"But then it's not basic knowledge for white people. It's hard because so much of their learning is us going, lemme tell you about this. This is why it's problematic. We’re constantly having to educate them when they should be educating themselves."
I teach in a dual language academy which is about 10 minutes north of here. It’s near Booker T High School.
Thats crazy because I was considering many options for post-grad. Teach For America (TFA), this fellowship, grad school, and so many others.
TFA is a very interesting organization. I understand the idea behind it, but then, like, it also seems like we know what's right, and we’re gonna go into a community we’re not really a part of and try to change it. It’s interesting to see the dynamic where I wanna do good but I'm also doing good for an organization that, like, did not necessarily start there. It’s not a community based organization. It was started by white people and it's interesting, like, it’s helping, yes, but it's also doing some damage.
Ohh, like contributing towards gentrification and oppression?
Yeah, and the fact that often times, at least my experience in TFA, people come and want to do good, but just because they have the intentions doesn’t mean the impact is good.
So it's sometimes TFA is problematic with putting white people in communities of color. Is that what they need? At the same time, there is a shortage of teachers in OK. Someone has to be in the classroom.
Have you found a way to reconcile it? Did they train you to combat these things?
I think I’ve found a way to reconcile it. So when you get to TFA, you start over the summer. Very intense. You're doing classes, you're teaching, and then you start your first year. Throughout your first year, you're taking classes too and your TFA coach helps you out. And then your second year. Then after your two years, you're done and strictly teaching on your own.
Gotcha. Also I really like the hole in your sweater. I was intrigued by the change in knits, and then realized it's your undershirt.
Anyway, did you grow up in the Bay Area?
No, I grew up in Orange County. It was very different.
Sweet! All the Viet people are there.
Orange County was ok. All my family is there so I go back. I don't feel comfortable being myself there in the same way I am in the Bay Area. That's ok.
That's what my nephew/second cousin said! He grew up in Orange County and told me it's very different from people’s perception of the West Coast. He identifies as gay and doesn’t speak about his sexuality or anything there.
Yeah, I agree with that.
I completely forgot to ask. How do you like to identify?
That is something I think about a lot. I identify as queer. That’s where I would place myself under. It’s very interesting to think about, like labels being placed on you or if you identify one way. People have all these stereotypes that you see and I could be like, that's not me. How would you identify?
I identify as cis male and queer. Sometimes my gender floats around due to being constantly misgendered. I am psychologically affected by the way I need to censor myself in order to make others feel comfortable. Do I need to go to the women’s or men’s bathroom this time? Stuff like that in airports. All of these very unnecessary projections.
And have you made your queer tribe in Tulsa? What is it like? There are several QTPOC fellows here and we are all so interested in the community here.
Honestly, besides Arun, cause I think to me...in my head the idea of gay is the mainstream. Queerness can be like different. So I find that people who are gay, but are not as aware or conscious about what queerness can be, and all the conversations around queerness. So I have found people who are gay but not necessarily who like, not that they have to identify as queer as well, but they are aware of being a gay male doesn't necessarily mean we’re the most oppressed person, or that there are aspects of our culture that are problematic.
I haven't found that in a lot of people. I found a group of friends I'll hang out with sometimes, but I personally have not found a queer community where we are aware and constantly talk about that. Like in the Bay Area, that conversation is never ending right? It's not like we have our identity in a box. It is constantly changing just like age. Continually changing. So Arun and I were saying, he has the same understanding which has been isolating. Lonely being here.
What does queerness personally mean to you?
Yeah, and I think it’s hard to like say this is what it is. That's the beauty of queerness. It is open ended. It is for the person to decide. It can mean like you're poly. It can mean you're into men at that time. It could mean you're into just women at that time but later on that's gonna change. Fluidity is really important to me, and really being able to define it on my own.
A big part of the reason why I don't identify as gay is because it’s been connotated as this white thing. It’s associated with Neil Patrick Harris, Ellen Degeneres. Very white, blonde, blue eyes. I feel like the way gay people are perceived or portrayed in the media is mirroring heterosexual couples. Like there's a more masculine one and a more feminine one, and therefore that makes sense. For me the whole point of queerness is I don't like that label, like gender is not something, it's real in the sense that it has effects, but we all perform it . The fact is sometimes gayness has been seen like the same as heterosexual couples, except just two men but there's a more male one.
It's weird to me. I like queer because it doesn’t necessarily fall into that box. My queerness can be different than another’s queerness. The big thing about queer for me is it's never ending. You never stop redefining yourself. It’s powerful because that's on you, not everyone else to put an identity on you. It's a roundabout way to say it can be anything you want it to be.
No definitely. Constant conversation. Figuring out yourself. Waking up in the morning.
I'm interested in this as well. In the professional world, when do these conversations come up? How do we become activists in these jobs we hold? For instance, you teach 2nd graders and they are literally the future. The next activists and protesters. And some may assume they’re too young, but what conversations do you have with them?
In terms of the queer aspect of myself, that has been really, really hard in Oklahoma. Depending on the situation, depending on the time, depending on the place, different aspects of my identity is prevalent. To me, teaching at a bilingual school, my Latino identity is at the forefront , and like a lot of the times the way I affect my kids, it’s conversations around race, not sexual orientation.
That is on me. At the same time, being in OK, I don't think it’s the place. A lot of my kid’s parents go to church all the time and are very religious. Not to say all religious people condemn queer people. I don't know, so I personally am not out to my kids or their parents. I think it's so important for teachers to like be in constant communication with parents and have them be comfortable to come up to me with any issue. If they need any help or resources.
I feel like if I come out, if my queerness was at the forefront, would it be a barrier? That would just harm my kids. Which is not what I want. At the same time, am I not doing enough to push? Am I making sure that people know when someone is queer so they can see they're no different than anyone else? It's definitely been hard for me as a person. I don't think I've done enough on that front but I also don't wanna harm my kids in the process of coming out. My staff knows but it's not a conversation we talk about. It's just been hard on me.
Definitely. Even many teachers in SF aren't out to their kids for safety and administrative reasons. How are you surviving socially then? Sure you work and the kids provide you with life/hope, but you go home and have your own life too.
It’s tough. Being a teacher is really, really hard. My first year I would go out, but in terms of personal life, it's consumed by work. My second year too. This year I’m teaching same grade, same school. I’m much more comfortable with it. I still do a lot but it doesn't take over my life in the same way. This year I have a lot more free time, umm, and again, unfortunately my queerness isn’t where I have found my community in.
For me, what I found my community in is my browness. I am fortunate enough to have found a group. I work a lot with Dream Act OK, we have meetings at the Equality Center. We have a lot of resources. Today I was involved with doing this resource fair helping out in the morning for Latinos and Latinas to come and get a taste of all these organizations. TCC, Tulsa Tech, ways to get scholarships. Access.
So our community knows what's available for them and what they're rights are. We do stuff like that. We also have DACA, which is the program that Obama started for undocumented youth to get legal status, so we organize those at the clinics. I spend time with them for a holiday or whatever. I usually hang out with them.
When Trump won and we were all devastated, we went to my friend’s Talina’s house, talked about our feelings. Talked about the impact on our personal families. So I think that in those spaces, I am able to bring out my queerness, but it’s about my browness at that point. Which is tough since it’s like I have to choose, I don’t, but it plays out that way.
How have you been dealing with the news of number 45? How do you plan to tackle the next four years?
That’s tough. Very much still trying to figure it out. Similarly, I sometimes wanna disconnect from it. All my social media is what Trump has done or threatening to do. I need to be aware, but at the same time don't need to be inundated with all this info on what's happening. But I guess it's been really hard.
The past few weeks I have been thinking a lot about my personal life, what led me to get here. The difficulties I've had in my life. That adds an extra weight to it. And I think I’m doing that because I’m realizing how hard that, yes my life has been, but how much harder it's gonna be for different communities. I went through college and now am a teacher, like I’m a lot more privileged. I just have a lot more privilege than I used to and now I'm thinking about how I can use this to help.
How can I help? How can I move forward? I don't have a solid answer. I absolutely wanna continue teaching. Thats where I get motivated. Working with the kids and their parents. It humanizes the experience, or things I wanna help in which is sometimes drastic and overwhelming. I definitely wanna stay in the classroom. I need to fight back with the classroom. I think I also continue to volunteer Dream Act OK, to continue to create ways for communities to get the resources to help them. But I don't know.
I’m at a place where I feel like I need to do more. I will do more. How will I move forward? Try to have a personal life, be there for my family, do things others ask me to do. I don't know.
You bring up difficulties. Would you mind bringing up experiences whether they had to do with your browness or queerness? Or is it always intersectional? That is when it gets really difficult.
When I was mentioning my experiences, yes an an adult, but I also think a lot about the impact on my kids. And I think about when I was a kid, what barriers were keeping me and my family from accessing lots of things. So when I mentioned me thinking a lot, it's more about my personal life and what affects me, what continues to affect me.
My parents are undocumented, and like that's been really hard with everything happening with Trump. Being scared. Being angry, and so I think about that piece. I also think about how we grew up very poor and I think a lot about that, and how that impacts me. It's a weight, but at the same time, how going through that I’ve learned how strong my mom is especially. We’re at a much better place than we were at a few years ago. Umm, I think a lot about the hard times but in order to think about how much we’ve overcome, and how strong she is.
My dad is a meth addict. I haven't talked to him for 4-5 years now. I don't really know where he is. It was tough at the time. I was in college at the time. I was in Berkeley. I was away so I was a lot more removed from it. And so I'm thinking about that now because I’m moving back to CA next year, moving to LA. Because I was so removed and continue to be removed from it being here, whenever I'm home, those things kinda resurface in a way, like my mom, brother, and sister who were at home at the time. I think there's a lot more closure.
They were there and still there. But whenever I go back home, it reminds me of the instability of home, and it still is unstable. So I think about all these pieces of history because I'm gonna be there next year. How am I going to help my family and community? So I think all those pieces are constantly in my head about me thinking about who I am. What I’m doing and why I’m doing it. Umm yeah, so when I mentioned I’ve been thinking about a lot, that's where my head goes to?
What has the conversation around politics been like in your family? Has it been revolving around financial hardships? Immigration policies? Queerness?
In terms of politics, I think my mom has come a long way since when I first came out to her, which is weird. At the time my dad was still at home. It was weird, I’ve been always closer to my mom. My dad was always an angry person and I closed myself off to him, but when I came out, it was strange how my dad was more supportive than my mom. Ummm and so it was just hard.
My mom has come a long way and now in terms of politics, in terms of she is a lot more open because of me. Cause she has had to rethink her thinking around queer and gay people, and so that's been nice. There's been progress on that.
I think that one thing that's tough,and I get mad at myself is I’m not able to fully express my queerness, the way I am, because my mom can't still understand it, but also I’m more comfortable speaking English than Spanish even though Spanish is my 1st language. I think it's tough because I don't know more Spanish and I’m not able to express queerness to my mom. So politics at time is stifled or stuck, but when I look back, we made progress. With Donald Trump, my mom is definitely skewed left which is a benefit. With the Donald Trump administration, she is a lot more vocal about politics in a way she wasn't before.
Yeah mom! Get it!
We’re still very much struggling financially so that breeds into a lot of things. I don't know. It’s hard.
I really appreciate what you said about the language. Poetics and small nuances are lost when the mother tongue isn’t spoken. I wish I could have the language to explain queerness to my Vietnamese mother as well. I feel like we both need to learn more English and Vietnamese concerning LGBTQ+ terminology in order to come to peace. Sometimes it feels like I’m just screaming or being overly defensive with her, which isn’t my intention.
Sometimes my mom acts similarly. Especially with my brothers and sisters and I speaking English. Again, even though it was our first language, we speak in English, read in English, watch TVs/Movies in English, so it comes more naturally for us in English, which is a problem cause I think it has to do with me being ashamed for a while about speaking Spanish. Cause my mom will get angry or upset. Whats going on? Why are you acting this way? I guess its similar. It's a barrier.
Yeah. It’s difficult. I think a lot about globalization and the destruction of culture/language. Too many ideas!
Totally off topic, but what music / podcasts have you been listening to? It seems like you are a big fan of NPR *points at NPR hat*
I do love NPR. I listen to it every morning. Have you heard of LIzzo? L I Z Z O
I really fucking love her. She is really empowering. So good. Black woman. Larger. At the forefront of her music and being comfortable with herself in spite of a world where she shouldn't be comfortable with herself. Powerful. Affirming. Also really fucking good dance music.
Her song Phone is my favorite. She has songs where she talks more about serious things but Phone is silly and is a really good dance music.
Isn't it weird where we grow up in a world where we’re not taught to love ourselves?
Yeah. Weird. What have you been listening to?
Hmmm Kehlani, Father John Misty again, and the Hamilton Soundtrack. I’ll never be able to afford a ticket though. I go back and forth with Frank Ocean’s album.
I haven’t given it a listen yet. I always want to. I always start off with Channel Orange and get completely absorbed. I then forget about Blonde. I fucking love it. I like that question because music is so important to me.
Yeah I just started seriously listening to it. Once you sit down and give it a serious listen, you begin to think it was worth the entire wait. Thanks Frank.
Very contemporary Japanese music as well.
I also really like J.Cole. I wasn't sure how I felt about his latest album. His last one was very angry, which I like because I’m constantly angry about the world we live in, so I was like yes. This one was more calm and at peace, and at first I didn't like it but I really like it now. It’s very interesting seeing him and other artists change and to see what's causing that change?
Is the last song the letter to his daughter?
When I got to that song, I really appreciated the whole album as a piece.
Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about when I say artists changing, like getting married, having a daughter. I wonder if he's found more comfort or peace, and I think that it’s comforting to know that's a possibility for me. That song where he is talking about his life and his wife, there's a really funny line he never thought he would be someone to drink almond milk and enjoy it. That's so comforting to know we can change.
Yes! Expanding masculinity. We can drink almond milk.
So what else makes you happy besides teaching?
I really like marijuana probably more than I should but I love doing that, and smoking is where I feel at most peace. I feel very comfortable being alone smoking with music. It’s where I recharge. So I love doing that. Ummm I’m trying to read a lot more which is good. Podcasts. I really love So Many White Guys. Arun recommended that. Lizzo is on the first episode! They interview her.
Nice! Yes! Arun just told me that.
Dude, when I first moved here, I was like, where do I get my medicine? I need it for when I’m hungover.
What is one question you wish people asked you more often?
Hmm, that’s tough. Living in Oklahoma, I do wish people asked more and talked about identity. I’d say that. Talking about identity and different aspects or parts of our identity. I feel like here I don't talk about it enough.
Very valid. Even though I’ve only been here for three weeks, I feel like that's the trajectory.
I am actually creating a Tulsa Burn Book. It will be filled with all the microaggression, blatant racism, and questionable encounters I experience.
Dude! I should've started that.
You are free to join.
How many of you are here?
About 34? 33?
And how many are POCs?
I wanna see almost 13? About ⅓ but I'm not completely certain how we all identify.
You mentioned having feelings or vibes being at some of these non-profits and institutions around Tulsa. Do you get that feeling from the faculty of the TAF as well? Like they wanna include POCs but don't know exactly how to?
Julia and Meghan are two white women who we report to. They are active and accommodating in many ways. I'm still deciding whether or not I feel like a token minority. What is more frequently on my mind is the fact that I’m funded by oil money. I attempt to be green conscious and eco-friendly but it's funny knowing the Kaiser foundation is behind all of this. They’ve done remarkable things for Tulsa though.
I think about that too because George Kaiser is a huge funder for TFA. So I’ve thought about how TFA gets its money, but I ask that because TFA is similar where it’s mostly white people. They wanna be inclusive and they mean well, but I get vibes if, yeah, I’m a token, and I get frustrated and sometimes we bring it up.
They...I remember one time someone brought it up, we wanna be more inclusive. TFA is really trying but at the same time, not a lot of people of color, and the way our programming works, it's all geared towards white people since they are the majority.
One time, I don't know what her title is but she's pretty big in the TFA OK. She defended that TFA National is 50% POC. It was annoying because someone brought up this valid point and the fact that you're the head of this organization and you're white. It took a lot to say it because it's a very hard. TFA does not exist in a bubble, we operate under the oppressive structures of society, and so the fact that a member brought it up.
I just ask to see if its similar. But it sounds like you're very new and still trying to figure out.
Yah. I am here to push buttons though. It is very problematic when people feel personally attacked and shut down or get very defensive about their whiteness. I've been thinking a lot about that. How much of our energy is spent for free teaching people?
Don’t even get me started about that!!!
TFA does this thing called DEI. Diversity Equity and Inclusion. It’s an effort to make sure that teachers working in the classroom are conscious about their identity and conscious about what we’re bringing into the room, and conscious about the oppressive structures we live in, and how we bring that ourselves. It’s very interesting. It's a little different now but in the beginning, it was very geared towards white people because they were the majority, and they were the ones who really needed to be told.
Yes, wake up!
Totally. Heeyy..Heeyy.. Your identity is potentially problematic and you need to know this. You need to know how to dismantle that. But so many times, because there weren't many POC, especially in OK, it was our job to tell them. All the DEI seminars were like, we’re gonna talk about this, but it's basic knowledge. Why are we talking about this?
But then it's not basic knowledge for white people. It's hard because so much of their learning is us going, lemme tell you about this. This is why it's problematic. We’re constantly having to educate them when they should be educating themselves. It's just fucking tiring.
Cause this year its different. At the time it was mixed group, so it was all races in one group. Because it was such a few amount of POC, we were spread out. I was usually the only brown one and another POC in the room. But now we do it through affinity groups. So now you're in your racialized groups and it's a lot more comfortable. It doesn't seem like we’re teaching white people. It's just us processing things on our own.
So you mentioned moving to LA next year! Will you be teaching another year and then moving next May?
Sorry, I say next year but because I’m a teacher, I mean academic year. I'll be moving in May or June. I'm gonna finish teaching here and then start teaching there in July.
Woah! Totally different culture. I’ve heard that LA is a very superficial city with no sense of history?
Yes, I agree with that. In a way that I feel like Oakland, Berkeley, or San Francisco, that isn’t the first thing you think of or run into. I feel like it's very different which is why I like living in California. I wanna be closer to my family which is why I’m moving to LA.
Yes and No. I think that so many times, certain areas of LA are highlighted and superficial, but I think LA has one of the biggest populations of Mexicans. So to me, although it's true, there's another part where I’ll be teaching which will be drastically different. So yes, it has that, but there are tons of pockets.
Wow! You get to move from this school to a very Latino neighborhood.
So my school right now is predominantly Latino but the school I’m moving to is 97% brown.
You can beef up your Spanish skills and everything.
Yeah, I know!
Any bucket list items for 2017 in general?
No, just trying to be more active and more knowledgeable. No nothing big.
I was gonna ask. What books are you reading? I’m trying to compile my reading list which should have been completed already?
What kind of books do you like?
I’ve been reading Why We Build and other architecture theory based pieces.
Not an architect but I like taking the theory and applying it to other aspects of my life. I’m also looking into AAPI writers and folklore. The Tale of Kieu and works by Viet Thanh Nguyen are on the horizon.
I like a lot of sci fi so I often refer people to that. For the past year I've been making an effort to not read anything by a white male because Chris has done that for too long.
You’re not gonna do it anymore.
I like Octavia Butler. Have you heard about her?
No. Do tell more.
It's not necessarily sci fi in a Star Wars or Star Trek way. It's a little bit different. The book I was reading was Kindred. And so it's about this black woman who has a husband who’s white. It's about her kind of falling through time. She is in her apartment and then she kind of goes back in time. She's in the south and experiences slavery and like, her being in that different environment, and then essentially goes back to current time without time changing. It's so interesting.
It's like a metaphor about how Africans were first brought over, their lives were completely uprooted without any knowledge, and like how crazy it was. Her experience kinda mirrors that. She lives in a different world, gets uprooted, and then gets placed in slavery. I recently read Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula LeGuin. It was written in the 70s and it's interesting to know it was written in the 70s because it is so relevant. And I’m like, how did this become so popular in sci fi circles? It's about this planet called Winter or Eathen.
So basically there's this universe and Winter is fairly removed. It's like a galactic empire, but like an agreement where all these different planets and galaxies and Winter is not aware of this. They think they're the only planet. So the confederacy of all these planets sent a delegate to Winter and ask if they want to be a part of it. In Eathen, gender isn't the same as how we think of gender. In Eathen everyone is ambiguous until they start having sex. When they start having sex, one is the male and the other female to reproduce. One time you're having sex you can be the male. The next time you can be the female. It depends on the people. You're not set to become something.
If no one gets pregnant, then they return to becoming ambiguous. If one gets pregnant, then they remain a female and go back to being ambiguous after nursing the baby for a few weeks. It’s interesting because the whole book is prefaced on that the main character,Genly, doesn't know how to interact with these people, and so it’s told through his eyes. Like he uses gender pronouns and make assumptions on them. He makes assumptions on what is manly or more feminine, but these don’t exist on this planet. So it is a constant loss of communication.
Wow! The 70s!
Yeah its really cool. But it’s also interesting..also when a brother and sister...
Yeah, it’s totally chill unless they have a baby. Then they have to stop being lovers. I forget why but it’s really interesting. It adds another component to sex. It’s also interesting that there has to be a male or female when they're having sex. Why is that the case? It essentially says homosexuality doesn't exist. Which in an interview she regrets doing that, but she didn't want to seem to radical at the time. Most of the sci fi community was male and white so she had to write something that wasn't too otherworldly. Its valid but also problematic.
Sweet! I was going to ask about whether or not it was actual gender or more top/bottom-esque roles. I’m stoked. I’ve never read sci-fi but after meeting Na’am from San Francisco and you, I must get on this. You should also check out Shipwreck in San Francisco.
Ohh, I forgot. It’s cheesy but what advice do you have for your younger self and the future QTPOC generation?
I’d say it’s ok to be angry as long as you’re using that anger to better the community. For a long time I was angry and didn’t know what to do, and then I was like still angry. These phases of consciousness...I forgot anger is at the bottom. At the top you want everyone to be working on the same boat. Everyone is actively working towards it.
That never sat well with me because I think I’m at a point where I’m working and I think everyone should be playing a role to advance society, but I’m still angry lots of time. For a long time I thought that was wrong. It’s like so many things in our community where I feel like, if you’re not angry you don’t know what’s going on. I say it’s ok to be angry. I’m happy to be angry because it motivates me.
The necessity of anger. So good.
It reminds me of the Tulsa Women’s March which was too peaceful. We met up, had a little rally, and obeyed every light. Who actually saw us? When are we going to burn something? This did not help at all.
I know! Earlier this year there was the huge Terrence Crutcher tragedy and so all of this was happening. I was really upset. Really angry. This was being continuous and nothing was being done. There was a few a protests and gatherings, and I was hesitant to go because I’ve been before. Similarly they aren’t angry and often have a religious tone to it. There is nothing wrong with religion but I myself am not religious, and that’s not why I go to protests. I go to protests to be angry and express my emotions.
I went to one at the Reconciliation Park and all the speakers, and at the same time there were protests in North Carolina. Those turned more violent according to the media and Tulsa didn’t. A lot of people were praising Tulsa for praying and coming together and having a dialogue in comparison to NC for burning things.
Excuse me?!? You’re saying that they’re way of processing or have their voice heard is wrong because of violence? Violence is necessary sometimes. I was upset for being there and not being able to leave. Just annoying. They just aren’t angry and that is weird to me. Luckily someone came on after and pointed out that there isn’t one right way to process your feelings. Like often times we correlate violence and aggression with the black community, you're essentially putting them in a box. There is no right way to protest. I was like dude. Yes.
I left just feeling still angry and unsatisfied.
We need a bonfire or something.
Thanks so much for coming out. It’s really comforting to meet like minded people. I’m not the one going crazy here.
You’ve seen Moonlight right?
I fuckkiinng LOOOVEE Moonlight. I can’t even express. It is such a different movie than what normally hits mainstream. This is fucking awesome.
Yeah, I call it revolutionary!
The fact that there was no white people in the film, this very self governing self functioning black community was revolutionary, and the queer aspect. So crazy. So good. So sad.
We got a free ticket to Circle Cinema! I’ve seen it twice and might just go see it again. No to La La Land.
I don’t understand it. It’s making me crazy. How does La La Land get all this recognition and diminish Moonlight? It isn’t revolutionary the least bit. It’s just Ryan Gosling and another white person singing a song. Since the age of time. I’m pretty sure its good and makes people happy but it isn’t in the same league. Then I get angry it’s getting so much recognition. Stupid.
Burn the movie!