World Refugee Day – some thoughts by ag

(originally a facebook post, but sharing here too. a day late, but better than not at all)

On #WorldRefugeeDay, I’m taking a moment to reflect. My own mother was a refugee. When she was most vulnerable, this country welcomed her with open arms and allowed her access to opportunities, which coupled with her hard work, gave way to her achievement of her dreams. For that, she (and I) are forever grateful.

However, in years since, the same country has all but turned its backs on refugees facing similar peril. The current administration (different leaders but of the same party) has criminalized and dehumanized such individuals and other bodies seeking the same support and security my mother was granted. It chills me to even consider that had these sentiments and policies been in place just 3 decades ago, I would likely never have been born.

Asylum-seekers are victims, not criminals. Those of us lucky enough to be born in this country will never understand the fear and danger they have faced and how much courage it takes to seek refuge in an entirely foreign country. We cannot even begin to fathom how difficult and frightening it is to start all over and how much work it takes to do so. That is a privilege.

People only seek refuge out of necessity. It is not a choice, it is not fun, and it is not belligerent.

We claim to be a country of freedom and opportunity. We cannot claim those things without recognizing and seizing our social responsibility to provide relief to refugees and other asylum-seeking individuals.

Call your representatives. Donate to relief funds. Vote for fair policies. Challenge those who spread negative misconceptions and sentiments regarding refugees. Recognize your position of privilege and use it as a platform to incite change.

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Mirai Nagasu, Chloe Kim, and What the #Olympics2018 Mean for Asian-American Girls

I pulled out my phone to check my notifications during the break of my three-hour evening class to see the TIME’s headline: Mirai Nagasu Lands Historic Triple Axel at 2018 Olympics.

The first ever female U.S figure skater to land a triple axel on an Olympic rink is a second-generation Asian-American from Arcadia, California. We are only 6 years apart. She grew up in my neighboring city, where her parents own a sushi restaurant that I’ve frequented.

My immediate thought? Michelle Kwan. Growing up, I adored Michelle Kwan. She was the spokesperson for the bank my mother worked at so I often attended her performances and occasionally saw her at events. I remember meeting her for the first time when I was seven or so and the wave of admiration and awe that struck me when I shook her hand and posed for a photo. Now don’t get me wrong, I have never been and likely will never be a figure skater for a plethora of reasons (the top one being I lack the necessary physical trait of balance almost altogether), so why is it that I admired Michelle Kwan so much?

Simply put, she was an Asian-American woman who, through her incredible skill and hard work, gained international recognition and respect. My 7-year old self didn’t understand the mechanisms of a triple axel or the politics behind competitions like the Olympics. All I knew was that someone who looked like me was successful and I was inspired by her.

Looking at my socioeconomic background and the environment in which I grew up, I feel incredibly lucky to have had role models who look like me. My congresswoman, Judy Chu, is a third-generation Asian-American female whose ancestors were working-class immigrants. My mayor, for a while at least, was Judy Wong, another Asian-American female, and although she did serve in state prison for a corruption scandal, the point is that I was able to grow up and witness people I resemble and relate to in positions of power and authority. My own mother is one of my greatest role models. A political refugee, she came to this country with nothing but her determination to work hard and create a better life for her and her family, which she did.

Having people you look up to who share the same cultural and physical qualities as you is a privilege. Being told consistently throughout your life by those you admire that the world is your oyster and you are capable of anything you wish is a privilege (thanks Mom and Dad). I am fortunate enough to have had that privilege and I know that being able to turn the TV on and see Michelle Kwan take the stage and Judy Chu push bills in Congress, or even watch my mother rise in rank for her hard work, has empowered me to be the confident and ambitious person I am.

This is why representation matters. To look at someone renowned and inspirational and being able to see yourself is important. I am fortunate enough to have had that experience, but sadly, there are many more in this country who do not. Women make up a 50.8% majority of the U.S population and 60% of all undergraduate degrees, yet only a meager 19.4% in Congress. Of our 45 presidents, none have been female. The statistics get even worse when regarding intersectionality. And please don’t think that this post only regards the issues of race and gender. Aspects like sexuality and religion are just as important and I know that the empowerment Michelle Kwan and Mirai Nagasu provide me is very similar to that which Tom Daly and Adam Rippon may radiate to members of the LGBTQ population. The point is that systemic inequalities are still very much prevalent and serve as barriers to the individual and collective successes in this country. As we saw in the Olympics, a win for Mirai Nagasu is a win for Team USA. In limiting some of us (especially a majority), we hurt all of us.

So when I see people like Mirai Nagasu and Chloe Kim take home monumental sweepstakes on an international stage, I am happy, knowing that so many other girls are at home watching, just as I was, and that they too, will feel inspired and empowered. And I know that this feeling – this privilege – is what fuels so many of our successes, which is why we must continue to fight for representation across the spectrum of identities that exist in our country. In doing so, we continue to make history.

Child of Tiananmen – Moving Mountains

There is an old Chinese parable about moving mountains. There were once two mountains – Taihang and Wangwu – that spanned thousands of miles. A farmer, whose house was facing the mountains, soon grew unhappy with how the mountains blocked his access to the nearby town. One day, he decided to level the mountains so he wouldn’t have to travel up and around them any longer, so he picked up a shovel and began to dig. His friends and family gathered around, appalled by his behavior. After all, he was but an old man and there was no way he could possibly move two enormous mountains. He responded, saying “I may not be able to move these mountains myself. But I will shovel at them every day. And after I die, my son will shovel at them every day. And after he dies, his son will shovel at them every day. Generations later, we will have moved the mountains.”

I was born in 1999, a decade after the Tiananmen Square Massacre in Beijing, China. My mother, a senior at the Beijing Normal University, was a student leader in the movement for democracy at that time, participating in the Tiananmen Square Demonstration. On April 26th, 1989, the Tiananmen Square Demonstration broke out in Beijing, China. The following 50 days were filled with protest and marching, and eventually, June 4th, marked what would be known forever in history as the Tiananmen Square Massacre – a fight to move the mountains of oppression in China.

My mother was just about to finish her degree in Chinese literature when the protests began. Torn between doing things right and doing the right thing, she avoided any political controversy for two weeks. After all, she was months away from graduation and the beginning of her adult future. Participating in the movement would be committing both academic and social suicide. How could she explain to her family that she’d decided to throw away all she’d worked for in the name of democracy – a cause so seemingly unattainable in the Communist Chinese regime? But one night, while studying late in her dorm, she saw her classmate – a small girl –  limp back to her room across the hall, exhausted.

My mother frantically asked her classmate what had happened and the girl gave my mother an answer that she would always remember, that she would continue to live by, and that she would later pass down to me.

“They can beat us, they can push us, and they can try to stop us. But they can’t tear us down, and the harder they try, the more we know we are right.”

After hearing those words, my mother realized her degree, her well-being, and her affiliations to the government would not hold any worth if she didn’t fight for what she knew was right. A mountain needed to be moved and she needed to help.

The next day, my mother joined the crowd. Charismatic, sweet, intelligent, and reputable, she soon became a student leader in the movement, organizing the famous May hunger strike. It was because of this hunger strike that she was invited alongside other students to a rare meeting with then-Premier Li Peng, during which she notoriously fell asleep. On the night of June 3rd when the tanks rolled in, chaos broke out and my mother was among the last to escape. Amidst the frenzy, she shuttled frightened protesters and wounded bodies out of the square and to safety, refusing to leave until everyone else was out.

I was told this story by my mother’s friend, a fellow student leader who escaped to the USA and is now the CEO of a multi-million dollar investment company in Pasadena, California. It is also from him that I learned the parable of the two mountains and how they represented the fight for Chinese human rights. The anecdote he told me of my mother at the square is one that truly captures the essence of her character. As my father once told me, she was pretty, but not the prettiest. She was smart, but not the smartest. She was sweet, but not the sweetest. But she was the strongest girl he’d ever met and for that, he fell in love with her.

When my mother did flee the scene, she didn’t return to her dorm room. Or home. Beijing had released a public Wanted segment for all participants, especially leaders of the protest, declaring her, on national television, a political enemy.

For two months, she was transported from house to house by undercover supporters of the movement. Two months void of contact, security, assurance, or comfort. Finally, members of The Hong Kong Alliance In Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China arranged for a smuggler’s boat to ship my mother out of China and into Hong Kong.

A transaction was made and my mother was taken to one of a series of undercover refuge homes, where she was placed under the care of a strange, yet oddly comforting house director: my father – a middle-school dropout city boy who’d gone from factory work, to paralegal practice, and now, activism. Thirteen years her senior and having lived a completely opposite life, my father found himself drawn to the petite, angelic, and heroic Cheng Zhen. It was a love story found only in the wildest of dreams and most creative of fiction.

My father, who had spent 35 years for the right girl to come along, found her and after only two months, proposed. The response he got was not what he’d expected. She had endured way too much to settle down in a place void of democracy. Hong Kong was safe for the time being, but it was in the process of being turned back over to CCP control and it wouldn’t be long before she was at risk again. She had to leave again and this time, she was looking at the other side of the Pacific.

For three days, my father weighed his options and on October the 15th, he made his decision. My mother filed successfully for refugee citizenship and my father, the boy who swore at 13 to never return to school, dropped his career, his family, his belongings, and his life, to register for an American student VISA.

Tiananmen Square and all it represents has remained a prequel to my life.  I was 8 years old when I put two and two together. Tiananmen Square was the reason my parents met, meaning that if the tragedy hadn’t occurred, I would have never been born. Just as Tiananmen Square had sparked a new life for my parents, it had literally sparked a new life: mine. I had been taught the story of June 4th before I even knew what it meant. I remember my parents giving presentations and interviews about the fight for human rights in China throughout my childhood. They even headed the United States branch of Federation for a Democratic China – a political group formed in the aftermath of Tiananmen – for over a decade. Every June 4th, my family drives to the Chinese Consulate in downtown Los Angeles to attend a candlelight vigil, commemorating those who sacrificed their lives to fight for justice and democracy.

At these vigils, reporters ask about that week decades ago and, as I grew older, how the fight for human rights resonates with my generation. They call us “Children of Tiananmen”: those of us whose parent fled Tiananmen to other countries. To them, I am the girl whose parents were activists – a child of Tiananmen, so my opinion must hold some value. Every year, they ask many of the same questions, the most popular being how many years I’ve been attending June 4th vigils. This is always quite easy, as I just subtract ten from my age by the end of the year. But there were also tougher and more complicated questions, and over the years, I’ve gotten better at giving answers I truly stand behind.

I distinctly remember one time I was called during a vigil to speak regarding the 25th anniversary of Tiananmen Square. Cameras flashing and microphones pointed my way, one reporter gestured to the famous “Tank Man” photograph behind me and asked “What does this photo mean to you?”

I took a long look and remembered the countless number of times I’d learned about the story behind the photo and the courage that man embodied. I then looked directly at the camera and said:

“Twenty-five years ago, this man stood alone. Today, by being here, we are showing China that we stand with him.”

It sounds more dramatic in Mandarin, but you get the point.

Over the past several years, though, I have struggled to determine how I might join the movement for freedom in China and its controlled territories beyond simply being a child of Tiananmen. What mountains still existed? And what role would I play in moving them?

In 2012, during an annual visit to my family in Hong Kong, I wanted to participate in the July 1st protest in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, against the new pro-Communist education curriculum for public schools there called “National Education”. I learned that though Hong Kongers refused to support communist ideals, their “elected representatives,” handpicked by the Chinese government, always voted in favor of the Communist Party. However, these same government officials sent their children to international schools or boarding schools abroad, so the new curriculum wouldn’t even apply to them.

Hong Kong has always felt like a second home to me. Though I’ve never visited mainland China due to barring political reasons, my parents and I return to Hong Kong almost every year to spend time with my father’s side of the family. The Hong Kong I’ve always known is a true metropolis, with vendors and shoppers who keep the avenues upbeat, sizzling dim sum at noisy yum cha tables, an extremely efficient public transportation system, and pollution that makes for dirty air and colorful sunsets. At home, in California, my dad would listen to political podcasts, news radio, and talk shows concerning current affairs in Hong Kong and I would always listen. I would have weekly Skype conversations with my father’s side of the family there, who would keep me updated on daily life. I consider much of my childhood to be rooted in Hong Kong and it is quite easily one of my most beloved cities in the world. I care about their politics, system of government, and implications of such because they directly affect people I love. I have a number of younger cousins and some of my older cousins have children whom I’m also very close with and who are subjected to the education laws. The plan for National Education hit very close to home for me. Appalled by the injustice and corruption that riddled the situation, I joined the protest.

That summer of 2012, I got 42 bug bites within the three weeks of time I spent in Hong Kong. Ten of them happened the night of the Causeway Bay protest.  I remember wearing my bright yellow polo t-shirt embroidered with the People’s Power organization logo and echoing whatever shocking slogans were being yelled out via megaphone. The crowd was huge. We started marching in the afternoon and when the night fell, we kept going. The farther we marched, the more police came to “supervise.” Soon enough, we were pushing through what seemed to be a tunnel of law enforcement. I saw officers pulling the members of the crowd who were leading the chanting and dragging them aside to be detained. This only encouraged us to shout louder and stomp faster, yet all void of physical violence. Excited, worried, and pumped with adrenaline, I pushed my way forward, despite my father and cousin’s attempts to restrain me. Near the front, I heard a woman scream and I turned my head to see a can of pepper spray shower various protesters. Other officers followed suit and before I had time to react, I was whisked out of the frenzy by a pair of strong arms.

On the sidewalk, I found myself out of breath, beside a middle-aged couple. They’d pulled me out of the pepper spray scene and waited with me until I found my dad and cousin. My family, relieved, thanked the couple for their care after admonishing me for my recklessness, of course. I’ll never forget what the couple said to my dad. They responded to his gratitude, saying “Of course. We’re all Hong Kongers.”

We’re all Hong Kongers. It is a phrase I’ve heard multiple times since and what I admire most about Hong Kong. A city-state encompassing cultures from all over the world, it’s been tossed back and forth between mainland China and the UK, subjected to laws it doesn’t support and punishment it doesn’t warrant. But the fierce sense of community, identity, and shared regard remains ever so strong. We are all Hong Kongers.

In September of 2014, I woke up to alarming news. Organized protest had broken out in the streets of Central, Hong Kong, in opposition to the infringement of the Basic Law Agreement between China and the UK. The Occupy Central movement grew rapidly, displaying a simple yellow ribbon as their icon, as protesters gathered on the streets day and night for two months in Hong Kong’s financial district with the aim of pressuring the administration to implement universal suffrage as guaranteed by the Hong Kong Basic Law. Again, I was moved by the student and civilian opposition to the government’s brash infringement of a right I and many other Americans take for granted. But even more so, I was moved and awed by the strength and resilience that the Hong Kongers displayed.

Two months of civil disobedience and not one car was lit on fire. Not one window was broken. Not one riot was started. Though police brutality was shocking, the Hong Kongers held their ground. Eventually, police began using tear gas, in the hopes of clearing the streets. Instead of dispesing, protesters brought umbrellas with them. A famous photograph taken of a man standing boldly in street, surrounded by gas, wearing a face mask and raising up two umbrellas was displayed on the cover of TIME. The headline read “The Umbrella Revolution.”

The first week, I was shaken. I spent hours watching the live feed recorded by political organizations on the Internet. I messaged my family members every day to make sure they were okay. I wore yellow every day for a month. I continually shared updates on the protests on social media. My friends and I went around the school explaining the situation in Hong Kong and encouraging students and faculty at my school to share a symbolic gesture of support by tying yellow ribbons to their backpacks. We also encouraged those on Facebook to join the Hong Kong masses by changing their profile pictures to the iconic yellow ribbon. Also online, I would gather and repost firsthand accounts of the police brutality ignored by many media outlets.

One night, I came across a Youtube video. Two police officers had pushed a nonviolent female protester to the ground, assaulting her in the process. I saw my cousin Erica come into the frame and yell at the policemen in defense of the girl. I don’t remember what she said and I’m sure she doesn’t either, but it worked. Finally, they released the girl and walked away while Erica dropped to her knees, shaking and crying.

People talk a lot about being fearless and brave and standing up for what you believe in. But seeing Erica in that video showed me that you don’t have to be fearless to be brave. You don’t have to be fearless to stand up for what you believe in. Courage is not determined by lack of fear. Rather, it is facing fear and not letting it obstruct you from doing what is right. It is looking out for those in your community. It is the spirit of moving mountains. That is what it means to be a Hong Konger.

I sent Erica a message after watching the video, commending her on her courage and selfless act. She simply responded “You’d do the same if you were here.” Her message crosses my mind all the time. To this day, I still find myself wondering if I would have done exactly the same if I had been in her position. I’d like to think that I would have, but the truth is that nobody will ever know because I wasn’t. I am not in her position because I am not her. But that’s okay. We all play different roles in moving the mountains that threaten all of us. I don’t know if I could’ve done what she did. Rather, I do know that I can do what she can’t: use my voice to advocate for her cause.

I am fortunate enough to live in a nation that embraces liberty, social justice, and free speech. Though our political system is far from perfect, though our leaders still have much work to do, and though our country still has so much progress to make, it was founded upon certain freedoms –  freedoms that my family and many others alike have fought and are still fighting for in China. So long as nations deprive their citizens of human rights, I cannot sit back and do nothing.  I must pick up a shovel and start digging.

Having grown up the way I did, a certain appreciation for democracy and activism has always been instilled in me and I’ve noticed that is not always the case for second and third generation Asian immigrants. I was raised Democrat and for a long time, I believed the Democratic Party was a fierce proponent of all human rights. But in recent years, I found that to be contrary. In 2010, Dr. Liu Xiaobo, a world-renowned scholar and leader in the fight for human rights in China was the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. He never received the award because he was in prison and would remain there until his recent death.

In 2010, Congress proposed a new bill that would change the address of the Chinese Embassy in Washington DC, renaming the street after Dr. Liu. It would be a symbolic gesture of support for the human rights campaign in China and a public statement of opposition to unjust political imprisonment. Almost immediately, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement, warning the US not to proceed with the bill, promising “severe consequences” if it did. The Obama administration responded, threatening to veto the bill if Congress did pass it, so the bill ultimately died before approval, while the administration continued to push for Sino-American trade and business relations.

When Liu Xiaobo died in the summer of 2017, due to stage four cancer, which the Chinese government refused to allow treatment for (even after Chancellor Merkel offered German medical care), my mother was a wreck. Dr. Liu was her favorite professor in college. It was from him that she first learned about the notions of free speech, universal suffrage, and an unregulated media. During the civil disobedience movement, he was instrumental in supporting and guiding students. She thought of him not only as an extraordinary teacher, but also as a mentor – someone who inspired her to help move mountains.

While she was sad, I was angry. I felt betrayed and let down. I remembered Obama’s veto threat. I remembered that during the time of Dr. Liu’s imprisonment, Democratic leaders had offered some words of acknowledgement, but hadn’t done a thing to actually support human rights in China. Rather, they stressed business and trade relationships, and when Dr. Liu passed away, disrespected, they were silent. Whereas members of the GOP that I otherwise disagreed with, like Ted Cruz and Rex Tillerson, offered their condolences, regards, and critique of the CCP, not one Democratic leader said a word, just as they didn’t say a word during the Umbrella Movement. I remember thinking “How can a nation supposedly founded upon certain freedoms turn a blind eye when their allies violate those freedoms?” More importantly, how could an administration advocating Hope, Change, and Progress be so quick to bow to a dictatorial country that was vehemently opposed to all of those values?

As a US citizen, I am proud to have been able to support domestic human rights campaigns. I believe that Women’s Rights are human rights. I believe that LGBTQ+ rights are human rights. I believe that Refugee Rights are human rights. And I believe this to be true not only in America, but all over the world. I walk proudly in the Woman’s March on January 20th, just as I stand solemnly at a candlelight vigil on June 4th. I throw my support behind the ACLU, just as I do Amnesty International because I believe that all human rights are human rights and that all violations of such are mountains that must be moved.

Some might assume my involvement in politics and activism is rooted in my family’s history. That may be true, but I have discovered my own passion for human rights and universal suffrage through firsthand experiences and reflection, exploring new means to express support and opposition unique to me, my community, and my generation.

I have thus morphed from the girl whose parents were activists to a girl who is an activist as well, in her own way and for her own reasons. I am more than just a Child of Tiananmen. I am someone with access to basic human rights. I am a proud American citizen. I am a Hong Konger. I am an advocate of human rights both in my home country and abroad. I am a second-generation mountain-mover.

Instead of simply letting Tiananmen Square define me, I have chosen how it will do so, and how I will participate in the movement that is simultaneously my heritage and my passion. So long as the mountains that obstruct humanity exist, the spirit of Tiananmen is still alive and the fight is far from over. So grab your shovels and dig with me because together, as inhabitants of this world, we can move mountains.

Women’s March LA

January 20th, 2018. 1 year of Trump. 1 day of the first government shutdown since 2013. $0.77 paid to women for the $1.00 a man makes for the same work. Over 600,000 reSISTERs and allies took the streets of Los Angeles in protest.

 

I woke up to a blaring alarm clock at 7:00 am this morning and scrambled to put on my bright pink “I Stand With Planned Parenthood” t-shirt. Unfortunately, I arrived at the Claremont train depot just as my Metrolink train took off. Luckily, the LA public transportation system had added to their schedule this Saturday and I only had to wait 20 minutes for the next train to come. Upon arriving at Union Station and taking the Red line to Pershing Square, I was overwhelmed by the number of pink beanies, creative cardboard signs, and graphic slogan t-shirts that filled Hill Street.

 

We listened excitedly as Mayor Eric Garcetti said “Mr. President, you may know how to shut things down, but we know how to light them up. You’ve got your tweets, but we own these streets!”

 

We chanted heartfelt slogans of protest like “Donald Trump is a crook! And he’s never read a book!” and “Show me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!”

 

We cheered to the voices of Kamala Harris, Idina Menzel, Natalie Portman, and Viola Davis onstage.

 

We flooded Pershing Square with energy unparalleled to what I’d ever witnessed before.

 

It was a day of celebration, love, acceptance, and resistance.

 

Above all, I was touched most by the diversity of people present. I saw men and women, young and old, of all different ethnicities, backgrounds, sexual orientations, and walks of life all gathered in solidarity to demand gender equality.

 

Multiple men, young and old, carried signs reading “Men of Quality Do Not Fear Equality.” One little boy hoisted a poster reading “Girls Rule Trump Drools.” One senior citizen on my Metro pointed to a girl’s shirt that read “Still Nasty” and gave her a thumbs-up, saying “I love that. You go.”

 

On the streets, the females chanted “My body, My choice!”, while the men responded “Their body, Their choice!”

 

At one point, Hispanic men and women began chanting “Sí, se puede!”

 

Older women carried posters that read “I march so that my daughter won’t have to.”

 

Younger girls wore shirts that read “I fight like a girl.”

 

A teenage girl raised a hand-made sign that displayed “This one’s for my immigrant mom.”

 

In the midst of a divided world, seeing the spirit of alliance and harmony allowed a glimmer of hope to reenter my heart. It’s easy to get caught up in the walls that disconnect us and the destruction we cause and suffer from, but moments like these – participating in a global movement – reminds us that what we’re fighting for is worth all the disappointment and hatred we encounter along the way.

 

This isn’t just a celebrity award show that pundits like Tomi Lahren and Sean Hannity can discredit as empty back-patting and sycophant words that don’t actually impact change. This was a statement from hundreds of thousands of men and women worldwide, making it clear that we will no longer stand for gender inequality. We no longer stand for misogyny. We no longer stand for sexism. We no longer stand for sexual harassment and abuse of power. We no longer stand for an unequal wage gap. We refuse to fight one another for the limited number of female seats at the table. We demand a larger and proportional table. And together, we have the numbers. We will show up to the voting booths, just as we showed up in the streets, and we will vote our statements into law.

 

Time is Up. We have made our voices heard and we will continue to do so until gender equality is achieved. The fight has just begun.

 

Watch my Women’s March vlog!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q0ap9TgtsvY

 

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Liu XiaoBo – Unerasable

While Chinese censors are anxiously scrubbing away at social media content, the world continues to mourn for Liu Xiabo. At 61, Xiabo died due to late-stage cancer in his liver. The Chinese government that had imprisoned him for two decades released news of his sickness only days before his death. During the G20 summit, world leaders such as Chancellor Merkel offered repeatedly to hospitalize and attempt to treat Liu. Their offers were coldly turned down. Professor Liu passed away on Thursday, July 13th, 2017.

An emphatic dissident, political prisoner, and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Professor Liu died a martyr’s death: an ending most governments would hope to abate for its enemies. After all, allowing your opponents to die for what they believe in not only makes them appear stronger and justified, but makes the leadership appear cruel and unjust. History has shown this to be true, through the cases of William Wallace, Joan of Arc, Socrates, and others alike. If anything, these examples have proved that martyrdom does not silence a cause, but instead, propels it forward. It strikes a match within those who have not been moved to take a stand and burns even heavier in the hearts of those who have. Leaders from all around the world, from as early as King Henry of France and Queen Mary of Scotland, have learned to prevent their enemies from becoming martyrs. So why did the Chinese government allow Professor Liu to die a hero – a martyr? To answer this question, we must trace back centuries into the roots of Chinese history.

The “People’s Republic Of” China, as we know it, was not always a Communist regime. For dynasties, (Shang, Zhou, Qin, Han, Sui, Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming, Qing) it was a tyrannical one, ruled by emperors and kings who would pass their titles down to their progeny until leadership grew weak and rulers were overthrown or conquered. Strong, vicious rulers like Shi Huangdi maintained order and obedience in their realms by imposing fear in the hearts of their subjects. Shi burned thousands of earlier books he deemed politically dangerous. By the way, ‘politically dangerous’ usually meant the texts featured benevolent and gracious rulers, who the emperor didn’t want citizens to compare him to. It is also known that he buried hundreds of Confucian scholars alive because he viewed their “rulers have a responsibility towards citizens” philosophy as a threat as well. The damage ensued by this destruction of intellect and knowledge is inestimable. It may as well have erased thousands of years of culture and academia.

What does Shi Huangdi have to do with Liu Xiabo? Not much, some might think. But as the first true Chinese emperor (as many consider him to be), Shi Huangdi set a precedent that many following him would emulate, for centuries to come.

Many Westerners find it hard to understand just how powerful ancient Chinese rulers were. That is because they compare such reigns to those of Western figures. For example, in European courts, kings (and unmarried queens) were heads of their states, however, they did not possess true ultimate power. Many looked to Rome for religious influence and aid, especially before the Protestantism spread. Others were often limited by the beliefs and stances of their nobles, as seen in French courts. Nearly if not all of them were required to follow some sort of legal process of the justice system before condemning enemies to any type of punishment. One way or another, these leaders were beholden to their citizenry. Even in a court so corrupt as King Henry VIII of England’s, trials were held against political prisoners, even if evidence and testimony had to be falsified to condemn them. This was not at all the case in ancient China. Whereas western rulers were accepted to be appointed and blessed by God himself, Chinese rulers were thought to be God in human form. They did not have to provide reason for killing their subjects, much less providing lesser punishment. They were not beholden to the same rules, regulations, and laws of their realms.

And thus, a political culture of utmost obedience of the people to the government was born. Those in charge felt they could subject the commons to whatever they saw fit, without question. And so, when the communist party took control of China in 1949, its leadership assumed total control. Chairman Mao Zedong famously said something along the lines of “Shi Huangdi only killed 460 scholars. We killed 4,600.” Yeah, fun. The Communist Party also proceeded to rid its realm of ‘rightists’ and right-wing content of any sort. Such political philosophies were considered treasonous. Even after Mao’s death and the slight opening-up of China to the rest of the world, human rights are still out of the question. False propaganda imbue the daily lives of the Chinese citizenry. Those who marched in the 1989 Tiananmen Square Demonstration were massacred, mowed down by government tanks. Peaceful proponents of a a fair judicial system, free market, and uncensored media, such as Liu Xiaobo were attacked and imprisoned, labeled traitors. The firewall went up and continues to erase and block content from the lives of almost 1.4 billion people every day, just as Shi and Mao destroyed texts in their respective eras.

So with all this in mind, it’s understandable why a Communist China does not fear Liu Xiabo’s martyrdom. With the tools in hand to essentially blind their citizenry to any potential threat and the unwavering support of the supposedly greatest proponent of democracy in the world, China has little to fear. The United States government, while lamenting the undeserving death of Professor Liu, has not severed any ties with the realm. In fact, in the wake of Liu’s death, President Trump has proudly announced that the ban on American beef has been lifted in China, furthering US-China trade. Many have also spoken out against former President Obama for his promise to veto Senator Ted Cruz’s measure, which proposed naming the street in front of the Chinese Embassy after Professor Liu, in an effort to take a stance against Communist China’s denial of human rights to its citizenry. In other words, the USA has given China it’s A-OK to proceed.

That’s why the Chinese government allowed Liu Xiaobo to become a martyr. That’s why they ignore the #FreeLiuXia protestors, keeping Liu Xiaobo’s wife under house arrest for no other crime than being his loving wife. They think they have no reason to be afraid. They think they can hide the dissent and opposition and are likely erasing this article from millions of servers in this moment. They think they can silence us.

Are they correct?

You decide.

5 Books You Need to Read Before You Graduate High School

As you might have gathered, I’m a sucker for good writing. An avid reader, I think good literature is key to understanding the world and the people in it. I’ve read a fair number of books throughout high school, some of which have resonated with me more than others have. With just under 2 months left of high school, I’ve decided to compile a list of 5 books that I would recommend every highschooler read before they graduate.

Oh and as for any book, I would definitely recommend reading from a tangible text, but in case that is not an option, I’ve included links to pdfs for all of the books.

5. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

This book was probably one of the first I had read about Afghanistan, so it definitely enlightened me about the culture, especially the religious and political turmoil there. The book is fiction, but many aspects of the book are derived from Hosseini’s actual experiences, as someone who fled Soviet-imbued Afghanistan. The stark imagery and chilling details contribute to a reverberating story. The symbolism in this novel is also heavy, which is always a penchant for me. Personally, I love symbolism and when it is utilized well in literature, I automatically am more captivated by the text. The book does break hearts, but leaves readers emotional yet inspired, as it ends on an extremely hopeful note. Please read.

4. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Although the book is as dismal as its title insinuates, I was compelled by the Capote’s take on the plot. Instead of simply reporting on the murder and its repercussions, Capote takes a controversial stance. He digs into the pasts of the murderer, analyzing what led him to kill, ultimately revealing a soft side of him. Influencing an audience to understand and even sympathize with a murderer is neither easy nor universally condoned but Capote accomplishes it. This unconventional approach to such a story was fascinating and it inspired me to also stray from the orthodox in my own writing in the hopes of shedding light on important yet often ignored ideas. Most importantly it showed me that sometimes, the most interesting and worthwhile stories are hidden in the obscurity of the atypical. Oh and by the way, In Cold Blood is a true story. Happy reading!

3. The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

I read this book during the summer before my sophomore year, a period during which I was quite aware of my insecurities and lack of confidence. A book about a young 2nd generation immigrant boy’s struggle to discover and make peace with his identity, The Namesake really struck a chord with me. I could completely relate to Gogol – feeling lost, unbelonging, and ashamed. Seeing his journey of self-acceptance over the span of decades really inspired and guided me to forge my own similar path. Overall, this novel is beautiful, intricate, and highly symbolic (again, I’m a sucker for that stuff). Jhumpa Lahiri is my favorite author of all time and I would actually recommend all of her works to anyone in search of a good read.

2. I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb

I’m pretty sure everyone knows who Malala Yousafzai is but just in case you don’t, she is a young girl from the Swat Valley who was shot by the Taliban because she wanted to go to school. Her autobiography details her culture, upbringing, and heroism. It not only tells her story, but that of her country and the injustice and violence that has swept the Middle East. Inspiring and eye-opening, I am Malala will make you feel guilty for everything you have ever taken for granted, especially the right to education.

1.  Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Throughout the novel, Gladwell discusses the concept of success and some of the arbitrary and often unrecognized factors which allow some people to rise to high success, becoming outliers in their fields. The depth reached in this book is achieved through examining the roots and elements of different scenarios and the research and analysis presented in this book is unlike that of anything I’d ever read. In searching beneath the surfaces of facts that most people just accept, Gladwell analyzes the unsuspecting components and criteria that can determine and explain success.

Tomi Silenced – MY final thoughts

If you’re on the Internet, you probably know Tomi Lahren, outspoken conservative talk show host of “Tomi” on The Blaze. She is best known for the Final Thoughts segment on her show, which can be viewed on TheBlaze.com or her public Facebook page.

Tomi has grown to become an Internet sensation, branding herself as someone who is not afraid to speak her truth, despite how unpopular it may be. She has continually dissented against Colin Kaepernick, Hollywood, Black Lives Matter, liberals in general, and #NeverTrump Republicans. She has proudly declared herself a conservative (although she also has said she’s a millenial who doesn’t like labels but that is beside the point for this article) and many see her as the face of young Republicans.

Basically, Tomi and her opinions were strongly embraced by the right end of the political spectrum for a long time…until this week. During a  guest session on The View, Tomi explained her reasoning for being pro-choice, saying that as a constitutionalist and a supporter of limited government, she felt it wasn’t appropriate for the government to tell women what they could or could not do to their bodies. According to Tomi, taking any other stance would make her a hypocrite.

Apparently, The Blaze’s executives didn’t appreciate Tomi’s honest opinion because they silenced her from the show and according to Internet discussion (which can be less than reliable) are considering cutting her segment altogether.

To be honest, I laughed. Because for a network whose executives, hosts, guests, and viewers so ferociously launch tirades against liberal ‘snowflakes’ who apparently antagonize and exclude those who do not share their beliefs, that’s a pretty hypocritical move. When your speakers are preaching day and night about the 1st Amendment and how we might not agree with what someone has to say but we should respect their right to say it and then you move to silence someone who expressed a belief unpopular among conservatives, that is hypocrisy at its finest. Ironically, it’s why Tomi said she was pro-choice at all – because she didn’t want to be a hypocrite.

So yes, I never thought I’d say this but I stand with Tomi Lahren. I might not agree with her political philosophy and beliefs (in fact, I strongly disagree on those premises), but I agree with her right to express them, using whatever platform she wants. I support and respect her choosing to speak and defend her truth as well as maintain her consistency. The best part is, I’m not the only one who feels this way. People from all over the political spectrum (especially the left!) have been supporting Tomi Lahren during her forced TV silence. The Daily Show host Trevor Noah defended her in one of his broadcasts this week and Twitter users have been expressing their support in her replies.

Tomi recognized this in a recent tweet.

2017-03-22

Yes, Tomi. It does feel good to know that women, like I, who may disagree with you on almost everything, can put those differences aside to support you when we know you are right. It’s almost like we can be understanding. Tolerant. Reasonable. Respectful.

Liberals.

 

Where I’m From

A poem about identity

I am from voices chanting in the street

Songs of revolution, cries of despair.

I am from political protest and peril

Footsteps in sync, signs thrusting in the air

I’m from an unlikely couple

Who discovered true love in a period of unrest

Fleeing a communist China, seeking refuge in the West

I am from they who started at the bottom, yet have climbed to the top

Through whose sweat, blood, and tears gave me all they never got

I’m from a three bedroom home in suburban LA

From a never-ending drought and cars zooming by all day

I’m from a school of two thousand

Most of whom look like me

Whose parents also ventured from afar

To the land of the free

I am joined with others in Him, through Sundays in the pews

My quadralingual story known only by few

I am from the Goddess of Democracy who instilled in me

An innermost passion for justice and liberty

I am from books whose fiction triggered creativity

Inspiring me to jot down my whimsical stories

I’m from notebook paper stamped with Hello Kitty detailing

Which morphed into Word documents saved on my desktop PC

I am from picture books and chapter books

From Aesop’s Fables to Fitzgerald

And later, scribbling away on my own

I am from preschool piano, bubbling with excitement at age four.

Feet dangling from the bench, barely reaching the pedal

I am from local studio recitals at my nearby church

To concerts in Prague’s castles, before an international crowd.

I am from years of sore fingers tapping both sorts of keyboards

Separate mediums for catharsis of all sorts.

I am from a salad bowl of culture

Of roots stemming back centuries.

I’m from historical tragedies larger than anything I’ve ever seen.

From an immigrant couple achieving the American Dream

Who waited until they prospered to then beget me.

But I’m also from choices I’ve made for myself.

From mistakes that I’ve made and the cards that I’ve dealt.

I’m from hobbies and interests unique to just me.

I’m from the place I was born, but also all the other places I’ve been.

From Europe and Asia, the sky and the sea

Where I go and what I see inspires whom I want to be.

Hamilton the Musical: My thoughts

Warning: this article includes heavy use of Hamilton references. 

How does a bastard, orphan, son of whore and a Scotsman dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by Providence impoverished in squalor turn out to be the best musical to have been ever brought to Broadway?

If you know me, you know that I am completely obsessed with Hamilton the Musical. It’s a Broadway musical that tells the life story of Alexander Hamilton and the American experiment. Hamilton is not a traditional musical, as it incorporates contemporary styles of music, such as rap, British punk, and hip hop. Basically, it fuses together the three things I love most: history, music, and beautiful writing, so it’s no surprise that I have been swept into the Hamilton craze. Oh and also, it’s race-blind. The cast consists of people of all ethnicities so yes, GW is African American. So is Angelica Schuyler. And Aaron Burr. Lin-Manuel Miranda (the composer and star) explains that Hamilton is a story about “America then told by America today”. Pretty freaking brilliant, if you ask me.

Favorite songs include:

You’ll be Back, Yorktown, Schuyler Sisters, Satisfied, Wait for It, Election of 1800, Cabinet Battle #1, and Cabinet Battle #2.

No particular order.

Perhaps one of the best characteristics of Hamilton, though, is that it is very inspiring. It shows the rise of a man who was born into poverty and low social standing, but managed to become a hero and a scholar. It shows the difficulties our country faced in its early stages and the people who fought to work through them. It is the story of someone obsessed with his legacy, who made mistakes, who suffered through his character flaws, and who helped set the groundwork for our nation.

Alexander Hamilton embodies courage, confidence, ambition, justice, intelligence, as well as arrogance and worry. Hamilton knew that above all, he wanted to be remembered. He wanted the world to know his name. He wanted to leave a legacy and he was willing to do anything to make that happen. And for that, I am inspired by him. I want the same things he does and I think that inherently, all people do. Perhaps that is why the musical is so well-received. Alexander Hamilton is the epitome of the American dream: an immigrant who made his way to the top and continued to fight for those at the bottom. And if the ten-dollar founding father without a father can achieve the American Dream by working a lot harder, being a lot smarter, by being a self-starter then so can you. At least that’s what Lin-Manuel Miranda is trying to convince you of.

I think that many of Hamilton’s ideals are still relevant today  (@DonaldTrump please listen to the soundtrack and rethink your campaign. Actually, you live in NY so you should really go see the musical. You, of all people, can afford it.) Immigrants are not lice upon society. Our nation was built by immigrants, quite literally. Hamilton, a founding father, was born out of wedlock in the Caribbean. Marquis de Lafayette was a French general who America could not have won the war without. In fact, every person in the musical is a immigrant because it doesn’t feature Native Americans. So all the despicability about immigrants as social and financial parasites needs to end. Also! Women’s rights! I’m perplexed as to why it is 2016 and women still make 77 cents to the dollar a man makes, even when they have the same positions and qualifications.It’s crazy that the ERA, started by Alice Paul DECADES AGO still hasn’t been passed. ??????????? no.

Alexander Hamilton, Angelica Schuyler, and George Washington would not be proud. So @AMERICA please… let’s do something about it. Do not throw away your shot because after all, History has its eyes on you.  I’m not sorry for the puns and references. Please go listen to the soundtrack. Also, the show is coming to Pantages this August-December so if you want to buy me a ticket, please do it. Please.

Soundtrack links:

Spotify:

Youtube:

 

 

Summer Sixteen

 

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Alas, September is here. And that means summer is officially over. Over. Well at least in California it is. I hear on the East Coast, they don’t start until after Labor Day. Am I jealous? Maybe just a little.

This summer was beyond extraordinary. Yes, I’ve been saying that every summer since 2014, but in my defense, each one just keeps getting better. I had the amazing opportunity to attend Stanford University’s High School Summer college this summer and I could not have asked for a better 8 weeks. Before I left, many wrinkled their noses at me and asked why I chose to take more school during my no-school period. Well, yes I did go to school, but that’s really not at all just it.

First of all, I got to live on the most beautiful campus. From the moment I stepped onto the Farm, I was entranced, but as I was able to explore more and more parts of Stanford, I fell in love. It wasn’t just the weather, which by the way, is so beautifully unreal. It wasn’t just the gorgeous palm trees, cool breeze, or intricate buildings. I fell in love with the vibe, the culture, the people, and the way of life.

I was lucky enough to be stuck with a group of amazingly talented and interesting people, with diverse backgrounds and bright minds. We quickly became a family and formed friendships stronger than most I have held for years.

I was lucky enough to choose from a wide selection of courses and take classes that I would not otherwise have been able to. Who knew I was into etymology and classics? Not me, until I enrolled in Greek and Latin Roots of English. I thought I knew what fiction was. Apparently not because I was introduced to a whole new way of writing, reading, and thinking when I took a Fiction Writing workshop class. Both classes were taught and taken by charismatic, intelligent, and creative people. I learned much from my professors, but also from my classmates. Never had I been so excited to attend class or participate in discussions. Never had I been so intellectually stimulated. Never had I found a space where I was so interested and comfortable in academics. Were the classes difficult? At times, yes, but the challenges were all part of the thrill and I learned to appreciate them.

Most importantly, I was lucky enough to be a part of a community culture that respected diversity and tolerance. Where people from all around the globe could gather and learn from and with one another, some (like me) for the summer, and others, for years. Where learning didn’t just happen inside the classroom, but outside of it. Where I learned that many of my beliefs and views were not inclusive of the whole picture. Where listening to other people’s experiences and thoughts fed my own and helped me to understand things just a little bit more from their perspectives.

And in the end, I concede, it was very difficult to say goodbye to the new family we had just formed, but the sweetness counter-weighed the bitterness. August 13th and 14th marked the weekend I cried for almost 48 consecutive hours saying my goodbyes. As my car pulled away from the curb for the last time, I honestly thought I felt my heart break. As I boarded my flight, I felt a sinking in my stomach and had my eyes not already been swollen and puffy (seriously, my mom thought I had pinkeye when I got home) I would’ve let it all pour out again.

I’m a crier. It’s not something I’ve been able to control because when I get emotionally attached, I can rarely hold back the stream so it’s what I’ve just accepted. But I’m also a lover and I can say from the bottom of my heart that this summer has been finding new ways, things, ideas, and people to love. More than I expected and more than I signed up for.

So thanks, summer sixteen. For the ride, the lessons, and the memories. It was wonderful.