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AAPI Heritage Month: Sara Porkalob

In celebration of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month, we are hosting a series of profiles and stories to amplify and honor people, businesses, organizations, and projects connected to the history of Seattle’s AANHPI community.

Artist/activist Sara Porkalob (she/her) joins us for some story sharing and truth telling in honor of Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

Video Script (deviates slightly from video)

“Hi friends, my name is Sara Porkalob. My pronouns are “she/her” and I am speaking to you from the unceded territories of the Coast Salish and Duwamish people aka the city of Seattle. Happy AAPI History Month! I am a multi-hyphenate storyteller working primarily in theatre – soon to be working in television and film. I am Filipina, Chinese, Hawaiian American and I’m so excited to be here talking with you. So yeah, let’s get started.

1994, Anchorage, AK. Willawa Elementary School. I’m 5 years old staring back at the wide eyes of my kindergarten classmates while my new teacher struggles to pronounce my last name.

“Ok class, good morning! I would like to introduce our new student Sara! Sara Pork…uh..lobe and she’s from Washington-”

(another student) “Teacher! I’ve been to Washington! Washington DC!”

“That’s great Daniel, thank you for sharing that, but Sara is actually from Washington STATE. Sara, why don’t you sit at the Dolphin table? There’s an open seat!”

“Please give her a warm, Willawa welcome!”

I sit at the Dolphin table which, coincidentally was my favorite mammal at the time, and am relieved to see my seat-mates are 2 brown girls and 2 black girls who all smile at me. I smile back. Even at the age of 5, I knew what racism was. I saw how White folks looked at my Black mom Tina while she and I went about our weekly grocery errands, how the Chinese clerks followed her around suspiciously while we peruse the aisles for my Filipino mother’s favorite brand of chips. As soon as I was aware of thinking thoughts (about the age of 4) I preferred the company of folks who looked like me and my family; Black and Brown folks. With them I felt safe. With White folks, not so much.

Fast forward to September 2011, my senior year of liberal arts college. I’m a theater major and auditions are happening for the senior class productions; Oo-Bla-Dee by Regina Taylor was the “Black Play”, El Paso Blue by Octavio Solis was the “Latino Play”, and Pride and Prejudice was the “Biggest Cast so Everyone Else Who Isn’t In The Other Plays Will Be In This One.” I was signed up by a faculty member to audition for Oo-Bla-Dee even though the characters were all Black. I could sing and the play required singing actors; this was reason enough for the faculty member. So, I auditioned.

I ended up being cast in Pride and Prejudice and being called out / in by my Black peers; they hadn’t been invited to audition for Pride and Prejudice whereas I had been invited to audition for all three plays. That realization brought home some very difficult truths and marked a shift in my thinking and being as a person of color in White supremacist America. Up until that moment, I was unaware of the privileges that I held as a non-Black woman of color and conflating the experiences of BIPOC individuals as a homogenous one. Because I had a Black mother and grew up in Black communities, I felt entitled to Black American culture, spaces, and social issues. So, it was very difficult for me to emotionally confront how my ways of thinking were perpetuating anti-Black racism. It was hard because I thought, “How can I be anti-Black if I love Black people?”, “Now that I know this, am I not allowed to like certain music or say certain things or have certain relationships?” I felt like part of my identity was being stripped from me…it was scary. So, I gave myself time and space to unpack my feelings and reached out to folks  I trusted who helped me process in an accountable way. They helped me understand my privilege and encouraged me to lean into the UNLEARNING I was experiencing about my identity and upbringing.

I can love and appreciate Black people and Black culture and recognize how my previous sense of entitlement was oppressive and racist. I can use my privileges as an Asian Pacific Islander to educate and hold fellow AAPI folks accountable when it comes to our anti-Black racism and internalized white supremacist ideology.

The Senate recently passed, with bipartisan support, the Stop Asian Hate Crime Bill. Many Asian Americans are applauding this but I believe the legislation is more harmful than it is helpful for these reasons:

The bill centers policing as the answer, expediting the review of hate crimes at the Justice Department, and it provides funding to train local law enforcement on hate crime investigations.

So why is increased policing NOT the answer? Police historically disproportionately prosecute Black and brown people, and non White folks. As demonstrated by the killings in Fort Wayne and Atlanta, when white people murder Asian people they call it “senseless violence” and the police and media often deny that the killings were racially motivated at all. BUT whenever the media shows a Black or brown person hurting an Asian person, the public is quick to call for carceral and policing approaches to stop anti-Asian violence. Some Asian Americans believe that Black and brown people are the enemy, not white supremacy. Without a deep political analysis of our carceral system, we end up with reactionary politics that reduces complex political problems to a battle between “love” and “hate.” We end up with a rearticulation of the status quo. This new bill bolsters the police state, which does not keep Black and brown people safe, and contains underlying anti-Black sentiments in the name of fighting anti-Asian violence.

So, while we celebrate AAPI History month, I encourage all of us to remember that our liberation is tied to the liberation of Black folks, POC folks, indigenous folks, queer, trans, nonbinary folks, disabled folks, and immigrant. And the thing we must all work to dismantle is white supremacy. The work looks differently for each person but now is the time.


This piece was commissioned by the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods. The opinions expressed and information contained herein do not necessarily reflect the policies, plans, beliefs, conclusions, or ideas of the City of Seattle.