Expand our Horizons:
Decolonize Our Minds, Cross Our Borders

by Yuri Kochiyama

Duke, Princeton and Boston University, April 4, 1996.

First, I wish to thank Steve Kim of the Asian Caucus and Don Brown of AHANA for inviting me to your school, and encouraging students to come out today. I am really heartwarmed that Asian Pacific American students are interested in learning about their history, their culture, their language, and that of other people's history, culture, language.

I have chosen the topic - "Expanding Our Horizons, Decolonizing Our Minds and Crossing over borders." I feel this is the task for Asian American students today. Those in power and society itself, want us to have a limited outlook, cocoon ourselves from others, withdraw within ourselves, not interact with nor trust others, and narrow our perspective. A polarization has been taking place, dividing us from one another. How do we challenge this? Why must we challenge this?

Actually, American history has been one continuous narrative of events that have divided us - by race, color, class, gender, religion, politics, culture, region, and even accents. Americans are a divided people because America wants us divided. Americans do not look at one another as equals, or consider one another as brothers, sisters, neighbors. And I feel the basis for this is because of racism and slavery that began with America's birth. Racism has contaminated life in these United States, has tainted its institutions, deprived and denied its people who have been targeted and marginalized, stigmatized and looked down upon, most often because of color/race/national origin. History has shown this over and over again. Sadly, we Asian/PacificIslanders, while having been victims, have also been influenced by negative aspects of Euro-American ideas and thoughts. At the same time, we cannot blame everything with an American tag on the ills of society. Oftimes it could be our own frailties.

But we must change the course of American history. And we are changing it, little by little. All of you are changing it, thankfully, because you are aware and concerned. You would not be organizing these wonderful events called Asian Pacific American Heritage Months, except for the fact that you want to bring APA people together and discuss the issues that pertain to you. APAs back in the 60's were the pioneers in this movement. I am glad that your generation is continuing the legacy.

I am heartwarmed that Asian Pacific Americans have been engaging in bringing together APAs for education and celebration. And we are always happy to see non-Asians amongst us. We have much to cel- ebrate, as APAs have been moving right along since the late sixties. It has always been Pan-Asian, not

with any particular emphasis on any Asian ethnic group. That has been the strength of the APA movement. And it has much more strength and substance than when it began some thirty years ago because of its greater diversity and richness since Southeast Asians, South Asians and Koreans have made their input.

Today's topic - "Expanding Our Horizons: Decolonizing Our Mind, Crossing Across Borders" - what does this mean? How do we expand our horizon? How do we decolonize our mind? What borders do we cross? How can it change us? How can it change society?

I think of myself when I was your age. I was a "colonized" person, but I didn't know it, or realize it. Most of my generation were too, whatever color we were. We were like horses that had blinders put on us where we could not look sideways. We could only look straight ahead where our master points our head and guides us or directs us. Or pushes us. And our "horizon" was only the breadth of what our "master(s)" wanted us to see.

That's how we learned American history; through Eurocentric orientation. And that's why Ethnic Study is so important. It is learning history from the perspective of the Black, Latino, the misnomerednomered American Indian, and Asian. When that hard-fought struggle for Ethnic Studies was won (although it needs to be fought for still, Ethnic Studies revolutionized American history because finally die left-out history of peoples-of-color were told. Of course, there must be a great deal more research and "digging into the past" done to surface a lot more facts and truths that have been hidden and covered up. That's up to you students, who will be tomorrow's educators, historians, journalists, elected officials and parents. But we also need to encourage more APAs to take Asian American and other Ethnic Studies. Accurate history and truth will help to "decolonize" young minds; that of course, applies to old minds, more so. But it is not just abridged education that has "colonized" us. It is everything from myths, gossips, rumors, dogmatic religion, Hollywood movies, flippant TV shows, conservative newspapers, Madison Avenue advertising, small-town mentality, and big-town arrogance. We must not just be careful of what we read, see, listen to, but must read every kind of paper, left-wing, alternative, radical, Third World, international papers; check out everything, and then make your own conclusion and assessment.

Let's look at what happens to a "colonized" nation. First, it becomes a colony or territory under the sovereignty of another nation or an outside country. There are still countries all over the world who are colonies, although the UN in the 60's and 70's stated that no country need remain colonized; that all countries have a right to decolonize and become independent. Being colonized is to be controlled by someone else. Let's take Puerto Rico as an example. It should be an independent state, but it is under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Most everything in Puerto Rico is under U.S. rule. Puerto Ricans do not even have Puerto Rican citizenship. They have U.S. citizenship. They must serve in the U.S. army. They cannot trade with any other country but U.S. They have no control over customs, postal, monetary or judicial systems. A couple of years ago, there was a plebiscite to choose between commonwealth, statehood or independence. In this plebiscite or vote, 48 percent of Puerto Ricans chose to remain a Commonwealth; 46 percent voted for statehood.

Although only 4.5 percent (80,000 people) voted for independence, it pulled the swinging pendulum away from statehood. It showed that Puerto Rico cannot be totally assimilated with the U.S. because there is still a spontaneous national spirit, and an independence movement is trying to stay alive despite heavy U.S. propaganda.

The people there have not been completely colonized despite the long occupation. One day they will be free. And - the Puerto Rican political prisoners in U.S. prisons - are reminders that there will always be independentistas that will fight against colonialism even at the sacrifice of their own personal lives.

But you see what colonizing a nation can do. That colonized nation is put into chains. It's like a captured nation that must take orders from the slave-master. Such a colonized nation becomes powerless to develop their own destiny, their own politics, their own decisions. There are Blacks who feel they are a "captive nation within a nation." The concept of the RNA (Republic of New Africa) is that they are a pro- visional (temporary) government.

We, as people in a supposedly free nation like the U.S., also can become "colonized" in the same sense - losing our initiative to develop ourselves, to make our own choices about political and personal matters. Sometimes it is through the process of assimilation. We absorb the racism, the political influences, the class values of the mainstream or majority. Also, because of our status and responsibility as a citizens, we must fight in America's wars. And America has been fighting in one war after another And do you realize that three of the recent major wars were fought against Asian countries: Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. Other wars and military offenses were all against Third World countries too: Iraq, where they killed some 200,000 soldiers who already had their white flag of surrender in view, and another 100,000 civilians; Panama, where they bombed a defenseless country to kidnap their president; and Grenada, where they invaded a tiny country of 110,000 people on the pretext of protecting American medical stu- dents who were never in any danger.

And that is why Malcolm X refused to integrate into a racist society. Instead, he wanted to separate from the jurisdiction of the U.S. and began a movement for self-determination, which many Black people today follow.

Let's take another geographical area. Let's look at Hawai'i. It was once a free and beautiful island paradise. It became a commonwealth because the U.S. military toppled their Queen Liliuokalani, dethroned her, took away her powers, and began to make all the rules for Hawai'i. It stripped Hawai'i of most of her land; made Hawai'i into America's playland, or into military bases; tried to destroy her indigenous culture, to "civilize" or bastardize her way of life; changed Hawai'i into one of her states; made the indigenous Kanaka second class people; and began the process of Americanization; something similar to what happened to Black and other people of color here.

The indigenous Hawai'ian is today trying to fight for its sovereignty. Of course, the U.S. is doing everything to sabotage the movement; to divide and conquer. But those involved in the sovereignty movement are trying to decolonize themself. We're speaking of a whole nation of indigenous people. We don't know what may transpire because of disagreements among themselves, and because of what the U.S. government and those in power are concocting. But in the past five years, there has been an intensive consciousness raising and history sharing among the indigenous Hawai'ians. Even the Asian American and Caucasian American people of Hawaii are watching closely, if not anxiously. A definite "de-colonization" process is taking place.

We here on the mainland are also observing with keen interest because it is opening our eyes and minds and hearts as to how a long repressed group is rising up with renewed vigor and strength. We are being "re-educated" and awakened from a long period of "sleeping" or "unconsciousness of the plight of others." Without realizing it, we have been molded by our "masters" because we had been so "colonized" without our realizing it that we celebrated Hawaii becoming a state rather than seeing what statehood meant to the indigenous Hawai'ians - being robbed of their nation, their rights and their dignity. Also, most settlers to Hawai'i, whether from Asia, Europe, or America, also started looking down on Hawai'ians as if they were not as bright or ambitious and hardworking as them, when they were the ones who denied the indigenous Kanakas their jobs, housing, and education in the first place. The chauvinism and racism of settlers to Hawaii, like settlers anywhere, felt themselves superior to the indigenous. So you see how vicious and dangerous colonization can be. Also, you can see why and how the indigenous all over the world, in Central and South America, the Caribbean, and the Pacific Ocean are being decimated and annihilated by poverty, denial, lack of basic needs and being marginalized.

And it is not only the Westerners that colonize, plunder, and destroy humanity. In Asia, the Japanese bovernment did the same thing to Korea, invading and occupying their land for thirty-five years until their defeat in World War II. But in that time-span, Japan ruled Korea with an iron hand, forbidding the Korean people from speaking their own language, looking down on the people, dismantling their institutions, using their land, forcing their men workers to work in Japanese coal mines, and worst of all, kidnapping 200,000 of their young women on the pretext of giving them jobs, but forcing them into sex slavery for the Japanese army during World War II. Colonizers know no boundaries when it comes to oppression. And they try to justify whatever they do. But colonizers rarely can take away the national identity of people.

Identity is a people's pride, their self-consciousness and their humanity. Most Koreans never gave up their identity even if it cost them a job, a place to live, or a chance at education. But many Koreans in Japan were forced to do so for survival.

The colonial mentality enjoys "dominating" others, even animals, for their pleasure. Maybe the word is "domesticated" when it comes to animals, but the parallels are there. Have you ever watched animals in a circus, where they have been "trained to do some amazing things; almost imitating humans, doing what human beings find amusing or spectacular. like the once wild elephant, now prancing or dancing to music; or the ferocious lion, totally obeying the master, jumping through a hoop lit by fire; or the bear, juggling balls. Or the incredibly bright dolphins playing basketball in the water, when basketball is not their sport. It's amazing how one can be trained, or "tamed," or "broken" into doing anything. The larger the animal, the crueler and tougher the "breaking." The "so-called" dignity of the camel or elephant was the enforcement of man. It is also said that "tough inmates of prisons" or strong-willed slaves back in the plantation days were also "processed" or beaten into submission.

Malcolm used to tell his people: "Be proud of your African heritage. Don't let anyone take that away from you. Know who you are. Know where you come from. Learn the road your foreparents came, so you don't go through the same experience. Free yourself. You may not have chains around your legs, but you may have chains around your mind. Break loose from the chains. Find your true identity. You don't even have to keep the slavemaster's name."

And look what happened in the 60's. All those young bloods began taking African names or Muslim names and feeling proud of it. They refused to continue to be "oreo cookies" - Black outside, white inside. They began "decolonizing" their mind. Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali. Lou Alcindor became Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Stokely Carmichael became Kwame Ture. Rap Brown became Jimiel Al-min.

It was not just a fad. They knew what they were doing. It was politically motivated. They also found a deeper love and respect, not only for themselves, but for all of their people. Look at this recent incident of this basketball player, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf of the Denver Nuggets who refused to stand up and face the flag when the national anthem was played because he felt the flag was a "symbol of oppression." Abdul-Rauf was Chris Jackson until he converted to Islam in 1991 and began his one-man choice not to stand and dignify the flag. He has, however, consented to stand and pray, praying, he said "for those who are suffering - Muslim, Caucasian, African-American, Latin, Asian, whoever is in that position, whoever is experiencing difficulties." Coming at this time when the political climate in this country is becoming reactionary, and star athlete's major concern seems to be big bucks, it was a refreshing surprise coming from the basketball arena.

But this is not the first time a Black athlete has made a political statement. During the Vietnam War, Muhammad Ali refused to go to the Vietnam War and lost his World Boxing Championship title. In the 1968 Olympics in Mexico, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, staged their black fist salutes against racial inequality on the victory stand. They were stripped of their Olympic medals. But they revealed they had minds that were free and their freedom meant more than Olympic medals.

We Asians, back in the 60's, listened to Malcolm and knew that he was raising the awareness of a generation of people, not only Blacks and the young, but people in general. His words of wisdom could apply to us too. We began to seriously think of our identity. Were we just American or Asian American? Were we ashamed of our ancestry that we could not speak our mother tongue? Could we relate to our background? Even to change a name is part of the process of decolonization. Of course, just changing one's name is not decolonizing oneself, but it is one very small aspect of it. But one does not necessarily have to change one's name, or hair-do, or the kind of clothes one wears. Once, someone asked Malcolm why his wife, Betty, didn't sport an Afro like the "sisters" were doing back then. He said he didn't think it was so important what is on top of her head as what was "in" her head. Malcolm did not even begin using the word Malik that much. When he returned from the "hajj," the pilgrimage in 1964, his followers asked him: `What should we call you now?" because he was conferred with the title of "El Hajj." He replied, "what did you call me before?" They said, "Brother Malcolm." He simply said, "so be it."

Yes, we must expand our horizon in every way, while "decolonizing" our mind. Words do make a difference, words when associated with an idea. Let's take the word, "Communism." Back in the 50's, because this country, the media, and political leaders were so frightened of the word, and more so, the idea of communism, itself, if did everything to blemish, distort, falsify, derrogate, stigmatize, taint, and tarnish the word and the meaning, that the average American came to fear and hate the word, the person, the idea, without knowing anything of the philosophy. Especially those with a colonized mentality, had his/her mind closed to that word. The images it evoked, was fearful enough. But also, sadly, some Communist countries did not seem to adhere to the meaning of Communism, and are now leaning toward capitalism. There are also Communist countries that laid down such harsh rules as to wipe out humanism in their pursuit for power.

Today, just mentioning the name Fidel Castro or Cuba, has some people thinking only in negative terms of someone or some country entrenched in human rights violation and brutality. The recent downing of the two planes over Cuban air-space had the U.S. government condemning Cuba and asking the United Nation to denounce the act. Yet, the U.S. has for over 30 years placed a blockade around Cuba, not allowing food, medicine or other necessities to enter. It has held a stranglehold on Cuba, bringing suffering to the Cuban people. The U.S. has also tried to assassinate Fidel Castro time and time again during these thirty-some years. So, who is the real perpetrator of human rights violation?

Yes, we must expand our horizon in seeking truths, and "decolonize" our mind. Back in the 60's young Americans of all background began making history, challenging the status quo, the duality, the hypocrisy, the inequity in American society; also opposing U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, a war that concerned Americans felt was an intervention and transgression in the internal affairs of another country. The remarkable aspect was that a sizeable percent of our own young Asian Pacific Americans became involved. From coast to coast, Asian American students jumped into this domestic fray whole- heartedly. They suddenly grew up, felt proud, stood tall; unafraid to speak out; began to take action; organize in their communities. They saw there was an identity crisis; realized their lack of knowledge of their own Asian American histories, cultures, and languages. They realized their inability to relate and communicate sometimes with their own Asian brothers and sisters, and also with Third World people. They became disturbed by the American Dream - pursuing the American way of life - wealth, prestige, comfort, and the feeling of superiority over others. A new Asian American was being honed as the Asian American movement was birthed and new goals, perspectives, values, priorities, and even lifestyles began to take shape. Their eyes and minds began to focus on the world of the oppressed, exploited. and marginal. Some joined the Venceremos Brigade and went to Cuba for a few months to experience living in a socialist society. Some volunteered in the Peace Corps to help in agriculture or teach English in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. And some went to Third World Communities throughout the U.S. to work with Vista projects. A few Asian Americans went down South in the civil rights movement to register voters.

Most worked right in their own communities in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, New York. They taught English to immigrants, worked with children in Day Care, or the elderly in Senior Citizen Homes Some organized Health Care Centers; began Food Co-ops; started cultural art groups, including Asian American theaters, writers clubs, published Asian American newspapers and newsletters.

Asian Americans formed political education groups for serious study; derided the cost of higher education and began fighting for open admission, loans, and scholarships to Third World students; saw elitism in film-making and the arts and began to create their own formations, like Third World Newsreel; worked to make WBAI an alternative, progressive, public radio station (and thus, we have Radio Bandung, an Asian American program).

We know your generation of Asian Americans are continuing the legacy of showing concern for the issues of today - like affirmative action, immigrant rights, anti-Asian violence, homophobia. That is why you organize these annual Asian/Pacific American Awareness Events for education and celebration; and we commend you for the work you do on college campuses.

Two days ago at Columbia University, 22 students were arrested when they took over Lowe Library. Also three students are still hanging in there on a hunger strike which they began about two weeks ago. We, in New York, feel proud of these activists fighting for Ethnic Studies in the 90's.

Now, you may wonder where is there any connection between building bridges or coalitions with expanding your horizon, decolonizing your mind, and crossing over your own borders.

Often those with colonized mentality can be better manipulated or used against others to divide and conquer. Those in power would do not want ethnics and minorities and unacceptables and radicals of whatever color to come together to join forces. As long as we are kept distant and estranged from each other, the easier to subvert our desire to make alliances. But because of the commonalities among marginalized people, we must go to support one another. We need each other. We can help one another. We can learn from one another. Unity is strength. Strength, numerically, politically, not necessarily ethnically, with mutual concern for all peoples, can help change this society into a more broader, diverse, yet unifying force to build a more just, safe, and harmonious world. We must unite, not on race but principles to seek justice, equality, self-determination, human rights and human dignity for all.

By the year 2000, which is just around the corner, can we Asians begin heading in that direction? Can APAs begin a momentous Asian/Pacific American Consciousness Movement like the Blacks did in South Africa and here?

Even though we Asians are of many ethnicities, cultures, and histories of past hostility in Asia, our Asian American experience of racism, anti-Asian violence, similarities with other people of colors and other discriminated people (like lesbians, homosexuals, radicals, Arabs, Jews, homeless, disabled, jobless, etc., etc.) should have aroused our consciousness and sensitivity to right the wrongs and narrowed thinking in this society. Together, we must fight racism, classism, sexism, regionalism, factionalism, and polarization.

As Asian Americans we must understand that we are connected with all people - beyond race, beyond color, beyond ethnicity, beyond class. We must become part of the whole humanity because the world belongs to all humanity. Every person must count; every person must be respected; every person's potential must be realized. That includes the homeless, the disabled, the imprisoned, the women, the elderly, the children; literally everyone. One of our roles then is that is each of us must keep an eye on our own government or those in power that they do not keep wiping away through budget cuts and legislation, the rights and needs of people as they are doing today.

In closing, I wish to quote Franz Fanon, the famous historian, who said: "Each generation must out of its relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it." This generation's mission just might be that of "expanding one's horizon and decolonizing one's mind," that the cross-over to making coalitions, working with and supporting others, can be better facilitated. What will this take? Simply - your sincerity, determination, and involvement which can bring about the results that you seek. Become the role model you are searching for. Do what students do best: study, read, research, investigate. Search for truth. Share all the treasures of your learning s: truth, humane values, ethics, morality, principles, the meaning of love, justice, dignity. Not only share, but use these treasures in your every-day life, whatever your field. You ill sec your life expand; your mind become decolonized; your spirit free to cross any border, and feel a kinship with people anywhere. Progressive people everywhere are seeking the same mutual solidarity of inanity, the freedom of the human mind and spirit. So, transform yourself first. In doing so, you will begin transforming your little part of the world. It doesn't matter what your major, minor, profession, or avocation is. You can make a little ripple that will grow; and who knows where that ripple will move and affect other lives. Because you are young and have dreams and want to do something meaningful, that in itself makes you our future and our hope. Keep expanding your horizon, decolonize your mind, and cross over borders.



Discover Your Mission
Selected Speeches and Writings of Yuri Kochiyama
UCLA Asian American Studies Center Reading Room/Library
June 1998