“Why I was Arrested,” by Kaori Sueyoshi

“Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot un-educate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.” –Cesar Chavez

My name is Kaori Sueyoshi, and I am a student, a woman, a person of color, a Japanese American, a citizen, and a voter. On Monday, July 22, 2013, I was arrested. Here’s my story.

I was arrested at the 12th Moral Monday demonstration. Moral Mondays are a series of nonviolent protests that have been held at the North Carolina General Assembly since April. Thousands of North Carolina citizens have shown up each Monday to express their discontent with their state legislators. Over 900 citizens have been arrested during these demonstrations as a form of civil disobedience.

In 2010, the North Carolina General Assembly saw a Tea Party takeover by extremist, ultra-conservative legislators. As a result, some of the most flagrantly oppressive bills have been introduced or passed, turning the once progressive and purple North Carolina into one of the most embarrassingly tyrannical battlegrounds in the country. Governor Pat McCrory has signed off on the nation’s most restrictive voter suppression bill, which eliminates early voting and early registration, and an extremist anti-women’s health bill that will severely limit access to reproductive healthcare.

There are a million reasons why I decided to practice civil disobedience and be arrested. I’ll share with you what I feel are the most important.

First, there are internal reasons revolving around my ethnicity. Writing about my ethnicity is new to me, so please bear with my fumbling words.

Internally, I silently mourn my invisibility as an Asian American, and the “Model Minority” myth that saturates every corner of my being. This oppression has shaped me in countless ways— ways I’ll likely never fully understand. But I refuse to see my identity as a burden.

I come from a close-knit family, consisting of my mother, father, and older sister. We are the only members of our family who live in the States, and I am the only one who has a U.S. citizenship. This means that I am also the only member of my family who can vote. This facet of my identity has heavily shaped my politics.

Being bi-cultural, you see the world through the colorful lens of different languages, different attitudes, different worlds that those who come from only one culture could never understand. You have thoughts in frameworks that can never be translated. You give thanks and show hatred in ways that mean nothing elsewhere. The foods that raised you raise the eyebrows of your neighbors.

You learn, from an early age, that the norms of your parents are not the norms of your friends. You learn, then, different sets of norms.

This has empowered and fueled my feminism, and what pushed me to engage in civil disobedience. I have no reason to respect the status quo, the patriarchy, because I see through my bi-cultural experience that what exists often has no meaning.

I also could not justify not getting arrested. I am a healthy, cisgender, middle class American citizen. I had the privilege to do this without fear of not being bailed out, or of being deported from the only home I know. While I now have a record that I will have to defend to future employers, I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself if I didn’t give this fight my all when I could. It was scary but, as I had my hands cuffed behind my back, I knew there were thousands of people encircling me in layers and layers of protection, peace, and justice.

I got arrested because, as an Asian American woman, I do not take the status quo for granted. I got arrested to defy the stereotype of the quiet, meek, Asian woman and show how fierce we are when we harness our power. And, with all my privileges, I could not justify watching things unfold complacently. I had to be a part of this. I had to dare, be bold, and fearless.