exist

to say that you have some sort of disorder or that you’re confused? That’s not a Native perspective on gender expression… Hawaiians don’t come out: We simply exist.

– Kumu hula Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, “Above all else, I am kanaka.” Yes Magazine, no. 85 (Spring 2018), accessed March 17, 2018,  http://issues.yesmagazine.org/issue/decolonize/theme.html#13thArticle

People should not have to fit into some category of white, heteronormative, “scientific” invention. Difference intimates plurality, flows, multiple dimensions of time, and the re-imagining of space.

into my roots

It doesn’t matter how many pieces make up my whole; rather, it’s my relationship with those pieces that matters — and that I must maintain. Simply saying “I am this” isn’t enough. To truly honor my heritage, I found I must understand and participate in it.

– Kayla DeVault, “Native and European — How Do I Honor All the Pieces of Myself?” Yes Magazine, no. 85 (Spring 2018): accessed March 16th, 2018, http://issues.yesmagazine.org/issue/decolonize/theme.html#13thArticle.

I say I am Chinese-American, but I don’t even know what American means… except perhaps less Chinese. And less Chinese I certainly feel – illiterate and detached from my heritage.

There are everyday practices, small, aesthetic remarks, which are just poignant enough to stick in my brain. Using chopsticks, making dumplings, reusing plastic wrap, receiving red bags, and never leaving any food to waste lest the heavens strike me down. But having grown up in an urban center, drastically detached from the earth, I have not greeted nor tended the land – a land which I feel I have no right to be on.

While most of my elder relatives on my mother’s side reside in the northeastern parts of China, Héběi and Hénán, I recently found out that many of my ancestors were merchants of some kind from as far as what was Persia to the Uygur lands of the Xīn Jiāng province in northwest China. I hope one day I can travel back to revive parts of my heritage that may have been lost as my ancestors found their ways to city centers, and then, to the United States.

It is my duty to delve deep, into my roots, to “understand and participate,” as Kayla DeVault aptly noted, in the traditions and relationships which have sustained my growth and germination. I must be critical and radical in my work to learn to give back and respect the earth.

 

re-value

Hypercapitalism [‘a system that celebrates materialism, consumption, and status’] depends for its very survival on materialistic values… The more that people and societies prioritize materialistic values, the less they care about promoting well-being, fair treatment of others, and environmental sustainability.

– Larry Gonick and Tim Kasser, Hypercapitalism, 2018, 3

The statement above may sound matter of fact, but it’s worth reiterating and one with radical implications. If capitalism depends on materialistic values, and we begin changing or eliminating these values altogether, this leads to the dismantling of the oppressive, racial capitalist system that we often claim to be impossible to unravel.

Critical values, intentions, and priorities are what often tip the balance in favor of empowerment over disempowerment. As a designer, I always need to be re-valuing, re-prioritizing, and re-designing for each context and community.

sagging pants and moose hats

Bans on sagged pants and other racializations of adornment are a way of forging distinctions that enable indirect attacks against people on the basis of race, class, age, gender or other identities… These matters range from anti-queerness, and racist and classist surveillance, to policing desire, and imposing normative gender and sexual identities and expressions upon people… An analysis of clothing politics shows that we can and must build coalitions of interconnected justice against entities that persist in criminalizing fashion choices, and indeed public displays and observances of religious and spiritual identity and expression.

– Eric Darnell Pritchard, “Sagging Pants: Criminalization and Racialized Adornment,” The Funambulist 3 (January-February 2016)

It’s hard to hear that even efforts to overthrow bans on sagging pants by the very communities that are being criminalized still view sagging in a negative way. Whether its neighborhood policing or state policing, it’s still policing, and it’s the policing – not the sag – that we need to rid ourselves of.

Recently, in my own personal experience, I fell victim to these policing forces. What was I thinking walking into a Harvard career fair with sweatpants, sneakers, a wrinkled plaid shirt, and a moose hat – antlers, nose, and all – to boot?

I was kindly asked in multiple, “polite” ways to remove my hat “as a courtesy to my colleagues” before entering the room full of employers. While this instance is very mild compared to the fines and imprisonment for sagging pants, it is a significant everyday barrier for individuals seeking employment. Those who attend or get hired from Harvard, or anywhere for that matter, obviously don’t wear moose hats – they are the paradigm of professionalism – and would never admit to attending an institution where students would dare share their love of cute, plushy animal hats. I can’t believe I failed to realize that a moose hat is clearly an accurate metric of my integrity, skill, intelligence, and human value, and a malicious device for embarrassing my peers. Lesson learned. Thanks Harvard.

“definitely not white”

Asian Americans have still not achieved full equality in American life… they occupy unique and constantly shifting positions between black and white, foreign and American, privilege and poverty.

– Erika Lee, The Making of Asian America, 2015, 8

Erika Lee cites historian Ellen Wu as she explains how Asians have been, and to this day are, treated as “definitely not white” (7). Even the so called “good Asians” or “model minority” are not exempt from this discrimination. Below are some ways Erika Lee has revealed as part of today’s masked racism (6):

colorblind racism: assumes that race no longer exists and in doing so ignores the pervasive racial discrimination that still infects us today
cultural racism: supplants race with culture and judges people based on oversimplified perceptions of beliefs or behaviors, which are claimed to determine the group’s overall superiority or inferiority.
micro-aggressions: everyday insulting actions towards people of color

I learned the other day, from Joy Buolamwini, a panelist on MIT’s live webcast of Cornel West’s lecture, “Speaking Truth to Power,” that racism even takes place in the coding of our software, specifically in the making of AI recognition technologies. Just how deep do these malicious energies flow? I am grateful knowing that we have people like Joy critiquing and revolutionizing new technologies. I hope, that through my work, I can de-create harmful values and find respectful ways to revolutionize design that are –  accessible, equitable, multiple, and – “definitely not white.”

mapmaking

Are we really aiming to make maps?

Today, we had discussions over maps, but it was unclear to me the true criticality, limits, and significance behind making these maps, which are produced in studio, far removed from what we’re mapping. From some brief questioning, I understand that mapping, in its internal, isolated form serves to:

  1. Educate the mappers about the places, relationships, and communities we intend to represent or interact with
  2. Enable communication and give agency to those joined in the discussion of the issues highlighted in the map

I think these are reasonable merits to mapping, but my interest lies in the capacity for maps to communicate. Maps, the medium through which empire expansion, exploitation, and current planning practices are imagined, then executed, are not necessarily the best or “fair” method of communication. They use a particular projection (the plan), language (graphic standards, writing), and presume a degree of objectivity (print, scale, metrics).

So I think the question or problem becomes: how we can rethink the ways we map (the re-presentation) in such a way that it actually communicates equitably and empowers all those in the conversation? And in that representation, whatever form or manifestation it may take, would it still be considered a map?

many stories

Obscured by the broad definition of “Asian” and “Asian American” is a staggering diversity of peoples that represent twenty-four distinct groups… Both the diversity and the shared experiences of Asian Americans reveal the complex story of the making and remaking of Asian America. There is not one single story, but many.

– Erika Lee, The Making of Asian America, 3

Many stories, but few are told. In my history and social studies education, the only mentions of Asian Americans were of the gold rush and Japanese internment. Of course, my family’s and my own experience have added to that mix – and what vivid stories they are!