Em-URGE-ing Voices

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NQAPIA: The Foreign Concept of Home

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April 8, 2014

imageThe biggest parts of my identity consist of being API, queer, and a sweet southern gentleman. Never in my life did I think these three communities could possibly come together. The National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA
Southern Summit launched its first of five regional leadership conferences this weekend! Being from red states and located in the Bible belt, it was important to hear about the political momentum necessary to overcome being such a small community. For the first and only time in my life, I felt at home. Everyone says y’all and complains about the weather just the same and southern hospitality has never been more comforting than warm fried rice and catered Indian cuisine.

The biggest problem with API and LGBT work is that we don’t share similar histories or a spoken language like other minority groups. Mimi Cristien Nguyen of the Vietnamese American Young Leaders Association in New Orleans (VAYLA) explains in her community-building workshop that it’s about “finding common ground.” Examining our history as immigrants, the constant language barriers, or lack of safe spaces for young API’s is a similarity we can all understand. The wide range of workshops from HIV awareness, trans* allyship, community building, immigration reform, and even sex positivity allowed for me to have these crucial discussions for the first time in my life. Clara Yoon, of Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) of New York shared her story as being a proud Korean mother to her trans* son. These conversations of the different cultural expectations for API queers is a dialogue I’ve never had in my life and neither my API nor LGBT friends would ever be able to relate to.

However, one problem I did have was that there seemed to be a lack of youth represented. A couple students from Emory and some younger friends from New Orleans were there, but having youth voices is so important for these spaces. Luckily, organizations were there to bring back everything they learned at the conference to their youth-run communities. For youth, coming out, mental health, and the stress of bullying/finding ourselves is extremely difficult, especially when the queer API community in the South is so small. We can’t find others like ourselves and can’t share experiences that our other friends will always understand. It was great to hear child psychologists learning a lot to bring back to struggling queer API youth and VAYLA is even launching a Youth Quest program to support queer youth in the New Orleans area. On the other hand, having mentors and older queer API folks allowed me to ask questions and take in all of their years of experience.

For the first time in my life, I made friends and joined a community who accepted and supported each other. We all came from different walks of life, but for just 48 hours, were able to become a family. We were able to put aside all the discrimination and struggles in our everyday lives and focus on sharing our stories and educating one another through them. Overall, the conference was a mind-blowing experience. I was able to have deep and meaningful conversations with my new family that I’ve never had the opportunity to have. There will definitely be a lot of self-reflection and continuous organizing to create an even stronger presence. I’m most thankful because I’ve made amazing friends and a network to continue fighting because our work is never done.

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