I first noticed Suey Park last month when I came across her daily infographics depicting the number of days that Marissa Alexander was spending in prison even after an appeals court overturned her conviction. As an Asian American woman who had been following Marissa’s story and who has been active in prison abolition work for all of my adult life, I was thrilled to see another Asian American woman publicly working to free Marissa.
Then this past Sunday, Suey Park started #NotYourAsianSidekick, a Twitter conversation originally meant to discuss problems within the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, issues with white feminism, and the voices of those usually excluded from more mainstream AAPI discussions, such as people who are queer, disabled, mixed race and/or sex-positive. Very quickly, #NotYourAsianSidekick exploded, with nearly 34,000 tweets using the hashtag that first day. (I want to acknowledge this summer’s #solidarityisforwhitewomen discussion about Big Name Feminism’s treatment of women of color started by Mikki Kendall.)
“It’s about time!” I thought when I first saw the hashtag a few hours after Park started the conversation. I spent the afternoon glued to my computer screen.
Some of the comments resonated as shared experience, dredging up memories of forced assimilation that often aren’t understood by even my closest friends and peers.
The impact of these experiences is often difficult to articulate, especially to those who haven’t been pushed into losing their culture and language as part of a Fast Track to the American Dream. Among people whose families have lived in the United States for generations, my attempts to talk about this reality has often been met with the silence of incomprehension, questions that are hard to answer, or outright dismissals of my feelings as part of “identity politics.” Yes, even among so-called progressive spaces. So to see others publicly posting about that loss—and the accompanying feelings we find as we’ve grown older and realize what that loss means—is validating.
Others point out how little things have changed from one generation to the next. For instance, this tweet reminded me (and probably many other Asian Americans of my generation) that we didn’t have even one paragraph on Japanese internment in our high school history texts:
But #NotYourAsianSidekick isn’t just about sharing (horrible) experiences with racial identity as we navigate through a world that often sees us as fetish objects or model minorities (when we get seen at all). Participants in the conversation this week didn’t shy away from confronting the oppressions faced within their own communities, such as patriarchy, ableism, and anti-queer violence.
Although following the rapid-fire conversation was remarkable, what excited me most were the tweets which dug deeper into Asian Americans’ participation in liberation and social justice movements. Mari Matsuda, the country’s first tenured female Asian American law professor posted “Your Asian Wasn’t Quiet,” a terrific flier of herself, Yuri Kochiyama, Helen Zia, and Grace Lee Boggs:
We don’t often see or acknowledge Asian Americans in movements for social justice.
For some (or maybe it’s many?) of us, we’re often the only Asian face in the room at movement events that don’t center around API issues. We don’t connect Asians, particularly Asian women, with Black Power and Black Liberation organizing. But Boggs and Kochiyama were pivotal organizers in those struggles—although they often don’t even receive a one paragraph mention in high school and college history books. Several people this week pointed out Yuri Kochiyama’s dedication to the Black liberation struggle, her connection with Malcolm X, and their plans to work together on his Organization for Afro-American Unity. (I don’t think that any mention of Kochiyama made it into Haley’s edited version of Malcolm X’s autobiography.)
In that same online space this week, others people called for more stories of previous generations who linked Asian American liberation to the liberation of ALL people of color. Following in the tradition of Boggs and Kochiyama, Park and others have repeatedly confronted and denounced the use of Asians as model minority stereotypes to justify anti-black racism.
As I mentioned earlier, Park has demonstrated her willingness to work in solidarity with Black women in publicizing Marissa Alexander’s case. After #NotYourAsianSidekick thrust her into prominence and gained her thousands of new followers, Park took the opportunity to draw attention and support for Alexander, urging new followers to donate to Alexander’s legal defense fund.
The tremendous participation in #NotYourAsianSidekick brought a flurry of media attention, including stories by the BBC, Washington Post, The Guardian and Al Jazeera. It has also inspired journalists Rania Khalek and Roqayah Chamseddine to start the Twitter conversation #NotYourNarrative on Wednesday.
How many other conversations will come up? And what will be the real-life impact of these conversations? Will they promote organizing and solidarity off-line? Even before she started the Twitter conversation on Sunday, Park took on the domain name. I look forward to seeing (and participating) in the organizing and communications that happen in the coming year.