It’s hard to believe that it’s been two years. Even though the time seemed to have flown by, so much has happened in these two years.
What do you wish you would have known when you started?
I wished I would have known that the time I had left with my parents would not be as long as I needed or hoped it to be. In retrospect, I wished I would have spent more time with them both instead of longing to learn from the world. I have always been very close to my family, but nothing prepares you for loss, especially of the people you want always to be around. In the two years I lost both my father and mother - one due to a health condition that we could not control and the other to a pandemic that took so many loved ones away.
These losses taught me a lot about how fluid I have to be in spirit and mind to be in it. I want to share that it’s good to plan, but don’t be so planful that you can’t change, because sometimes change just comes your way and you have to deal with it. In many ways, my heritage, history and experiences built me up to deal with the worst situations, so I navigated through these multiple and layered crises as if I expected them. It turned out that I was more prepared than most. Nothing has been easy in these past two years, but I grew so much and learned to think, do and be.
As I write this final reflection, I am also grieving the loss of a movement sister I’ve known for 30+ years. This latest tragedy reminds me that my greatest asset all along has been my lived experiences. While so many leaders theorize about crises that they will unlikely never face because of privileges they have, I have experienced the opposite. I’ve lost many family and friends to COVID; so many of the people closest to me have lost their businesses, jobs, home, and immigration status. Women I know experienced increased violence at home. If they are Asian Americans, they have also faced increased blatant racialized hate during this past year. Of course, this is not just about interpersonal violence since Asian American history is embedded in systemic and structural racism and xenophobia, but the visible violence seems to have brought about a new awakening within and outside of the Asian community.
Under these heavy blankets of multiple oppressions I’ve experienced and witnessed happen to those closest to me, I acted quickly and more firmly. I learned that social justice is never about the perfect solution; instead, it’s about facilitating a million experiments. The fellowship provided me with support that I could fall back on and allowed me to do any kind of learning I wanted; this gave me confidence. I’ve not been one to worry about failure, but there’s a kind of freedom that comes with knowing you have a fellowship behind you, so just do; do often, and do more.
In the many spaces that I was invited to, I was often the only person in the room who could describe what it meant to be from an impacted community. I have often said that my lived experience gives me moral authority, but in the past year and a half, I depended on it to remain clear and focused.
What stands out/surprised you the most?
At the beginning of the fellowship, I wondered if there was a better place where I belonged, but as my journey began and I continued in this fellowship, I realized that there is nowhere else that I belonged than where I am. I am successful because I birthed that which I believe in and wanted to be a part of in the world. At the beginning of the Bush Fellowship journey, I hadn’t realized how deeply I had internalized oppression, thinking that my leadership might not be worthy or valuable enough unless it was accepted in a mainstream organization. Recognizing these things lifted a huge load off me.
As I now look back, I feel powerful right where I stand. I lead a $2 million organization that I helped create from nothing. I go to work in a place where I don’t have to explain or justify who I am, so I can just spend my days listening to and learning from community, connecting to people and discovering solutions that bring brilliance together, and ideate and test out different ideas. I feel my most powerful self now because my roots have deepened. I grew deeper, and my impact widened; those two things don’t have to be siloed or separated. I am ending this fellowship with a grateful heart, a more profound love for myself, and a greater commitment to building the world as I imagine it.