Welcome. So I'd like to give you a caveat first 'cause I think stories need to be set up, and with this particular story you need the context and you need the frame. And the frame is me at 17. Me with punk rock hair; well, it was pink at the time. It was shaved. Me thinking I was a real badass - cause I was back then - in a public school in San Francisco that was all black and all Chinese. Well, actually Vietnamese, and it was based in Ghirardelli Square. It was called Galileo, famous for O. J. Simpson. Um, but it was a public school and it was the poorest one and it was the worst one, the top-five worst school in San Francisco. So the minority population were white, actually, white military, which was six percent and those were all my friends. So the story goes like this.
I'm in class and I'm in civics and I'm having a good old time, and I'm feeling really good. And my good friend is Susan Norris, and Susan comes from Virginia. She's a self proclaimed WASP. And the civics teacher said, "Hey Leeva and Susan, we're going to pair you up for the next debate tomorrow and we're going to give you three topics: abortion, gun control, and prayer in school" ...because San Francisco doesn't mess around. And we're like, "cool, okay, fine." So I'm excited. I get there the next day and I'm all prepared and I'm in class. And so the first topic is gun control. So Susan goes and then I go and she goes and I go and the teacher's like, "Hold up!" I'm like, "Oh, hell no." And then we started fighting and then he's like, "Leeva, Susan. Hang on." Okay, so we hung on. I was kind of upset. Okay. And then it was prayer in school. Oh, here, here it goes. Susan goes, I go Susan goes... and my friends, it was like a football game and you know, prior to that point, Susan was cool. Like she was dating the quarterback for the football team who is Chinese. Tony was his name, a Chinese football player. So you would think at this public school of all Chinese and all black that Susan would be really cool. But now we're talking about gun control. And then we talked about prayer in school. Oh, hell no. So now we're fighting real time. So finally the teacher says, "Okay, I know we have not much time left but we're going to have to do abortion," and I'm like, "Game on!"
That game lasted for 10 minutes and it got so serious that I remember thinking, "I won." Okay. She was not even looking at me. I was not even looking at her. I was looking at my friends and we were all talking together. So I sat down in my seat. I was so excited that I killed it! And then I heard, "Well, if you don't like it, go back to where you came from..." And I remember looking at my friend Dana, Dana Flack, who was black, and I said, "Oh girl, she's talking about you." She goes "Oh girl! She ain't talking about me. She's talking about you." I'm like, "Really?" "Go ask her." So I turned around and I said, 'cause I was a badass, I said, "Susan, are you talking to me?" And she said, "Yeah, because if you don't like it and if you don't like our rules and you don't like how we live in this country then you need to go back to where you came from."
And I looked at Susan... and I said nothing. For the first time in my life, I was muted. Like all the strength that I thought I had - all the badass confidence and feeling like I was somebody - was nothing. I was muted. I felt that my world went tumbling down into a hole and I could not crawl out of there. I realized that Susan was in the military. I realized that she had her opinion, but the first time in my life I realized I had nothing. Like I didn't even know where to f-ing go. So I didn't say anything. I didn't know what to say. So I remember going home and I knew going up the stairs, and me crying, I would face disaster number two, which was my two older sisters Geva and Gava who did not take shit from anybody - the three of us never did, and that's how we were raised - looked at me and said, "Leeva, why you crying?" And then I told them my story, and I thought they would be supportive. I thought they would give me the kind of sisterly advice, pick me up from my bootstraps, make me feel really good again. And I remember Geva looking at me and she says, "Why the f-ck did you not say anything? Why didn't you tell her to go back to where she f-ing came from? Don't you know what our family did here?" And I remember feeling worse than I possibly have ever felt in my entire adult life.
We say that we should be living our life from passion. We say that we should be measured by our successes, but at that moment I realized that we should find our passion and realize how we should overcome those obstacles that are placed in front of us. And I do remember that I never talked to Susan again - that I never talked to any of my white friends after that, because I went into college that final year, and I went to China and I learned Mandarin, and I was good. *Speaks Mandarin* I learned it. I killed it in high school. I learned my Mandarin, but when I went to China, the very first question I was asked is, *Speaks Mandarin* "Where you from? What are you?" *Speaks Mandarin* "Oh, I'm Chinese." *Speaks Mandarin* "No, you're not. What are you?"
So the placement of your identity and the placement of home, to me, was a 10-year struggle of finding and reclaiming who I thought I was. That's not my entire story, but that's the taste of my story. But that is what drives me. But I can tell you one thing. If I see Susan Norris again, I will actually say, "Thank you." I will say "??." I will say, "Thank you." Because if it wasn't for Susan, you would not see me up here right now. You would not see me being driven by a passion to realize that a person's identity - and their sacred, sacred space of who they are - is probably the most fundamental part that you can give somebody. And that that backbone, even though it can get crushed, you still have one. And the ironic part of the end of my story is my niece who came home, seventh grade, it was last year and she said, you'll never believe what happened to me. And it was the same thing. Well, you know what? Thank goodness I had something to tell her. So that is my story.