A Call for Civic Responsibility from San José State University (SJSU) and the City of San José, CA
“How difficult is it for one body to feel the injustice wheeled at another?” — Claudia Rankine, Citizen
I should get this question tattooed on my neck.
When I worked as the Joy De La Cruz Art & Activism intern at the UC San Diego Cross-Cultural Center, I learned the importance of accountability. My youth in a nutshell: I had signed up for a yoga workshop that was taking place at the center that day — because I would get paid! For doing yoga! — but then, of course, I forgot about it until I got to work that evening. I owned zero pairs of yoga pants, so why did I even sign up in the first place? Probably because all of the other interns were doing it. I had never even taken a yoga class before, I just knew that yoga was good for a student-activist’s body and soul. And, of course, I waited until the last minute to let my supervisor, Violeta, know that I wasn’t going to be able to participate because I was unprepared, that I had no clothes with me. I didn’t even have clothes at home, though, so I wasn’t exactly setting myself up for success. I thought that was a sufficient excuse. I truly did. I was wrong. Violeta let me know that I could do yoga in my jeans and shirt, that the workshop was for beginners, that she was even doing yoga for the first time, and that she was doing it since she signed up for it. I’m sure I stammered around not doing it for a little while longer. Violeta reiterated for me that she was trying to hold me accountable. As much as I didn’t want to, I eventually realized that I was at work, and that I signed up for this shift and event, and that the kind of person I wanted to be was the kind who would fulfill the duties of her word.
That moment taught me what has been my personal definition of accountability: taking responsibility for myself, doing what I said I was going to do, and taking ownership of my actions, consequences, intentions, and outcomes.
I suited up: I did the yoga workshop in my jeans, I borrowed an Asian Pacific Islander Student Association (APSA) t-shirt, and I used the center’s carpet as my yoga mat. Throughout the workshop, I was able to let go and live through my breath. By the end of the workshop, I realized how glorious it was to do yoga with my fellow students and interns, at night time, against the backdrop of a view of the campus center that so many students before us had only once imagined and so valiantly fought for. My work and luxury was built on the work of others. This never escapes me.
The reality of accountability requires much sacrifice; one has to be willing to sacrifice something to move, or to get somewhere else.
Y’all might know by now: I shared an open e-mail to a librarian at San José State University regarding their disrespectful (ableist, sexist, racist) mistreatment towards me at their 2016 Local Lit Author Book Fair. I wrote a second article outlining the progression / digression I’d made with the Dean of the Library, and I still have yet to hear back from anyone regarding a sufficient written apology acknowledging their fault in the matter, from the City or the University, since the King Library belongs to both entities. Their delay in writing to me signifies another instance highlighting a lack of responsibility on the part of a university to its community. That’s really all I want: a sufficient, written apology on behalf of the Library that acknowledges their wrongdoings, regardless of intention.
Ideally, and if I had more energy, I’d demand the following: the Library to purchase 30 copies of my book to give (for free!) to young girls of color in San José, to put my publisher’s entire catalog in the library system, to properly host and pay me and three readers of my choice for a reading, and to ensure that this programming occurs regularly for the next four years.
But, I don’t have that energy. I can’t be the one person telling this university–a university I’ve been to for its community programs and partnerships since I was twelve years old–that they need to take accountability for their actions.
I can’t be the one to tell them that the(ir) gas light is still on, that some of the other authors they’d hosted at the Local Lit Fair are awful people who tell me that it’s not. They have to be responsible, sacrificing, and willing to do this work, to see this way on their own. They have to be willing and able to see, or at the very least, know, that oppression exists in every day moments, and to read fully, to understand fully, and to be in positions of discomfort to change shit.
I am tired of defending myself to shitty, lazy-worded people. I also know that I don’t have to. And I don’t want to teach people who are not willing to learn.
I drew much strength during this debacle from artist Hollis Wong-Wear, whose article “Sidekicked and Then Some: A Call for Journalistic Accountability” called out The Seattle Times for their lazy, triggering language against her. I respect Hollis so much, and I could not believe how unjustly a news outlet could treat her and her art that way, but I know it happens. Now that I’ve experienced a similar fiasco, I am still livid. And I powerfully ask hitting questions to talk back, to resist.
I don’t want to get into what being a woman of color means as that information is available for folks on the internet. Knowing that ‘woman of color’ is a political identity is essential to understanding why we are so often silenced, or told to be silent, or told to accept white mediocrity, or told to get used to bullshit. I also don’t want to (be the only one) teach(ing) folks through this article the histories of oppressed peoples that so many other scholars have written. I could tie this history to the publishing industry’s current and historic lack of women of color literature and writing, just as I can tie this to how our children, children of color, may not see themselves in books because only 15 (fuckin’ 15! out of 100!!) percent of kids’ books published in the last year featured main characters of color. Ain’t nothing comforting about that. And as if the stakes aren’t already high enough, let me remind you that reading, writing, thinking, and teaching enslaved peoples were once crimes punishable by death. How there is a history of silence, censorship, and dictatorship in the Philippines during my parents’ adult years and now during my adult years. How all of this is today. And layered. And present tense. And tense. And how Claudia Rankine in Citizen states that “we have all the answers. It is the questions we do not know.”
This is not the first time I’ve been ignored by my city for asking questions. San José Police Chief, Eddie Garcia, and the Mayor of San José, Sam Liccardo, blocked me on Twitter this past summer soon after policemen murdered Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. I was blocked for asking the question, “Do #BlackLivesMatter to you?”
I don’t mind being that person to ask questions, especially if it serves a purpose and a vision of a brave future that includes all peoples’ freedom, light, and voices.
I told my publisher, Edwin, about this situation, and he graciously supported me in this fight from the beginning, and I am grateful for his support. He also told me that I should know when it’s time to let go.
I feel that time is now.
I am thankful for so many folks, community members, and strangers who e-mailed, messaged, and checked in with me, even as I am still overcoming a recurring headache as a result of stomach flu. I appreciate y’all for reminding me that my community is behind me. I am thankful for your organizing tactics, your kindness, your energy, your phone calls, your texts, and your reminders that I am not a one-woman army.
I am now ready for your book recommendations, your poetry, your music, your hella funny BuzzFeed articles, your book readings, and events that are textually and intellectually rigorous in the names or pedagogies of social justice, criticality, resistance, and consciousness. I hope to restore and return to you my gratitude, multitudes of laughter, and congruent praxis.
There is so much to fight for. This isn’t the end of that fight. This is a bridge to larger ones.