A weekly magazine-style radio show featuring the voices and stories of Asians and Pacific Islanders from all corners of our community. The show is produced by a collective of media makers, deejays, and activists. This week we feature APIENC’s Dragonfruit Podcast focused on AAPI queer elders and their activist stories.
Dragon Fruit Podcast Episode 1 | Sharing our Harvest: Fruits of QTAPI Movement Organizing
Miko Lee: Good evening. This is Miko Lee, and you’re listening to apex express where we focus on the Asian American and Pacific Islander experiences. Tonight we’re proud to present the dragon fruit project, an international project that explores queer Asian and a Pacific Islanders and their stories about love and activism in the sixties, seventies, eighties, and nineties.
Hello, and welcome to the dragon fruit podcast, a podcast where we reflect on the history of trans and queer, Asian, and Pacific Islander organizing. Get into some juicy conversations about love and connection, the reclaim space for our own stories. This episode is. Boom members of EPA quality, Northern California, also known as is a grassroots organization that builds trans and queer Asian and Pacific Islander power to amplify our voices and increase the visibility of our community.
Aloe Lai, Mika Hernandez, Vince Crisostomo, Steve Lew, Sammie Ablaza Wills, Tita Aida, JoJo Ty, Claudia Leung
Aloe Lai 00:00
Hello, and welcome to the Dragon Fruit Podcast, a podcast where we reflect on the history of Trans and Queer Asian and Pacific Islander organizing, get into some juicy conversations about love and connection, and reclaim space for our own stories. This episode is produced by members of API Equality Northern California, also known as APIENC, a grassroots organization that builds Trans and Queer Asian and Pacific Islander power to amplify our voices and increase the visibility of our communities. My name is, My name is, My name is, My name is, My name is, My name is Hi, my name is My name is Aloe, my pronouns are they/them, and I’ve been a volunteer with APIENC since 2016. I’m excited to be your narrator for this episode. You’ll be hearing my voice as the narrator as well as the voices of the individuals we invited to be part of this podcast. Throughout this episode we’ll be in dialogue with each other. Before we get started, I want to give a content warning as we will be mentioning issues of homophobia, transphobia, and anti-Blackness throughout this episode. We will also provide a gentle reminder before each section so you may skip certain parts if you’d like. As we reflect on our past, present, and future histories, we want to take a moment to acknowledge that we are writing, producing, and recording this podcast on stolen unceded Ohlone land. We want to ask our non-indigenous listeners to contribute to the Shuumi Land Tax, which goes towards the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust work of rematriation of Ohlone people’s land. Since many of the folks we spoke to came into community through movement work, we wanted to understand how organizing has shaped their lives. So for this podcast, we brought together 30 plus people for these conversations and we asked a common question. “Over the last five years, what changes in movement work have you encountered, experienced or observed?” But we need to backtrack just a little, because what does movement work even mean? Everyone has their own definition. And we want to ground this podcast with a nuanced definition of movement work. So we’re turning to Mika Hernandez, a mixed queer nonbinary artist, community organizer, cook, and healer born and raised on occupied Chochenyo Ohlone land. We wanted to ask Mika their perspective, because of their extensive involvement with various organizing spaces, not just with APIENC, but with Asians for Black Lives and the Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective.
Mika Hernandez 03:14
Yeah, movement is such a tricky word. And I would hope that when I talk about movement, it’s something that is coherent and legible to like, a ton of like a lot of people but like to presume that we’re all on the same page is not correct. And so I really appreciate the opportunity to get clear about it. And and I think that we do, I don’t know, like I, yeah, I don’t know if like I would think of like a QTAPI movement. But at the same time when I think about like the formation that we both organized with Asians for Black Lives, right, like, we’re Asians, and we are mostly queer, a lot of trans GNC folks. And does that inherently make that like a QTAPI movement? Or just on a like, huh, that’s an interesting thing. And I think I’ve like even just anecdotally named that to people before that, I’m like, it’s just interesting that like a lot of people who show up to talk about abolition, and people who show up to talk about, I don’t know, whatever that feels important, and like, compelling to me, like I often am finding queers wherever I go. And I think that that’s really beautiful. And at the same time, there’s like this whole piece that like just because we quote unquote, share an identity, whatever those identities are, it does not mean that we automatically have alignment. So it’s like this overarching question that I, that I always have. And like I think that no matter what, when it comes to movement, the thing that matters the most is like alignment around values and having explicit conversations with one another about how our identities may have politicized us and how we come to the things that we come to and why we come to the things that we come to. And I think that that allows for more space and more nuance. And I think something that has been hard for me has been like trying to enter certain like ethnic identity organizing spaces, or cultural community spaces that are generally left and feeling like my experiences as a mixed and fourth generation person are not like right or as not, are not as fill-in-the-blank identity as everyone else’s. And I know that that’s not true, but it has felt that way sometimes. I have to prove how, you know, for instance, how Korean I am or something like that. But I think that’s something that I’ve always appreciated and have begun to share a lot over the years when I talk about my organizing with Asians for Black Lives, is that I think that pan-Asian, and pan API space has allowed me at least in my experiences, and the people that have come across more openness and more ability to come with the fullness of our stories. I’m not like automatically thinking, this is how you live your Asian-ness because all of our Asian-ness is different because we are a pan-Asian space and Asians for Black Lives have been able to just hear stories about who and how a person is and who their people are and their ancestors. And so like openness to tell our stories, and talking about our values are the things that define movement space that I really want to be in.
Aloe Lai 06:24
As Mika has alluded to, we are seeking the fullness of our stories as we define what movement work means to us. Throughout this podcast, we will be turning to our storytellers to share about themselves, their ancestors, and their movement work journeys.
Advocacy work during the HIV/AIDS epidemic was pivotal to many of our storytellers’ experiences. To understand why, we need to go back to the 1980s. *music time warp* HIV/AIDS highlighted the deep disparities amongst those who survived and those who we lost. Especially in communities of color. those at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS faced huge barriers to receive adequate and affordable health care. In our Asian communities, the topic of HIV/AIDS was coupled with cultural stigma and shame due to the lack of understanding around homosexuality and substance abuse. The knowledge of culturally competent healthcare was curated by queer and trans activists who fought for their people during a time of state discrimination. They pushed for national and global understandings of HIV/AIDS during a time of great uncertainty. It was during this period of time that Steve Lew and Vince Crisostomo longtime organizers for the QTAPI community first met each other. In 1989, Steve, a young bespectacled organizer co-founded the GAPA Community HIV Project. Pronounced GCHIP, GAPA Community HIV Project was the first organization in the country to provide a spectrum of culturally appropriate direct services for Asians and Pacific Islanders living with AIDS and HIV. Vince, a gay Chamorro activist, joined GCHIP as an HIV/AIDS educator. At the height of the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco, Steve and Vince built a lifelong friendship, where to this day, they’re still intricately connected by the various experiences and spaces that they share now.
Vince Crisostomo 09:08
Oh, you know, for me, the work, you know, I work mostly with the mainstream in my day job, and I’ve actually found that I’ve needed to come back to our queer trans API community to kind of refreshen myself, like rejuvenate and kind of draw perspective. And what I see and feel is that within our API, queer trans API community, there seems to be more of an openness for the generations to work together. I’ve kind of had to put myself in a place where I was willing to learn and one of those is um, learning to ask for help. And also taking this time to kind of transform my relationships with some of the elder activists from our community, and I think it’s, it’s what has been validated for me that no matter what you think you’re doing, and no matter how you might how I might question is this effective or whatever, that whatever we’re doing, that there’s there’s always progress, there is some progress, and sometimes lots of progress. And sometimes you can get in the way of your own progress. So yeah, it’s for me, it’s just, I don’t find it as stressful. I used to find it working in the 90s.
Steve Lew 10:23
Yeah, you know, one of the things you said Vince about progress, it makes me think of kind of thinking back on, like, change processes. A lot of it for me was about, like, what positions we each had, or things like that. And I feel like there’s more listening now and really trying to understand each other from, like, our personal and life experiences, but then trying to put in the context of everything else versus just like, what you stand for, and this is what I stand for. So that’s what I feel like in our relationships over time that, it just has felt much more like trying to value our life experiences more in the context of where we stand.
Vince Crisostomo 11:13
Yeah, I would agree with that, Steve. I mean, it’s, and even just, I think you and I, our relationship, you know, over the last couple of years, I’ve known you for, like, 30 years, but I feel like it’s just the last couple years that I really got to know you, because we didn’t have that whole work thing. You know, and I think, in our we actually are doing things that we want to do as opposed to things that we were paid to do. I don’t know if that makes sense. But I’ve often found it’s like, oh, my God, you know, it’s, there were some disconnects around, this is what we’re paid to do, but this is what we should be doing. And I, you know, I’ve I’ve actually been very grateful to our work with APIENC in helping me to find that perspective.
Steve Lew 11:55
Yeah. Well, we, we met each other during a time when there was both the unpaid work with really trying to just figure out how to organize ourselves. When HIV—There was so many unknowns, and there certainly wasn’t resources other than ourselves, like at that time. So there was like all this, that what I remember experiencing like us coming together out of needs and things, and then suddenly being in a situation where we had funding and we were working on different things that were within these constraints that got defined around units of service, and how many educational trainings you do with how many people and what kind of people. So somewhere in there, I always felt like, I mean, you were such a creative anyway, whenever, you know, we had like service deliverables and stuff, you were still able to kind of think about, well, “Let’s do it this way,” and things. But I get that fact that there was the work that I think we wanted to do and the work that we felt like we had to do.
Vince Crisostomo 13:05
Yeah, and it’s like those of us, I mean, who are still around, that can come together to reflect on these things, I think it’s been really incredible. What I do know that our work, you know, as someone who’s lived with HIV/AIDS diagnosis for like, I think, close to 33 years, or maybe over 33 years, what always comes back to me is about the community, and what are their priorities and listening to them. It’s so wonderful to be able to come together with our folks, you know, and talk about what we’ve learned. And I know from myself, many of the people who identify as long term survivors in the AIDS movement, they lost all their friends. And for me, I felt like that didn’t really happen. You know, I’ve had a consistent group of people who’ve mentored and cared about me and lifted me up and pulled me through some really hard times. You know, and I’m very grateful for that. And also, we have a national voice now with NQAPIA, which we didn’t have before. And I remember thinking in the early 90s, like, we are never going to get a national voice. It’s like there is just too much diversity in this community, and too many strong opinions and too many, but you know, here it is twenty something years later, and we have that.
Aloe Lai 14:17
Thank you, Steve and Vince for sharing your reflections with us. Now we turn to Willy Wilkinson. Organizer and writer, Willy Wilkinson, was the first Asian trans community health outreach worker, providing street based HIV education and crisis intervention for sex workers and drug users in San Francisco. I want to give a content warning for Willy’s excerpt as it mentions drug use, sex work, suicide and houselessness.
Willy Wilkinson 14:52
Well, I first started working in public health in the late 80s because I responded to an ad looking for Community Health outreach worker to San Francisco’s Tenderloin. And so my work was to work with everybody who is out there, but primarily injection drug users, and also folks who were trading sex for money, or goods, or services. And so I was really working on just educating people about HIV transmission. So I was really a weirdo. Like in the Asian dyke community, I was just a total weirdo because I was out there working on the streets with the injection drug users and sex workers and knocking on the doors of the massage parlors and becoming the first outreach worker to access women working in massage parlors, who were initially saying, “Oh, no, we don’t need condoms.” But then as we talk, they’d invite me in, and they would accept the condoms, and we would talk about HIV prevention and so forth. And so I was working with a lot of trans folks who are out there who, primarily trans feminine folks who were doing sex work, whether on the street, or in the local bars in the Tenderloin with the trans sex workers that I worked with, I mean, there was just a certain camaraderie and a sense of shared experience, in a way, although there was much less representation of trans masculine folks in general, in the broader society at that time. In the 80s, trans people were pretty much completely disempowered in public health, even though they were beginning to be recognized as a quote unquote, target population, which even that language is obnoxious, but a population that was important to provide services for trans people did not have positions of power in public health, and very few trans people were employed, I think there was one other trans person. We were pretty much considered the clients, and at a certain point, the subject of study, although there was very little research done on trans people, even in the 90s, until we did our landmark study through the San Francisco Department of Public Health, in ’96, and ’97. But basically, trans people were considered to be the folks on the float or the folks who might provide entertainment for the fundraiser and not really get paid well enough. But trans people were not really in positions of power. Now, that began to change when we did our landmark study through the San Francisco Department of Public Health, which began as a qualitative study in 1996 and then continued as a large scale quantitative study in 1997. I was the only transgender person on the team doing qualitative data analysis. And then I was on the community advisory board for the large scale study, which we did, which at that time was the first participatory action research study done on the transgender community anywhere in the world, as far as I know, and it was the largest scale study of the transgender community anywhere in the world. We needed data that actually told our story from our perspective, rather than infantilize transgender people. And so with this study, we did a seroprevalence study, HIV seroprevalence, and it really told much more of the story, what was going on for folks in the community, and it did a good job of sampling people appropriately in terms of the ethnic populations that we make up in the city and county of San Francisco. And it was 1995, that we won discrimination protections in the city and county of San Francisco. And we were the third jurisdiction in the US to get that, and so that was a very powerful time to in which I think the community really came together around discrimination protections, and that I think, really launched the transgender movement in San Francisco. And then from there, we went into really fighting for our rights in public health. And there was a you know, when we looked at the data that we got from that study, and there was a clear association between suicidality and the lack of access to culturally competent care. And so it was really important that we identify what those issues were so that we could educate providers and healthcare institutions about what our needs were. And so it’s really powerful to see now that APIENC has done this API trans, gender nonconforming needs assessment that at this point is ethnic specific, though we do have some ethnic specific data over the years with these large national studies have done, you know that we have this very specific data now for our community, and that it was done with a participatory action research process that was so empowering to folks in the community.
Aloe Lai 19:34
Willy’s insight parallels a conversation between current APIENC director Sammie Ablaza Wills and community organizers, Jasmine Hoo, and Yuan Wang.
Sammie Ablaza Wills 19:45
I think that our queer and trans API community has grown and shifted dramatically in the last five years and you know, I think we’re best equipped to talk about the Bay Area, of course. And an acknowledgement that there’s not one singular QTAPI community. I think the community at APIENC specifically, has really, really grown not only in size, but in purpose. Five years ago, 2015, we were not in the place that we are now and that I think a lot of folks, a lot of folks were still figuring out what their role was within broader movements. I think after especially the passing of marriage equality, there was a lot of momentum in the broader LGBTQ movement lost. And within that, a lot of further invisibilization of queer and trans Asian and Pacific Islander people. So by the time the 2016 election came, and devastated communities, emotionally, and materially and practically in all these ways, I think that was an ignition for a lot of people in our communities to say, we have to rise up, and we have to organize. And we have to do something with one another. Because the embolden white supremacists, of this moment, are coming for the people that we love and care about most, and they’re coming for us. And so I think after 2016, especially with such an influx of queer and trans API people coming into our work, we had really an opportunity to figure out what to do with so much people power. Like I remember some of the things we did, we started hosting quarterly potlucks as a way of getting people to just get in the door and get involved. And, you know, previous to hosting these quarterly potlucks, we would have like 25 people at an event. And that felt like a big success. But all of a sudden, we had 70, or 80 eople show up at our building and take over all three floors of our tiny kind of little building in San Francisco, Chinatown. We started to see the ways that people wanted to learn, people wanted to grow with one another. But also people were traumatized and scared. And I think that’s another really, really important thing to acknowledge that just because more people were coming to us didn’t mean that it was easier. It meant that in many ways, there was more dynamics to figure out than when we were just kind of all small, and we were all friends and we all knew each other. Suddenly, there was a way to participate in quote unquote, community work, without necessarily being an active community with each other. And I think one of the things that we did at APIENC during that time was try to figure out a way for people to connect and build authentic relationships so that they could be genuinely in community with one another, not just a name. So we started to build out a lot of different initiatives. You know, we started the Dragon Fruit Network as a way of connecting people intergenerationally, we started hosting POP camp for high school youth to gather from across the nation. When we mobilized in large numbers at Trans March, we wanted to put our narrative out, not just in social media, but in more traditional Asian ethnic media as a way of also representing trans Asian folks in our own communities and in our cultures and in our various languages. And I think that, during this time, one of the prominent moments for me in the last five years was in 2018, when APIENC started a partnership with The Wildfire Project. I think at that time, we were just holding the weight of the past two years, you know, especially for myself as a staff person at that time with my friend, MLin, another staff person at that time, I think there’s just a lot of weight put on us to respond, to take in all of the requests of the like, dozens and dozens of more people that were suddenly coming to APIENC, to figure out what the best way to respond was all of these different things, and that’s a lot of pressure for two people. And it’s a lot of weight for two people to hold. And I think that’s what it felt like at that time, to be honest. Like, I’m not sure if it felt so much like a community as it did a group of people loosely affiliated, telling some other people what to do. And I think I can say that because it feels in stark contrast to what it is now. And so, in 2018, when we brought The Wildfire Project in, it was a really big opportunity for us to look at our organizational practices, at the people in our organization, and name what it looks like when people were not accountable to one another and accountable to the work. We got to name what it felt like to fear things like shame and guilt as a way to be able to release that shame or that guilt. And I think through this this really emotional process with The Wildfire Project, we emerged much more rooted in an actual community. You know, we emerged in a, in a way that allowed for people at all different levels of APIENC, whether that’s the staff people or core, people on our member committees, to people who are just joining as volunteers for the first time, to know that everyone has to take collective responsibility for this organization. And therefore, people have to take collective responsibility for this community. So when I think about some of the biggest shifts in QTAPI community or movement work, I not only think of the practical things like there’s many more people, and were able to focus on things like trans justice and immigrant rights, like all of those things feel like successes, but I’m also thinking about the emotional aspect and the way that people feel responsible for a community and how that ownership that feeling of responsibility and purpose ultimately makes the community more sustainable. And I think that that’s been a big success and a big win throughout this, this past five years. Although it doesn’t stop being tumultuous, I think we’re on a much better path now than we were five years ago.
Aloe Lai 26:17
QTAPI organizing as we know it today would not be possible if not for the groundwork laid by our queer and trans elders. So much so that our present knowledge is profoundly informed by the intergenerational connections we initiate and sustain. This next conversation between Tita Aida and JoJo Ty, both activists with resumes too full to list here is a distillation of what is possible when movements are made in lineage.
Tita Aida 26:49
Why don’t I go first, so, you know, elder’s first maybe. So, um, I am working currently with the San Francisco Community Health Center, which was formerly known as API Wellness Center here in San Francisco, been around for almost 34 years now serving. First we serve the API LGBT communities here in San Francisco. And as in focus on HIV/AIDS prevention, education, and direct services. As many of you all know, HIV has evolved. At one point it was a death sentence. And now it’s a manageable disease, people are living longer productively. And we have to kind of like expand and bring in more folks in not only API, so we had to change our name to San Francisco Community Health Center. What I do, basically, I oversee our different HIV prevention programs. And I also since it’s a new name, and kind of like it for identity, but I’ve been with them for almost 23 years now. So started out like, very young.
JoJo Ty 27:58
Cool. Thank you for sharing Tita. Basically, I’m born and raised in San Francisco, so this city has always been home for me. As you can imagine, her school has been has been a leader through a lot of, different movements and progressions and like, especially now with the city being gentrified, as well as the youth population keeps on going down and down, since it’s so expensive, a lot of families are being driven out. For me, I focused most of my work around youth empowerment and youth leadership. That’s what I’ve been doing since I was like 15-16 years old. Because at that time, I dropped out of high school, I was really disconnected. I was basically just, you know, trying to stay out of trouble, if I’m not in a classroom. And, you know, ever since then I got connected to different community organizations in the city LYRIC, the LGBT Center, the SF Community Health Center, those were basically my lifeline for a while because I wasn’t out to my family back then. I wasn’t, I didn’t have a community to call my own basically. I always thought the queer and trans community was over there and I will never be openly part of that. But ever since then, since I got the support, I saw these amazing leaders, trans leaders like Tita Aida, then I really found myself like, okay, like, I could see myself, you know, continuing this work they’ve been doing before I was even born and, you know, Tita is a commissioner, and from that I’ve been really focused on youth homelessness and housing insecurity in San Francisco.
Aloe Lai 29:23
Tita Aida’s experience as a trans organizer around HIV/AIDS prevention in the early 1990s, paved the way for JoJo and others in creating space for trans and queer youth.
JoJo Ty 29:37
Yeah, if you’d like the last five years, I’m thinking like this is when I basically started my journey. I know like community organizing, you know, all that stuff. What I’ve noticed lately in the past couple of years, I feel like it’s more intentional with intergenerational, like connection, communication. We have to know our history to know where we want to go in the future, basically. You know, I’m very fortunate to be at a place right now we’re I could definitely see a lot of leaders who are still with me today. Like Tita Aida is not like somewhere far off and across the country or like, we’re different two different like timelines, you know, like, here, both here and present, you know, I’ve been in her car. You know, we’ve been in many meetings, you know, and I feel like often youth forget, like elders are still with us today. We could always reach out, you know, I always wanted to tell my friends, like, reach out to to the older folks in the community, because even though there’s so many differences, you know, the way we talk or our vocabulary, our definitions of certain, like identities, yeah, it may clash, but the heart and the spirit of community is still there with us, and it still connects with us. And you know, I’m getting older. When I first met Tito, I was like, maybe like, 18. When I see the younger, younger youth, who are starting in like middle School in high school, like I could definitely see that have their own new creative ways of continuing this movement, continuing doing the work. And that makes me so excited because you know, this community QTAPI community, will always be creative. And you know, coming up with new solutions and new ways of organizing.
Tita Aida 31:05
I’m so happy to see now that we have like, folks like JoJo, on so many API queer youth who are just doing social justice, you know, being active in the community, creating spaces that are, are safe for us to all congregate. And it was very, it was very sparse before, like, whenever there were new youth programs for API queers that was out. I mean, it was very much celebrated. We’re always making sure that we put them on high in the spotlight, because they’re the future. The time when I became kind of like really very active I realized to myself at the time I was in my late 20s, that pretty soon I’ll be 30, pretty soon I’ll be in the 40s and then 50s. Who’s going to continue this work? There’s a unique spark I think when youth in general, starts creating change. It’s great to see, it’s being continued.
Aloe Lai 32:04
Although our demands for justice parallel that of what our trancestors fought for, we organize and mobilize within an ever changing political, social, and cultural landscape. The following content mentions anti-Blackness and police violence, which may be upsetting for some listeners. This brings us to the present, 2020. In the wake of COVID, the institutional war against Black lives is ongoing and heavy on our minds. In May 2020, global protests took place following the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Nina Pop, and countless others. From Minneapolis to Louisville and back home in Oakland, nationwide, Black-led protests were met yet again with a highly militarized response from the state. What took place in the summer of 2020, marked seven years since the Black Lives Matter movement emerged. Today, it may feel like nothing has changed. And it may feel like we are continuously caught in these cycles of violence, death and outrage. We know that when we talk about movement work in this episode, we have to address anti-Blackness and confront the racism that persists in our Asian and Pacific Islander communities. The work of affirming, celebrating, and fighting for Black lives undoubtedly influences the perspectives and actions we take up within movement work. For this reflection, we invited Mika and Claudia Leung as they have served as organizing members of Asians for Black Lives. A Bay Area based pan-Asian organized collective that strategizes and supports the safety, justice, and resilience of Black communities via solidarity and direct actions. Mika brings us into this headspace as they share their reflections around the events of summer 2020.
Mika Hernandez 34:36
I don’t know I think I’m also just sitting with the heaviness that today is September 23, 2020. And it was the day that we heard that there would be no indictment of Breanna Taylor’s killers. And as someone who is an abolitionist and doesn’t believe in cops and the carceral system and the criminal justice system in general like I also, I’m just holding the complexity of what this grief is and as a non-Black person trying to just witness grief right now, that this, there was no real indictment and that at the same time, these systems were never made to actually support or protect or find justice for our folks. And, you know, it’s, it’s evening now, and I’m in downtown Oakland, California. And I’m thinking about the fact that it’s going to be probably a really loud night in downtown Oakland, or maybe it’s not, I don’t know, but that there’s just something about this exact moment and the past five years that it feels like, again, people have been showing up and doing movement work and, and making these realities known for a long time. But there’s something like, I don’t know if this this night would have been possible, and the conversations that would be that we’re going to be had in the next few months would be possible if it hadn’t been for the previous years of like really pushing and organizing and what’s happened this summer, so I don’t know that feels pretty rambly because it’s like really fresh on my heart. But it feels important again, like a five year chunk and thinking about these past five years is really, it feels like I don’t know, some kind of energetic thing for me that is really striking.
Aloe Lai 36:29
Listening back to what Mika has to say, there’s so much to hold and take in with their words. The significance of this summer’s uprisings is heavy, but it’s necessary to have challenging and honest conversations about anti-Blackness. As we’re reflecting on our own histories, we know that our successes and transformations cannot have been realized without Black-led movements for Black and trans liberation. There’s a hidden history of LGBTQ activism that is inextricably tied to and led by trans and Black changemakers. Take for a fact that the LGBTQ movement in the United States didn’t start with the 1969 Stonewall uprising. In 1966, three years before Stonewall, a group of trans women and drag queens fought back against police violence at Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco’s Tenderloin. While not all of those present at Compton’s were Black and trans, a group of Black trans women today are leading an effort to establish the world’s first legally recognized transgender district at the side of the riots. The organizers, Honey Mahogany, Janetta Johnson, and Aria Sa’id wanted the district honor the first documented trans and queer uprising in the United States, and serve as a safe space for trans people to access community resources. We would like to take a moment to recognize and express gratitude for those who paved the way before us for the Black folks who lived at the intersections of trans, queer, houseless, poor, for for what they fought for, even when their movements saw them as singular. In our conversation with current APIENC staff, we turn back to Sammie, who discusses how APIENC is centering anti-racist work and encouraging its member base to take on the responsibility of dismantling anti-Blackness.
Sammie Ablaza Wills 38:38
One of the things that APIENC holds as a truth for us is that it is everyone’s responsibility to address and dismantle anti-Blackness. And I think it’s no accident that so much of our own movement history has been either framed by, or deeply embedded in, or connected to so many of the Black-led movements that have transformed the so-called United States. And, you know, I think even about how much the Civil Rights movement and the Black Power movement influenced the literal creation of the Asian American movement to thinking about, even fast forward to 2014 how the Black Lives Matter movement really, really activated so many young Asian American folks and Pacific Islander folks to get involved and to see that there is systemic injustice embedded into the DNA of this country. And so, when I think of the ways that our work is in concert, with all of that learning and how the work of Black organizers has informed queer and trans API folks, I think for us, it is such a reminder that we have to be critical and we have to be cognizant of the systemic injustices, and that is where we need to put our attention to do real and transformative work. I think, in the past few years, you know, there’s been a rise in what some people are calling Boba liberalism. It is this idea that, you know, like Asian, Asian American folks, like all they care about is representation, and having people not hate on their food. And while like those might be important issues for some people, I think what Black-led uprisings and movements have taught us is that it is more critical, more timely, and more pressing, to actually figure out what is the root cause of the injustices in, in this country. And to tackle those straight on whether that means taking time in our own groups to unlearn anti-Blackness, and discuss what that looks like, or whether that looks like just showing up and putting our bodies on the line when Black organizers ask us to, because of the relative privileges that we have, whether that means educating our own communities and talking to folks about things like prison abolition, or defunding and abolishing the police. All of those things are in our wheelhouse of responsibility. And it has to take a collective effort. And I think if we’re moving away from something like boba liberalism, which I think the the movement for Black lives has encouraged a lot of young Asian people to do, it allows us to look at the connections between things like the prison industrial complex, and immigration detention centers. It encourages us to look at the militarism of the police in the United States, and connect it to the militarism that brought colonialism and imperialism, to many of the countries that we come from. I think it encourages us to take a hard look at how this country has perpetuated war on its people here, and has exported war to the many of the countries and communities that we call home or homeland. And I think it’s my hope that having those things in conversation allow us to be not only allies, but co-conspirators by having those conversations and recognizing those truths and putting ourselves on the line. And not only examining our own conversation to it, or our own, like how close we are, our approximate position within that conversation, but to actually take ownership of the fact that we have to change what we do, we have to change how we think to be able to support in the transformation of this nation from being rooted in anti-Blackness to being proactively pro-Black.
Aloe Lai 42:42
Why is it critical for us to bring this analysis back to our own communities and our own lives? What have we as non-Black people been complicit in? And how do we move up as conspirators? How can we do better? Returning to our conversation with Mika Hernandez and Claudia Leung, Claudia explores her lessons learned from the movement for Black liberation and the cyclical nature of movement organizing.
Claudia Leung 43:11
Um, I also recalled seeing something on Instagram earlier today that was like mentioning that 65 years ago today, to the day, was the day that Emmett Till’s murderers were acquitted of their charges, and were allowed to walk free. And, you know, September 23, 1955, you know, that’s way more than five years ago. And I can see, I can feel myself having one response to that, which is like, “Oh, my gosh, nothing’s changed. And we’re still fighting the same fight.” And I think that that’s a really common response. And also, like, definitely a valid response for people who feel frustrated and upset and angry that this kind of thing is still happening. You know, I don’t think you can discount the efforts that have been put in over those many years, and all of the wins that we’ve had, and all of the wins that this broader movement has had, you know, I mean, the movement for Black lives like that the phrase Black Lives Matter was coined in 2013. But the movement for Black liberation has been going on, like Mika was saying, for centuries. Yeah, just looking at the last five years. I think it is really easy, especially under this current presidential administration to feel really like everything is really doom and gloom. And yet, when you look at history, and if you’re a student of history, and you’re looking at sort of these broad strokes of, I like to talk about dialectics, I know it’s like kind of academic, but like the idea that you know, when something happens for every, it’s sort of like the for every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction. And then those, those two things the thesis and the antithesis come together, and they make a new, a new reality, a new synthesis, and I think that, that is, that is the work of long term movement work. I mean, it’s recognizing that you’re going to have amazing, incredible wins. And I think, you know, in a lot of ways, for me, at least, the uprisings earlier this summer felt really amazing and empowering and like, just inspiring to see so many people like 50,000 people on the streets of LA, you know that those are not all day to day organizers. Those are not all people who are doing this kind of work every day. But that was like a mass movement. And that was really inspiring. And then you also have days where you’re going to have really tremendous feelings of loss. And I think today’s is that kind of day for a lot of people. So, you know, I think if you want to try to be in movement work for a long time for more than five years, having that view, having an understanding of history and having that understanding of how, how there is a cyclical nature, but it’s not just cyclical, it’s not like you’re just repeating or retracing your steps. I actually like to think of it as a spiral and more than a circle. I don’t know, like, I’m a visual thinker. So I’m like, I like to imagine that we’re going up on the spiral instead of spiraling down, because spiraling can also be a word that seems to mean, sinking deeper into a bad place. But, but yeah, like, I think, you know, it’s a spiral, like we’re coming back around to a similar point. But we’re not in exactly the same point. Like there’s resonance, there’s echoes of something we’ve experienced or seen before, like, like with Emmett Till, and now, with Breonna Taylor, but it’s also that things have shifted, and we are we are in a different place than we were back then. And I think just it’s a constant. It’s the constant work of assessing that and assessing how to respond appropriately given the conditions of that moment.
Aloe Lai 46:48
Claudia, thank you for naming the impact of long term movement work. How can we reframe our present outlook, even when it feels like crisis upon crisis? How can we reframe “now” as a new synthesis, to be referred to as our hxstories 5, 10, 20, 50 years down the line? Organizers, Tita Aida and JoJo Ty emphasize the impact of storytelling and reflect on their relationship across generations.
Tita Aida 47:45
Well, I think there’s this, I have always believed that storytelling has a very unique power of bringing people together. It’s important for us to understand, try to understand everybody around us. Because there will always be a time when we’re I mean, assumptions. I mean, I don’t like making assumptions. For me, it’s really, we’re making, we’re creating history for the future generation. One thing I’ve learned is that when I hear stories from folks who are older than me, I tell myself, “Wow, I’ve been through that, you know,” and it’s so important that I’m validated, my experiences are validated and my thoughts, my feelings, especially that someone kind of like went through that similarly. And how can I make it better the next generation by telling my story by telling, talk to, you know, amazing people, like you all, you know, and having people listen to this, hopefully.
JoJo Ty 48:47
Yeah, there’s something so poetic and beautiful, you know, hearing people tell their stories, you know, because they tell it through their own eyes and through what they were feeling, experiencing themselves and the emotions they were holding. And, you know,I hope with this conversation, you know, I’m so honored to have this conversation with you Tita. And I don’t know if you know, because like, I always tell everyone, I’m like, Oh, my God, Tita Aida’s so amazing, you know, I really view her as like a mentor. You know, she’s like, I hope to be as strong of a leader as her one day when I’m older. You know, I don’t say it to her often because I don’t want her head to become too big. You know.
Tita Aida 49:24
You still have to help me clean the storage for Trans March.
JoJo Ty 49:30
Yeah, I say that now, but then she tells me to clean up, fetch her something, you know go to Costco?
Tita Aida 49:37
No, that’s so nice of you JoJo to say. And, you know, for me, it’s always also an honor because we had a youth program at the agency and wow, I was blown away at that time when I would hear how they talk. I learned so much like, I felt so obsolete. Like I was like, oh, I didn’t know that was happening, or that was possible, you know, and now all these things, so it was just amazing. I think the generations complement each other. And it’s important to always honor that. It’s always so important. If you can’t honor it, at least respect it, you know, and, and give it, give it its its breathing space so that others can also absorb it.
JoJo Ty 50:20
We have to preserve our queerstory and honor our trancestors, you know.
Aloe Lai 50:27
As you’ve taken the time to listen to how people see themselves in the lineage of movement work, we also want you to explore how you fit into this bigger history. How do you situate yourself in the events mentioned in this episode? What is your relationship to movement work now? And where do you want that relationship to go? Thank you for listening to the Dragon Fruit Podcast, and special thanks to the storytellers who shared their stories and histories. This episode was made possible by the following team, our writers and editors Shilpa Rao, Ankoor Patel, Ralph Leano Atanacio, Dorothy Tang, MLin, and Isabella Ruston, our podcast volunteers, APIENC staff members, Sammie Ablaza Wills, Yuan Wang, Jasmin Hoo, and StoryCorps. Our opening theme music was produced by saxreligious. You can also find our podcast episodes on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, YouTube, and www.apienc.org. Thanks for listening to this episode on movement work, and stay tuned for our next episode on relationships.
Miko Lee: Please check out our [email protected] to find out more about how you can take action. We thank all of you listeners out there. Keep resisting, keep organizing, keep creating, and keep sharing your visions with the world because your voices are important.
Apex express is produced by your host, Miko Lee, along with Jalena Keane-Lee and Preeti Mangale Shekar tonight’s show is produced primarily by APIENC’s, the dragon fruit podcast, many thanks to the staff at KPFA for their support. Everyone have a great night.