Subtle Forms of Resistance

Berkeley, California: a historically-known site of leftist thought and youth political engagement.

Yet now, during the information era, as a prestigious university just one hour north of Silicon Valley, revolutionary socialists are replaced by computer science geeks and prospective molecular biology majors. Artificial intelligence prototypes “run” on the streets, as if a glimpse into the dystopia of the future.

Nevertheless, as I roam around the UC Berkeley campus, I still catch traces of radical thought –

Reform or Revolution. There is nothing more unrealistic than the idea of reforming this system into something that would come anywhere near being in the interests of the great majority of people and ultimately of humanity as a whole.”—Bob Avakian, Basics 3:2

Reform or Revolution – this seems to be the common binary that surrounds politics, social movements, and even divides the left. However, as with every other “binary,” there is a gray zone. How come we never hear about what this gray zone looks like?

The most significant reason is that the people who operate in the gray zone are not politically visible, or are underrepresented communities. Their very presence in the United States can be one that is dangerous and life-threatening. Additionally, these forms of resistance can be so subtle (perhaps even common) that we don’t consciously recognize them as resistance at all.

UndocuQueers & Worldmaking

One of these groups, arguably the most vulnerable community, is undocumented queer folk. Some choose to identify themselves as “UndocuQueer,” an intersectional label that “refuses…a totalizing brand—positioning it instead as a provisional marker that ontological describes just a part of [their] existence” (Alexander).

UndocuQueers face a double threat of lacking both documentation and being queer, forcing them to be pushed back further in the closet. To mitigate this circular silencing, they often engage in a process called “worldmaking.” This process is quite self-explanatory – UndocuQueers craft and shape a world they want to live in—a utopia—through infinite possibilities of imagination. They perform, create, sing, or write a world where they can re-define a way to treat people.

For example, Yosimar Reyes’ poem Pride outlines a world where:

“My sexuality does not define me / It is a simple intersection of my being / Because more than body, I am a complex identity”

When worldmaking, UndocuQueers often gather together to share their visions, and thus form kinships with other UndocuQueers. These communities serve as a support system to help them navigate the complexities of the world—whether it is to attend a rally together, house someone overnight, etc.

With Trump in office and the federal government in the Right’s hands, these underground survival strategies are especially crucial. Therefore, worldmaking rejects top-down reform and instead is a prerequisite to bottom-up micropolitics that allow personal agency to the marginalized.

Asian-Americans & Code-Switching

Code-switching is a strategy employed—often subconsciously—by bilingual folk, especially racial minorities. As the name indicates, the process involves switching between two or more languages, dialects, or vernacular.

While most people may use code-switching for convenience purposes, for example adjusting to different cultural spheres or for tailoring speech to certain groups of people, code-switching can also be used in the manner: to resist assimilatory forces. For instance, many bilingual people use a language not widely spoken in the social environment to discuss secretive matters that they might not want everyone else to hear.

Similarly, code-switching can be strategically adopted to create unintelligibility by dominant institutions. I learned an example of code-switching used in this manner in debate: resistance to the dominant assimilation narrative that surrounds Asian-Americans and Asian immigrants. The model minority stereotype dictates that Asian-Americans are (or should strive to be) hyper-productive legal immigrants who have successful reached the American Dream of high socio-economic success, or in other words, has successfully assimilated into American society.

Therefore, a deliberate use of code-switching—of purposefully using an Asian language in spaces that generally expect only English, can serve as a radical refusal of the “assimilated” trope that surrounds the model minority myth. [More info on why the model minority stereotype is dangerous]

Likewise, other ethnic communities can employ code-switching in similar or varying forms. Even folks who speak English but have developed a certain form of vernacular (i.e. African-American communities) can access code-switching as well. Ultimately, the goal of code-switching is to build solidarity with one’s own community against the dominant, perhaps hegemonic, narrative.

Resistance does not have to be done through revolutionary bottom-up movements to overthrow the capitalist system, or even advocating for top-down politics and codified rights. Often, mainstream movements are utopian, unattainable, or inaccessible. Instead, exploring methods for everyday survival strategies are just as, if not more, pertinent.


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