1.18.2019

Angry Reader of the Week: Helen Zia

"The long arc of history bends toward justice -- if we make it bend."


Photo: An Rong Xu

Hello, internet. It is time, once again, to meet the Angry Reader of the Week, spotlighting you, the very special readers of this website. Over the years, I've been able to connect with a lot of cool folks, and this is a way of showing some appreciation and attention to the people who help make this blog what it is. This week's Angry Reader is Helen Zia.


Who are you?

See first -- my answer to the question below, Where are you from?

But now I can just say that inside, I'm still that quiet daughter of immigrants who was so shy in school that I rarely spoke up -- a lot because I was born and raised in New Jersey at a time when people from any part of Asia were invisible and treated like evil aliens from Mars.

What are you?

Now I'm a loud (at times) Asian American woman who can speak up and make waves when necessary -- which is as often as I can. I've come to believe that we must assert who we are and define ourselves and our communities whenever we can, otherwise that vast ignorance of Asia and Asian Americans gets filled with the same old trash -- or worse, our communities get used and manipulated to advance the agendas of slick demagogues who don't give two hoots about the real needs and concerns of our most vulnerable members.

Where are you?

In front of my computer screen in the San Francisco area -- aka the Left Coast.

Where are you from?

I hated this question when I was a kid because it was such obnoxious "code" for "I know you're not American or from here, so what planet are you from?" (This and the question "What are you?" made me crazy angry -- eventually I just answered, "human" and threw it back. And so what are YOU? Invariably, my questioners would give me a surprised answer back: "Oh, I'm American, of course" -- as though I could never be.

I think this has changed a bit, especially here in California, where one out of three Asian Americans from all over live. But I always have to pause a beat.

What do you do?

I'm and activist and a writer. I've spent the last 12 years working on my new book, Last Boat out of Shanghai: The Epic Story of the Chinese who Fled Mao's Revolution. It's literally getting printed now and will come out in four days -- yikes! And because, like all writers who want to see their books stay in print before their covers are chopped off and the rest sent to prisons (really), I'll be out on the stump, talking about how the thousands of migrants and exiles who fled Shanghai in the 1949 era have so many parallels to the global refugees and migrants today -- and how we have to learn from stop repeating history.

What are you all about?

I've cared about equality, justice peace and human rights ever since I was a school kid growing up in the 1960s, during the civil rights, peace and women's liberation movements -- and have tried to be active and make a difference in whatever ways I've been able. Nowadays I try to use my voice through my writing. But, as I tell young activists today, social change is a marathon, not a sprint. It's not possible to go full steam all the time and it's critical to take care of yourself, recharge your batteries, take care of important things like family, job and roof overhead -- to listen to your body and not to burn out! I like to recharge myself hanging out with friends and family, traveling to experience different cultures, foods and to make new friends, and, of course, enjoying all kinds of books, videos, films and great media -- like Angry Asian Man!

What makes you angry?

Everything emanating from the White Supremacy House makes me furious -- and I remind myself constantly that we have to turn rage into organizing for change that uplifts humanity and advances society and civilization. It is both outrageous and tragic that American fundamentalism (even before the A-hole-in-chief) has helped promote the rise of dictators and nationalists globally. But the long arc of history bends toward justice -- if we make it bend.