“I wish I could tell you that you’re yelling at someone who wanted to commit suicide just a couple of days ago” were the words in my head as a friend was yelling at me to do more for our Filipino community. She was yelling suicide rate numbers at me, teenage suicide rates in San Diego. She had real passion for social justice and I truly respected her for that. In my own way, I tried my best to advance the cause of Asian American students at UCSB in the way I knew how, but all I could think while I was being yelled at was how I wish I was the one being helped. I was seen as the one with influence, someone who had the power to make changes yet here I was, someone who needed help as well.
This happened when I was a student at UCSB in the 1990’s. I suppose I was considered a student leader as I was very active in the Asian American community when this event happened. I was also going through some personal struggles as well that led me to thinking suicide.
I had forgotten that incident until I saw a couple of tweet recently which I interpreted as “if you’re not at this conference, then you don’t care about social justice.” Whether that was the tweeter’s intent or not, I don’t know. My misinterpretation may just be due to twitter’s 140 character limitation. My immediate thought was that not everyone may not be in the same position as this tweeter would like everyone to be. It’s not a matter of convenience, but other people may be going through their own struggles as well.
The tweets also reminded of how in my work with student leaders, some of the most passionate ones get frustrated at their peers, especially those younger than them, for not being more sympathetic in their fights towards their causes. I had to remind them their peers may not be at the level they are. I remind them that part of their responsibility is not only to challenge them to become more aware of their issues but to support them in their growth as well.
I don’t know too many folks who would argue against the idea that all we could do more, should do more when it comes to fighting social injustices. We should be challenging each other to find ways to make this world a better place. We just need to realize we all fight social injustices in our own ways. Some of these methods may not be as apparent as others or the results as immediate. I have one high school friend who is now a regional director for California’s Migrant Education Program. He came from a family of migrant workers. He earned his Doctorate and is now in a position to be a powerful advocate for the needs of students from migrant workers like he was. I have a lot of respect for him for how he was able to persevere and break through barriers to be in the position he can now use to lift up his community.
We are all privileged in some ways, we all have our own struggles. Let’s not always assume that because we don’t see others fighting our causes in the way we want them to, they are not already doing so.