Dear Professor Yoon S. Lee
by 伊凌 yi ling
Dear Professor Yoon S. Lee,
When I was assigned to you as a first year advisee, I had no idea what I might need advising on. Nary an internship, life plan, any plan – grand or minor – was on my mind. Surviving my silly schedule of every day 8:30 Japanese class, followed by a full class day on Monday and Thursday…suffice to say I frequently dozed off in the mother of classes: WRIT125: Watching the Supreme Court with Professor Viti. (Especially in a class where everyone was acting so sprung – as if folks were headed to Harvard Law School after THAT class, THAT semester – shame on me! Apologies to Professor Viti and thanks to my dear friend Julia who rocked that class while always stabbing me in the side to keep me awake.)
Still, I found my way to your office after some FirstClass (shout out to FirstClass – miss ya!) scheduling. Given my state of constant discombobulation, I tumbled in there with a ton of ignorance, unfurled thoughts and logic, the extent of which I failed to grasp. But you were so gracious, a rare generosity that allowed me to fumble openly with vague ideas and vagaries. You listened, thus teaching me by example the importance of carefully considering the wildest and most unkempt ideas.
And you did even more without needing to say much. Your very presence as an esteemed humanities professor at Wellesley College revolutionized my imagination of what was possible for AAPI women.
And you’ve made hugely significant contributions to shift how our community imagines AAPIs with the years of work and advocacy for an Asian American studies minor. While this was a sweet attainment for many of us, it was the fruition of over a decade of efforts by the original WAAM-SLAAM coalition and thousands of people – students, faculty, admin, alumnae.
When I heard that Wellesley had gotten an Asian American Studies minor, I was on leave and in NYC, organizing low income AAPI tenants in Chinatown. I remember a surge of pride, joy and renewed confidence sweeping through me. There was a happiness too that perhaps new possibilities were alive at Wellesley for the minds and imagination(s) of our community. Perhaps it was because I was, daily, confronting the dislocation between my thinking and actions as a part of the AAPI community. It was a hard cure for the amnesia nurtured in me from living in mostly middle class American suburbs and being mostly a product of an American education. Not all of us were rich or smooth sailing along the model minority pathway. (Which made me feel less alone for struggling, but that’s not pertinent now.) Certainly, many of us were hella racists, especially as our social position of “model minority” (versus all other “bad minorities”) was birthed by the white elite and our own communities’ fear of racial retribution. But I’m preaching to the choir here; you already know the model minority myth is filth.
But I fear we’ve relegated you to the painful box of quiet, unacknowledged, diligent Model Minority woman. For all your thankless efforts, toil, advocacy, some students forgot to thank you – and let it be truly known that all the jubilation and victory we celebrated would not have come about without you. I certainly am a person your work and presence has deeply impacted. So I thank you.
Thank you because sometimes it’s not the huge shakes, but it’s the subtle, small shifts in perception and position that magnifies in impact over time. You provided this for me and every Wellesley student, Asian and non-Asian, by your presence and work. And I thank you for you – because today I work to protect voters and folks’ access to abortion in Texas. Whenever the yawn between who I am/what I do and what I’ve been told I ought to be/do gets a bit frightening, you’re one of the people I remember. Encouraged, I then get back to work.
Thank you, Professor Lee.