Nikita Sam, Project Coordinator, National Conflict Resolution Center
As we emerge from the era of COVID-19, we recognize that the pandemic not only threatened our public health and way of life, but inflamed and exacerbated the longstanding issue of anti-Asian and Pacific Islander racism in the United States. In the last year, Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities across the country suffered spates of hate-fueled violence, including incidents here in San Diego.
The National Conflict Resolution Center was committed to act by facilitating dialogue between the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community and those who aspire to be better allies. Through the Live Well San Diego Exchange program funded by the County of San Diego, National Conflict Resolution Center launched a four-part series of workshops designed to support not only Asian-American and Pacific Islander community members, but anyone wishing to delve into their own cultural identity.
National Conflict Resolution Center’s restorative facilitators Sook Kyoung Kwon and Jamie Harris Rosen supported this series using their backgrounds in Expressive Arts Therapy. Sook Kyoung and Jamie both conducted informational interviews with several representatives from local Asian-American and Pacific Islander groups and leaders to receive their input on the creation of the series. Both are very passionate about the work and brought their own experiences and realities to the table during this powerful dialogue series.
The four sessions focused on:
· Recognizing our own cultural identities and how we are perceived by society at large, kicking off the series with a self-reflection on how everyone's realities are different but valued.
· Reflecting on times where cultural identity has caused hardship.
· Engaging participants in a retrospective on times when they have felt “called” to allyship or equity work.
· Looking to the future, asking the circle to think about how they themselves could find tangible ways to advance equity in their communities.
Many participants demonstrated a remarkable level of vulnerability, choosing to share difficult stories of times when they experienced or even perpetrated prejudice, stigma, or hatred, despite being in a zoom room with people they didn’t know very well, if at all. The diversity of lived experience in these sessions helped to build empathy between participants. Those in the sessions spanned borders of generations, occupations, and race, and yet all came with the purpose of learning to be a better ally, more cognizant of the way their cultural identity intersects with society at large.
Most everyone in each session was able to share an instance or multiple, where some facet of their identity had caused them hardship. One of the fastest and most indelible ways of building empathy is courageous vulnerability. In this case, despite the sessions focused on the historic and continual trauma inflicted on the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community, the openness shown by participants of all backgrounds only served to reinforce the idea that hatred towards any of us is a threat to all of us. And remarkably, when even a handful of well-intentioned and informed allies come together to share their stories and experiences, it proves easier to pay that allyship forward to the community at large.