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Which Side Are You On by Ryan Lee Wong


 

Xolo Score 4.75/5

 

Which Side Are You On tells the nuanced story of Reed, a young Chinese Korean activist and student organizer considering dropping out of college to be a full-time activist. When Reed informs his immigrant parents of this decision during a trip back home to Los Angeles, it ignites layered conversations about his parents’ complex experiences with multi-racial coalition building during the 1980s. They implore Reed to finish his degree. Which Side Are You develops into the complex and necessary conversations that different generations require to understand and accept each other.

 

*** SPOILERS AHEAD ***

 

Reed is an astute scholar of racial politics and the epitome of a social justice warrior that struggles to reign in their judgment of others for not knowing as much as they do. They quickly call out others for their indifference to a patriarchal white supremacist society with a slew of regurgitated facts straight out of an NPR podcast. Reed is adamant about learning everything he can about his Korean mother’s involvement in a Black-Korean coalition so he can use it to impress his activist friends. But he is oblivious that opening up is strenuous for his parents because they see vulnerability as a privilege. Ryan Lee Wong weaves personal anecdotes and historical research to examine the Asian American experience comprehensively. The novel draws attention to the often-overlooked contributions of Asian Americans to social justice movements.


Which Side Are You On spotlights the cross-generational conversations that U.S. immigrants and their children attempt to have with each other so they can understand their differences. Initially, Reed quickly writes off his parents as conformists who’ve turned their back on fighting for an equitable world. On the other hand, Reed’s parents believe his naiveté, idealism, and obsession with martyrdom for racial politics clouds his judgment about the practicality of earning a university degree. But the stories his mother recounts start to affect Reed’s entrenched views, revealing to him the many difficulties of organizing across cultures, and hinting at the importance of empathy and humanity in understanding one’s community and family. Ultimately, Reed reconsiders his views on grassroots organizing.


Which Side Are You On shows us the importance of engaging in cross-generational conversations with care and intent.


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