Em on Home & Healing, an Alum Feature

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Em (they/them) is 21 years young and was a fellow in 2019. After their Seeding Change summer, they continued to volunteer with their host site and art organizations in Chinatown. Most recently, they were a part of API Equality Northern California’s summer organizing program.  

These days, Em spends their time finishing their last year of school on zoom, as a Chinese Member Public Housing Coordinator building a base in western Queens for housing justice, cooking, cleaning, embroidering and making zines, watching tv with housemates, and trying to take a walk outside once a day. 

Reflecting back on their Seeding Change summer, Em shared about learning the importance of intentional, relationship based organizing; what that means and feels like. “I remember feeling that I had this movement community that had my back and that is an important lesson. We are not alone in this and we have each other.” One of the memories Em holds is actually one of the community building activities some cohorts have done at closing retreat. It is based on a Hmong tradition of tying string around each other’s wrists and sharing wishes for each other. “That was just really special and I felt like it was a wonderful way to say what’s on our heart to each other. It felt very momentous and symbolic that I was tying these relationships in order to stay connected.” 

To people who are young organizers, Em affirms that “‘organizer’ can feel kind of intimidating and that you have to be or move a certain way” but to remember that “It can look like a bunch of different ways and the most important part of it is feeling powerful as yourself so you can build power with other people too.” 

Em’s Vision and Leadership, In Their Words 

What motivates me to organize and build power is the idea of home and place and feeling at home and belonging in a place and that’s what brings me to queer justice and also to housing justice. One of the issues that riles me up is displacement and having folks being evicted from their homes or even the pressure. I truly believe housing in a human right and people deserve to be in their communities and feel safe and that’s just not a reality in a lot of places. 

I really care about finding ways to build a world where working class communities of color have agency over their community, where they live, and they get to make the decisions on the land they live on as well as respecting the agency of the land itself. I think there are a lot of contradictions and possibilities there. With issues of housing justice, it’s something so personal and also affects everyone. It’s something people really experience on a daily basis. 

What Em is yearning for: 

I honestly really long and yearn for something like healing justice. I know it’s a movement but I want people to have the tools they need to heal themselves and their communities and be more tapped into what their community and ancestors have used. And kind of related to food justice, people having access to what they need to survive and heal and thrive. I’ve just been learning more about herbalism and also exploring my own spirituality and I just really yearn for a world where that’s more accessible for folks to have what they need. 

What Em is growing & practicing: 

So much has happened recently that I wouldn’t have imagined myself doing or being. I think one of the struggles is not compartmentalizing myself. I feel like I tend to kind of separate parts of my life. I have my organizing life and friends versus family and student life, just different spheres of people that I spend my time with. What I’ve been practicing is how to bring those things together and really treat myself as a full human being. To take care of myself, and name my needs. Not trying to separate what I need from the work I’m doing, that’s a lesson I’m learning and practicing all the time. Communicating my boundaries and taking really good care of myself and knowing that that’s also part of the work

Seeding Change is one of the few places I really connected with other trans and Asian people. I feel like I am growing into my transness more and more every day. But also that is a struggle and it’s scary and so I would say we should hold each other closely and I am also here for folks in the Seeding Change community. The beauty is the fluidness of us but there is also a lot of uncertainty with being in this country. And we got each other. 

What Em is reading/watching: 

Right now I am rewatching Nathan For You. I could put a community organizing spin on it, but it’s a Comedy Central satire. You kind of don’t know when people are acting or not. Basically, Nathan graduated from business school and is helping small businesses in California. He comes up with really ridiculous business plan ideas. In the first episode he’s helping this frozen yogurt place. He’s like “to get more customers you have to have really interesting and extreme flavors. So we’re going to make a poo flavored yogurt.” I feel like Nathan’s true purpose as a writer/comedian is to show what drives people to do things and collaborate with each other and a lot of people are just searching for connection and love.

I’ve been reading, slowly, “The Revolution Starts at Home” and I’ve been doing a transformative justice study session with the ACRE Network. It’s been good to think about the different ways that we can respond to harm in the community. It’s sometimes a little heavy for lounging around. 

What keeps Em grounded: 

There are rituals I do to keep myself grounded: talking to my altar, breathing exercises, or talking to the land. One thing I want to share and I feel a little embarrassed about it….sometimes when there is a moment that I want to remember that will ground me and give me hope later, I capture it like medicine, like if you would take flower essence, but this moment’s essence, and capture it and put it in my heart and save it for when I am feeling down. It can be a moment when I feel very powerful when I’m with my people at an action and shouting and feel fiery or moments where we’re being really tender and crying with each other. Or even small things like days with the sky and the sun shining. These little moments keep me grounded.