“Gook”: Opening Night at the NYC at the Asian American International Film Festival



Justin Chon in a scene from Gook Photo: Courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films © 2017 Birthday Soup Films, LLC (from Vogue.com)


Last Wednesday, July 25th, was the Opening Night of the 40th Asian American International Film Festival. The event was held at Asia Society, a home for contemporary Asian artworks and events in Midtown Manhattan. We were showing Justin Chon’s full-length film, GOOK.

You may know Chon as the “Asian guy from Twilight.” But since playing his role as Eric Yorkie, Chon has become a Sundance Award-Winning filmmaker.

Made in 2017, GOOK’s release year marks the 25th Anniversary of the L.A. Riots/Saigu (pronounced “sah-ee-goo” and meaning April “2-9.”)


From NBC News “With ‘Gook,’ Justin Chon Tells an LA Riots Story That Hits Close to Home”

“The initial kernel [for Gook] happened because my dad had a business in Paramount, and we got looted on the last day of the riots,” says Chon (Vogue).

Set in Paramount, California in 1992 the film conveys the racial tensions, neighborhood violence, and societal unrest that occurred in the Los Angeles area surrounding the Rodney King verdict.

The film captures the troubled time time through the lenses of a Korean-American shoe salesman Eli (Justin Chon), his brother Daniel (YouTube comedian, David So), and a 11-year-old black, truant, Kamilla (Simone Baker). Their interracial friendship stands out, as most of the other minorities living in Orange County discriminate against Asian-Americans.


In Asian American Dreams, Helen Zia defines Saigu:

“Everything about life changed for Korean Americans on April 29, 1992. When the smoke cleared from the three-day uprising in Los Angeles, 54 people had died and some 4,500 shops were reduced to ashes. More than half of the destroyed or damaged businesses were Korean-run. Each shop represented at least one extended family. Tens of thousands of Korean Americans lost their livelihoods and years of sweat and equity that day” (Zia, 171). This event was a turning point in Asian American history. Korean Americans became targets of blame and anger. This sentiment was not instigated by the Rodney King case verdict, but was the tipping point for the pent up frustration that had grown in these communities where race relations between Asians and blacks had been tensing for some time.

This racial prejudice stemmed from a distrust and misunderstanding of one another. “To many African Americans, the Korean American storekeepers were a maddening reminder of chronic poverty and economic injustice in the black community, while yet another immigrant group was advancing, at their expense” (Zia, 174). There were also multiple instances of violence of both parties toward the other. In 1991, Korean-American storeowner Soon Ja Du fired a gun at 15-year-old, black Latasha Harlins when Latasha had put a bottle of orange juice in her backpack before paying for it. That same year, Sam Park killed Arthur Mitchell at Chung’s Liquor Market. Shortly after these incidents, a Korean girl working her parents’ shop was murdered, the gunman shouting “This is for Latasha” (Zia, 178).

For these reasons and more, when the verdict was announced that the four white  officers who had beat Rodney King, a black taxi driver, to death were deemed not guilty of assault with a deadly weapon, the 1992 riots began.

The film also makes a marked point of explaining the LAPD’s failure to stop these riots. As Helen Zia stated, “As stores were looted and torched, Korean Americans desperately called 911 for assistance. But the LAPD let South Central, Koreatown, and the inner-city core burn.” This chaos was aptly depicted in the film.



Illustration by Angel Trazo

In an early scene, Eli’s (Justin Chon) cream-colored car is vandalized with black spray paint. The word GOOK defaces the hood. Kamilla asks him what Gook means.

“It means ‘country’ in Korean.”

“How do you say ‘America’?” Kamilla asks.

“That one’s my favorite— Me Gook.”

In an interview with Vogue, Chon explained that he used the slur as his title “to reclaim the word and start a conversation of why that word has turned against us.”

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, he elaborated, “In the film, I explain how that word actually means “country” in Korean. Hangook is Korea, Chingookis China, and Migook, which breaks down to “beautiful country,” is America. The title wasn’t meant to be for shock factor. That’s really what encapsulates that time: the racism, the implosion, but also the irony of the whole situation. Had I not explained it in the film, it’d be a really terrible choice. But it’s a huge turning point in the story. When people say it, I want people to feel uncomfortable. And if they don’t feel uncomfortable, then at least if you watch the film, you have an explanation of what it’s about. While I was filming, the younger millennial people didn’t know what the hell it was. They were all pronouncing it wrong, which maybe is a good thing, that it’s not even in their vernacular.”


“There is importance in people of color telling our stories,” Jen Kim, the Marketing & Outreach Manager of AAIFF40 and one of the night’s hosts, announced to the crowd of over 260 attendees. It was a full house— every seat was occupied with paid ticket holders, press, artists, and members, and volunteers and staff flanked the theater’s walls.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you…” she said, quoting a phrase from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s The Danger of a Single Story. She also said, “The danger of a single story is that they make one story become the only story.” These quotes beautifully encapsulated the importance of the Asian American Internationals Film Festival. It is a space that makes Asian-American visions seen, where artists can share their stories and make them accessible to the wider community.

In her book, Asian American Dreams, Helen Zia wrote,  “As Asian American communities become more visible and less marginal in American society, it will also become more “acceptable” for Asian American celebrities to show their support.” Though written, now, seventeen years ago, her prediction remains just as true to this day. This is exactly what Justin did when he took the stage.

As he began speaking to the audience that had gathered at Asia Society that night, Justin wanted the Asian-American community to know that he will be vocal about making Asian-American stories known in Hollywood. He said to the crowd that he did not want the film industry to see him in it as a complacent participant, but as a force to be reckoned with: “I’m not just here. I’m here and I’m going to make some fucking noise.”

He then told a brief story of how he had to fight in order for his film to be funded. “The first thing they said to me was, ‘But there’s no white people in this film.’… So I said, ‘There WERE no white people in that area during the 90’s.’  All of the people in my film are Asian, black, and latino characters.”

“So they said, ‘Okay, can we make some changes? We’ll give you the money, but can we have a white cop who comes in and then leaves?'”


“So they said, ‘Well, about the black people… There’s no big names. Could we get some famous rappers in there?”

“NO! That’s distracting.” The audience laughed, but also something inside me ached. Were these real conversations Asian-American filmmakers had to go through? Does the industry still not see value in telling non-white stories?

“Just because I got some accolades and went to Sundance… it’s still like this film never happened,” Justin admitted into the microphone. He explained that its great that events like his showing at AAIFF happen, but it’s going to take a lot more work before Asian Americans fully have a place in the mainstream film industry. He emphasized the value of supporting Asian-American artists financially. He stated, “You have to vote with your wallet.” More than ever, Asian-Americans are becoming vocal on their desire to be seen, for their stories to be told, for their existances to be portrayed by themselves and reflect both their Americanness and Asianness as valid identities. We can do more by supporting films that help further these goals and by not attending films that still support white-washed casts and the perpetuation of stereotypes. We have a long way to go, but Justin’s successes have shown that small changes are possible.

The More You Know!

Zia, Helen. (2000). Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of An American People. Farrar, Strauss, and Grioux: New York, NY.

More Interviews With Justin Chon!





CastAndLoose Live!: Joe’s Pub (NYC)

CastandLooseLive! Aloha, Ghost In The Great Wall of Ni’hau: “Whitewashing, exoticism, Orientalism, and invisibility… CastAndLoose Live! tackles everything the entertainment industry has to say (or not say) about Asian characters and performers…”

Upon seeing this description in the Asian American International Film Festival 40 email chain following the Launch Party at the Fat Buddha, I knew that I had to go. I bought my tickets which were $20. A portion of proceeds would be donated to the Asian American Performers Action Coalition, whose mission is to expand the perception of Asian American performers in order to increase their access to and representation on New York City’s stages.

Since most of my friends are banking interns who work late into the night (fingers crossed they get return offers next year!), I made my way to yet another Asian-American event (read about the Asian American Film Festival, coming soon!) on my own. On Monday, July 17th, at 6 p.m. (a “typical” internship end-time), I headed to Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater in downtown NYC.

Upon arrival, I found myself seated at a candle-lit, bar-style table that spanned the restaurant down its equator. I ordered a very expensive appetizer taco and a frozen sangria to fulfill my purchase promise ($12 minimum in addition to ticket cost). Then, taking in the chatter of the crowd, I doodled.



CastAndLoose is a Tumblr page that began when actress, improver, and writer, Lynne Marie Rosenberg, could not help but notice the problematic language of everyday casting notices.  Her collection of recent casting calls is now a site which “brings you your daily dose of show business misogyny, racism, and general absurdity.” In addition, “the lofty goal of CastAndLoose is to enact significant change in the way writers, students and content makers in film, tv, and theater view their characters, and view actors.”

In 2014, CastAndLoose Live! debuted at Joe’s Pub as a kind of Tumblr-blog-brought-to-life. For its near two year anniversary, performers would once again read aloud casting calls, take a spin performing small skits, and share personal anecdotes about the acting industry from their Asian-American perspectives.


The lights dimmed. Applause roared Joe’s Pub to life.

On the screen at the back of the stage, a video appeared. I watched as images and video clips flashed before the crowd, scenes of Asian exoticism and Orientalism, old newspaper cartoons depicting “Chinks,” an image of “Cousin Chinky” from Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese, and countless  popular films (Breakfast At Tiffany’s) that are prime examples of Hollywood’s insufferable plight of white-washing coupled with yellow-face (when white actors play Asian characters, and when white actors play Asian characters and alter their face via makeup/prosthetics to “appear more Asian,” respectively). Throughout the video, the audience released exasperated gasps, booming boos, and audible laughs at how incredulously our experiences as Asian-Americans have been historicized by the media… the blatant racism and inaccuracy. The audience was livid and activated. It was the perfect slew of samples to show just how many times, we as Asian-Americans have been misrepresented by Hollywood and American popular culture as a whole.

Then, the actors were introduced. Tonight’s show featured Asian-American performers including:

  • Pun Bandhu (Plenty)
  • Cindy Cheung (House of Cards, 13 Reasons Why)
  • Orville Mendoza (Pacific Overtures)
  • Diana Oh ({my lingerie play})
  • Aneesh Sheth (Southern Comfort)
  • David Shih (Somebody’s Daughter)

Our host was Lynne Marie Rosenberg, curator of CastAndLoose Live! In her about page,  she describes herself as “Jewish, but not Jewish enough to play Jewish and Irish, but not Irish enough to play Irish.”

During introductions, audience participation rose to a high. “We’ll never make it through these introductions-“ Lynne joked, beaming at the enthusiasm of clappers, cheerers, and whoopers alike. With the introduction of every performer was a solid 15-30 seconds of applause.

“What if there was an America beyond Orientalism?” our host, Lynne, began. “The next time Hollywood says that people won’t show up for a movie with non-white actors, remember THIS. Look around you.”

“What if there was an America beyond Orientalism?” our host, Lynne, began. “The next time Hollywood says that people won’t show up for a movie with non-white actors, remember THIS. Look around you.”

I looked around a nearly-filled pub holding a diverse crowd. Asian-Americans were well-represented, but so were other races and ages, a multi-colored room hosting millennials and Baby Boomers alike. The support was overwhelmingly validating.

In the first half of the night, the show’s stars read, verbatim, from Lynne’s online collection of real, recent casting notices. The second half was a series of performance pieces inspired by casting notices and written by members of the Ma-Yi Theater Company’s Writers Lab.

The actors began by reading aloud casting calls. The cast performed playful, intense, satirical, and comedic renditions of every exclusionary statement and blatantly-racist casting call on the menu.

Throughout the show, Lynne would reiterate, “These are not casting calls from ten years ago— these are from literally this week.”

Throughout the show, Lynne would reiterate, “These are not casting calls from ten years ago— these are from literally this week.”

One of my favorite parts of the second half, the short performance portion, was the actors’ group reading of “Asian People Are Not Magicians: a PSA read by Badass Artistis” written by Diana Oh. While humorous, it revealed the microaggressive comments Asian-Americans are subjected to on a daily basis. This powerful piece captured the frustration I personally feel as an Asian-American while navigating predominately white spaces.

I literally shrieked when one of the performers read this line. “OHMYGOD YES.” So much yes.

Gif from Mic.com

Overall, the show served to highlight the amount of stereotyping and exclusion of Asians/Asian-Americans that occurs in contemporary casting notices.

From these casting calls, it seems that Hollywood aches for:

  • Accentless characters (which should never be Asian)
  • Accented-characters (and any “Asian” accent or ability to speak any “Asian” language will do)
  • Young Asian female school girls and geishas
  • Silent women
  • Desexualized men
  • Aged Asians (i.e. “Origami Instructor” or “Kung Fu Master”)
  • Ninjas
  • Terrorists
  • 7/11 store owners

Why does the media go out of its way to perpetuate these stereotypical facades of Asian-Americans? Is it out of ignorance? Or out of habit?

The film/television industry is making waves by depicting Asian-American families in Fresh of the Boat, and Asian-American leads in Master of None, The Mindy Project, and Quantico. However, even with these community victories, the media, TV, and film industry continue to conflate Asians with Asian Americans.

It is gut-wrenching to think that even in this day and age, Asian-Americans continue to be relegated to typecast roles, that white-washing continues to be a phenomenon, and that there is an exclusion/limited portrayal of the Asian-American experience.

We have been conditioned to not expect to see ourselves in films.

No wonder so many Asian-Americans are self-conscious of their Asian-ness. We have been conditioned to not expect to see ourselves in films, except as stereotypes, sex objects, and sidekicks, so that when we do, we have trouble reconciling our ideas of self with the media’s perpetuation of who they think Asian-Americans are.

The solution?

It will not be easy to convince Hollywood to cast more Asian-American characters. It will not be easy to convince them that Asian-American voices and lived experiences are just as valid and worthy of depiction as the white experience.

But we can start by supporting Asian-American visionaries. We can start by educating ourselves through performances, and by starting conversations with others. We can start by demanding for and reclaiming our representation.

Read more at:



Dear Colgate Art & Art History Department


Fall 2016-Spring 2017 was the year of my Senior Studio Art Thesis. In the Fall, I began drawing at every lecture, event, and spontaneous gathering and continued doing so for a year. In the Spring, I began collecting interviews for a graphic novel on Asian American identity.

By the exhibition date in May, I had created two books. One was an 180-page sketchbook depicting events at Colgate University titled Notes & Doodles. The second was a 146-page comic book titled Where Are You From: Short Stories About Being Asian in America. The total process of creating and installing took over 400 hours and was cumulation of my progress as a Studio Art major at Colgate.

Throughout this process, I was also taking a full course load with multiple laboratory components, completing my double major in Biology, part of a Cancer Lab research project, studying to become an EMT,  performing in the Nutcracker and Dancefest with the Colgate Ballet Company, working as a Graphic Design Intern, Vice President of the Organization of Asian Sisters in Solidarity, and acting in “This is Not a Play About Sex.”

It was an intense passion and will power + great support system + ridiculously caffeinated Dunkin Donut coffees that kept me going.

In April, I was nominated for Honors.

TLDR; I did not get honors. Here is the story of what happened when I confronted the institution. 

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So, naturally, I had to go.

On the way to question the Art & Art History Department, I ran into a friend who told me that he’d taken inspiration from my Studio Art Thesis to craft his final for his Introduction to Studio Art class. I smiled, suppressing the urge to reveal any other emotion. Since I began this project in the Fall of 2016, I have been stopped by underclassman and friends who said they had looked to my art as inspiration for their Studio Art projects. Today, I had to let them know that my art is not considered valid by the Art & Art History Department.

Upon arriving at Little Hall, our art building with a friend flanking my side as my support system, I was ready to ask why I had not received honors.

It was 4 p.m. We stumbled into a floor of nearly all empty offices. Passing the kitchen, we saw my art advisor. I told her that we were looking for someone to talk to regarding the Honors selection.

She told us, “Oh, Angel, we spent a lot of time on it last night. All of us talked about it for 5 hours. In the end, it came down to a really hard decision, the department’s overall decision,” she said, not taking ownership of her role in the system, a system in which she was complicit. Then, she ended by saying, “I would love to talk, but I have a meeting.”

“You have a life to live, as do I,” I said jokingly. “I get it.” You know, because it’s finals week and everyone is dying.

I think she was offended by my humor because she pointedly retorted with, “We’ll talk when you’re ready to have a considered conversation. And we’ll have to bring the entire department in, because, after all, it was a departmental decision.”

“Why does she have to defend herself in front of ALL THOSE PEOPLE who’ll invalidate her, again?” responded my friend who could no longer stifle her voice. “Why does she have to go through this? “Considered conversation?” What does that even mean? You are policing her emotions! You are…”

But my advisor had already turned her back on us and walked away.

The last thing my Asian sister and I wanted was for the Art & Art History institution to think we were complacent. So, we reconfigured my wall of doodles into a stronger work of activism. We were releasing stress (as it was finals week), channeling our passion through an artistic outlet, and making our message clear. We did not want to give the custodial staff any hardship… so, we reconfigured the artwork I already had up.






My book and corresponding display, Notes & Doodles, was already a critique on Colgate’s culture. Every other doodle was criticizing the fact that at Colgate, narratives of people of color of oppressed, that at Colgate, certain types of knowledge are valued over others, that at Colgate, privilege and working within the bounds of the institution is the only way to “succeed.”

So, I was surprised at the reaction of the art faculty when they came down to see my new piece in progress within a few minutes. I was doing nothing differently than what I had been doing before, other than making the commentary vastly more legible at first glance. Had they even taken the time to read my project?

In the process of painting, all of a sudden, faculty began arriving at our workplace. (Weren’t you all supposed to be at a meeting?) They came down looking either indifferent. One threw around a sassy remark, “Well this is a change.” Others stared at us in shock as if we were out of our minds… as if we were students who were tired of the system and actually… doing something blatant about it.

First to visit my piece was my art advisor, the teacher I had allowed to guide me through this project, whose departmental advice on my pieces I had upheld more than anyone else. What is so painful is how patronizingly my art advisor then addressed me, especially after I had believed that she was a person who was understanding of my works, of me as a person– how she could distill my anger and pain from four years at an oppressive institution into her perception of me being petty for not getting honors.

She said, “You know, I’m sorry you didn’t get honors, Angel. It’s a good piece. This wasn’t about the content and intent. It was never about the content. It was also about the presentation, display, formal qualities. Your work was just not at the threshold for honors.”

I was silent.

“Professor, I do not think I can have a considered discussion right now.” I whispered. I could not speak. I had just been emailed that my 400 hours of work, 6 nights I fell asleep at my desk at the Art Department, 5 mental breakdowns from emotional stress from reliving the trauma of my own experiences of micro-agressions and racism and vicariously living through the violent experiences of others, a month of sleep deprivation, 66 book sales, 33 interviews, 180 drawings at hour-long lectures, and all of the support and prayers from my friends and family were not enough to be deemed worthy of honors because I lacked adequate “formal quality.” I was not ready to have a calm, complacent discussion. I would not be appeased.

Albeit seeing me in distress, she continued, “You should be glad that you were nominated. Some people weren’t even nominated.” I knew that she was well-meaning. But 1) Stop policing my emotions. And 2) The fact that I was “nominated” over other works of art was in itself problematic. Many people in my class are students of color and also made works validating their ethnic/cultural/racial narratives, their identities, their lived experienced…And, to be honest, their oil paintings and video art had different formal qualities that my art lacked. If this decision were truly about formal quality, they would have been nominated, too. It felt like this was the model minority myth at play. It felt like this use of institutional validation was just another means of pitting minorities against each other. I was no longer proud of my Honors nomination.

So, in the calmest tone I could muster, “Professor, I am not in a good place to talk right now. And quite frankly, at this point, I feel like you are trying to make yourself feel better more than you are me…”

“No, no,” she denied. “I am not. You made a good piece. I want all of my FSEM (First Year Seminar) to read it. I hope that it can find a place here in the department-” Why would I want my art to exist in a space that does not deem it “art,” in a space that tries to commodify me (I want a copy! I want you to make copies for my class!) without validating my humanity?

Silence. Silence.

“I know, it’s hard,” she persisted. “But it’s like how I get rejected from grant funding ALL THE TIME! I know how it feels.” She literally just compared the silencing of every minority narrative, over 100 peoples’ stories, in my works to the rejection of her printmaking projects that cater to aesthetics, not social activism…

“You’re missing the point,” my friend exclaimed. Her brush hit the wall harder.

“Professor,” I sighed. I am exhausted by those with white privilege being unable to see the pain they, albeit unintentionally, cause. I was in pain. Always spoken at, and never listened to. “I can’t engage in a considered conversation right now.” I continued painting on the wall, “Our stories are valid,” as my friend smack-smack-smacked her brush against the wall to make a point that we would not stop writing nor be silenced.

She finally walked away. It shocked me that only when I use my art do people see me. My voice alone was not enough to merit a meeting with her earlier…

We had finished painting, so my friend and I, as well as a friend who had watched and supported us, collapsed on the couch near the wall, exhausted.

Suddenly, the Chair of the Art Department came from the elevator and strut toward us. “What is this?”

“This is her art,” my friend responded. I was on my phone, no longer wanting to acknowledge people who now requested my time without having respected my earlier request for theirs.

“I’m not talking to you,” the chair rudely retorted toward her. “I’m talking to Angel.”

My two friends looked at me, their body language crumpling inward as we, people of color, were forced into contact with this white, male authority figure. If you looked at me then, tear-stained and exhausted, you would not have deemed me fit to having a calm, rational conversation. But that is what this man expected of me. He appeared to expect that, at his command, I would drop any semblance of emotion, and be able to engage in an eloquent conversation about the pros and cons of painting large letters on a wall.

“I do not think I am in a good place to have a considered conversation right now,” I told him. I wanted him to respect my state of mind, to be understanding.

Instead, he retorted, “Let me ask you, Angel. Would you have done THIS if you HADN’T been nominated for honors?”

Invalidate. Invalidate. Invalidate.

Make me feel at fault. Make me feel like I am an individual who can easily be silenced by the institution, that I am the problem.

Though I was triggered into action by my small instance of injustice in a large fabric of injustices committed against students of color/students of marginalized identities, this retaliation though creating a larger doodle out of my doodle wall was never about ME getting Honors. This was about questioning the priorities of the Art Department. Questioning the fact that funding goes to brining in guest speakers but not student art work. Questioning how art is graded, evaluated, and honored. This was a statement about how the department does not understand nor respect me as a Person of Color. This is a statement about my concerns with the institution as a whole and its definition of art.

What hurts me is not that I personally did not receive Honors. What hurts me is that I could not pave the way for other students of color who want to make art about their race/heritage through the medium they love, and also be validated by the collegiate institution. It hurts me that I could not do this for them.

This art piece was not only physically taxing due to the time spent working on it, but because of the emotional labor. I thought that I was finally validating my narrative, the narratives of those who have been oppressed and silenced at Colgate… only to be reminded of how “unseen” we are by the dominant parties in society.

What hurts is that I was not the only one whose voice and artistic vision was silenced by the Honors process. So many beautiful, meaningful, and novel pieces and narratives brought to life by my artistic peers have been stifled by the Art Department….

How many times have we been asked, “Is this art?”


This issue of institutionalization has been a concern for me with this department for all four of my college years. For four years, I have been invalidating myself, denying myself the desire to produce art for the sake of achieving success, for validation in the form of my GPA or for an Honors nomination.

It is only now that I finally realized that the issue did not rest in me as a student, but in the institution and its misled, narrow-minded prioritization of a view of art rooted in Western tradition.

How many times have I been asked “Is that art?”

For how many years did I create meaningless sketches of cubes, still lives, portraits, to appease the Western vision of art imposed on me by this department?

How many times has this project been challenged? Have faculty told me that adding words to images was not aesthetically pleasing. That I should have stuck with watercolor portraits of Asian people. Words on drawings? Art as a means of storytelling? Why can’t you just do abstractions?

So, I have started fighting. I will not be silenced.

I had put put too much faith in an institution. I was disillusioned, having mistaken my advisors’ “support” along the way as genuine when it now feels like shallow facade, much like so many aspects of this institution.

The same goes for Art History. White Renaissance artists are always favored over anything involving feminism… Is the department afraid of viewpoints it does not understand?

I can only hope that future students of color remain aware of the biases of the department, and retain their artistic visions. Having known students who wanted to do art, but did not want to cater to the institution’s standards… I wonder if a Colgate knows  how many students they have lost because of their inability to understand the diversity they so blatantly advertise on brochures.

Colgate Art & Art History department… do you know how many voices and insights you have silenced/are silencing?


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** UPDATE: May 10 ** Below is from an email from the Department regarding their decision process for awarding Honors. 

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** UPDATE: May 11 ** Below is the email from a faculty member of the Art & Art History Department in response to my art piece and blog post. 18425095_10210855208194530_8424116008282315781_n.jpg

After reading those emails  and reflecting on what other faculty members told me personally, it seems that the Art Department says they have standards… but it turns out they do not? That does not invalidate the entire Honors system?

Although the Colgate Art & Art History department failed to fully support me through my artistic process, I do have several reasons to thank them.

You did not directly fund any artists (while spending copious amounts of money on guest speakers and dinner banquets for them). However, thank you for allowing me access to the printer and the many reems of paper used to print out draft copies of my book. And thank you for the Woodshop department for helping me create book displays.

Thank you for allowing me access to the large wall by the auditorium as well as the gallery space. Although no one in the department was explicitly supportive of my art piece (and rather, tried to intimidate me to take it down), thank you for not censoring the revision of my art. Having access to the gallery space allowed me display and share my work to the wider campus audience and through social media.

While the Art Department faculty made me feel alone and unsupported during this project, many fellow Colgate peers, friends, and faculty and staff from other departments and areas across campus, were an immense source of support. This entire project, which ran from September of 2016-March 2017 definitely could not have been completed without the supportive members of Colgate’s campus. Thank you for helping me see my art as valid. Thank you for helping me out of my silence.

Black. 6’2. Sweatpants. Glue gun. Active Shooter at Colgate University.

Dear Readers,

My name is Angel Trazo. I am an Asian-American woman, and I am a senior at Colgate Unversity. This is my attempt to not be complicit regarding the events of last night and today.


On May 1st, 2017, an “active shooter” alert was sent to all members of the Colgate community. The school was put under lockdown from roughly 8 PM-Midnight. SWAT, FBI, National Guard, and an armored car appeared at Colgate University. The all-clear was made. As it turns out, a black Colgate student holding a glue gun was deemed an “active shooter” by Colgate authorities. He was trying to finish a project for his class “The American School.”

This is an example of the criminalization of black bodies. This is an example of the racist and prejudiced biases that exist at our institution. This is a call to action to do better.

TRIGGER WARNING** This post contains content about racism and references to police brutality**

That Night

Timeline of the Night

On May 1st, 2017, the Colgate University campus was shook by the news of an “active shooter.” These alerts were sent through e-mail, the Colgate Mobile App, and text.

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I was in the second floor of the library studying with a friend when we received the first email at 8:06 pm. Students around us were frantic, speaking loudly on the quiet floor of the library. Students were grabbing backpacks and laptops, rushing up and down staircases, and seeking out friends. Then, a voice came from the library-wide intercom speaker, and announced, “Case Library is on lockdown. Do not leave the building.”

I was startled and unsure what to do. Students began grouping together in their friend circles on the floor around the library shelves. I tried to focus on typing up my Studio Art Honors Thesis defense and gave up. Instead, I catered to my social media. By this point, I had received numerous texts, from friends at Colgate, friends from home, my mom, all asking what was happening.

By 9 pm, rumors were flying. GroupMe’s were lit with update after update. Messages spread about the armed shooter having a friend. Shots were heard at an academic building. One of the culprits committed suicide. The other man was running through Broad Street. [These were all just rumors. None of this happened.]

At about 10 pm, an announcement was made over the library intercom announcing that all students had to move to the first floor. People remained frenzied and unable to focus on work.

Meanwhile, I learned that students were hiding all over campus– several had hidden in their science labs, others had grouped in the closet of the Chapel Basement, some had gathered in dorm rooms to sit in darkness together. People had barricaded their rooms. Sweaters were tied across windows to block outside gazes. We were told not to answer any knocks on doors. Anxiety was high. Many feared their lives.

It had been four hours when we received the final alert. Then, a follow-up email was sent by the Dean of the College.

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The email failed to address the race of the student who had been implicated as an “active shooter.” He was a black student named Ben. He was a black student who had been using a glue gun for arts and crafts.

WAIT. What? I was shook by this outcome.

This was the description used by police officers:


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The alleged arms weapon was found at the Coop.

Video of black student telling what happened

Active Shooter

Active shooter, by definition, is a person with intent to kill. The administration did not address how someone calling in a “dangerous person” escalated to the entire student body and our families receiving news that an active shooter was on campus. How was leap made? Where did this intent come from, if not the color of this student’s skin? As the emails said, no shots were fired. Was this student’s blackness enough to merit an “intent to kill”?

Regardless of how this leap in logic was made, the “threat” was taken seriously… perhaps, even too seriously. I would later come to learn that during the “investigation,” multiple authorities had been called to action.

Within three hours, Colgate had brought a SWAT team, the National Guard, the FBI, and an armored car.


While people have argued that Colgate deserves accolades for keeping our student body safe…

Colgate put all students on a four hour lockdown for an active shooter that did not exist, and in doing so, put this black student’s life in danger.

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Excerpt from the Washington Post.

Sure, had there been a real shooter, Colgate did a hell of a good job finding means of protection. I have heard from Colgate faculty members that was no protocol, so they called every forceful protective entity under the moon.

But to what extent would Colgate have protected the black student who was wrongly accused? Colgate had put his life in danger.

Within minutes of the all-clear, Facebook blew up

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(These are only a handful of my friends’ posts on Facebook. Many more were posted, some regarding Colgate’s attempt to keep us safe, others debating whether or not this issue was racist, more simply revealing the all-clear and our safety.)

And the Colgate meme page BLEW. UP.


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These meme cleverly references the controversial Pepsi Ad which has been criticized for co-opting the Black Lives Matter movement… and solving protests by opening a can of Pepsi.
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Thanks, Colgate.


The Next Day


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We were ready to rally. 





Posters at the Center for Women’s Studies #BlackLivesMatter


A poster for the alleged “armed shooter,” my Colgate peer, Ben.


A member of the Class of 2017 sports a “?” over his Colgate attire. The “?” symbol was used during the 2014 ACC Protest, a movement motivated by the desire for equal treatment of all students at Colgate.


A member of the Class of 2017 has written “Black Lives Matter” on the Class of ’17 shirt we received during our orientation in Fall of 2013.


Posters taped to the wall at the Coop, the location where Ben, the alleged “armed” man was first spotted with his glue gun.


Students gathered in the Academic Quad at 11:30 am. Photo by the Office of Sustainability.


A drawing I created during the protest – Angel Trazo ’17

Rain drizzled down across the quad. Hundreds of students were clapping and chanting “Black Lives Matter! Black Lives Matter!” For twenty minutes, our voices rang against the chilled, spring air, across the quad, amidst students, faculty, and staff. People of color. White allies and supporters.

After 20 minutes, the chants died out from one end to the other. We had a moment of silence for Jordan Edwards, a 15-year-old boy who was recently shot. Another victim of the criminalization of black bodies.

After the silence, the circle of people around the quad came together into the quad’s center. A main organizer of this protest, Sydni Bond ’18, made her intentions for this event clear. It was created to stand in solidarity against the racist injustices of last night, and to urge the administration to ensure that events like this will not be repeated. It was an event to gain awareness around supporting the parents of Jordan Edwards who were not prepared to bury their 15-year-old son. (Please donate if you can: Donate to Jordan Edwards’ Memorial Fund).  It was created for people of color to be seen and heard. It was a moment to show what a Colgate community could be. It was a symbol that we were not complacent with the current racial climate on our campus.

Various students shared their thoughts in light of these events. I have recorded several quotes in my drawing.

A black student dressed in all red, red cap with a hood on his head, stood in the middle of the crowd. He was Ben. He was the “active shooter.”

He told the crowd that he’d heard that people had been told that he’d been using a glue gun for an art project. The project he as working on was actually for a class titled, “The American School.” The project was on meritocracy.

The irony.

Ben said, “The idea of meritocracy says that if you work hard, you’ll be successful… I tried to do the right thing, and they [Colgate] called the National Guard.” Ben urged onlookers to fight against the racism committed against him last night. “We need to BELIEVE that all people are EQUAL. Change starts from within.”

Meritocracy does not apply to people of color.

I am a Filipino-American from California. From an early age, I was indoctrinated in the notion of an American Dream, of meritocracy. Little did I know, there were systems in place that limited and hindered my capacity to succeed. I live in a society where racial hierarchies prevail. Where white supremacy is real. Where societal oppression renders its ugly head in more ways then one, in more forms of violence than physical violence.

No one was shot last night, but people are hurting.

Students are hurting because Colgate as an institution continues to remain entrenched in its legacy of systematic oppression. It retains its prejudice against people of color, despite it advertising otherwise.

“It is so simultaneously painful and sad to believe that meritocracy exists among people of color. That meritocracy applies to people of color and the achievement of their dreams,” said Esther Rosbrook, Assistant Director of Residential Life.

Ben is a fellow student. Ben was just trying to be a student, and this happened.


Following the event, I went to the Center for Women’s Studies. They were kindly providing pizza and ice cream for students affected by these events. While there, Esther and I began asking students how they felt about the event, the protest, and the current campus climate.

“I don’t even have the right words right now. Obviously this is real, it happens all the time— every day. It’s just disgusting. It’s just so messed up. There are so many layers to it. It’s deeply rooted. It’s a mindset that’s very individual but also institutional,” said senior, Jazmyn McKoy ’17, a POC.

“What does it feel like to be villainized like this? What does the trauma enacted on people’s bodies feel like? I’m not him. But I’m black, and 5’10.. This could have been me. It’s just…” said Michael James ‘17, a POC.

“I do this, too,” a young black boy stared at my fingers flying across my Mac keyboard. He was a child of someone in WMST and had sat himself on a chair next to me and across the table from Michael. “I like to write stories,” he said proudly.

Michael said to the young, black boy, “Write your stories dude, because your stories are important. Your stories matter. When you go through school, people will grade you on your writing, but don’t let people dissuade you.”

Bilal Badruddin, POC, and Assistant to the Associate Vice President and Dean for Residential Programs and Student Support said, “I think a lot of things. Like… like i’m not surprised because Colgate has a history of targeting people of color, but Colgate also has a history of not supporting people of color. So you want to target them and you also don’t want to support them.”

“It’s a double-whamy!” Rosbrook interjected.

“It’s also really interesting how they’re really quick to come out with descriptions [of the black, 6’2 man in sweats and without a shirt]. But now that Colgate realized they fucked up, they’re not doing anything to fix it… Right? In their statement, no where in there did they say it was a racist incident. They didn’t say the person was a black man.” [In reference to the initial Dean of the College email.] “The university really needs to do better with terminology. An armed person is different than an active shooter.” And neither an armed person nor active shooter carry glue guns…

“I’m leaving, so I see the light at the end of the tunnel. And I wanted to take all the POC students with me. Colgate doesn’t deserve them.

If Colgate didn’t admit, POC, so many colored students would be happy because the institution doesn’t deserve them, and white people can be happy in their complacency and ignoring these [racial] issues.

If Colgate can’t support POC, they shouldn’t admit them.”

Interestingly, Bilal also added, “Where was President Casey [during the protest]?Screen Shot 2017-05-02 at 6.42.11 PM.png Because he sent an email during it.”



On May 3rd, I had emailed Brian Casey regarding this blog post. After reading it, he addressed this question of attendance. 

“I did come to the protest on Tuesday. Yes, I had to finish the email– as you might imagine, those are not simple messages to create and I needed to finish it up with accuracy and care, and I also didn’t want to delay it any further– I was able to press send and then get up there. And I was happy I did.” – Brian Casey, President of Colgate University.

President Casey also told me that he was surprised “a woman had written this post.” Apparently, I’m “a great storyteller. Compelling. You should go to Cal Arts and keep using art to tell these stories”… but the fact that he misgendered my work, and gendered it at all, made me feel uncomfortable.

“What do I think?” said Chimebere Nwaoduh, a POC, Colgate alumn and current Colgate staff member. “I am shaken because I am nervous it [attention for this incident] will die down and that people are not open for conversations and criticism. For people not to acknowledge that people are hurt is ….*sigh* … Remember, people were stuffed in the closet for the false alarm, but that falseness was a result of racism! As a staff member, I am so confused about what I should be engaged with.”

“It’s FUCKING RACIAL PROFILING,” Woohee Kim ’18, a Korean international student, declared. “It’s fucking racist shit. And it’s so fucking racist that this fucking student was racially stereotyped to the point that one student labeled a black student, trying to do an art project with a glue gun, as an armed shooter, as a perceived threat! And what people were saying today… about how this black student could have been killed. He could have been shot. And just reading those institutional responses… How Colgate, first of all, brought a National Guard, SWAT team, and FBI in less than 3 hours… but it’s taken decades and hasn’t still been acknowledged that everyday violence happens to POC.”

Bilal came back into the conversation, adding that, “The 21 points from the ACC protest have still not been accomplished. But they are checked off… even though they are all not complete. These points could have made Colgate a place where POC were happier… For the juniors, you have a whole ‘nother year here. And you’ve been through ACC and now this… I feel for them. A number of POC are athletes or OUS, you get great financial aid. It’s as if Colgate is paying a lot of students of color to come here. And it sucks because yes, students want a great education and can’t always afford it. But it’s like… Colgate is trying to sell their happiness.”

“I’m pissed,” Jon Williams ’17, POC, responds. “To think that we go to school here and then people are going to try to normalize this shit. In the basement of the library, I already heard, ‘Oh, we can’t be sure this is about race.'”

“All lives matter… Everyone gets a seat at the table… this is how we cope with white fragility,” said a friend.

“Where’s my seat. I’m still trying to find my seat at the table,” Jon joked.



As I craft this blog post, Woohee Kim ’18, my fellow OASIS Core member and bffl attempts to keep up with social media developments.

“What are you doing babe?” I ask across the table to my friend, Woohee Kim ’18.

Breathlessly, she replied, “Trying to catch up on facebook, email, I also want to email the OASIS Core (Organization of Asian Sisters in Solidarity) and tell them how COMPLICIT we fucking are.”

“Wait, how are we being complicit?” I ask.

“As in, like, just telling them how we are talking about this, assuring that we are a group in solidarity and that we will not brush this off. As we are a group of people of color, it is important for us to make it known that we hear our fellow students, our black students.”

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I will stand in solidarity with my fellow students.

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Many of us are standing in solidarity.

Next Steps

While I was writing this, I thought about how screwed I am for the defense of my art thesis tomorrow. My main priority is usually school, but I have decided to dedicate a large part of my day to reflecting on the events of yesterday and today. I am dedicated to combating racism and prejudice in my community.

However, with final assignments and final exams burdening our shoulders during these last two weeks of class, it will be immensely difficult to maintain this dedication toward activism. I acknowledge that we are all busy.

But I urge you, dear reader, to not be complicit. Activism is not a once-a-month check mark off a to-do list. Hundreds of students attended today’s “Black Lives Matter” protest, but what happens next? How will you ensure that this issue does not fade away, does not, once again, escape the institutional radar, only to become re-opened at the next act of blatant racism? Why does it take such a large-scale event for Colgate to remember that Blacks Live Matter?

Have conversations with friends about this event. Make waves on social media. Influence those around you to make this campus a more inclusive place. Find an ally to tell your story when you need time and space to rest– when you, as I have felt, are tired of explaining that your humanity should be equal to white humanity. Bring your concerns to the administration. Urge them to be accountable. Keep the conversation alive.

News Coverage

A few notes regarding news coverage by external media outlets:

As of May 2nd, only the Washington Post has acknowledged the race of the alleged “active shooter.” Articles by the Philadelphia Tribune, much like the initial email from the Colgate administration, failed to acknowledge the racial component of this event.Screen Shot 2017-05-02 at 2.59.47 PM.pngScreen Shot 2017-05-02 at 3.01.25 PM.png




Many articles also failed to acknowledge the fact that we were send emails that used the language “active shooter.” Screen Shot 2017-05-02 at 3.29.14 PM.png


**UPDATE** As of May 4th, several articles have addressed the fact that this was a racial incident and included the violent language (“armed shooter”) used by the administration during the lock-down.


OASIS is the Organization of Asian Sisters in Solidarity. The group was founded on September 6, 2014.

Aim/Purpose: OASIS is a group for women, particularly Asian women, to come together to discuss and engage with issues concerning Asian identity and representation.We aim to provide a forum encouraging interchange of individual Asian experiences at Colgate that have traditionally been underrepresented or unvoiced. OASIS creates a safe space and support system for these women, both international and local, to establish and affirm our presence in the wider Colgate community.

For the identity-seekers

Hello readers!

This blog was created to inspire other Asians and Asian-Americans to delve into consciousness about their Asian identities and reflect on how this facet of their identity has shaped their lived experience.

These posts are meant to facilitate thoughts and conversations about being Asian in America in particular, but hopefully Asian-identifying individuals from other countries may find that they share similar experiences.

This blog is for the identity-seekers, the curious, the confused. This blog is also for allies and anyone who wants to see glimpses into the perspectives of Asian and Asian-Americans.

This blog is a list of stories, resources, and thoughts consolidated in this little corner of the internet.

I hope these stories help validate and challenge your views, and shape your journey into identity consciousness.