Keynote Speech by Sasanna Yee at the 61st CADC Banquet

Thank you for this recognition. My name is Sasanna Yee, Yu Jia Wen and my pronouns are she and they.  I want to acknowledge the First Nation Ohlone people and to recognize that we are settlers on their land.  I want to acknowledge my ancestors from China. I am the proud granddaughter of Huang Yik Oi and Yan Miu Yu.  I am the courageous daughter of Huang Yue Yuan and Yu Yun Wing.

I am a first generation Chinese-American, born and raised in Visitacion Valley, in the southeast corner of San Francisco.  My own journey has always been one of transmuting and alchemizing pain and anger into love, healing, unity, and illumination.  As a youth, I played a certain mantra in my mind over and over as a result of hearing countless stories of violence against Chinese people, against black people, against immigrants.  I would chant, Peace in the southeast. Peace in the southeast. I like the sound of that, don’t you? :). 

So I too have a dream...that there’s unity in diversity, that people from different cultural backgrounds can peacefully coexist without living in fear and hatred of one another.  However, a nightmare occurred on January 8th. While going out for her morning walk, my 89 year old vulnerable grandmother was brutally beaten up within inches of her life by an 18 year old young man.  This is a tragedy all around, for both families. Violence divides, hurting another being is never OK.

We are in September now.  It is almost 9 months after the attack, yet the pain remains for me and my family.  My mom and aunt visits my Popo every single day. My Popo was 100% independent taking the bus to Chinatown for groceries, hanging out with her friends.  Now she’s 100% dependent, not able to speak, eat, or walk. You bet I’m angry that this happened and keeps happening to our most cherished and vulnerable citizens.  If you’re not angry about all the violence, segregation, and racism that is happening right now, you are asleep. If you are angry, then you are alive and have a beating heart.  Yet we are so scared of our anger. We’re not taught how to harness this powerful emotion for good. If you are outraged about the way you were treated before in your life, good!  Let’s channel that energy and redirect it in a creative way. However, if we are not mindful about our anger, then it turns into violence. 

A simple way to evaluate anger is with two equations.

Anger x Hopelessness =Violence, Resentment, and Abuse.  It results in Heinous crimes like what happened to my grandmother.

And the inverse of that is: 

Anger x Inspiration = Compassionate, Inspired Action and Activism. The Latin root word for Inspiration is inspiratus meaning to breath into.  Remember to breath when we feel anger arise. By taking a mindful breath, we can calm the nervous system and gain a moment of clarity to make quick smart decisions especially when faced with injustice.  Let’s all take another breath to feel the effects of it.

With a breath, we gain calmness and clarity.  From there we can creatively respond to any situation without causing more harm.  I have used this strategy successfully when I was held at gunpoint. I took a calm breath and looked this person in the eyes and felt his fear.  I was able to deescalate the situation and get out of it. When my grandma was attacked, I transformed my anger into Inspired Action by making a Facebook live video immediately at the crime scene.  If it’s to be, it’s up to me. I shared that violence is never OK, that hurt people are hurting people, and that we need to stop living in fear and hatred of one another. We need to come together to bring Peace to the Southeast Corner of SF.  And I’m grateful that with the help of Marlene Tran and many others sharing the news, it got a lot of coverage that led to the arrest of the young man. It also led to more conversations and awareness around this and similar issues. That is the power of unity in action.  That is the power of transforming anger into positive and compassionate impact.

To conclude, I want to share a visionary poem by June Jordan who is a Jamaican American bisexual poet, teacher, activist.  In her writings, she explored issues of gender, race, immigration, and representation.

Activism is not issue-specific.
It’s a moral posture that, steady state,
    propels you forward, from one hard
    hour to the next.
Believing that you can do something
    to make things better, you do
    something, rather than nothing.
You assume responsibility for the
    privilege of your abilities.
    You do whatever you can.
You reach beyond yourself in your
    imagination, and in your wish for
    understanding, and for change.
You admit the limitations of individual
You trust somebody else.
You do not turn away.

So thank you to each and everyone here for staying in the fire and not turning away.  For showing up to vote, to voice, and to make a difference. I am humbled to be amongst giants, to be amongst veterans of this work.  Thank you!

*The keynote speech was delivered by Sasanna Yee on September 20th, 2019 during the CADC's annual banquet.