Cultural Awareness & Diversity Discussed At Google Hangout Session With #NotYourAsianSidekick

Despite the initial technical difficulties (with Suey Parker giving updates on Twitter), the panelist from various Asian Pacific Islander (API) communities held an hour-long conversation on cultural awareness and activism.

PaKou Her lead the discussion and read Twitter questions during the Google Hangout session.

PaKou Her lead the discussion and read Twitter questions during the Google Hangout session.

PaKou Her, campaign director 18MillionRising, lead the discussion and asked questions via Twitter using the #NotYourAsianSidekick hashtag.

Also featured in the Hangout were Tanzila Ahmed, Miriam Yeung, Soya Jung, Kristina Wong, and Suey Park, the creator of the popular hashtag that started this movement back in December 2013.

The panel talked about what was most potent about the emergence of #NotYourAsianSidekick.

Suey Park said it was the “potential power of collective action” that really inspired her. The hashtag created a safe space online for Asian Americans to feel empowered and want to create change in how APIs are perceived in America.

Executive director of NAPAWF Miriam Yeung also added, “We need a safe space to regroup in order to do the outside coalition work. Gather our strength and courage…to the hard work on the streets.”

Taz Ahmed mentioned the similarities between #NotYourAsianSidekick and the hashtag #MulismRage, which Muslims on Twitter took and reappropriated to challenge Islamophobia.

There was also discussion on how to take the #NotYourAsianSidekick movement from a grassroots project into actual change in the country through activism and organizing.

“[We need to] reframe what mobilizing means,” Kristina Wong said. Throughout the conversation, Wong advocated for individuals to reframe the space they are given and claim it as their own, including when others see you as the “token” Asian. If you draw attention to it, you can find a way to challenge how others perceive you. “Turn every space to a space to create.”

Coming from a voter campaign organizer perspective, Taz Ahmed stressed the importance of intergenerational activism, with older activists training younger activists.

“[We] need to train young people in campaigns and organizing to take what they’re empowered with,” Ahmed said.

On that same note, Suey Park talked about remembering the people who came before our generation and provided the information through education and research. The Asian-American movement didn’t just start now.

“We’ve been trending before twitter,” Park said.

In the Q&A segment of the Hangout, media representation was brought up especially since the recent How I Met Your Mother aired this week and featured its cast in yellowface. The panel discussed how pop culture can be used to make political statements in regards to the Asian-American community.

This scene was supposed to be part of one of How I Met Your Mother's ongoing gags between Marshall and Barney. So the cast did yellowface to illustrate.

This scene was supposed to be part of one of How I Met Your Mother’s ongoing gags between Marshall and Barney. So the cast did yellowface to illustrate.

Viral videos, such as the Desi Vote Spelling Bee campaign, are an engaging way to address younger voters. But the panel also stressed how Asian Americans need to start telling their own stories.

“It had to start with self-identity,” Miriam Yeung said. “Not your Asian sidekick—well, who are you?”

Kristina Wong added that it’s “us giving us the power to start” change.

Taz Ahmed used her own identity as a Muslim woman as an example.

“We’re told from the outside who we are,” Ahmed said. “But on the inside, we’re also told we’re supposed to be the perfect Muslim woman. [We’re] attacked on both ends. How do we define our narratives?”

Soya Jung, who entered the Google Hangout in the middle, talked about how the U.S. news and political coverage also influences the perception of Asian Americans, who are underrepresented and misrepresented.

“We have the opportunity to fill that void,” Jung said.

The discussion turned to the different narratives for women of color, and how Asian American feminists can connect with other women struggling with different but similar issues through solidarity building

“Women of Color is not just this label,” Suey Park said. “[It’s] a political identity you choose with intention.”

Taz Ahmed talked about those labels in how it affected her as a campaign organizer.

“I started what I wanted to do as a South Asian,” she said. But there were so many categories she identified with: South Asian, Mulism, person of color, Asian American.

But, she said, “the terms are fluid. You need fluidity in how you communicate and organize.”

The panelist agreed they are excited that millennials want to make significant change for Asian Americans. The issue is knowing how and where to start.

“There is not enough of us,” Miriam Yeung said, commenting on how most Asian American programs are underresourced. “We need more lift, we need more amplification.”

In a response to a Twitter question asking how to get involved, the unanimous answer was to start anywhere. Most states have an Asian-American association or program advocating for change. Miriam Yeung talked about making connections with existing organizations or finding opportunities to start new chapters for your own community.

Suey Park shared how she found her voice in the movement.

“Writing can be really empowering to tell our stories instead of others telling them for us,” she said. Park encourage more writing, and mentioned how the {young}ist got her started in writing her own experiences.

Taz Ahmed also mentioned the upcoming elections.  

“It’s prime time to get involved in electoral politics,” she said.

When asked who inspired them in their work and why, everyone on the panel said, “My mother.”

Suey Park talked about growing up how her parents “experienced a lot of racism, and they were never able to scream and shout about it.” She now wants to build upon the experiences of the generation before her who did not have the freedom to speak out but instead assimilated to survive.

PaKou Her promised a second Google Hangout in a couple weeks, with updates given via Twitter and on the #NotYourAsianSidekick website.

 If you missed the session or just want to share with your friends, you can find it here on YouTube! 

Jennifer Babu

Jennifer Babu is the editor-in-chief of Videshi Magazine. She's a film & TV addict, and suffers from sleep deprivation (self-inflicted). Follow her on twitter @jenibabu.

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