Learning the tools to interrogate identity and demand racial justice
by Devin Tran
For much of my life, I have grappled with the feeling of being “too Asian” in the country I was born in, yet “too American” too feel at home anywhere else.
In college, after joining an Asian-interest fraternity, I began to engage with my identity as an Asian American and related issues involving racial and social justice. But it wasn’t until Asian American Advancing Justice | AAJC’s Youth Leadership Summit that I gained the tools and insights to work to combat stereotypes, build solidarity, and become a leader in my community.
Having grown up in a small, predominantly white town in Grove City, Ohio, I was never heavily involved in my Vietnamese heritage. In high school, when I moved to Tampa, Florida, a much more diverse city, I became more aware of my ethnicity and also began to formulate my political views.
My high school teachers really laid the foundation for the political knowledge I carry with me, and for forming my political views. They showed me how history can be examined from the perspective of the working class, and how every major progressive change in history has come as a result of the struggles of ordinary working people. As Frederick Douglass so eloquently put it, power concedes nothing without demand. I began to question the motivations of so many of our systems, the unequal distribution of wealth in our society, and the injustice of drafting soldiers for overseas battles but leaving them without financial, educational, and medical support upon their return home.
Joining an Asian-interest fraternity in college allowed me become a leader on Asian American issues at my campus. The fraternity provided a platform from which my brothers and I could dispel the model minority myth, shed light on racism on campus, and stand in solidarity with our black brothers and sisters. One month after joining, I attended Advancing Justice | AAJC’s Youth Leadership Summit, one of the most powerful and inspiring programs I have ever had the privilege of being a part of. During that single weekend I gained knowledge and tools to combat racism and bigotry to bring back to my campus. I also met some of the brightest student activists and leaders around the United States, most of whom I keep in contact with today — more than two years since our three days together.
While my fraternity provided me the platform from which to engage the community about Asian American issues, Advancing Justice | AAJC gave me the tools necessary to concentrate my passion and energy in a coherent and tangible way. Since the Summit, my fraternity brothers and I have hosted workshops on Asian American data disaggregation and the dangers of the model minority myth. This year, we also organized an Asian American bloc on campus to protest the refugee ban.
Though my time as a student leader is coming to an end and my days on campus are numbered, I will remember the lessons I’ve learned through the Youth Leadership Summit beyond graduation. Wherever my future takes me, I will continue to fight for marginalized communities. For all the economically and socially oppressed and for all the workers of the world, this land was made for you and me.
Devin Tran is a 2015 Youth Leadership Summit alumnus. He will graduate the University of South Florida in Fall of 2017 with a major in biomedical sciences.
Advancing justice | AAJC’s Youth Leadership Summit is made possible by generous support from State Farm.