Activist Songbook

by Byron Au Yong and Aaron Jafferis

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1.
LILY AND THAT’S WHEN THE WORLD STARTS SPINNING. THIS IS NOT THE END, VINCENT. THIS IS A BEGINNING.” VINCENT IT’S MY BACH’LOR PARTY. IT’S DETROIT. IT’S 1982. SO DRINKIN BEERS AT THE STRIP CLUB IS THE GREATEST THING TO DO. THE DRINKS AND EYES ARE ALL ON ME. FOR ONCE I KNOW THAT I CAN’T BE INVISIBLE. INVISIBLE. INVISIBLE. TWO GUYS SHOUT AT ME ABOUT LOSING JOBS TO JAPANESE. NOW, I’M CHINESE AMERICAN BUT THAT’S NEWS TO GUYS LIKE THESE. I’D LET THEIR WORDS SLIDE RIGHT THROUGH ME, BUT TONIGHT I REFUSE TO BE INVISIBLE. INVISIBLE. INVISIBLE. WE GET INTO A FIGHT. THEY LOSE. THEY’RE WHITE. THEY’RE USED TO BEIN RIGHT. IN THE PARKING LOT, THEY SWING AND SWING THEIR BASEBALL BAT AT MY HEAD. THEY THINK THAT ONCE THEY KILL ME, I WILL BE INVISIBLE. INVISIBLE. INVISIBLE. LILY THIS IS NOT THE END. THIS IS A… I CANNOT BEAR A CHILD… I CANNOT BEAR YOU DYING. THIS IS NOT THE END. THIS IS A… VINCENT WILL I BECOME INVISIBLE IN THIS MOMENT, WHEN I DIE? WILL MY FIANCÉ AND MY MOTHER HOLD MY BROKEN HEAD AND CRY? TELL ME YOUR LOVE IS HOLDING ME. TELL ME THAT I WILL NEVER BE INVISIBLE. INVISIBLE. INVISIBLE. LILY When your killers get off and get let off with a tiny fine by a judge who says “These aren’t the kind of men you send to jail,” I know that if we stay invisible now, we will fail. If men did this to my son, they will do it to another’s son, or try. So I’ll fight to make sure no other mother’s son will die. When we see your killers freed, we all begin to bleed from the blunt trauma to our heads, from the baseball bat in front of us so people like us across the country start saying “Vincent, you were one of us.” And though you don’t get justice, I feel us getting stronger and maybe, Vincent, this is when I begin to feel we’re no longer INVISIBLE. INVISIBLE. INVISIBLE. LILY THIS IS NOT THE END. THIS IS A BEGINNING. YOU WILL NOT BE INVISIBLE. YOU WILL SET THE WORLD SPINNING. VINCENT I WILL NOT BE INVISIBLE. INVISIBLE. INVISIBLE. I WILL NOT BE INVISIBLE. INVISIBLE. INVISIBLE. INVISIBLE. INVISIBLE. INVISIBLE...
2.
CHINESE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT In movies in China, I saw U.S. high schools and thought you all smiled and shook hands at lunch. The first things I learn at South Philly High are racial slurs, curses, and how to get punched in the back of my neck by two kids who laugh and jet down the hall, and I face the wall while my face falls cuz even my Chinese classmates act like there’s no tears on my cheek – they pass me, don’t ask me, they don’t even speak up about the fact that they too got beat up last week, cuz they don’t wanna be cast as weak so we each keep it to ourselves – and when we do finally meet, it’s Chinese kids here, Vietnamese kids here, each blaming the other for the beatings we’ve come to fear: Chinese kid gets jumped, we say it’s cuz the Viets made trouble with the Black kids who look at us each and see double and decide to attack us, and why does that happen and— STAFF MEMBER Be silent. Don’t speak of these beatings. Be silent. Don’t try to translate them. Be silent. You don’t speak good English. Be silent. And silently hate them. CHINESE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT I keep a journal of beatings of Chinese kids first, don’t invite Vietnamese to our meetings, which makes things worse. We each maintain our silence, the lunchroom divided into these immigrant islands of language, hiding our pain with the self-reliance we came with. We get harassed in the caf, and there’s no help from staff so I skip lunch, hide myself in a ESL class and some Chinese students begin to join my fast but it’s not yet a movement, cuz we can’t get past the fact that we and the Vietnamese kids are so different til a teacher we both love is about to lose their position, and a Vietnamese student leader shares their petition with us Chinese students, and even though the teacher still gets removed, that little movement proves though we lost that moment, we did not lose – cuz if we can come together, we can win. The school separates us by our tongues, by our skin, where we’re from, where we’ve been, so we think we will never break the boxes they got us in. But CHOIR BE SILENT. I WILL NOT CHINESE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT, BLACK HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT & CHOIR Every time we come together, we win. CHINESE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT When people of color come together, we begin to recognize the bigger struggle we are in. CHINESE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT, BLACK HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT & CHOIR Every time we come together, we win. CHINESE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT Every time we come together, the staff in their beautiful English, tells us CHINESE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT & STAFF MEMBER Calm down, let it go, let’s move on. CHINESE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT From the principal on down, they promise CHINESE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT & STAFF MEMBER More security and well-trained teachers. CHINESE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT They promise CHINESE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT & STAFF MEMBER More cameras and random security features. CHINESE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT They promise a lot, and nothing is what we got. We got thirteen Asian students hospitalized in one day. At first we just wanna make the Black kids who did this, pay: arrest them, suspend them and send them away. But the older generation of Chinatown leaders say that’s exactly what this racist system is tryina teach us. In Philly schools way back, people attacked people. Fifty years back, it was white attacking Black people. To right this wrong, we need to fight that evil. Then Black students teach us BLACK HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT The school’s failing us too – It’s not “Who beat up who?” This school is cheating me and you. Push youth of color out is what this school is about. STAFF MEMBER Be silent like these Asian kids do. Be silent – when bad teachers help you fail. Be silent, Black and Latino kids too. Be silent, or we’ll silently put you in jail. CHINESE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT The school separates us by our tongues, BLACK HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT by our skin, CHINESE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT where we’re from, BLACK HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT where we’ve been, CHINESE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT so we think we will never break the boxes they got us in. CHINESE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT, BLACK HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT & CHOIR every time we come together, we win. Every time we come together, we win. CHINESE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT When people of color come together, we begin to recognize the bigger struggle we are in. CHINESE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT, BLACK HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT & CHOIR Every time we come together, we win. CHINESE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT Every time we come together, I tell ‘em: We are BLACK HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT & CHOIR youth. CHINESE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT We are BLACK HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT & CHOIR leaders. CHINESE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT We have the power BLACK HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT & CHOIR to make a change. CHINESE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT, BLACK HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT & CHOIR I believe this. CHINESE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT We are BLACK HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT & CHOIR [fill in the blank: immigrants; trans; etc.] CHINESE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT We are BLACK HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT & CHOIR leaders. CHINESE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT We have the power BLACK HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT & CHOIR to make a change. CHINESE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT, BLACK HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT & CHOIR I believe this. CHINESE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT Silently we recognize the school system is broken. Quietly we start to speak the things that were unspoken. Call up a reporter – soon the news is in the open. Seek out leaders in Chinatown, let their teachings soak in. First: stop goin to school; our safety cannot wait. Meet daily in Chinatown. Stop. Translate. English, Vietnamese, Mandarin languages. Spread the word in all of them, remember whose campaign this is: everyone’s. CHINESE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT & CHOIR Boycott! CHINESE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT We’re meeting: give breakfast and lunch, different people leading. First day, thirty students show. Facebook, Snapchat, phone calls let ‘em know. Second day, fifty kids, then sixty, we grow to seventy boycotting school for eight days we make our own school, march, rally, make waves. Vietnamese, Chinese, together get things done. Two lawsuits against the district – which we win, / one by one. BLACK HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT One by one, Black student leaders start to come to every action. The more our struggles come together, the more we gain traction. CHINESE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT & BLACK HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT We are not anti-each-other, we are anti-violence. CHINESE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT We are tired of our voices being smothered into silence. BLACK HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT Silently they pushed us out, but now we’re feelin our pull. CHINESE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT Silent’s how we started, CHINESE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT & BLACK HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT now our voices gettin loud ‘n full. CHINESE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT On our own, BLACK HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT we’re breakable, CHINESE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT & BLACK HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT together we be powerful. CHOIR WE WILL NOT BE SILENT. CHINESE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT We shake the whole school system, make ‘em sign a settlement, BLACK HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT dedicate more resources and make sure they are better spent, CHINESE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT & BLACK HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT start a student movement to make schools nonviolent, cuz we will not be silent. The system separates us by our tongues, by our skin, where we’re from, where we’ve been, so we think we will never break the boxes they got us in. But every time we come together, we win. Every time we come together, we win. When people of color come together, we begin to recognize the bigger struggle we are in. Every time we come together, we win. Every time we come together, I tell ‘em: We are youth. We are leaders. We have the power to make a change. I believe this. (If cast includes Mandarin, Cantonese, Fujianese or Vietnamese speakers, repeat chant in these other languages.) We are [fill in the blank: immigrants; trans; etc.] We are leaders. We have the power to make a change. I believe this.
3.
Where I’m from the earth and water were swallowed up or slaughtered, by money or by guns, til the only seeds my family planted were the bodies of daughters and sons. The country washed my family’s blood from its hands and teeth, and tried to wash their brains clean of culture and belief. But my grandparents knew who they were was never wrong and before they passed on, they passed on who they were in song /ng/ /ng/… When a country tries to crush us, deny our existence, music is survival, and our survival is resistance. Survival is resistance. Resistance: the crater of the bomb we turn into a pond to fish in. Resistance: the worn clothes we sew so each new child fits in. Resistance: the old songs we know our torn hearts are stitched in when we leave home for new lands in the distance. We move on to survive. Our survival is resistance. Here our food and water run dry and the cost of life is so high and prisons overflow with rivers of those whose only crime is having no other place to go. This country tries to wash our blood from its hands and teeth. It tries to wash our brains clean of culture and belief. But my cousins all know who we are is never wrong and before we pass on, We’ll pass on who we are in song /ng/ /ng/… When a country tries to crush us, deny our existence, music is survival, and our survival is resistance. Resistance: the tiny patch of dirt we turn into our kitchen garden. Resistance: the food and seeds we share when times harden. Resistance: the young songs we hold and throw our whole heart in, when we sing new beings into existence: every birth, every child’s arrival is resistance. Survival is resistance. Now my children are resisting. They plant bulbs and wild visions. Each seed is like a fist, bursting up through earth and water crying “We exist. We resist.” And my children will know who they are is never wrong and before I pass on, I’ll pass on who we are in song /ng/ /ng/… When a country tries to crush us, deny our existence, music is survival, and our survival is resistance. Resistance. Survival is resistance. Resistance. Survival is resistance.

about

With Activist Songbook, composer Byron Au Yong and lyricist Aaron Jafferis explore how civil rights organizing and music intersect to inspire action and sustain the fight towards equity.

Working with interviews of Asian American, Asian immigrant, and Asian refugee organizers, Au Yong and Jafferis create material for a Songbook to gather individuals and collectives to energize efforts towards counteracting racism and hate crimes.

The project results in a collection of 53 songs and raps initially prompted by the beating and murder of Vincent Chin, as well as organizing movements towards justice.

credits

released September 6, 2019

Activist Songbook launched as part of Asian Arts Initiative’s 25th Anniversary in May 2018, with rally songs taught on buses and more. It continues in multiple cities through November 3, 2020.

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Byron Au Yong San Francisco, California

Byron Au Yong composes songs of dislocation, music for a changing world.

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