When I was first notified of my acceptance to the OCA Summer Internship Program, I screamed. I was excited, happy, and anxious to start what I saw as a circle completing itself in my journey as an Asian American activist. In 2011, I registered for the OCA National Convention on a whim after seeing it posted on Angry Asian Man’s blog. I went not knowing anyone or anything about my identity only having a burning curiosity to learn more.I had just started my blog, Fascinasians, as a way for me to document and collect resources and information. I attended the College Track and some General Track workshops and gained an entire new world of identity, history, and social and political context. My eyes were opened.
Naturally, I was excited to finally be a part of the OCA Intern family. With this year’s Convention over, I have now attended 3 OCA Conventions. Unfortunately, each has marked a decline since my first experience in New York. Maybe it’s because as I learn more about Asian American issues and organizing, I develop my critical thinking skills and am able to use them more. Maybe it’s because OCA has turned more and more business-oriented and professional development focused. Maybe it’s because I’ve become jaded and disillusioned. Or maybe my standards have gotten higher.
Especially since I had gone to previous Conventions, I knew that corporate sponsorship was a large part of the internship program and OCA as a whole. But it wasn’t until I attended the 2012 Las Vegas I didn’t realize how much…influence they had over the program. The Multicultural Foodservice and Hospitality Alliance (MPHA) put on a presentation on “Cultural Intelligence” that focused on racial stereotypes, how to exploit and use those stereotypes to make profits with your company, and a speaker that handed out cash to people who asked questions. In disbelief, I didn’t go to as many workshops or events with the 2012 Convention and decided to spend my time in Las Vegas having fun and not stressing out about the problematic parts of OCA.
Fast forward to 2013. After an intern raised concerns about OCA’s decision to have the interns meet with the Anti-Defamation League (where the ADL speaker made very pro-Israel and anti-Palestinian comments), they were largely criticized by OCA staff. Once we started making our annual intern video, we started hearing about Wal-Mart and how we needed to thank them and give them a specific amount of screentime because they gave OCA money. We started talking to each other and realizing that we were all concerned with OCA and its complicity with the non-profit industrial complex. We started organizing a way to force a discussion between National Staff and interns to happen since we weren’t given a time or space to talk about it. In reality, despite Fridays being blocked off as classes where we’re supposed to talk about AAPI issues and professional development, we never had time to get to know each other and the work we all do. Any conversations where I was able to think critically, have constructive conversations, and learn…happened late at night when we actually got the chance to talk.
Once Convention started, things started to snowball. During the past 9 weeks, I have worked at an office where I felt I could develop my communications skills, my non-profit experience, and DC experience. I tried to be as helpful as I could have been at the Convention and offered my time to whomever needed it. During the Youth Luncheon, where all the interns and sponsors are recognized, many of the interns expressed their distaste with the sponsorship’s presence. We made a 14 second long Instagram video on “how we felt about Wal-Mart” where we made faces and I flipped the camera off. The video was accidentally posted on Facebook and well, staff and sponsors saw.
People keep saying that non-profits couldn’t survive without taking corporate money. Fine, if that’s the reality then that’s reality. But there’s a way to get corporate sponsorship without accepting it from the foulest and most exploitative companies in the world! Wal-Mart, McDonalds, and Sodexo have numerous human rights violations, pay the lowest wages, and are notorious sweatshop labor employers. Wal-Mart especially hurts our communities SO much, such as expanding into neighborhoods like LA’s Chinatown where its presence would wipe out small businesses. And OCA is funded by all of them. Sure, our video and post was probably done at the wrong time and place. I admit that I fucked up. But does that change my view? No. Does my opinion (especially as a former intern and active supporter of OCA) matter? Fuck yes.
I was fired on July 19, 2013 at 11:05AM.
Well, most likely a lot of my bridges with the Asian Pacific Islander American community are burned. That’s shitty but frankly, that’s their loss. OCA launched a program called “I Am, We are…OCA” to draw in more donations from the community and fundraise for better programming. I encourage you all to share and contribute if you can. Let’s turn a shitty situation into a good one. Support OCA and show them that evil corporations’ money isn’t the only thing that can keep an advocacy group going. That this return to grassroots organizing and community relations is a blessing.
I’m heartbroken that an organization that helped me embrace my Asian American identity and empowered me to grow as a person and an activist has turned its back on me. I’m disappointed that a group that supposedly stands for civil rights not only did not provide a space for their interns and youth to talk about their concerns. I’m bitter because OCA is only one example of how the APIA community is dependent on corporations and how polluted the space is. I’m straight up PISSED I and another intern were fired without warning. I’m angry that this entire summer has been about controlling the interns, paternal and imbalanced power dynamics, and exerting authority. I feel more competent as an activist and as an individual through what has happened in the past 3 days than the past 10 weeks.
I’m going to keep blogging because this is what I love and these issues need to be talked about. I won’t expect support from the APIA community (older generation and those who think we were too radical). People are going to write us off as angry interns who couldn’t appreciate an internship program. I’ll leave off with this: I came to DC looking for advocacy and empowerment through engagement, and I never got it until right now.