Sunday, May 30, 2010

any pointers on how to move on? :)

Waited 5 weeks to answer this, because usually "time heals".

If not, watch 500 days of summer. =)

Ask me anything

Thursday, May 27, 2010


An open letter to the Vietnamese Student Union, on behalf of the Vietnamese Student Union at UCLA. In dedication to Tam Tran and Cinthya Felix

By Dieu Huynh

So many things have been happening this past year that have made my job as the VSU Political Advocacy Coordinator difficult as well as easy. Easy because there are a lot of hot-topic issues, difficult because it is hard to focus on many of them because we needed to be more invested in them. Chronologically, I can name a few most important COMMUNITY ISSUES AND NEWS on the top of my head: the California Democracy Act, saving Cal Grants, the 32% fee increases, the hate crimes, the diversity requirement, the racist profiling anti-immigrant SB1070 law in Arizona, the banning of ethnic studies also from Arizona, the passing of two DREAM-ers Tam Tran and Cinthya Felix, the continuous struggle for the DREAM Act. I will spend the next few pages to touch on these subjects, mostly about issues that have brought tears to my eyes.

Before jumping into these specific issues, one must take a look at our own identities, our own culture and history. The four pillars of VSU remind me every day of our purpose and mission, and the reason why VSU must grow to have a stronger voice and more action-oriented.

I do not know how to speak about this past year but frankly through statistics and through my heart. Asian Americans, Vietnamese Americans are deeply affected, if not indirectly by all of the things happening in the past year. My family immigrated to the United States in 2002, and in 2008 we became citizens. When did we apply for immigration? Around 1980s, and with my coming into the world in 1990, our family had to re-file our papers and wait 10 more years. The inhuman and insensible immigration system, couple with economic hardships that were propelled by American policies result in hundreds of thousands of family trying to move just so that they can have a better life.

And my family worked hard, and is amongst the luckiest. After toiling day and night, my parents were able to build on their education and got the money necessary to put me and my sister through school, and apply for immigration. I witness first-hand when my friends had to drop out of elementary schools to start finding a job, or working their family businesses. As a kid, my parents sold me the idea that I looked better when I was lighter-skinned, that my being Chinese was inherently better than my Vietnamese friends (because somehow Vietnamese culture was not deserving of recognition). It’s a strange feeling, to grow up experiencing different things, and seeing society’s ironies, and hypocrisies. How can my family experiences poverty and racism, then turn around spouting conservative talking points, about how immigrants are ruining the economy? How can a Communist government not able to provide basic education for its high school students and college students? How can the democracy in America foster racist FBI operations that were very successful at breaking up Civil-rights groups? (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, google “COINTELPRO”).

How can I chair the Black April Commemoration Event, when accounts from both the North Vietnamese side and South Vietnamese side (and the Americans) are often different, and divisive? How can I properly commemorate a significant part of our identity and history, the imperialistic policies of the United States, the tyranny of the South Vietnamese government, and the countless lives that the North Vietnamese government ruined?

But then I realize something. I realize that all my experiences make me a better American. I was very skeptical of the “American Dream”, but more and more I understand that Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance, that the best way to make dreams come true, is to wake up. We must wake up to the reality that Asian Americans have been, and are still affected by the historical marginalization of our voice. Wake up to the reality that undocumented youth everyday lives in fear of deportation, in addition to fear of trying to fit in.

Working on the Save Cal Grants Coalition was my first experience of learning how to take action. I learned that every phone call you make to your representative means something like a 1000 constituents, that when you organize hundreds and thousands of calls, it means something. It made all of our work so much harder however, that we had to convince 2/3 of the legislators in the California Assembly AND the Senate.

Which is why in the large part of the year, VSU joins with other organizations like MEChA in the California Democracy Act Coalition. We had ups and downs, but at the end of the day, we got more than 23 chapters across the UC, CSU, and CCs system. We all believed in one thing, effective democratic government. Because of Prop 13, California now is the only state in the US that requires 2/3 to raise revenues or pass a budget. Because of this, 1/3 +1 of the legislators (who pledge to never raise any taxes) create so many problems that lawmakers have to decide between saving lives and investing in education.

This should not be surprising to our communities however, because if we look at when Prop 13 was passed, 1978, we realize that this is around the time when California’s demographics were changing. 40 years ago, we would not have the same ratio of under-privileged, Catholic, often darker group of communities that we do today. Remember, California was home to Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. It was under and after Governor Reagan’s term that UC campuses no longer have a central location in which students can come together and protest. Of course, that is just a theory, but what is real was his involvement with the FBI, CIA, along with then UC Regent Edwin Pauley against one of the strongest defender and advocate for public education, Clark Kerr, at the time UC President. Together, they lied to the President of the United States about Kerr, eventually firing Kerr. Concerning the Students Free Speech Movement, the Reagan administration planned on breaking up student groups by “bringing any form of violation available against them.”, “might bring tax cases against them” , and “would also mount a ‘psychological warfare campaign’”.

Now fast forward to 2010. After the November 19th 2009 32% fee increase, tuition costs for the first time went over $10,000, and about 1 in 5 of IDEAS (Improving, Dreams, Equality, Access and Success) members had to take time off or drop out. These are undocumented students who take hours a day to commute to UCLA, work several jobs just to stay afloat, and were denied their dreams to learn and give back. One in 10 Asian Americans are undocumented, and we have about the same number of Asian undocumented students as Latino at UCLA. I do not know how the Fall 2010 fee increase (the second 15% of the 32% total) would devastate the IDEAS community, but we shall see.

Like from the passing of Prop 13, we can find hints of anti-immigrants, racist tidbits popping up here and there, like annoying little germs and viruses that keep coming back to attack our state and society. In the past year, a noose was hung in a UCSD library, a “Compton Cookout” party was thrown, a KKK hood was found, an LGBT Center at UC Davis was vandalized, and a Swastika was carved into a UC Davis dorm. Get this, on April 15th, 2010, a transgendered student at CSULB was pushed into a stall, and his aggressor carved “it” into the student’s chest.

Now take a step back. Would you be allowed to yell out “BOMB!” on an airplane? No, because you will be threatening people, and in the case of the hate crimes, whole people’s cultures, identities were at the very least demoralized and reduced to stereotypes that continue to perpetuate social problems. Believe me when I say I would love to be the Academic Coordinator, Culture Coordinator or Social Coordinator for VSU. Your jobs are so important. We must advocate with the Academic Affairs Commissioner, our very own Suza Khy next year bringing about the diversity requirement. Of course, it does not solve all problems, but it is not meant to be. Like the language requirement, it seeks to diversify the student experience, and to allow students to learn about something that they may have never learned in high school, or will never learn formally in the working world. I took one class this past year, and I have to say it is probably the best class I have taken yet, because it taught me about the real working world, and about life. Professor Omatsu taught me that education is a multiple way streets, and that employers are really looking for team-players, not just the most knowledgeable tool.

Education is the progressive discovery of our ignorance, and we can see how anti-poor, anti-immigrant, racist viruses make our communities sicker and less safe. To get better, not only do we have to treat these viruses, but we must continue to heal our wounds and strengthen our bodies, otherwise we make others sick as well. To make our DREAMs come true, we must wake up to reality and build our communities.

In the midst of the racial profiling anti-immigrant Arizona law SB1070, and when ethnic studies are banned in Arizona, we are all taking a hit. Because what others have said may better than how I can say it, take this from the APALC(Asian Pacific American Legal Center)’s press release:

"Arizona's new law echoes one of the worst chapters in U.S. immigration history," said Julie Su, litigation director at APALC. "In the 19th century, the U.S. banned Chinese immigrants entirely and required them to carry ‘residency certificates' at all times or risk deportation. As was true a century ago, the criminalization of an entire race and fear driven by economic insecurity make for bad public policy."

Asian Americans are frequent victims of racial profiling – from Dr. Wen Ho Lee, a U.S. citizen accused of spying because of his Chinese ethnicity, to South Asian and Arab Americans being profiled as threats to national security, even though such policies have proven completely ineffective.

"For JACL, many of our members, or their family members, were unjustly imprisoned during WWII," stated Kathy Nakagawa, president of the Arizona chapter of JACL. "So we know firsthand what it means to have our civil rights stripped because of bigotry and ignorance."

Recently (mid May) in Chicago, far away from Arizona, a US born citizen Eduardo Caraballo was detained and threatened with deportation. He “repeatedly told officers that he was born in Puerto Rico and therefore an American citizen. His mother also presented his birth certificate, but despite that and his state-issued ID, officials told him he was facing deportation.” Caraballo is “pretty sure they know that Puerto Ricans are citizens, but just because of the way I look -- I have Mexican features -- they pretty much assumed that my papers were fake”. "They were making me feel like I can't voice my opinion or I can't even speak for myself to let them know that I am a citizen."

I cannot speak for the resentment that marginalized communities can feel towards society, but I can imagine and know that this anger boils over when we do not heal the wounds. I support safety, and I know that when a community feels assaulted by the law and law enforcers, there will be unrest.

Underneath all the logic, facts, and history, we have to know what our dreams are. We know the reality, and that is why we are afraid of waking up, but what are our dreams?

I can tell you one dream that UCLA alumni Cinthya Felix and Tam Tran had, even though I have never talked to them. Based on the stories I heard, the tears I saw, and the Facebook pages of these two DREAM heroines, I can tell that they were champions of the DREAM Act, and dreamers who did not let “no” be an answer. “No” was not going to get in their way of achieving their dream, that undocumented students receive a pathway to legal status, and that education is really valued in America. Both passed away in a tragic car accident, their lives at Columbia University and Brown University graduate schools were cut short.

At the memorial, I cried when I hear of how Cinthya Felix was helping other younger youths who thought they could not go to college (I thought of HOPE and SEA CLEAR). Some of these younger students are not UCLA alumni, or are going to UCLA still. I laughed when I saw Tam Tran’s video on their long journey to Washington to obtain what we take for granted, a driver license. If you can go into a club, you are probably more privileged than most undocumented students/immigrants. If you are undocumented, every time a clubbing flyer is shoved into your face is another constant reminder that “you cant”. When the whole world tells you that “you cant”, only with the love of your friends can you struggle to keep walking and keep running to your dream.

At the end of the event, I walked up to the front when they said “IDEAS members come up”, and sang along with John Lennon’s most famous song. “You may say that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope someday you'll join us, and the world will live as one”, tears spilled out of my eyes, and the hundreds in Moore 100 embraced each other. After saying bye to my IDEAS friends, I had to go to a VSU board meeting. As I was making my way out, I was grabbed by Tam’s mother, who held me and a few other students as if we were all one of her own children. In those 20 seconds that felt like hours, I made a promise to myself that we will see the DREAM Act pass.

And so I hope my friends and families will join me in waking up. Join me to think twice before dismissing the diversity requirement. Think twice about power struggles in America. Think twice about the role we play in our community. FEEL ten times what is it like to have a good friend who is struggling to get through school because he cannot afford his tuition. Feel a hundred times what it is like to be subjected to racial profiling, and to deportation to a strange land. Finally, I hope we never have to imagine what it’s like to have “it” carved on our chest.

Now wake up to the history that went before us, and are unfolding now. Do it for Tam Tran and Cinthya Felix’s sake, and do it for our future.

I know I’m not the only one,

Dieu “Dieunity” Huynh

Sources and further readings:

The Daily Bruin: Panelists share experiences from the Vietnam War

Aggressor carved “IT” onto a transgender student at CSULB restroom

Ronald Reagan and the FBI on UCs

APALC Press Release:

Citizen Eduardo Caraballo detained for 3 days:

On Tam Tran and Cinthya Felix

Vietnamese Paper:
Spanish Television: Univision:

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What's something you're afraid to do?

hurting people. I'm afraid of hurting people, because I've had instances where I made enemies and other times when I hurt my loved ones. Sometimes though, we have to allow each other to fall, so that we can all learn to get back up.

Ask me anything

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Documented Immigration, something also worth fixing

People love to talk about crimes, b/c that's the first thing that comes to mind when one uses the word "illegal". But it's only one part of the issues. Which is why we must talk about the issues in terms of "documentation". Words do matter, a lot, and the anecdotal stories are also very important to use in addition to factual informations.

Asian Americans, as well as all immigrants (be they Europeans or otherwise), should understand the bureaucratic backlogs and inhumane wait times that they have to go through in order to get to the United States. The next time you start to blame others, first attempt to empathize with their situations.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

What pisses you off?

Probably hypocrisy and lies. Of course, I recognize that this is a part of life, so sometimes i just gotta deal with it.

Really though, I believe that when you say what you mean, and you mean what you say, people would appreciate you the most.

Ask me anything

Monday, May 3, 2010

Save Cal Grants Coalition Pt. 2: UCLA Budget Coalition!

UCLA Budget Coalition Sign-up

Please join us in proactively organize against the elimination of Cal Grants and to restore proper funding for higher education!

Here's a letter to the editor I wrote last year.