FUFUNAN: Let them drink boba

I like boba. I’ve racked up countless Snackpass points at Loose Leaf; for my birthday, half of my gifts were Strawberry Matcha Lattes. In my prefrosh Facebook intro post, I invited other Yalies to “hit me if they wanna be boba buds!”


Guest columnist


Courtesy of AASA

I like boba. I’ve racked up countless Snackpass points at Loose Leaf; for my birthday, half of my gifts were Strawberry Matcha Lattes. In my prefrosh Facebook intro post, I invited other Yalies to “hit me if they wanna be boba buds!”

I’m not the only Asian American who loves boba. Far from it in fact! There’s a whole class of Asian Americans derided as “boba liberals” who, like the drink, tend to be mostly sweet and little in substance. The term has come to encompass insubstantial, apolitical, commercialized liberal “activism” — one that reduces the complexity of the Asian American experience to mere tokens — like boba. Twitter user @diaspora_red is often cited as the original articulator of many of the ideasand they conceptualize boba liberalism as “believe that t-shirts, products and merchandise are the primary means of asserting one’s racial identity.” This is the quintessence of performative activism. They’ll turn up in droves at a booming 88 gigs, but fail to match that energy for South and Southeast Asian creatives. They will claim #representASIAN but fail to recognize how other axes like class, gender and sexuality interact with – and are inseparable from – racial representation. They’ll fight for the upliftment of “Asian American culture,” but that’s a narrow design: one that prioritizes an upper-class, primarily East Asian-centric experience.

Yet for me and countless other Asian Americans, boba liberalism was a starting point. It made me think of Asian American issues in the first place – even though my designs weren’t fully fleshed out. Entering political spaces is daunting; those wishing to expand their political awareness may be put off by the ease with which organizers can deftly articulate theoretical frameworks and historical contexts with apparent ease. How, then, can grassroots movements attract a wider audience?

A few weeks ago, “Pachinko” author Min Jin Lee returned to campus to give a lecture. I had the opportunity to ask her a question live, and I asked her about her experiences in the Asian American organization during her time as a student here at Yale. She left me a guiding principle: “I try to build the biggest tent with the strongest players.” At first glance, boba liberals may not seem like players at all – perhaps more eager to go to Whale Tea than to go to a protest. Beneath their materialism, however, the liberal boba are ultimately just Asian Americans who are passionate about their communities. How can we redirect this passion to create material change?

The Asian American Alliance at Yale is committed to building the biggest tent possible. Building coalitions has always been at the heart of our work. In 1969, co-founder Don Nakanishi retrieved “Asian-sounding names” from a directory. Thirty-five students – out of only about 50 on campus – answered the call and gathered over dinner. Over the years, AASA has played many roles: a coalition of clubs, a community outreach organization, a casual headaches for Yale administrators. However, he has always remained steadfast in his commitment to raising the political consciousness of Asian Americans.

Today, more than fifty years later, our meetings are still alike. We gather in the AACC lounge – a space that our predecessors fought to claim decades ago. Over the past academic year, our efforts have ranged from our huge night market to intimate discussions. In recent years, one of the most requested topics for our signature “What is Asian American?” the discussion was boba liberalism. Most of those present – ​​including, in 2020, myself – were just beginning to consider the political implications of their identity. We took a crash course in the history of the diaspora; now I can recite the lecture by heart. I am grateful to have had this space to grow, and hope that we will continue to be a place where all Asian Americans – including boba liberals – are comfortable exploring and expanding the complexities of their identity.

In the fall, watch for AASA’s open meeting hours. I promise our tent is big enough here – sometimes we even have free boba.

Resty Fufunan ’24 is the co-moderator of the Asian American Student Alliance. He is a rising junior at Trumbull College studying Statistics and Data Science and Ethnicity, Race and Migration.

RESTY FUFUNAN




Resty Fufunan is a freshman at Trumbull College.