Closeness and Re-emergence at an Asian Liberation Workshop

In July 2003, people of Asian heritage gathered together and took a plunge into a five-day journey toward closeness and re-emergence at a lovely farmhouse-turned-youth-hostel near Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

There were seventy-five participants in all. Represented were Asians from the Far East, the South East, the Middle East, and more. The great diversity among us made the workshop all the more interesting. I met, for the first time, a person of Turkish heritage and people of Egyptian heritage. A large Chinese constituency was broken down into U.S.-born Chinese, Chinese immigrants to the United States, Chinese-heritage people residing outside the United States or China, mixed-blood Chinese-heritage people, and more. People came from Peru, Trinidad, England, Australia, Korea, China, and Japan. Others came from places in the United States—including Washington, Oregon, California, Hawaii, Minnesota, Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. One came from Syracuse, New York—me!

The majority were in their twenties and thirties, although ages spanned from early twenties to late sixties. What delighted me most was having nine Co-Counselors of Korean heritage at the workshop.

The workshop started with separate men’s and women’s leaders’ gatherings, led by Tim Jackins and Diane Shisk respectively. Each group looked at the ways sexism and racism are perpetuated and manifested in our lives. The women discharged distress patterns of internalized sexism in order to regain our powerful selves, be human with each other, feel and be fully alive, move society forward, and openly care for men, especially our Asian brothers.

Most Asians have a history of being subjected to totalitarian governments and/or exploited by colonialism. The resulting distress patterns, many with thousands of years of history, have confused us. We struggle with a sense of being invisible, unimportant, and not fully powerful, and with feeling that we always have to watch out for ourselves and be afraid to make mistakes. Internalized racism has silenced us with messages such as, “You don’t matter,” “You are too small to make a change,” “Your oppression is not significant,” that have blocked us from becoming our powerful selves.

When the time came for the two groups to unite, Tim and Diane invited everyone to participate in a close-contact physical activity that resembled group wrestling. Some people jumped right in. Others, such as myself, contemplated it with uneasy feelings. (It seemed unthinkable to throw myself on top of strangers.) In any case, it was a wonderful contradiction to the age-old Confucian teaching that segregates boys and girls at age seven. Someone pulled me into the activity, and I had a lot of laughs and fun doing it!

The physical activity helped us lose our inhibitions with each other. It made us feel playful and alive and relieved us of our loneliness. Some of the women showed their toughness by being physically powerful in their contacts with men.

Then Francie Chew, the International Liberation Reference Person for Chinese-Heritage People, took over the workshop. She had us focus on being allies and discharging our past hurts with each other. (There has been mistrust among us, especially those of us from neighboring countries. Our families’ oral traditions have often dwelled on stories of injustice toward and mistreatment of our people from neighboring invaders.) We also worked on being allies to each other within the same constituency. There were ample opportunities for discharge.

Each of us has been hurt and is vulnerable. Internalized oppression has led us to play out1 our hurts on less powerful groups. It has perpetuated oppression among us and gotten in the way of our standing up for each other.2 To be able to get close to each other we need to recognize the impact internalized oppression has had on us, and discharge and discharge. We have to always remember that we are good.

At the end of the workshop each constituency met to discuss, discharge about, and answer the following questions:

1. What is your heritage? What is your region of origin?
2. In what ways are you pleased and proud to be a member of this constituency?
3. What do you have to discharge to be completely pleased and proud?
4. What do you have to discharge to be a good ally to other Asians, other people of color, and white people?
5. What keeps you separate from other Asian groups?
6. What else do you want other Asians to know about your group?

Each meal delighted us with its variety of Asian cuisines, and had a bonding effect on us. The workshop ended with a U.S.-style barbecue lunch in the garden, reminding us USers that we were also proud of our U.S. heritage.

Saying goodbye was hard. I looked at everyone’s faces one last time, hoping to imprint their beautiful smiles, stories, and struggles in my memory.

Kyung Jin Park
Syracuse, New York, USA
Reprinted from the newsletter of the
Syracuse, New York, RC Community 

1  Play out means act out.
2  Standing up for each other means supporting each other.


Last modified: 2014-09-18 16:00:08+00