Monday, June 29th, 2020
I hope this letter finds you well and you’re finding moments of rest and recharge during a time when we need it most. I have missed you all and think of this community dearly. I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting lately and hope to share some thoughts with you.
As soon as Covid-19 reached NYC in January, I’ve come face-to-face with heightened xenophobia and racism on the near daily, remembering vividly when a man leaned in inches from my face sneering, “Motherfucker, go back to where you’re from.” It was through these racist experiences and consuming news of elderly Asian immigrants being racially targeted with violence, combined with the news of the food shortage crisis, that I acted quickly with my girlfriend, Moonlynn Tsai, to form an emergency relief efforts initiative through Heart of Dinner to provide culturally appropriate meal assistance during the Covid19 food crisis that has been drastically impacting the elderly and vulnerable in the underserved communities in Chinatown, Queens, and Brooklyn.
To date, we just surpassed the milestone of 15,000 meals provided (each paired with a handwritten letter in Chinese and Korean to provide love and support) that includes hot lunches/dinners, care packages of produce/pantry essentials, and customized bulk ingredients that allow for weeks of home-cooked meals. This work has been rewarding beyond measure, and my girlfriend and I continue to the best of our abilities to do our part in the food insecurity space. To watch some of our work, Today Show’s “3rd Hour of Today” caught the inner workings of the operation and you can catch that below:
We have been pushing through every circumstance and obstacle since the beginning of the pandemic, and though not as consistently as we have in the past, we’ve continued to publish our 88 Cups of Tea podcast episodes, articles, and essays. A tremendous heartfelt shoutout to my 88 Cups of Tea team–Racheal Colbert, Andor Sperling, and Stori Long–who have helped me continue the conversations that our community has grown to love and look forward to as a warm and uplifting ritual.
During this time of heightened racism surrounding the coronavirus, I’ve started to reflect and think through the way our community can make a difference dismantling our nation’s unjust systems. I want to preface this by saying up front that I am not an activist or an organizer as I feel that would be a huge insult to ones who’ve been bearing all of the burden doing endless years of hard work to make monumental changes for our society. I am speaking to you as the founder and podcast host of 88 Cups of Tea, and I am writing to you as an Asian-American ally. I am writing to a mostly non-black audience about the knowledge that I’ve gained from Black activists and organizers and organizations that I’m learning from with humility, and also combining my own knowledge about the anti-blackness that I’ve observed from my own experiences as someone who’s navigated the world through an Asian-American lens, being raised by immigrant family members, growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood and splitting time on weekends in Flushing, Queens where there’s a predominant Chinese immigrant population.
I’m learning about my own proximity to whiteness and how that’s benefitted me over the years. I’m also learning more about the colorism that exists in my own Asian community and how that was shaped through association with upward mobility for some, and for others…how lighter skin tones are often put on a pedestal in post-colonial countries and afforded privilege than those with darker skin. I invite ALL bipoc to examine our own ingrained stereotypes and prejudices with colorism within our own ethnicities.
America was built out of violence and oppression, and black and indigenous bodies have always been in danger. Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, George Floyd, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Michael Brown, are a few of the recent names of people who have been murdered at the hands of the police. The racist system we have always lived in has allowed every single person, except for black and indigenous people to benefit from it. We’ve all been complicit by benefitting from anti-blackness.
One of the educators I’ve been learning from is Sonya Renee Taylor on Instagram. I want to pass along some thought-provoking questions and invite you to self-analyze along with me– Ask yourself, what’s your own personal investment in the benefits that are given to you by being white? And if you’re a non-black POC like me, ask yourself, “What’s my own personal investment in the benefits that are given to you by leaning adjacent to whiteness? How have we been complicit by benefitting from anti-blackness? What changes can we make so that this does not come at the cost and at the expense of black lives?”
I am urging you to see how we exist within these frameworks built and structured by colonialism and how we can make sustained and lasting changes of progress by breaking out of the colonial logic indoctrinated in us.
Over the past 5 years, I’ve built 88 Cups of Tea with the mission to have conversations with creative minds like authors and to learn about their journey as humans and artists navigating the world as storytellers. I’ve been learning so much about the challenges they’ve faced, and the dreams and wishes they’ve held onto their entire childhood. Through these conversations, I see very clearly how artists are the ones who speak to culture and that we need artists to move the needle in shifting culture for the better.
The 88 Cups of Tea community has an unbelievable amount of impact in shaping our future into a world that upholds real justice and true equity for all. In order to finally get to that fair place for all, we must continue amplifying and making space for black voices until they are finally heard and accepted with the same urgency and respect that white voices have been receiving throughout history.
For those of you writing your own experiences as a black person existing in this world, keep writing your stories and do not stop. For those of you who are white and non-black POC, keep writing stories that are truthful to your own experiences and examine ways where you can uplift the black community without taking the mic from them. For all of my storytellers who are book lovers and avid readers, demand for stories that amplify and highlight the different narratives from black authors. Use social media to get word out, write letters and contact publishing houses to put pressure on them to invest in these stories, call your local libraries and local bookshops, find creative ways to show the world that we want and need these voices to impact and shape our culture for the better.
I know the heart of our community has always been in the right place, and I’m proud to have a community who’ve been willing to do the work and I have full faith are the same kinds of people who are committed to continue doing the work and self-learning. I’m far from perfect and I do not have all the answers, and I commit to continue learning, growing, self-analyzing, and taking action with as much humility as possible.
I’ve been working on a resource page gathering the links to all the podcasts, books, documentaries, and movies I’ve been learning from. Know that this is an ongoing list that I’ll continually update as I come across more information to share with you.
Let’s keep pushing forward,