Fong Lee, and Violence

by Guest Contributor Bao Phi, originally published at Your Voices/The Star Tribune


UP IN ARMS: A Night of Hip Hop and Spoken Word to Honor Fong Lee and End Police Brutality

Saturday, October 3rd, 8 p.m. (doors at 7:30)
Kagin Commons at Macalester College
1600 Grand Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55105

Featuring performances by Magnetic North (NY), Nomi of Power Struggle (Bay Area), Michelle Myers of Yellow Rage (Philadelphia), Maria Isa, Blackbird Elements, Guante, Rodrigo Sanchez-Chavarria, e.g. bailey, Tou SaiKo Lee with PosNoSys, True Mutiny, Shá Cage, Kevin Xiong with Pada Lor, Tish Jones, Maipacher, Logan Moua, Bobby Wilson, Poetic Assassins, Hilltribe, and special guests. Tou Ger Xiong and Amy Hang will emcee and DJ Nak will be on the one’s and two’s.

$5-$10 suggested donation.  All proceeds go towards legal costs for the Family of Fong Lee.

As an artist and community member, I was asked to be a part of the organizing committee for this benefit concert for Fong Lee’s family.  And it made me consider how violence has always been a part of my life.  I was three months old when the Communists shelled the airport all night to hinder our escape from Vietnam.  My family came to Phillips in South Minneapolis, where we encountered different types of violence.  There were war vets who blamed us for the war, who would yell at us and threaten us in parking lots, on the street, who screamed that they fought for our people and that we owed them.  There were gangbangers and crack dealers – every neighborhood in the world has bullies, and they were ours, mercurial, lively with friendship and smack talk one second and livid with menace the next.  There were straight up racists who hated us for the color of our skin, who believed it was our fault that there were no jobs and no homes, or maybe they just hated anyone who didn’t look like them, eat like them, talk like them.  And then there was the police, whom I was taught to wave at as a child when they drove by, their cars slow in the tight streets, stand up straight, smile.

As I got older, I stopped waving to police cars and firemen.  No, I never rolled with a crew, but in the 90s during my very early teen years I did rock the Raiders clothes and caps, mostly because that’s what we did back then, and partly, I admit, because I wanted to be feared.  I never went looking to beat up anyone, bully anyone.  But too often, as a young man I found myself fighting or fleeing from all manners of people who wanted to do me harm for all different reasons.  You tire of it.  Some young men join gangs, some take up martial arts and boxing.  Me, I tried to perfect my swagger, practiced my stoic look, blew my paycheck from my minimum wage job on overpriced sports gear, walked like I belonged.  And if something did happen to me or my family or friends, we hesitated to call the police, because too often they threatened us rather than served and protected us.  Threatened us with violence, with false accusations, with deportation.  For us, if we were victimized by violence from a civilian, calling the police felt like an invitation for round two.  And they’d walk away to do it another day.  By most standards I was an easy child who didn’t get into much trouble despite the circumstances.  And still I feared the police – because they had an almost mythical power, especially if you were a person of color, to make you feel guilty even if you weren’t doing anything wrong.  Chris Rock once joked, “police officers scared me so bad, they made me think I stole my own car.”

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Quoted: Damarys Ocaña on Hispanic Heritage Month

Three ships on the horizon. What do they bring? Many today are proud that the Niña,, the Pinta, and the Santa María – which brought Christopher Columbus and his men to Cuba on Oct. 28, 1492, on their first trip to the Americas – also carried with them European scientific advances and the richness of a culture more than 1,000 years old. Others see Spain’s coming to the Americas as disastrous: It made an empire wealthy off the backs of indigenous tribes and enslaved Africans whose families were torn apart and who died of overwork and European diseases. But perhaps there’s middle ground to consider. Honor those who died and acknowledge the good, bad, and ugly of our beginnings – for, like it or not, out of that violent mash-up of cultures, ambitions, and wills, Latinos and Latin culture were born. And above all, be proud of our accomplishments, especially since at some point in the histories of all our countries, we took the reigns of our own destiny.

— “Birth of a Culture” by Damarys Ocaña, published in Latina October 2009.