Tien: What’s been on your mind lately?
Yuni: I guess the primary thing that’s been on my mind is what my next step is going to be. I’m not really feeling more school at the moment—that might change a few years down the line. I’m ready to finish my undergraduate education. A lot of things that I feel invested in and compelled by because of the [political] urgency that I feel right now—these are things that are overwhelming and I want to figure out the way I can be most useful to responding to crisis and creating whatever infrastructure is necessary so that [the world’s] not like this anymore.
Every time I see what’s happening or take some time to process the enormity of what’s going on, I feel like I’m losing my mind a little bit. There’s so much I don’t know just in terms of skill and experience. Because of that I’m just like, “Where should I be? What should I be doing?” The thing about being here is that there’s only so much it’s prepared me for. It’s prepared me for paths I had considered but I’m not taking. Yale has prepared me well academically but I’m not going to grad school or law school. Yeah, I’m feeling a lot of stress about what I’m going to be doing next. But I trust that I will find the answer.
Sarah: This summer I know you met a lot of people and worked at CAAAV [Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence]. Do you think that helped you choose one direction instead of the other or did it confirm an interest that was growing? How did it shape your trajectory or the way you are thinking about things?
Y: I felt like this was a summer less about using the skills I’ve been building and more about exploring the parts of myself that I was very scared of and didn’t know. I was helping to organize non-English speaking Korean seniors in Queens public housing. I have never lived in public housing, and I’m not from New York City. My Korean is shaky at best, and I felt a lot of things about my life around language and generational relating made the job really difficult. It affirmed things that feel like common intuition, that the people who know what is needed are the people who have the needs, the people who are most impacted and come from those communities. I wanted to go in this summer without making any assumptions. I wanted to go in fully aware that I just don’t know much. I didn’t want it to be this voyeuristic learning experience; this was also an opportunity for me to expand what I’m capable of doing, and in that, being more useful.
But I think that led me to realize that I had made this assumption—well, not assumption, it’s more that I had this understanding of community and “my people” that I had not thought through. I just took the meaning of the word as it was, instead of thinking more deeply about it. I never wanted to overstep any of my boundaries over the summer because I was there much more to practice than to take leadership in any way. That was a lesson in humility, and that was also a lesson in making sure to reassess and check in with myself to ask myself, “Where do you feel you can be useful without your voice being at the center of what’s happening?” at the same time, it led me to think, “What are experiences I can speak to? What are things that are close to my heart for the reason of having experienced them?” I’m still figuring out what those are.
I think this summer made me feel two conflicting things. First, it was feeling like, “Oh, maybe I don’t have what it takes to do this.” I felt that because I was very impatient to know how to do things and to lead. I was very impatient to figure out all of my shit basically. But I was in a context that was very unfamiliar on all fronts. That required me to come in with a sense of trust in my mentors and the people that I was working with, and also to be more empathetic with where I was. Okay first off, chill out and accept that this something that you don’t know and that is okay. You are learning and this [movement in housing justice, in language justice, in migrant rights] was something that you have never conceived of yourself as being a part of in some way, but now you are and consider that as a gift, as something important.
The other feeling is I just need to figure out where it is I can be most useful right now, in a supportive role. While I’ve been at Yale, I think it’s definitely very easy to get overwhelmed—not overwhelmed—I’m trying to think of another word that better expresses agency. It’s very easy to step into the cult of personality and ego around being someone who takes leadership in things that are objectively important. And here in a community that’s very small and full of mostly very privileged people, it makes me feel like there’s a [specific, major] role I can fill in some way. But these are all illusions about [individualist] leadership that I have to let go. I have to be thinking more along the lines of: it’s not about people being more useful than others so long as people are fulfilling the needs and responsibilities that they are capable of.
S: I just wanted to respond a little tiny bit. I just wanted to say thank you for always being so thoughtful and empathetic and I have a lot of faith and faith can be kind of burdensome. I feel like this journey is characterized by highs and lows of faith. But I have faith in you. I feel like once when you find like a place and maybe you’re on a journey of finding that place right now, it’s going to be so amazing and that place might change too. I have so much faith in what’s coming.
Y: Thank you, that’s really nice.
T: Listening to that answer reminded me of how humble you are. Because I think a lot of people feel this weird pressure to always be the leader and it gets to the point where it’s not effective because there’s five leaders out of five people. But I was wondering if even though you see yourself as being in a more supportive role, do you see yourself in the future eventually leading something? Are you hoping to get to that point at some time in the future?
Y: Organizing has taught me that this idea of moving people to take action is not at all about helping. It’s much more about asking the right questions, and supporting work that generate within people [the fact] that they have the capacity to be leaders. Everybody can lead. Everybody should lead. In my mind, everybody should organize. I think that when we have conversations with people in good faith and with the knowledge that all of us have been traumatized, hurt, and shaped by all of the terrible, brutal, and cruel things that undergird what our world is... We all have stakes—they may be different, but we all have stakes in making sure that everybody can live a life that is healthy and fun and free and unafraid. It sounds very pie in the sky, but I’m of the thought that everybody can and should be a part of whatever that process is, and that process looks like what’s happening right now with people who are fully committed to seeing that through in our lifetime.
So, I think I should go back and reword part of the internal struggle that I’m having with my next step. I think I went from feeling like I had something to offer here [at Yale] to breaking out of organizing in the context of the university, and realizing that I just didn’t have—what’s the best way to put this? I felt like I had something to offer here and didn't have anything to offer elsewhere. I know now that isn’t true. Ultimately political transformation is this lifelong thing where I’m always going to be fucking up and I’m always going to be learning.
Like what Sarah said: whatever place we have is always fluid and changing. It’s not that I don’t have goals to lead anything, so much as I have goals [to take action of some kind with a sense of urgency, commitment, and hard work]—because [for me, trying to lead often feels] very complicated around wanting to be seen, and these are things I’ve felt and want here at times. And then I have to complicate all of that because I know [being seen] isn’t the point. The point ultimately is that people realize how and why the person that they are is the person that they are. And how everything that we have right now is a mess, and it doesn’t have to be that way, and everybody can do something with it and about it. My goal is to be a part of that transformative process for as many people as possible. And it doesn’t have to be a quantifiable thing. It just has to be a thing I know that I’m doing and that I’m learning. And that the people I talk to and create relationships with are also learning. I imagine the kind of leadership I want to take as a very mutual thing, a very shared thing. So, I’m not sure. Whatever I feel called to I know is going to change a lot. It’s less about me as an individual and more about how am I relating.
T: Do you have any New Year’s resolutions? Or do you even do New Year’s resolutions?
Y: I do. I really like the idea of a routine fresh start [laughs] because this year was certainly one for the books, I’d say. I feel like there are some years I’ve experienced where everything is like, “Yes! Makes sense! Wow! You’re doing it! You’re killing it!” [laughs] and there are other years where I’m like, “This sucks!” I’m just in like, um, a constant state of conflict with myself and all these external challenges. Oh, I’m growing, but oh, it’s painful. [laughs]
But at the end of the day, I feel like 2017 was one of those years where I needed to spend a lot of time talking to myself and responding to challenges and crises, and being like, “Okay, these are things that I need to do because they prepare me, and they help me know myself better, and they also help me understand the kind of person that I want to be and to be moving towards that, to be practicing more of that everyday.”
This is one of those intermediary years, where a lot of internal and personal stuff has happened, and that’s good. Maybe next year is where I kill it [laughs] or whatever, and just have a great… Like, of course it doesn’t work that way, but some years are more defined by that than others. Maybe next year will be one of those years, but if not, that’s okay, because I fully anticipate my twenties to just be very very messy and uncertain. I’ve been told by many people that your thirties are way better, so excited for that!
S, T: [laugh]
Y: Oh no, I’m not saying that I’m not excited, that I’m not here, that I’m not enjoying the present, but it’s just that when I get to my thirties, it’ll be like: “Yay, my twenties are done!”
T: Do you feel like you’re the age you are now?
Y: Yeah, oh definitely, yeah. When I was 18, I would think: “Yeah, I’m like a few years older than I actually am, because I’m so mature.” [laughs] I remember as a senior in high school, I was going to college, and I was worrying that I’m not going to grow because I feel like, “What else is there for me to know or to learn about the world?” That was the most arrogant thing that I’d ever thought, I think.
I feel like a completely differ—not a completely different person, but changed from who I was at that age, and now I feel fully in the body and age that I am. I feel very, very unsure and anxious and stressed. I feel like I’m definitely at the place where I’ve developed the emotional maturity to understand how truly chaotic and all-over-the-place and grey a lot of things can be, as opposed to just black and white, rigid, and structured. I’m somebody, I think, who likes a little bit of structure and I’ve grown to understand that that is nonexistent. [laughs]
And I’m very terrified of the kind of future that we’re inheriting cause I’m leaving college at a time where a lot of people power is necessary, and it’s really exciting on one hand, and on the other hand, it’s like, Jesus! The people who have the most power in determining or structuring my fate just really have an apocalyptic disregard for life, and it’s very, very scary. So in terms of being in my age, I feel very much that—I feel very tied to this time and this generation. Because I feel the experiences and the worldviews of a generation are shaped by that moment in crisis. I feel like this point in my life, I expect myself to be feeling this way: definitely not resignation, but definitely feeling a little beholden to and overwhelmed by the entropy of everything.
I guess to tie it back to my New Year's resolution… Okay, I don’t know if this is going to be my New Year's Resolution but if I had to think of one right now, it would be: Do not rush this process at all.
This thought process of growing, this thought process of figuring out who you are, but remain committed to the urgency that you feel. I want to write down reminders to myself everyday, to read those reminders that this is where I need to be, this is what I need to be doing, and I don't know what specifically, but I know the values that I have and the principles that I want to stand by. I mean, my New Year’s resolution every year, I’m sure, is going to be: Find a way to reawaken your sense of idealism if you ever feel like you're losing it.
That could look like a lot of different things. Maybe when I’m 26, I’ll say fuck it and I’ll become a stand-up comedian. Or maybe when I’m 30, I’ll say fuck it and go back to school. If that will help me, if that will energize me to do what I feel like needs to be done, then I will do it. But if it’s not purposeful, then I won’t.
I feel very 21.
S: How do you think about comedy? [laughs] How do you interpret comedy and practice it?
Y: I feel like there are so many people who have really profound relationships with comedy, [laughs] and in complete transparency, how I understand comedy is very much… I’m somebody who is predisposed to be very sad and this is how I cope. And I don’t practice comedy in any structured way, which is why when I say that as a off-hand remark—this possible future in which I try to pursue comedy—I say that very much as something within what I know about myself right now. It doesn’t feel like a real thing that would happen, but I mean, I have a lot of fun performing with Sphincter, and I have a lot of fun just doing a thing with my mind where I pull out the weirdest stream of consciousness onto Twitter.
I think [comedy] fulfills my very deep-seated need—no, it’s not a need—a deep-seated desire to be seen. And I talked about that earlier, about how that kind of desire to be seen can figure really detrimentally into leadership that is collective and shared. And I’m trying to refuse visibility because I know how I’m attracted to it, but comedy, I know, is also a process of relating. Comedy isn’t about escaping and I don't think it should be. I think, more often than not, I listen to it or I watch it when I feel like I want to escape—sometimes that’s what initiates me to seek it out—but comedy that I really respect, that is really good, regardless of whether or not it aligns with my sense of humor, is one that will help give me the enthusiasm and the wit to stay alive in confronting things that are very scary and not funny at all.
I think that my comedy often devolves into ironic detachment, which I think is a mode of escaping. I think you can make irony out of anything, but I think part of what makes living right now in particular very difficult is everything is exaggerated and there’s nothing clever you can say anymore about what’s happening because it’s happening already.
More often than not, I resort to just making light of things that shouldn't be made light of. I think that’s lazy comedy. And as somebody who is not a professional comedian, I can rationalize to myself that that’s okay... And in a way I do think that’s okay, I have a very very small audience, but you know, if I want to see a world that prioritizes everyone's quality of life and therefore everyone's voice, then I need to respect where I am in relation to power, and how because I’m here, I have a lot of social capital and I have a lot of room for upward social mobility that I’m refusing right now and I think should refuse. But also, I will have [a relationship] to this institution for the rest of my life. and it doesn’t sound like it’s all connecting right now, but I’m getting there…
Because of that, I have to be really thoughtful about those relationships [between myself, language, intention, comedy, the institution]. I have to be really thoughtful about what I say. I mean, I have to be thoughtful all the time, but things that feel as off-hand and trivial as making some remark that is really sarcastic and meant to lift the mood… I have to think about what the politics of that are, especially in the context of where I’m saying it, and why, and with whom.
I love to laugh. Please make me laugh! Because I am very very sad.