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Who We Are

'What Are We Going to Build?'

Social justice advocate imagines a more just world through art.

Photo: Toni Bird

By Jackie Botts

Yeji Jung, ’18, who grew up outside of Dallas, entered Stanford feeling activated. Protests against police killings of unarmed black Americans were sweeping the country, pushing Jung to question the more idyllic view of modern race relations she’d learned in high school. While Jung initially balanced premed coursework with printmaking classes, she eventually embraced her passion for social justice and changed her major to comparative studies in race and ethnicity. A thesis project to investigate the links between her Korean-American identity and the experiences of her Korean grandmothers took her to Seoul, South Korea, and Manassas, Va., to interview them in Korean. After graduating, Jung returned home to Texas to work on paintings and digital collages that evolved from her thesis. Jung sat down with Stanford to discuss her deepening relationships with her grandmothers, the meaning behind her screen print Our/My, and her use of art to envision a more just world.

“There’s this idea that all [social justice] organizing is science fiction because you’re trying to imagine and manifest worlds that don’t yet exist, which is so cool. That’s what I’m trying to take forward as far as my art practice.

“[My grandmothers’] lives are so deeply gendered in a way that I just have not experienced as someone who grew up in the U.S. One of my interview questions was framed as, ‘What did you study in college?’ [My grandmother in Virginia said,] ‘Oh, I didn’t go to college—girls in that day didn’t go to college. We went to work.’ That was a moment for me of, ‘Wow, I just have these assumptions about my life that are not a given.’

“It’s also been really hard to articulate to [my grandparents] what I care about, even more so than my parents, because I literally don’t have the language in Korean. I don’t know what the words are. I don’t know how to explain to them that I’m studying ethnic studies. 

“My grandmother calls me ‘our granddaughter.’ My mom calls me ‘our daughter.’ It’s baked into the way that they speak in their language in a way that [it] is not for mine. And I think that does have a lot to do with deep Americanized values, like individualism.

“[As activists,] we know of these things that are wrong that we want to dismantle, but then there’s the work of what are we going to have to replace that with? What are we going to build? And that’s really difficult because we can know and see and experience all of the things that are wrong. We can point those out and work on breaking those down, but it’s so much harder to be like, OK, but then who do we want to be, if not that?”

 Jackie Botts, ’16, MA ’18, is a former editorial intern for STANFORD

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