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Tony Lu

6 Questions Your Questions >

P.O.V. kicked off the discussion by asking CAAAV 6 initial questions, the same 6 we are asking all the featured guests.

P.O.V.: In your work, you consider the notion of 'borders.' What is a border to you?

CAAAV: A "border" is a line that clearly marks territories, a line that divides this side from the other.

Borders can mark physical territories, such as two nations separated by checkpoints and armed guards, two towns separated by a river, or two neighborhoods, like Chinatown New York, where we live, and neighboring SoHo, where the wealthy people live.

Borders also exist between groups of people segregated by our differences. For example, rich people and poor people may sometimes occupy the same physical space, but live in very different worlds with different cultures and lifestyles. The line that divides the two worlds is invisible, but strongly-felt nonetheless. As immigrants, we also feel very strongly the border that exists between English-speakers and those whose first language is not English.

Borders can be negative, but not always. It depends on who draws the line where. Most of the time, we don't have control over where the line gets drawn, because borders are usually determined by people in power.

Borders are particularly negative when they are oppressive to people, when they say "Keep out" or "Do not cross," and keep us confined in poor conditions.

But borders can also be useful. For example, we define ourselves as people of color. Although people in power have historically tried to pit communities of color against each other and would have us believe that we have nothing in common, we believe that all people of color share a common interest in racial justice. When we identify ourselves as people of color, we break down borders that segregate us from other communities; we re-draw the line to include all people of color, and begin to learn and understand each other's struggles.

P.O.V.: What's an important border that you've crossed in your life?

CAAAV: As immigrants, an important border we all crossed is the United States border. After the crossing, we had to learn and adjust to a new language, new foods, new sounds and smells, new culture and lifestyles. A border we cross many times everyday (sometimes there and back and there again in a split-second) is a linguistic border, as we switch between languages. As second generation immigrants, we often act as translators for our community. As we translate, we crisscross between two worlds with different cultural expressions and ways of thinking. And everyday, as we go from home to school or to work, we cross a cultural border between the Chinese community and the larger society.

We all crossed an important border when we joined CAAAV — from living without really being conscious of the world around us, into a life
where we began to understand ourselves and our community in the context of history and what is happening in the world, as well as a life dedicated to a struggle for justice.

In CAAAV, we stress the importance of building alliances with other
communities of color. This is the only way we can build a movement for
racial justice. When we identify ourselves as people of color, we cross the border that segregates us from other communities, into a larger community, which shares a desire for racial justice.

P.O.V.: If you could erase any border in your world, what would it be?

CAAAV: We would like to erase the United States border, so everyone can come and go when they want, reunite with their families, and visit their homelands and come back without fear of being stopped, questioned, or detained.

Rich people look down on poor people, like the way NYU students look
down on City Tech students. Poor people are made to feel inferior,
less smart, or second-class. We want to erase the border between the
rich and poor, so that everyone can be proud of who they are and where
they come from.

We want to erase borders that create racist violence. For example, on
the border between SoHo and Chinatown, two worlds collide in the world of poor immigrants and sweatshop workers, and the world of investment bankers and nightclub hipsters. The collision between the two worlds is sometimes violent, like when low-income tenants are evicted from their homes to make way for young professionals willing to pay triple the rent, or when street vendors are chased by the police, who are given orders to clear the streets so that landlords can attract wealthier people into the neighborhood.

Enormous borders divide people within our communities as well. For
example, we want to erase the border between us and our parents, and
the border between men and women so that we can understand each
other's struggles better.

But what about people who live on the border, not on this side or the
other? For example, what about people who identify as neither man nor
woman? Or, like us, people who are bicultural or bilingual? Our
identities as "border people" and the "border culture" we create are
something new, born out of the fusion of different cultures, and that
is important to us as well.

P.O.V.: When and how are borders useful?

CAAAV: In CAAAV, we reject and challenge notions of borders that are imposed on us by those who want to keep us oppressed. We re-imagine the line and create our own borders in ways that give us power and strength. For example, when we define the borders of our community as Chinatown, we affirm the shared history and struggle of immigrants who live in Chinatown. When we define ourselves as people of color, we make clear where we will build alliances. Re-drawing the border based on who shares a common interest helps us to be clear about who we need to organize to build POWER.

P.O.V.: This episode of P.O.V.'s Borders concentrates on borders as a physical reality, in terms of people moving from one place to another and having to cross mental and literal borders to do that. What, in your experience, is the most contested border?

CAAAV: Palestine-Israel, United States and Mexico, North and South Korea all come to mind.

In our struggle to protect Chinatown from displacement, the most contested border is between Chinatown and SoHo. SoHo expands into
Chinatown as landlords displace Chinatown's low-income tenants and
local businesses through harassment and intimidation, lawsuits, and
zoning changes. The garment industry, which employs 70% of the women in Chinatown, is also being displaced to make way for office space and high-tech industries. Thousands of people are losing their homes and their jobs. Low-wage workers, no longer able to find jobs in
Chinatown, travel to other states, sometimes as far away as North
Carolina or Texas, to look for work and come home to their families
only once a month.

To protect Chinatown, we organize tenants associations, disseminate
tenants rights information, hold town hall meetings, picket racist
slumlords, defend street vendors, march in demonstrations, and build a stronger community through struggle.

The most destructive border, which creates deep divisions and weakens our community, is the border between those who are "legal" versus "illegal," documented versus undocumented. Immigrants without papers, or peddlers without licenses, although no different from everyone else in terms of how hard they work and struggle, are treated like criminals and marginalized, just because they don't have the right set of papers. This makes a large sector of our community powerless and afraid to speak out. It is a border we must break down in order to unite our community.

P.O.V.: Expand our borders. What's a book, movie, piece of music, website, etc. that challenges or engages with the idea of 'borders' that we should know about but perhaps don't?

CAAAV: a. Sweatshop Warriors by Miriam Ching-Louie. b. CAAAV's Chinatown Justice Project has been working on a video to
document the impact of gentrification in Chinatown New York City. After two years in the making, the video is almost finished! It has no title yet, but it will be available for distribution in December 2002.

Read more! Check out CAAAV's dialogue with Borders visitors...

about CAAAV and the Chinatown Justice Project


CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities is a community organization in New York City. Our mission is to build the power of Asian immigrants in New York City to combat racist violence, which includes economic exploitation, environmental racism, poverty, and state violence.


Learn more about gentrification and struggle in Chinatown, in this article from The Village Voice:
Chinatown Factory Faces Eviction


Featured Guests
Barbara Ehrenreich
Luis J. RodriguezLUIS J. RODRIGUEZ



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