Editors' note: This speech was presented for Creating Change by Ben de Guzman, Co-director of Programs at NQAPIA and others from the Planning Committee of the Asian American Pacific Islander Institute.
We're glad for the opportunity to speak before you today as the Planning Committee for the AAPI Institute held her at Creating Change in Minneapolis. Lunar New Year begins today and many of the Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese cultures from which we come welcome the Year of the Rabbit with hopes of renewal and prosperity. We're pleased to be able to talk to you about Lunar New Year here at Creating Change.
This conference has been a critical event for our work in Asian American/South Asian/Southeast Asian/Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities. It was here in November 2005 that many of our organizations came together to form the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance. Since that time, we've been hard at work articulating an AAPI voice and carving out a space in partnership with many of you in LGBT social justice movements around the country. Another thing that has changed since November 2005 is that the annual dates of Creating Change has been moved to February... mainly with concern and support for those doing election-related work. A worthy concern.
However, this February timeframe places an enormous challenge on us in the AAPI communities. Because Creating Change is held at this time of year many of our activists are either planning for Lunar New Year activities, or balancing this conference against their family and community commitments.
Lunar New Year has been described as the period of the world's largest human migration, when untold numbers of people travel to be with their families to mark the New Year. We take this opportunity now to share with you not only what it means for us as AAPI queer folks to take part in Creating Change, but in a broader sense, what it means for us to all be here together as a community of people of color, of immigrants and third generation and indigenous people, what it means for those who span and redefine the boundaries of gender, of leaders and partners in the project of LGBT social justice that brings us all together here this weekend.
We want to share a few perspectives that we bring to this work. Vanessa Coe and Chong Moua are two leaders I'm proud to call sisters, colleagues and friends.
Chong Moua of S.O.Y. (A Shade of Yellow) spoke about the organization, the first Hmong group for LGBT people in the world founded in 2003:
The myths and stereotypes and even sometimes realities about the Asian American model minority don't often hold true in our communities. While a Hmong LGBTQ history always existed, it is not openly talked about. Queerness is identified as another culture and outside of our own (for example, white men can be gay, but not Hmong men) there are few Hmong queer role models. Due to our refugee community and its traditions about society, gender expectations and roles in our community, it is extremely difficult for people to come out. Homophobia is often a problem. We are a very small, unique culture among a smaller minority in the sea of the mainstream LGBTQ movement, at the same time we are an even smaller minority within the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) movement.
Vanessa Coe articulated the central dilemma faced by her another activist at the conference - a dilemma that articulates a larger challenge:
My grandmother recently turned eighty-eight. While her long term memory is fully intact, which makes for wonderful story telling, her short-term memory is no longer working so well. Over the last three months, she has called me every week asking what day I'll arrive in Taiwan for Lunar New Year, followed by 10 minutes of me apologizing and reminding her that I cannot be there this year. Even though I explain this to her every week, I still struggle to find the words to justify why I won't see her this New Year.
With Creating Change during the Lunar New Year, I have to choose between organizing and being with my family, between being Asian and being queer. These are the decisions that I regularly face, yet, the truth of the matter is that it is because I am my grandmother's granddaughter that I even work for a more just and equitable world. She and the rest of my family instilled a strong set of values that have moved me to organize for and with our communities. Not being physically with her this week makes the work we do here even more important.
I know that it is not the intention of this conference to make these decisions so difficult. I believe that it is here at Creating Change that we can continue to build inclusive movements and communities that allow for us to be fully present. Many Queer and API folks were unable to attend this conference this year, so I stand here today and ask for your collective partnership as we commit to work with the Creating Change organizers to minimize the cultural conflicts this timeframe presents, and to maximize the cultural learning and sharing we can do here in this space to recognize all our cultures. Part of this will mean explicit commitments to working out schedules in advance. We are circulating more information about what that means- please feel free to see those of us who attended the AAPI Institute to find out more. But part of it will also mean a common commitment from all of us in this room to continue to build this space and these spaces here as allies and partners.
On Friday as I listened to Rea Carey's LGBT State of the Movement Address and her call on the LGBT movement to better address issues like immigration and violence internationally resonated strongly with us. I look forward to working with the Task Force to stretching our collective organizing muscles to challenge and expand our definitions of what it means to be working for LGBT equality.