I Am Not Vietnamese By Jennii Vo Le

Celebrate Asian American Month by PRESSING PLAY!

I’ll be crying everyday this month with tears of happiness, frustration, anger, affirmation, and found in these spaces that I use to feel… displaced.



I’m Not Afraid

As I grow older and yes wiser!, I’m loving my 30’s, because I’m truly becoming and knowing how I am. And have more control about what I want in my life and not. I’ve been thinking a lot about the relationships in my life whether family, friends, and romantic interests. I want to have more intentional, meaningful, and present conversations, touches, acknowledgements, and interactions with the many different types of people,  relationships in my life. There are parts of my life shifting, and being shaped with old and new knowledge, desires, wants… that are also remembered of what I don’t desire and want.

It’s been five years that I’ve been deconstructing gender, and sexuality in my experience in the Hetero-patriarch Hmong, and Western cultural values. And since two and a half years ago, deconstructing homo-normative, and I’m much more happier and free outside of those two boxes.

I had another deep conversation with my great activist and organizer, Hmong queer friend yesterday about this. And I woke up today with collected, affirmed thoughts of my experiences, and naming why I am still boxed by people;  people who support the wellbeing of people.

Hetero-patriarch and homo-normative relationship dynamics & marriage values are not what I’m about.

Additionally insulting and saddening when hetero-patriarch, and homo normative supposedly pro-“feminist or queer” who are fam and friends continuously do these… Because you know, they got love and relationship all figured out for the rest of their lives with the “that’s just the way things are” kind of ignorance:

1) Romanticize you in a relationship, because they can’t seem to come to terms in valuing you beyond half a human being unless “your other half” is there glued to your side.

2) Won’t spend time with you and it seems like all of a sudden they don’t know how to function with you unless you’re partnered.

3) Make you a threat to their relationship, because of their own relationship insecurities.

4) Your life hasn’t started yet because you don’t got a marriage.

5) Here, can you take care of all these things because you have a lot of time on your hands with not being married and all.

6) You’re over 30, no one will marry you.

7) It’s taboo to be attracted or in relationship with someone of the same Hmong last name, and double taboo if you’re both same-gender, and sex.

8) Poly—what?! Then hyper-sexualize, slut shame, and throws down hetero & homo-normative values with a side of repeat 1-6.




When White Progressive Do 1:1 With Me

This happened to me this week. It’s election year, and White progressives need Hmong American (and Communities of Color) votes and labor which also ends up using our Emotional Labor. So I was hesitant to do this 1:1, but decided to go with setting boundaries in not doing any emotional labor, and solving White people’s problems on race and ethnicity in political organizing and outreach.

More often then my emotional labor can take by the typical White progressive and liberal identified people in leadership positions in any political or social campaign and Institution of White Supremacy,”Yes, we/I want to KNOW and HOW TO, work with Hmong people, and People of Color… and with Race aside… we all struggle the same…” I was about to flip the caribou table over, but I’d be shattering my boundary I set for myself. So I listened and reinsert the problem is not the same, because in White people families and institutions, political engagement and access have always been there, because, and 1) the lack of funding and the requirements of how funding is fundamentally used, in which only benefits White people organizing. 2) the White Organizing model does not work for the Hmong American Community based on my 5 years of organizing, and it’s not the end results that count, but the 2 or 4 times emotional and physical labor People of Color Organizers have to go through to help their community yet end up helping the White Supremacy of progressive – liberals win their campaign filled with good intentions, but violent impact where they are not around to experience. Again and again, White Privilege where White people can just walk away from the violence they created 3) and even organizing in Communities of Color and ethnic differ; which has a lot to do with: immigration status, class, language, historical political power, Nonprofit Industrial Complex, and so forth.

Time and time again, White people suffer from White Supremacy and privilege that for example, this very intelligent, political savvy-strategist White person can talk about People of Color as problems, and then whitening out our conversation by setting race (experiences and Communities of Color) aside to normalize Whiteness as not the problem. This person could not even say White Supremacy nor privilege, sure this language is not used in the Political or Nonprofit Industrial Complex, but damn, this White person had a frustrating time, could not even say White people instead, “people… people who… look like me.”

White people are suffering from White Supremacy and privilege. The cure like all other illness is in steps, which is to first admit that in your White Progressive – liberal values lies deep roots of White Supremacy and privilege that causes the “problems” in Communities of Color, not the other way around.

Oh and White conservatives, Right Wing, and teabaggers… I/we see you too.

Am I Asian American or am I a feminist? On sports culture and white feminism.

ImageI still haven’t seen Linsanity, but I want to since I’ve been thinking about Asian American masculinity and sports culture. Lin seems like a positive kind of guy, not given to egoism or the kind of hypermasculine posturing that sometimes characterizes pro sports.

I went to school with this one guy. He played on the football team, wore collar-popped polo shirts, and played beer pong. What you’d commonly call a bro. He also said some sexist things and sent me awkward Facebook messages a few times. I found out he sent awkward messages to some of my friends, too. Whenever I saw him coming, I had to avoid eye contact and hope he didn’t say anything. He had the habit of coming into my space and saying “Hi!!” when I least expected it, or just staring. In general I found him pretty annoying.

He also happened to be Asian American. The white feminists at our school hated him. And they referred to him not by name, but only as “Asian Bro.”

I remember overhearing a group of white women giggling in the locker room, laughing at Asian Bro behind his back. I found my friend Emily and pulled her aside. “Did you hear that?” I hissed. She shook her head, yes, she did.

We stared down the other women as we left the locker room. I didn’t like the guy, but I was pissed. I also felt a little confused. I thought I didn’t like guys like that? Much less defend them? Am I a feminist or am I Asian American?

Am I critical of a masculinity that measures self worth in competitive sports and excessive drinking? That relies on male supremacy and heteronormativity? That assumes the sexual availability of female-performing bodies? Yes. No matter what kind of person is performing or enforcing it.

I am critical of Asian American masculinity that assimilates to white American ideals of manhood. This is not to say similar elements of masculinity are not also facets of Asian cultures. But I am referring to the particular conflation of American brands, sports culture, drinking games, and male hegemony that is privileged in white American patriarchy.

But I am also critical of white feminists who leave no space for men of color trying to navigate masculinity within white supremacy. “Asian Bro”–let’s call him Alex, to humanize him a bit. Alex was superlative in the way he performed straight, mainstream American masculinity. However, he was not alone. He just stood out on our relatively small, bookish, lefty campus. He stood out ten times more because he was Asian American. And the white feminists were incredibly open in the way they mocked him.

It’s not just that he was Asian American and bro-y. If he tried that much harder, was that much straighter, better at sports, aggressive with women, it was not an accident. It is one pretty reasonable reaction to being a straight Asian man in America. The unspoken tension the white feminists had with him, the reason they were allowed to laugh at him, was because the joke was ultimately on him. They might find him distasteful because he was trying really hard to emulate an unpalatable form of masculinity, but he was also worthy of their disdain because he would never achieve it. Asian American masculinity is never allowed to be hegemonic under white supremacy.

And feminism that mocks men of color based on their inability to live a white ideal of masculinity is not feminism at all.

Wishing some solidarity with Kim Nguyen.

Trigger warning: Sexual violence, police violence

I was heartsick and angry on hearing about Kim Nguyen’s assault by the LAPD. I was hesitant to post this reaction, lest I re-create and interpret someone else’s trauma. As a friend eloquently pointed out in this reaction: http://surnameviet.tumblr.com/post/73385489817, she has her own story to tell. Which  she is. You can hear part of the interview here:



But like all hate crimes, this assault and the conversation around it send a powerful message. The media is using the word “negligence” to describe the officers’ actions. That is one unacceptable message I felt deeply compelled to respond to.

The willful senselessness to human suffering it takes to ignore someone resisting your act of sexual violence is so far beyond negligent. So far beyond that calling their actions “negligence” does further violence, in my mind.

So I wrote, with the thought in mind that she is alive and faced with the long road ahead of courtrooms and re-traumatizing retellings, but also-maybe-i-pray, of resistance and resilience.


For the Real Kim Nguyen

I want you to know,

I saw it, and didn’t see it, and saw it.

I imagine details:

The girl pushing past you on your way out,

The thousand glass reflections of you behind the bar,

The handful of bored, ambivalent drunks staring

As they pulled you into the car.

I imagine the inside of their heads.

They said it was negligence that “caused her to tumble out of the vehicle”

It was negligence that pulled the vehicle to the side of the road.

Negligence that looks at human life and sees

something else,

Something was not human that night.

I do not care to recount the imagined

Assault itself,

Because enough people will do that.

Do not care to recount their touch.

Though your skin was warm,

Negligence did not know, did not care to understand,

That warmth conveyed life, or that

The life in your flesh was not made less precious by


Short skirts

High Heels

The company of men

The late hour

The street

Your race

Your name

Your body

The ease with which they stopped, slipped you into the backseat–


Negligence does not care to understand that none of these things made you disposable.

Their anger? Greed? Power?


Or perhaps, frighteningly,


Sense of invincibility,


Whatever allowed them to be so negligent

Does not negate your life.

For the negligent ones:

This is the story of Kim Nguyen.

The heroine

Takes a desperate plunge.

To save herself, no less.

She will get out alive, uncompromised.

But you drove her there, to the edge

In a car with blue lights, blue shirts, badge.

She saves herself.

You do not save her, though you could have

Easily. It is not hard

To look back at the road,

Think of your family,

Or of the starless night,

Keep driving.

But instead

You drove her there


David Mura’s Famous Suicides of the Japanese Empire, and the Spaces that Precede Media

In deep conversation with the brilliant Linda Hawj, I started reflecting on how we come to media, and the spaces it opens to us. After all, I was someone who grew up being one of the only Asian American kids in school, and didn’t find either the spaces or media to describe my experience until I was older. Part of my desire to do this POC media challenge is, in some part, a desire to go back and redo those years. To have conversations that different media might have helped me have.

I originally was going to write about how David Mura’s Famous Suicides of the Japanese Empire opened up a new space for conversation around personal history and the Japanese American experience in my family. It helped me connect with my father. It’s strange, the Japanese American community is a couple generations away from internment, and yet this is one of the first pieces of literature I’ve read that deal directly with it. (Perhaps not so strange. A lot of internees wanted to move on with their lives; a lot of American readers and publishers were probably not demanding stories about internment).

Originally, I wanted to talk about how hearing narratives like our own (or our families’) lets us reflect on our lives. Mura explores the generational trauma that came as a result of the war and internment. Specifically, the main character believes his father was a No-No boy, one of the Japanese American men who, when asked to sign papers renouncing allegiance to the emperor of Japan and agreeing to serve in the American armed forces, checked “no” to both. Last year, when we moved my grandmother into an assisted living facility, we found the documents my grandfather signed. He had signed “yes, no.” So, he renounced loyalty to the emperor of Japan (my grandfather was a US citizen, born in Hawai’i), but refused to fight in the American armed forces. He’s no longer here to ask about it, so we imagined that he was too Buddhist to fight. Instead he taught Japanese to American GIs, but not to his own son. He’s been gone almost twenty years and we can’t really know how to interpret his actions.

After my dad read the book, I asked him about it. He told me this wasn’t an easy or fun read for him.

“I wanted answers, and I didn’t get any.”

“What kind of answers?” I asked. My dad thought for a minute.

“Answers to questions that I haven’t yet answered for myself, that my generation hasn’t.”

But he passed the book back to me, because he knew I wanted to read it. “I thought we all could read it,” he said.

In reflecting about all this, I realized the media wouldn’t have come to us without a space preceding it. The truth is, while the book did create space in my family to talk about these things, I wouldn’t have found it if not for intentional Asian American activist space in the first place. Sometimes the media comes to us, and inspires us to seek out spaces. But sometimes we need space, and relationships, to get that push.

Linda invited me to a planning meeting for a protest of Miss Saigon in fall of 2013, and this was the space that pointed me towards more Asian American artists who could recommend books like Mura’s (who is a leader in the Twin Cities coalition against Miss Saigon, among other things. You can read his essay about Miss Saigon here). Despite all the possibilities to find his book or others like it on the Internet, it took a physical space and conversations in realtime to get this book in my family’s hands, and to get us talking. So although Asian American media created space for dialogue, it took an Asian American space to bring that media to us.

I kicked myself for awhile for not “getting conscious” earlier, and tuning in to critical Asian American voices that became available as the Internet developed during my coming of age years. But it makes sense too that when I was growing up around mostly-white peers, I sought myself in a mainstream media that reflected my space. I sought myself in the set of references white culture provided. Sought myself and did not find a reflection, so identified with white “alternative” artists like, uh, the Smashing Pumpkins. (Despite all my rage…) Mainstream media acted as a gatekeeper* by providing me with white protagonists and flat side plots about people of color; but my space normalized that invisibility. I only talked about race to make self-effacing jokes for my white friends’ benefit,** and sometimes, rarely, in a clumsy effort to acknowledge the weird pull, or longing, or something, that I felt towards other Asian Americans.

There’s just no substitute for community. In the years since, I gradually sought Asian American spaces where critical dialogue was happening. The first spaces I came across were in college. In higher education it’s media, mostly written, that is the vehicle for conversation. But there is no replacing a peer space. I remember the giddy-bittersweetness I felt at the first potluck held by our small APIA group on campus. Giddy for me because it was a naming and an embracing of an old longing; bittersweet because it was one of the first API spaces I’d ever had outside of family and I was already a grown person.

That being said, that space was gone when I graduated. And whatever my privilege allowed me to gain from them, the spaces of academia are steeped in whiteness and elitism that keep the doors shut to people. So I’m interested in those spaces that we create ourselves. Spaces that however liminal and momentary, exist for us when we need them. Even if they are in the space the shape and size of a paperback novel as it is passed between hands.

*Hawj 2013

**David Byunghyun Lee’s essay hit home so hard. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

“What the fuck happens in America?”

Stewing on this essay and need more time to process it fully, but I was so moved by David Byunghyun Lee’s piece “Transformed into White Gods: What Happens in America Without Love.” There’s a lot of difference between my 4th gen and his 1st gen experiences but my connection to his article goes so far beyond the intellectual. Here’s an excerpt:

We’re bad lovers, so we continue the cycle of hate and self-hate. We let the producers of whitewash Asian characters. We let Spike Lee remake Oldboy and cast Josh Brolin as its lead. We let shows like Friends and Girls show only white relationships and use Asian and black actors and actresses to play interim lovers. We let SNL go thirty-nine years without casting a single Asian comedian. We make talented Asian actors come to America and play ninjas and yakuzas. We cast Asian actors and models with stereotypical Asian faces and un-stereotypical Asian bodies. We fetishize them by giving “sexiest man of the year” or “sexiest woman of the year.” And we ignore Baldwin’s warning that we could “lose our faith—and become possessed.”

We lose our faith in ourselves and lose our faith in our ability to love.

Read the full text http://gawker.com/transformed-into-white-gods-what-happens-in-america-wi-1494266254


365 Days of POC Media.

I originally resolved at the beginning of 2013 to engage only with media made by people photo_2of color. Many of us go through a process of questioning the representations we see of our own or each other’s communities, to rejecting, to searching for alternatives. At the time I began this project, I had just had a racial crisis (I’m mixed), and I knew it was time for some learning/unlearning/reflecting. I decided to read books, watch movies, go to performances, and see art made exclusively by people of color. This is my attempt to understand self and community within a historical and cultural context–and to change my own internalized narratives. A year later, and I’ve made my way through less than athirdof the work I wanted to; thisproject feels more urgent than ever to me. So I decided to keep going, and to document this process.

A caveat: My sample is not representational. Because of my work and who I am, it is weighted towards women and Asian Americans. However, as mixed race APIA/white person with the following privileges: cis-gender, middle class, light skin in a world where colorism is real, I am also trying to include more perspectives of people who don’t share those experiences.

The decision to do this has been deeply personal, and the media I’m engaging with is personal too. However, I wanted to reflect about it in the blogosphere for a number of positive reasons, like

  1.  Lifting up some of the less well-known POC media that people have pointed me towards since I started this.
  2.  Connecting other people who may be feeling culturally isolated with work that nourishes & sustains.
  3. The reactions this has provoked among friends & family. From “that’s interesting” to “you are perpetuating race when we could be moving to a raceless society” to “what about white oppression!?!?” to “that’s awesome, good for you” to “why?” Makes me wantto engage with others in critical reflection about the media we consume and the narratives we internalize.

    Print by Noah Exum: http://black-box-art.tumblr.com/

What this is NOT: This is not meant to erase the oppression of people who are raced white, especially those who are queer, trans*, women, survivors, working class or poor, live with disabilities, or otherwise not privileged by capitalism & heteropatriarchy.

This is not a diss on all the beautiful, critical, life-affirming art & media out there made by white folks that I HAVE seen, loved, been challenged by, appreciated, and it is not to suggest that there is something inherent about all POCmedia. Simply the thing about all POC-created/centric narratives in America: they are harder to fund, harder to find, harder to distribute, and sometimes just harder to make, than their white counterparts.

More than anything, I wanted to lift up visions of the world where people of color got to be protagonists.

bio_picSusan Kikuchi is a 4th generation Japanese American mixed race feminist mediamaker and, currently, legal worker. She wants to explore (in this project and in life) how creativity, resilience, resistance, and defiance persist– despite white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, and capitalism.


Escobar visual Hawj poem

2013 marked my 5 years of activism and organizing, and the last of months of 2013 has left me emotionally drained, thinking hard about the root causes of injustices in America and how that continues to be sustained.  My remainder work with Soulforce.org on Fundamentalism, and community organizing with Minnesotan Asian American activists in the arts around Don’t Buy Miss Saigon has enabled a personal-political perspective to challenge Institutional Racism and funding by White Supremacists leaderships specfically in Minnesota. Even in Social Justice work when only led by White leadership, culture and organizing models, and perpetuates Institutionalized Racism at the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, ability, class, faith and immigration,  does no justice to POC communities. I seek to learn, share and create alternative spaces to creatively organize on Intersectional Justice not dependent of the Nonprofit Industrial Complex in which is deeply rooted in White Culture and Organizing Models and funded by corporations/capitalism. “The Master’s Tool Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” – Audre Lorde

Critical healing books

My commitment to People of Color media started in November 2013 when I chose to boycott The Walking Dead. I love horror films and Zombie films are my most favorite to watch! I’ve been a fan since the television series first aired Fall of 2010, and never missed a beat. As I watched TWD season 4, I felt indifferent and reminded of the master narrative that is always about the White heroes’ humanity, dignity, thoughts, skills and experiences… as if they are the only ones that matter and are human.

Linda MPLS bike

Linda ‘Nkauj Xwb’ Hawj is a 2nd generation Hmong American, queer womyn of color,  artist, activist, and a co-organizer/founder of MidWest Solidarity Movement. She utilizes writing, poetry, spoken word, hip hop and filmmaking as forms of self-healing, empowerment, exploration, reflection, and to speak truths that are often silenced, marginalized and eliminated by oppressive systems. Linda pairs her Art forms and humanitarian work to evoke dialogue, challenge normality, and importantly, mentor, foster and sustain Southeast Asian LGBTQA activists and organizers.