I hadn’t heard about Juneteenth until about two years ago. I grew up in Los Angeles around mostly Latinx and Asian American communities and Juneteenth was not on our radar—Día de los Muertos and Chinese New Year, sure, but not Juneteenth.
So, what is Juneteenth? According to National Geographic, the holiday is known to some as the country’s “second Independence Day,” celebrating the freedom of enslaved people in the United States at the end of the Civil War. Specifically, the holiday commemorates the end of slavery in Texas—which wasn’t until two years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
Now it’s a Federal Holiday, and I get to benefit from the hard work of advocates and activists who have long worked to gain state and federal recognition. This makes me reflect on how I personally continue to benefit from the hard work of African American activists, intellectuals, and freedom fighters.
I’m a Filipino immigrant. I arrived in the United States in 1989 as a nine-year old, met by my aunt, uncle, and three cousins at LAX. In short, from then until now, I have struggled with what it looks like to resist imperialism and colonialism while at the same time establishing myself as an American, with all the privilege—college degree, steady job, mortgage—this may entail.
Fortunately, I had a model to follow: that of the Black experience in America. I remember watching Spike Lee’s film Malcolm X as a 13-year-old and how much it resonated with me. It’s a story of identity, resistance, and community—things I eventually sought out. I found skateboarding, punk music, and art. I learned about Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Public Enemy, and of course Malcolm X. Later, I paid more attention to hip hop and jazz, and writers and teachers such as Octavia Butler, Ibram X. Kendi, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Cornell West, Audre Lorde—too many to name.
These writers, activists, artists, and teachers gave me a blueprint of how to resist and thrive. I will forever be grateful and on Juneteenth, I hope to hold the countless African American heroes in my head, heart, and spirit, to take account of the many sacrifices and strides they have made so that someone like me can exist in America.