It’s not about whose lives matter “more”

The outrage that ensued has been important. At least one vigil was held in [Charleena Lyles’] honor and covered by local media, hundreds chanted “Say her name!” while marching for her, countless articles have been written about her, and a GoFundMe set up for her children has raised over $100,000… When it comes to focusing our attention on those who are killed by police officers, do Black lives matter more than Asian lives?… I have strongly supported and defended the Black Lives Matter movement. But now I’m wondering: Do Vietnamese lives matter? Do Asian lives matter? Where is the outrage and empathy?”

– Excerpt from “Do Asian Lives Matter? Contemplating Disparate Coverage of Charleena Lyles’s and Tommy Le’s Deaths” by Alyssa W. Christensen

In response to the piece excerpted above, I’d like to start by providing some context. The national outrage for Charleena Lyles is the result of immense organizing and emotional labor by black folks. Black Lives Matter was co-created by three black queer women, Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Cullors. The call to “say her name” comes from efforts to bring attention to violence against Black women in the United States. Specifically, the African American Policy Forum put out a brief titled “Say Her Name,” which is intended to “serve as a resource for the media, organizers, researchers, policy makers, and other stakeholders to better understand and address Black women’s experiences of profiling and policing.” In the words of Kimberle Crenshaw, director of Columbia Law School’s Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies and co-author of the report: “Although Black women are routinely killed, raped, and beaten by the police, their experiences are rarely foregrounded in popular understandings of police brutality. Yet, inclusion of Black women’s experiences in social movements, media narratives, and policy demands around policing and police brutality is critical to effectively combatting racialized state violence for Black communities and other communities of color.”

Without movements like Black Lives Matter and Say Her Name, our mainstream media and national consciousness would not be where they’re at today. These movements, and the countless individual activists and organizers who make up these movements, make sure that we know about Charleena Lyles and Philando Castile. They urge us to remember Sandra Bland and Eric Garner and Tamir Rice and Aiyana Stanley-Jones. They push us to fight for trans black women like Eyricka King. This work far from done. Often, when Kimberle Crenshaw speaks to audiences, she’ll start by asking people to raise their hands if they’ve heard of Trayvon Martin. Michael Brown. Rekia Boyd. As she continues to call out names – Miriam Carey, Michelle Cusseaux, Tanisha Anderson – fewer and fewer hands remain raised, and eventually maybe just one or two people in a room of 100 will have recognized all of these names. 

I don’t think the question is whether Black lives matter more than Asian lives. Black Lives Matter is about centering Black lives; and Say Her Name was created to draw attention to Black women who are targeted by police brutality. Everyone should support and defend Black Lives Matter, because it is the right thing to do, not because we are waiting for something in return.

I recognize the author’s pain in realizing that stories like Tommy Le’s are glossed over or generally ignored by mainstream media. What can we do about it? How can the APIDA community take the lead in putting pressure on media to cover these stories? How can we take the lead in uplifting our own stories and narratives? How can we lead or support work already being done to provide community alternatives to policing?

I don’t have all the answers, but I appreciate that the author reached out to one of their favorite local news sources and questioned them on their lack of reporting on Tommy Le. I can put pressure on local media when they fail to report on stories that matter to me, and I can throw my support behind media or organizations who are uplifting those stories (nationally, that might include AAJC and NAPAWF; locally in Minnesota, for example, that includes RadAzns and CAAL). I can organize a screening and discussion of Vincent Who? in my community. I can diversify my news sources and follow different voices on social media, especially those from marginalized communities.

The APIDA community has a rich history of organizing and activism, something that I only began to learn about in the handful of Asian American Studies courses I was able to take as a college student. For folks looking to learn more, I’d recommend checking out this quick history on Asian American activism, and books like Dr. Erika Lee’s The Making of Asian America, and biographies from Grace Lee Boggs and Yuri Kochiyama.

“If these histories are erased and buried, each generation feels a little more alone, like we are starting from scratch. I hope people see how the past informs not only today’s movements, but our futures.” – Ryan Wong, one of the curators of the exhibition “Roots: Asian American Movements in Los Angeles 1968–80s” at the Los Angeles Chinese American Museum

Addendum on July 20: Tommy Le’s family has created a YouCaring page and are asking for support to help with funeral and legal expenses in the coming months as they continue to fight for justice for Tommy. (h/t Mark Tseng-Putterman for the link)


On ‘difficult names’

“give your daughters difficult names. give your daughters names that command the full use of tongue. my name makes you want to tell me the truth. my name doesn’t allow me to trust anyone that cannot pronounce it right.” ― Warsan Shire

18359108_10106743218512927_1042242656479510728_oMy parents didn’t plan on having me, their sixth and youngest child, but they did choose my name carefully: UyênThi. This name is special for a lot of reasons. For one, the letters in it echo the spellings of my five older siblings’ names. Its abbreviation, út, means baby of the family. Hidden in my name is my mother (turn the symbol on the “e” upside-down and you get a “v,” which is hugging the “en” of my name. Ven: my mother’s name). My dad is reflected in my name as well. He wanted it to be one word, no space: UyênThi, not Uyên Thi. Since Vietnamese is a monosyllabic language, this tends to confuse Vietnamese people outside my family. They want to shorten my name and call me Uyên or Thi. Continue reading

Black April, Snapshots, and Spacetime

Note: Thank you to Julia over at Project Yellow Dress for the motivation to write this piece!


In the picture, it’s winter, sometime in the mid-eighties. I’m wearing a white blouse with a holiday-ish green velvet dress over it. The dress has a small embroidered snowman patch on the front. I think maybe we are in the living room at my grandparents’ house, probably for a Christmas party with all the aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents on my dad’s side. The dining room table would be weighed down with dishes and dishes of traditional Vietnamese food, each one prepared by a different aunt and carefully transported over to share, potluck-style. In one corner of the dining room there are also plenty of two liter bottles of pop like RC or Schweppes ginger ale for the kids, and a few bags of Doritos, too. Continue reading

If this is not normal, our responses can’t be either

(A conversation between me and Guanteoriginally published at Opine Season.)

KTM: In arts spaces, we talk a lot about the importance of creating catchy “hooks,” capturing an enormous, complex concept in an easily-digestible soundbite. “We Are the 99%,” for example, is a good hook. “Black Lives Matter” is a good hook. “Water is Life” is a good hook. I’m thinking about all of this in the context of what I would say is this past month’s big hook: “This Is Not Normal.”

UTM: I keep seeing and hearing reminders that “this is not normal,” from tweets, to buttons, to my friends and colleagues repeating it to themselves and to each other. When I open my social media feeds, the headlines and sentiments are full of anger and fear – the latest Executive Order from Trump, stories of real humans being harmed by those orders, and the reminders: “It’s only been one week.” “He’s doing what he said he would do.” “This is not normal.”
Continue reading

Women’s March MN & the Ongoing Struggle for “Unity”

On Wednesday afternoon, I was looking for more details about Women’s March Minnesota, and came upon the list of 20+ speakers lined up for the rally. I noticed a few women of color and American Indian women were listed, several of whom I look up to, including elected officials like Senator Patricia Torres Ray and Rep. Peggy Flanagan. As I scrolled through the profile pictures of the speakers, though, I realized that there were absolutely zero speakers from the Asian American community. I emailed the march’s leadership team, began tweeting at them, asked my friends to help me, and waited to hear back. Continue reading