My people – who are they?

Note from Carmen: I’m happy to announce that Jen Chau, my former partner-in-crime at New Demographic, is back in the blogosphere! Check out her new blog, The Time is Always Right. I’m cross-posting one of her recent blog posts here.

by guest contributor Jen Chau

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about community and identity, and how the two interact. Usually, we build a community for ourselves out of those who reflect some piece of our identity. Perhaps you feel you belong to multiple communities because there are many aspects of your identity that are compelling enough to you to warrant you taking time to connect with others on the basis of it.

For all intents and purposes, in this country, I think community has come to be understood as something that is very racialized. You mention your community, and it is assumed that you are talking about those who share your same racial/ethnic make-up.

Aren’t we more than our ethnicities though? While ethnicity is obviously an important part of our identity, it’s not the only thing to which we feel connected. And on top of that, if we are only building community with others on the basis of the fact that we share the same ethnic make-up, doesn’t that become problematic? What are we prioritizing here?

I have been thinking about exactly what it is that ties me to other people…In the past, I have mainly defined my community as a group of people inclusive of those who were similar to me, ethnically (read: mixed folks). I have even worked to create communities of mixed people for the past seven years (Swirl). I still recognize that ethnic identity-based communities are important…but in addition, shouldn’t we also be building communities of individuals who are tied to each other based on common interests and common fights? Imagine activist communities….communities of people who are trying to reform education (I believe this is starting)…communities of people who are committed to challenging racism…all with a diversity of members so that you don’t get a group of mixed activists over here, and a pan-Asian group of activists over there, and a black group here….but across ethnicities, we are coming together to address one common goal. I have not seen much of this (if you have, hit me up and let me know!).

Obviously, there are tons of interest-based groups out there (read: organizational communities; nonprofits), but when I think about how the typical person relates to this type of a community, I think…you visit it when you have time, when you have a task, when you are interested. It’s a kind of community that needs you and your commitment to it more than you need it. Right? Your actual community — the community to which you truly feel a part is the group of people to whom you may go when you feel vulnerable and need support, when you want to have fun, when you want to be yourself, when you want to let your guard down completely. For most people, this is a group of people who are the same ethnicity. You share the same culture, so you are most comfortable with these people.

But what if interest-based communities could play this role in our lives? What if the people who you were working/protesting/acting alongside were also your best friends and your confidantes? What if they were like family to you? What if we formed our communities based on interests, causes, and ways of thinking instead of ethnicity? Wouldn’t we help to break down barriers? Wouldn’t we experience less separation and racism if we built more multi-ethnic communities?

Who do I consider my people now?

What I want today (I say today because we are always evolving…what is important to us today may not be as important to us years from now) is a community that is ethnically diverse, where everyone is working toward change of some kind. We represent different issues and causes, but we are all passionate about changing our world for the better. We are in it for the long haul. These are my people. These are the people with whom I want to surround myself. I have realized that over ethnic identity, I am looking for people with similar values and goals.

What kind of community do you want to build for yourself?