Here you can read a little bit about myself, my published works, and my ongoing projects. I also keep a blog – so check back weekly for thoughts on relevant news and important issues.
Of course, as a continually learning activist and educator, I welcome all comments and questions below!
Karín writes, teaches, and organizes for racial and social justice.
Karín was born into a family of revolutionary scholar activists. Her father, E. San Juan Jr (“Sonny”) has authored dozens of scholarly books on third world literature and Philippine history. Her mother, Delia D. Aguilar has written about Filipina women and taught courses on women and revolution in developing countries. Her aunt, Mila Aguilar, a poet/teacher/activist in Manila, was a political prisoner during the Marcos dictatorship. Christmas holidays involved caroling for human rights in the Philippines and singing “The Internationale” in Tagalog. Dinnertime conversation always revolved around politics, meaning grassroots struggles for democracy around the world, from the Philippines to Cuba to Angola, China, and Vietnam. Part of the revolutionary culture of the time…Marx, Engels, Mao were revered thinkers, and so were Ho Chi Minh, Patrice Lumumba, Malcolm X, Che Guevara. The family also respected the many writers, musicians, and other creative people who gave their spirit and sometimes their lives for the sake of popular liberation including: Meridel Le Sueur, Pete Seeger, Barbara Dane, Carlos Bulosan, Philip Veracruz, Agnes Smedley, Nelson Mandela, Victor Jara, Rigoberta Menchu.
In this unusual childhood setting, Karín learned to speak up for justice and organize others. In fifth grade (Mansfield Middle School with Mr. Bob Fulton, Mrs. Rachel Stratton, and Mrs. Kate Foster-Winton) Karín taught her classmates about martial law in the Philippines. On weekends, she went to rallies and protests with her parents and little brother Eric (now a tax attorney for the U.S. federal government). Memorable outings: going to DC to protest the 1973 Bakke case (a white man suing because he did not get admitted to medical school, but some person of color did), never eating grapes because of the grape boycott (from the 1960s through the 1980s) the UFW organized to inform people about the toxic chemicals that harmed grape pickers, and the Farah jeans boycott. To be honest this last one didn’t make too much sense on a personal level, because Karín’s parents didn’t know anything about name brands and as a kid, there were no jeans in her clothes closet. But anyway in those decades it was all about standing up for justice, not making fashion statements! When Karín’s father took a visiting teaching job at CUNY Brooklyn College, they joined the demonstrations for open admissions and free tuition. International and local issues were always connected as “people’s struggles.”
In the mid-1980s, Karín joined her college classmates in student demonstrations against U.S. war in El Salvador (“El Salvador is Spanish for Vietnam”). That year, Swarthmore sent the most buses of students to protest in DC than any other East Coast college (or so we told ourselves). Feminism went through a revival in those years, and Karín saw herself as a “humanist feminist” admiring the work of Raya Dunayevskya (who turns out to be a contemporary and associate of Grace Lee Boggs). As a college student, Karín took a summer internship with the AFSC in Philadelphia where she was kindly mentored by the legendary activist Rosemary Cubas (founder and director of the Third World Desk, RIP Rosemary) and her husband Angel Velez on how poor brown-skinned people live with dignity and compassion for others and themselves.
After college, Karín worked for more than a decade in jobs with revolutionary ideals and movement-scale paychecks at dollars & Sense magazine and South End Press. She also organized within the Asian American lesbian and gay community, which at that time was a vibrant and challenging political force to be reckoned with. As a young lesbian feminist, Karín personally encountered fascinating and devoted writers, artists, and activists including Angela Bowen and Jennifer Abod, Audre Lorde (1934-1992), Jacquelyn Alexander, bell hooks, Cherrie Moraga, Jewelle Gomez, Susan Moir, Mel King, Michael Bronski, Siong-Huat Chua (a Chinese gay activist who died of AIDs in the 1994 at the age of 39), Sarah Schulman, Noam Chomsky, Mario Vargas Llosa, Rosa Montero, Pedro Almodovar, Mariana Romo-Carmona, June Chan, Milyoung Cho, Vin Wolfe (a Filipina lesbian activist who died at 47 in 2010), Josh Gamson, and Margaret Randall.
Later in life, she met and befriended Yuri Kochiyama (who died at 93 in 2014) and Grace Lee Boggs (who died at 99 in 2015).
Karín appears as a “principal actor” in the 1992 documentary about Noam Chomsky called “Manufacturing Consent” (or “Noam Chomsky : Les médias et les illusions nécessaires”).
The rightwing “Key Wiki” includes Karín as an “endorser and supporter” of War Times, an anti-Iraq War newspaper.
In 2013, Karín traveled to Hanoi with Rennie Davis and other well-known Vietnam antiwar activists.
In 2017, Karín submitted her own name to the Professor Watch List. As documentation of her work against racism, homophobia, and war, she provided a link to the Swarthmore Alumni bulletin in which she was featured as a “peacemaker.”
Publishing, writing, public speaking, and organizing are all facets of educating and making social change. Eventually, Karín went “back to school” in search of a deeper theoretical and historical understanding of society and the world. In some ways, she returned to the family business.
Since 1999, Karín has been on the faculty at Macalester College. Her courses in the American Studies Department have included: “The School-to-Prison Pipeline,” “U.S. Imperialism from the Philippines to Viet Nam,” and “Hunger Games: Map and Mirror for the 21st Century.” While at Macalester, she has received several awards external to the college: the Next Generation Leadership Fellowship (2000-3), the Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship in the Humanities (2002), and the Woodrow Wilson Career Enhancement Fellowship for Underrepresented Minorities (2003-4).
Her publications include: a co-edited volume with Frank Joyce, The People Make the Peace: Lessons from the Vietnam Antiwar Movement (Just World Books 2015); a scholarly monograph Little Saigons: Staying Vietnamese in America (University of Minnesota, 2009); an activist anthology, The State of Asian America: Activism and Resistance in the 1990s (South End Press, 1994); numerous scholarly book chapters and journal articles; and dozens of essays and reviews for newspapers and magazines including dollars & Sense, Gay Community News, Women’s Review of Books, Sampan, and Sojourner: A Feminist Newspaper.