The session the night before drew over 80 people and they were able to lay much of the groundwork for the discussion and focused on three main questions:
- Given our diverse histories and current realities, how can we build unity as APIAs? What are our points of intersection and opportunities for partnership?
- How are we as APIAs building solidarity with other communities of color and in the broader global context?
- How are we building a powerful movement for social justice – recognizing ourselves as part of the majority? What are our responsibilities and values?
Like many consensus statements, it's an important starting point for group dialogue and decision making. Like many consensus statements, it says everything without saying anything at all. And so the task for the second session was to attempt to identify action points. However, before we could get there, somehow the time evaporated. In the end we decided to at least brainstorm ways to make sure the discussion continued post-USSF.
At the time it was easy to grow frustrated and point at the debate about the most effective way to structure our discussion as the culprit. But upon further reflection, I think our inability to move onto concrete goals was reflective of our own internal issues as a community. The Saturday session was like a handful of excited kindergartners being picked up after an exciting day and clamoring to tell their parents what happened all at the same time. The APIA community is so diverse, with so many important issues to address, that the opportunity to hear voices that consistently go unheard (both in larger society and within the APIA community) was overwhelming; and while the facilitator did her best to keep the discussion “on track,” it was more like a series of disparate ideas and concerns all being aired one after another. Ultimately, no one is willing to move forward as a group until we all perceive ourselves to be on the same page and that won't happen until we all feel validated as a member of that group.
In many ways the APIA community reflects many of the struggles that the larger people of color collective in this country face. While we are all connected by broad common experiences such as immigration and minority status, many of us don't actually have a whole lot in common. Many of the issues that we find most salient to our individual experiences do not overlap. And so we find ourselves allied not only for things we have in common, but also for things that we all don't have in common with the majority in this country.
It occurs to me that had it been practical to extend Friday's session, it might have been more productive. That group came together to make the consensus statement and that process undoubtedly included discussion and thus recognition of the variety of issues that our communities face. With that emotional validation, it might have been possible to move forward to common action points. However, during the Saturday session, though we could agree on the consensus statement, having not been part of that process, we had no such emotional trust in each other so there was no way that we could have moved forward without spending time establishing that all over again.
Personally, I probably wouldn't have cared if we accomplished nothing that morning. Simply sitting in a room of only APIA, much less social justice oriented APIA, was refreshing and inspiring for me given the desert known as medical school of which I currently reside. It was a rare moment of safety among strangers that seems nearly impossible to find if you're a queer, radical person of color. And, who knows, perhaps something will come of this. As hard as it may be to create a unified, nationwide coalition, we all know it's necessary. I'm down for trying as many times as it takes to succeed.
PS -- definitely check out the APIA Collective website. It is an ongoing documentation and collecting project that will continue well beyond USSF.
*Like most things, there is a bit of discussion over the most appropriate terminology. I will use the term APIA (Asian and Pacific Islanders in America) because I find it the most inclusive. By “API” I am referring to not only what we traditionally consider as East, South, and South East Asians, as well as Pacific Islanders; but also, folks who are part of the larger Asian subcontinent who have been traditionally relegated to “other.” I say “in America” to recognize that our community includes all folks regardless of our country's opinion of their immigration status. I limit my discussion to the United States because I think API in this country have unique issues and circumstances that warrant their own exploration. Also, I live here and have no idea what it's like elsewhere.