The Austin Chronicle

"To All the Asians We Haven't Heard" Creates Space for Healing, Connecting

By James Scott, October 17, 2019, 9:00am, Qmmunity

In his poem Essay on Craft, Saigon-born and Connecticut-raised poet Ocean Vuong describes the urgency he felt to write his own story; despite the pain invited by such vulnerability, Vuong insists on continuing his craft, “Because I, too, needed a place to hold me.”

For certain identities – namely, white centric ones – there are many places already formed to hold and heal those who are hurting. Less often are people who live queer Asian American experiences given the space to mold their own stories – places to hold them in a true, visible way where they’re acknowledged audibly.

With Monday’s LGBTQ Asian American community storytelling event, “To All the Asians We Haven’t Heard,” local organizers Nathan Pham, Quỳnh-Hương Nguyễn, Tuyến Thái, and Jae Lin came together to carve out a place in which Austin’s queer and trans Asian and Pacific Islanders will feel held, heard, and acknowledged. As Pham explains, the name for the event was inspired by a different gathering, “To All the Asians We Haven’t Seen,” but also a desire to give a more spoken- and queer-focused platform to “all of these [Asian American] stories about either immigration or the hardships and the different colors that really come through that a lot of folks either ignore or never take the time to listen to.”

“I thought it was a reference to To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” Lin admits.

Similar titles aside, the event doesn’t seek to provide a singular face in the way a movie can only focus on one character. The tunnel vision created by only allowing a few Asian American voices through can often leave by the wayside an incredibly diverse community with a wide variety of experiences. “There’s a sense of demystifying what queer Asian and Pacific Islander Americans are,” Thái muses, before laying out the statistics. There are “2, 300 living languages that are Asian” as well, roughly 48 countries that span Asia with a myriad of ethnic groups. *In a rough estimation, Thái states – with “about 4.3 billion plus Asian and Pacific Islanders across the world” – that "if there are approximately 20 percent in any given population that are queer, then there are about *860 million plus that are queer and Asian” and their need for visible diverse storytellers within that community is crucial.

Lin, describing South Asian nonbinary poet Alok Vaid-Menon as “one of the first Asian nonbinary people I really saw being extremely visible,” extrapolates on how Vaid-Menon’s work speaks to “the complicated place they hold in being very visible and very representative of certain intersections, certain experiences.” And how it can leave them applauded onstage, but “disrespected, and maybe punished for their visibility when they’re offstage.”

Pham, who brings up Vuong as a writer who inspires them personally, calls the event “taking the mic” by being a platform for and created by queer Asian Austinites themselves. They also emphasized that coming and hearing these queer Asian American stories is something people who “don’t identify as Asian American” should do since “we’ve heard each other, but they haven’t heard us.”

“Owning our stories is one of the most powerful and courageous acts that we can do,” Thái rhapsodizes, acknowledging that even as “101” as the words sound, owning one’s story is powerful “because you feel that freedom in your body, in your soul, in the way that you sleep, in the way that you communicate with one and other.” The space created within “To All the Asians We Haven’t Heard Before” is very much a space for healing and community. Split between a time for storytelling and a period afterward for socializing, the event is planned around the well-being of those speaking – who will be “revealing parts of themselves that are quite vulnerable,” Thái remarks.

“As queer, trans Asian Americans, there are a lot of community spaces where we actually face a lot of harm and can develop a lot of trauma around,” Lin says, explaining that both Asian specific and queer specific spaces have put a lot of hurt toward those who identify as both. “Whether its dating apps, or going home for the holidays,” Lin points out, “this particular intersection can make it really hard to exists even in community spaces when they’re not explicitly by and for us.” That is why, Lin says, this event is important as an opportunity to acknowledge that trauma and “hopefully facilitate some sort of post-traumatic growth and post-traumatic healing wherever folks are in that journey.”

Another goal of the event is to provide a place for relationships and connections to grow, something Nguyễn states is important as “I do know there are a lot of queer Asian folks who haven’t come out yet.” Expressing that her “mission” is to push for growth, Nguyễn says “mentorships” and “families” are what she hopes to cultivate from the October 21 event and any that might spring from it. “That’s my big thing,” she states. “Creating communities, creating families,” adding that she hopes to also “find elders” to grow relationships with. “I’ve had elders, but they’re elders in different spaces and also have different identities from mine, so I’m hoping we can create that here.”

In the act of molding together the event and bolstering the wealth of diverse voices within the queer Asian American community, “To All the Asians We Haven’t Heard,” which takes place on Monday, October 21, 7pm at the Vortex, is a step forward because these voices, too, need a place to hold them – a place to be heard loud and clear.

*E.N. An earlier version of this quote read that 86 million people of the 4.3 billion Asian and Pacific Islanders across the world are queer; this has been updated to reflect that this is a rough estimate, not an exact number, as well as updated to reflect that 20% of 4.3 billion would be 860 million.

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