As the Vietnamese American daughter of refugees, I was taught that communism is Evil. Family members fought against North Viet Nam, and that regime’s victory forced them to flee home forever. Even today, listening to them speak, the wounds are so fresh, it might have happened last year. But their bitter words told me nothing of what “communism” is or was meant to be. And if the U.S. was so great, why was my family on welfare, going to failing schools and living in dangerous neighborhoods?
A real education. In college, I took a history class on the Viet Nam War. Mostly it hammered into our heads how the U.S. valiantly fought communism’s predation on Southeast Asia. But one of the readings was on Ho Chi Minh, who had been so vilified in my schooling and by my ethnic community. I learned how much he loved his country and his people and how he pled with the United States to intervene in France’s attempt to re-colonize Viet Nam following WWII. I asked about this during a meal with a particularly difficult aunt, who told me to shut up because I didn’t know what I was talking about. But I had questions that needed answers, and as I sought them, increasingly I looked Leftward.
I was living in Oakland, where I saw people begging for money, witnessed how gentrification pushed out long-term residents, and was bombarded with news of yet another Black person killed by the police and no justice. Fighting racism, sexism, homophobia, religious discrimination, or any other form of oppression as individual issues — even intersectionally—didn’t seem to be enough.
Landing in New York City for graduate school, I decided I needed to learn more about socialism. It seemed to be the only political ideology that aligned with my values — the core of which is to alleviate the suffering in and around me. I started “following” a handful of socialist organizations but lurked on the internet instead of actually showing up because their programs and calls to action didn’t feel right. Then my Intro to Community Organizing class assigned us to attend a meeting, and one of the options was the Campaign for an Elected Civilian Review Board.
I showed up at Freedom Hall in March 2017 and was greeted not just by FSP members, but a huge poster of Malcolm X and signs that called for abortion on demand, open borders, and no Islamophobia. Everyone was friendly, but I mentally clung to the one other Asian face in the room — Emily. I awkwardly chose to sit in the back of the room even though space was available at the tables. From there, I witnessed a diversity of people of all sorts — race, age, experiences — engaged in a genuinely democratic process.
Emily kept in touch, and months later, I applied to become Freedom Hall’s admin because I had the skills and wanted to get closer to the politics. I learned more about FSP’s program through the wonderful tag-team of Emily, Betty and Jed, including an informal study group on Clara Fraser’s Revolution, She Wrote. The Party gave me the anti-capitalist analysis that went to the root of the issue, whereas my previous attempts were like hacking at branches of an oppressive ever-growing weed.
Words into action. At branch meetings, I was always kindly encouraged to speak up. It wasn’t a hard sell. FSP became the political home I sought but didn’t believe actually existed. I went from lurking on the internet to initiating action proposals, coordinating projects and leading anti-fascist chants on the bullhorn in Washington, D.C. And studying! I’ve learned so much about Marxist ideas, history, the role of labor, and the importance of internationalism.
I’ve yet to “come out” as a socialist to my family, and I expect they’ll see my beliefs as betrayal. But their fervent anti-communism planted the seeds for my being a socialist today. I saw over and over again how capitalism is unable to fix the problems that it created and it would be a waste to place my hopes behind it. My family is important to me, but it’d be harder to not be fighting with the FSP for a better world.
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