by Star Wang
On Saturday, November 26, I went to Zucotti Park in Manhattan for the first time to see what the Occupy Wall Street camp is like compared to the one in Dewey Square in Boston. What I found is that it is no longer a campsite, and there are signs around the gated area stating that there are no tents or tarps allowed inside. Rather, people were milling about, laying down, playing chess, and having discussions. As I walked by the few people talking to the media, I noticed a man whom I recognized from a picture I saw on the internet several weeks ago. The context was a BuzzFeed article profiling 34 people who were at Occupy Wall Street, in which each person had a portrait and a brief biography including his or her name, origin, reason for being at the protest, etc. However, the one portrait that caught my attention the most was of a man holding a sign with a few Chinese phrases: “??,” “?? ,” “?? ,” and “????,” but his portrait did not have an accompanying biography. Instead, it simply read: “Didn’t speak English."
The Chinese and other immigrant groups have long faced anonymity in United States history despite making equal or greater contributions compared to hegemonic groups. The Occupy movement has been seen as a movement of mostly white people, and there has been a resounding response from nonwhite groups to call attention to that which is not addressed by the majority within the 99%. In the BuzzFeed article, even portrait #26 of a dog named Sue got more description than the man with the Chinese sign. Seeing this man who had neither his story told nor his name spoken despite being a staunch participant in the movement was all too familiar, and I was excited to have a chance to speak with him while I was at the park that day. His name is Lin Xin Bu, he’s from Shanghai. It’s a good thing that he speaks Mandarin so that I was able to carry on a conversation with him, even if I may not have understood the intricacies of his political ideas due to my own lack of Chinese vocabulary. Luckily my boyfriend was with me and could translate some of the parts I didn’t understand.
Lin Xin Bu told me that he lives in Manhattan and has been coming to Zucotti Park every day since the beginning of the protest, staying until dusk. He is currently unemployed, but used to be a truck driver. His ideal job would be driving, but he doesn’t want to work long shifts like many Chinese drivers, so he’d rather be self-employed in the future. His family was never affluent, but he learned about politics by listening to the radio when he was young in China. He had a lot to say about Chinese politics, but I only caught that he thinks that government businesses are more corrupt than private businesses, that the Chinese government would never allow the free speech that the Occupy Movement represents, and that there are too many cars on the road leading to environmental destruction. Generally, he thinks that American government is much better than the Chinese government in that it allows for public discussion of issues, even though it is difficult for him to participate in the discussion.
I asked Lin Xin Bu what he perceives as the differences between the struggles of white Americans and Chinese Americans, and he said that it is the inability of the Chinese community to voice their grievances. He said that Chinese people tend to make big problems into small problems, while white people tend to make small problems into big problems, which I think is a telling description of the different landscapes on which difference groups in American are building their movements and how the 99% is far from homogenous. Lin Xin Bu said that there are hardly any other Chinese speaking people in the park, so he usually doesn’t have anyone to talk to. In the middle of our conversation a mic check next to us told me that there would be a march to Times Square that day, and I asked Lin Xin Bu if he would be marching with the others. He replied that he probably wouldn’t, and it seemed that he didn’t have relationships with the other protestors, probably due to a language barrier. I wonder how it is that a man with no comrades or allies to find solidarity with could possibly sustain the dedication it takes to protest every day. I thanked Lin Xin Bu for speaking with me, and he humbly said that he’s no expert, but rather just a commoner voicing his opinions. In reality, I should have thanked him for having the strength to stand for justice even when he must do so in solitude. Although he’s a stranger that I spoke with for just half an hour, I am truly inspired by his fortitude.