Wan Qi's Why

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Release Date: 
Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Wan Qi, our VISTA member in New Orleans, shares below how her passion for social justice and life experiences led her to serving with the Orleans Public Defenders.

Wan Qi and Coulter, her fellow New Orleans VISTA member

I’d like to think that I’d be a justice-minded person regardless of my identities and experiences. Often, I think of myself as a person fueled by half-compassion and half-conviction. But the identities and experiences you hold don’t exist in a vacuum, and I’m willing to concede that they’ve contributed to my desire to work in this field. 

I am a first-generation immigrant. As the eldest child in the family, I was tasked with the responsibility of navigating so many seemingly simple but unknown structures — language interpretation at doctor’s visits and grocery stores, racial microaggressions and elitist notions about the Good Immigrant-Bad Immigrant dichotomy, the specialized high school admissions process and later, the college admissions process and financial aid applications without the guidance of adults who possessed institutional knowledge of these processes. Since leaving Malaysia and arriving in Brooklyn, my family and I moved twelve times, vulnerable to the forces of gentrification and displacement. And it shook our family hard enough when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, but lack of access to healthcare is what entrenched us further into poverty. However, I was privileged enough to not slip through the cracks. Despite being somewhat nomadic, my many homes were stable. And the school system never failed me; I often depended on teachers to be my fiercest advocates. They were opportunists, not for themselves, but in search of a brighter future for my peers and me.

I had inklings of awareness that my reality was not so for everyone. As I became a young adult, I regularly confronted the idea that I would not have been where I was if I hadn’t been carried on the shoulders of people who taught me and guided me, and that there were many people who were denied those privileges. Of course, this narrative is an extremely simplified explanation of inequity, but it led me to feel certain that I’d want to work in social justice, whether it be criminal justice reform, housing access, immigrants’ rights, and on and on. Criminal justice reform sparked my interest as the institution of mass incarceration centers so much around control of the body and the limitation of freedom.

Throughout my undergraduate career, I engaged in rallies to Ban The Box and organized educational forums for my peers. But despite my efforts to work in the community, so much of my energy was conserved on a campus. Without sounding too cheesy, I decided to apply for the AmeriCorps VISTA program, which would give me a chance at engaging with this work outside of a campus.

The benefits seemed to outweigh the negative consequences and financial sacrifices, and I felt assured that taking on a role in public defense would allow me to have the greatest positive impact I can possibly have with my scope of knowledge and insight thus far in my community. Through serving in AmeriCorps, I know that although the march of progress can be painfully slow, it is worthy.