Hosted and edited by Jordan Alam. With care from the entire Project As[I]Am Team.
TRANSCRIPT (by Tessa Kim)
Jordan (host): Hi there, this is Jordan Alam, and I’m the founder and editor of Project As[I]Am.
This time, we wanted to do something a little bit different with our Letter from the Editors, and so we chose to record ourselves in conversation about our general concept, the issue, and how it changed over the period of time that we were working on it. Forgive us for any messy audio; we recorded this all over Google Hangouts. We’ll kick it off with an excerpt from our Call for Submissions, which is entitled “Our Greatest Resource.”
“How do we build a world we want, rather than focusing on what we resist and don’t want? Much of looking toward what we want starts with that more internal, quiet and tender work of caring for each other and ourselves. What if we prioritized this work of loving each other better? How do we want to see each other grow, thrive, and live in joy?
In this issue, we’re looking for your ‘love letters,’ your thank-you notes, and your dedications. We need each other to confront injustice, to heal, and to transform.”
Now I’ll turn it over to our editors. You’ll be hearing from Arita, Tessa, Alvin, and Jordan. And if you like what you hear on the podcast or if you like what you see in the issue, please consider subscribing or donating one time to As[I]Am. We have a volunteer staff and all of our proceeds go to supporting Asian American artists and creators and their work. All right, that’s enough introduction; now the editors can take it away.
How did you all answer those questions when you first read it?
Alvin: I remember having a—a really good conversation with a friend of mine who is in graduate school and she’s working on a bunch of different projects, and I asked for her advice because I felt so overwhelmed by things I wanted to do versus things that I felt like I should be doing. And she told me, you know, stop focusing so much on what you feel you should do and just look for the pieces that make you want to sing. Look for the things that really inspire you and just be open to it. And I really liked that idea. And at the time that we constructed this call for submissions there were so many negative things going on. I think for me what was more helpful—yes, there were important calls to action and calling out of people and institutions—but for me what was more helpful was thinking about the pieces and the works of fiction or poetry or art or photography that made me wanna sing. And that could include happy singing or sad singing or mourning.
Arita: I think similarly, thinking about this on a micro level, interpersonally, we can do a lot for one another just in terms of surviving through the world as people of color, as Asian Americans, as whatever iteration of that people identify as. And I think, you know, when we first started thinking about the concepts of love and care—at least for me, I was thinking about it really abstractly… And then when I saw our submissions, I started thinking about how love is really abstract, but it’s also very concrete, right. And it’s in, like, the hug you give someone after they’ve had a bad day or the look you give someone across the room when someone’s said something fucked up and you just wanna let them know that you’re there for them, you know?
Tessa: Yeah, I feel like that’s a really good point, Arita. I mean, there’s not realistically a whole lot that we can expect from policymakers and people on that level—which is an important level, but I would prefer to prioritize the ways that we individually, interpersonally, on that more micro level, can be creating better ways to interact with each other. Because if, after all of that policy has been enacted and things change on a structural, societal level, if we’re still treating each other like shit, what’s the point?
J: When we first started getting submissions, we were kind of surprised by what we received, right? It was different than our concept, so does anyone wanna talk a little bit about your reaction to the pieces that we got in the first round?
Al: When I first envisioned the Call for Submissions and the issue—the way it would be structured—I didn’t think of it so literally. I didn’t think of it as literal love letters, but I thought there was actually something kind of beautiful about that, that people just wanted to confront head-on the idea of creating a loving environment and a loving space to people that they just thought of, whether that was themselves or people in their family. And that’s not to say everyone had a very literal interpretation. I thought it was really interesting that people were really jumping to this idea of an address to someone.
J: I think, drawing off of that, there’s something about the intimacy of a letter that we rarely get. Email communication, text communication is all over the place, but I feel like a lot of it has been boiled down to immediate needs or desires or things that are like, “Okay, you have to do this work assignment; here are these things”, you know? And there’s something more immediate, more intimate about a letter, in my opinion. I actually really do believe that a lot of our challenges stem from the fact that we are afraid of intimacy or wary of intimacy or worried… And we want it. It’s like—how did someone articulate this recently—there’s, like, a tension between wanting to belong and wanting to be free.
Al: There’s so much vulnerability in it. And there’s so much openness in really just writing a letter to a loved one or your family that you don’t usually open to a public audience, right? Like, the way that I talk to Mama Kim is like, really different… Like, that’s not for public consumption. And making it into a piece where I’m that vulnerable and that honest is a big act, you know, there’s a lot of gravity to that. There’s a lot of power that you kind of assume in doing that. And so I thought, reading over some of the submissions, I was really impressed with our contributors’ ability to embody that vulnerability and be that intimate with readers that they don’t know.
T: Also, that’s directly related to the piece we talked about, which is not having to sound perfectly radical all the time, not having to sound perfectly coherent, and just being able to be and be okay with that.
Ar: And I think that’s important for these times, too, because I’ve been paying attention to my responses to emotional trauma, right, and then it’s—for me, I’m always like, I go into, like, survival mode. Like, how do I protect myself from feeling, right? And what it would mean to actually embrace feeling and being able to sit in it and just be, like Tessa was saying, right? To like, embrace feeling and understand how to work through it versus trying to… like, shutting down and going into survival mode. And—and there’s nothing wrong with that, ‘cause it’s kept me alive, right? Like, how might we imagine other ways of surviving and resisting and imagining other alternatives?
J: And that kind of gets at a question that I wanted to ask you all, too, is that we thought of this theme a while ago, months ago, right, and we were working through it. And a lot of shit has gone down in the time span that we have been working through this and thinking about it. And so I wanted to know, has anything altered your idea of this theme? How has it changed?
T: There’s been one quote in my mind that keeps popping up. And I—I don’t know who wrote this; one of my friends posted it on Instagram. The quote is, “Oppression feeds or thrives on isolation.” I’ve just been thinking about that a lot and with everything that’s going on in the world, I can see how people might, like Arita said, shut down, go into survival mode, protect themselves from feeling the weight of everything—just everything. And I hope that, you know, this issue can convey to people that it’s okay to let people know that you’re struggling. And that you do have people for you.
J: One thing I’ll add to that is there’s so many things that are happening around us that are not happening immediately in our purview but still affect us. And it’s like, the feeling of isolation is coupled for me with the idea of, “Okay, I am powerless in this situation”, you know, like hostage crisis in Dhaka, or Orlando massacre, or even just the every day horror of police killing Black bodies, you know. And that kind of piece, feeling like, “I’m here as an individual on my own, I can mourn on my own; I can’t do anything effective with that.” And so I think that that’s interesting, ‘cause over time my colleagues at work and people I’ve only just recently met have been having deep conversations—deep emotional conversations—about world events, and it just makes me realize that how to survive, we need to be able to have that safety and that vulnerability, even if it is hard to access.
I mean, partially this is just a media thing, right—tragedy is so much more headline-getting than joy, right?
Ar: Yeah, and if it’s not the media, what are other ways that we can share joy with each other, right?
J: Right. Mhmm.
Ar: I don’t trust the media [laughs] to do anything for me, right. Yeah, like, what are other ways we can, in our communities and with each other, prioritize sharing joy, you know?
T: That reminds me of a parallel—what Jordan just talked about—the big moments of collective and public grief versus, you know, smaller, everyday moments. Things that might seem trivial; things the media would never want to showcase for consumption. So, it sort of reminds me of a conversation we had about emotional labor: feeling a lot in organizing or activist-y spaces that if you’re not out there doing “The Work”… [laughs] Remember we thought about structuring our call around that—“The Work”—if you’re not out there doing “The Work”, you’re not doing anything. That’s so bleak.
Al: I think something that I really enjoyed in this issue that I think kind of responded to that was this sense of freedom with time, in, like, creating art for oneself or for this issue or for communities or whatever—that people didn’t feel bound to that sort of precedent in media, of, like, trying to just have this tragedy and sit with it, but instead feeling such a sense of freedom to kind of pick and choose moments. Mandeep, for instance, talked about this that ritual they shared with their family, and, you know, Seema had a piece that celebrates this one moment and kind of immortalizes it in this artwork.
You know, there was such a sense of like, “I can pick and choose what moments I hold on to as I respond to various tragedies, or what have you”, and that’s something that you can really do in an issue like this, as opposed to writing for some sort of, you know, news outlet. And I got really encouraged by that because it got me thinking about the moments that I want to hold on to—not to say that I’m avoiding certain tragic moments but that I can carry all of those things with me, too. That it’s not just the heaviness and tragedy, but that I can kind of pick and choose little things from the future or the past that I want for myself, and kind of combine them all into one, one big pot.
Ar: I love just that image of, like, [laughs] when something happens, reaching into a pot, just to get, like, sustenance, you know, or like…
Al: Or if it gets a little funky, you just in add some other ingredients…
Ar: All of us around a pot, like witches.
J: Editor witches.
Al: That could be a new cover for the website, actually.
You’ve been listening to the editorial team at Project As[I]Am discuss our most recent issue. We would also like to thank our admin team and our extended As[I]Am family. That’s it from us! Enjoy the issue and get connected with us on our Facebook or our Twitter in the links below.