For me, the year 2017 was full of moments of feeling seen and unseen, often juxtaposed in a way that made me both hopeful and frustrated. As I recapped my year, I started to realize that, at the center of my highs and lows, was the issue of identity. In this essay, I explore who I am as a person of my craft, and as a member of my community, and I’d love for you to do the same (if you’d like!). I think we all have a pretty good sense of who we are in general, but to delve deeper is something from which we may all benefit. So, as you read through this, you can keep these questions in the back of your head:
– How does your work reflect who you are, and when, if at all, is it necessary to change your work to reflect who your audience is?
– When do you personally feel visible and invisible, and how does that affect you/how you interact with others?
-How does your craft and your community shape who you are? Is there an intersection of the two?
Or, you totally don’t have to, and you can just read! xx
I released my first self-published book in April, a project that was 100 percent mine—my vision, my mistakes, and, overall, my unique learning experience. On the night of my book release party, I sold out of copies to a full house. I connected with folks I hadn’t spoken to or seen in years. I ate tacos, and got to take leftover watermelon-cucumber agua fresca home. This was a high point that was only outshined by the fact that the official release day had yet to come.On that release day, I had the opportunity to table at Tuesday Night Café and connect with new people and artists (and also got the flu, which destroyed me for two weeks after). Through the relationships formed here, I was able to table at more open mics and connect even more with likeminded members of the Asian Pacific Islander community. I talked to people about their stories, and how that related to the story I had just put out, and how we could help more people tell theirs. I felt inspired. I felt like I was making a difference. I felt visible as an API artist.
Since, I’ve felt the buzz from these events naturally dwindle until silent. In that time, I’ve taken meetings that left me questioning if I’m good enough to be seen.
I’ve felt the attention in the room dissipate when I say that I’m fourth-generation Japanese-American. I’ve seen people not want to hear my experience because I’m not an “immigrant” in the way they think of the word. I’ve felt unheard when they ask what I’m writing, and I tell them about my pilot that explores anti-blackness in the Asian-American community—their eyes glazing over because they aren’t the ones out there experiencing what this means. Many aren’t aware these stories exist, and aren’t interested in hearing more, if it doesn’t fit their idea of what the Asian experience is.
It’s a frustrating thing, to be Asian and American at times when people see you as either, or. The fact that I am both, but am often unacknowledged as both can make me feel invisible as both an API and an API artist, and I am just starting to learn how to navigate this strange af space.
Let’s be real. The internet is a great way to connect activists to others, organize events, and start social media movements. Through Twitter and Facebook, we pass on the phone numbers of representatives whose votes can be swayed, disseminate information about rallies and protests, and increase awareness of causes that need more attention. Sharing and participating in these conversations can make us feel like we’re making a difference, and often times, we are. However, keeping our activism limited to what we do online and through the phone can be mentally draining and can feel unrewarding at times.
It can be frustrating to call senators and ask that they vote against a bill, and have that still not be enough to stop it from being passed. It’s frustrating to share a hashtag in hopes of raising awareness of police brutality, only to have police officers be acquitted again. It’s frustrating messaging a friend on Facebook about their problematic views in hopes of changing them, but have them go right back to reposting Breitbart articles. It’s fucking frustrating. And it’s easy to feel like you’re working your butt off to make a difference, but when the results are not tangible or instant, you can feel like you’re losing yourself in a sea of twitter users fighting alt-right bots and conservative housewives, with the only satisfaction coming from the “likes” you get when you tweet gifs @realDonaldTrump. It’s so easy to feel invisible.
I’ve found that when I’m overwhelmed by all of this, it’s refreshing to ditch my electronic devices and go out into the community to interact with people face to face. And, to be honest, it’s weird to speak about this because it’s something that’s pretty new to me. Yet, in the short amount of time I’ve been involved, I feel a change in the way I perceive others and the ways in which I approach how I try to make my voice heard.
When you go outside, you get to see the faces of the people you’re fighting for, and those you’re fighting alongside. It’s helpful to see how your actions direct real, human beings, taking you out of that “what I’m doing isn’t affecting anyone” funk. It’s not always fun to get in a car and drive to a community meeting, find free parking in a loading zone after 6pm, and look for a seat next to someone you don’t know, when you could just sit at home and retweet Shaun King and John Lewis.
I get it. Been there. I am always Team No Pants and Tweet and Chill.
With that said, some of the most rewarding experiences of this past year have happened because I decided to go outside and make myself uncomfortable. I’ve gone to a mosque to support my Muslim brothers and sisters after they received death threats. I’ve spoken to others about how I use art as activism, and how they can, too. I’ve simply listened to stories of those who feel oppressed in a very different way than I do. No matter how big or how small an action is within the community, I’ve found it worth it, and I let it inspire me to keep fighting and to take those steps outside into the world to make a difference.
I’m not saying it’s easy or the wrong approach to sit behind a computer screen. In fact, the way social media is used today calls for, and inspires change, and I think we should keep using it. However, when you start to feel invisible, it’s a great idea to go out there and make yourself visible, while at the same time, putting yourself in a position where you’re able to see others. Plus, you might make a friend or two, and we all know you could use more friends.
I would ultimately love for these newsletter essays to be about how we can become more comfortable in our own skin, and challenge ourselves to recognize ways that we aren’t, and ways that we already are. With this confidence, I’d love us to go out into the world and make ourselves visible. Grow as a person of your craft. Grow your community that will support you, and you, in turn, will support them. Grow as a human being.
That’s the goal. There is always a chance that I won’t have something to say in a month, and will have to document a story of how I peed myself in public again. Fair warning.