today.
And Asian Americans all over the country, who neither were directly affected by this case, nor did any of them benefit from affirmative action in whatever form, stood in solidarity with their Black and Latino brothers and sisters by forming APSU of the west coast, MAASU of the midwest, and ECAASU. So this is the legacy we have all inherited 36 years later by being here today. And back then there was this kind of inclusive coalition building outside our bubbles that we still don't see as much even today. They don't teach you that in the history books.
So this struggle has continued across generations where even in my senior year 4 years ago we were involved in a hunger strike for ethnic studies right here at Columbia. Which was no less difficult than the fight for ethnic studies today at many of your campuses. (By the way congratulations to Wellesley on getting an Asian American minor approved!)
So it's still a struggle. But meeting people from all around the world taught me something about why I'm proud identifying myself as an American: Everything we have and take for granted in this country we have because we’ve struggled for it. Our independence, civil rights, voting rights, repealing "don't ask don't tell," justice for Danny Chen -- nothing has ever come easy. Everything we have and take for granted here was borne out of some kind of struggle.
It’s the same kind of struggle to speak in public for that poor guy that threw up on himself right here 6 years ago.
It’s the same kind struggle that make NYC the city worth living in -- "If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere."
It’s the same kind of struggle in putting this conference together -- You know, I've been to their meetings every week since September and I can't describe enough how much work they put into this event.
And it’s the same kind of struggle to simply being Asian American in this country -- to be taken seriously as a group of people who are tired of being so [censored] polite.
I always talk about how activism and fun don’t have to be mutually exclusive. But now I want to say how tough and fun also don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Those of you unsure about activism because "it's a struggle," "it takes up too much time" or that "it’s tough", well, duh it’s supposed to be tough. Growing up is tough. Tough is what makes it worth it. Tough is what makes us adults instead of children.
Remember that sometimes the hardest thing to is the right thing to do.
So let's grow up Asian America. Let’s do the tough things. Let's embrace struggle. Then after that, we can look beyond.