From the thousands of Asian activism pages online, @asian.actiivist stands out as one of the most influential. This page was started by 16-year-old Yilan Batista, A Cuban-Chinese activist who is raising awareness about Asian rights. With over 46.6k followers on Instagram, her content educates others about modern issues surrounding Asian rights, politics, and struggles.
We had the pleasure of interviewing her and learning a little about what inspired such a passion for activism.
1. How have your family/traditions impacted the way you are today?
"Both my families from my mother and father's side have struggled with histories of capitalism and communism in their respective countries, China and Cuba. When you come from families that were impacted in communist revolutions, it's easy to fall for red scare American propaganda that seeks to demonize socialist countries as authoritarian and backwards.
2. Have you ever faced discrimination before? How did it alter your perspective and and how were you able to begin accepting and loving your culture?
"I've faced the type of discrimination that many Asians face - being called slurs, being told to go back to my country, etc. However, the most powerful racism that I faced was internalized racism. Growing up in China, I believed I would never be enough because I was not white or American. I believed I could only be happy if I came to America. When I finally came to America in 2017, my perspective shifted greatly. I realized how much China meant to me -- it was my home. I also realized how I could never be white or American, no matter how much I hoped I could.
4. What is your advice for young Asian-Americans struggling with accepting their own cultures?
"So many young Asian Americans struggle with their cultures because white America actively portrays them as backward and disgusting.
5. Why is Asian-American pride activism important to you?
"Asian American pride and activism is important to me because the struggles that Asian Americans face are often erased in mainstream media, and mainstream media is also constantly pushing red scare, yellow peril propaganda against our native countries.
Thank you so much, Yilan, for sharing your own experiences and continuing to inspire others to embrace their cultures in the face of racism. It's especially important now to speak out against racial stereotyping and educate others on Asian history and culture.
Check out her Instagram page here: @asian.actiivist
Interviewer: Carina Sun
Interviewee: Yilan Batista
Wow, I can't believe it's already May. These past two months in quarantine have gone by in the blink of an eye, but here at DeclarASIAN, we hope that everyone is finding productive ways to get through this chaotic period.
More than ever, it's important to realize that this month is Asian Heritage Month--a month dedicated to celebrating and recognizing the important impact that Asians and Pacific Islanders have had in the United States. This year, it also commemorates the 151st anniversary of the completion of the first transcontinental railroad, mainly constructed by Chinese migrants. Unfortunately, many of the usual celebrations such as APA Heritage festivals and parades have been cancelled this year, a year where instead of being able to embrace and recognize their heritage, AAPI persons are being blatantly attacked and harassed.
This will be an Asian Heritage Month unlike any other. Usually, Chinese restaurants would be packed with customers ready to enjoy various dishes, but this year, these same restaurants are on the verge of bankruptcy. For example, Philadelphia Chinatown was set to host a bounty of festivities to celebrate this year, only to have more than 95% of Chinese-owned businesses shutting down during the pandemic. A month dedicated to celebrating the contributions of Asians and Pacific Islanders to the United States has been tarnished and polluted by a wave of racism and xenophobia that is tearing the country apart.
To show what Asian Heritage Month really stands for, DeclarASIAN will be highlighting one significant contribution by Asian-Americans to the United States every day of May. Whether it be about an influential Asian-American leader like Fred Korematsu or the history of Chinese immigrants, learning about the positive impacts that Asian-Americans have and continue to make in America is the first step in silencing racist and xenophobic attacks that are rooted in false, uneducated accusations.
Author: Carina Sun
If you haven't seen it yet, go watch "The Half of It" on Netflix. It's not only an amazing cinematic rollercoaster, but the first film directed by an Asian-American woman to win the Founder's Award for Best Narrative Feature. This incredible director is Alice Wu. Her debut movie was Saving Face, another movie with a focus on Asian-American culture. I haven't had the chance to watch that film yet, but I am planning on it!
I'm here to talk about her latest film, "The Half of It". It's a transcendental film following the life of Ellie Chu, a teenage Chinese-American living in small-town America. Not only does it address important issues of Asian-immigrants and racism, it also addresses the LGBTQ community and follows Ellie as she grows into herself. It's difficult to fit so many deep and important messages into a runtime of 1 hour and 44 minutes, but Wu manages to do so impeccably.
This isn't a movie review though, this is a post focusing on the importance of films like "The Half of It" in today's culture. Discrimination goes far beyond high school bullying, which happens to Ellie in the film, as classmates make fun of her last name. Then we are introduced to her family situation as the film progresses. Her father, an immigrant with multiple degrees from China is unable to find a job in America because of a language barrier. And because of that, his degrees are deemed practically useless, and he is only able to find a job at a rundown train station. In the beginning of the film, Ellie asks her father if he has called the electric company, and he replies dejectedly that they do not understand him.
This is a problem that many Asian-American immigrants face. The language barrier, which is propelled by racism and inherent discrimination against Asians. In our world, when all you see is color, a person's status, education, and background are deemed unimportant in comparison. Like in the film, people are impatient. I have personally experienced my mother being discriminated and insulted because she has broken english--which she has learned extremely well considering she only moved to America when she had me.
This is something that has to change. Because of this inherent discrimination inside of people, many educated, intelligent immigrants are even not given job opportunities in America, and that is the cause of high rates of Asian-American poverty in cities like San Fransisco and New York City, where you see elderly Asian-American immigrants struggling to earn their next meal by picking up street litter.
There are organizations that aim to provide language resources and other services to help Asian-American immigrants gain access to education, job opportunities, and home services. Recently, I spoke to the research director of the Asian American Federation, a non-profit based in New York City fighting for Asian-American immigrants to have more opportunities.
Read about our interview here.
As a child of immigrants who struggled through these same obstacles, I am truly grateful to my parents for giving me the opportunities that I now have.
So since Mother's Day is coming up, and I encourage you--if you are a child of an immigrant--to thank your mother (and your father!) for the sacrifices they've made for you. Let them know that you don't take anything for granted, because they have given you everything.
Author: Carina Sun
In 2015, I traveled to San Fransisco with my family for the first time. While we walked through San Fransisco's Chinatown to find a good restaurant, I noticed a darker side to the city: there were shocking amounts of elderly Asian-Americans walking around the streets, collecting trash and empty bottles. What hurt me the most was seeing their frail figures lugging around towers of cans and cardboard while passersby simply stepped around them. Maybe that's just the way it is, but it led me to wonder: what's being done to help these impoverished Asian-Americans? And just how much of the Asian-American population is low-income?
In the midst of my research, I contacted organizations that are dedicated to relieving Asian-American poverty and asked them about what they've learned throughout their work. Below is the interview I conducted with Mr. Howard Shih, Research and Policy Director at the Asian American Federation in New York City.
1. Can you explain a bit about what exactly this organization does?
Howard Shih: "The Asian American Federation is sort of like an umbrella organization for over 70 Asian-American agencies in New York City. We use research to justify our policies, so we have essentially advocacy rooted in numbers. We do this by providing case studies of families who are in need, and by providing support to those families, such as mental health services or leadership development."
2. What would you say are some of the major problems the Asian-American community in NYC is facing?
Howard Shih: "Well, poverty affects all Asian ethnicities in New York City. There are certain ethnicities who we do see higher levels of poverty in. The Bangladeshi-Pakistanis, Chinese, and recently, a spike in the Burmese refugees. We see that there are more and more parents working multiple jobs, there's overcrowded housing--there's a lot of Asian-Americans in public housing in East Harlem. And there's people asking "why are there Asians in public housing?" Well, it's because they're poor, I mean why else. Why is it strange that Asians need to turn to public housing? The stereotypes surrounding Asians are perpetuating the idea that we're all doctors, lawyers. That's not the case. And there are those who do fit into those stereotypes, but there's a large portion of those who don't."
3. Based on your research, are Asian immigrants getting equal access to the kinds of opportunities that others are getting?
Howard Shih: "I would say that language access is the hardest for these families. There is not enough availability of translated materials, for example, many parents are struggling to help their kids apply to high schools in the city because they don't understand the application materials. The children are then affected by this because they now have to translate for their parents. They aren't prepared for the stress, and this may take a toll on them in the future. We also see a flipping of the social order. You know, elders who have all this knowledge of the world are no longer able to navigate the communities they are in, and it becomes the young people who become knowledgeable. This turns into social tension for the community."
4. How do you think the coronavirus has impacted Asian-American communities?
Howard Shih: "There's definitely been raised fear about hate crimes. We're trying to set up safe platforms for affected people to speak out and report incidents, but you know there's a lot of people who are reluctant to report them because they aren't registered in the U.S., so it's a struggle to get them to feel safe in reporting hate crimes. Furthermore, the kids are affected because those who are under-resourced are not able to engage in remote learning, and small businesses--especially Asian ones--are really being very impacted. There's always been some avoidance of Asian restaurants and grocery stores, but now they're being impacted more than ever."
5. What are your thoughts on Asian-American stereotypes that are being perpetuated in the media today?
Howard Shih: "They definitely, as you said like in "Crazy Rich Asians", promote the idea that Asian-Americans don't face issues like poverty and lack of education. There are consequences to these generalizations. The Asian-American community in New York City is close to 16-17% of the city's population, but only 2% of the city's social contracts go to Asian-American organizations. There is a much higher demand than there is output."
6. Do you have any thoughts you'd like to share that may raise awareness on the struggles Asian-American families are facing?
Howard Shih: "Not exactly final thoughts... but just, see us. Who we really are. Behind all the stereotypes, and the media representations."
Author: Carina Sun
Starting in late elementary school, I noticed that slowly, everyone began packing lunches. I don't know if it was a "cool" thing to not eat the bouncy popcorn chicken from the school cafeteria, but soon, if you weren't packing lunch--you became "uncool". The other kids I sat with would bring peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches, juice boxes, and lunchables. I would bring thermoses of leftover fried rice, dumplings, and noodles. At first, I was excited to start packing lunches and bringing them to school. I could finally show my friends what authentic Chinese food tasted like--not the "Americanized", super-sweet stuff they sell at Chinese takeout places. However, I remember so clearly the day I brought a lunch of some leftover rice and Mapo tofu, a student made a comment: "What's that smell?" Everyone was scrunching their noses, looking for the culprit who had brought something strange-smelling to the lunch table. I had never felt so out of place than in that moment, sitting there with my rice and pungent tofu whilst my friends had sandwiches and salads. I remember the burning feeling under my cheeks as I silently closed the thermos and sat there the rest of lunch, drinking water.
I was ashamed.
After that day, I stopped bringing Chinese food to lunch. I convinced my mom to go out and buy lunchables for me, and would wake up extra early in the mornings to make sandwiches. One day, my mom slipped a packet of my favorite octopus jerky (which to be fair, did smell nasty but tasted good) into my lunchbox. At lunchtime, I opened my lunchbox to find the smell of octopus jerky wafting into my face. Everyone suddenly turned to me, scrunching their noses and asking what on earth I had packed. Trying to fit in, I explained that I had brought it in as a joke--a disgusting snack to dare them to try. I handed out bits of my favorite snack and told everyone to try it, lying that it was my least favorite food ever. Soon, everyone was laughing and spitting out the octopus jerky, and I felt so relieved. Why should I have lied about the things in my culture that I liked just to fit in with those who couldn't appreciate it? My elementary school self was so focused on fitting in that I had pushed away everything about myself to fit the mold of a "normal student" in suburban Pennsylvania.
As I've grown up, I've realized that the world is too big to focus on fitting in. As social media has played a more prominent role in everyone's lives, I've been exposed to an online community of Asian-Americans who faced the same lack of self-confidence, but also a community of people who are able to build each other up. This awareness has been a big confidence booster, and all the new people I've met have helped me to overcome my inferiority-complex to become a more-confident version of myself.
If I could tell my elementary school self something, it would be that there is a whole world out there full of open-minded, supportive people who may be facing the same problems you are. Focus on finding those people, and build each other up. Also, ham and cheese sandwiches are nasty.
Author: Carina Sun
In recent years, the term "Asian-American" has become widely popularized and accepted. However, there are still many people who do not accept this term, stating that you can only be one or the other. This absurd notion has been around since long before recent events surrounding the coronavirus. It may have stemmed from the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Or perhaps it was driven by the Japanese internment camps during World War II.
Either way, the history of Asian-American discrimination has been long and painful. Like us here at Declarasian, there have also been many Asian-American activists throughout history as well. Their efforts made it possible for us to be where we are today, and for America to become a more progressive nation. One of these activists I have recently stumbled across is Yuri Kochiyama, a Japanese-American who was an activist during World War II, when Japanese internment camps began appearing. These Japanese internment camps are rarely acknowledged in school history lessons, as it was a dark time in America's history. During WWII, these camps held over 120,000 Japanese-Americans. Yuri spent most of her childhood in Los Angeles with her family, but they were forced to relocate to internment camps after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Her experience there, and her brief friendship with activist, Malcolm X, inspired her to stand up for not only Japanese-American rights, but also black rights. She wanted to advocate for equality among all races, something that separates her from other Asian-American activists.
During the 1960s, Kochiyama propelled the Civil Rights Movement by hosting open houses with her husband, often gathering more than a hundred people at each one. She began inviting strangers to speak at these open houses, and she also began advocating for Harlem students to get equal education opportunities by joining the Harlem Freedom School. Perhaps her most famous moment was by the side of Malcolm X when he was assassinated. She cradled him in her arms as he took his last breaths.
for equal opportunities for all races stems far from the above mentioned. After the Japanese-American internment camps ceased to be utilized, she advocated with her husband for reparations and a government-issued apology to all those who suffered in them. Her efforts were acknowledged when President Ronald Reagan signed into effect the Civil Liberties Act in 1988.
Throughout her lifetime, Kochiyama worked tirelessly towards her purpose and desire to promote social and human rights. Her work is not forgotten today, and has continued to inspire young activists like ourselves to continue fighting for equal human rights to this day. As the Asian communities not just in America but around the world face ever-increasing rates of hate crimes and xenophobic actions, it's more crucial than ever to remind ourselves that we too, can stand up in the face of these situations and change the world. In the words of Kochiyama herself, "the movement is contagious, and the people in it are the ones who pass on the spirit."
Author: Carina Sun
I can't seem to remember a time before every headline, every article, and every social media post revolved around the Coronavirus. It's almost surreal what an impact it has had on every aspect of our lives, and yet it's still made out to be a joke by so many people.
I remember on Chinese New Year's Eve, my family was eating dumplings just before midnight ( a little tradition we do) and discussing what we thought 2020 was going to bring. My grandmother always was a little superstitious, one of her defining qualities. She said something very peculiar.
This is the year of the rat, and in China we believe that like the cunning rat, its year will be full of tricks--twists and turns and hardship."
Now more than ever, her statement seems to have manifested in the world. Coronavirus itself is only part of the hardships 2020 has come across. But it has brought along with it hatred, racism, and discrimination. Across the news, there have been countless cases of assault against Asian-Americans and increased usage of racial slurs. What hurt me the most though, was that when I reached out to friends and acquaintances all over the United States to share their own experiences these past two months, they reported that even they had faced racial discrimination due to the virus.
It's easy to ignore the discrimination going on if it doesn't directly impact you. But if each person reading this made it their goal to become more aware, the impact would be huge.
Take some time this week to look into a world that isn't your own. Put yourself in someone else's shoes, and step out of the bubble you've put yourself in. It'll make a world of difference.
Declarasian isn't a news source, it's a place where people can gather to share their thoughts, experiences, and grow as a community. Taking some time to read about other people's experiences can make you just as aware as the news.
Author: Carina Sun
All across the globe, people are being urged to stay at home to slow down the spread of COVID-19.
We're all facing the impacts of the new coronavirus, whether you're a teenager, a parent, a worker, or a grandparent. Most notably, stock markets are suffering, people are rallying at grocery stores, and it's on every headline everywhere you look.
While many schools and businesses across the United States are closing, more and more people are being urged to stay in their homes and leave only when necessary. And what do you do when you're "stuck" in your home during these next few weeks or months?
The answer for most people is: Netflix and Tiktok.
Sure, that works. But to us here at Declarasian, we're looking at these extra hours each day as a way to improve our site and our blog. We believe that just because you're at home doesn't mean your time can't still go towards meaningful things. In a time so driven by the internet, it's easier than ever to still have an impact through an online presence. For us, we're taking this time to revamp our site, and deliver some fresh blog content for our readers, as well as interacting more with you guys over our social media.
The questions that you may have now are: well what can we do?
My advice is: take a break from the Netflix series you're binging and think about what you want to focus on improving about your life. Whether it be studying for your SATs, your APs, or starting a big art project, take initiative to do it now while you have time!
That being said, I know this is a largely teen audience and I want to say it's okay to take a break and focus on self-love and resting! That's also important, and something we forget to do when we're busy with school and work.
P.S. if you have time and want to contribute something, send us a declaration of your own!
See you soon,
The Coronavirus is affecting our families, friends, and people all over the world.
This is a heavy topic. Recently, the coronavirus has raised mass hysteria around the world, especially in China. Originating in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei in China, the virus has already killed over 259 people, and spread to more than 100 regions and countries outside of China. During this time, people have been more on edge than before.
The problem stems from unwillingness to help and putting oneself first. Essentially, this has led to discrimination. I was at work the other day, and a customer walked in. With my usual smile and greeting, I took their order. When I began making their drink (I work at a boba shop) they "jokingly" remarked: "You don't have coronavirus do you?" While I understand the fear of the virus, that does NOT make it okay to make remarks like this. Take a look at social media--you'll see thousands of examples of this discrimination.
Aside from the racial impact this has had, it has taken a much bigger toll on the people of Wuhan. While there are more than 11,700 people infected, the 259 dead (as of January 31) have all been from China. While we as a society should be sending unconditional support and love to those directly affected and locked with the virus in Wuhan, instead you see people joking on social media about the same virus that has killed someone's parents, someone's child, someone's teacher.
It's scary to see that in a dire situation like this, people turn on each other rather than group together. On the popular WeChat platform used by almost all of China as a means to communicate, post, pay, and even call taxis, people are throwing each other under the bus. I heard about a case the other day where a student's mother was visiting her from Wuhan for winter break. Upon hearing this, the Asian community on WeChat her and her daughter's names, their address, and demanded they be quarantined in her dorm for the 14-day symptom period.
While I understand the danger of the virus, we must also remember there are others who are literally risking their lives to save the lives of others. The hospital workers sent in from all over China to Wuhan have been split from their families and sent into an epidemic.
I'd like to ask each of you to take a moment and donate to the fundraiser I have set up below. Please also share it on your social media pages so we spread the word and meet our target goal of $1,000.
(link now closed)
Stay updated on the progress we'e made with the fundraiser by following our instagram @declarasian, and signing up for our newsletters here.
Update (2/18/2020): Due to logistics and difficulty contacting trustworthy shipping companies to ensure our supplies make it to the front line in Wuhan, we have redirected all funds towards a larger, sponsored and legitimate fundraiser. Thank you to everyone who helped out. Check out the fundraiser our funds were redirected to here:
Once again, thanks to everyone who donated. The fight is far from over, and besides donating, it's important to spread facts and clamp down on rumors stemming from racism about the coronavirus.