Sunday, June 28, 2015

My decolonized revolution will be spiritually connective and nothing else.

I started getting involved in activism at the age of 16 but my consciousness of injustice, oppression and unfairness started early. At the age of 3, I learnt to shoplift, stealing my first candybar facilitated by my grandmother. At the age of 5 I understood what domestic violence looked like behind closed doors, witnessing the fights between my grandparents and my parents, between my father and my mother and then eventually amongst my parents and me. It should not surprise anyone that I tried to run away from home at the age of 7. I filled up two big rubbish bags with my clothes and toys and books and was ready to make it in the streets of Singapura.

I am now 31 and alive and kicking in New Zealand. Memories like these do not make me an activist but when someone asks me what got you into activism in the first place, it is these memories that flood my mind.  And it is not just me am sure.

Monday, January 19, 2015

My relationship with poetry.

When I was younger living in Singapura, I had to lie to my parents about a lot of things. Like "going to the library" could mean, going on a date with a boy. Or going to watch a N16 movie with some friends. Or going to an all-ages punk gig on a Saturday that starts around 3pm and ends around 7pm. Sometimes I really was at the library. Reading books that I should not be reading. Writing things I should not be thinking.

I am the eldest in my family and while it is established today that I am the black sheep of the family (due to my choice of living in activism and not getting a real job), I also happen to be the most multi-talented over-achiever one amongst my siblings. Throughout my primary school life, I often won some sort of annual Best Prize for English, or Malay, or storytelling, or essay-writing, talent quests, and even sports day events. My parents would stock all my trophies, medals and plaques in the glass china cabinet for people to see when they visit. My younger sister got very jealous and insecure growing up. She probably felt like she was always in my shadow, or worse, that those medals and trophies meant that I was somehow smart(er) or worthi(er) in the family.

But when I was in secondary school, suddenly things changed.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Mellow Yellow 6

Excerpts from Mellow Yellow 6  


"In moving between these situations and societies, I've navigated different types of adaptation and assimilation: assimilation out of respect for local culture and practices, adaptation in order to be understood (eg. learning the language and colloquialisms, also trying to pick up the local non-verbal cues and social norms) and to communicate and observe effectively. This is in order to process my environment in a more involved, responsible, accountable and less disassociated way. These are choices I made autonomously, with agency."  -  Anna Vo

Interview with Omar Musa. By batik.

"This is the point when I quickly grabbed my pen and paper. “You know in Australia.... multiculturalism is seen as this dirty word, like some sorta of fallacy. But I think even before the influx of immigration, there were hundreds of Aboriginal tribes which in itself is multicultural. The problem is when people aim to have this homogenous culture of what is basically determined by white Australians.”

I quip in about the situation in Aotearoa New Zealand, where a lot of tension in discussions around multiculturalism is driven by a fear of multiculturalism as a threat to New Zealand as a bicultural nation that prides in supposedly honouring Pakeha relations with Maori as indigenous peoples. Omar responds “like, sometimes I see in online debates or whatever like people say they're okay with multi-racial but multiculturalism is divisive because Australia needs to be united, there needs to be one united culture...” and that's where his sense of hope and reclaiming multiculturalism as this positive concept stems from. “It's a natural way of society anywhere in the world now.” "

“Are you a Kiwi?”: Asian hitching stories

"Some drivers would randomly start talking about Asian people they’ve met or known. A Welsh guy even praised my people: “you Chinese are excellent bridge-builders!” I can’t remember the context, maybe it was about the ineffectiveness of walls? Especially the great wall? Which came from a conversation about the fall of the Berlin wall? But bridges! We build great bridges at least. I’ve never built one myself, but hit me up if you need a bridge built cos it’s in my blood!"  
When non-Pakeha migrants accept or claim the identity of being ‘Kiwi’, I think it risks reinforcing the ethnocentric divisions made between those that have assimilated to an acceptable degree to those that are marked as foreign and problematic. At the same time, buying into the idea of a homogenous national identity founded and promoted by a colonial settler society means siding with the colonisers by default. When they can make you believe that your identity, a core of the self is connected to this colonial settler nation- state and the dominant culture, it makes it easier to pit ethnic minorities against tangata whenua and divide those with citizenship/permanent residency and those without. I think assimilation into the dominant culture has the tendency to breed complicity in colonial dynamics and border imperialism." -  Bamboo

Adapting assimilation

"I've gone through a whole bunch of feelings about not being able to speak Cantonese. Embarrassment, shame, grief, loss, frustration, anger, grace, understanding, forgiveness. At the
moment I'm feeling pretty generous towards my folks." - Dumpling

Margins and centres of the 'body beautiful'

"Before transitioning hormonally, I'd never seen myself existing in a public story. There are few, if any, representations, Hollywood stars, main characters in books, actors on TV, who are short butch chinese pansexual women." - Dumpling

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Sticks and stones are much quicker than words

Trigger/Content warning: physical violence, family violence, ponderings on survivor identity.

When I was at High School, I thought that us Asians got hit with bamboo canes, the Maori and Polynesian kids got hit with electric jug cords and broken chair legs, and the white kids got grounded and Time Out. I thought this was just a cultural thing. Different ethnic groups choice of child disciplinary tool, based on how tough each group was. The Maori and PI's were bigger and the toughest, so they got the harshest hidings. Then us Asians next. Because although we were smaller than the whites, we were much tougher. And then because the whites are the weakest and the softest, they just got grounded, banned from TV or something.

None of this was seen as child abuse until later. At least in my world. Sure it was was when someone's Dad went too far. But too far was hospitalised. Back then it just seemed natural, normal. You knew the deal, knew the consequences. You tried not to get caught, and if you did, you knew what was coming. And if your folks were in the kind of bad mood where they'd belt you one, you tried to keep out of their way. Physical violence was definitely not Real violence (bar a hospital trip), it was sexual violence that was the serious bad thing. We knew about that. Emotional or psychological violence didn't even feature. Spiritual violence wasn't a thing. That was merely your parents being parents.

Monday, September 22, 2014

#UptheAnti: social movements and strategies for smashing oppression

I wrote this earlier this year after some intergenerational political conversations with folks who were involved in feminist movements in the 70s and 80s, but it seems urgent now more than ever with the election results:

At a time when ecologies are on the brink of collapse and more attacks are planned on the soil and the sea, poisoning and polluting the planet; when structural violence means poverty for the many and filthy affluence for a few; when the white supremacist capitalist settler colonial heteropatriarchy sustains structures of power, control and sanctioned abuse including incarceration and murder; when non-human animals are exploited, murdered and tortured on an industrial scale; when everything and everyone that matters are under constant attack - we need to be doing everything we can to strategise to end this shit and build something better.

I know a lot of people on the left put their hopes and faith in the parliamentary process via elections and encouraging people to vote, doing campaign trails etc. And this failed to change the government. I don't need to tell anyone that the next three years is gonna hit people hard, the violence against most people who are not rich white men will continue.

This failure should not lead to a sense of defeat. Like classic neoliberal speak, this is also an "opportunity" to rethink our strategies of struggle. I think there really needs to be a shift away from parliamentary politics and towards more grassroots organising, to build alternatives to really challenge the system at the root and lessen dependency on the colonial settler state on a material level. We need new strategies and to be bold and imaginative as to what we can achieve and do.

I think part of the strategy is for those of us who care about justice and equality to come together - learn from each other - from all our mistakes and successes - and work together. I think there are two types of gaps/divisions that need to be bridged to organise effectively from the grassroots: between movements and between generations. We can't build a mass movement for meaningful social change in our small scattered groups. What we need to build on firstly is our relationships and connections between social movements and have intergenerational dialogues. Sharing of knowledge, strategies, tactics and resources can only strengthen all our 'causes' which essentially have similar roots causes in the naturalisation of social hierarchy and the maximisation of profit.

I know a lot of other people have similar feels. I just want to encourage people to think beyond parliamentary politics and imagine possibilities outside of the settler colonial state, outside of capitalism and outside of oppressive social relations. 

Neo-liberalism and single-issue politics has created a proliferation of different interest groups that work on their own issues - NGOs and grassroots groups here and there that work on specific issues and campaigns, often siloed with few connections to groups working on seemingly separate problems.

There are people/groups that focus on anti-poverty, prisoners' rights, environmental issues, animal rights, university/student-based issues, housing/gentrification, union organising, decolonisation, tino rangatiratanga, queer liberation, gender-based violence, sex worker rights and other feminist issues. There are already some overlaps between these movements, but mostly through the people involved rather than different groups directly working together. Imagine if we got everyone in one space, everyone who is in some form of other involved in grassroots movements of radical resistance, and we focused our energy on taking direct action, empowering our communities to not only fight back and react to National's cuts and attacks but to create models of human existence without all the oppressive bullshit. 

Let's make it happen. Talk don't cook rice.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

I am an indigenous person but I will never call myself Palestinian.

Today was indeed a politically hectic day in Aoteaora New Zealand, especially if you are an activist that cares about both human and non-human animal rights. Protest actions were organised to demand an end to factory farming from about noon, and then the second surge of rallies to highlight the continued injustice and massacre of Palestinians in Gaza right after. It was emotionally, physically and as a Muslim, spiritually draining. I felt like my heart was going to burst but like blocked pipes, I hold, hold, and carry the rage that fuels us to march in mind, body and spirit.

There were three moments that really affected me mostly today. Firstly, I spotted a visibly Muslim woman at the animal rights protest. Yes, okay, she was wearing a hijab and holding a placard saying Stop Factory Farming. It may not matter much to others in the crowd (read: predominantly white, dog-loving activist scene) but for a Muslim vegan whose sense of solidarity is drawn only to an extent by say, 3 - 5 people of colour in the crowd, this was HUGE. I nervously, excitedly and clumsily approached her and asked her name. She saw the farmwatch documentary and that's why she is there. I said okay, that's cool, yeah it's just I am Muslim, and I hardly see or know anyone else who cares about animal issues since I started coming to these things... can we keep in touch, because it does get lonely being the only Muslim sometimes? She said, okay, and are you going to the Palestine one as well, and I was like YES, and she gave me her email and said she only knew about it because her husband told her. I said, oh you look quite young, and she said umm, no, I'm almost 30 my dear. I bit my lower lip and held my tongue.

"It's okay", a friend said to me, "at least she cares."

Then, when the Palestinian rally started, I listened to the politician drones around me interpersonally chit chattering away about the Israeli occupation being about land and natural resources, and not really about religion or racism albeit racism being a by-product of it all. In Arabic-mixed with English, I could make of a few people asking where their sister went. I also saw a person holding a boycott Israel placard while sipping a Starbucks coffee. Yet amidst the cacophony of ironies and hyprocrises, the organisers look determined and serious with the microphones. One of the organisers Nadia was a brilliant speaker, and the line of speakers to me spoke poignantly and powerfully. You could feel the passion. You could also feel the tension.

So when the two Palestinian children stepped to the front and started reading their speeches off their tiny flashcards, addressing a crowd of what looks like at least 500 people at Aotea Square, I broke. I wasn't the only one. I saw two guys in the front with tears streaming down their cheeks. The first one goes, the killing needs to stop. She goes, I am going to save my pocket money and donate it to the children in Gaza to save them. She goes, we thank you for your feelings but what we need now is action. My God, the truth.

As we march and shouted, chanted to fight back, exclaiming things like, Shame to US and Israel, and Charging them with Genocide, and Occupation will die, and long live Palestine, I had a moment when I spotted a placard which wrote, "This is Not About Religion. It's about Humanity" and recalled the conversations, feelings and actions I have yet to have with my people in Singapura. I felt like maybe it is time to throw in the towel. Maybe this is where I belong as a person of colour deemed and self-identifiably a Young Asian Feminist in Aotearoa, marching along, doing my bit to support and act in solidarity with tangata whenua and the struggles of indigenous peoples globally like in Palestine, whose experiences of colonisation is present today and ongoing and killing literally its people, including women and children, one by one, by ten, by hundred, by thousands. I mean, why should I bother with the Malays in Singapura. Even they themselves do not care. They told me, many times - it's too late for us.  They seem to be willing to accept and submit to their own silent death as an indigenous people, being ethnically cleansed through sinocentric-capitalism and duped by narratives of being saved through Islam. When I remarked how amazing Malays in Singapura  have suddenly become political about Gaza, someone replied back, "It is not about religion, it is about humanity." My mind wanders back to here in Auckland. Let it be hashtagged. Let this protest continue.

But then Roger Fowler started singing. The emcee goes, "with the song, We are all Palestinians now." I thought I heard it wrong. I looked quizzingly at the other YAFA members. No that's the song, they said and cringed with me. I don't understand, I said. I started looking around and many were mainly looking to go home probably to start resting and preparing for iftar. I peered through the segregating crowd. The song was chirpy, merry, country. I saw Roger singing smiling, red in the face. I don't understand.

I am an indigenous person whose land has been occupied whose people have been penalised for existing, but I will never call myself Palestinian, I wanted to say. I am Muslim, but I will never know the level of injustice, discrimination and violence faced by Arab Muslims fighting for their survival for centuries until today. I will never know how it feels like to knowingly witness and watch with an entire world the purposive manslaughter of my own people every single day. I will never know based on my history and genealogy, the effects of having an entire people destroyed city by city until the only city left to make a home for our children feels like one where we are forced to pay rent, and feel constantly hounded by landlords whom were never lords of our land to begin with. I will never know how it feels to have to flee from generations of occupation and imperialist wars my ancestors and predecessors died through because of centuries of zionism that were institutionally built with propaganda machines and weaponry in the West to maintain and sustain the oppression of my people. I will never know. I will never understand. I will never call myself Palestinian.

So how is it that this one person can?

It is very hard to organise, let alone mobilise, people to care about any particular issue that is beyond their day to day cause or cycle. You need allies. And importantly when you are the minority or oppressed group concerned, you need to be how should I best put it, "not so choosy or fussy" in how you select your allies. Because you do know that your allies are predominantly people with some level of power. Maybe they are not the bourgeoisie, but they would then be socialists with white male privilege. And of course 99% of the time if you are in a white settler nation, they will turn out to be, well, white. And you need them to assist you in your discovery and mission. That I understand unfortunately, very well.

But like Frantz Fanon once wrote, “When people like me, they like me "in spite of my color." When they dislike me; they point out that it isn't because of my color. Either way, I am locked in to the infernal circle.” Complicities are tricky. One minute we are hollering out at our government on New Zealand's complicity in not imposing pressure on the Israeli nation-state and its allies within the international community on the situation in Gaza. Next minute we are standing beside an old, white man singing about our oppression. Yes, this is not about religion. It is about humanity. But humanity is diverse and interlinked and complicit in each other's survival and struggle, not just in the hands of Governments, and Big Brotherhoods. We are amongst it. Let us not pretend that we are all Palestinians now.

YAFA (Young Asian Feminists Aotearoa) bloc at solidarity with Gaza protest 26 July 2014. I'm the one with the Fuck Zionism sign.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Disbanding Melting Pot Massacre: Some reflections on being in an Asian feminist punk band

MPM has disbanded.

But I like to think of it as transforming the nature of our musical relationships with each other. Opening it up. More fluidity rather than fixed band members and instruments. I am both sad about the end of the band as it was and excited about the possibilities of creative directions for the political messages we want to convey and express. But I want to reflect on what it meant to be in/part of a band, more specifically an Asian feminist hardcore punk band.

For me and Shasha, we’d both been attracted to and involved in punk scenes, played in other bands. I’d been in an anarcha-feminist riot grrrl band with white grrrls called Hysterror, then it was renamed Mad Bitcher. But before that band, I remember answering an ad online for a guitarist when I was 15 and it was two white cis-boy punks and when I met up with one of them in person, they were surprised and had thought that I was gonna be a guy and seemed quite disappointed. Later, they never made an effort to even have one jam with me. That was my first experience of sexism/racism/ageism in almost being in a punk band.

I’ve always felt quite alienated in the punk scene in Auckland. I wasn’t into drinking, smoking or taking drugs. But I was attracted to the politics of punk and the spirit of rebellion and resistance in the lyrics of the punk bands I was listening to: Crass, Zounds, Propagandhi, Choking Victim, Contravene etc. I got into more political punk music through pop punk which was being played all over the radio around the early 2000s with Blink 182, Good Charlotte and Green Day. Feeling like a misfit, their music was easier to connect with than the mainstream poppy love songs at the time. With the war on Iraq and invasion of Afghanistan happening, I got involved in activism and there’d be punks on the demos. The first person who introduced me to anarchism was a punk kid at a protest to free Ahmed Zaoui. I started going to local all ages punk shows and became friends with some of the more political punks, the crusty anarcho-punks. In general, the bands that were around in Auckland weren’t all that political then and pretty much all white men. I think the Coolies and the Quims were the few women-led bands that were around but the Coolies disbanded not long after I got involved. I still remember their set on International Women’s Day in 2005.

Despite the assholes I came across in the punk scene, the gigs and music helped create some sense of community and solidarity among young people getting into punk or activism at the time. They provided a social space for political discussions hanging out outside in the middle of the night breathing second-hand smoke in between bands. Those were the days of police raids of shows with pepper spray, sometimes arrests, lots of questioning, and people were beaten up on demonstrations. These run-ins with the law enforcers exposed me only partially to the extent of police violence and brutality. Though these were shitty experiences, it strengthened a sense of solidarity and community for those of us that were politicised.

The more my analysis became shaped by feminism and anti-racism that challenged the class-centrism that universalized white men’s experiences of capitalism, the more disillusioned I became with the dominance of drunken and sober sexism, homophobia and racism. It wasn’t really my community and could never really be. Even though I’d been associated with the punk scene in Auckland for maybe 9 years now, when we started MPM, it felt like we were by default on the outside, trying to work out where/if we fit in. We had good shows, bad shows, fucking amazing shows and played with fucking awesome bands we really admire. But that sense of community and connectedness wasn’t really there.

The experience of being in a band beyond the ‘punk scene’ has meant a lot to me. To be able to play with other people of Asian diasporas with similar politics and be angry and scream from our standpoints was something I never got to do before. I could write lyrics that my bandmates would get. If I was in a white person-fronted band, it wouldn’t work for them to be singing it. Music is so personal/political. Not just the contents of the lyrics, but also the form, the per-form-ance and the process of creative production. Being in a band is like being in a relationship with all your bandmates, you have responsibilities, negotiations, conflicts – but there’s something really magical when you’re jamming and the sounds, rhythms just gel and move together (like sex!). You lose yourself in the music and forget you’re the ‘individual’ that neoliberal ideology convinces you you are.

Some songs can take ages to perfect but with “Migrant and Refugee Solidarity Song”, we jammed it out in one session, we just did it together without even really speaking. It’s not like you just hear the song, but you feel it and make it at the same time with the whole of your being. The sense of collectivism in the creation process and during the performance where everyone has an equality crucial role to play that is really different to say, rapping alone to digital beats, spoken word or making a speech. It’s that interdependency and collectivism of being part of something beyond the sum of individuals involved is so missing in other forms of social interactions. This aspect of being in a band is amazing, and the post-performance highs can be epic, leaving you buzzing and unable to sleep. Then there are also the lows and I’m glad I was warned about them early on.

We encountered a lot of challenges as a band, some were fairly predictable but still disappointing. The DIY music scene, largely being apolitical don’t tend to try to understand us or what we’re about. Like the typical migrant situation we had to learn and understand their (sub)culture to navigate it but there’s rarely any consideration of if that should also maybe happen the other direction. We can fill a token slot, make the punk scene appear to be all accepting, multicultural and pro-feminist, but never get our politics taken seriously unless we kick up a fuss about it and then we’re expected to do the educating on privilege and complicity 101. Gets super tiring.

We’ve been silenced and had our agency over self-representation denied ‘cause some white folks didn’t get a joke about ‘reverse racism’. We’ve had other people of colour attack us for naming whiteness, as if that’s racist. We learnt that an influential person in the music scene was a perpetrator of gendered violence and have cut all connection with them.  We’ve had to defend ourselves for not wanting to play shows with homophobes. We got a lot of shit and defensiveness from people who just didn’t get it.

We’ve also had invaluable support from our friends, flatties and allies. Without them we couldn’t have done what we did.

What’s interesting is that as a band, we have connections and identify with so many different communities and movements – feminisms, anti-racism, anarchism, decolonization, queer and trans liberation, migrant communities, animal rights, anti-capitalist student movements, and yet never neatly fitting into any of those movements and often alienated from our own communities. This did give us opportunities to play to very different audiences but for most shows and festivals, it never felt ‘at home’. Except maybe our first show that we organized – “Decolonise the Mic” as part of the Decolonise Your Mind hui. Best audience ever!!

Being in this band with all the previous and existing band members before the disbanding has meant so much to me. It made me feel less alone in the fight in the struggles for liberation and equality. We reached people and met people in ways we wouldn’t have otherwise met, and got to know people in ways we could only do through music. We’ve built new relationships with people through performing, organizing and just being/having a presence. Those are the connections that matter and will last beyond the band.

I still feel partially connected to punk because it played an important role in radicalizing my perspective of the world. As a genre of music, we really owe it to the African-American brothers who formed the band Death before any white punks bands existed. What I really like about punk is that you don’t have be good at your instruments, you can still make music and say things in your own way without feeling like you haven’t met some sort of professional standard. And I’d fucking love to see more feminists of colour pick up a guitar and start a band. Maybe then can there be a community of us. I think we all just want to feel like we belong somewhere and it’s especially hard where you can never feel fully comfortable in any established communities, and at this point, I know it’s not a place I will ever “find” but a place we have to make for ourselves.

I think music has a special place in social change and revolutionary movements. It’s certainly been part of altering my political consciousness. And we will continue to create, just not in the same way or form. For us to create in a world where all that is important is constantly destroyed or under attack is a way of fighting back. To create is to demonstrate that the systems of oppression can never destroy or control our hearts and minds. Your voice, your expression, art, performance, words are important, especially if you’ve been taught to hate yourself – for being a girl, queer, trans, non-binary gendered, non-white, indigenous, an immigrant, a refugee, unemployed, working class, classed as “crazy”; if your love and care for all animals and the earth has been trivialized or ridiculed. When you speak, make music, write or create, it’s a political act in itself.

You don’t have to wait for someone else to come along and speak your thoughts and experiences for you, that day may never come if you don’t do it yourself. That’s why we existed.