A weekly magazine-style radio show featuring the voices and stories of Asians and Pacific Islanders from all corners of our community. The show is produced by a collective of media makers, deejays, and activists.
Powerleegirl Hosts Miko Lee and Jalena Keane-Lee present the final episode of our series “We Are the Leaders”. which has been focusing on our AAPI history of resistance and change from our ancestors to the leaders on the ground today. Using the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and systemic racism we seek to politically activate our community and amplify ways we can support each other. “We Are the Leaders” was inspired by one of our ancestor activists, Grace Lee-Boggs quote, “We are the leaders we’ve been looking for.”
Tonight we’re focusing on AAPI stories that Helen Zia says are “Missing in History”. Storyteller activists include: Anirvan Chatterjee of the Berkeley South Asian Radical Walking Tour, Sammie Ablaza Wills of APIENC and musician Hāwane Rios.
TRANSCRIPT of the SHOW
Missing in History
Opening: [00:00:00] Asian Pacific expression. Unity and cultural coverage, music and calendar revisions influences Asian Pacific Islander. It’s time to get on board. The Apex Express. Good evening. You’re tuned in to Apex Express.
[00:00:18] Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:00:18] We’re bringing you an Asian American Pacific Islander view from the Bay and around the world. We are your hosts, Miko Lee and Jalena Keane-lee the powerlee girls, a mother daughter team, and tonight join us for our series. We are the leaders. Which will highlight our AAPI history of resistance and change from our ancestors to the leaders on the ground today.
[00:00:39] Miko Lee: [00:00:39] We will use the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and systemic racism as a way to politically activate our community and amplify ways we can support each other. We are, the leaders is inspired by one of our ancestor activists. Grace Lee-Boggs quote, “We are the leaders we’ve been looking for.” So keep it locked on apex express
[00:01:26]Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:01:26] Tonight we’re focusing on api stories that has Helen Zia says, are missing in history here’s her quote from earlier in our season ,
[00:01:35]Helen Zia: [00:01:35] I call it M I H that we are at so often missing in history. And the only thing that’s going to change, that is our voices. We have to restore that history.
[00:01:47] Miko Lee: [00:01:47] Tonight we hear about activists from the past and present. From a South Asian Berkeley resident who was run out of town to a trans API elder who continues to be an activist today to a couple who were revered leaders in the fight against the occupation of Hawaii. First up is Anirvan Chatterjee. Welcome Anirvan Chatterjee to Apex Express. You’re the founder of the Berkeley South Asian Radical History Walking tour. Can you tell us about the seeds of inspiration for the walking tour?
[00:02:17] Anirvan: [00:02:17] Sure. Thanks for having me. My walking tour partner Barnali Ghosh and I moved to Berkeley in the 1990s. For me, I grew up in the East Bay. She moved here from India and I think like when you writing in a new place, you don’t necessarily need to know the history of activism in that place. You don’t necessarily know the history of your people in that place. particularly when things like, ethnic studies are so hard to access . I remember meeting older activists in the community, on the streets , reading, Asian American history for the first time , Berkeley would come up a lot. Barnali and I started doing a lot of work in the archives and we started putting together this kind of patchwork story of generation upon generation of South Asian activists in the city of Berkeley. Knowing the stories, they really changed the way I think about myself and my city and how I fit in here. I really wanted, a few folks to kind of have some of the same experience that I did. we’ve done 192 tours. It’s a three hour walking tour and we take groups of people through Berkeley and we tell stories.
[00:03:16] Miko Lee: [00:03:16] Why do you think it’s important for people to hear these hidden histories?
[00:03:19]Anirvan: [00:03:19] I think part of it is, even just knowing that we have been here, there’s much more Asian American history, AAPI history beyond like all the Chinese built the railroads. And even then that’s like a page or two and, As a South Asian , to really be conquering the model, minority myth. It’s a lot easier to think about movement work as part of the longer legacy that we get to step into. Growing up, I thought that movement history was something that happened back in the Homeland. My parents immigrated from India in the 1970s, and I thought all my history was back there. And it’s true. but there’s also a hundred years of South Asian activist history here where I live and. Learning the stories have just been really important in terms of kind of opening up my eyes about where we’ve been and what we can do and what we can do here now.
[00:04:11] Miko Lee: [00:04:11] Can you talk a little bit about your process for finding and highlighting the stories? I have a theater background and it really feels like this kind of research driven activist theater, because you are also along the walk, putting on pieces of costumes and using props. So can you just talk about your process for finding the stories and then how you actualize them when you’re doing the tour?
[00:04:34]Anirvan: [00:04:34] One of the things that we’ve really come to discover is that, the history of somebody dig into there, they’re out there in the world. They’ve been documented by academic historians. Sometimes they’re like trapped in archives. A lot of people will just assume that people know these histories because they were there themselves. a lot of the work we do is about, taking histories and taking the work that folks have done, to uncover and document, and do the public history piece taking those stories and making them more accessible. We rely on storytelling and visuals and street theater as ways to make these histories be more than a recitation of facts, but something that really kind of speaks to who we are and kind of gives them the emotional resonance that they deserve.
[00:05:14] Miko Lee: [00:05:14] So that’s the two of you bouncing ideas back and forth with each other about what’s going to make it more theatrical in your process.
[00:05:22] Anirvan: [00:05:22] Exactly. We’re always trying different ways of storytelling and this one of the nice things about actually doing a in-person tour because when you’re over the course of hundreds of tours, you can just see it on somebody’s face. If someone’s engaged you’re like, okay, that detail really kind of connected for somebody. And we kind of take that and build on that.
[00:05:41] Miko Lee: [00:05:41] So how do you feel storytelling impacts social action and social activism?
[00:05:49]Anirvan: [00:05:49] Some of us joined movements because they’re the right thing to do, or because we read a book. Sometimes we do it because of the people we know. For us, we run these, very public walking tours. People can go to a website and they can buy tickets. It’s pretty common for folks to show up who haven’t really engaged in movement work before who don’t really have very much access to these histories. I think the thing we can do is, use history to actually be a little bit of of an opportunity to learn the stories of several campaigns, several movements and real organizations, and to kind of like step through why people made the choices they did. we definitely see, our storytelling and culture history work as one of many different kind of on-ramps for, for movement work.
[00:06:36] Miko Lee: [00:06:36] The sliding scale that you charge, actually, you donate those to movement building organizations, right?
[00:06:43] Anirvan: [00:06:43] Yeah. So, most of the process when the tour and go to support Bay area solidarity summer, which is, a five day training project for emerging South Asian American activists and organizers. So even as we were telling stories of, movements in the past, we’re also helping fund the activism of the future.
[00:06:59] Miko Lee: [00:06:59] I love that. I first found out about you because my younger daughter went through the tour with an API young queer activist training program and she came back and we were walking downtown and she said, “Oh, I know a story about this place and this place,” and that was from your tour. So thank you for that.
[00:07:16] Anirvan: [00:07:16] That’s amazing. I think that’s what we’re really trying to do to kind of get these stories out into the world. the story of the city of Berkeley often tells itself as a, is of a certain kind of like very white activism and Berkeley has many, many, many layers of different kinds of activism on these streets from the very first South Asian led anti-racist protest in 1908 to what’s happening today. a lot of our work is about just kind of shaking out the city sense of itself, that we are so much more interesting than we thought were so much more complicated, problematic, and diverse and amazing than we thought.
[00:07:49] Miko Lee: [00:07:49] You have been doing this tour since 2012. So I imagine things have changed in terms of who even shows up to the tours and the stories that you’re telling. I’m wondering if there are certain things that have changed for you in the tours, in the era of Trump?
[00:08:07]Anirvan: [00:08:07] When we started doing the tours, We spent more time talking about some of the earliest stories and I loved the early stories of the 19 hundreds, 1920s. but the post-Trump moment. I feel like we need to talk more about what’s happening here in now, when the Muslim ban went into effect and people started flooding the airports, we were actually on the tour. I remember seeing these, texts and different groups that we were part of. we’re trying to figure out, should we try and get people out to the airport? If so, when and how do we do it? And there was a certain sense of realizing that we’re living through this moment of history.
[00:08:40] And even as we’re storytelling, About things in the past that something really big is happening right now. in terms of the, present of our communities and we stopped the tour and we talked about what was happening . So at this point in time and the tour, for example, we talk about, hate incidents in Berkeley after the 2016 election. when we counted something like, Well over a dozen hate incidents in Berkeley over the first 15 days after the election. , everything from a young woman experiencing, anti-Chinese, hate speech, while going shopping to an Iranian, an American woman who like physically chased and attacked on university in San Pablo as she’s walking with her five-year-old child. we can’t not talk about that. there’s a certain way where if he historicize everything and feels like, well, things were bad in the past, but things are okay now. And you know, they’re not okay.
[00:09:34] Miko Lee: [00:09:34] Speaking of that, you recently started another project. Your Black Desi Secret History Project, in response, I imagine to what is happening right now around police brutality and the abolition movement. I’m wondering if you could just talk about the impetus for that and where you are with that project.
[00:09:54]Anirvan: [00:09:54] There’s been a lot written about, Points of intersection between South Asian and African American movements for justice. I knew from my immigrant community, that Ghandi influenced Dr. King and through the ways that, Ghandi and nonviolence kind of spread. as part of the civil rights movement, but I think that was pretty much the end of it. those points of intersection kind of stopped and ended there.
[00:10:18] it wasn’t until I started doing a lot more reading, that I realized how little I knew. one of my favorite stories of African American and South Asian solidarities is the story of Bayard Rustin, who a lot of us know as the black gay civil rights activist, who was the architect of the 1963 March on Washington.
[00:10:39] What I didn’t know was, in the 1940’s, he was a Quaker, he was a pacifist. He was actually in prison for awhile because he was a pacifist during world war two. while he was in prison, he was thinking and reading about, Solidarity with colonized India and the work of de-colonizing India.
[00:11:00] And he gets involved with a free India committee in the mid 1940s. he gets out of prison and, he gets involved with things like sit down, protest outside of the British embassy in Washington, D C. just the idea that this skinny black gay activist in the 1940s was part of the global movement for the liberation of my people. it’s really different from the sense of what an Indian freedom fighter looks like. I love the idea of being able to claim Bayard Rustin as one of my Indian freedom fighters.
[00:11:33] On the flip side, in 1964 in, Jackson, Mississippi, Tougaloo college who a historically black college , there was a Pakistani professor named Hamid Kizilbashand an Indian professor Savitri Chattopadhyay. They’re teaching on this black college during the height of the civil rights movement, they could use their kind of. Asian immigrant in between kind of a status really interesting ways. for example , they were able to, support their student’s work to desegregate a movie theaters by going into the movie theater buying tickets. Cause they were allowed to buy movie tickets. And hand those tickets over to their black students. So when the black students show up, they’re like, well, you know, we actually have these tickets and it’s just like a small act of every day allyship or being co-conspirator, it’s something that actually made a difference for the students.
[00:12:24] They’re able to kind of use their position in ways that are, that are strategically helpful. Now, at one point in time, Hamid Kizilbashand actually gets physically attacked by white racists. he gets pulled out of his car. He’s chased down. There was somebody with him who basically calls out to these white racists going, “hang on, hang on. He’s international. He’s, he’s Brown. He’s, he’s not black.” And he’s not beaten up nearly as badly as somebody who’s black and his position might have been. for a lot of South Asians, we know we’re racist. We know we have deep, complicated anti-blackness in our communities, but I don’t think we necessarily know what it looks like to be anti-racist. the story of these two, faculty members at Tougaloo college in 1964, it’s a really great story. of what it actually looks like to be anti-racist, we have these stories to also build on that. It’s not enough to just critique, and call out, but to also do uplift, just to kind of celebrate more of what it is that we want to see.
[00:13:22] Miko Lee: [00:13:22] Thank you for sharing that. I’m wondering what’s going on with your work now because we’re in COVID times and the tour is on hold. what’s up with y’all now.
[00:13:33]Anirvan: [00:13:33] We loved doing the tour and there’s something about being able to kind of like take audiences through this history and to do it in space and use the storytelling and really be able to be accessible to people who wouldn’t necessarily want to come to a political lecture and we’re excited to be able to do that as soon as it’s safe to do so. We’re also using this time, both to, engage, engage with and support, activists around, both around COVID-19 and, the current wave of the black civil rights movement. part of that is talking to members of our own community and giving folks historical tools to go well, how do we repay the debts of, the kinds of activism that allowed us to flourish? The kind of black activism that allowed us to flourish and how our fates are really kind of interlinked in ways that, I don’t think that a lot of people in South Asian American has certainly know.
[00:14:26] Miko Lee: [00:14:26] Your walk is based on this roots in Berkeley. I’m wondering about for people who live in different places, how do you suggest they uncover the hidden stories in their own communities?
[00:14:39] Anirvan: [00:14:39] So, part of that is something as simple as just talking to older activists in the community, There are a lot of different kinds of activism that maybe for somebody who’s 16 or 18 or 20 might not look like the kind of activism that maybe we’re used to seeing. I think about like quiet forms of feminist action, for example folks supporting each other, when they’re dealing with domestic violence. Some of that is just really quiet. It’s about money. It’s about emotional support. it’s very behind the scenes and it’s not in your face, but for me, like things like that are also really important. I think about all the ways that people, stand with each other, on a one to one basis in the face of racism and hate crimes. given the right questions, it’s really easy and pretty much any community to start getting these stories.
[00:15:24] Miko Lee: [00:15:24] Recently the Berkeley city council passed a new law. Can you tell us about it?
[00:15:31]Anirvan: [00:15:31] Last year, the city of Berkeley decided the there’s this two-block stretch on the East side of Shattuck, near the downtown Berkeley Bart Station, that there were going to rename. I think for a lot of us, who are API in the city of Berkeley, we noticed there, wasn’t one API name in the city of Berkeley, which is roughly, at least 20% Asian American city as of the last census. 40% people of color, roughly 50% female. , a lot of us started really kind of going deep into looking at histories of API folks in Berkeley. And all kinds of names popped up. We found people like that Dalip Singh Saund the very first, Asian American member of Congress.
[00:16:11] We found people like Chinese American Aviator Maggie Gee we found so many Japanese residents, many of whom were interned in the 1940s, but the name that a lot of us can kept coming back to was somebody named Kala Bagai who was an early South Asian immigrant community builder, an activist. she moved here from Peshawar in present day Pakistan, to the Bay with her husband and her kids around 1915 a couple of years in they move to Berkeley and they walk up to their house. And the neighbors have literally closed the door, locked the door, shut barred the door. So they cannot enter.
[00:16:51]We have this oral history recording that she did back in the 1980s, over 60 years later, where she’s talking about that moment when she made the decision , I’m not moving to Berkeley. I don’t know what these people are going to do to my children. They faced, in the context of a much larger series of anti-Asian. and , labor, housing, citizenship discrimination. that that was local racism. A couple of years later, her husband he was one of, many, many, people of Indian origin around the United States who had their citizenship pulled after the Packit Singh case.
[00:17:23]He became a stateless person. A couple of years later, he ends up committing suicide. In his suicide note, he talks about life in the U S being like living in a gilded cage where everything’s really beautiful, but then everything else that kind of comes with it like structural federal racism. So Kala Bagai, she has faced local racism, faced federal racism. She lost her husband, she’s a single mom that she goes on to raise three children, send them to college.
[00:17:50] She remarried, she takes night classes . She rebuilds her life in Southern California and she becomes this like amazing, super connector for. Recent immigrants for immigrant communities building multiracial Indian. And in that context, largely white community that she lived in. A lot of people knew her as mother, India, many people, really saw her affectionately as kind of the auntie that they wished they had.
[00:18:15] For us, it was just really important to be able to honor Kala Bagai for a couple of different reasons first, because she’s just a total, immigrant, early community builder badass. she also, because of Berkeley’s overall history of. anti, Asian and anti South Asian racism around housing discrimination and to really kind of hold that. I think some of us know about history is that red lining, anti Japanese sentiment in the thirties and forties onwards, but learning these stories and acknowledging them by putting the name of somebody who was pushed out of her neighborhood in the heart of the city, nothing, even on the street where she lived, like in the heart of the city, like this is somebody who is a survivor of Berkeley racism and we honor her here. For me, the thing that’s actually interesting is that, a lot of the times when you name a street after somebody, they’re like, well, yes, sometimes they’re like, a rich white land owner from the past,
[00:19:06] Miko Lee: [00:19:06] I think that’s mostly the case. Right.
[00:19:09] Anirvan: [00:19:09] Pretty much. And then when we do these processes of honoring somebody or doing these symbolic things, they’re conventional hyper-visible leader or activist , but Kala Bagai is different because, she reminds me of like a lot of like mothers and grandmothers and aunties in my community where a lot of her work was quiet or relational connective behind the scenes. she was like really modest. She did not make a big deal about herself.
[00:19:32] Miko Lee: [00:19:32] Really full matriarchy, quiet power.
[00:19:36] Anirvan: [00:19:36] Exactly. so much of that in all our movements cannot succeed without people who are holding up to people with some, of course, sometimes most visible, but Kala Bagai was one of those people. just to honor that as a critical mode, Of activism. that’s just really important to show that there are lots of different ways we can do this work.
[00:19:54] Miko Lee: [00:19:54] Just to clarify Anirvan, they owned that house in Berkeley, that they were barred out of by the neighbors. Right?
[00:20:00] Anirvan: [00:20:00] Exactly as best we know, I think they bought it from, an English family and they show up there with them and their children and their older worldly belongings. And it cannot enter the house.
[00:20:12] Miko Lee: [00:20:12] So the neighbors just did vigilante activism and took it over and would not let them in.
[00:20:18] Anirvan: [00:20:18] We’re not sure exactly. I mean, some of this is from family stories and she didn’t want to talk about some of the details, which I understand.
[00:20:28] Miko Lee: [00:20:28] This is such a thing in the API community about not wanting to talk about things that might in an older generation be perceived as shameful when in fact, this episode is called missing in history because we’re trying to bring a light stories that have been hidden and have, been pushed aside. Can you talk a little bit about why the street naming is so important given the context of missing in history?
[00:20:56] Anirvan: [00:20:56] Yeah, I think about, The question of who gets stuff named after them. sometimes it’s people who have lived in the community, sometimes it’s people who have community connections. there’s something really interesting about this case, Kala Bagai’s most important work wasn’t actually in Berkeley. her mostly interesting work, as community builder, a community activist, fundraiser, arts supporter, all that work happened in Southern California where she and her second husband and their family end up moving to. for the city of Berkeley where she and her family, tried to make a life here. and they definitely made a life in the very after that. But. There are people who would have been amazing activists and community members here, or they wouldn’t have been great neighbors here.
[00:21:38] And yet we’re in the situation where they could not be. We could, did not allow them to live the rest of days in Berkeley. these missing histories of folks who would have been here and it really kind of connects today. whether it’s like gentrification or processes that push people out of the city on the flip side processes, like nimbyism that keep people from, newcomers and immigrants from actually coming to our cities. Kala Bagai’s story really speaks to that. the histories of what could have been and his histories of. Who we could be allowing in and welcoming and celebrating. her loss wasn’t just her own. the loss of Kala Bagai that were neighbor is also Berkeley as loss.
[00:22:18] Miko Lee: [00:22:18] I know that you will be in Bernali, we’ll be highlighting her in your South Asian radical walking tour. I’m wondering what you all are asking the city, how the city should honor her. Aside from the name. Is there another push to share part of her story with the broader community?
[00:22:35]Anirvan: [00:22:35] I think that name actually gives us opportunities for a lot more conversation and discussion. Complicated conversations about race in history. We want to do a whole lot more than just putting up like a street name. we’re looking at interpretive signage or potentially a mural. we’ve definitely seen interest from city council in really focusing on that interpretive piece to give context, I think they understand that this is a meaningful story to be able to put not only Kala Bagai’s story, but the story of a woman of color and early immigrant in the heart of the city. So I think we’re all really trying to figure out like, what’s the best way to do that in a way that, Really honors her and also honors the intent with which, with hundreds of us, at least 300 plus people in and around the Berkeley community fought for this name to become real.
[00:23:21] Miko Lee: [00:23:21] Congrats on that. you all created a grassroots movement for this name change and made it happen. How does that feel to actually, and these days have a success?
[00:23:32] Anirvan: [00:23:32] I know it’s 2020, it’s been so depressing, but for me, I’m grateful to all the. Tremendous, movement work by our community. I look at the role of historians and arguments, people like Erica Lee and South Asian American digital archive, and the work that ASATA has been doing for years to archive Kala Bagai’s papers and it’s really speaks to the fact that quiet work of historians, archivists, five years away, 10 years they put their there research and knowledge and archives into the culture. it’s on us as activists to really pick that up and make it real the folks that I’m actually most grateful for our Kala Bagai’s, descendants, and particularly named Rani Bagai who is Kala Bagai’s granddaughter.
[00:24:19] And is the keeper of Kala Bagai’s story and she has been amazing in making available the story of her family. you talked about the ways that sometimes we don’t want to talk about our hurts, are these different well stories and it’s not necessarily easy. For somebody in Rani Bagai’s position to, and to share these materials and put her own grandmother up for public scrutiny. And also really to be appreciative of, when Corina Gold of the local Ohlone community, wrote this beautiful, amazing letter of support, Rani Bagai really connected with how important it was for these indigenous activists to step up for Kala Bagai. she really reflected on the values that Kala Bagai also had to give that love back. there’s something really beautiful about the way that we are connecting cross generationally, reconnecting across history, historians and activism can give your community members. it is about this win, but it’s also about the way how we got here.
[00:25:18]I can’t wait until I get to see the street name on Google maps for the first time. I just want a place where people who have never thought about API histories and just like randomly went across this, like some signage or a mural or something. It’d be like, “Oh, Whoa, hang on. I just like learn something.” Our stories are there, they’re trapped in memory. Our stories are trapped in like books of history that historians write for one another. they’re not really out in public. we’re really excited about to make these histories hyper-visible hyperbolic.
[00:25:44] Miko Lee: [00:25:44] We will keep our audience posted on when this celebration will be and looking forward to the additional street, finding wayfinding, storytelling, murals, all the other elements that come with that. Thank you so much for joining us and helping to bring this amazing, powerful woman’s story to our Berkeley and wider audience.
[00:26:05] Anirvan: [00:26:05] Thanks. Thanks for continuously telling her stories.
[00:26:08]Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:26:08] Next up listen to “Together We Rise” by Hawane Rios
[00:26:12] Miko Lee: [00:28:01] That was “Together We Rise” by Hawane Rios. Next up listen to Jalena talk with Sammy Ablaza Wills from APIENC. Check out the amazing work of APIENC and the link that we’ll put on our website, APIENC builds, queer and transgender, Asian, and PI power to amplify voices and increase in visibility. It is an amazing organization and Sammy is the executive director.
[00:28:24] Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:28:24] One thing that we feel has been kind of left out of, a lot of these, a lot of the new media coming out about Asian American history and especially in the time of COVID is, the legacies of colonization on our communities. For a lot of API communities in the past pre colonization, queer people were revered and were very much included in society and it wasn’t something to be ashamed of or to be hidden and how those concepts were kind of introduced with colonization. So if you could speak a little bit about that process and then maybe, what a bank is doing to decolonize those thoughts.
[00:29:04] Sammie Ablaza Wills: [00:29:04] When it comes to colonization and API communities and queerness and transness. I think about my own community first. Cause that’s what I know. And that’s a history that is relevant most to me. my people are from the Philippines and this is not something that I knew until. Much much later in my life, but one time colonizers and there were many in the Philippines, some colonies there’s came.
[00:29:32]One of the things that was extremely threatening to them and to the Christianity that they were imposing onto the Filipino people or the people of the islands now known as the Philippines. Is that, there were all of these people with so many different gender expressions and ways of being and ways of relating to one another. and that did not fit within their understanding of control. and so to be able to enforce a colonial control, they had to limit and restrict the way that people were. To fit within their own confines to fit within the colonizer confines. And so the first people that colonized there’s eliminated were the gender variant or the people that were not heteronormative or the queer and trans and, nonbinary people who are leading communities, providing spiritual support, really allowing for.
[00:30:32] People’s souls to thrive and for the magic within all communities to come forth, those people were eliminated and the gender binary and this Fest very Western and rigid way was imposed on many, many cultures and communities that were subject to colonization. And that idea has spread unfortunately across the whole world, but we can look at many, many communities indigenous communities and see examples of how there has always been people that exist beyond a Western gender binary. I don’t mean to romanticize it, right? all of these communities still had issues and still have problems. There were still inequity, but I think the ratio of the natural biodiversity has perpetuated throughout communities and then social movements, even within asian American and Pacific Islander social justice spaces. we see how there’s been multiple, multiple trans and queer Asian and Pacific Islander people who have been involved in social justice and racial justice and economic justice spaces for years and years and years. But their stories were invisibilized or they weren’t able to come out as trans or queer, or if they did come out, they were kicked out.
[00:31:53] Ostracized told to leave and go into a trans and queer movement that was mostly white, did not resonate with them, did not have any space for their cultural identity. and so now I think about the work that I do at APIEC, APIEC it’s explicitly an organization working at the intersection of trans and queer and Asian and Pacific Islander because we know the power.
[00:32:20] That can be unlocked in people when they do not need to question their identities, right? We don’t exist as an organization to end at identity. We exist as an organization to start from identity so that we can talk about experience and material realities and material change, but not have to worry about being in VR invalidated as the human that we are.
[00:32:45] And so at APIEC, we focus on doing that in a few different ways. One of the ways that we do that is by building intergenerational connections as a young trans and queer API person, I myself did not know of any, any elders that looked like me that were trans and that were Filipino. that really limited my idea of who I could be unlimited my idea of what I could be in this world.
[00:33:10] And when I was able to meet other trans and queer API elders, it really expanded my idea. Of my legacy and my lineage and my ancestors . That people have been working on fighting for my right to be alive and to thrive in this society for so long. Makes me understand that I have a responsibility to continue their work and continue to transform societies and creating those intergenerational connections where people can foster that sense of belonging and purpose is really, really important.
[00:33:45] It can also ensures that our broader social justice communities and movements don’t forget our histories. whether that is, are more short term, more immediate histories and all of the queer and trans people that have been a part of our social movements. Or our longterm histories are histories across the diaspora in which non-normative nonbinary API people have existed before the terms queer and trans existed before the term API existed.
[00:34:19] I’m getting closer to understanding what our commuties were like before colonial eraser, so that we can reintegrate, rematerialize and be in right relationship with each other and the land so that our social justice work is more grounded and more sustainable and closer to the world that we actually want to build.
[00:34:40]We try to provide trainings and talk to different schools. Limit organizations are put on workshops that illuminate these histories and give us the room to think about how we want to integrate this knowledge into our work. Moving forward.
[00:34:54] Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:34:54] Rediscovering our queer lineages feels like a way to decolonize our own history. And I wondering if you could highlight one of those trans elders whose stories, have been missed in our retelling of different movements.
[00:35:07]Sammie Ablaza Wills: [00:35:07] One thing that I will talk about, cause there, there truly is so many examples. is the contents cafeteria rights in San Francisco? many people at least nowadays, familiar or have heard of the Stonewall riots in New York, which happened at the Stonewall Inn. And was a rebellion against police brutality led by Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera.
[00:35:35] A few years prior to the Stonewall riots was, the incident at the conference cafeteria in San Francisco’s Tenderloin and conference was a place where many trans people drag Queens and sex workers hung out late night, got food and spent time with one another. And, all of the places where trans folks and drag Queens and sex workers hung out were places where police raids would regularly happen, arresting people for the crime of impersonating a woman or arresting people for the crime of prostitution or arresting people for whatever reason they could think of because they thought of all of these folks as sexual deviance, right. that history has almost been forgotten, but one day at Constance cafeteria, the police came to raid and the patrons of conference cafeteria got fed up and said, we’re not going to allow for another raid to happen. And a rebellion broke out in the streets between the trans folks and the drag Queens and the sex workers and the police officers in the Tenderloin.
[00:36:39] it was from that day that trans folks, drag Queens and sex workers really started a movement for trans liberation and trans justice against police brutality in the city of San Francisco. one of the folks who was active in the Tenderloin at that time is Tamara Ching, a trans API elder who is still alive and living in San Francisco today.
[00:37:04]She’s somewhat of a local legend in trans communities because of all of the work she did in the Tenderloin even though she wasn’t immediately present at the moment of competence cafeteria, she continued the legacy of what was started that day for many, many decades for trans people and for sex workers, for people living in the Tenderloin for low income folks.
[00:37:29]But the work that she did is not seen in textbooks it’s not seen in Asian American history courses. the thing that really feels important for me to just state out right, is that LGBTQ history is Asian American, Pacific Islander history and Asian American Pacific Islander history is LGBTQ history because there is no way that either of those movements would have happened without each other.
[00:37:54] And these movements have not even always agreed. But agreement is not the precipice of history. history shows. What agreements and disagreements have been made to create the present conditions that we’re in.
[00:38:07]Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:38:07] Thank you so much. I didn’t know about that elder and that’s such an incredible story. I wonder if you could speak a little bit to, the importance of recognizing these lineages and especially intergenerationally as you were talking about before, and the different waves and ways people are erased. In movements that are happening in real time, but then also in the way that we speak about movements of the past and the way that our history has been told,
[00:38:30]Sammie Ablaza Wills: [00:38:30] When I think the importance of understanding our history, this phrase always comes to my mind and, It’s like a, I feel like pretty popular in ethnic studies, but it’s, no history, no self. Right. And if we don’t know where we were, it’s really, really hard to determine where we’re going to be going.
[00:38:54] When I think about all of the history that has existed, that allows me to be alive. I don’t see one clear lineage. Right? I see many, many stories. People, people in the United States, people outside of the United States. I see trans people. I see CIS people. I see many people that have worked and had success and built relationships and also people that have made mistakes, like deep, deep mistakes that have set us back or put us in different directions.
[00:39:26] And. I’m thinking it is incredibly important to know all of that history so we can understand ourselves as part of a larger lineage and also so that we can make new mistakes. Our ancestors and our elders have made mistakes so that we don’t have to anymore. We can make new ones. We can try new experiments. We contend continue the best things that worked out.
[00:39:52] And try new things that can fail in different ways. but we don’t need to be recreating the same failures and same mistakes and same hurt every five years or so. I think it’s incredibly important as people invested in justice to know our histories so that we can have a more clear idea of where we can go in the future. And then we can look back at our histories, right. Our present. And write our future into existence with all of that context in mind
[00:40:21] Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:40:21] I love that they do so much for joining us. Next up, listen to Mana Wahine. by Hawane Rios.
[00:42:20]Welcome back. You’re tuned into apex express on 94.1 KPFA and 89.3 KPF. Be in Berkeley and [email protected] That was I have Hawane Rios and check out the music video for it. That’s online now. Hawane Rios is a native Hawaiian activists and land protector as well as an award-winning singer songwriter . Thank you so much for joining us here to talk about things that are missing in history and helen Zia. The activist and lawyer introduced us to that term of things that have been purposely kept out of our knowledge about ourselves and our relation to one another So i’m really excited to talk to you today about Manono the warrior woman
[00:43:03]Hawane Rios: [00:43:03] Manono was incredible warrior and incredible woman an incredible hawaiian And when we talk about our history when we talk about the changing tides of hawaii we talk about the battle of cuomo In 1819. A war broke out between the people who wanted to keep the traditional ways of Hawaii secure and strong. And then the people who wanted to end the couple system and turn it over to the missionaries and the bible and christianity.
[00:43:40] Keaoua Kekuaokalani, who was the nephew of Kamehameha he felt so strongly that he wanted to keep these ways and it’s a fight for the traditional ways of our people. And so he and his wife gathered their family. Because really what we don’t talk about is that this war broke out between family members. And how heartbreaking that is that some people really believed that the bible and that the white colonizers were going to save us. Because that’s what they were told. They were told that all of this illness will go away if they believed. It breaks my heart to think that they really did believe that. They wanted to save their families and so that’s why they chose to turn.
[00:44:32] But Monono and Keaoua Kekuaokalani knew they could see through that They could see through all of it And so they decided To gather and i know like in my heart that they didn’t want to fight. But they did. The people on the other side the people who truly wanted this overturn to christianity were fully funded.
[00:44:54] They had guns and cannons. And they had everything they needed to go into war to be successful. Keaoua Kekuaokalani, Manono they had their spirits. They had their work clubs, they had their chance. They had everything that they know of the past guarding them and loving them on that battlefield. When we are thinking about strength, especially for the women The first person that I think of is Manono. She is the one that called for peace. It called for us to remember love in that battle, she saw Keaoua Kekuaokalani die in front of her. Before she was shot, she raised her hands and she said, “please let’s stop. Let’s remember who we are. Let’s remember that we’re family and that we love this land.” She was calling for peace and somebody shot her in the temple. Her last words were, “malama ko aloha lama ko aina.” That’s what they say was the last thing that she said was, “Remember your love. Remember your love for this land. Remember your love for each other.” I feel like that is what we’re still saying. That’s what we’re still telling our people and telling ourselves is, “Remember this love that we have that was passed down to us.” She did not die for nothing. We cannot let that battle go in vain. They really truly did something for us. They fought for us. That’s what we’re still doing for Mauna Kea. We’re still fighting for our sacred places. We’re still fighting to be seen and to be heard.
[00:46:35]Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:46:35] How did you learn about Manono? And then also how does it make you feel to know that you come from Powerful warrior women?
[00:46:44] Hawane Rios: [00:46:44] I learned about Manono for my mom when i was small. She taught me this chant that i will share here. And it’s the only chant that we know of just for her and about their love story. I grew up hearing this chant and hearing the stories of my family connected to Manono. We are descendants of the Kamehameha lineage of my Manono. Our whole lives are rooted in the seat of what she left. We call it the seat of ai mole that we carry within our chest and our whole pole. And knowing that we are connected through bloodline to her. Through the resilience that she passed down and the strength. what i think about my courage the courage that I see in my mom. And the courage I see in my sister and my aunties and my papa. I see the courage of the frontlines of hundreds of years ago. That’s why we don’t stop. That’s why we won’t quit. And that’s why we do this in the honor. And honor every single person who fought for us the way that we’re fighting for Hawai’i now. With peace and with love and with care for the next seven generations.
[00:48:08] (chanting) Chanting
[00:49:38]Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:49:38] Can you talk a little bit about chanting and the kind of ancestral ways of passing down knowledge ?
[00:49:44] Hawane Rios: [00:49:44] We come from people of oral history. So we did not have a written language before the foreigners came here. We pass everything down through chant, through hula, through song. when we talk about memorizing and how important that is for us like it was waiwai It was so koekoe in my history. We have a creation chant that is over 2000 lines long. Somebody had to memorize that to the t. Across generations. And It was to the point where the penalty was death if you messed up. it was that important. we come from a long line of people were chanters and genealogists. That is the line of art ohana from Kohala. my mom raised me in chants. She raised me learning my language and my lens by chanting.
[00:50:39] By ceremony this is how we keep our story’s going. So much of who we are is like the seeds. You know how we save seeds. Our people saved stories. that is what i do now. I feel it in like my bones and my DNA. To record what we are living right now In my music, In my songs, and anything that are choreographed for who left. This is the most sacred gift that we can get to the next generation is that we write about this time. Because everyone always is like oh that’s just the past, chanting, dancing, that’s believing in spirits, believing in, who at that died a long time ago, died on that battlefield.” That is not true. Somebody never stopped chanting. Somebody never stopped dancing. Somebody never forgot our stories.
[00:51:28] Once we could write, Hawaiians are the most literate people in the 1800’s. We wrote down everything because my ancestors knew but they didn’t do it, It would be lost. Because we were dying by the thousands. Because of what colonization did to us. What oppression has done. And now we are trying our hardest to heal . I will never stop for as long as i’m here on this planet. I will honor the memory of my mom. And honor the memory of my ohana and of the Mauna. With the highest level of integrity that we can access through our virtual ways. And continue to say that we are still here. We’re a living culture that our traditions will elevate and extend as we live in as a return back to we are, as we reclaim who we are every single day. To normalize chanting, normalized singing, normalize prayer as a form of resilience and resistance. So what has happened to us and so this is my offering here in a good way. From my heart for my self and body And from my Mauna, my mountain to your mountain, my river to your river. Okay. My waters to your waters. I hope we all remember where we come from. And I hope we all remember the power that we descend from.
[00:52:53] Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:52:53] Do you have any advice for people that don’t have that history recorded for them or have been cut off from in various ways from their own history and their own ancestral power?
[00:53:04] Hawane Rios: [00:53:04] Somebody always remembered something. It’s not that lost and you can remember inside of you. You in your DNA can unlock much wisdom from your own ancestors if you believe it. Call upon your own Kapuna. If you even know the names of your grandparents and your great-grandparents that’s a start. Just know where you come from. Find that out. I ask the questions. As the eldest person in your ohana, “What do you remember?” Spend time, even if it’s on zoom or facetime right now, because that’s what it has to be. Use your time wisely. Talk to anyone in your family that remembers. And if they don’t go to the lens you remember. You remember where you come from. Find out the name of your mountain, the mountain that raised you and your ancestors.
[00:53:59] Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:54:00] I really liked the show that we had and the three different voices that spoke about missing and history. And we’re so grateful to Helen Zia forgiving us that terminology, which feels so appropriate. I liked how they all discussed, not only the different causes of why the history is missing, but also the different pathways you can take to reclaiming it.
[00:54:17] Miko Lee: [00:54:17] Yeah, I really appreciate how each of them have a different approach. I mean, Anrivan and Barnali do this deep dive by looking at census and looking at history and then kind of gathering up oral histories. And then Sammy is looking at who are the folks that are around activists that inspire me now, how can I find out more about their history?
[00:54:36] And then Hawane is looking at family stories and how those relate to history and culture. And each of them are creating and finding those stories to create the world that they want to live in. And the message that they’re hearing from those.
[00:54:51] Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:54:51] I like how they all talked about too, how your ancestors and your history, it doesn’t have to be your direct family history or your direct bloodline. It’s also, you know, the people that you learned from the places that you learned from, And all of these different histories that become part of you and that our ancestors that you can call upon when you need them.
[00:55:10] Miko Lee: [00:55:10] Right. We get caught up in this idea that ancestors have to be bloodline when it’s much more about your chosen history, that your chosen family, how you define the world the way you want to see it and looking at these mentors as guideposts, to be able to live your life out.
[00:55:31]Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:55:31] Yeah. Tamara Ching, I was so grateful for Sammy for sharing her story , cause I thought that was so incredible and I think it has a lot to do with this, um, you know, really indigenous worldview of like, what can I do in my life to leave? What, what can I leave for the next seven generations to come? And so I really liked the idea that, you know, for the next seven generations, like they can see the street sign with an ancestor’s name on it, and that might spark them to go, look it up and learn about their history, or they can hear from mele, from songs and oral traditions about, you know, coming from warrior women or all these different ways of communicating that history.
[00:56:09] Miko Lee: [00:56:09] Right. It’s so powerful. Passing it down to the next generations and the seven generations after that and with missing in history, we’re really trying to expand what that passing on means and who is telling the story.
[00:56:24] Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:56:24] And imagine what the world would be like if all of us grew up raised and that kind of knowledge and knowing our ancestral power, both in our direct bloodline and in the broader sense of ancestors.
[00:56:36] Miko Lee: [00:56:36] Thank you so much for joining us. This has been the Powerleegirls series called “We are the Leaders” that has been focused on looking at different API activist, present past and future. And it’s been exciting to go on this journey and a couple of weeks, we’re starting another episode arc that is all about missing in history stories of the Japanese American concentration camps and how those relate to the world that we’re in today. And that is a whole series that is called “Never Again”. So we hope you will join us on that and we appreciate all of you listeners out there .
[00:57:12] Please check out our website, kpfa.org to find out more about we are the leaders and the guests we spoke to and how you can take direct action. We thank the San Francisco foundation for helping us to set up home studios and supporting the, we are the leader series. We thank all of you listeners out there.
[00:57:29] Keep resisting, keep organizing. Keep creating and sharing your visions with the world. Your voices are important. Apex express is produced by Preti Mangala-Shekar, Tracy Nguyen, Miko Lee Jalena Keane-Lee and Jessica Antonio. Tonight’s show was produced by your hosts, Miko Lee, and Jalena Keane-Lee thanks to KPFA staff for their support and have a great night.