So much comfort depends on the services and silence of Asian women

a call for solidarity, empathy, and creative reimagining

ROCK PAPER RADIO is a dispatch for misfits & unlikely optimists by your favorite hapa haole, beet-pickling, public radio nerd. It’s a weekly email newsletter that shares three curiosities every Thursday - something to hold on to (that’s the ‘rock’), something to read (that’s the ‘paper‘), and something to listen to (you guessed it, that’s the ‘radio’). Themes include but are not limited to: rebel violinists, immortal jellyfish, revolution. Thanks for subscribing and spreading the word.
This is my friend Jen Yoshimura. She’s an engineer and a diversity, equity, and inclusion advocate. On solidarity, she says, “My hope is that communities of color rise up in these moments. Together. We will not fall into the trap of being divided because of our race.” You can see more dapper photos of Jen here. Photo credit: Kristin Leong, Seattle, October 2020.

SOMETHING TO READ

This is normally where I like to crack a few “jokes” about the news of the week, but that didn’t feel like a good fit today.

There’s a lot of heartbreaking and enraging responses flooding the internet right now in the wake of Tuesday’s horrific shooting spree through massage parlors in Atlanta that left eight people murdered—six of them Asian women. Say their names: Delaina Ashley Yaun, Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Julie Park, Hyeon Jeong Park, Paul Andre Michels. There are two more whose names have not yet been shared.

America is publicly reckoning with its anti-Asian misogyny problem in a way that we have never seen before. My cautiously optimistic hope is that this reckoning turns into a transformation.

This deep dive from 2015 by Sarah Maslin Nir for The New York Times is a powerful reminder that many Asian women in service jobs have been at risk for a long time: The Price of Nice Nails. I remember being floored by this feat of journalism when it was first published. For this story, the Times interviewed over 150 nail salon workers and shop owners in four languages. The work and care put into this reporting is staggering.

So much comfort depends on the services and silence of immigrant Asian women grinding through barbaric working schedules and conditions. If we first need to educate before we agitate and organize, reading and sharing their stories is a solid place to start.

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SOMETHING TO LISTEN TO

For the past few years I’ve been hosting nerdy dinner parties with strangers through KUOW Public Radio. We call this experiment Curiosity Club. At the heart of the Club is one question: Can a shared meal and compelling storytelling transform a group of strangers into a community? So far, we’re seeing promising evidence that the answer to that question is yes.

However, at one of those dinners, things did not go so smoothly. Ishea Brown and Joe Santiago didn’t hit it off at their Curiosity Club gathering in 2019. After the dinner, in the spirit of the Club’s relentless belief in unlikely connections, we invited both of them back to the studio for a follow-up conversation. Bravely, they agreed.

What resulted is this 9-minute feature that I produced for KUOW: Is the end of racism possible? The power in agreeing to disagree.

As I listen back to Joe and Ishea’s story, I’m moved all over again - both to hear a disagreement about race between two people of color turn out to be the start of a conversation instead of the end of one, and also to hear the way Ishea and Joe really listen to each other. By the end of the taping, Joe and Ishea didn’t change each other’s minds, but they did make plans to get together again (this time without microphones or producers) to keep talking.

It’s been heartening over the last few days to see a groundswell of compassion from non-Asian allies in response to the surge in anti-Asian violence. Solidarity, right now, is so critical. But I think what gets lost in calls for public allyship is the empathy that has to precede it. My hope is that Ishea and Joe’s story serves as a reminder of how transformative empathy and conversation can be, perhaps especially when we’re talking about topics our parents told us never to bring up at dinner parties.

SOMETHING TO HOLD ON TO

In January, the innovators behind the Black Artists + Designers Guild (BADG) unveiled their extraordinary inaugural project - the Obsidian virtual concept house. I highly recommend clearing your schedule and making space to sit undistracted while you take yourself on a tour.

This gorgeous and meticulously designed interactive project is a space of both safety and inspiration. From BADG:

“Through the Obsidian virtual concept house, we affirm our desire to shatter narratives of monolithic Blackness by highlighting the diversity of visions conceptualized by our team of creators, many of which intersect in values, materials, and methods of making, but all of which represent our unique paths to creativity and to one another. Each unique vision - each room - is a stand for Black creativity, for Black families, for Black liberation, for Black thriving, for Black safety, and for Black futures. Like the precious stone for which it was named, Obsidian stands for our grounding on the earth, the protection of our spirits, the clarity of our vision, the legacies we carry, and the momentum that propels us forward.”

Be stunned and spread the word.

This is the Djembe Room in the Obsidian House. This room was imagined by Revamp Interior Design. Go to the room and hear an audio clip about the space from designer Danielle Fennoy here. Photo credit: Black Artists + Designers Guild

#AZNxBLM is OPEN FOR YOUR PITCHES

That’s it for issue 33. Thanks for reading, listening, and holding on, friends.

And thank you too for spreading the word about our #AZNxBLM call for art and writing with your much-appreciated shout outs to ROCK PAPER RADIO and The Slants Foundation. Please spread this good news too—the deadline to pitch has been extended to March 28. The application is quick, painless, and free.

Take care of yourselves and your loved ones out there in the meantime, fam. It’s a rough time for misfits of many stripes these days.

See you next Thursday.

K.

You can find ROCK PAPER RADIO on Instagram and Twitter @RockPaperRadio. You can help spread the word about our community of misfits and unlikely optimists by sharing this call on the social medias with a comment that says LET’S GO #AZNxBLM. Or something like that.