May 1, 2009

Day #1: Love for the People

So why the hell do we still care about Asian America? (I'm leaving out the "Pacific" because of all the various issues I have with including it that I'm going to spare you from at this point.) I don't really know sometimes, even though I've been involved in this work and these conversations for a long time now.

Our differences are clear, our histories - at least those that we have uncovered - not so neatly intertwined or even inter-related. We have had moments when our people have actively stood in silence or distanced themselves from one another (WWII "I am not Japanese"; post sa-i-gu LA; the aftermath of Sept. 11). Even now, there is grudging respect between Indian and Chinese immigrants in the brain trust fields, but it's still all about the economic arms race - the new hot&cold war bubbling over from the messy Asian states to join us stateside.

But there's a spark still for some of us, at least the old-timers. I still think "maybe I'll get to have a conversation with an old-timer who remembers the I-Hotel" because those manongs speak to a history in the United States that I wish I could trace directly through my own family some times. Don't hate what you've got, right? And my own family history is important and special in what role it plays in the new immigrant stories of America. But hearing and knowing some of the other stories have kept me centered, and reminded me that things were not easy in the past, and they are not easy now for newcomers.

But community is about more than just struggle. It's about what people are building every day, in their homes, across their families, on blocks, streets, and through cities and vast expanses of territory all across the land. There are physical, real markers of what ordinary people make of that word "community", that we can easily forget in the midst of theory and discourse and academic wranglings about insiders and outsiders.

Heritage month is an opportunity for us to feel that love again: the love for the people that brought us into this work, or into this consciousness. A sense that we're not alone, that we have a cannon and a common framework simply in the conscious effort to create one. That the music I listen to now spans many genres and many years, but that there is some link between A Grain of Sand and Bambu or Himalayan Project or Vijay Iyer. A link, a thread, a song. These tapestries, which only some of us can really see, are sacred: they mark not only the passing of time, knowledge, and struggle, but the very spirit of those struggles are woven right into them.

This month, we study these stories, we honor them, and we write anew what community, and love, mean to each of us individually and together.

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