Daring to Hope for a Just World: Reflections from the 2018 NQAPIA Conference

Image description: Yiann is standing while holding an electric guitar, smiling toward something to the right. (Photo credit: Corky Lee)

Image description: Yiann is standing while holding an electric guitar, smiling toward something to the right. (Photo credit: Corky Lee)

Yiann Chou, one of our APIENC volunteers, attended the 2018 NQAPIA National Conference this past July in San Francisco, CA. They also performed with their band, kapwa the band, at the Arts Showcase Night.

I felt grateful to be at NQAPIA, simply because it gave me an opportunity to witness queer & trans APIs in their power, and existing as their authentic selves. I was especially struck by this at the intersectionality panel, where I listened to the stories of people advocating for LGBTQ+ rights in Christian & Filipino spaces, LGBTQ+ Southeast Asian refugees combating police brutality and deportation, and Pacific Islanders fighting for queer and trans justice. Their stories brought me to silent tears, and I felt overwhelmed and raw, because their existences reminded me of what I haven’t dared to hope for.

Lately, I’ve been worn and tired of trying to find answers to injustice and trauma. For too long, I felt consumed with seeking resolution, going in circles in my mind about uphill battles: the pastors and leaders who will never be held accountable for attempting conversion therapy and for outing me, Christian institutions that won’t be held accountable for firing LGBT-affirming staff, friends and family members who will never affirm queer and trans people, a god who I don’t know truly cares about me or is real. I feel overwhelmed and tired just thinking about people whose lives have been taken or broken apart by police brutality, deportations, unfair housing conditions, lack of access to medical/ mental health resources.

I’ve been shelving my heavy emotions around these traumas, so that for a time so that I can recover and enjoy life. Life has been pretty good: I’m financially stable these days; I have the luxury of working part-time and working on music the rest of the time. I have friends who care about me, and my mental health has been drastically improving in the past year. I’m glad I’m taking the time to enjoy life and fill my headspace with things besides pain.

But sometimes I feel the temptation not just to shelve my feelings about injustice, but to pretend that I’m done with it. I’m reminding myself that I can enjoy my life, but also revisit and confront pain and injustice. I can’t pretend that I don’t need healing or that injustice doesn’t continue to affect people around me.

I still value the time I take to recover from engaging deeply with injustice, but I don’t want to give into the desire to forget about it. I’m challenging myself to stay connected to the hope evident in the resilience of LGBTQ+ APIs around me, and I’m grateful that NQAPIA provided a space for me to find that hope. I’m challenging myself stay hopeful that a just world is possible, not just for myself, but for everyone who needs it.

(Fun fact: I also performed at the NQAPIA arts & cultural night with my band, kapwa the band. People got up and started dancing during our set, it was a good time! Here’s a cute video of us from that night.)

Nancy Chen

Image description: Nancy is outside, smiling toward the camera. She is wearing a red floral shirt. In back of her is a pond with plantlife growing in it.

Image description: Nancy is outside, smiling toward the camera. She is wearing a red floral shirt. In back of her is a pond with plantlife growing in it.

Nancy Chen (she/her) has been volunteering with APIENC since 2015. She started off transcribing for the Dragon Fruit Project and joined the Core committee in 2017, APIENC’s leadership body. Nancy identifies as queer and non-binary.

Outside of APIENC, Nancy works with elementary and middle schoolers at the Chinatown YMCA, just up the block from the APIENC office! Back in her high school years, Nancy was involved with the youth program at the Chinatown Community Development Center and was previously involved with Reading Partners doing literacy work with children. Nancy aspired to be a freelance writer, so she studied English Literature at Smith College and graduated back in 2015. While looking for work as a freelance writer, Nancy did admin work but found it challenging. Eventually, she realized she missed being in Chinatown, so she decided to shift her work back to her community. She’s dabbled in some arts/arts education non-profit work around SF and been around the Chinatown community in various capacities. Her experience helped politicize her understanding around access to affordable housing and safe living conditions for low-income immigrant families. Nancy found herself doing an AmeriCorps term at the Y, and now she is here!

When Nancy started volunteering with APIENC, she was a “smol bb queer” and super scared of joining because that meant coming to terms with her queerness. She was tasked with transcribing a Dragon Fruit Project interview for the very first time. Nancy remembers how it was really impactful to transcribe someone’s story. That interview resonated so deeply with her own experiences and helped her realize that she made the right choice in filling out that volunteer interest form. Nancy’s love of APIENC has continued on to this day! She loves fighting for collective liberation, celebrating resilience and being in community with wonderful folks who share these values. Her hopes for the LGBTQ API community are that we continue thriving.

Want to know a fun fact about Nancy? Here are three! Nancy is a Virgo and a Hufflepuff. Also, she really doesn’t like Oreos.

Grounding Ourselves in Each Other: Yuan and Teo’s Summer Reflections

Image description: 2018 APIENC Summer Organizers (from left to right) Yuan, Paige, and Kevin are outdoors and smiling toward the camera

Image description: 2018 APIENC Summer Organizers (from left to right) Yuan, Paige, and Kevin are outdoors and smiling toward the camera

Reflections from Yuan Wang, 2018 APIENC Summer Organizer (they/them pronouns):

When I shared the first story that came to mind of feeling deeply “unwelcome”, my shoulders felt heavy and my eyes lowered to the ground. “We’re doing that one,” a new friend next to me replied, their voice gentle with compassion for my sadness and anger for my pain. “We’ll make it better this time.” I looked up; everyone in our group, locking eyes with one another, nodded.

We were a small group of five participating in APIENC’s larger summer Leadership Exchange, immersed in an hour-long workshop on “radical welcome”, a core APIENC practice that asserts that, in the spaces we make, we all belong, that we deserve to feel wanted, and safe, worth supporting and worth holding onto, and that we have the power to help others feel cared for and held. Prior to that weekend, the five of us hadn’t met yet. That weekend, we sat together and invited each other to step into some of our most joyful and most challenging memories, seeking to understand, together, how we could transform them into healing and action for the future.

Following our friends in other groups, we walked through a short skit that mimicked that old memory of mine, and I felt myself tremble, reliving this with others. We then performed another iteration of that same moment, but transformed it into a radically-welcoming version, nurtured by the training we received and the deep kindness cocooning the room around us.

These feelings of challenging myself to build trust with folks I hadn’t met before (and finding that challenge becoming easier, and easier), of participating in groups eager to reflect on how our own growth journeys help grow our movement spaces, and of learning and practicing to build rooms, moments, and relationships that nurture the sense of belonging of everyone involved; these were present for me at each turn this summer, guiding me gently.

Image description: group selfie of 30+ volunteers, supporters, friends and summer organizers at the 2018 Summer Organizer Graduation. Julie holds up sign that reads "thank you". Paige holds up sign that reads "over $10k raised".

Image description: group selfie of 30+ volunteers, supporters, friends and summer organizers at the 2018 Summer Organizer Graduation. Julie holds up sign that reads “thank you”. Paige holds up sign that reads “over $10k raised”.

As an APIENC summer organizer, my core responsibilities included reviewing and strengthening APIENC’s volunteer engagement system, with the goals of being able to better onboard folks new to APIENC and support our community members’ personal development and growth as organizers. I learned that the past two years had been full of challenges for the APIENC community, as more and more folks reached out to APIENC to find more supportive, loving, and safer connections with other queer and trans API folks. APIENC itself has started to imagine how to shift some of its capacity from collecting intergenerational oral history through the Dragon Fruit Project towards building a network of care through the Dragon Fruit Network. It is so critical, especially for our communities, to intentionally create room for folks who are newer to voice why they’re here, what they’re looking for, and where they come from.

For me, having been born in nearby Fremont but having spent most of my life in New Jersey and New York, this meant reaching out to a community of folks I hadn’t had the chance to meet before, holding the hope of growing with each other and trusting that we had each come to APIENC in search of a space and learning from each person’s deep wisdoms, and building relationships with each other that are rooted in kindness and hope. I’m so thankful for the many meals, time in the sun, gentle walks and sits, and bubble tea (so much…bubble tea…) we shared!

One new friend I spoke to shared how, after recently moving to the United States with very few friends in the Bay and struggling with feelings of isolation and separation from their home, they felt such joy at their first APIENC event, gardening with others at Spiral Garden in Berkeley; they laughed, their eyes full of sunlight, as they remembered the feelings of digging their hands gently into soil, recalling that, even with the language barrier, they felt deeply connected, and hopeful about their future in the Bay.

These eight weeks were not always easy, not for me or for any of us. I struggled with my mental health, with balancing work and devoting time to rest myself.t times there were deep-rooted fears surrounding my gender identity and expression. Friends among us in our community faced challenges with housing and food security, with ICE and the effects of incarceration (#KeepPJHome!), with isolation, and with so much more. I want to hold onto and continue reflecting on it all. I want to remember having a homemade lunch in the afternoon sun with MLin, being a silly tender bun with Sammie, listening to the other summer organizers in the office talking, laughing, and being, standing in a circle with the LEX family and watching as we poured vinegar into each others’ jars and speaking our intentions into existence, and I couldn’t help but smile, seeing the joy in the rooms we created, together. I feel such a deep spring of hope now, just knowing that these folks, that you, exist, and are here. So much is only possible because we are.

Reflections from Teo Saragi, 2018 APIENC Summer Organizer (they/them pronouns):

Image description: group selfie of smiling participants of APIENC's Leadership Exchange. Folx are holding mason jars full of burdock and vinegar.

Image description: group selfie of smiling participants of APIENC’s Leadership Exchange. Folx are holding mason jars full of burdock and vinegar.

On one sunny day in July, twenty lovely humans who were part of APIENC’s Summer Leadership Exchange gather in a circle outside the UC Berkeley Ethnic Studies Library. In each of our palms, we hold small glass mason jars filled with slices of burdock–a medicinal root. We had collectively sliced the burdock just a few minutes ago using shared knives and cutting boards. We begin to pass around a large bottle of apple cider vinegar, each person in the circle placing their jar of burdock on the ground so that they can pour vinegar for the person next to them. We pour enough into each other’s jars to submerge the burdock completely. As we pour, we each state a personal intention that we hope to enact outside of the space. We repeat the process until each person holds a jar of vinegary burdock; a month from now, we’ll individually open our respective jars and be greeted with herbal vinegar.

This collective experience of creating medicine, from the cutting and feeling, to the tasting and pouring, exemplifies the deep feeling of interconnectedness that APIENC cultivates. To me, community organizing is about learning skills and tools for personal and collective healing. It’s about being in dialogue with yourself and others about how to transform harmful conditions and build worlds where we can exist fully and thrive unapologetically.

I kept this in mind as I worked as a Joint Summer Organizer with Asian Prisoner Support Committee to mobilize against the prison-industrial complex through re-entry support, educational materials, and community events. As the summer began, I quickly realized that I had been neglecting personal healing throughout my organizing experiences in college even as I passionately advocated for collective healing. I accepted that I needed to listen to what my body and heart needed at this point in my life.

This summer was a major period of transition for me as I entered post-college life and moved to the Bay Area. I came into APIENC not only as a Summer Organizer, but also as a person searching for QTAPI community. In order to sustain my activism and organizing, I needed to find a space of healing and rejuvenation that would help nourish my tired student activist soul.

Image description: 2018 summer organizers Teo and Julie smile at the camera. Teo is holding a postcard that reads "#KeepPJHome". Behind them stand Borey PJ Ai and Eddie Zheng of APSC

Image description: 2018 summer organizers Teo and Julie smile at the camera. Teo is holding a postcard that reads “#KeepPJHome”. Behind them stand Borey PJ Ai and Eddie Zheng of APSC

During my summer at APIENC, I was encouraged to not hide behind productivity. I was pushed to take time to truly build trust and deep, vulnerable relationships. I engaged in difficult conversations and experienced moments of discomfort. I experienced movement-building in so many ways, from sharing stories with other APIENC summer team folx, to chanting at the top of my lungs at Trans March, to mobilizing people to #KeepPJHome. I was reminded about the critical need to donate time, energy, and financial resources to grassroots and community-based organizations to sustain our struggle towards liberation.

Moving beyond this summer, I hope to continue building QTAPI power and community in the Bay by remaining an active APIENC member. I’m also working to intentionally prioritize my creative organizing work by doing things like facilitating filmmaking and storytelling workshops for Southeast Asian youth from Oakland. As I continue my activism in the Bay, I’m building upon legacies and generations of people whom I’m currently surrounded by, as well as those who have come before me. I also hope to continue fighting for the accessibility, visibility, and safety of QTAPI and QTPOC spaces outside major metropolitan areas. I’m particularly thinking about the community I come from and grew up in, the Inland Empire in Southern California. I’m so grateful that I found my way to APIENC, and I’m constantly thinking about folx who have little to no networks of community support that run as deep and strong as APIENC.

While my Summer Organizer experience at APIENC has concluded, I will still be around to power our work. To everyone who was a part of my summer experience, thank you for reminding me to be tender and for challenging me to prioritize abundance over scarcity. I appreciate each of you so much for holding me as I learn and grow with patience and kindness.

From September 8 – 16, We Rise for Climate Justice

Image description: A big group selfie of APIENC's TTAC cohort, along with the text: "Pacific Islander, Asian, trans, and queer people are directly impacted by climate change. Join us Sept 8 - Sept 16 To rise for climate justice"

Image description: A big group selfie of APIENC’s TTAC cohort, along with the text: “Pacific Islander, Asian, trans, and queer people are directly impacted by climate change. Join us Sept 8 – Sept 16 To rise for climate justice”

On September 8th, thousands of people will be in the streets of San Francisco rising for climate justice and pushing elected leaders to be accountable to frontline communities. Will you be one of them?

The effects of climate change are already happening around the world. Especially as Asian and Pacific Islander people, we see impacts in our local communities and in our homelands. From wildfires to typhoons to floods to constant extraction, our communities are being displaced and destroyed by climate disasters and the institutions and people that cause them. Enough is enough.

Now is the time to act! We are rising for climate justice, for workers rights, for immigrant rights, and for trans liberation. On September 8th, people from around the nation will be taking the streets at the March for Climate, Jobs, and Justice. The March is then followed by several days of activities designed to educate and inspire our communities and to influence the government and industry leaders who will be meeting Sept. 13 – 14 at Moscone Center at the invitation of Gov. Jerry Brown’s office.

APIENC is building a community of Asian and Pacific Islander LGBTQ folks to learn together, build relationships, and figure out where and how to plug into the local, national, and global conversation for climate justice! Want to join us in taking action? Click this form to sign up for our list. Here are 4 ways to plug in:

1. Join our last Think and Take Action Cohort, to meet others and prep for the week of action!
When: Sept. 1st, 12pm-2pm (it’s a potluck!)
Where: Near Glen Park BART (address sent upon RSVPing)
RSVP to Alma (almasoongi@gmail.com)
Access: 8 step staircase and no elevator, one gender neutral bathroom, no pets

2. Come to the Queers 4 Climate Justice Art Build, to make a cool sign and connect with QTs
When: Sept. 5th, 6pm-8pm
Where: Strut, 470 Castro Street (across from Castro Theater).
RSVP to Alma (almasoongi@gmail.com) and at the Facebook Event
Access: Strut is accessible on the 3rd floor via an ADA elevator. Paint and markers contain strong chemical scents, but the space is ventilated.

3. Attend the Rise for Climate Justice March, in the Pacific Islander or Asian contingents*!
RSVP at the general link!
* Note: the Pacific Islander Contingent will be at the front of the march, with the larger Indigenous contingent. The Asian contingent will be following, as part of the larger front-line communities contingent
For the Asian Contingent: RSVP on Facebook or to Alma almasoongi@gmail.com, (415) 203-9930 and Clara Qin, (734) 223-5115, claralqin@gmail.com. Meeting at Embarcadero BART, Drumm Street exit, 10am
For the Pacific Islander Contingent: Vince, vac2sfo@icloud.com, (415) 217-9128 (texting is best). Meeting at 4 Embarcadero Plaza, 9:15am for Interfaith Prayer
Queers 4 Climate Justice Contingent: Matt Bautista, mattbautista@gmail.com, (415) 712-6229. Meeting at Sue Bierman Park, 216 Drumm Street, 9:30 a.m.

4. Come to Amazing Events, Sept. 9th-16th!
There are many great workshops, caucuses, tours, and educational discussions happening the week of the People’s’ Summit. TTAC members will be attending and leading some of these events below:

Thanks to our Ancestors: Reflections from Trans March 2018

Image description: APIENC Summer Organizers and volunteers raise their hands in the air, Julie in the center, smiling

Hello everyone! My name is Julie Le and I use they/them pronouns. I am a Vietnamese and Southeast Asian American rooted in Oakland to refugees from the Vietnam War. This summer, I am an APIENC summer organizer and I’m work with VietUnity towards coalition building and membership engagement.

For me, I’ve always thought of community as being surrounded by people that are willing to be present with me. People who will share space, experiences, vulnerabilities, and hold my voice. For me, community never felt like something tangible in the world, because everything felt so hopeless. The violence and trauma that has been inflicted onto trans and queer Asian and Pacific Islanders deterred me from understanding and accepting my identities. But that changed when I got the opportunity to take part in Trans March 2018. This year was my first experience with Trans March and Pride itself, and it proved to be an empowering experience. Before, Pride always felt like an event for capitalistic America, and something I did not relate to, or want to take part of. It wasn’t until after I understood the history and origins of the Trans March and Pride that I felt a connection to my queer identity and a connection to the community that gathered to fight for the same cause: trans justice.

Image description: 4 individuals carry the APIENC contingent’s banner at Trans March 2018. The banner reads, “We’re Asians and Pacific Islanders, Trans and Proud.

The most awe-striking moment of the day for me was when everyone was gathered right before the march. Looking around, I saw people that looked like me. I saw other queer and trans Asians and Pacific Islanders present and ready to make our voices and presence heard. as the people before us had. From learning the history of Trans March, to thinking about our own contingent starting with 30 people, to being surrounded by nearly 300, I was incredibly amazed at the power our ancestors have given us. The banner we carried read, “We’re Asians and Pacific Islanders, Trans and Proud,” a throwback to the “We’re Asians, Gay and Proud” banner that dates back to the 1980 issue of Gay Insurgent (click here to watch the story behind the photo!). I felt so connected in the ways that people before us, with less resources and access, were able to be resilient to pave the way for us today to exist. Back then, our ancestors were still able to create spaces for themselves through media, presence, community spaces, and so much more, even when there was a higher risk of danger to their lives. Being able to be present at Trans March, I felt connected in the strength and energy that was passed down for our APIENC contingent to be there and take that space. Looking around, I saw folks that were older than me and folks that could’ve been my uncles, aunties, or elders in another space. There we were, together in unison, fighting for Trans and Queer Liberation. It was an honor to be in a space that so many people have fought with their literal lives to create, and to be with so many other people that carry the same passion and resiliency to continue this legacy of resistance.

I was incredibly overwhelmed by the amount of people, and the air of resiliency and strength that everyone seemed to carry with them. This empowered me to be present. In that moment, I realized that my existence matters. Our existence matters, and no one can take that away from us. As much as people try to hold us down and keep us from being heard, we resist. We continue to push forward to create a space for us and the people after us.

It really meant a lot to me as I was able to share the space of APIENC and Trans March with my younger sibling. I’m the first in my immediate family to explore my queerness in relation to my Vietnamese identity and this has been a difficult journey. In relation to my present day and my history, I was never given the opportunity to explore various issues that are important to my existence. Sharing Trans March with my younger sibling meant a lot to me because I wanted to be able to give them the resources and opportunity to explore their identities and be able to develop their sense of self without restrictions from our parents or without feeling like it was wrong to explore their identity. We marched together, holding the Viet Unity banner, and in that moment I felt so powerful and so connected to my sibling in a way I couldn’t have been able to elsewhere. Through Trans March and through my work as an organizer, my sibling and I shared space, vulnerability, and the resources to explore ourselves and our identities together so neither of us would feel alone. For me, Trans March represents not just the present, but reflects an image of the past and an image of the future. The work we are doing to create communities that advocate, educate, and frankly, aggravate to be heard and represented isn’t something newly created. This space is made possible by those that risked so much before us and is something that will continue to be made so those after us won’t have to.

The work we do and the presence we hold is powerful not only in the movement building we do, but in the spaces we create to heal, rest, and build relationships amongst one another. We do this work to build a true community, created by us and for us.

Image description: A panoramic group photo of APIENC’s Trans March 2018 contingent. Visible banners read, “We’re Asians and Pacific Islanders, Trans and Proud” and “Honor our dead, fight like hell for the living.”

Medha Asthana

Image description: APIENC volunteer Medha smiles at camera while sitting outdoors on a curb, head slightly tilted, with elbow on knee.

MEDHA is a volunteer and Core member of APIENC! Medha Asthana identifies as a queer Indian American, born in India and raised in the Midwest and the SF Bay Area.

Outside of APIENC, Medha is an Organizer at Californians for Justice. They work with high school students in East San Jose, empowering student as leaders of educational and racial justice in schools. This includes leadership development, base building, and political education. Medha really enjoys getting to facilitate and write curriculum, especially about QTPOC resilience, in which they get to center and ground students in their own personal story. It has been exciting and fulfilling for them to bring along students who have never been exposed to queer and trans livelihoods.

During Medha’s junior year of college, they studied abroad in Santiago, Chile and saw police repression and radical leftist student organizing for the first time. After coming back and graduating, they started community organizing with other POC. Upon return to the Bay Area, Medha started looking for a political home and found APIENC through a Direct Action Training. They first volunteered with last summer’s Leadership Exchange (LEX). Since then, Medha describes APIENC as a place of great growth where they feel really held and welcome. They now make the trip up to San Francisco from San Jose almost every other weekend. Medha has also worked with the Korean Resource Center and attended Bay Area Solidarity Summer, a South Asian political action camp. They have also done grassroots organizing in their hometown of Cupertino, pushing the community and the school board to adopt LGBTQ-inclusive and comprehensive sex ed curriculum.

Medha hopes that the LGBTQ API community can bring our full selves to the forefront of our lives and assert ourselves unapologetically and compassionately. In the API community, family is so important — whether given or chosen. Since so many of us struggle with existing in the in-between spaces and finding our places (both in and outside the movement), their greatest hope is for everyone to find and create and develop a family that sees us for who we are and welcomes all.

Medha’s favorite APIENC memory was the last Core Meeting that they facilitated with Ralph. They appreciated how everything worked out with so many folks pitching in, and felt honored and blessed to be part of a team that is taking on challenges with full-hearted care and investment for the work and each other. APIENC is a place where Medha feels grounded in value-based, intersectional, and close-knit community organizing that keeps them feeling okay in the rest of the world. For them, it’s a space where no one is being questioned, interrogated, or misunderstood.

Fun Fact: Medha can lift their right toe at a 90 degree angle! Ask them to show you next time you see them!

Skate with your fellow APIENC-ERS!


Learn How to Skateboard: Beginner’s Basic 101 with Lorl and Yams

BYOB: It’s bring your own board event!
Who: Everyone and all levels but centering queer trans folx beginners!
What: Learn how to skateboard (this entails the basics!)
Where: Golden Gate Park! (at the skatin’ place near 8th and Fulton)
When: Sunday, July 15, 2018 (1-5pm)
*yis, the rumors is true – there will be a raffle for limited edition APIENC merch.