Jen Soriano

Racial Justice

letter on non-violence, to my 8-month-old son

Photo by Naomi Ishisaka

photo by Naomi Ishisaka

Dear son,

I love a good protest.  By the time you read this you’ll already know that.  Yesterday we protested together, it was your third time out in the streets but your first time marching a whole march.  And what a march it was — a 2 mile route from the Central District, the historical heart of Seattle’s African-American community, to the Federal Building downtown — to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and to protest something he surely would have taken to the streets to protest himself — the epidemic police violence against black people across the country.

Photo by Daniel Pak

Photo by Daniel Pak

After a stormy weekend the weather was calm, mild and the sun even came out to shine.  We took the number 8 from our place to Garfield High School. Friends joined us along the route until the front of the bus was full of babies strollers toddlers and parents.  We gathered outside the monumental steps of Garfield High, you bounced in your stroller to Common and John Legend gloriously broadcast from the Fenders, and we followed the hundreds of others streaming peacefully into the streets towards the federal building.  You had a blast, riding in a sling close to me, turning your head in all directions. And the louder the chants got the more you’d giggle with glee.

Apparently you love a good protest too.

It was your first Martin Luther King Day, and an especially important one in the wake of Ferguson and the Black Lives Matter movement that has risen to assert the humanity of all black people.  This year is also the 50th anniversary of the historic march from Selma to Montgomery.  Unfortunately, given what’s going on, MLK’s legacy of non-violent struggle for equality couldn’t be more relevant today.

There’s so much things to say about such a troubled world. There are the murders.  A black person killed by police every 28 hours.  One of them, Mike Brown, left out in the street for more than 4 hours. Thousands murdered in Nigeria.  Seventeen dead in Paris.  Hundreds of children killed in Palestine.  Dozens of journalists executed.  That’s the devastating part.

Then there is the non-violent resistance.  Across the country communities organized 96 hours of non-violent direct action this weekend to #reclaimMLK’s radical legacy.  People who love you, your extended family of titas and titos, shut down the Oakland Federal Building for 4 hours and 28 minutes.  They hung a banner stories tall that said “Black Power Matters” and “3rdworld4blackpower”.  There are meetings and plans and visions brewing a new US movement for racial justice. That’s the hopeful part.

You’ve been born into a special time.  Really.  Things didn’t look like this when I was born in the mid 1970s.  The violence is old but there is much that is new: a country that will have a minority majority in your lifetime, where people of mixed race and non-binary gender will create more expansive norms, where millions of eyes can watch through an internet that must stay open and free.  And at this moment a new movement building that has grassroots organizing at its heart and the tendency towards justice as its wings.

What will be your role in it?  I can’t wait to witness.

Whatever your role will be, remember you have the legacy of resistance in your blood.  Organizing has helped both my people and your papa’s people survive centuries of violent colonialism. And it has helped us continue to sing and dance and struggle and transform even though conditions at home are still very hard.  The resistance has not always been peaceful, but King himself said that riots are the language of the unheard.  In the face of military abuses self-defense is sometimes necessary.  And there is a difference between destruction of property and violence against human beings. There is much more to say on this front, and I struggle with these questions all the time.

Photo by Ian Dapiaoen

Photo by Ian Dapiaoen

Whatever your role will be, I hope you’ll remember this heritage and also the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. By the time you read this I trust you will know more than the sanitized Dr. King, you will know the radical Dr. King whose day should be celebrated on the day of his murder – August 4th, one year to the day after he delivered his Beyond Vietnam speech – to remind us that he had a radical dream: he was an internationalist who connected the oppression of black people with the poor and people of color all over the world, and to remind us that this degree of clarity is dangerous.

It is easy to praise non-violence when we can march escorted by police and return home to comfortable lives. It can also be easy to romanticize armed struggle from the same vantage point.  But it’s the militant discipline of Kingian non-violence that I hope you will remember the most: the discipline of continuously choosing love over hate and non-violence over violence, even in the face of brutality and the constant threat of death.  That is the depth of commitment I aspire to, though faced with real threat I honestly don’t know what I would choose.

The buddha taught that we all have within us both the seeds of violence and the seeds of peace.  Cherokee legend talks of the battle inside, where two wolves – one evil and one good, fight for supremacy in each of us.  The one that will win is the one that we feed.

You have watered the seeds of peace within my soul and fed the wolf of good inside my heart.  So for now in return I’ll just leave you with this offering of what I feel are some of Dr. King’s truest words:

“Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon. which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.”

All my love,








Waking Up to Ferguson

Every morning I wake up with the choice to forget about Ferguson.

I am Asian-American. I am Pinay. I have savings and a college degree.  I am a woman. I am cis-gendered. I am straight.  I am married to a straight man and for that I get approval and a tax break.

I do not walk through the streets a target of police or vigilante violence.  When I have walked alone I have been helped – not avoided – not threatened – not shot and not choked.

When I wake up I choose between coffee and tea, converse or boots, my car or the bus, fried eggs or a coffeeshop pastry.  I wake up with the choice to forget about Ferguson.

And yet I can’t forget about Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, John Crawford, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant….Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, John Crawford, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant….

And it’s not because as Asian-American we’ve had our Mike Brown’s too.  Kuanchang KaoCau Bich TranFong Lee — all unarmed Asian men killed by police — all important to name and to not forget.

But it’s different.

When a black person is killed every 28 hours by police, security guards or vigilantes, it’s different.

When you can be shot unarmed in rich places and poor places, no matter whether you are a child, a professor, an actor or a cop, it’s different.

In the words of Alicia Garza, a queer black woman who is a co-founder of the #blacklivesmatter movement, black people are uniquely, systematically, and savagely targeted by the state.  And so, “When Black people cry out in defense of our lives…we are asking you, our family, to stand with us in affirming Black lives.  Not just all lives. Black lives.”

The lives of Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, John Crawford, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant…

Every morning I wake up with the choice to forget about these black boys, these black men, about Ferguson. The choice is a privilege.

I choose not to forget.

Maybe I choose not to forget because from a young age I’ve had to be vigilant, and when you are vigilant you can see clearly because you must see to survive. Maybe I choose not to forget because the state-sponsored violence that is colonization has left shrapnel embedded in my soul.  Maybe I choose not to forget because I believe that although we are not all Mike Brown, I could have been born a Mike Brown, or an Oscar Grant, or a Marissa Alexander, and the fact that I wasn’t is an accident of birth and the fact that it matters to my relative freedom is entirely by design.

When I say black lives matter, I’m saying I refuse to be complicit in a society where people get to live or die or be jailed or be free based on the color of their skin.  I’m saying I will do whatever I can to help transform the systems that perpetuate this new Jim Crow, and the cultural norms that say we have to fear someone and that someone must be black.  I’m saying I know that if we can’t win this fight for the humanity of all black people we will continue to lose priceless lives and we will never begin to heal.

So instead of forgetting I recommit to change and I challenge my fellow Asian-Americans to all do the same.  In the words of Soya Jung,  “The racial justice movement needs us. Our experiences of war, imperialism, and the enticement to anti-black racism are necessary to push back against corporate plunder and state collusion, to dismantle the apparatuses of racialized violence.”

It is time for Asian Americans to unleash model minority mutiny, link arms with the struggle for black liberation, and together, finally turn the world right side up.”

For anyone who might get it twisted, this isn’t charity.  It’s solidarity.  It’s vision.  It’s remembering.  “When Black people get free, everybody gets free”.

Every morning I wake up with the choice to forget about Ferguson.  But instead I choose to fixate on freedom.