TOP 30: Cameron Joe

Cameron Joe
Major: Economics and Queer Studies
Year: 4
Age: 21
Hometown: Fremont, CA
In One Word: Eccentric

Cameron Joe advocates for social justice, not only in the queer and Asian communities, but also campus-wide, and encourages critical conversation throughout campus about the issues at hand.

Currently, Cameron is working full-time at a non-profit organization, but soon he plans to move to Japan to teach English. He is also in the process of going to grad school.

Cameron’s goal is to become a professor probably in the humanities or social sciences. He hopes to sustain his political activism for the rest of his life through his pedagogy and maintaining a presence as a queer person of color in academia in higher education.

A friend of Cameron’s says that “Cameron is a creative character who always stands for justice while always being open for discussion and dialogue.”

KS: Tell us about yourself.

CK: I’m half Chinese, half Japanese – I’m fourth generation on both sides. I was born and raised very American and white – both my parents didn’t know their own languages, but I ‘m teaching myself Japanese by studying a lot on my own. I have a twin sister and a step-brother too. I graduated high school, went straight to UC Irvine, and experienced a giant culture shock coming down to Southern California from Northern California.

I came out when I was turning 16 in my junior year of high school – November 4, 2007. Most of my friends were Asian, and a lot of my friends on swimming were white. It was interesting because a lot of my Asian friends that were in my classes were really sketched out by me coming out, and my swimming friends were freaked out for other reasons. I felt weird around my friends in high school, so pretty soon after I came out, I decided to find my own community. A lot of this was actually through this website called DowneLink., kind of like a myspace for queer Asian folks. I met a few friends through there, and got really involved with the Berkeley and San Francisco queer and Asian scene. I met a lot of influential people then that I think were pretty integral in my transition into becoming an activist. A lot of my friends from Berkeley and San Francisco were really big Asian American and especially Filipino activists. Within that community, I felt that I needed a forum as a way of survival and also a part of my coming out process, and so that community structured a lot my social justice minded thinking and activism and organizing. I was constantly around folks who were older than me, so I was hanging around people who were in college when I was in high school. My entire senior year, I was hanging out with folks who were already in the social justice circles, especially in the Filipino communities, but in general the queer and Asian communities in San Francisco and Berkeley. I think that’s what got me really involved and invested in activism, and just learning about the need to have an actual community for queer and Asian folks, since there isn’t a lot of that, especially here in Southern California. That probably set the groundwork for me coming to UCI and getting involved with the LGBT and queer communities my first year.

KS: What have you accomplished here on campus, and what do you hope to accomplish?

CK: My first year I was really involved with the LGBT center. I was really involved with an artist collective called Queer United Artist Collective, QUAC for short. It was run by upperclassmen and it was only around for just that year, but it was really interesting, and got me thinking about what the significance of queer art is, like why there would be a need for queer art to be separate from the art world. It was really interesting, but it died out once my friend graduated.

My second year, I was an intern at the LGBT center. I was the graphic and technologies coordinator. I did a lot of work with the LGBT community, and still do. I was really active in Irvine Queers, and I was also a founding father of Delta Lambda Phi, which is a gay, bisexual and progressive fraternity. I dropped out  of Delta Lambda Phi about a year after joining. There was more that I wanted to do, and it was taking a lot of time. Once I dropped that project, I started a queer magazine on campus, which is called Queer Under All Conditions, QUAC for short (We stole the name from QUAC before). We published an issue every quarter, so three issues were published, and the project has kind of died since then. The first issue we printed around two to three hundred copies, and they were all gone. It started a lot of interesting and critical conversations in the queer and trans community, which was really important for the growth of the trans community at UCI. A lot of the credit goes to my best friend Kaia, who was actually on APSA’s Top 30 2 years ago. QUAC also did this translation work between academia and theory in women’s studies and comparative literature. it did a lot of translation work, and threw that out to the community, so it was giving folks access to knowledge that was really centralized within academia, these very elitist spaces. A lot of the work that activists and I do is translating that for folks, giving folks little kernels to chew on and use. I think activism is important because you don’t think it’s activism, but that translation work and that quiet activism is pretty important to a lot of the work that I’ve done.

I wrote a thesis with UROP, and my thesis was on queer suicide and queer suicide ideation. It actually had a really strong resonance within the queer community. I coordinated with the LGBT center, and advised them on a  “It gets better” project video, which is a YouTube campaign. However, they decided because it was a critical piece not to engage in the project.  So my thesis was directly connected to the activism and organizing I was doing in the LGBT center. My thesis was a really strong critique of the “It gets better” project, and the critique was made from a  feminist, people of color perspective. The center generally was open and welcome to feminist and people of color perspectives on issues, but it was still structurally and institutionally unable to allow a lot of those critiques in. It was good that my thesis was able to get my foot into that door and I was able to have critical conversations with administrators and staff about why the “It gets better” project from UCI can be damaging to the LGBT community, especially the people of color communities. I don’t want to frame the LGBT center as white, or non-inclusive –  I think they’re doing a really good job. My intellectual work in academia allowed me to grant myself legitimacy in the activism that I was doing in that space, which is making it more inclusive, and also making those critiques  very visible.

I was also really involved with campus protests. I was really involved with organizing against tuition hikes, fee increases, and budget cuts. I organized primarily through a grassroots group on campus known as Take Back UCI, and was in constant coalition with folks from the Cross, and folks from the EVP office in ASUCI, especially this last year. Take Back UCI was more of a humanities / grad student collective. It comes out of Radical Student Union as well, which I was also a part of. Take Back UCI organized a lot of rallies, and they were in coalition with ASUCI EVP office, so we did a lot of work together. Take Back UCI also did a lot of work on the Needs Attention Memo, which was the memo that went towards Asian American Studies, African American studies, Women’s studies, Comparative Literature, Culture Theory, French, German, Italian, and East Asian Languages and Literature. Take Back UCI also  collaborated with ESCAPE (Ethnic Studies Coalition Against Privileged Education), which came out of folks from the Cross. Take Back UCI organized three rallies this year, and I was pretty active in all three of those rallies. I went to every single UC Regents meeting this year and last year, and one UC Regents meeting my second year of college. I think something that I’m most notorious for within Take Back UCI is chalking. It’s one of my favorite things. [ I was actually detained by cops last year for chalking. Police were harassing students that were chalking, even though chalking is not illegal. The first time students got detained, I was the first one. It was a giant shockwave throughout the campuses. It brought about a statewide conversation about what constitutes freedom of speech, why frats, sororities, and cultural orgs can chalk, but once an activist chalks something against the university, or against fee increases, that students are harassed by police. I’ve done a lot of chalking.

I also do performance art. I’ve only done one performance art piece, as a form of political activism, in a public space. For the rest of it, they’ve been in more gallery spaces. I did a performance art piece last quarter – it was a 6 hour performance art piece where I died at the flagpoles. Written around me in chalk was “Death of Public Education”. I lied there for 6 hours, and someone traced an outline of my corpse, like a crime scene, and I laid there for 6 hours. It started a campuswide conversation about budget cuts and tuition increases.That’s the power of art – folks don’t feel as intimidated to engage with it, but it still starts conversations. There’s lots of theory you can embody with your artwork.

I also participated in the drag show, and in queer culture shows. I also participated in a documentary on gender by a UCI student, who’s actually touring a lot of queer and trans film festivals right now.

KS: Who or what do you feel has been the biggest influence on you?

CK: I feel like there are three groups: the Women’s Studies and Comparative Literature Department (both faculty and students),radical social justice minded organizing communities, like Take Back UCI, UAW, Grad Student Union, and also the  LGBT community – the LGBT center, Irvine Queers, and all of its extensions.

KS: What are you most passionate about?

CK: Social justice.

KS: If you could describe your personality with a punctuation mark, which would you be, and why?

CK: Maybe a parenthesis. Because I’m so eccentric and eclectic, there’s moments where I’m bracketing myself, constantly. If I was an exclamation point all the time, I wouldn’t be an effective professor. I feel like exclamation points are very opinionated and high energy, so a lot of times with pedagogy that doesn’t really work. I would say a parenthesis because I’m constantly bracketing my personality in different times and places and context.

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    Asian Pacific-Islander Heritage Month (APIHM) is hosted by the Asian Pacific Student Association at UCI and features various programs, workshops, and events that celebrate the APIA culture and address pertinent issues in the APIA community.

    Please refer to the tabs above for more details regarding each event.

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