To celebrate the month we’re going to be hearing from some incredible activists that we featured in our, “We Are the Leaders” series. We are the leaders was inspired by the famous Grace Lee Boggs quote. “We are the leaders we’ve been looking for.” Today’s show features the following artists, activists and thinkers including: Helen Zia, Anirvan Chatterjee, Sammie Ablaza Wills, Hawane Rios, Yuri Kochiyama, Julia Putnam, Gail Romasanta
May 8th Show Transcripts
[00:00:00] Opening: 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.
[00:00:18] Jalena Keane-Lee: 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 powerleegirls, a mother daughter team. Happy Asian-American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander heritage month. And welcome to another special episode of apex express. This is the powerleegirls. I’m Jalena Keane-Lee, and I’m Miko Lee. We’re a mother-daughter duo talking today about Asian American native Hawaiian Pacific Islander heritage month,
To celebrate the month we’re going to be hearing from some incredible activists that we featured in our, we are the leaders series. We are, the leaders was inspired by the famous Grace Lee Boggs quote. We are the leaders we’ve been looking for. First up we hear from a claimed activist and lawyer helen Zia.
[00:01:12] Helen Zia: I call it M I H that we are at so often missing in history. And the only thing that’s going to change, that is our voices. We have to restore that history.
We have to reclaim that involvement and we have to know that we have nothing to be ashamed about We were not missing it You know we were there and It’s just that other people don’t know that And so that part we have to do
We love this phrase missing in history from Helen Zia. And that’s a big part of what we think this month is all about. It’s rewriting us into the dominant narratives of history. And of course it’s a big mission of our show to make sure that our voices and stories are heard. Not just things from the past from ancestors from movements in the past but also things that are happening in the present and the interconnectedness and connections between The two
Next up Anirvan Chatterjee, storyteller, an activist and founder of the Berkeley south Asian radical history. Walking tour tells us about a little bit of history that has long been missing from history. As Helen Zia would say. He talks about interconnectedness between the south Asian and African-American communities. And the importance of knowing about this history and knowing about these solidarities and that this kind of solidarity has existed throughout Time
[00:02:36] Anirvan: There’s been a lot written about, Points of intersection between South Asian and African American movements for justice. I knew from my immigrant community, that Ghandi influenced Dr. King and through the ways that, Ghandi and nonviolence kind of spread. as part of the civil rights movement, but I think that was pretty much the end of it. those points of intersection kind of stopped and ended there.
it wasn’t until I started doing a lot more reading, that I realized how little I knew. one of my favorite stories of African American and South Asian solidarities is the story of Bayard Rustin, who a lot of us know as the black gay civil rights activist, who was the architect of the 1963 March on Washington.
What I didn’t know was, in the 1940’s, he was a Quaker, he was a pacifist. He was actually in prison for awhile because he was a pacifist during world war two. while he was in prison, he was thinking and reading about, Solidarity with colonized India and the work of de-colonizing India.
And he gets involved with a free India committee in the mid 1940s. he gets out of prison and, he gets involved with things like sit down, protest outside of the British embassy in Washington, D C. just the idea that this skinny black gay activist in the 1940s was part of the global movement for the liberation of my people. it’s really different from the sense of what an Indian freedom fighter looks like. I love the idea of being able to claim Bayard Rustin as one of my Indian freedom fighters.
On the flip side, in 1964 in, Jackson, Mississippi, Tougaloo college who a historically black college , there was a Pakistani professor named Hamid Kizilbashand an Indian professor Savitri Chattopadhyay. They’re teaching on this black college during the height of the civil rights movement, they could use their kind of. Asian immigrant in between kind of a status really interesting ways. for example , they were able to, support their student’s work to desegregate a movie theaters by going into the movie theater buying tickets. Cause they were allowed to buy movie tickets. And hand those tickets over to their black students. So when the black students show up, they’re like, well, you know, we actually have these tickets and it’s just like a small act of every day allyship or being co-conspirator, it’s something that actually made a difference for the students.
They’re able to kind of use their position in ways that are, that are strategically helpful. Now, at one point in time, Hamid Kizilbashand actually gets physically attacked by white racists. he gets pulled out of his car. He’s chased down. There was somebody with him who basically calls out to these white racists going, “hang on, hang on. He’s international. He’s, he’s Brown. He’s, he’s not black.” And he’s not beaten up nearly as badly as somebody who’s black and his position might have been. for a lot of South Asians, we know we’re racist. We know we have deep, complicated anti-blackness in our communities, but I don’t think we necessarily know what it looks like to be anti-racist. the story of these two, faculty members at Tougaloo college in 1964, it’s a really great story. of what it actually looks like to be anti-racist, we have these stories to also build on that. It’s not enough to just critique, and call out, but to also do uplift, just to kind of celebrate more of what it is that we want to see.
Jalena: Thanks for sharing that story. And, you know, there’s so many Asian American stories, Asian American Pacific Islander stories that are left out of history and even more so queer Asian American Pacific Islander stories. And we really want to make sure that we’re uplifting our queer stories and queer ancestors. Next up. We hear from Sammy Ablaza Wills who is a queer organizer and activists and death doula. They tell us about a local bay area story of queer activism that proceeded the Stonewall riots and is a lot less known. So we’re so grateful that Sammy Cahn. Bring up this piece that is missing in history Sorry.
[00:06:45] Sammie Ablaza Wills: One thing that I will talk about, cause there, there truly is so many examples. is the contents cafeteria rights in San Francisco? many people at least nowadays, familiar or have heard of the Stonewall riots in New York, which happened at the Stonewall Inn. And was a rebellion against police brutality led by Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera.
A few years prior to the Stonewall riots was, the incident at the conference cafeteria in San Francisco’s Tenderloin and conference was a place where many trans people drag Queens and sex workers hung out late night, got food and spent time with one another. And, all of the places where trans folks and drag Queens and sex workers hung out were places where police raids would regularly happen, arresting people for the crime of impersonating a woman or arresting people for the crime of prostitution or arresting people for whatever reason they could think of because they thought of all of these folks as sexual deviance, right. that history has almost been forgotten, but one day at Constance cafeteria, the police came to raid and the patrons of conference cafeteria got fed up and said, we’re not going to allow for another raid to happen. And a rebellion broke out in the streets between the trans folks and the drag Queens and the sex workers and the police officers in the Tenderloin.
it was from that day that trans folks, drag Queens and sex workers really started a movement for trans liberation and trans justice against police brutality in the city of San Francisco. one of the folks who was active in the Tenderloin at that time is Tamara Ching, a trans API elder who is still alive and living in San Francisco today.
She’s somewhat of a local legend in trans communities because of all of the work she did in the Tenderloin even though she wasn’t immediately present at the moment of competence cafeteria, she continued the legacy of what was started that day for many, many decades for trans people and for sex workers, for people living in the Tenderloin for low income folks.
But the work that she did is not seen in textbooks it’s not seen in Asian American history courses. the thing that really feels important for me to just state out right, is that LGBTQ history is Asian American, Pacific Islander history and Asian American Pacific Islander history is LGBTQ history because there is no way that either of those movements would have happened without each other.
And these movements have not even always agreed. But agreement is not the precipice of history. history shows. What agreements and disagreements have been made to create the present conditions that we’re in.
When I think the importance of understanding our history, this phrase always comes to my mind and, It’s like a, I feel like pretty popular in ethnic studies, but it’s, no history, no self. Right. And if we don’t know where we were, it’s really, really hard to determine where we’re going to be going.
When I think about all of the history that has existed, that allows me to be alive. I don’t see one clear lineage. Right? I see many, many stories. People, people in the United States, people outside of the United States. I see trans people. I see CIS people. I see many people that have worked and had success and built relationships and also people that have made mistakes, like deep, deep mistakes that have set us back or put us in different directions.
And. I’m thinking it is incredibly important to know all of that history so we can understand ourselves as part of a larger lineage and also so that we can make new mistakes. Our ancestors and our elders have made mistakes so that we don’t have to anymore. We can make new ones. We can try new experiments. We contend continue the best things that worked out.
And try new things that can fail in different ways. but we don’t need to be recreating the same failures and same mistakes and same hurt every five years or so. I think it’s incredibly important as people invested in justice to know our histories so that we can have a more clear idea of where we can go in the future. And then we can look back at our histories, right. Our present. And write our future into existence with all of that context in mind
Jalena: Huge. Thank you to Sammy for sharing about tomorrow. Ching has such an incredible trans Asian American activists that we should really all know about and also pointing out the differences throughout history and queer history, Asian American, Pacific Islander history, and that. They are one in the same and both inform where we are today. And they’re truly one thing. And I love what Sammy said about, you know, we look back at our histories, right? Our present. And that’s what allows us to write our future into existence. And that’s what the show, and I dare say this month is all about. Next up we hear from Havana Rios, who is a NATO, Hawaiian activist and protector of the sacred mountain Mona Kath.
She talks about. Genealogy ancestral knowledge. And just really builds on this idea of deep sacred knowing and how important that is in our communities These.
[00:12:31] Jalena Keane-Lee: do you have any advice for people that don’t have you know that history recorded for them or have been cut off from in various ways from their own history and their own ancestral power
[00:12:42] Hawane Rios: Somebody always remembered something. It’s not that lost and you can remember inside of you. You in your DNA can unlock much wisdom from your own ancestors if you believe it. Call upon your own Kapuna. If you even know the names of your grandparents and your great-grandparents that’s a start. Just know where you come from. Find that out. I ask the questions. As the eldest person in your ohana, “What do you remember?” Spend time, even if it’s on zoom or facetime right now, because that’s what it has to be. Use your time wisely. Talk to anyone in your family that remembers. And if they don’t go to the lens you remember. You remember where you come from. Find out the name of your mountain, the mountain that raised you and your ancestors.
If you were in living somewhere that is not your original homelands bind that mountain unless you were born on there It’s because you were still a part of it that air has fed you that water has fed you know What to think of who the bank have gratitude every single day By learning something new everyday challenge yourself Learn the story of the land that you’re on whether you’re from there or not And then honor it because that’s how we learn how to honor things It’s a way bigger out for one second That we’re not the center of everything That there’s so much around us that gave us like every single day And so Know that your life force It’s not for nothing I really hope that she find her way home So yourself it’s your lens and see your people into your power
You know someday we’re going to be the ancestors people seven generations from now they’re going to say look at what they did With what they had And then whatever they’re going to have is going to probably be 10 times more efficient and amazing than what we had But hopefully we pass out enough For them to not Take advantage of the beauty and the sacredness of this clinic Hopefully we did enough to switch The tides And change the tie ins for the next seven generations to come because the way that we’re going We’re not going to have anything to leave behind And again we’re not here just for ourselves Women especially we are the vessels of the next seven generations even if we don’t Bring children into this world And even if we can’t bring children into this world we still have the kuleana to do whatever we can to make sure that any person coming into this realm Have a safe place to land That’s what we do
Jalena: Thank you Havana. It’s a great reminder. That history is something that is always in the making and also something that can always be reclaimed. If you have people that you can talk to that you can ask, do that. And if you don’t, as Havana said, you can connect with the land. You can know about the waters and the mountains that raised you.
And then from there, maybe you can trace back to your ancestral places as well, but there’s always a place to start and it helps us think about what are we going to leave? For the next seven generations as she said too. In addition to being a water protector and protector of the sacred mountain Monica. Havana is also a recording artist and release the album together. We rise in 2019. Next up listen to one of her songs from her album together we rise called free the streams.
Welcome back. You’re tuned in to an apex express special for a N H P I heritage month on 94.1 KPFA and 89.3 KPF. Be in Berkeley 88.1. KFCF in Fresno and 97.5 K 2 4 8. BR in Santa Cruz. And [email protected].
You just listened to free the streams by Havana Rios from her album. Together we rise
Next up, we hear more from Helen Zia, legendary Asian American lawyer, and activists and women who coined the term missing in history. We hear from her about the importance of solidarity and intersectionality
[00:18:50] Helen Zia: The Lowest part of the human experience can you know I get triggered by a crisis but actually crisis also brings people together and and history shows that people can overcome quite a lot when they are United
When they see the importance of standing together and that you know we are all in this together There’s no question We cannot overcome the covert crisis or the pandemic of racism unless we come together And so in the 1980s what happened was Vincent chin was killed We’re looking Japanese He was a Chinese American And what made even that racist Attack and hate crime even worse was that his killers who were two white auto workers got off Scott free basically they got probation and fines And the judge said in a city of Detroit he said These are not the kind of men you sent to jail You fit the punishment to the criminal not to the crime In other words well these two white guys don’t have to go to jail for beating somebody to death And then what does that mean about who should be punished in a in a city like Detroit which was even then you know about 70% African American So there was a large uproar throughout the city People were just just appalled you know all people of conscience you know said what do you mean You’re going to let murderers killers off scott free you know And so so I think it’s important to remember in these times when we are in a a very fractured time when you know it’s almost like we get the message every day that people can’t come together people are just to two divided Well in fact people do come together and we had had many historical periods where people of very different backgrounds came together and in the Vincent chin case you know it was not only Asian Americans and that came together and and remembering that time And then I actually knew the eighties Asian Americans were not together Vincent chin was a Chinese American
Chinese community had to come together with the Japanese community which was being targeted and You know the the Southeast Asian and Filipino and South Asian communities I mean they were all separate So the Asian American community came together in a pan Asian movement And so did the allies all around us We knew that we were Too small a community to do this on our own And you know the the various African American civil rights organizations and churches know came out So all of that just like any organizing really took taking time To reach out to each other to sit down and talk and there would be leaders in different communities who would open that door for us And so
it was a very very broad based multiracial multicultural United effort to try to do something that helped launch an Asian American civil rights movement And we need that today
[00:22:13] Miko Lee: There have been times in our American history where we have fought back, the third world movement in this building of the ethnic studies programs at San Francisco state. And there’s been so many others where people have come together. What do you think about like this time right now, of different people of color coming together and helping to reshape the American story, do you feel that’s happening? Is that something you can kind of read in the, in the tea leaves based on your experience?
[00:22:44] Helen Zia: I do. I believe not only can that happen, but it must happen everybody is under siege and it’s very clear that , none of us can solve this alone, no group, whether that’s political, racial, you know, sexual orientation. Gender, or political party, none of us can do it alone. It really is going to take everybody working together and to, to kind of, you know, tune out all of the noise, that are aimed to keep us divided.
Looking at American society, people of color in California, for example, are already in the majority. if we could unite, we would be in the majority. And then you layer on that, that people of conscience from every color and walk of life are vastly and majority yet we haven’t yet come together and this crisis has to be a wake up call for all of us. and you know, California is one of about a dozen States that have already crossed that milestone. within the next 10 years, the entire country is going to be majority people of color. And what does that mean? That means if we just. tune out the messages that keep saying, Oh, you’re too divided. You know, the, anti-black views within the Asian community anti-Asian views within the black community, black and Brown versus yellow and white, and dividing, you know, having that narrative divide us continually is just. Serving that purpose to keep us divided. if we came together in what we have in common, we really are the majority and we could really make some change and we have to make change because people are getting sick and dying within our communities. That’s the vision, we have to hold on to, I, I do think we’ll get there. We have done it before many, many times in, in our history, so, that’s, those are the lessons we need to draw from and seek out the unity that we really do have.
I would love for the API younger activists today to know that we have such a rich history of activism that goes back to our first days on this continent. they should be proud of that. And to know that they’re carrying on a very rich and strong legacy. Forward. when, Martin Luther King and the other civil rights activists were crossing the Pettus bridge, that famous March through Selma, Alabama, they were all wearing leis. I was very sad to see that the movie that just got made about that, show them without the leis. Where did the leis come from? They came from, activists in Hawaii who were supporting that March and many. People many Asian people were also there.
That moment in all of our psyches is missing a historical piece, because any photograph of that time, you see , the involvement of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders that were there. So we get erased. I want young activists today to know that yes, we have been marginalized erased. We’ve done a lot to, affect the lives of every American. That was true for the Vincent chin case. That was true after 9/11, the “me too” movement. Women who have survived, sexual harassment or sexual assault standing up at a trial, basing their accuser and saying, this is what that harm did, to me, part of that victim impact statement momentum for that also came from the Vincent Chin the fact that we can, be born in America and be citizens that’s because. Of a Chinese American back in the 1800’s who took that all the way to the Supreme court. Brown versus board of education, the legal justification for that came from, a Chinese American laundry who objected to be taxed as separate. so that was a Supreme court case to that then was the underpaid underpinnings for, Brown vs board of education. The great grape boycott that was initiated by Filipino American farm workers and then involved Cesar Chavez and the , Chicano farm workers that was initiated by Asian-Americans. We have so many things that we should, we can be proud of, but are MIH missing in history.
The only people who are going to have to point that out is us because we’ve been systematically removed from, from this history. And that’s part of the racism that we have to fight too. Asian American activists can be proud of the things that our forebears have done for us and for the whole country.
I hope that all of our listeners out there can really take Helen Zia’s. He has words to heart.
Yes, we’ve been erased and yes, it’s part of our job to write ourselves back into the history of this country and to take pride in the ancestral lineage that we come from and all that. Our ancestors have done to make this country a better place and to give us the freedoms and the protections that we do have today. And of course, there’s so much more work to be done. And speaking of incredible ancestors and this lineage of activism that we inherit next up we hear from legendary activists URI coach Yama.
[00:28:32] Yuri Kochiyama: That’s the year that the us government launched a Chinese exclusion act this act or law rule that Chinese will not be allowed to come into this country again And yet this act went into effect just after the Chinese spent years building the railroad tracks from the police Pacific coast to the Midwest There was only one lone voice that oppose this order the Chinese Exclusion Act this courageous person was a black man The first black then became centered the Senator in Mississippi Senator blanche K Bruce Bruce felt an Exclusion act was an outright show racism There were no other exclusion acts before this was he felt there would surely be more people who would be excluded and send away from him I think the sensitivity to the Chinese was because he was himself black and had experienced many such situations He fought against the bill that himself of course the bill for years and years Chinese were not allowed to come in but we as Asians we must never forget those Trying to assist us in our journey as this lone black Senator did you will not find everything in school textbooks we must dig them and find them ourselves
Asian Americans must be more vocal, visible, and take stands on crucial issues. Hopefully Asians will side with the most dispossessed, oppressed and marginalized, remembering our own history. We Asians need to reshape our image from the rather quiet, ambiguous, accommodating uncomplaining, palitable people to a more resolute, sensitive advocate for human worth, human rights and human dignity.
Jalena: Thank you. Ancestor activist, Yuri Kochiyama. For those fiery words that are so important to really. Remember, especially this month, not only like we’ve been saying throughout this episode that we have these pieces of history that are so important that we need to dig up. And remember and talk about and bring to light, but also that we need to take a stand on these issues. We are faced with so many issues today and it’s our responsibility to take a stand and to stand inside with those who are the most marginalized and oppressed.
Yuri Kochiyama passed away June 1st, 2014, but she was such an incredible bay area. Figure that her whole life always showing up at events and being in community even well into her nineties. And of course she’s famous for. Her political views and her close relationship With Malcolm. Some ex.
Another incredibly fierce Asian American ancestor, activists who was showing up and extremely active in community well into her eighties. His Grace Lee Boggs. Grace Lee Boggs is a Chinese American activist, philosopher and author who among many other things believe fervently and the power of education and community Next up. We hear from Julia Putnam who studied under grace for a long time in Detroit.
And currently runs the James and Grace Lee Boggs school. Where she puts many of james and Grace’s activism principles into action in the classroom
[00:32:34] Julia Putnam: I was 19 or so I was her intern for a summer. My role is I saw it was helping grace to organize her, study she would have these, cardboard folders that would contain articles that she read over the years or newspapers. And she would label topics and put these articles in newspapers, in those folders. And a lot of the newspapers were yellowing a lot. a lot of the papers were kind of just jammed in there. and I would say, you know, grace, you’ve written an article on this already, or the newspaper that exists here digitally, we should get rid of these or we can throw these away. And she was very resistant to that. and it was really frustrating because I thought, well, what am I supposed to be doing here? And I came to her one time, really troubled. And I said to her, you know, it feels like we’re arguing a lot. And she grinned me and she said, “I know it’s great, isn’t it we’re struggling.”
And she said it was such joy. And it helped me understand that for her arguing conflict struggling was not a negative thing. she was saying, as we’re learning from one another, we are frustrating one another, which is moving us toward forward. and it helped me to not be so afraid to be in conflict with people that I cared about to be in conflict with people that I trusted. I can have an opinion that is different from hers. And she sees that as okay. Because it means that we’re struggling through something. that was really helpful and continues to help me in my work today.
[00:34:13] Miko Lee: I love that story. Can you also talk about how she signed her letters? How she did her sign off?
[00:34:20] Julia Putnam: She would sign off ” in love and struggle, grace,” that love doesn’t come without struggle. and that when we communicate with one another, we are communicating out of love and we are also communicating out of the struggle we have with one another. What do I know There’s so many things but what do you feel is the legacy that she leaves behind And obviously with her husband Jimmy too
[00:34:42] Julia Putnam: I know that a legacy that she’s left to our school Two very important things is when we asked for permission to name the school after her the James and Grace Lee Boggs school she said yes but with the challenge that we would have to as the school founders think beyond what we even believe is possible I am one of the cofounders along with Amanda Rossman and Marisol Teachworth and the three of us together As three women three women of different ethnicities very much love and struggle together and also take it very seriously This idea that we’ve been indoctrinated as to what school is and when things get hard we will deflect to what we know.as opposed to continue to imagine something different And so we often challenge ourselves with that and challenge our staff and we all challenge one another to are we thinking beyond what we believe it’s possible What is the what is beyond the binary that we’re being stuck in right now Wo that’s the legacy that grace leaves to us that is very important And the other thing is that again the idea of her taking young people seriously and she saw young people as solutionaries she called them people who are able to problem solve to see a challenge and come up with solutions for it And she saw young people as especially creative in their ability to do that And so even on the school t-shirts that kids get there’s the the Boggs school logo but on the back it says Solutionary and the kids really take on that identity They take it very seriously They take it very personally often when they come up with a solution to a problem they’ll just kind of put their fingers up and just I’m a Solutionary you know I figured it out and and having that identity as young people is has been really important to our school for all of us
And I’m wondering if there are thoughts that you feel grace would be teaching right now in this time
[00:36:48] Julia Putnam: I think Grace would be highlighting that fact of the young people in the movement their leadership in this movement and their leadership in this time I think she would be encouraging us to listen to young people I think she would be listening to young people And I think that she would say I actually think she’d be very excited by this time heartbroken in the ways that we all are but also excited that we are being forced in this moment to realize that things need to be reimagined We are being forced to use our imaginations for how We stay connected in this time how we educate in this time how we organize in this time how we govern ourselves and how we think about governance in a completely different way than we’ve ever had to before And I think that’s a lot of what she would be excited about that this is That this is the moment where not only do we have to reimagine but we also have to realize that we’re the leaders that we’re looking for She would often say when we were thinking about the school is that we don’t have a lot of leadership around education and certainly not around the education We know that our communities need And so she would say Julia Amanda Mani you all have to imagine this differently yourself You are the leaders that you’ve been looking for No one’s coming to figure this out for you And so we feel as the founders that we with our community of parents and students and community members are beginning to think about how to do this differently and to look to the leadership of young people
Thank you so much, Julia, for sharing about how Grace Lee Boggs legacy lives on through the James and Grace Lee Boggs school. And also just about the importance of struggle about love and struggle being one in the same and how. Being able to struggle with love and, you know, to disagree and to have conflict without canceling someone or hating them, but still, you know, in a, in a relationship that is full of a lot of love and not being part of being in community.
I think that’s really beautiful and that’s something that we can all learn from, from Grace Lee Boggs and from Julia and from how they implement that. At their school
Jalena Next up, let’s listen to another song from Havana. Rio says album together. We rise. This song is called USI and it’s focused on the importance of healing. Next up you see by havana rios
That was UC by native Hawaiian singer and songwriter Havana. Rios from her album together. We rise. Next up we speak with Gail Romasanta who is a Filipina organizer author and community activists This
She wrote journey for justice the life of Larry which is a children’s book that tells the story of labor activists, Larry Itliong.
You could keep going. We have all this information. We have all this history and we need to learn from it. And this isn’t the first time at the rodeo. This is not the first time that we’ve held a picket sign. This is not the first time that we fought for our lives, literally. And we can do it if undocumented.
If all of these workers who are migrant workers that no one even thought of that farm workers were even supposed to create unions. And they were supposed to be absolutely expendable. When the Filipinos came here, they were told that the United States was absolutely modern, was the best country in the whole, in the world, just because they were at the time.
During this time, the United States was the colony of the United States and when Larry was growing up and so all the instruction he got was English and all the teachers were saying that there’s a wonderful country. He comes here. And he’s living in these deplorable conditions when it’s really hot.
They’re working outside from light to dark. When they’re drinking water, they’re all sharing a tin cup. Is that modern? Is that the best country in the world to them? They didn’t see that. And for them to be. Seeing kind of the worst of the United States the worst of its conditions and for them to fight and say, I’m going to stay me United States because I love the United States.
I love this country and there is hope within us as a community who have decided to stay here, that we can continue to fight and say that we met. That we that we need to our needs get to be met. We need to get, we need to have dignity. We need to have pride in our work. We need to be able to work without pesticides, killing us.
We need to have bathroom breaks. We need to have medical insurance. And they asked for all of this and they asked for a raise on top of it. And. And, there’s lots of photos. We actually have a photo in the second edition of a riot and you can see, Filipinos aren’t getting hit. We don’t show the whole picture, but there’s some pictures of Filipinos getting hits, hit by the police by batons and things like that.
So violence against us is. It’s not, unfortunately not new policy is against us, unfortunately is not new. Us being seen as cheap labor and not treated as fully human is not new. And despite that these generations before us were able to find justice. Able to speak to the world. Now this was a global campaign.
This was just not the United States. People from all over the world. For instance, during Christmas would give Christmas presents to the farm workers, children. If they were able to. To create this change on a global scale, which is what is happening now. And they can sign those documents for that level that living wage, they can sign those documents to get medical insurance they have, and they’re able to.
And negotiate for the pesticides that can be used, where they’re working. If we can negotiate that if our history was able to negotiate in the face of all that violence and the policies and the judges and the police were on the side of the growers. In fact, when they went on strike, if you look at Marissa or Roy’s.
Documentary, you can see when the Filipinos went on strike, there’s about 2000 Filipinos who went on strike. After they voted the following day, they went on strike. They walked off, they went to work and they walked out the fields. And guess who was waiting for them? Was the police. All the police and you can see the growers just waiting.
And they S they try to do this peacefully at first. So they asked at meeting for the growers first, before, and they weren’t doing it peaceably, when they were protesting to begin with. But of course the police were waiting for them when they protested. But before that, they invited the growers so that they could negotiate.
Rationally and without having to protest and not having to pick it for so long. But the growers never showed up. And what we’ve been going through as a country has only lasted, we’ve been going through this a long time. Many people have been doing this have been activists for decades now, or for most of their lives.
They know what we’re seeing now is oh my God, this is to me. I want to cry. This is something that I could not have imagined. And But it’s something that has years and years in history behind it. And for us not to just create from zero, but to continue the arc that has been laid before us of what, the, what the generations before did Specifically during these times.
And if you look at all the different movements what can we, what look, what can we learn from them? And a lot of it is you’ve got to sustain, we’ve got to strategize and it can’t be. It absolutely can be done. .
Jalena: Thank you so much, Gail Romasanta for sharing all of that history and all of that knowledge with us. And as she says, we have the knowledge, we have the history, we can do this. It’s not necessarily going to be easy, but it is something that we can do. And. It is really important for us to figure out ways to make activism sustainable for ourselves and for future generations to come.While we’re on the topic of labor and labor activism. Next up we hear from Saru Jayaraman. Who is an attorney and author and an activist. And.
The president of one fair wage and director of the food and labor research center at UC Berkeley.
She speaks with us about the campaign she’s working on to make sure that restaurant workers are paid a fair and living wage. And the things that keep her hopeful even in times of despair There.
I have been organizing in the restaurants many years and prior to the pandemic we had been working for many years on the issue of the sub minimum wage for tipped workers which is a Legacy of slavery It is $2 and 13 cents at the federal level That is the wage for six or 7 million tipped workers in America 70% of whom are women 40% of whom are single mothers struggling to make ends meet to feed their children on mostly on tips Now Was there prior to the pandemic it was a real problem with the pandemic About 10 million restaurant workers have lost their jobs They are in large majority are unable to access unemployment insurance at 60% of them unable to access unemployment insurance because they’re being told by state unemployment insurance offices that there are some minimum wage plus tips is too little to meet the minimum threshold to qualify For benefits which means they’re being penalized for being paid too little and it’s opening up both workers and consumers and even employers to the fact that if the state is telling you you earn too little to qualify for benefits that by the way you paid taxes to get Then probably they were paid too little prior to the pandemic period And so that is an example of how the moment has really revealed that these were untenable unsustainable systems of inequity structural systems of inequity that never should have existed And now are going to create a catastrophe in some ways I think greater than the scale of the great difference
Workers are telling us I am terrified and I’m having to choose between my life and my livelihood because the way that unemployment insurance has set up if they have access to unemployment insurance is that you lose unemployment insurance If you don’t Take the job You have to be willing to take whatever comes your way If you get offered a job you must take it Otherwise you lose your benefits And so workers are terrified because they’re going back to situations where there is no protective equipment Obviously there’s still no testing or there’s there’s no healthcare There’s very little con there’s no contract tracing I mean it’s it’s a mess and people are terrified Workers are saying even if my boss did provide me with PP the customers are not wearing it when they come in Certainly they’re not wearing it when they’re eating so workers are in a really tough situation right now having to choose between their life and their livelihood On the other hand I think it is becoming a lot more obvious to consumers that this is not a tenable situation It’s not fair to the workers It’s not safe It’s not healthy for anybody And so there is a lot of opportunity for change because employers know how Precarious The situation is consumers are wary of employers who don’t take care of their workers Suddenly all the things we’d been fighting for a fair livable wage being able to take care of yourself as a worker getting the time off If you need it if you get sick suddenly all of those things have come to the forefront and honestly changes that we never in a million years thought could happen or are happening in our industry because of the pandemic
we can reimagine every aspect of our world from the restaurant industry and the way it pays and treats people to our planet and the way that we choose to travel or not travel and the amount of footprint that we each have on our planet.
To took the criminal justice system and whether people ever really needed to be locked up in the first place to education. And now the various ways that education can happen. Everything is changing. And it must because both for those young people and for lots of other people, what was normal prior to the pandemic was never normal, never worked.
And so rather than going back to normal, I think what I would say to young people right now is join us in. Re-imagining every aspect of our lives and how this pandemic could be the portal that our, that the Roy has said that it is this moment of opportunity to walk into an entirely new world, a re-imagined world in which everything that we’ve needed all along we can finally achieve.
And what are the main things that you’d like to see come out of a new day? Yeah we definitely need our organization is called one fair wage for a reason. We need a livable minimum wage for everybody in the United States who works tipped workers. Who get us some minimum wage right now, incarcerated workers who don’t have to be paid the minimum wage because of the exception to the 13th amendment that allows for slavery in the case of incarceration, youth who often don’t get the full minimum wage people with disabilities, who often don’t get the minimum wage.
Fundamentally, no workers should be left behind. Everybody who works in this country deserves to be paid a full, livable, minimum wage by their employer with tips on top of that. Not instead of that that’s one piece we obviously need universal health care. That is a given of the moment. We need benefits for workers like hazard pay and sick pay and paid time off.
We need a society. Actually thinks of public safety, not in terms of locking people up, but in terms of providing good jobs and good schools for communities that have been long devastated by racial inequities. So those are just some of the things I can rattle off the top of my head that we need in a new deal, but really what we need is a new world.
And I, what I really want, I, what I really hope young people can hear is that is totally possible right now. In this moment, there is that opportunity to make everything different and better. And re-imagined
Jalena: Thank you so much Saru for sharing your brilliance and these words that are so powerful and impactful. And I hope we can all think about what we can do to make our world better for all of us. , we’ve had so much incredible activists, thought leaders, ancestors speaking on the show today. These are interviews taken from our series called we are the leaders from Grace Lee Boggs, famous quote. But let’s end. Celebrating this month with a little bit of joy. Yes. We have a lot of important issues to tackle. Yes. There are a lot of big problems ahead of us. But we won’t be able to do any of it unless we have fun and have some pleasure along the. the way.
So lastly, let’s talk about some of our, rapid-fire a NHPI question. Okay. What’s your favorite food?
I think today it is, , kimchi fried rice. Mine is chashu about and strawberry mochi. And favorite fruit. Mango mango. Yeah, no question mango. Whatever book. I, my favorite book of all time is actually not Asian American. , but it’s a Mallory book and it’s called the bone people. But then recently my favorite book that is by an Asian-American is crying and H Bart, what about you? Oh, crying and HR is really good. woman warrior is one of my favorites. Oh, gee book. Yeah, for sure.
Musician. Mine is her or Ruby Abara. Ooh, I think those are mine too. I really love her and Ruby Obara and then also shout out to my friends, raise our Goza, who is a phenomenal musician who is native American and Japanese and Hollis long-wear who is Chinese American and white. Oh, And Rena Rena.
Oh, Rena saw. Yama. Yes, Rena. So yeah, I really liked. She’s amazing. Film or TV show minds, everything everywhere. All at once. I can’t think of a TV show, but movie is definitely everything everywhere. All was. Mine changes day-to-day but I did really like Menotti and parasite. What about artist?
, I recently went to now Shima island in Japan. So right now, favorite Asian artists I can think of is Yaya. Kusama. Oh, I do love her work. For me, my favorite, a N H P I artists changes every day and today it would be Ruth Asawa because I’m thinking a lot about weaving and how she weaved these beautiful baskets out of wire. And she really transformed how we think about sculpture. So I love her, the SOA.
Who’s your favorite ancestor activist. , this changes every day too, but I really feel like I always, always most often think of quotes from Grace Lee Boggs. I was thinking Gracely Boggs too, but I also one. But also Yuri Kochiyama, and just thinking about how radical she was up until the very end and how she would be in her nineties coming to all these community events and still being just as sharp and just as radical and refusing to take anything from anyone. And I really admire that.
I feel like a gift that we have of doing this show is so many of the elder activists that we’ve been able to interview that are still out there making changes.
, really utilizing their voice to invigorate the next generation. So I’m thankful that we get to talk to those people and learn from them constantly. Me too. And what a great time, what a great month to celebrate. So happy Asian American native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander month. And thank you so much for joining us. Please check out our website, kpfa.org to find out more about these events and our guests. We thank all you listeners out there. Keep resisting, keep organizing, keep creating and sharing your visions with the world.
Your voices are important. Apex expresses a proud member of acre Asian Americans for civil rights and equality. A network of progressive AAPI groups. Find out [email protected].
APEX express is produced by Miko Lee that’s me, Paige Chung, Swati Rayasam, Preeti Mangala Shakar, Nate Tan, Hien Nguyen and Jalena Keane-Lee. Have a great day