Monthly Archives: July 2010

Nicole Lee – Urban Peace Movement.

Initially I said that I would post a “love letter” every other week, however with all the chaos that is happening with the Oscar Grant trial as well as the economic/employment crisis in Oakland, I felt it appropriate to post this one today. Additionally, I recently finished reading W.E.B. DuBois’ The Souls of Black Folk and it struck a deep chord with me. DuBois’ words haunt me with his incite as well as the similarities which the African/American experiences of the 1900s have with contemporary Asian/America and the complexities behind Grant and Mehserle. In lieu of this, enjoy Nicole’s words and let her incite seep in and warm you.

As always, be strong and be brilliant. Dream big, and dream forever.


An Open Letter to Those Who Criticize and Attack 

This is an open letter to all of those who have recently launched criticism and attacks against me and my organization, Urban Peace Movement, for my role in calling for peace in anticipation of the verdict in the trial of Johannes Mehserle, the former BART police officer charged with the murder of Oscar Grant.

This is a love letter.

While everyone is certainly entitled to his or her opinion, and we don’t all have to agree on everything, many of the attacks of late have gone far beyond healthy debate. They have called into question my intentions as a community organizer and the credibility of the organization that I work for, Urban Peace Movement.

Someone has even gone so far as to impersonate me, sending a very inflammatory e-mail made to look as if I had sent it.  I have to admit that I am surprised at the level of anger that has been directed at me for calling for peace in a very difficult and traumatic moment in the history of Oakland, the city in which I was born and raised.

Such mean-spirited tactics are divisive.  They stir up confusion, conflict, and mistrust amongst different parts of our movement.  And in the 1960s, counter-intelligence operations used tactics like these to violently disrupt movement activities, resulting in the deaths of Bunchy Carter and John Huggins.

After some consideration, I have realized that it may actually have been a blessing that these attacks were directed at me, because I am not going to fight back.  I have nothing to defend.  I live an incredible life filled with wondrous blessings.  And my work stands on its own.  The work that I do to bring peace to Oakland neighborhoods is not a ‘burden’ or even a ‘responsibility.’   It is an honor and a privilege.

The love that I have for our people far exceeds any hatred that I have for the ‘enemy.’  This is a love letter; I want to tell you about this love.

It is the greatest love that I have ever known.  It is the kind of love that compels me, the kind of love that shatters my heart open, a love so great that I almost cannot bear it.  And it is my belief that this love will ultimately bring us to the justice and freedom that we all seek.  I will spend the rest of my life cultivating this love and basking in its warmth.

And this love extends to all of our people, even those who have attacked me.

I have had to contend with my own moments of anger and sadness over the loss of Oscar Grant at the hands of BART police, over the loss of young people like the three Oakland youth who died last week at the hands of other young people, and even over my own relatively small pains and trials stemming from these attacks on me and my organization.  Still, I am learning to hold my own feelings of anger and the anger of others with compassion and loving kindness.  As much as I can help it, I will not feed this ongoing cycle of violence and hatred.  And I will do my best to hold all of you with compassion.  I know that, at the end of the day, we all seek the same things. 

I am wishing you all of God’s grace and many mercies.

In Love,
Nicole Lee

Nicole Lee , Executive Director
Urban Peace Movement


Josen Gayle Diaz.

an open letter to the api/a community still trying to figure itself out

 (originally written) Monday, May 17, 2010 at 10:58pm

amidst champagne and courvoisier at poolside in downtown austin, pahee suggested that we write love letters to our communities (thanks, p!). taking his suggestion, i included the letter below as part of the brief talk i gave a few weeks ago at the “state of asia/america” panel at the cross (where i shared the floor with my brilliant friends – anth, manda, and ang). the “community” i address is still fraught: undefined and unstable. and offering this to you makes me feel anxious and vulnerable. still, i want to share this with you in the hopes that you might share with me, too.


dear all,

i see you. in the most unlikely of places. three-thousand miles away from the place you think of when nat king cole croons through the speakers at dinnertime. the one that makes you stop – in your tracks – when he tells you to go back to where you came from. the one you long for when it rains. and the same one you want to remember but can no longer imagine.

i notice you. in between comings and goings. at line in the grocery store and at the bank, at the dry cleaners and picking up takeout on your way home, with bags under your eyes, on your back, and at your sides. never here and always there at the same time. i see you at mass every morning when you think no one else is looking, hoping that morningtime is when your prayers are the loudest. i see you in traffic, always on the way to somewhere but lost and searching. at the doctor’s office waiting for a diagnosis that never matches and paying $15 for peace of mind that never comes. i see you at hospital beds during the graveyard shift. i watch you carry home on your back, always leaving only to return again.

i notice you there: loving between sighs, fighting in the open and behind closed doors – where you live – and i see you, tiptoeing/walking/running on the margins of your dreams.

i hear you at the intersection of misunderstood and invisible, this language so misshapen on your tongue – afraid, embarrassed, and furious at the demands that they’re always making of you and that you’re always making of yourself. i hear the words you say that mask the words you mean. resilient and purposeful. but careful, conservative, calculated. i get that. sometimes, the only protection you have isn’t what you choose to give but what you choose to leave out. as if choice has anything to do with it.

when i am silent and staring, i am trying to burn into my memory the way your lips move, the shine of the wet rings that your cocktail makes on my table, the heavy beating of my pulse, because these might be the only remnants of the one night you let yourself be vulnerable – a fleeting moment, a flash of light, buried deep beneath your steel. i see you work hard, play hard, grind hard, live hard only to break into a million pieces at the end of the day. and only to put yourself back together again at the start of the next.

walter benjamin asks us to seize the moment of danger. michel foucault reminds us that knowledge is made for cutting. raymond williams teaches us to excavate the remnants and allow for the emergences. but i want to know: what’s the point of epistemological and discursive rupture if can’t write a love letter? i want to know what the point is of tracing the geneaology of historiography if i can’t explain the ways you move me – everyday – and mostly silently, in the dark? when time and space is imbued with monotonous isolation and empty theoretical gestures, when we become surrounded by these social catastrophes and political uncertainties, i realize that it’s the things that you don’t say that i need to listen for. these are the things that scream and thrash the loudest right before sunrise.

and it’s the questions that you ask that always seem to find their way to the top. in austin, theresa asked: is there a way to imagine ourselves beyond fighting and fucking? last quarter, jay asked: what do theories of privilege do to alleviate the pain? at home, my dad asks: what’s the point?

and this is what i mean to say: the history that i seek is in your memory and in mine. 1945 is built upon your shoulders, and laban is etched onto your skin. your steps are imbricated in theories of globalization and labor, and your wounds are intertwined in the realities of treaties and militarization. i know of war – on those streets and right here – through you. you are my most cherished storyteller, and your words are haunted by forced passages and lined with possibilities that i repeat and write down in order to remember.

you are, at once, my spark and my specter, the reason i can’t sleep before 2am most nights and the reason i still want to get up so early in the morning. but i want to explain to you why i choose to live here, in the contradictions, at the interstices, always between night and later in the night, where there are no guarantees and when the only things i create are as fragile as the time i spend to make them. forever uncertain and yearning. i’ve learned that either side of the spectrum is too baggy or small or awkward and can only fit some of me and some of you some of the time. and i’ve come to understand that wholeness and cohesiveness are dangerous because they pretend that we were meant to fit. this is less about finding place but more about carving space. i do this to tear and to cut but always with the intention to thread and suture. and i do this to create something to give to you maybe once (or twice) in a series of uncertain promises.

we are always at the edge of something more. i’m listening and waiting. my work starts and ends with you.


API/A Love Letter Project

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

On a basic level, the premise behind the API/A Love Letter Project is reclaiming a sense of optimism and self/communal progression for the Asian/American community. What the API/A Love Letter Project is is a collection of essays and letters written by members of the community—whether academic or not—poeticizing their hopes and dreams for the future of the social circles they come from.

I think what started this whole idea of “the love letter” was seeing my first-generation Thai immigrant parents give up their initial aspirations and dreams to only to struggle daily in a self-run Thai restaurant in the United States. For decades they both worked from dawn to dusk in a family business which helps support the academic and personal ambitions of their children while simultaneously putting theirs on hold. However, this project is not solely for my parents, but for parents of other API/A children; for those same children who reach out for more; for refugees and immigrants; for people who believe they are forgotten while trapped within human trafficking; for nail shop owners/workers; the military wives; the Bay Area Filipino pop bands; postal workers; politicians; teachers; activists; and for you and for me.

Along with understanding my parents’ struggle, the notions of love letter writing came to fruition when I entered Asian/American Studies at San Francisco State University. Being in AAS, I have seen my fair share of displaced anger and resentment. I saw how destructive as well as cyclical anger has become for the API/A community as well as other communities of color. However, the point behind the API/A Love Letter Project is to visualize that we do not always have to be lost our anger and/or disillusionment—noting that we don’t have to lose. In lieu of this, I would hope that the API/A Love Letter Project helps to trace the forgotten memory and the discarded dreams individuals and groups left behind while fighting for “something” more.

And so I reach out to you. Whether API/A or not, I reach out to you to hear your words and share your dreams and hopes for your community. Although it is still in its infant stages and under construction, I hope that maybe all of you will consider writing as well as donating something in the near future which illustrates your hunger, love, passion, optimism, and hopes for your community’s future and development. The point would be to evoke camaraderie amongst ourselves and our contemporaries; bridging the gaps and stories which lie in-between us.

Feel free to email me with your story, questions, or comments:

Your posts/love letters can be anonymous or can have your name imprinted – it’s up to you.

Bless, P