A weekly magazine-style radio show featuring the voices and stories of Asians and Pacific Islanders from all corners of our community. The show is produced by a collective of media makers, deejays, and activists.
Powerleegirl Hosts Miko Lee and Jalena Keane-Lee as they cover how all education is political. As 45 threatens to ban Critical Race Theory, the Powerleegirls speak with activists about the importance of student voice and action. Featuring Dr. Laureen Chew, one of the 1968 SF State student strikers, Compton high school teacher Ms. Whang and UC Santa Cruz grad student strike organizer Jane Komori.
Mentioned in the show:
UC Santa Cruz “Pay Us More” video.
Ms. Whang, artist, activist, educator in Compton
All Education is Political Transcripts
Opening: [00:00:00] Asian Pacific expression. Unity and cultural coverage, music and calendar revisions influences Asian Pacific Islander. It’s time to get on board. The Apex Express. Good evening. You’re tuned in to Apex Express.
[00:00:32] Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:00:32] We’re bringing you an Asian American Pacific Islander view from the Bay and around the world. We are your hosts, Miko Lee and Jalena Keane-lee the powerlee girls, a mother daughter team, and tonight join us for our series. We are the leaders. Which will highlight our AAPI history of resistance and change from our ancestors to the leaders on the ground today, we will use the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and systemic racism as a way to politically activate our community and amplify ways we can support each other. We are, the leaders is inspired by one of our ancestor activists. Grace Lee-Boggs quote, “We are the leaders we’ve been looking for.” So keep it locked on apex express.
[00:01:13] miko: [00:01:38] All education is political. That’s our theme tonight as 45 threatens to band critical race theory and the 1619 project the Powerly girls speak with activist about the importance of student voice and action. Featuring Dr. Laureen Chew one of the 1968 SF state students, strikers Compton, high school teacher, Ms. Whang and UC Santa Cruz, grad student strike organizer jane Komori.
[00:02:02]Jalena: [00:02:02] Tonight, we talk about student strikes of the past and present. And what is critical for students in schools today? In 1968, a coalition of student groups formed the Third World Liberation front at San Francisco State University and held the longest student strike in history, led by the Black Student Union and working in solidarity with the Latin American student organization.
[00:02:24] The inter collegiate Chinese for social action, the Mexican American student Confederation, the Filipino American collegiate endeavor. La Raza, the Native American students union and the Asian American political Alliance. Together. They held the first student strike against Eurocentric education.
[00:02:43] miko: [00:02:43] After walking out of classes for several months, harassments beatings, a hunger strike and multiple arrests. The students won. The first college of ethnic studies was founded at both San Francisco state and UC Berkeley, along with an increase in students and professors of color. One of those students who was both striker and became a professor of ethnic studies is our very first guest, Dr. Laureen Chu. She is both a professor emeritus at SFSU and an actor in some iconic API films.
[00:03:12] Jalena: [00:03:12] Welcome Laureen. Thank you so much for joining us. So just give us a kind of summary for perhaps folks that don’t know about the inspiration, how the third world liberation got started and what made you want to join?
[00:03:26] Laureen: [00:03:26] Okay. growing up in Chinatown pretty much, I guess the Chinese exclusion ended in 41, 42. And so I was born in 48. So even though the law had been, I mean in a withdrawn that is supposedly didn’t exist. You don’t change people’s attitudes. So trying to tell in the fifties, which while I was pretty young at that time, it’s still very much an enclosed community.
[00:03:52] I had very little contact with folks that were not Chinese, including going to school where schools were predominantly 99% Chinese, maybe with a couple of Italian kids who lived in the areas too. so I didn’t, I think, in terms of race, I was pretty clueless except that you saw white folks around, but we never, we had no contact, no relationships with them. I ended up in a Catholic high school that was right at the board of Chinatown. And then that was the first time I experienced, being different because there are only three Chinese girls out of the class of 50 that came from Chinatown because they had a quota.
[00:04:33] making friends was really. For the first time in my life, very difficult. people didn’t connect to them with me. And I just remember things like, yakking all the way from walking through, from Chinatown to that school at the end of Chinatown yakking with one of the Chinese girls and then at the foot of the door. when I walked in, I would be silent, and I just remembered to this day being miserable at that school. And. begging my mother to let me transfer it back to the other school . I just thought there was something wrong with me. I knew I didn’t like who I was and I blend it primarily on being Chinese. of course, The extension of that was to blame my mom and to blame my parents and to blame my community because I looked different. Didn’t speak the right language, basically was not white, that I think, that was very, Traumatizing without knowing it.
[00:05:30] I didn’t even have a label for it. so I go to San Francisco state. First two years, I was really fascinated and enthralled going to San Francisco state, even though I wanted to go away for school, but we couldn’t afford it. And by this time I had to fend for myself in terms of getting a job and working my way through school at San Francisco state, I’m taking the bus. It took us, took me about an hour to get there, but it was like another world. the teachers were interesting. They were nothing like nuns. They had, people use comics from the newspaper to teach us social science, which I thought, Oh my God, how can they do that? . So it was stimulating and intimidating at the same time, but I liked it, but I still didn’t deal well with who I was, my identity. I had a small social group, but there was one group that was interesting because this guy, his name is Mason Wong. He grew up in Chinatown. And so we, we clicked and Mason, at that time was in contact with other ethnic. It was particularly a person, I forgot his first name, but his last name was Martinez. And Martina was telling Mason about all the stuff they were doing in the mission, with their communities like.
[00:06:48]The issues that were coming up, especially with kids, and then also housing and then the elderly, et cetera. And so Mason, who. Lived in Chinatown and had much more life experience than I, because he was a Marine, thought that was like, Hey, that’s pretty cool. And then there were some new people that were interested in getting funds from the government, which was unheard of in Chinatown at that point, because first of all, people didn’t really think that we have problems, as an Asian American community, . So I hooked with Mason and then there was a group there and then he said, let’s get together and see what we could do. with these guys are talking about getting, associated student funds to help fund some actions.
[00:07:33] So it is in the community which had already been started with the BSU. And I also pre befriended on another, Female student, a Chinese American student in the library where I was working. And we had already been talking just personally about our lives. And her experience was very similar to mine, but I still didn’t have a label for it. Can you believe it? And tell me one day, Judy said to me, you got to come to this meeting, . And so I went to that meeting and it was called a convocation. There was a meeting about some Latinos that black student union. And then Mason was up there too, talking with these people.
[00:08:12]being part of this group that were asking for things. From the administration so that we can, because it was fair because a lot of, associated students funds were being used for what students were advocating for. And. But by the time I went to this meeting, I guess a request has not just been just for tutoring programs, but actually requesting curricular changes at San Francisco state, like having black studies courses, , hiring professors that were black and African American and et cetera, and just Instilling in them like you guys have for us, the life of this country, negated us. expelled us, tree treated us like animals in terms of slavery, and then exploited everything we’ve done. not one word of it is mentioned in any of your textbooks, much less taught, right?
[00:09:11]that’s a simple version of what I’m trying. To say about the impact at that time, that all of us, at that moment, I remember that convocation. I could not believe what I was hearing, that there were actually other people, particularly people of color that had. Not only similar, but almost exactly the same kind of experiences that we had. maybe not, not, we were not slaves, but that the emotional impact or , the humanizing impact that it had on all of us, I had never, ever. Heard it in that manner, and I was totally blown away and I felt like I was unleashed, I was I can’t even find the right word.
[00:10:02]not necessarily just inspired, but just freed from all that anxiety and whatever I felt. finally, they gave us this, they gave the word, it was called racism. I was, it was that word was used over and over again by all the panelists up there. I finally said to Judy, I go, Oh, I guess the word is racism. She got, yeah. Didn’t, you know that? I said, no, that pretty much was it, there’s a, the beginning of how I felt I needed to get involved. And of course, because of my link to ICSI and Mason, and then the group was getting larger. Judy joined and there were, large as it was, maybe we had 20 or 30 people. So it was pretty small. So you’re that varies.
[00:10:51] miko: [00:10:51] What year were you in college? Where your sophomore or junior?
[00:10:54]Laureen: [00:10:54] I was a junior . It was 60. 68. Yeah. I want to 66. So I was probably a junior
[00:11:03]Jalena: [00:11:03] We know you just retired from being an ethnic studies teacher at San Francisco state university, what was it like for you to be on the teaching side of that?
[00:11:10]Laureen: [00:11:10] I think the last 20 years have been really bad, because there’s this whole thing of, of life being, everything, being race neutral. When neutralize or nude arise, as I call it’s not healthy, and a lot of it is his reaction to the sixties and seventies where, it would, people perceive there’s like hate Whitey. All you do is hate Whitey. That’s what we’re preaching. That was what they saw ethnic studies courses as doing, rather say rather than saying that what we’re doing is more of a comparative nature.
[00:11:43]how does being a Chinese and America are history compared to what American history espouses to be, equal justice for all. How does our history live up to those concepts? that’s a questioning thing. I don’t understand how people can even promote critical thinking without using some of those skills in teaching history.
[00:12:11]so it’s, I don’t know, it’s not good. And to the point where I think, and I think that the last year it was interesting. You’ve been doing the planning of the 50th anniversary, many of the. Faculty, the current faculty, as well as the veterans strikers are saying, this, all this stuff that Trump is doing, taking away, gangs that have been made in the last 50 years, what he’s done and we’re just sitting, nobody’s doing anything, why aren’t there mass protests in the streets, and none of course, you fast forward to this year and then you had black lives matter, which kind of exploded. And now I feel that there’s a, new hope,
[00:12:55]Jalena: [00:12:55] I’m curious, what was it like for your mom and your family? I’m hearing about you getting arrested and putting your body on the line for this movement. What was their reaction and response to that?
[00:13:06] Laureen: [00:13:06] Not good, not positive. I think my mom was very interesting. She, she actually wanted to believe that she didn’t want it to believe all the lies. I told him, during that period, like when I was, working and trying to organize things for a successful student strike, as well as, doing things in Chinatown, tutoring kids and going to two meetings for the youth. And then, there were riots in Chinatown and all that stuff.
[00:13:36]I always told her I was studying somewhere or I was, have to go do something for school. And she actually believed in me, until the day that there was a, I think in January of 69, when we, there was a mass bus of 400 something people, and my brother didn’t believe me, of course, I didn’t tell him much, but he knew.
[00:13:56] And I guess he saw it on news and he told my mom, he goes, you know what? I put you, your daughter’s there. And she turned to him and she goes, Oh no, she kept be that stupid. No, she’s not there. And then I didn’t come home to five in the morning because no one bailed me out until that. and of course she, she was one word sick.
[00:14:15]I think one time, the one time that I knew that my mom really loved her kids was I guess one when my cousins, teased her, but my mom’s very proud. She doesn’t take well to teasing. Cesar said, “Hey, I’ll come. like auntie, so what do you think about your daughter now? and she had to go to jail?” And had never really been mentioned publicly like that, within a small family context, it wasn’t a lot of people. And she said something interesting. She said, “Yes, my daughter, was not very smart. And I have to admit that and getting involved in something like that. But, I have to say, she didn’t rob, she didn’t hurt anybody. She didn’t kill anyone. she believed in what she did. She fought for something that was supposed to make the world better, maybe better for her or her kids. But, it was nothing that was doing harm to people.” And that’s all she said. And my cousins never said anything after that.
[00:15:18]Jalena: [00:15:18] So what are your thoughts about the legacy of student activism and how it’s living on in the present day?
[00:15:24]Laureen: [00:15:24] it’s fabulous. why would I can’t think of anything that is more appropriate and more meaningful right now, . What I see of it and their enthusiasm and their conviction, I still remember that. And my only, message is this okay? This is only the smallest piece of the work. Okay. the protesting and quote unquote, keeping the issues alive. No, that’s the surface of it, what people need to see, because people will see that you are committed.
[00:16:00]The more important step is the work that follows and defining what that work is then actually, make, and I don’t think it’s as much as an issue now, make sure that intersects with different communities. Not only by age. but by ethnicity, by quoting quotes, how do you say how you can fight work together? Cause one of the things that hasn’t changed right is, Not only, I think I own each ethnic community has their own work to do in terms of their own racism. I don’t think that’s done. And in order for us to build a larger movement where you’re convincing, let’s say, white folks that know nothing about you or, or how you feel and stuff like that.
[00:16:50] And you need the support of other voices to convince that let’s say white folks by white folks by the dominant culture, the people who hold the power, all community has to deal with those who are not like us, in terms of where we can help each other. So yes, visually and the talk and the media presentation is fabulous. Work is what is important and that never ends.
[00:17:24] I to get all the steps, the process I became who I am today, and I am not. I am not as involved in that same way, but I am still a voice and I’m not going to say that. The thing I feel most proud about being who I am now is that I feel very content with all the struggles I had. I put myself through not intentionally, but because I was curious and because I was open and because I felt that there was a better world that can be out there. That I was going to never stop fighting for, especially in my work at San Francisco state, because just being there was not enough just having a college was not enough. It was clawing my way through and calling people on their ****.
[00:18:13]Jalena: [00:18:13] Next up listen to “Who You Are” by baby chris
[00:20:15] miko: [00:20:15] That was “Who You Are” by baby Chris. Student strikes have impacts. Even today, this past spring, one of the largest grad student strikes occurred in the UC system. Our next guest is university of california santa cruz grad student organizer Jane Kamori. First take a listen to a short video clip created by the organizers for background on the student led movement we’ll also put a link to this on our website kpfa at apex express.
[00:20:40] video: [00:20:40] Cola is a campaign for a cost of living adjustment for graduate students and student workers across the university of California. The UC pays us about $20,000 a year and we spend approximately half our wages on rent in December of 2019. UC Santa Cruz, grad workers went on a Wildcat strike for Cola. We call it a Wildcat strike because it was not authorized by our union.
[00:21:09] But instead of negotiating UCSC fired over 80 strikers incense by this punitive measure, graduate student workers at UC Santa Barbara Davis, San Diego, Berkeley and Irvine joined the strike to win a Cola. UCLA, Riverside, Marcel and San Francisco are organizing in solidarity and for their own Cola too, it’s spring quarter marks a new phase in our organizing.
[00:21:35] Our union UAW two eight 65 filed unfair labor practice charges against the university for that unfair discipline of strikers and their attempts to go round our backs as workers, and to try and cut a deal on a Cola with a statewide graduate student government. We are demanding the university, come to the table to bargain over Cola with our union UAW 2865.
[00:21:56] We are in a great position to combine our rank and file militancy with the unions, considerable resources. And the legal protections of a union sanctioned strike, which is different from a Wildcat strike. The union is seeking 5,000 strike pledges across the state before they call a strike authorization vote, meaning that this would be a strike in huge numbers. Employment and health care would not be jeopardized by this action nor would international students’ status. It is illegal for the UC to retaliate against protected activity.
[00:22:38]Miko Lee: [00:22:38] we’ve had a chance to, listen to a video that was created by the organizers, but can you give us an update about what has happened since then?
[00:22:46]Jane: [00:22:46] Yeah. for sure. So we have, continue organizing, in spite of some wins and building a lot of really important, organizational infrastructure, among grad students, not only on our own campus at UC Santa Cruz, but throughout the university of California system. we still have. Have not one, a cost of living adjustment or, the kind of, material gain that would allow us to live where we work, which is, has always been at the heart of it, of the Wildcat strike and other organizing labor organizing.
[00:23:21]Over the past 12 months or so there are still grad students throughout the state, working on these demands and, and also, linking them to contemporary political struggles, around police abolition. So one thing that we learned and have continued to reflect on since our picket line, which lasted for a month in February of this year, is the relationship between policing and in particular, the university of California police departments and, the expectation of labor in the university.
[00:23:55]there were more than. Eight or there were exactly eight university of California police departments present at our picket line. And they also brought in police from Oakland, from the Alameda, Sheriff’s office, from the national guard, from the, yeah, they call it police mutual. Eight. So there were, there was an overwhelming police presence on our picket line that costs the university $300,000 a day and something that’s been really interesting for me to reflect on is that, that amount a hundred thousand dollars is the same as the strike fund that we raised over. GoFund me. Which funded, so took care of rent, tuition, food, other needs, for roughly 40, fired strikers for, more than six months.
[00:24:41] So we’ve been able to see really clearly in our own organizing work on the ground. what defunding, and redirecting funds, That are currently allocated to police would look like for our community. It could look like people being able to afford to live, where they work, to live with dignity, to have, childcare and the kinds of food that they need, et cetera. so we’ve been. Also working with various other organizations who have been mobilizing around, to get cops off campus. and we’ve been, I’m looking forward to the coming year. We very recently won the resistance statement of, All 82 of the graduate student workers who were fired in the spring.
[00:25:26] And so we’ve secured everyone’s jobs and now we’re ready to keep fighting both for, for better wages for workers. but also for, a demilitarized, cop free campus. Jen, can you clarify that? You said there’s eight different kinds of police that were sent to the campus. So each, each you have California at campus has its own police department. so there’s the UC Santa Cruz police department, which was of course present on our picket line. , they very routinely call in reinforcement from other university of California campuses. we saw, police from. UC San Francisco, UC Berkeley, as far South as UC Irvine. They also will call in police mutual aid from, like municipal and County police forces. So there were also police from. I’m from Santa Cruz, from Alameda, et cetera.
[00:26:21] miko: [00:26:21] Is that the language “police mutual aid?” I’ve never heard of that before.
[00:26:24]Jane: [00:26:24] That’s what they call themselves, which is, yeah, which is ironic. We were also in many ways thinking of our work, on and around the picket line, as a mutual aid project, as well as the labor action and so any contrast sharply with the police imagination and mutual aid, which is basically, it’s a structure for them to redistribute their resources as in their officers and their equipment. according to different, campus protests throughout the state.
[00:26:55]miko: [00:26:55] Can you share a little bit about how the strikes started at UC Santa Cruz and then move to other UCS?
[00:27:02] Jane: [00:27:02] Yeah. so our, so UC Santa Cruz, shares many of the sessions, same sort of graduate students at UC Santa Cruz share many of the same issues as grad students on other UC campuses. living in areas with really high rent, with very low wages, the situation is particularly acute at UC Santa Cruz. We know that a lot of graduate students spend more than 70% of their wages on rent every month, which , makes it really hard to make ends meet. and, but this situation is also shared with grads at, UC Berkeley, UCLA, elsewhere. so we started on. Our own campus. We started organizing around a really simple demand, which is, and that we should be able to afford rent and live where we’re employed.
[00:27:49]so in the city of Santa Cruz, we drafted up the demand for a cost of living adjustment or a Cola, . Which would be a wage increase that would lift us out of rent burden, which is typically defined as spending 30% or more of your wages on rent. so we were asking for, initially a monthly increase of $1,400 a month, which is a huge increase but it’s calculated against the cost of. Of rent in the city. , the sort of foundational premises that we should be able to live in reasonable, safe, healthy conditions, near where we work and this demand was surprising, catalyzing for, we had no idea that, it started out of organizing in our graduate student workers union on our local campus.
[00:28:36]as well as with other graduate student organizations and it, yeah, it really caught on with a lot of grads. I think it’s a really relatable, problem. We had, an outpouring of stories and testimonies about how hard it was to, survive as a graduate student on our current wages. we had stories about people, having to live in their office for months at a time after losing her home or living.
[00:29:01] In their car or, developing like chronic health conditions from living in moldy apartments. Like the list goes on and on. so it was an immediately appealing, demand that allowed us to organize as workers. we are, most of us are employed as teaching assistants or graduate student instructors. We do a huge amount of the labor that keeps the university running. we spend a ton of time, face to face with students, in discussion sections, we grade their papers. we hold office hours where we talk them through, not only academic challenges, but all kinds of other stuff that’s going on in their lives.
[00:29:39] we weren’t able to, think really carefully about how we could withhold our labor to force, demand like the cost of living adjustment. and in December of 2019, graduate student workers at UC Santa Cruz decided to go on a grading strike. So to withhold, the final grades for the students who have been teaching that quarter. and that was a really effective way of gumming up the works in the university, and was also something that could be translated to other campuses. So other teaching assistants and graduate student instructors at other campuses could do the same thing. and many of them got organized to do UC Santa Barbara, for glee, Davis San Diego.
[00:30:23]we’re all, either starting to go on a grading start or preparing to go on a grading strike when, when a couple of things happened, 82 graduate student workers who had been on strike at UC Santa Cruz were fired, which was as a dramatic, Instance of a repression of a labor action.
[00:30:40] miko: [00:30:40] Jane, how did you personally get involved in organizing?
[00:30:44]Jane: [00:30:44] I, have been. Involved in the, our graduate student workers union UAW two eight, six, five, the Santa Cruz, local units specifically. so that sort of thing, and the first thinking about what we could do in terms of organizing a labor action on our campus, I think emerged out of a group of us who were working in the union.
[00:31:08]but I guess a larger, zoom out view on that is that I am have been thinking a lot. I, a graduate student in the history of consciousness department at UC Santa Cruz. but I also have a designated emphasis in critical race and ethnic studies. And I do a lot of. my working in the field of critical race and ethnic studies, as well as Asian American studies and Asian Canadian studies.
[00:31:33]and in thinking about how to fight for, something that can feel abstract, like racial justice as a graduate student worker at the university, California, it seemed to me that getting involved. With a union, and bringing together workers, many of whom are, first generation, college students, people of color, or black and indigenous students, to fight for something that would help us live and do our research with the dignity that we deserve. has been motivating me for a long time. And I think that, yeah, that’s a big part of why I do, labor organizing in a union.
[00:32:12] miko: [00:32:12] What does revolutionary education look like?
[00:32:15]Jane: [00:32:15] What was really interesting was a lot of undergraduate students actually really publicly countered the university’s argument that they were being deprived of an education by saying, I’ve actually learned a lot being on the picket line and we had all kinds of, Faculty and graduate students and undergraduate students organized, like daily, the teachings that we’re at the sort of Hyde park picket line we’re running, for eight hours a day.
[00:32:38] And there they are ranged in topic from like histories of third world labor movements, or, we had, we had a speakers come and give talks. popular ethnic studies topics or, otherwise too, undergraduate students who’ve been really involved in other kinds of protests, give education about, self-defense or about how to, effective direct action or, how to administer first aid. and those were really, I think that was a kind of revolutionary education. and it actually, and I really think that, because as, As we, move from our picket line into the car COVID-19 pandemic and then into, the protest after George Floyd’s murder and then into the, most recent prices of the.
[00:33:26] CCU lightening, complex buyers and other wildfires, the state, we’ve seen, mutual aid networks and organizing of direct actions really flourish in our community in UC Santa Cruz. I think undergraduate students, who were involved in organizing on our picket line, and in their own organizing, that was Supported by, or, somehow dovetailed with our picket line. those have been real leaders in organizing, protesting the city, about black lives, matter about police abolition. And, they’ve been really involved in setting up, community fridges with food or, distributing, Masks and sleeping bags to fire a vacuum use. they’ve learned how to, on many levels in terms of theory, how to understand the crisis, that we’re a part of, but also in terms of practice, how to respond to them, in order to build stronger communities and fight, structural oppression.
[00:34:20]miko: [00:34:20] We’ve titled, tonight’s episode, “all education is political.” I wonder what you think about that?
[00:34:28]Jane: [00:34:28] I think education that imagines itself to be a political, is probably the most insidiously political, I, Yeah, I’m really, I’m sorry. And then surprised with undergraduate and graduate students who, think really narrowly about. What the university should be delivering in terms of an education and what that education should get us. I certainly think that the, like something I really love about teaching in the critical race and ethnic studies program at UC Santa Cruz, is that, where at once teaching, or learning with our students really about, historical political struggles over, Racial injustice.
[00:35:08]and we’re also often challenging the students and ourselves to relate, those histories and the lessons from those histories back to our own lives. and to try and think, to try and apply them, yeah, to our everyday situations, to the situations of our communities. and therefore to think about how we, How we can most effectively fight, racial oppression together. so that it’s a, it’s an explicitly political education that I think can do good political work. Hopefully.
[00:35:41] Jalena: [00:35:41] Next up listen to “March 4 Education” by Anak Bayan.
[00:35:45]Welcome back. You’re tuned into apex express on 94.1 KPFA and 89.3 KPF. Be in Berkeley and online at dot org. That was “March 4 Education” by Anak Bayan. Next step, we welcome Jackie Whang, who is a teacher, activists, artist in Compton. She shares with us the importance of bringing your full self to your teaching Can you tell us a little bit about your teaching philosophy and, the importance of mindfulness in your work?
[00:38:34] Ms. Whang: [00:38:34] Yeah. It’s everything. And especially in these times, it’s such an emotional topic because we’re all dealing with mindfulness and mental health and especially like COVID and with just all the public police shootings and all the political unrest division and the list goes on, it’s never been all the more apparent and necessary.
[00:39:03] To do mindfulness. but it actually started with my own practice , it was my first year of teaching and I started doing yoga and about. two years ago, but really I went in last year. I started teaching meditation and breath work in my class directly. And so that’s like a short journey of. How I got into this space of being very proactive in teaching yoga, teaching breath, work, both in and out the classroom. And, yeah, just being a teacher at the same time.
[00:39:44]Jalena: [00:39:44] What drew you to teaching and why is, that what you’ve chosen to do with your life and as your calling.
[00:39:52]Ms. Whang: [00:39:52] What drove me to be a teacher is just my personal life. Spite towards the education system, because I just experienced so a lot of different types of school schooling. and cause I went to, at first I went to predominantly Asian, highly competitive high school. and Just the way that they tracked and discriminated was just very obvious and my friends were from all backgrounds.
[00:40:25] And so I got swept into their biases. even though I am Asian, they stabbed me as like a rebellious archetype early on. And. After that my high school life was pretty miserable. I went to continuation school. I went to a neighboring high school. And so looking at all these different schoolings, I was just very upset at my experience with it.
[00:40:58]when, and like simultaneously I’m. Listening to all this music at the time, I was like listening to a lot of like conscious hip hop and just reading the lyrics. And I was really big on from Wu Tang and like the whole Shaolin, like philosophy and. And I was going into it and I’m like, dang, I’m learning so much in this, but school’s whack. And so that’s when I was like, okay, maybe I’ll be a teacher. And I always wanted to teach like early on, I moved around a lot growing up. And so I didn’t really have a set of friends. And school was always a place of like anxiety for me. Cause. I, I didn’t have that core group that you could feel affirmed from and have friendships with.
[00:41:50] And so that’s where it began, where I was like, Oh, I want to be a teacher. Cause I can be a friend, but once it hit high school, I was like determined to get my vengeance. And then grad school was like a therapeutic moment. undergrad was like a therapeutic moment cause of like youth speaks and the poetry and then. yeah. And then I was, I went to grad school for like arts learning. And then after that I was like, okay, I can’t do any more school. I just want to teach. And so I walked into a small charter middle school in Northeast LA, and crazy enough, it was down the street from the mall. My mom used to work at when she was pregnant with my brother. And I got to teach seven seventh grade.
[00:42:47]Jalena: [00:42:47] Can you talk about how you see teaching as a political act and, the intersection of politics and political education and, teaching at a public high school?
[00:42:58]Ms. Whang: [00:42:58] I really do believe that the personal is political, but it takes some, I don’t even know, like some crazy Jedi mind tricks and just like. Physical training to do this work and be conscious at the same time. And it’s so cliche, but so true when it’s like in the classroom, you’re forced to really value the relationships that are built.
[00:43:38] On a one on one level. And even if you don’t like a student, you have to go to like them. Otherwise they’re going to be a pain in your class. So it’s you’re forced and it’s those, I think that’s where we need to sit in policy when it comes to either making policy designing policies or. Or advocating for policies just to be mindful of one individual’s experience and being a teacher has taught me that, cause when it comes to political like policies, I feel like. A lot of it revolves around numbers management outcomes. And I seen this in the school system, as well as as a case study. Like you see that wave of okay, testing is everything. And then I, but what about the kids who can’t test, but we need these scores.
[00:44:44] It’s like you see that hyper capitalism industrialization, like coming into works and. But as a teacher, like you just really begin to grow empathetic and mindful, Of that one student who struggles in your class and is trying really hard and failing, and you don’t want to leave that kid behind and you start digging deeper into. The wise and their backgrounds. and that’s how you come to solutions is by really sitting down and getting to know not just the issue, but like that you relevant data. And nowadays things are Narrowed into set goals that don’t work. and that’s why we see these systems have fallen because we weren’t mindful of.
[00:45:55] The people who we’re serving or who these policies are attending to and, or who’s in leadership. And so I feel like in teaching, You become the greatest. I feel like you learn, I’ve heard in the past, like everyone needs to be a teacher and I’m like, no, not everybody, but now I’m like, Whoa, like when you’re a teacher, you just really learn to care about every individual story and try to make a system within your classroom. That includes everyone. And that’s like a little village. That I don’t really see often in public agencies. And I think we can learn a lot from the classroom.
[00:46:41]miko: [00:46:41] So are you saying as a teacher, you’re able to create your own community and your own structure? That can be a part from the more traditional capitalistic society that we live in.
[00:46:54] Ms. Whang: [00:46:54] Exactly. Thank you. That’s exactly what I mean. Right there. And you see it, you walk into the class. Whoa. This is like another world.
[00:47:04]miko: [00:47:04] You’ve also been doing so much work, incorporating arts education with your students, like the social justice arts installation and the video work. And I’m wondering how you feel that brings up about a more just classroom.
[00:47:18]Ms. Whang: [00:47:18] Yeah. man, those were so fun. Honestly. I think having fun is the most important thing. Cause when the kids have fun, it’s like they get to be themselves and their guards are down and I know they care about these issues. and. I think that’s my first point of equity is again, it just goes back to wellbeing. cause at first, going into the classroom, man, I want every kid to graduate. I want every kid to have a job, like every kid to do this, especially coming from like my TFA background. But man, especially like after corn Jeannine, but I always had this. I’m like, no, I just want you to be good and happy and win, Cause we do want. We do want to break the achievement gap, but how right.
[00:48:04] And or even like the arts education gap, but like they’re nothing beats, like getting a camera in a kid’s hand and they’re just having so much fun, and so for me, I think my focus point was to create. Joyful moments in the classroom and then also have these serious conversations and see that they can create beautiful things. Cause when they saw what they created, they saw themselves differently. So finding moments in the classroom, usually it came through like debates and dialogue, as simple as it sounds, but they would still have, a similar sense of all themselves. dang, I really can speak on this topic like this.
[00:48:45] I really care about my community. Cause that’s what all the projects were about. And then the second one was just like finding moments where they can have joy. Cause like the same joy that they have when they hold a camera can be a same, not the same, but like a level of joy when they meditate and when they come out of meditation. And so for me, those projects were really amazing. , I was going to burn out if I kept doing those. And so I just tried something different and started incorporating, Meditation conversations like community circles, and, breath work. Oh, and yoga.
[00:49:19]Jalena: [00:49:19] I was wondering if you could talk more about, how ethics studies and the third world liberation front have informed your teaching practice and if there’s any, other ancestor activists that inspire you in your teaching.
[00:49:33]Ms. Whang: [00:49:33] Even Grace Lee Boggs, I revisited her documentary and just in this actually like right before quarantine. And was reminded of why my work, cause she really focuses on local autonomy. Like we need more gardens. Like we need the little things that matter. And I, that’s a philosophy for me, notice the little things and the details.
[00:49:58] They’ll tell you a lot. And I, and she’s definitely someone. Who I look up to and read? Yeah. A lot. I would have to say like one of the pillars, and ethnic studies really, like I found a lot of myself, like a lot of people did through ethnic studies and which is why when. Trump and his ridiculous self I’m just like banning anything, critical race theory.
[00:50:23] Anything talking about race to me is it’s so obvious that it’s just a tactic because especially after this summer, we saw so much. We saw a lot of initiative from like companies from organizations to be very proactive and unpacking these biases and the deep work, like the deep work where you’re trying to change people’s mindset, which is really deep versus Don’t do that.
[00:50:54] You’re not allowed to do that, but okay. Let’s really think about why you look at this in a patriarchal framework, and so ethnic studies gave me that like third eye and helped me understand my history. In all the works that I do in and out the classroom, that I’m always pushing people and challenging them to move out of the predominant world that we live in with like white patriarchy
[00:51:23]Jalena: [00:51:23] Yeah. And speaking of that, we have this, Grace Lee Boggs quote that feels very relevant, which is “Education should be an ongoing process that enlists the energies and creativity of schoolchildren and rebuilding and re spiriting our communities and our cities.” And I think she, she talks so much about the importance of education and of course she has a school named after her and we’ve interviewed, Julia Putnam who runs the school kind of about that philosophy and really the importance of young minds and shaping our future. And it feels like with the movements going on now, young people are really at the forefront leading the way. So I’m curious your thoughts about that. especially in light of. The summer where we really saw, middle school students, high school students, college students, like leading this mass movement.
[00:52:11]Ms. Whang: [00:52:11] Yeah. I, we really need the kids at this point. If I’ve ever organizing my kids, I’m like, Thank you so much. You have no idea. You actually work a lot more efficiently than some adults. You’re more courageous man. I was helping out with, a student group out here and I didn’t like, very thoughtful and, even though I’m like, an I stand as an advocate, I’m a slow processor and I like to weigh out the spectrum and I had students be like, numbness.
[00:52:48] Like now’s not the time. And I’m like, okay, thanks. Like I’m on your side. I’m just so glad that, like we have our kids who speak out the conversations that, as I grow older, I’m more either timid to share or tired to share. The young people are teaching us to teaching us, to help them to reimagine the world. And when I talk to millennial, my millennial and beyond friends in this season where a lot of us are dealing with depression we’re struggling with what is progress, But in my classroom, like when I do my little warmups, like it’s a whole different vibe and they’re like, Oh, I’m like, where do you want to be?
[00:53:34] What’s your dream. They’re still on make the world a better place more. So they receive everything that’s happening in the world and they want to make it better. and we need to listen. We need that right now, especially. Because people are literally losing hope and losing hope enough to just either give up or, there, we’ve lost some folks, in this season and I, we need to hear them. they’re honest in the way that they have faith.
[00:54:05]Jalena: [00:54:05] There anything else you’d like to share, about education being political and political education?
[00:54:15] Ms. Whang: [00:54:15] Yeah. I just really want to emphasize taking care of ourselves. in this work because we really need all the conscious and honest people in this world to remain in their callings and purpose. And so I just really hope that people in this time of Ikea anxiety and discouragement can find a moment to tune in with their bodies and their mind. And, for those who do tapped into their spiritual selves, just really get connected, with their purpose.
[00:55:00]Jalena: [00:55:00] So, what did you learn from our guests today?
[00:55:03] miko: [00:55:03] Well, one of the things I learned from Laureen was how late in life she learned about racism and it really showcased her growing up in a segregated society in Chinatown. And just the lack of knowledge of not being around different types of people. So the whole point of her going to that first meeting, how powerful that was, and being around all different kinds of people and recognizing the similarities that they had, it was her friend.
[00:55:29] Jalena: [00:55:29] Hearing what other people are doing in their communities and how that relates to her community too. Right? That was cool. And I learned from Jane and about this idea of police mutual aid, which was very sinister and interesting.
[00:55:41] miko: [00:55:41] I didn’t even realize that was a thing. Mutual aid and being appropriated in that way by the police is a little scary.
[00:55:50] Jalena: [00:55:50] Or maybe they have always said it like that, but it’s like, so they obviously understand these concepts when it comes to their own. Um, supporting each other. Yeah. Yeah.
[00:55:59] miko: [00:55:59] And then from our last guest one teacher, that’s out there doing the work. It’s about how to bring your full self to the table when you are a teacher so that you can incorporate your yoga, your. Um, meditation your practices in who you are that makes you a better teacher.
[00:56:15] Jalena: [00:56:15] Yes. And Ms. Whang, she also talked a bit about burnout and you know, how hard it is to pull off these projects. So it also made me think about how ideally we would have an education system that made it easy for teachers to, or easier for teachers to see their kids as their full selves and bring their own full selves to the table.
[00:56:33] miko: [00:56:33] And i think that’s what all three guests talked about which is how do you recognize each teachers and students humanity and importance and value that
[00:56:44] Jalena: [00:56:44] Thank you for joining us for all education is political and join us in carrying on the legacy of our activist ancestors, because late Grace Lee Boggs says. We are the leaders we’ve been looking for
[00:56:57] Miko Lee: [00:56:57] Please check out our website, kpfa.org to find out more about we are the leaders and the guests we spoke to and how you can take direct action. We thank the San Francisco foundation for helping us to set up home studios and supporting the, we are the leader series. We thank all of you listeners out there.
[00:57:13] Keep resisting, keep organizing. Keep creating and sharing your visions with the world. Your voices are important. Apex express is produced by Preti Mangala-Shekar, Tracy Nguyen, Miko Lee Jalena Keane-Lee and Jessica Antonio. Tonight’s show was produced by your hosts, Miko Lee, and Jalena Keane-Lee thanks to KPFA staff for their support and have a great night.