Life at the Intersections

It's important to share our own stories and identities as we work toward social and economic justice

These past couple of weeks I have been humbled by the outpour of love and support from the community as one of the recipients of Metro Weekly‘s 2011 Next Generation Awards. I am proud to stand on the shoulders of giants who have blazed trails to ensure people like me have even more opportunities to live freely and be our full selves. It was a reminder about how far we have come but also how much more needs to be done.

As we are approaching the end of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and are gearing up for Pride, I have taken some time to reflect on my experiences as a young, openly gay Asian American who comes from an immigrant and union household. I come from many communities and each day I live at the intersections of many identities. While some can view this as a challenge, I see an opportunity to build stronger partnerships and a collective platform centered on our shared values and vision for the future.

As a child, I was bullied — pushed around, thrown into restrooms and had lunch money stolen. As I was developing my sense of identity, there were no resources or people to help me through my ”coming out” process. I attended schools with outdated textbooks, overcrowded classrooms and systems that gave up on students before even knowing them. I share this because I know I was not alone and there are many who can identify with these experiences. In fact, it was these hardships that pushed me to become an even stronger organizer and advocate. Each day I think about giving up, I think about the tears I cried and the pain I felt, and not wanting to have anyone else go through what I had to go through.

As I sit back and think about this past year where we have seen a heightened attention around bullying, harassment and hate crimes or how youth unemployment and underemployment rates are at a looming high, I am only reminded of my childhood in South Sacramento. When I see politicians waging attacks on collective bargaining, stripping voting rights and cutting necessary services for the most vulnerable, it infuriates me. Needless to say, there is much work to be done.

However, there is plenty of progress we can celebrate. In the past year we have seen the repeal of ”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. There is a growing movement led by undocumented youth, many who are LGBT identified, to see the passage of the Federal DREAM Act. Last Monday, there was the first-ever Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander LGBT roundtable hosted by the White House Office of Public Engagement and White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, a historic gathering of youth, advocates and policymakers addressing the pressing issues of LGBT youth.

In this critical time, I believe we must come together to honor the achievements that we have made – but move forward in a more strategic way. We must stop working in silos and break down barriers between us. It is clear that the only way we can be successful is if we work together and understand the intersections of our identities and issues. It is important that we share our personal stories, build personal relationships grounded in love and be open for change. I stand ready to fight and ask that you join me in this struggle for social and economic justice for all.

Gregory Cendana is the executive director of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, AFL-CIO and serves on the board of D.C.’s Asian Queers United for Action.