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Act to Change News, Features, and Events

The Best At It by Maulik Pancholy

Editor’s Note: This year, actor Maulik Pancholy will release his first book, The Best At It. The book is about the story of 12-year-old Rahul Kapoor who begins to realize he is gay. It explores the struggles he faces with peers, family, and identity and his own journey in finding himself.

This interview with Maulik was originally published on the blog “Watch. Connect. Read.” on February 14, 2019.

Hello, Maulik Pancholy! Welcome to Watch. Connect. Read.! I am a huge fan of yours and The Best At It. I could not put it down. Rahul, Chelsea, Bhai, Arun, Sarita, Anish, and the Auntie Squad and Uncle Brigade will stay with me for a very long time. 

Maulik Pancholy: Thank you so much! I’m honored to be featured on your incredible blog, and to receive such a warm welcome for my debut novel. To hear that these characters will leave a lasting impact on you is a compliment that means a great deal to me.

I am honored you’re here. What ran through your head (or your heart) the first time you saw Parvati Pillai’s cover illustration and Cara Llewellyn’s design for The Best At It.

Maulik: I remember that as soon as I opened the pdf, my heart leapt. I kept nodding and saying, “Yes, yes, yes!” After staring at it for what seemed like an eternity, I forced myself to put it away. Only to immediately open it back up again. 

Parvati really captured the spirit of the book. To me, the movement in it reflects the flurry of activity in Rahul’s world, the bold colors are a nod to both his cultural background and his identity, and I love how determined he looks flying into the air. It’s a very optimistic cover, which feels exactly right. I’m beyond grateful for what she so thoughtfully illustrated.

Scenario: You’re in an elevator at the American Library Association’s Annual Conference when a teacher-librarian spots you holding a copy ofThe Best At It. He asks you what it is about. You have approximately 30 seconds (the elevator stops at almost every floor) to book talk it. What do you say? 

Maulik: Well, first I thank him for asking. Then I hover my finger over the “close door” button…just in case. 

The Best at It is about Rahul Kapoor, a twelve-year-old Indian-American boy who’s beginning to realize that he might be gay. Struggling to come to terms with his identity, he believes that all of his anxieties will disappear if he can just prove to the world that he’s the best at something. But he’s got two major problems…what is he going to be the best at, and what happens if he falls short? It’s a story about friendship, family, and the courage it takes to own your truth.” 

I love your booktalk. What would The Best at It have meant to 11-year-old Maulik? 

Maulik: I loved reading books as a kid. I still do. But growing up, I never saw characters who looked like me in the books I read. Let alone kids who were dealing with the things I was dealing with. I think seeing a kid of color grappling with his sexual identity and the anxieties of feeling “different” — on multiple levels — would have made me feel a little less alone in the world. 

It’s vital for young people to see their stories reflected back in the books they read and in the television shows and movies they watch. As an actor, it’s something I’m very conscious of. Because I know firsthand that when you don’t see yourself, you can start to question how you fit into the world. Or think you need to be someone you’re not. Because you’re effectively being told that your story doesn’t exist, that it isn’t valid, that it doesn’t matter. 

So, I certainly could have used a book like The Best at It in middle school. But I also hope Rahul’s story will have universal appeal, just like so many of the books I loved as a kid. Because I think every child can relate to feeling different and needing to prove their worth. Sometimes, even to themselves.

Please finish these sentences starters: 

I hope The Best at It
 finds a home in the heart of any kid who’s ever thought they needed to be ‘better’ than they are just to exist. I hope that Rahul’s journey inspires, offers understanding, and provides some good laughs along the way. 

School libraries are magical places. I remember disappearing in the stacks for whole afternoons going on adventure after adventure, one book at a time. 

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me if I was a Mathlete! Which I’m proud to say, I was.

Maulik Pancholy is an award-winning actor whose television work includes30 RockWhitney, Web TherapyElementaryFriends from CollegeThe Good WifeThe ComebackThe SopranosLaw & Order: Criminal Intent, and more. He is also the voice of Baljeet on the Emmy Award–winning animated series Phineas and Ferb and of Sanjay on Sanjay and Craig. Maulik is the recipient of an Asian American Arts Alliance Award and the Human Rights Campaign’s Visibility Award. In 2014, he was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve on the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. While at the White House, he helped launch an anti-bullying campaign called Act To Change, which he continues to lead today. Maulik lives with his husband in Brooklyn, NY. This is his debut novel.

The Best At It is available for pre-order.

Bullied Because of My Lunch

By Max Le

Ten-year-old Max Le shares his story about the first time he faced bullying and what he learned from it.

Today, I’m going to tell you my story of being teased and bullied. This is a TRUE story. My name is Max Le. I am in 5th grade and I’m 10 years old. My bullying problem started in elementary school in first grade. I have never forgotten this moment.

It all started at lunch, when I opened up my lunchbox and saw that my Grandma had packed sushi rolls (rice wrapped with seaweed). My grandma is the best grandma IN THE WORLD. Since my family is Vietnamese, my grandma makes amazing Vietnamese food. But sushi isn’t Vietnamese; my grandma just likes to make it for lunch because it is quick and easy. At lunch, a girl in my class teased me saying, “You are weird. What is that food?” I started crying and crying, but I didn’t want to tell anyone. Then, a teacher came over and asked me what’s wrong. I told her, “She teased me about my sushi.” My teacher got really mad at the girl and gave her timeout.

When I got home, I told my parents about what happened, and they started to get scared. They asked me questions like, “Are you ok?” and “Was it scary?” They really cared about me and were scared I went through it. They soon called my principal to tell him what happened and that my Grandma’s lunch food was amazing. The next day, my principal complimented my lunch and I felt a bit better. After a month, I went back to eating sushi rolls.

It really was good to experience it all, so I can help other kids not to be bullies, and also help protect them from bullies’ words. Sometimes, one small moment can help you realize A LOT. If the bullying didn’t happen, I wouldn’t be able to share my experience with you today. Now as a 5th grader, I want the WORLD to learn, especially people who are treated differently or bullied, that you can tell someone you trust and feel better. Sad and happy are like the yin and yang, and you can be who YOU want to be.

THE END of my story…

But not yours.

Join Max and share your experience with #ActToChange: info@acttochange.org.

Take the #ActToChange pledge against bullying and learn more at ActToChange.org.


Obama White House Campaign ‘Act To Change’ Relaunches As Anti-Bullying Nonprofit

The new organization co-founded by actor and activist Maulik Pancholy tackles bullying, especially among Asian American and Pacific Islander youth

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 31, 2018

Contact: Nicholas Hatcher at info@acttochange.org

NEW YORK, NY — As National Bullying Prevention Month comes to an end, the work is just beginning for nonprofit organization Act To Change, which tackles bullying, especially among Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) youth. A public awareness campaign originally launched under the Obama Administration, Act To Change now relaunches as a nonprofit organization with an inaugural Board of Directors comprising educators and government, business, and nonprofit leaders. The organization aims to empower students, families, and educators with the knowledge and tools needed to stop and prevent bullying.

AAPI youth face unique struggles including language and cultural barriers with peers, a lack of AAPI-specific community resources and racial stereotypes. Some studies have found that half of Asian American students are being bullied. Furthermore, two-thirds of Sikh American students and half of Muslim American students have reported being bullied. With the rise of incendiary rhetoric towards immigrants and Muslims, community-specific and culturally sensitive anti-bullying work is essential to ensuring that bullying is identified and addressed.

Led by actor and activist Maulik Pancholy, Act To Change originally began in October 2015 as a public awareness campaign under President Obama’s White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (WHIAAPI). The initial launch garnered the support of a coalition of more than 60 media platforms and nonprofit organizations. Over the years, celebrities such as Hasan Minhaj, Kal Penn, Jenny Yang, George Takei and Jeremy Lin have supported the campaign by posting videos and sharing their own stories of bullying.

“Our work to end bullying is more important than ever. At this moment in our country, bullying and prejudice from the top down is setting a tone that gives permission for hatred and bigotry,” said Pancholy. “That’s why we have kept the Act To Change movement alive, now as a nonprofit organization, so that we can fight for safer, more inclusive spaces for our children and our communities.”

Pancholy’s Act To Change co-founders are former Obama WHIAAPI staff members Rebecca Lee and Jill Yu.

Act To Change’s inaugural Board of Directors are:

 

For more information on the board, visit Act To Change’s website. Follow Act To Change on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and with #ActToChange.

 

Note to Press: For interviews with any of the board members, please contact info@acttochange.org.

 

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Act To Change is a 501(c)3 organization working to end bullying, especially among Asian American and Pacific Islander youth.

 

Apply for the #ActToChange Inaugural Board of Directors!

Have you been teased for the way you look, what you wear, what you eat, where you’re from, how you talk, or other stereotypes?

Are you interested in working with students, educators, and school administrators to create supportive and safe learning environments?

Kids and teens are bullied in schools all across the country. Unfortunately, many Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) youth who are bullied face unique cultural, religious, and language barriers that can keep them from getting help. Learn about it. Talk about it. Stop it. Join more than 3,600 advocates and take the pledge. See our #ActToChange campaign supporters!

#ActToChange is seeking applicants for its inaugural Board of Directors. Board of Directors will support the campaign’s strategy, programming, outreach, and fundraising. Students, parents, educators, and community advocates are encouraged to apply!

We are looking for applicants of all ages and backgrounds, based anywhere. The minimal time commitment is 5-10 hours a month.

To apply, submit your application by August 31, 2018, and send your resume to info@acttochange.org. Applicants will be interviewed on a rolling basis.

Call for Submissions for #ActToChange Digital Exhibit!

Are you a storyteller? Do you use paints, pencils, dance, or music to express yourself? Do you write poetry, short stories, or plays? Do you produce video or film? We want to showcase YOU and your stories!

#ActToChange is calling for submissions for a Digital Exhibit! #ActToChange is a public awareness campaign working to address bullying, including in the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. Kids and teens are bullied in schools all across the country. From the way you look, what you wear, how you talk, what you eat  — let’s celebrate YOU! Everyone is unique and expresses themselves in different ways. We want to showcase music, essays, photos, and art that tell your story.

Send your submissions to info@acttochange.org with subject line “Digital Exhibit” to be featured in our Digital Exhibit. The possibilities are endless, and we are encourage you to be creative!

Join more the #ActToChange movement and take the pledge. See our #ActToChange campaign supporters!

 

#ActToChange Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Celebration

#ActToChange is hosting its Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Celebration to talk about how we can fight bullying in our community! The event will be held on Friday, May 25 from 2 – 4PM at the Google DC Office. We especially encourage K-12 youth to attend.

During the event, #ActTochange will announce exciting project launches including opportunities to engage in bullying prevention efforts through new programs and initiatives.

Featured speakers include:
Maulik Pancholy, Actor
Thomas Hong, U.S. Olympian, Speedskating
Moderated by Jill Yu, #ActToChange Board of Directors

RSVP at bit.ly/ActToChangeAPAHMLive

Watch the livestream starting at 3PM: bit.ly/ActToChangeAPAHM2018

Standing Up to Bullying in the Asian American and Pacific Islander Community

Cross posted from the Huffington Post

By Maulik Pancholy, actor and activist

In 2014, I was appointed by President Obama to serve on the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs). As a Commissioner, I was horrified to hear statistics like:

  • Half of Asian American students report being bullied
  • 2/3 of Sikh American students report being bullied
  • Half of Muslim American students report being bullied because of their religion

The verbal, physical and emotional violence that students endure is distressing. To know that AAPI youth who are bullied also face unique cultural, religious, and language barriers that can keep them from getting help was a call to action.

So, in 2015, I helped launch #ActToChange (ActToChange.org), a public awareness campaign to address bullying among youth — including Asian American, Pacific Islander, Sikh, Muslim, LGBTQI, and immigrant youth — and to empower students, parents, teachers, and communities to report, stop, and prevent bullying.

Sadly, this work is more important now than ever. AAPI communities have been severely affected by an anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and xenophobic political climate. We’re seeing Muslim, Sikh, immigrant, limited English proficient, and LGBTQI kids, among others, being targeted by their peers and adults for how they look, how they speak, their perceived citizenship status, their sexuality, and their religion. For example, there was a 91% increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes during the first half of 2017 as compared to the same period in 2016. In the first three months following Trump’s election, the Southern Poverty Law Center recorded 1,372 bias incidents, and more than a quarter of them were motivated by anti-immigrant sentiments.

Where are people learning to be so hateful? What is motivating them to hurt others? We may all have different views, but we’re at a moment where bullying and prejudice from the top down is setting a tone that gives permission for hatred and bigotry. Our country and our kids deserve better.

So, for National Bullying Prevention Month, I wanted to take a moment to let young people hear a different message – to let them know that they’re not alone, and that there is help.

As an Indian-American, LGBTQI man who is the proud son of immigrants, and who happened to be a total nerd with braces, glasses, and the works, I know how it feels to be “different” or “weird.” I’m here to tell all those kids out there struggling, that it is okay to be “weird” but it’s not okay to be “bullied.”

I’ve asked some of my friends to offer young people some hope as well. Here are a few words from folks you may recognize:

    • “People who bully are insecure. It doesn’t seem like it at first, but then you realize that they’re doing it because they enjoy getting a rise out of someone, they enjoy making someone else’s life harder. That’s so sad. I feel bad for people like this, whether they’re a kid at school or the President of the United States. Try not to take their bait. Instead of believing them, focus all that energy on something positive, something you’re passionate about. Don’t let a bully’s insecurity make you insecure about your amazing, beautiful self.“ – Kal Penn, actor

  • “As women of color, we endure endless amounts of micro-aggressions and outright aggressive behaviors from all areas of our lives. Sadly, the majority of us are always told to just “shake it off” or “keep your head up.” But how can you shake off thousands of tiny cuts when they draw blood again and again? How can you keep your head up under all those negative assertions? Here’s the trick: you don’t do it alone. You ask for help. You ask your friends. You ask adults you trust. You ask your teachers. You ask your school counselor. You reach out to mental health hotlines. You reach out to therapists. Ask anyone whom you trust or is a professional. There is power in community and in knowing that you are not carrying this burden alone. You might feel all alone but there are people in your life who want to help you. There are even people who don’t know you who want to help you. You are incredible. You are beautiful. You are not alone.“ – Elizabeth Ho, actor, Netflix’s Disjointed
  • “There are those who seem to go out of their way to make you feel, sometimes in the most painful ways, that you don’t fit in or you don’t belong. One day, you’ll realize the things that make you an “outsider” are the very things that give you a sense of identity and community.Find strength, hope and purpose in identity and community.” – Phil Yu, blogger, Angry Asian Man
  • “I guarantee that if you are being bullied it is because you are doing something right. You are some combination of incredibly talented, unique, smart and sensitive. You may look different, sound different and act differently than your peers but that is what will one day make you amazing. You probably can see how you’re “supposed” to act, look and believe – but you just can’t bring yourself to be like everyone else – and even when you DO try to fit in, you only seem to stand out MORE. You might think you’re alone, but I’d bet that there is probably a select group of people who feel like you – and they will become your lifelong friends – and you will be able to live as your genuine, true self in their company. Protect each other, love each other, and celebrate how incredibly beautiful it is that you all are so “weird”. If you are being bullied – it’s because you are doing something right. You are special. You are strong. And one day you will be able to write a note like this to someone else and let them know it.” – Utkarsh Ambudkar, actor, Pitch Perfect and White Famous
  • “I exist in this hyphen. I’m an Indian-American-Muslim kid, but am I more Indian or am I more American? What part of my identity am I? I struggled with that as a kid. I wanted to be accepted. I experienced bullying in high school – a kid peed on my shoes, I was called the ‘color of poop.’ A lot of immigrants feel like if you come to this country you pay the American dream tax: you’re gonna endure some racism, and if it doesn’t cost you your life, hey, you lucked out. But I actually have the audacity of equality. I want to tell kids that no matter what anyone tells them, they’re not alone. There is help. Despite whatever is going on in the White House, I believe there is possibility for change, which I think is awesome.” – Hasan Minhaj, comedian
  • “I went through high school not feeling safe. I was the butt of most jokes, teased, and mocked often. And all I did was push it down. I pushed my feelings down for years: laughing with the jokes, pretending everything was ok when my parents saw me sad and just pushing through. Please don’t do what I did. If you are feeling bullied or made to feel unsafe, talk to someone – that could be a guidance counselor, a teacher, or family. When I finally took the chance to be vulnerable with my family and tell them how I felt, the support I got was stunning! When we are bullied we believe that it is our fault and no one loves us. That’s NOT true. You are loved by more places than you know!” – Arjun Gupta, actor (Showtime’s Nurse Jackie and Syfy’s The Magicians) and producer
  • “As a child, it’s awful to feel less than because of who you are. Differences are what make our communities so rich. And I’ve often found that, the thing you’ve been made fun of for the most, is generally what will make you stand out, when you are older. Stay brave. Stay bold.” – Sheetal Sheth, actor, producer, author, activist
  • “I was a little immigrant girl from Taiwan and remember feeling so lonely and confused because I felt so different. Before I could fully understand English I remember I was six years old and playing freeze tag with the neighborhood kids. It was fun until a boy from the other street came by and started to taunt me in English words that sounded mean. My face felt hot with tears at the anger that was coming from him. Lucky for me, I had a friendly, freckle-faced girl defend me and yell at him to stop. I won’t ever forget how awesome she was for standing up for me. We all grow up feeling different and weird. Some people like taking advantage of our insecurities. But we can make the choice to not make others feel bad and to stand up for others when you see them get hurt. Growing up and finding our way is hard enough, be a leader in your school and community and encourage each other to practice kindness and support.” – Jenny Yang, comedian
  • “I was the only Indian kid in my class and I remember being nervous every time the teacher would read my name out loud. I was worried it would be mispronounced, the students would laugh and then I’d have to explain it’s more like “Pootie and the blowfish” not like “Silly Putty”. Writing and performing gave me a chance to explore my feelings, gain confidence and meet lots of cool people from multicultural backgrounds. That helped. And I was already running from my feelings metaphorically speaking so when I started to physically run that also helped. I wish I would have talked about my feelings more and I wish I would have asked more questions, but over time I learned I am not alone. And you aren’t either.” – Danny Pudi, actor
  • What you are being bullied for might actually be your superpower. Speak up. Protect it. It will make you fly, later.” – Janina Gavankar, actor, True Blood and Star Wars Battlefront II

If you or someone you know is being bullied, please check out #ActToChange. The campaign website, ActToChange.org, includes video and music empowerment playlists, and encourages you to “Take a Pledge” to join the #ActToChange movement and stand up against bullying. As one out of three AAPIs does not speak English fluently, resources are available in ChineseHindiKoreanPunjabiUrdu, and Vietnamese. The campaign encourages AAPI youth and adults to share their stories, engage in community dialogues, and take action against bullying.

Now, more than ever, we need to fight hate, discrimination, and bullying, and to empower our youth to embrace and celebrate differences in race, ethnicity, culture, religion, and background.

Let’s #ActToChange our schools and communities, so that all youth feel safe and proud of who they are.

Stand up against bullying. Join me and take the #ActToChange pledge today.

A Good Hmong Man

By Kham Moua

In 2013, I was asked to be the keynote speaker at a Hmong college student leadership conference. It was an incredible opportunity, especially considering that I was only 23 and in the audience were state senators and individuals who have dedicated their lives to helping my community. Below is my speech in full. Of course, I ad-libbed during the actual speech and made it a bit funnier, but none-the-less, my speech: 

What makes a good Hmong man? As the oldest son of six children, I am expected to be the pillar of my family’s heritage and lineage and name. My role includes finishing college, obtaining a job, marrying a Hmong woman (or failing that, any woman), having children, and becoming the unifying chain that would hold my family together and bond us with other families within the Moua clan.

However, at 16, I came to the realization that I do not neatly fit this Hmong ideal. At 16, I realized that I am gay. But I didn’t know how conflicting my gay and my Hmong identities were.

During the 2004 presidential elections, I heard my mother scream at the television and say (in Hmong) “that gays are more vile and disgusting than dogs and should never be allowed to get married.” This was the first time I can remember anyone talking about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people.

At the time, I didn’t know how to react. But her words stayed with me through my adolescence. On the day that I admitted my sexuality to myself, her statement was the first thought that popped into my head. The next thought was how I had failed as a son. I locked myself in my room, closed all the curtains, turned off all the lights, and cried. And I felt like she was right, I felt like I was no better than a dog.

I am gay. It is something that I cannot change about myself. I can never marry a woman nor have children the way my parents envisioned. I felt that instead of upholding my parents’ ideal of a perfect Hmong man, I had unknowingly tarnished my family’s name, lineage, and heritage; unwillingly disregarded cultural norms; and unintentionally broken traditional practices. I thought that no matter what I did, nor how hard I tried, I would never gain my parents’, my relatives’ or my community’s acknowledgment or respect. I felt that to them, I would never succeed. I was different, a failure. I was no good.

At 17, I realized that I could not change my sexuality, and I hated myself. I thought myself better dead. And because of that, I tried to kill myself by drinking a bottle of Pine-Sol. But I couldn’t go through with it. I was scared. Although I hated who I was, I didn’t want to die. After sitting in my bathroom for two hours, holding that toxic bottle in my hands and contemplating suicide, I promised myself that I would live my life. I wanted to show them that different can be good – that despite the fact that I am gay, I would be successful.

I chose to live – in spite of my differences, in spite of my family, my community, and my society telling me that who I am may be wrong.

When I was 20 – my aunt married her partner of seven years. My aunt is a lesbian, and she wed. My extended family was furious. They conducted a witch hunt to out all the gays and lesbians. And it was during this time that my cousin decided to tell her parents about me – the only one who was remotely comfortable with his or her identity. In her words, she thought that by disclosing my sexuality to her parents, my family would come to better understand, accept, and love the other potentially queer people in our family. She martyred me when I was only beginning to come to terms with my identity.

I found out about this when my aunt called me at work and said, “Kham, your parents know about you.” My heart plummeted as soon as I heard her utter those words. I couldn’t continue the rest of my shift. I was so scared – all my fears suddenly came to fruition. I thought that I would lose my family. I thought that I would be disowned – alone with nowhere to go.

At the time,  I was working as an intern in the morning and as a community organizer during the afternoon and early evenings. For a week, I hid from parents. I lived out of my car and showered at my friend’s house when I could find the time. Eventually, my brother told me that my parents were leaving for a camping trip with my other aunts and uncles. As soon as I heard that they had left, I went home, packed everything I owned and left for my apartment at college.

When I came back home, my parents had returned. They stayed up all night to talk with me. The first thing my dad said to me was, “Kham, do you know what’s worse than murder? Being gay. At least when you kill someone, you serve your time. You can change. But gay? What do you do about that?” He said “Do you know how embarrassed we were when we found out one of our children is gay? We thought it was your brother. But to find out that it was you, our oldest, that was the most the most disappointing part.”

My dad said that my mother wanted to throw me out. She had piled up all my clothes and belongings, but he stopped her. I didn’t sleep for a week because every night, I would come home from work and argue, scream, and yell  at my mother. And my dad, he would just sit on the couch and wait it out. Every night, a relative stopped by to lecture me on the consequences of my identity. My uncles, my aunts, even my grandmother stopped by to tell me that I – the oldest; the son that my parents put all their hopes on; the grandson and the nephew that my family thought would be most successful; the only one that everyone knew was gay – was the biggest disappoint to my family.

My mother said, “Kham, you are perfect in every way. You are smart; you do well in school; you are handsome. But you are gay. And I will never accept you. You will never be successful to me or your family. If you become a lawyer, I will try my hardest to make sure no one visits your practice. I will tell everyone what a shame you are and ruin you. When I die, I do not want you at my funeral.”

I didn’t know how to reply because I while I was grappling with my sexuality, I was also finally beginning to accept my heritage. For two years, I spent hours working in my community in order to learn about my identity and about people. I wanted to help my community, but more importantly, I wanted my mom and my dad to be proud of me, to love me despite the fact that I am gay. I made the Dean’s every semester in college because I wanted to prove that I could be successful, that I would be the most established man in my extended family in spite of my sexuality, that I could be good. And in that moment, in that conversation with her, I realized how fruitless all my actions had been. All I wanted to do was to prove to my parents I was worth something, and in the end, I was still seen as worthless – less than a dog, less than dirt, less than the gum on the bottom of their shoes.

A couple of weeks later, my parents took me to a shaman to fix me. I went because my dad pleaded to me. He said, “Son, if you let us do whatever we feel necessary, and if nothing works, then we have no choice but to accept you as you are. Let us do this.” So I went. The shaman had requested a bottle of water. When I got there, he took the water, waved it over a fire, and gave it back to me.

“Have you ever tossed a pebble in a body of water?” He asked me. I nodded, of course. “When you did that, a water spirit entered your body. And its the reason why you’re like this.” He then instructed to wash my face with the water every morning and every evening in order to cleanse myself. It didn’t work. But I pretended it did. My parents wanted to take me to temple – $300 for a bottle of my water from the shaman and $1000 to be fixed at the Buddhist temple. And that number would just keep increasing. I didn’t want to be a financial burden, so I lied.

Three years later, and I finally understand. My parents were just as trapped in the idea of good and bad as I was – this was just as much a process for my mom and my dad as it was for me. My parents had given up everything to come to the United States. My dad was an orphan, all he had was my mother, my siblings, and me. In us lived all his hopes and his dreams – we were his American dream. I, his oldest son, was where placed all those ideals. My mom came from an affluent family and lost her title, her wealth, and her sister in the war. Her upbringing had taught her to place her future on her children, on me. And when they realized that I could not have children the way that our culture desired, that I would not marry a woman, and that I would never become a full fledged man in my community – they lost all those hopes and all those dreams.

I may never be accepted as a good person by my parents but that’s okay. I’ve come to learn that Hmong culture is fluid – it changes with the youth. Our culture looks different now than it did 50 years ago, a hundred 100 years ago even. In fact, you might even be able to argue that it looks different now that it did just last year. I may not good man by the standards that my parents know, but I am a good Hmong man by the definition set forth by myself, by my peers, and by my generation.

Hmong culture has changed as we have migrated and moved. Our language has adopted phrases, idioms, and sounds originating from the mountains of China to the hills of Laos and the plains of the American Midwest. Our culture, like our community, is dynamic, not static. And we should not be afraid to call out the wrongs in our culture, in our tradition, and in our stories. We are not be defined solely by our culture; rather, our culture is reflection of who we are. And it should liberate us from oppression, not act as a chain around our necks.

I’ve been taught my entire life that being a Hmong man meant living a certain way, acting a certain way, loving a certain way. And how I should have been has chained me for a long time, made me hate myself for a long time. I was caught in an idea of what it meant to be good, even when I realized that I didn’t fit that definition – I ached to be recognized as such by my parents and their perception of good.

I am now 23 years old, and I am a proud, gay, Hmong man. My parents are not entirely okay with my sexuality. But they have come terms with the fact that I am gay. Sometimes, my mom will unknowingly mention my sexuality or one of my “friends,” before she quickly recognizes her language and corrects herself. Its a process, and the three of us are going through it together.

I am no longer the pillar of my family, nor am I the adhesive for my family within our clan. I cannot change my sexuality, nor would I change my sexuality if given the chance. It is as much a part of me as my name, my lineage, and my heritage. What makes me different is also what has given me perspective and a lens for social justice. Through my experiences as a gay Hmong man, I have witnessed and experienced firsthand the way that rigid cultural norms have led to depression, heartache, and the brink of suicide for many Hmong youth.

This is what lead me to social justice, to question what I have always believed to be right, and to demand and fight for change within our community, to make sure that we and those that come after us have a brighter future.

Don’t be afraid to be different. Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo, to question what we’ve been taught growing up – who to be, how to be, what to be.

So what makes a good Hmong man? Well, a good Hmong man, a good Hmong person is whatever we decide.

Kham Moua is Senior Policy and Communications Manager of OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates, a civil rights organization dedicated to advancing the social, political, and economic well-being of Asian Pacific Americans. OCA is one of the supporters of #ActToChange. 

This blog post is part of ActToChange.org’s features of voices against bullying. “Act To Change” is a public awareness campaign to address bullying, including in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. For more information, visit www.ActToChange.org.

Youth Voice: Growing Up Muslim in America

This post was originally published on StopBullying.gov.

“During the 23 years that my family has lived in America, my parents and I never faced verbal abuse or harassment until recently. I remember my dad coming home angry one day. When I asked about what happened, he responded with a pain in his voice that a lady asked him if he was Muslim. He said yes to the woman, only to see her start ranting about how Muslims are invading and destroying this country. She insulted him about his faith, nationality, and immigrant background. My dad tried to be respectful to the woman and tell her how this country is his family’s home. He also told her he immigrated here to give his daughter the best chance at life. But it was clear that these words meant nothing to her.

“What disturbs me even more is how the current climate is affecting young children. As an educator, it hurts me to hear a sixth grade student say that she didn’t think she could be the first American Muslim president because she thought too many people hated Muslims. I believe children and adolescents are constantly accepting the information they hear and read through various forms of media.

“Educators need to support their Muslim students in a time when people are judging and blaming the Muslim community. My favorite teachers were always those who respected my Muslim identity and encouraged open discussions in the classroom. As an educator, my students deserve a classroom culture where their diverse experiences and backgrounds are valued. This is exactly the kind of mindset that needs to extend beyond the classroom doors and into other spaces.”

To learn more about what schools and communities can do to help protect children from different ethnicities and faiths against bullying, please visit StopBullying.gov Who is at Risk and Consideration for Specific Groups sections. Additionally, you may want to read the AAPI Bullying Prevention Task Force Report, developed by the Asian American and Pacific Islander Bullying Prevention Task Force.

This blog post is part of ActToChange.org’s features of voices against bullying. “Act To Change” is a public awareness campaign to address bullying, including in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. For more information, visit www.ActToChange.org.

U.S. Department of Education Release Joint Fact Sheet about Combatting Discrimination against Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) and Muslim, Arab, Sikh, and South Asian (MASSA) students

Cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights Newsroom

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Educational Opportunities Section, and the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders issued a fact sheet that includes examples of forms of discrimination that members of the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) and Muslim, Arab, Sikh, and South Asian (MASSA) communities commonly face.

  • The fact sheet in English PDF and in other languages about combating discrimination against Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) and Muslim, Arab, Sikh, and South Asian (MASSA) students.