I was in Italy for 10 days, not checking my emails and enjoying Chianti with every lunch. When I returned to Chicago, I saw an email from my pastor with the subject line: Details about the Dan Ryan Shutdown Tomorrow. Inside the email, there were details about the event and why it was happening, but the part that struck me the most I’ve copy and pasted below:
Will anyone be arrested?
- The expressway falls under the authority of the Illinois State Police (ISP). They have said they will arrest anyone who marches on the expressway. There are lawyers lined up should that happen.
- However, at this point it seems unlikely that any arrests will be made. Those planning the march believe that the ISP will not hinder the marchers.
- On the off chance that the ISP does begin arresting marchers, those who don’t wish to be arrested can continue the march along State St.
My wife, Michelle, asked me if I was going to go, and she must have not read the part of the email titled “Will anyone be arrested?” I swiftly told her no. No, I wasn’t trying to get arrested. Something about my dismissiveness didn’t sit right with me, but I had important matters to attend to, like checking twitter, watching TV, and walking my dog. I couldn’t focus on any of those activities. The Shutdown was stuck in my mind.
By the end of the day, I set my alarm to wake up and attend the Shutdown. In this post, I’d like to share the reasons why.
Why shut down the Dan Ryan?
It’s led by the youth of Chicago Strong (see their website for what they’re all about). As an educator, I project myself as someone who cares about empowering our youth. Often citing Freire, I make big claims about how the purpose of education is to empower students to name and rename the world around them.
So imagine the dissonance I felt when my gut-reaction to the Shutdown was to put on my “adult hat” and make arguments to discredit the students’ plan. If I get arrested and have a record, what will that mean for my current/future career? Are the students aware of these consequences and do they understand the scope of what they’re getting us into? Did they think this through?
I supported student leadership, but only at my convenience. That looked like retweeting inspiring content for a cause I believed in, but never opening my checkbook and giving my money. In theory, I was the biggest supporter. In practice, I was the sharpest skeptic.
I joined the Shutdown as a way to react to my identity crisis. It’s not that any single action allows us to etch our character into stone, but I wanted my attendance at the Shutdown to be a step forward in my personal journey towards trusting student leadership.
It’s important for Asian Americans to support. Gun violence in Chicago is an Asian American issue. (Side note: it’s also a white issue, a black issue, a Latinx issue, etc.) I don’t feel like I should have to follow that up with a “because”, but judging by the number of Asian Americans that were at the Shutdown, it must be said. Gun violence in Chicago is an Asian American issue because it is affecting our neighbors.
Being neighborly is not something that I have seen modeled well by most first generation Asian American business owners in some of Chicago’s black neighborhoods. At its worst, Asian business owners negatively stereotype and dehumanize customers in their own communities. At its best, Asian business owners form authentic relationships and become cornerstones in the community. But in both cases, I wish the conversation about being neighborly also emphasized creating positive, sustainable change in the local economies of the communities they are profiting from.
Second generation Asian Americans like myself have the opportunity to redefine what being a good neighbor could look like. Joining in this fight is one way to do that. When we look at the history of our country, I am eternally grateful for the revolutionaries that took up causes that were bigger than themselves. Otherwise, this couldn’t have been a country where my mom and dad could immigrate and be successful.
The Shutdown is an opportunity for me, as a member of the Asian American community, to publicly show my support. We need to recognize our rich history of protesting for systematic change in this country. Our fights in the past are others’ fights now. I want the youth of Chicago Strong to see Asian faces in the crowd and know that we got their back.
It’s what my faith compels me to do. I can imagine being at the pearly gates, and Jesus is standing there with me, watching the YouTube compilation video of everything happening in 2018. I think he’s going to ask the church, “what were yall doing?”