Hey there, I got your email, letter, Tweet, or direct message. Or maybe I met you at an online event or at a party pre-pandemic. Or maybe I met your mom that one time I was shopping and she stopped me and cried telling me how amazing it was to see someone like you but older. Or maybe it was from a friend of a friend who connected us because we both happen to be Asian American and disabled (we are not a monolith and yet people presume we automatically have a lot in common). Either way, here I am, replying to you.
Thank you for sharing your story with me, your questions, and your request for mentorship. First of all, I see and hear you. I hoped things would be better in 2021 but it’s clear that disabled people of color, including Asian American women and girls, still feel disconnected and alone. I did not set out to become a storyteller or activist but it emerged organically as I struggled to find myself and my people. I hope my story and work helps you imagine other paths but please remember I am just one example. There is a lot of work ahead and collectively we can create change in our own ways.
Shit is hard, right? Growing up and becoming more comfortable in our own skin is a tough, non-linear process. I am still working on myself as I imagine you are too. In the midst of your challenges and searches, I hope you are taking your time to find joy in the world. Building and nurturing relationships gives me joy. It might take a while but you will eventually find people that have your back whether they have the same disability or come from the same culture or not. And maybe there aren’t any solutions or immediate answers to the questions you’re looking for. All we can do is discover what and who makes us happy.
We don’t need a nonprofit to find a community just for us…we don’t need to identify, use the ‘right’ words, or carry a membership card to be connected. We exist and that is everything!
It’s easy to say and harder to accept but you are enough. In fact, if you’re too much, rejoice in being ALL THAT and more. This may seem like a cliché, but you do you.
Do not feel obligated to represent, speak on diversity, intersectionality, or ‘what it’s like to be Asian American and disabled.’ You can talk and think about disability however you want. Fuck the rules. Fuck the model minority myth and respectability politics.
There will be times you’re made to feel like you can’t be your full self, that you have to choose. Or the feeling that we have to be grateful to be in America because things are ‘better.’ Resist the notion that disability rights and justice is more progressive here (on stolen land by the way) or a beacon to the world because that’s some capitalist colonizer bullshit. We can take the best parts of our cultures and let that inform our understanding of what it means to be human. There is wisdom and beauty from disabled people everywhere. We just have to look and have the humility to learn.
I appreciate the time and vulnerability it took for you to reach out to me. To keep it 100% honest with you, I am not your role model, mentor, or friend. I prefer to be your fellow peer, colleague, or troublemaker in the future. Role models create unrealistic expectations and an asymmetrical power dynamic; role models or icons can do more harm than good because they obscure the flaws and contradictions we all have. I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable over the years in the way people perceive me because it’s A LOT. I don’t want the fear of disappointing others to influence my decisions and in the end I am ultimately accountable to myself. Setting boundaries and being clear about my capacity is one way to protect myself and I encourage you to do the same when you are ready.
Living at multiple axes of oppression can be heavy. The many identities you hold and your lived experiences are not in conflict with each other; they make you sharp, whole, and extraordinary. You may not see yourself that way yet but I believe in you and who you will become. No matter what happens, even if we never cross paths or speak again, I am grateful that we are in this universe together.