My Activist Son

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My son was arrested protesting the Dakota pipeline at Standing Rock. I was quite anxious as I waited to hear from him and to know he was okay. I second-guessed whether I should have talked him out of his road trip. I wasn't really aware of potential risks, because I've never practiced civil disobedience on this level.

I was raised by Chinese immigrant parents who held the belief that the nail that sticks up gets hammered down. They lived their entire lives focused on putting their noses to the grindstone and working hard to insulate their livelihood with achievement, not activism.

It has always been my intention to raise my children differently, to have strong convictions and to be critical thinkers. Some of this just happened by osmosis. I am very proud with the way they both turned out, possessing a strong commitment to social justice. I have witnessed my children grow to be socially responsible members of society. Each of them has discovered their own voice.

I had mixed feelings, however. I think I wanted them to not step out too far where they would be in harm's way, to be safe activists. An oxymoron? Could it be possible to raise them to be both sheltered and free-range individuals?

I didn't consider that my son would take the less traveled Chinese American cultural path, where he would drive straight through the states of Nevada, Idaho, Montana and North Dakota, parts of this country where he would be seen as an outsider or a foreigner, even a target. Although I didn't write the story line of the Dakota pipeline for my son, I know that this is a very pivotal time for him and people of my son's generation to be empowered to use their voices. This can start with dinner table conversations where a budding activist can arise.


As I reflect on my son's decision to follow his heart and conviction, would I have wanted him to do anything different? Would I want to suppress his pathway to discovering his strength? I wouldn't want it any other way.

With a Perspective, I'm Larry Jin Lee.

Larry Jin Lee is a psychotherapist. He lives in San Francisco.