Asian American Studies is all about the bottom-up, power from/for the people model. And along this model, we shun the messiah method of organizing– that is, we don’t pick a charismatic person to hang our hopes of progress on. This works very well for organizing in the present. Looking at the past, Asian American Studies is more willing to name people heroes. And why not? People like Richard Aoki, Yuri Kochiyama, they earned their reputations.
Heroes are useful. Their characters and actions become templates against which future generations judge their actions and characters. But heroes need to be more, and less, than human. We iron out their faults, and remember only their successes. Because that’s what we aspire to. Even their personal lives take on less importance, unless they have an epic romance. They must be greater and more genius than we are.
I’ve been thinking about greatness and genius. Greatness often gets in the way of personal lives. It demands an amount of dedication that pushes everything else aside. I want to be great, but lately I’ve been wondering if I shouldn’t be aspiring to something else– love, humility, humanity.
In his poem Declaration (for Yu Luo-Ke), Bei Dao wrote “在没有英雄年代里／我只想做一个人”. In an age that has no heroes/I only want to be a person. Students graffitied these lines across Beijing in the 1989 Democratic Uprising. Heroes aren’t people. They’re legends based on people. It’s time to aspire to humanity.