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We write to you as undergraduate and graduate students and faculty, of Southeast Asian and East Asian identities, who have come together to grapple with the question of anti-Asian violence and the university. Situated at UC San Diego, we acknowledge this institution’s continued occupation of Kumeyaay lands is a violent legacy to which all of us are accountable.
As members of the university, our relationships to one another have so often been structured by academic hierarchies and tied to individualized productivity, as if our capacity to learn and create together endangers the very existence of the institution. When our communities face harm, our institutions rapidly produce nearly identical statements rather than taking the time to understand the needs of those impacted. When our communities are deep in mourning, needing time to process and heal, we find ourselves inundated with extra labor to ghostwrite institutional statements, facilitate processing spaces, and educate others about our existence.
When we came together to write this, we knew that each of us still had so much to process, for ourselves and with one another. Before we could think about what we were trying to do together, we decided to first write letters for ourselves, exploring the pain―from new and old sources―that we were moving through. In processing our letters together, we realized that we were both needing to break up with the institutions we were taught to love, and also (re)learning to be in relationship with the communities we have always loved, in spite of and against these institutions.
When students and faculty are brought together in collaboration, it is assumed that professors are doing the work to include students in a form of mentorship. But when it comes to the work of transforming our institutions, we want to recognize that the people in the most precarious positions—including undergrad and grad students, contingent faculty, and staff, all without stable income—carry much more of the intellectual and emotional labor and risks of transforming our structures. This student labor was behind the facilitation of this process and the writing of this statement.
We invite you to join our conversation. These letters can be read as a patchwork, full of glimmers of recognition, covert nods and whispers of support, unapologetic rants, and collective strategies. These are the ways we have survived the institutions that attempt to shape us in their image. This is our process of learning together, moving beyond critique, toward building the relationships and spaces that we need.
Part 1: To the Institutions We’ve Loved Before
To the institution that I thought I loved,
This year I will be graduating. You tell me I should be feeling excited and happy. It has been four long years since I first entered our relationship and I finally made it to the finish line. But honestly, I just feel tired. To say this year has been exhausting doesn’t begin to cover it. My heart feels so heavy and my eyes feel worn out from crying so much. Most days it feels nearly impossible to wake up to continue carrying the weight of the world. Today is definitely one of them as I lay in my bed trying to write this. When the onslaught of anti-Asian violence first began, I was on a break from social media and did not know anything was happening until you sent out an email. I remember reading the headline, “Statement in Support of Asian Communities Impacted by Shootings in Atlanta,” and I immediately felt sick. I didn’t bother reading your statement. I didn’t want to see you try to make me feel better about us being beaten or killed. I didn’t have to read it to know that this was just a way for you to save face. In the years that I have been with you, the university, I have learned the hard way how much you don’t actually care about us. And that realization hurt so much when I had thought I could not live without you.
Growing up, I believed you would lead me to a so-called better future. You were what my parents and grandparents dreamed of me being with after they were forced to migrate to survive. You gave us these wonderful promises like stability in the form of a career and happiness in having social mobility. You made me believe that you were a “progressive” institution that cared for people like me. But now I know better that it was all lies. A scheme. You used me for your own social and financial gains. And now, as we face direct attacks of white supremacy, you hide yourself behind empty statements to disguise the fact that you came from the same capitalist, colonial, patriarchal regimes that caused a shooting like the one in Atlanta to happen.
To say I am tired of you is an understatement. I’m tired of how you claim you don’t have enough money to give us our basic needs and yet have enough to expand on stolen Native land. I’m tired of how you fake your care through awards and advertisements of our Black and brown faces. I’m tired of how you manipulate us to think that resources are scarce so that we have to constantly produce and compete with one another. I’m tired of how you blame us for our failures when it was you who made the university inaccessible for our disabled and neurodivergent bodyminds. I’m tired of how you profit off of our free labor, our outsourced labor, our emotional labor, and claim it as your own efforts. But most of all, I’m tired of your bullshit that you will change because no matter what form you take, you will always be part of the violent structures that keep us from our liberation.
I refuse to be part of this toxic relationship any longer. I do not need your recognition in order to validate myself. I am my own person and your role in my life no longer serves me.
This is goodbye.
To the University of California system:
Your messages of care or support no longer drain my energy. I have no faith in you to be disappointed by the lies you tell. You may say that you are saddened to hear about the killing of multiple Asian women in Atlanta, that you stand with us, and that you want to offer venues for support.
What I need to tell you is that you are the violence. Your need to assert your presence as the balm, while not offering any substantive resources or reparations, is violent. I don’t need to tell you that you profit from the weaponry, the mortgage schemes, the laws, the philosophies, the technologies, the disciplines, and conceptions of the human, that continuously recreate the world that made a man like that Atlanta mass murderer, possible in the first place. Your next email proudly announces these things. Research ramp-up plan, you say excitedly.
Making this critique is easy. The difficult part is to not be complicit in the production of this world. As we have seen already, the Atlanta mass murderer will not be the last. His invasion of the spaces where the 6 Asian women and 2 others worked and visited with his murderous rage, predicated on his belief that the entire ecosystem of care work performed primarily by Asian women had to be exterminated in order to get rid of the rot that ate away at him, cannot be de-linked from the toxicity of our own spaces. No matter how much you try to enclose campuses as company towns where competitors cannot come in and cruelty can be meted out with impunity to those deemed without value, its borders are porous. How we treat each other here reverberates far and wide, and you have failed in the most elementary forms of care.
To my employer:
Since we’ve been together I’ve come to learn how you function. I’m a slow learner, so it’s taken a while. You have kept me close by keeping me busy, giving me roles and titles and a feeling of doing something meaningful. These roles, you say, promote Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and the well-being of our students. Help strengthen access and retention of Asian American and Pacific Islander students? Yes, of course. Join a committee to help recruit and retain graduate students? Sure, that too. All this labor is meant to undo the violence you have caused, which you can’t fully acknowledge without calling into question the entirety of your existence. Still, I thought, the work is necessary.
When you established the Asian American and Pacific Islander Studies Program in 2020 some 20, 30, 50 years late, I felt the same sense of excitement and ambivalence. Students have been wanting this for a very, very long time. In the same breath with which they demanded an Asian American Studies program, however, they were demanding other things, too: a resource center, and more staff and mental health counselors who can address their needs as complex intersectional beings. These are basic things in order to feel validated and cared for in this space where you have never truly welcomed them, and these demands have remained unmet. For you, establishing the program is a simple “check” and “done.” I knew this when I agreed to be the director of your program, but still, I thought, let this be a start and not an end.
And then in the last few weeks, your gloves came off. In the name of the Asian women slain in Atlanta, you issued a statement saying you’re “deeply saddened” and want to “create a campus community of care and belonging.” You did not ask students what they wanted but prescribed your solutions anyway. You bombarded us with your messages of care. You evoked all your “Asian and Asian American”-related programs as resources for students without acknowledging they are under-resourced, or much less compensating the people doing the real care work, who themselves are barely holding it together because the hurt is deep in ways you’ll never know. I was not so much shocked by the emptiness of your statement because we have seen it many times before. But I am triggered by what’s to come.
To UC Scam Diego:
When relationships end, there’s a phase that seems to be canon: it’s not you, it’s me. Except in this case, I can assure you that it is absolutely, unequivocally, has always been you and my heart can no longer take what it means to be “us”.
There have been many moments where you have led me to believe that it was me. That as a graduate student and daughter of refugees, what I was giving wasn’t enough, could never be enough. I think of infinite moments where I opened up recently sutured, barely healing wounds because my trauma can be consumed. I have been led to believe that being consumed is better than being nothing at all. That the temporary fixation on anti-Asian violence is better than no recognition at all. Desire at the expense of ourselves. The light of six Asian women are gone from this world, with many others from our community being dimmed. Why do we have to hurt for you to turn the spotlight on us? To make us believe that the spotlight can only be in one place at one time? That we even need a spotlight at all? What is this poison? I think about how I have survivor’s guilt, survivor’s shame.
I am tired of putting in the work and being made to believe that my reward for doing the work is more work. That it falls upon those most impacted by violence are subjected to being shields. Do you know what it feels like to be told to put our grief on pause to add yet another “diversity” event to your list? Even now, I have not yet been given the time to mourn the loss of our Asian grandparents, mothers, aunties, uncles, our working-class communities. And yet I am terribly (un)lucky - I am compensated for ten hours a week to care for our APIMEDA graduate student community. Ten hours. As if the needs of our communities could be condensed into less than a day. As if there aren’t lineages of lifetimes of uncompensated labor that have brought us to this “gift” of 10 hours.
Leaving you also means breaking up with myself and who I have been, who I continue to be with you. I don’t know where I end and you begin. I worry about how much you have flooded my psyche, my heart, my veins. I have spent a decade immersed in you, studying you, knowing your scripts as if they were my own. White supremacist flyers on campus? We’ve got a template for that. Another mass shooting? Here’s a Hallmark card. These lies are for me to hold, too. You’ve suffocated my imagination. To know that what we experience here is linked to violence of the lands, of the water, of kin beyond the U.S. Empire.
To the current occupant of sacred Kumeyaay burial grounds (d.b.a. Chancellor):
This is to notify you that the neoliberal university has 30 days to vacate the premises due to violations that include, but certainly are not limited to: illegal occupation of unceded Kumeyaay lands, investment in the illegal construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope in sacred Mauna Kea, failure to provide the promised services of a public university (i.e. an education), fraudulent use of our tuitions to enrich hedge funds and a neverending administrator pleasure cruise, fraudulent claims to support students of color for nonconsensual advertisements, and unpaid wages for the labor that graduate students, contingent faculty, and staff perform to keep this university afloat.
While failing to pay graduate student workers a living wage within one of the most expensive cities in the U.S., you now plan to increase rents by $500 to $1000 a month. Such reckless development on the backs of your students is grounds for your immediate eviction. [Spread the rent strike!]
Though you continuously attempt to extend your stay by performing the role of an institution capable of being reformed, we have not forgotten your empty statements of support for Black Lives Matter in June 2020, in spite of being an anti-Black institution with a Black student population of less than 2%. When Black Student Union did the work of educating you around the actual needs of Black students, you ignored their demands and instead publicized a profoundly bizarre and self-serving “21-Day Anti-Racism Challenge.”
You recycled these vacuous words in a meager statement of solidarity with the AAPI community, in response to the violence we face within the white supremacist and militarized structures you uphold. But rather than committing to any actions to materially support AAPI students, you instead trotted out the resources that are only made possible by the underpaid/unpaid labor of AAPI students, staff and faculty.
For all these reasons and more, your time as a gentrifying corporate landlord is up. We invite you to the next career fair, “Finding Employment Beyond Academia.”
Part II: To the Communities I’m Learning to Love Again
Dear beloveds, including myself:
How do I find myself when I have spent so many years being told to forget myself? Forgetting my community in the process. Forgetting what love and care actually feel like.
I am deserving of more. We are deserving of more.
I think about how much, during this past week, my community, our communities came together to collectively grieve. How friends checked in on my mother and grandmother. How my community stopped asking me how I was doing and instead held my heartbreak with me. How Asian American women through APIMEDA Programs and Services and Mutual Aid UCSD came together to create spaces of healing for us, by us, with us. All I got from you was another recycled letter.
I want to write about the generations and lifetimes that our connections take up. The threads carefully knitted through our communities. The ways we hold our pain with each other, for each other. There's a perception that we are not enough, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.
We are abundant. And now, I know you fear how whole we are without you.
To those who sustain me:
I have known some of you for some time now but didn’t really know you until this past year. A collective sense of disillusionment and sheer anger with the institution moved us to find and see each other in new ways. That was the beginning. In the institution you are my student, my colleague, my “community partner.” Here, those hierarchies vanish, and we are just as we are. It has taken time to build this, the People’s University, the beautiful place that nurtures and sustains me. Here, our relationships have flourished into something I never could have imagined possible.
The People’s University is an abolitionist university, seizing education away from the colonial profit motive and mobilizing it for our collective liberation. It is made up of many of us, workers paid and unpaid at UCSD, San Diego community colleges, organizers of mutual aid and other abolitionist projects in San Diego and Tijuana working to dismantle borders and cages. In this space, we are unlearning the hierarchies that have been ingrained in us, breaking down the reified boundaries that have kept us apart for so long. It has been a challenging space, particularly for those of us who occupy privileged positions and who have the most (un)learning to do.
Building counter institutions is a monumental task, and you all teach me every day that it is necessarily slow work, that requires sharing radical vulnerability and centering collective care.
Love and solidarity,
To my friends and comrades,
Thank you so much for moving together in the world with me. We’ve been meeting for close to a year and a half now in this recent formation. We’ve had some conflicts, but we’ve also worked really hard to try to enact the world that we want to see. I remember when we got together to support the grad worker cost of living adjustment (COLA) fight for a living wage before the pandemic. We spent hours talking about what we were committed to, and how we might come together stronger because of, rather than in spite of the different privileges and vulnerabilities that we occupied. I kept coming back because I could feel that fighting together was so much better than feeling helpless alone. That knowledge continues to be a gift.
Today, some of us who were part of that early configuration, are part of UCSD Cops off Campus, a group of undergrads, grads, and faculty who believe that the UCPD and all forms of carcerality stand in the way of our ability to keep each other safe. We also come to the group with different experiences with police and policing, but understand that the UCPD is part of a white supremacist world that has historically worked to uphold property over people; and in the university context, has suppressed forms of student activism that challenge the university’s role in exploiting its workers and expropriating land and resources that is not theirs to claim.
I’ve learned from organizing with all of you, what abolitionists have emphasized - that dismantling is just part of the story. Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s words —that a million different experiments are needed— ring true, and if I recall correctly, nearly identical words were uttered in our meetings. You’ve all taught me the importance of taking it slow, and how the collective work of creating radically new relationships requires care, and often, a reexamination of my own misconceptions. I continue to move with you, believing that our experiments will sustain us even after we destroy the colonial foundations that got us here in the first place.
To the community I’m finding in struggle again,
When we lost 8 people to a white supremacist shooting in Atlanta, headlines did not mention you. The authorities denied you were there at all. But I imagine these women carried your burden in ways I will never understand.
At first I distanced myself with caveats, not wanting to conflate my experience with theirs. I was mourning for each of their lives, their loved ones, and the care they gave day after day.
I was also mourning you, and all that I no longer knew how to say. I can’t seem to move forward without naming my relationship to you again.
I see you in the work of Mutual Aid UCSD, an autonomous (unofficial) student-run organization fueled by the unpaid labor of trans and non-binary folks and women of color. Many of us are also AAPI, and spread thin as we are, we have taken on the labor of meeting the material and emotional needs of our communities during this time. While the university disregards the needs of AAPI students based on racialized assumptions, the work of mutual aid has given us a unique lens into the multiple crises that many of us are facing.
As organizers, we care for one another and begin meetings by sharing our capacity, respecting one another’s wholeness over productivity. We build with BIPOC mutual aid groups throughout San Diego, recognizing that this institution doesn’t hold us. We have hard conversations to constantly challenge our own values and “practice the world we want”—building our skills around collective and horizontal decision making, abolition, resource redistribution, and disability justice. We ask folks both what they need and what they want to offer, knowing those things are not mutually exclusive. We constantly evolve our practices to center the needs of those who identify as Black, Indigenous, POC, undocumented, disabled, queer and trans. We support getting cops off campus and work toward building our own infrastructures of support and safety.
I see us remembering your original legacy—a struggle that fought alongside Black power and Third World liberation—aiming to transform whole systems, rather than accepting forms of meaningless inclusion meant to silence our pain and systems of punishment meant to perpetuate violence against ourselves and others.
Toward another world,
To all of us in need of hope,
There was a point in my life when I had believed that the university would be our answer to change things. For years I put my energy into working with the administration in hopes that they would finally give the treatment we deserved. But after being pissed off, frustrated, and hurt again and again, I realized it was never the university to begin with. It was us. We were the ones we were looking for in creating the futures we want to live in. When the pandemic first began a year and a half ago, it became so clear how much the university fails us. When we could not access food and supplies because our health was at risk, when we were furloughed/laid off and struggled to pay rent, when we were mentally and emotionally stressed but forced to continue with classes; it was on us as disabled, trans, queer, and/or BIPOC students and workers who came together to meet each other's needs. Through our collective dreaming, love, and labor we were able to create Mutual Aid UCSD where we refuse to leave each other behind in our struggle for liberation.
Mutual aid has taught me how important are our relationships within one another. In centering our interdependency and lived experiences, we can really talk about the hard questions: What does a world without police, military, and prisons look like? In what ways can we support survivors of harm without perpetuating more violence? How do we abolish the conditions that cause anti-Asian and misogynist violence to happen in the first place? Abolition is a term that has been trending lately. It is thought to be the act of destroying structures of power and while that’s true, a more important part of abolition is creation. In dismantling these systems, we are also building infrastructures of care and connection to replace it. This is the work envisioned within mutual aid.
Now that we know that the university will not save us, I ask that we look within ourselves and within each other for our collective survival. Only when we move together, will we create the worlds that we want to live in.
Azriel Almera is a mad, queer, non-binary Filipinx-American who is studying Ethnic Studies and Critical Gender Studies at UC San Diego. They are core organizers for Mutual Aid UCSD and the Coalition for Abolition Medicine at UCSD.
Esther Choi is a 2nd-generation Korean from LA and Ethnic Studies PhD student, studying the U.S. solidarity economy movement. She conducts community-based research in collaboration with New Economy Coalition to support place-based alternatives to capitalism and organizes with Mutual Aid UCSD. Twitter @cheminju
Wendy Matsumura teaches Okinawan and Japanese history, and is an affiliate faculty member in the Asian American and Pacific Islander Studies (AAPI) program and the Critical Gender Studies (CGS) program at UC San Diego. She organizes with UCSD Cops off Campus and UCFTP.
Simeon Man teaches Asian American history and directs the Asian American and Pacific Islander Studies Program at UC San Diego. He organizes with UCSD Cops Off Campus and UCFTP, and The People’s University.
Vanessa Na is a Khmer American PhD student in Education Studies at UC San Diego. Her research focuses on student activism and solidarity. She organizes with Southeast Asian American communities and The People’s University.