Written By Nate Tan
To My Movement Sister, Ny Nourn,
This is not the first letter I’ve written to you. But this is the first one I’ve written since you are out of prison and ICE detention. The letters I’ve written you have been letters of admiration and inspiration. This letter is no different.
When I think about how you’ve impacted my life I am reminded of the late James Baldwin and his letter to Angela Davis. He wrote, “If we know, then we must fight for your life as though it were our own.” You are always fighting for people’s freedom as if it were your own. I remember the stories you used to tell me:
When a judge said you were going to spend the rest of your life in jail, you said: Hell no I’m not.
You fought for a re-sentence and were paroled in 15 years. Still, it was 15 years too long for a crime you did not commit.
When an immigration judge said you were going to be deported after prison, you said: Hell no I’m not.
You wrote to an immigration attorney to fight your deportation case.
When an immigration attorney said that you would likely be deported to Cambodia, a country your family escaped as refugees, you said: Hell no I’m not.
When people underestimated you, you would tell them: I’m going to get free, with or without your help.
Your spirit for freedom was contagious to me. Each story made me believe that freedom was possible. If we were ever to get to a freer world, you’d be one of the leaders to take us there.
I remember crying at your last immigration hearing. When the judge ruled for your release, I was so overwhelmed with immense joy. When I imagine the feeling of freedom — a feeling I’m always chasing — I think of that moment. The moment your release was announced.
I knew when you came home, you were ready to take on the world. And you did.
I was devastated when ICE picked up four of our Cambodian members. This was my hometown. These were people in my neighborhood. The only home they knew was Oakland. I thought, “Can we do this? Can we stop all their deportations?” You looked me dead in the eyes and asked, “How can we keep them home? How can we get them free?”
While I was asking “can,” you were asking “how.” Those who do not have freedom, have no other option than to believe freedom is possible. Because you believed, hundreds, if not thousands of us, believed.
You influenced organizers, attorneys, impacted family members, and elected officials that we can get our community members free. And we did just that. We got every single one of them free. What I took away from this work with you, Ny, is that we have to have a “why.” When the “why” in our life is strong enough, the “how” always becomes clearer.
Ny, without any doubt or hesitation, I am following you to freedom. I will fight alongside you until all people in cages are free. Though the challenge is great, I know the cost of not doing so is even greater. You know better than anyone that none of us are free until all of us are free.
I am a firm believer in what bell hooks shares, “that we would all love better if we used it as a verb.” It is most helpful for me to understand that love isn’t a moment, it isn’t an end point, and it isn’t a temporary emotion, but a continuous set of actions and commitments to each other. I only come to this knowledge because of you, Ny.
I did not know what love as a practice looked like before entering this work. Seeing you fight day in and day out for people behind bars showed me what love looks like in action. You taught me that when you love freedom or a person behind bars, you must believe the greatest outcomes are possible. What we do to get there is always rooted in love. Theories, liberatory praxises, and radical politics are pretty on paper, but it is what we practice with each other that will get us free. Thank you Ny for teaching me that.
Until we all are free,
Nate is a Co-Director at Asian Prisoner Support Committee. He has led and supported anti-deportation campaigns for dozens of Asian Americans facing deportation. He has participated in the #FreeNy, #KeepPJHome, #PardonRefugees, #ICEoutofCAprisons, and now, the #Right2Reunite campaign. During his time as an organizer with Asian Prisoner Support Committee, he has seen the release of upwards of 100+ people out of prison and ICE. He writes to people behind bars all across the nation. In his free time, he enjoys karaoking to 90s boy band songs.