By Kevin Koo, ECAASU National Board Advocacy Coordinator
What is community? The word itself, “community”, what does it mean to you? What has it been in your experience, what shapes has it taken, what memories and emotions does it evoke?
When I envision community, particularly Asian communities in America, there’s only so much that I can articulate into words. My attempts to define it becomes limited. I have fond memories of people, families, homes, places of gathering. There is also a sharing of food, of music, traditions and dance. There are emotions: overwhelming love, compassion, a sense of belonging, support. I feel pride, comfort, sadness, sorrow. But beyond the surface level aura of good feelings, there is deeper meaning. The people in our communities are bound by a shared history, often a shared oppression, common struggle. Homes and markets, churches, temples, places of gathering— these physical locations give us a sense of belonging, anchors to come back to, and harbors us lost ships at sea. The partaking of food and tradition is the preservation of love, of ideas. This is what we do. What our parents have done. What our ancestors have done. It roots us, pulls us into a timeline that threatens to be forgotten. The most basic of ideas, love, blooms into something so much more, something complex. This communal love shields us— it protects us, gives us a place to retreat to, provides a people with which to claim allegiance, stands up for us when we are targeted, fixes us when we are broken.
I’ve lately been thinking about why Asian America exists. Why Asian American communities exist. Is it not because of a lack of? A longing for? Our desire for love springs from a lack of affection. Our support, from hurtful memories of neglect. Our communities have sprouted from a lack of inclusiveness in America. Even aliens need a place to call home. Birthed by a human need for belonging, for a desperate plea for support and validation in a land that rejects every piece of your being, every ounce of your blood and gram of flesh. In a country that has since the beginning been plotting our exploitation, marked our usefulness, commodified us, labeled us as “temporary labor”, our communities are resistance in the most literal sense. Whether we were forced to seek refuge here, displaced from our own homes, brought over with the help of friends and family, or arriving with false hope in the American dream: there was never much of a choice to begin with. Despite this, we have planted our roots, have joined hands, have shielded one another when stones are thrown and hateful words rain down. Here to stay, here to reclaim— or can we even say reclaim when there was no initial claim granted to begin with?
In times when nothing could be done, when the future looked bleak and hopes were dashed— our people held on. Against all the odds, Asians made it. They survived. They started families. They made every effort to preserve their language, their food, their culture. They worked their hardest, fought their best, gave up so much, sacrificed their futures for ours— making every effort to improve the quality of life for our generation, at the cost of their own. Amidst all of the unsolved issues, of mental health, trauma and memories, my parents still try to protect me from the harsh realities that they faced. Thinking that if they sacrificed everything, gave it their all, perhaps their children would be free from all that. Our parents pour their dreams of a better life into these new untainted souls, hoping to experience success vicariously, through our lives if possible. The immigrant story that so many of us have heard time and time again, have become jaded to, have yet to understand its magnitude of self-sacrifice, of the ultimate example of unconditional love and affection. When Asians were being erased from history, our bodies hidden from the spotlight, our voices silenced— our communities built up the foundation for resistance. We were always a fighting people, not much has changed from the initial Asian immigrants in America and us today. Still fighting for the same goals, the same reasons. Racism, immigration rights, gentrification, deportation, citizenship— there is progress, but the struggle continues.
Communities have granted us the base of our resistance. They are doors that refuse to be shut, stories that refuse to be forgotten. I can’t articulate the feelings, the words to communicate my thankfulness— there are no words that can translate this desire to express such a magnitude of appreciation, let alone any actions that exist to reciprocate it. The individuals who have placed every stone on the path we walk, have broken down walls and barriers, have forced themselves into dialogues and spaces that we take for granted. Who continue to show America that we will not be forgotten. Our ancestors. Our families, parents and grandparents. We truly stand on the shoulder of giants.
It is not a question of whether we are worth this history of resistance—we are the ones to continue it, our own stories yet to be written. We will remember our histories, center our communities, and embrace our lived experiences and identities. We will never forget where we came from. We will look out for the communities that gave us the space to grow, the histories that led us here, and the stories that fueled our wild imaginations of what could be. We will protect the people that fed us, taught us how to laugh, who told us to stand up for ourselves and prepared us for the harsh realities of the world. We will reach beyond our communities, strengthen the bonds that tie us to other minority groups, stand in solidarity, put our lives on the line for our allies. We will look into our communities, unlearn feelings of hate, engage ourselves in conversations deconstructing race, gender, sexuality, and class.
We fight for the people who take the time to teach us, to listen to us, encourage us, share with us. For the ones who comfort us, challenge us, who love and care for us, support us in hard times, share in our struggles, who remind us that we’re sane, that our experiences are legitimate, that our feelings are human. For those who pass on everything they can, so that we ourselves can grow as people, join the fight against systems of power, struggles of resistance, and expand that community base.
To our Asian communities, who fostered us, cared for us, gave us the space we needed.
To our ancestors, the first Asian immigrants, the families that settled here and laid the first stones.
To our own families, our parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins, aunties and uncles.