Claiming Space with a Voice that Shakes

My first impulse after our presentation ended was to pick it apart. What I wish I had said or done differently or how I left out this important thing. I found myself wanting to talk to each and every person to explain what I wish I could have changed.

A part of this is an openness to continue to learn and improve, but I think a lot of it is tied to the urgency and pressure of representing communities that have been erased, excluded, targeted, and often misrepresented. There’s a fear of perpetuating these patterns and being a part of the harm, trauma, and oppression, as well as an insecurity that if I too am a work in progress, how can I claim that anything that I produce is a finished product?

Another part of it is being an Asian woman taking up space in a society that tells me to be small, un-abrasive, and exponentially humble. We designed our presentation to directly confront and contradict these messages about ourselves, about people who look like us, about others whose oppression is tied to our own.

And yet I wonder if we did enough.

I still waver on this point, but I’m trying to challenge it by focusing on the feedback we received.

We were told that our presentation was necessary and that they learned something that shifted their perspective that day. We were thanked for sharing our personal stories, and for the emotional, vulnerable, and deeply human connections that resulted. We were applauded for applying a critical race lens in a way that could be accessible and eye-opening for folks who may have never encountered it. We were told that the way we engaged and incorporated the audience allowed them space to explore and reflect on the material and themes, as well as challenge the ways in which members of the audience operate in these dynamics. And we were told to start a YouTube channel and that they would “share the shit out of it!” Essentially, that we need to claim this space and time because our message is one that should be blasted and incorporated in as many ways as possible inside of and beyond the social work educational realm.

A few folks acknowledged the level of preparation that went into it. On this I want to note that Han and I met nearly every Saturday for six hours since February, in addition to multiple meetings on weekdays, videochats, and phone calls. We spoke every single day in the week leading up to the conference.

But we weren’t alone.

We relied on the support of our friends, supervisors, and mentors to help us process the dynamics along the way and to fact check and strengthen this presentation. We are indebted to the endless hours of labor that other scholars, activists, and researchers have put in and the body of work that they produced, without which this could not be possible. And of course what would this be without our families and the folks who lived and loved in the struggle before us? Those who continue to make a home and live a life of dignity despite the overwhelming efforts to prevent them from doing so are the heart and soul of our work.

All of these words may seem excessive for a one hour presentation (there’s that doubt again, hello old friend) but because of this process and what we created I feel more prepared and determined to pursue the vision I see for the future and the change that needs to happen to get there.

But first, a nap.


The presentation titled Asian / Americans: Experiences of Erasure and Reckoning with Anti-Blackness in Direct Practice can be viewed here. It was presented at the NYU Silver School of Social Work’s 2018 Social Justice and Diversity Conference on April 13, 2018.

A screenshot of a Facebook livestream of the presentation "Asian / Americans: Experiences of Erasure and Reckoning with Anti-Blackness in Direct Practice." Two Asian women stand behind a podium next to a slide that reads "Angel Island" and depicts images of Chinese immigrants.

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