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Celebrating Our AAPI Activists: An Interview With @asian.actiivist

Since 2017, Yilan Batista, founder of Instagram account @asian.actiivist, has been speaking out about issues facing the Asian community. Over the years she’s amassed an impressive audience of nearly 36 thousand followers. Here she talks about activism, her account and other topics surrounding Asian identity.

Yilan Batista: My name is Yilan Batista. I am a sophomore in high school. I am of Chinese and Cuban descent. I grew up in Shanghai, China, and came to America in the summer of 2017 when I was thirteen years old. I am passionate about activism, but I also love art. My favorite art forms include music, theater, drawing, and writing. Writing is perhaps my biggest hobby. I love writing political/social pieces, and poetry. I also live for spicy food and noodles!

Reha Kakkar: What inspired you to start @asian.actiivist? What impact do you hope to have through the account?

YB: I started @asian.actiivist a couple of months after I moved to America, in 2017, when I was thirteen years old. In the first couple of months of freshman year, I felt extremely lonely. There was no community for me in real life, so I turned to social media instead. I began to follow Asian appreciation accounts on Instagram. Slowly, I began to realize that Asians face a lot of racism in America yet are widely erased from activist conversations. Finally, I decided that if I could not find a space that talked about the problems I cared about, I would create that space myself.

Finally, I decided that if I could not find a space that talked about the problems I cared about, I would create that space myself.

As a result, I started @asian.actiivist to talk about the hardships Asians face in America that do not get enough attention.

RK: Now onto some more specific topics about your activism specifically. What do you have to say about the “model minority” myth and the lack of Asians in activism? Why does it exist? How is it dangerous?

Photo courtesy of Yilan Batista

YB: The model minority myth is extremely dangerous and problematic. It was created completely on anti-black rhetoric, to pitch minorities against each other. The model minority myth is white supremacy’s way of ignoring the struggles of black people and Latinos by pointing out the successes of small populations of Asians. This is not only racist towards black people and Latinos, but also erases the experiences of Asians who do not fit the wealthy East and/or South Asian image. In general, the model minority myth homogenizes all Asians into one privileged group, dismissing the nuances within different Asian American experiences.

The model minority is built on and upholds dangerous stereotypes of Asians being all privileged, docile and well behaved. Anti-Asian racism is not discussed because people both do not expect Asians to be activists, and also because they think Asian struggles aren’t valid enough. This representation is important, however, because the Asian American experience is so diverse and every voice deserves to be uplifted.

RK: What do you think is the reason behind the anti-black prejudices in the Asian community? How can these prejudices be overcome?

Photo courtesy of Yilan Batista

YB: Anti-blackness and anti-LGBT prejudices in Asian communities have long histories.

Anti-blackness arose from colorism. Colorism is the discrimination against people of darker skin in your own community. In certain regions of Asia, such as East Asia, colorism became a problem because the richer you were, the less you had to work out in the sun. In other regions, such as South and Southeast Asia, it became a problem due to European colonization. Because colorism discriminates against darker skinned people, naturally it led to anti-blackness, as black people are usually those with the darkest skin. I’ve heard many parents of my Asian friends say that we should avoid black people, and I’ve heard many Asian youth use the n-word. Most importantly, in my opinion, there are a lot of incidents of Asian on black violence in businesses. To combat anti-blackness, Asian Americans must realize that we all have systemic privilege over black people simply due to the fact that we are not black in a country built on anti-black racism.

RK: Are there any other topics you want to talk about?

YB: Two other topics that I am very passionate about is Asian fetishization and immigration. I want everyone to know that stereotyping Asian women as “submissive” and “exotic” is NOT a compliment.

I want everyone to know that stereotyping Asian women as “submissive” and “exotic” is NOT a compliment.

This results in a unique culture of harassment and objectification that Asian women face. First, “exotic” is a completely subjective adjective, and what is “exotic” is decided solely by the majority of a certain population. Therefore, viewing Asian women as exotic is viewing Asian women from a white male gaze. Second, desiring Asian women because we are “submissive” is racialized toxic masculinity. In the worst case scenarios, Asian fetishization results in rape and assault.

Immigration is also something I care deeply about. I’ve noticed that the immigration conversation in America is largely centered around Latinos. As someone who is half Latina, and simply as a human, I completely understand that Latinos suffer greatly under inhumane policies. However, so do Asians, and we are often left out of immigration discourse.

I completely understand that Latinos suffer greatly under inhumane policies. However, so do Asians, and we are often left out of immigration discourse.

For example, the Southeast Asian community is a community that is heavily targeted by cruel immigration policies. Southeast Asia was ravaged by American military violence, which led to a large influx of Southeast Asian immigration. However, these immigrants are disproportionately deported. Many people also do not understand how these immigrants settled in areas of concentrated poverty, and therefore did not have access to resources that would help them rebuild their lives. 

RK: What is one thing you want to say to other aspiring activists?

YB: To aspiring activists: first, I want to let you know that I love you. I love every person who chooses to advocate for their community. This is not an easy fight. In fact, it is very terrifying, heartbreaking and exhausting. We are constantly expected to know about of every horrible thing that happens so we can analyze them and educate our audiences. We are constantly expected to be ready to debate and teach others. However, many of our followers often gaslight, invalidate and flat out harass us.  I want you to remember that you do not owe anyone your intellectual and emotional labor. Once your platform grows larger, it will feel unbearable at times. The hate can come in huge numbers. It can feel like no one is really listening or learning, that people really do hate your community, or that all your work is just screaming into a void. But please remember, if you’re getting haters, that means you’re making people uncomfortable, and if you’re making people uncomfortable, that means you’re doing it right! And you will always have your fellow activists and community standing behind you.

You can follow Yilan at @asian.actiivist.

Photo: Evgeny Tchebotarev via Pexels

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Reha Kakkar
Written By

Reha Kakkar is a high school senior living in Austin, Texas. Her interests include neuroscience, foreign relations, and sustainability. When she isn't writing, she enjoys cooking, crosswords, and going for long walks with her dog. She is an avid member of her local Model UN team and volunteering organizations. As a writer for Affinity Magazine, she hopes to bring a new perspective to the issues defining the world today.

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