ECAASU 2014 Conference will be held in Washington, D.C. from Feb. 21st, 2014 to Feb 23rd, 2014. The theme “Mission IGNITION: Champion Your Cause” is centered on both the atmosphere and passion for change and activism that embodies Washington, D.C. We aim to actively engage collegiate attendees and inspire them to advocate for and bring change to their local communities.
All workshops will be 75 minutes long and held on Saturday, February 22nd. Please fill out this application to be considered to host a workshop at the 2014 conference.
The deadline for the workshop application is Sunday, November 24th at 11:59 P.M. EST.
In addition to filling out this application, please also submit a detailed plan of your proposed workshop to firstname.lastname@example.org by Sunday, November 24th at 11:59 P.M. EST.
Hi, I was wondering if there are any books you would recommend to someone just diving into the topics of racism towards Asian Americans, the Asian American experience, and cultural appropriation. Thank you :)
We seek full inclusion in the 2014 Tét parade because we are proud to be Vietnamese-American and LGBTQ. We are calling upon the City of Westminster to uphold its mandate to protect public land for the fair and equal use of all protected classes, including LGBTQs. As we were sidelined last year, we felt hurt because we were isolated from our own community by the organizers. One member of the group shares, “If my 97-year old grandmother can accept me for who I am, why should some parade organizers get to make me feel like I’m not good enough to march?”
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”—Nelson Mandela ~ RIP Mr. Mandela. A true inspiration to all. (via silent-chaos)
An event open to people who self-identify as Central, East, South, Southeast Asian and/or Pacific Islander (including mixed-race people from these communities), to examine and work through anti-Blackness in our communities. Please feel free to invite anyone who fits the description above!
This event will be part workshop, part discussion, part historical timeline, and part story-telling (and sharing), including an examination of the history of anti-Blackness in our communities AND the history of solidarity between our communities and Black communities in the US, and how we might strengthen solidarity between our communities.
To certain outside viewers, Vietnamese in America may have become synonymous with flag-waving conservatism, embodying a reactionary and censorious nationalism couched in the rallying cries of ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom.’ That’s definitely not me nor quite a few other Vietnamese Americans both young and old. But neither are we the conical-hatted, machine gun-slinging peasant warriors glorified in the lore of America’s left movement.
[However] there is a Vietnamese history in America — and a leftist history at that — going as far back as the 1940s national liberation struggles among émigrés in New York against French colonialism, to the 1960s anti-war activism of Vietnamese students and early immigrants. On July 2, 1972 in Los Angeles, the Union of Vietnamese in the United States was formed — the only group of Vietnamese in America to organize against the war.
Reclaiming our Vietnamese American history and identity has come to have a lot more meaning for me these days. It will mean, I think, careful and strategic organizing work within our communities. It will mean nurturing the youth and not antagonizing the elders. It will mean growing and struggling in the U.S. without forgetting to fight the imperialism that brought us here.
For years, she was known to the public as the Bloomingdale Library rape victim.
Then, in 2011, her family asked she be called the Bloomingdale Library rape survivor.
Now, she wants people to just call her Queena.
On the night of April 24, 2008, when Queena went to the Bloomingdale Library to return books, she was raped, beaten and left to die. She was 18, about to graduate high school and getting ready to attend the University of Florida on a full scholarship. Her attacker, Kendrick Morris, now 21, was convicted in May 2011 and is serving a 65-year state prison sentence.
Since then, her family and the community have held fundraisers and 5K races to raise money for her treatment, never revealing her name or showing her face.
On Saturday, the family will launch a new website, JoinQueena.com. The site documents Queena’s life and recovery. It features updates on her progress from her doctors, therapists and her family, photos and a link to donate through PayPal.
The family wanted a way for the public to help Queena, now turning 23, without having to write a check or go to a bank, her mother Vanna, 50, said.
But they wanted a better name for the website than “Bloomingdale Survivor.” Friends offered suggestions like “My Angel” or “Living Angel.” Queena would make a face, with her mouth in the shape of an O, to indicate no, she didn’t like those.
Her sister, Anna, 26, asked her: Did she just want Queena.com? Her face lit up with a smile, Vanna said. They asked her over and over, are you sure you want to use your real name?
She was sure. She wants to be an inspiration, her sister said, not a victim. They decided on JoinQueena.com.
At the request of the family, and because of the nature of the crime, last names are being withheld by the Tampa Bay Times.
The attack left Queena unable to walk, talk, see or eat on her own. She lives at home southeast of Tampa with her mother, who cares for her full time. But she has made some progress, Anna said.
Queena eats pureed foods, can form some syllables and can stand for periods of time with little assistance, Anna said. She has taken a few steps with the help of therapists and is tracking objects with her eyes better.
Her therapies include speech, physical and occupational, aquatic, yoga, neuro-stimulating treatments, acupuncture, massage and music.
Medicaid covers $1,500 per year for speech and physical therapy. But it costs the family about $70,000 a year for all of Queena’s therapies and medical supplies.
Queena has different therapy sessions each week in St. Petersburg, Palm Harbor, Valrico and Sun City Center. Her mother drives her, and the cost for gas adds up.
The family relies on donations to a fund for Queena through the Bank of Tampa and SunTrust. In the first three years after the attack, donations poured in. People still donate, but every year donations are fewer and fewer, Vanna said. She’s concerned about the fund running dry.
She’s worried about bankruptcy. She’s worried they’ll have to cut back therapies, that she won’t be able to take Queena out as much. When they go out, people talk to Queena and she listens to everyone around her. It’s good for her, Vanna says, because it stimulates her brain.
"I get afraid," she said.
In addition to the website launch, Queena will attend a 23rd birthday celebration her family is holding for her at 1 p.m. Saturday at Keel and Curley Winery in Plant City, with a prayer vigil at 2 p.m.
"Every time her birthday rolls around, we are all reminded of how precious life is," Anna said. "To see the community come together every year, it is very heartwarming and gives the family that extra comfort and motivation to keep pushing forward."
On Wednesday, Queena lay in a hospital bed in her blue room at home, where her physical therapist comes for the day’s session. Her therapy dog, Charlie, a little white Shih Tzu adopted from county Animal Services last year, waits for her in another room. Medical supplies share the shelves with stuffed animals and Gators memorabilia. The therapist works with Queena while her home health aide looks on. He works on her leg muscles while she’s lying down. He props small inflatable balls under her legs and has her push against his hands with her foot.
They slowly help her up so her arms are resting on balls on either side of her. The therapist tells her to look straight ahead. When she’s sitting up, he’ll let go of her for seconds at a time to work on sitting up on her own. He’ll ask if she’s doing okay. She makes a noise to tell him she’s all right.
Paula McDonald of Wimauma helped put together the website. She got to know Queena’s family when her daughter, Kendall, was a senior at East Bay High School last year. Kendall and other students at East Bay, which Queena had attended, helped organize a 5K fundraiser, and McDonald offered to help the family any way she could.
McDonald works in design and communications, and in November got in touch with Full Media, an Internet marketing company in Georgia she had worked with before, to get some tips on how to set up Queena’s website. The company ended up offering to create the site for the family.
"They really stepped up to the plate," McDonald said. "They were really interested in Queena’s story and helping with the website."
McDonald admires the family’s sense of strength and forgiveness, she said.
"For me as a parent, it hits close to home," she said. "Parents of teenage daughters, especially, you never hope to find yourself in that situation."
As kids, Queena and Anna were inseparable, Anna said. Their mother worked a lot, and Anna babysat her sister.
"We played together, slept in bunk beds, took the bus together, went to sleepovers together, crossed the street together," she said. "We were opposites, but we rarely fought."
Her sister was “Miss Bossy,” Anna said. “She cracked me up all the time, and still does. She has a cute, klutzy personality and it’s hard not to laugh at her nonsense.”
Like the time, just after getting her driver’s license, Queena drove her sister to the mall for the first time. She pulled into a parking spot, got out, shut the door, then realized the keys were still in the car. And the car was still running.
"She is the best, most supportive and fun sister I could have ever asked for," Anna said.
Anna has lived with Queena and their mother for the past five years to help with Queena’s care. She’s moving soon, to a house about 15 minutes away. Queena has already staked claim on her bedroom for when she visits.
Queena’s journey has put life into perspective, Anna said.
"It’s almost impossible to have a bad day when I think of everything that she has gone through and the resilience that she shows," Anna said. "Life is about family and community and doing the best you can to positively influence those around you."
In the 2000 U.S. Census, the Federal Government defines “Asian American” to include persons having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent. “Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander” includes Native Hawaiian, Samoan, Guamanian or Chamorro, Fijian, Tongan, or Marshallese peoples and encompasses the people within the United States jurisdictions of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. The previous “Asian and Pacific Islander” (API) category was separated into “Asian Americans” and “Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders” (NHOPI).
Historically, Asians and Pacific Islanders were grouped together by government classifications and by us, as part of an intentional community-based strategy to build coalitions with one another. There are conflicting views on the appropriateness of any aggregate classification or reference - “Asian Pacific American”, “Asian American and Pacific Islander”, etc; and a lot of significance can get attached to them, e.g., the word “Other” in “Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander” (NHOPI), and it is at times dropped in favor of “Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander”. Whilst our communities use various names to describe themselves; these groupings are ultimately political and part of a dynamic, continuing process of self-determination and self-identification.
The Asian & Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence uses the term “Asian and Pacific Islander” to include all people of Asian, Asian American, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander ancestry who trace their origins to the countries, states, jurisdictions and/or the diasporic communities of these geographic regions.
Definitions inevitably become wrapped up in notions of identity.
“Before the founding of AAPA (Asian American Political Alliance) in 1968, we were ‘orientals’ at best. We were like the rug: something to be stepped on, and kept out of sight, and then [they would] roll us back up when they needed a model minority to pit against the other minorities. That’s what they used us for.”—
Vicci Wong, AAPA member, on the creation of the term “Asian American.”
Hi, I was wondering if you could recommend any books exploring the legacies of colonialism written by a Pinoy?
To be honest I haven’t come across many books talking about colonialism in the Philippines that is written by a Filipin@ and not someone who is a white American.
There most likely are several but I haven’t heard of them. The only books I can think of at the top of my head is Brown Skin, White Minds: Filipino -/ American Postcolonial Psychology by E.J.R. David which has some chapters dedicated to talking about the Spanish and American colonization and colonial mentality in general, and The Forbidden Book: The Philippine-American War in Political Cartoons by Abe Ignacio, Enrique de la Cruz, Jorge Emmanuel.
If anyone else knows any good books to recommend feel free to comment.
Actually if anyone knows any good books in general about Filipin@ culture, history, & colonization, feel free to message me some suggestions. I plan to make a post as a reference with a list of books that fellow Filipin@’s in the diaspora can read up on as I know many are eager to read books written by and for Filipin@’s on those types of topics, not only as a source of decolonization but also on learning about ourselves as a people.
This is the story of how I met Gary Chan. It is also the story of how I got inspired to write these series of blog posts as a way of redefining "How To Be A Good Asian."
Redefining what it means to be “A Good Asian” is a lifelong process for me - I had plenty of reasons in my own life to figure this out for myself and with my good friends in private chats. For example, after I started performing stand-up comedy and talking about quitting my previous career, so many people in my audiences (many Asian American) would come up to me and say they wanted to do that too but were so afraid. I wrote about that in a previous blog: "I want to be a Good Asian, but now I want to do what I love."
However, it was my encounter with Gary that really inspired the idea to create a website and have a larger conversation. Gary’s story really affected me. Gary was NOT happy and though this sounds dramatic, his story haunted me. Life is so much more than about being “good” as it is finding “your happy”. And “finding happy” is much more messy, confusing, but more fulfilling than some narrow idea of being A Good Asian.
I want to share with you the stories about Asian Americans who take a variety of life journeys. I want these stories to be the ones that would’ve helped me as a middle school or high school kid to feel less alone and less pressured to fit into a suffocating and narrow box of being “A Good Asian.”
I’ve set up an Elfster account for our Secret Santa exchange! :)
To participate, you must have attended at least one Asian Tinychat. I hope this is fair, and if you don’t think it is, let me know and I can change this requirement.
If you fail to uphold your end, you will be banned from any future gift exchanges. If this exchange is successful, we’ll probably have more seasonal ones in the future, and you don’t want to miss out!
The sign-up deadline is December 7th. Names will be drawn on December 8th, and gifts should be shipped out by December 11th. You can ship later if you’re using a faster service than regular post, but keep in mind that there may be delays due to the holidays. Ideally the gifts should arrive by December 25th.
The limit for gifts is 20 USD. Whether that 20 USD includes or doesn’t include shipping is up to the giver.
Please make a wishlist! Anonymous questions to the recipient of your gift are turned on on Elfster. You can make a wishlist on your Tumblr or on Elfster; if you’re making it on your Tumblr, please send me the link.
Anyone from any country can participate. However, if your Secret Santa pal is from another country, your gift may take longer to arrive. I can try to match people from the same country up if people would prefer that way to save on time and shipping; let me know!
If you would like to participate, please send me an ask with your e-mail address and shipping address (including preferred name). If you don’t get a reply from me within a day, please send it again, as Tumblr may have eaten the message!
“If you don’t think Katy Perry was racist—let me ask you, what if she had performed in blackface? Perhaps a costume isn’t the same as changing skin color to you, but it is agonizingly close for me—I remember Mickey Rooney in buckteeth for his role as Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s; Jonathan Pryce in Yellowface in Miss Saigon; Gwen Stefani in her Harajuku phase. Every Halloween brings up the same issues. As I pointed out in my article, this kind of “costume” is a way of acting out a power relationship. “Whites have historically held power. Therefore Katy Perry has the right to use Japanese culture.” Racism is defined as prejudice plus power—I think Katy Perry’s performance meets the criteria for a racist performance.”—Yes, Katy Perry’s Performance Was Racist. Here’s Why. (via thebicker)
It started when I was in kindergarten, and I was so proud I did not have to go to Bingo class, unlike my friends, because I could speak good English -
although I had no idea what a yellow dog that could spell had anything to do with Chinese.
(I figure out now that it was probably called Bilingual class)
I am lucky. I speak the fluent, accentless English of newscasters, the dialect spoken by the children of immigrants, that we learned not from our parents but rather from watching Sesame Street and other things on tv.
Last year, a white facebook friend of mine posted, “In order to celebrate Chinese New Year, me talk rike chinese man arr day.”
And then told me that she was “sorry I was offended” and “she didn’t mean anything by it” when I (nicely, sweetly) told her that that shit was not okay. She said that she saw it the same as doing an accent, like Irish. Or British. Or Italian. (for bonus points, she even said that she has lots of Asian co-workers and friends, and LOVES Asian people, and so is not a racist.)
And when one of my white friends gets drunk, he thinks his “Asian accent” is hilarious.
And I was told by a coworker about the time my Asian coworker mispronounced “Barroway” as “Bwawwoway” and how hilarious it was.
Here’s the thing - can you guess how many Asian people I know who actually say
me from _____
me so solly
(or, if you like, the fetishized versions: me so horny, me love you long time)
if you said ZERO, then ding ding ding! Congratulations, you have working brain cells.
No, my misguided fb friend, the “Asian accent” is not an actual imitation of an accent, comparable to your bad British/Irish/Italian - but rather a mockery of Asian people and their supposed inability to speak English. It is the perpetuation of the image of Asian people as perpetual foreigners in America.
Like that time when my family was at an Italian restaurant, and we were speaking to my father in Cantonese, and a drunken white lady said very loudly, “GOD when you come to this country at least learn the language!”
Or when my father was pulled over for speeding, and although he said “what’s the problem, officer?” the first thing the state trooper said was, “Do you speak English?”
Your fake “Asian accents” are not harmless and silly, because at the root of the joke, it says - you, you are stupid. You cannot speak English. You are Other. You do not belong.
my parents have been in this country for 30 years. They have been American citizens for 30 years.
And they are very self-conscious of their imperfect English, afraid that it makes them look ignorant, knowing that it marks them as immigrants. That, after 30 years, you can still be told (in not so many words) that you do not belong.
The Cultural Revolution started in China when my father was 13. He was pulled out of school and, later, sent to work in the fields. (He escaped to Hong Kong when he was 18, but that is another story for another time.)
When my father came to this country, he had a middle school education and did not speak a lick of English. He worked as a busboy at a Chinese restaurant, the evening shift that ran until 3 or 4 in the morning, and went to school during the day.
It took my father ten years to earn his bachelor’s degree. He is now an engineer.
Is this not your “American Dream?”
When my mother came to this country, she spoke very little English. She got a job as an entry level clerk. Over the years she earned one promotion after another. She is now management at a large federal agency, and manages funds for the whole state.
Is this not your “American Dream?”
And my father didn’t understand why his coworkers said, “flied lice, flied lice!” to him over and over and laughed.
And my father is still afraid to speak in a professional setting, even when he has ideas.
And my mother still checks and double checks her professional e-mails with me, for fear of mockery from the same people she manages.
And people don’t understand why I can’t take a harmless joke. Why I don’t think that shit is funny.
Searching for something that you can’t encounter on a college walk? Stir crazy in your office cube? Reassessing your career path post-layoff? Contribute 15 hours a week to the Asian American Writers’ Workshop (AAWW) Internship this term: meet new friends, build your portfolio of clips, and learn about Asian American literature and arts non-profit management. Established in 1991, AAWW is a national not-for-profit arts organization devoted to the creating, publishing, developing and disseminating of creative writing by Asian Americans–in other words, we’re the preeminent organization dedicated to the belief that Asian American stories deserve to be told. Through our curatorial platform, which includes our New York author event series based in Chelsea, and our online editorial initiatives, we’re building the Asian American intellectual culture of tomorrow. To learn more, visit us at http://aaww.org/. We are looking for passionate, sharp, motivated individuals to intern one-on-one with our staff. We offer the following positions (scroll down for detailed descriptions): • Author Events • Editorial We have three internship cycles per year: Spring, Summer, and Fall. • Spring Application Deadline - November 15 • Summer Application Deadline - April 15 • Fall Application Deadline - July 15 Our interns participate at every stage of the multi-media publication and event production process: planning and promoting our literary programming; building and contributing to our emerging magazines; shooting, recording, and editing photos, audio, and video, managing our social media and participating in grants research; designing and marketing our new initiatives; and learning about the bigger picture issues involved in organizational development. As an intern, you’ll receive a number of benefits including Workshop membership and free enrollment in a writing workshop. INSTRUCTIONS: Please review the positions below, send a cover letter and resume to desk [at] aaww.org with “Your Last Name - Spring 2014 Internship – Desired Position” in the subject line, choosing either Author Events or Editorial. Then complete the application form below. The deadline to submit applications for Spring 2014 is November 15, 2013. Early applicants will be given preference. Only completed applications will be considered. POSITIONS: Author Events Intern Assist our Program Director in shaping our dynamic calendar of programs–not to mention rub elbows with famous writers at our public events! The Events intern will aid in publicity efforts, research for event participants, handle book orders and pre-event logistics, staff events, record audio and video, and maintain and organize a diverse catalog of writers and artists.
Qualifications: Great research skills, ability to multi-task, and attention to detail a must. Interest in literature, specifically Asian American literature, preferred.
Bonus Qualifications—Design, A/V, Social Media, & Marketing:
Experience in video editing using Final Cut Pro. Handling PA systems, microphones, still and video cameras, and video projectors also helpful. Proficiency with Adobe Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator a plus.
Persuasive writing skills and familiarity with Facebook and Twitter.
Editorial Intern Assist our editors with our editorial platforms: The Margins, Open City, and CultureStrike. You’ll be directly involved in every step of the editorial process, including: editorial research, copy editing, proof reading, reporting, fact checking, writing and blogging, photo research, web production, updating site elements and managing social media. Please read through each of the sites prior to applying. The Margins: http://aaww.org Open City: http://opencitymag.com CultureStrike: http://culturestrike.net
Qualifications: Experience in new media, media software, blogging, wordpress and HTML a plus; prior editorial and/or reporting experience preferred.
Bonus Qualifications—Design, A/V, Social Media, & Marketing:
Experience in video editing using Final Cut Pro. Proficiency with Adobe Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator a plus.
Persuasive writing skills and familiarity with Facebook and Twitter.
SPECIAL INSTRUCTIONS FOR EDITORIAL APPLICANTS: In addition to a completed application, please send 3 writing and/or journalism samples with your cover letter and resume.
To be clear: I know that there are always emotions involved. Participating in, witnessing, and responding to oppressive acts will always carry some degree of rage, sadness, anger, or any number of other feelings. Those feelings do require care, healing, time, etc. What I’m saying is that those feelings are a result of the systemic fucked-up-edness of those oppressive acts, not the other way around. I don’t want responses and apologies all about feelings; I want political accountability.
“What is astounding and demoralizing about the whole thing is that the very reason these people are coming here is because they like multi-culturalism and artists …and they are driving these people out. It’s almost like cannibalism.”—
Housing prices in San Francisco increased 26% between 2011 and 2012, with the median home price rising to almost $600,000. The average rent of a two-bedroom property is over $1,900 per month, or 4.6 full-time jobs at San Francisco’s minimum wage.
According to the 2010 Census, the Asian American population grew faster than any other racial/ethnic group between 2000 and 2010, with the population who reported Asian alone increased by 43 percent. There are approximately 17.3 million Asian Americans in the United States (U.S.), representing 5.6% of the U.S. population. By the year 2050 this population is projected to grow to 43.2 million or 10% of the overall U.S. population. Asian Americans represent a diverse community comprising of more than 30 countries of origin and various cultures, traditional beliefs, religions, years in the U.S., degrees of acculturation, levels of English proficiency, and socioeconomic status.
New York City (NYC) is the home to nearly 1.2 million documented and undocumented Asian Americans, representing more than 13% of the total NYC population. NYC’s Asian American population grew by 110% from 1990 to 2010. The Asian American population in NYC is tremendously diverse, comprising of individuals representing more than 20 countries and 45 languages and dialects. Many of NYC’s Asian American populations experience high rates of limited English proficiency (LEP) and other language barriers.
For more information on Asian American demographic characteristics in the U.S. and New York City and nationally, see the following resources:
The first time I encountered the Pacific, my dad believed that its immense gravity would keep me fixed on the shore. I watched, he would note, the water reach past my toes and deposit grains of sand and seaweed before it retreated, swallowed again by the very water which brought it there in the first place. Reach and retreat, the ocean would wash, and wash up again. I wanted to ask my sister — but there was so much sand, how did we have enough to stand on if the water kept swallowing it back in the first place?
The water licked my toes, depositing sand and swallowing it up again. When my dad turned around, he couldn’t find me where I was sitting. My sister said, the water must have washed me away bit by bit just like the sand.
My dad was a good swimmer. I hadn’t been gone long and when he asked what happened, I told him I ran into the waves to follow the sand and seaweed. I wondered where the sand was going.
I don’t remember this, but he tells this story in order to express how he predicted the kind of son he would have to raise. Though it lay beyond the boundary of my recollection, I’ve nonetheless accepted it into the genealogy of myself that I’ve constructed.
I used this story to explain much of my teenage years, where I would take on impossible tasks and locate the impulse in this childhood story. I also used it to narrate becoming the rebel that I always needed to be.
I haven’t thought about this story in a couple of years, since the last time I lived in East Side San Jose, another shore of disturbed sands and seaweed. I finished reading le thi diem thuy’s gangster we are all looking for (a beautiful book that everyone should read by the way) and the epigraph triggered the memory:
In Vietnamese, the word for water and the word for a nation, a country, and a homeland are one and the same: nu’ó’c.
- le thi diem thuy, gangster we are all looking for
Although my dad laughs about the story when he tells me, I imagine now what he must have felt about losing me to the ocean, having been a boat person himself — having seen the ocean reach and retreat on all sides of the Pacific, depositing and swallowing the sand and seaweed of human bodies who had attempted to flee as nation, country, homeland ebbed and flowed. Even now, the sand upon which we stand continues to be washed and washed away by nu’ó’c.
I locate this story to imagine what my dad thinks when he sees me today, especially as I pursue something like Asian American Studies. I’m still watching the ocean ebb and flow, pushed and pulled by nation, country, homeland, wondering what of the sand. Is he afraid? Will I leap again like I did as a child?
I don’t know how to swim. I never had to swim like he did. And when my dad paid for me to take swimming lessons when I was thirteen, it was out of fear that I would fail my high school PE classes. There wasn’t any ocean around. What life choices would I have then?
But still today, out of its immense gravity I stand fixed on the shore, watching the Pacific, wondering how I stand and where the sand comes from and where it is going.
Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Mirror Room (Phalli’s Field), 1965, sewn stuffed fabric, mirrors, 360×360 x 324 cm. Installation, Floor Show, Castellane Gallery, New York.
Grady Turner There has been so much interest in your life story as a result of your retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. Do you ever fear people may be interested in your biography at the expense of your art?
Yayoi Kusama No, I have no such fear. My artwork is an expression of my life, particularly of my mental disease.
GT We are conducting this interview by fax because you live in a mental institution in Tokyo. Is it true you committed yourself?
YK I was hospitalized at the mental hospital in Tokyo in 1975 where I have resided ever since. I chose to live here on the advice of a psychiatrist. He suggested I paint pictures in the hospital while undergoing medical treatment. This happened after I had been traveling through Europe, staging my fashion shows in Rome, Paris, Belgium, and Germany.
GT Even though you are institutionalized, you are a prolific writer and artist. Where do you work?
YK I work at my condominium-turned-studio near the hospital as well as at a studio I’ve been renting for some years, which is just a few minutes walk from the hospital. I also created a large sculpture in the big yard of the hospital—a store-bought rowboat completely covered with stuffed canvas protuberances. I have made about 500 or 600 large sculptures so far.
GT Do you still work around the clock for days at a time, as you did in the 1960s? Or is your work routine different now?
YK I work very hard even now, but probably not as hard as I did when I was in New York.
GT You say your art is an expression of your mental illness. How so?
YK My art originates from hallucinations only I can see. I translate the hallucinations and obsessional images that plague me into sculptures and paintings. All my works in pastels are the products of obsessional neurosis and are therefore inextricably connected to my disease. I create pieces even when I don’t see hallucinations, though.
GT Let’s talk about your youth and the art you made before coming to New York. You were born in Matsumoto, a medium-sized city in central Japan, in 1929. The war did not greatly affect your family as Matsumoto was fairly isolated and your family was wealthy. Is that true?
YK Our house escaped damage during the war and our storehouse was full of foodstuffs so we had enough to eat, fortunately. Yes, my family is quite wealthy. They operate real estate and storage businesses. They also wholesale seeds harvested from the plants grown on their large farms. They have been in this business for some 100 years.
GT But still, your childhood was pretty horrific. Your descriptions of your mother are chilling.
YK My mother was a shrewd businesswoman, always horrendously busy at her work. I believe she contributed a great deal to the success of the family business. But she was extremely violent. She hated to see me painting, so she destroyed the canvases I was working on. I have been painting pictures since I was about ten years old when I first started seeing hallucinations.
I made them in huge quantities. Even before I started to paint, I was different from other children. My mother beat me and kicked me on the derriere every day, irritated that I was always painting. She forced me to help the employees, even when I had to study for my term exam. I was so exhausted that I felt very insecure at times.
My father, a womanizer, was often absent from home. He was a gentle-hearted person, but being married into my mother’s family and being always under my mother’s financial control, he did not have a place in the home. He must have felt that he had lost face completely.
My eldest brother was also against my painting pictures. All of my siblings told me to become a collector rather than a painter.
GT Given your family life, it is not surprising you were eager to leave home while still young. You went to Kyoto, where you enrolled in academic art classes. Was this your only formal training as an artist?
YK I went to Kyoto simply to flee from my mother’s violence. I rarely attended classes at the school there; I found the school too conservative and the instructors out of touch with the reality of the modern era. I was painting pictures in the dormitory instead of attending classes. Because my mother was so vehemently against my becoming an artist, I became emotionally unstable and suffered a nervous breakdown. It was around this time, or in my later teens, that I began to receive psychiatric treatment. By translating hallucinations and fear of hallucinations into paintings, I have been trying to cure my disease.
GT In 1951, you began to produce small works on paper in pastel, gouache, and ink, based on your hallucinations. Within a few years, you had created thousands of them. Then, furious with your mother, you destroyed most of them on a riverbank outside your family’s home. How did this come about?
YK When I left for New York, my mother gave me $1,000,000 yen and told me never to set foot in her house again. I destroyed several thousand pieces of work. I felt those early works would be a drag on me after I became determined to create better work in the United States. Now I regret very much that I destroyed them.
GT But you saved some 2,000 works, which you brought to New York. Why did you save these?
YK The pieces that I saved were all completed ones, similar to those I had sent to Kenneth and Georgia O’Keeffe. (When I first wrote to O’Keeffe for advice, she discouraged me from moving to New York. After I arrived in New York, though, she was very supportive of me, visiting me at my studio to see how I was doing, trying to find galleries that might be interested in my art and buyers of my work. She even invited me to stay at her place.) Those pieces I saved were excellent pieces that already showed some signs of dots and infinity nets.
GT Though small in size, these early works were vast in scale, as if you were attempting to capture the infinite.
YK Those small works reflect the great depth of my inner heart. They represent an assertion of denial, or a negative, while my white Infinity Nets are an expression of a positive.
GT In your novella Foxgloves of Central Park, the protagonist Shimako breaks down shortly after arriving in New York penniless and alone. Still, she has no intention of returning to Japan. Did you mean for your departure to be final?
YK Yes, I left Japan determined to live and die in the United States. I would not have had to return to Japan, even temporarily, if my Japanese doctor in New York had given me surgical treatment early enough. Now, without realizing it, I have been in this mental hospital for 20-some years. I live a peaceful life creating artwork.
Yayoi Kusama, Self-Obliteration by Dots (detail), 1968, performance, documented with black-and-white photographs by Hal Reif.
GT When you arrived in New York, you were 29 years old. You spoke little English. You had a portfolio of drawings but no contacts in the art world. What were you hoping to accomplish?
YK When I arrived in New York, action painting was the rage, de Kooning, Pollock and others. I wanted to be completely detached from that and start a new art movement. I painted obsessional, monochromatic paintings from morning till night. They were huge paintings that had no composition like a 33-foot white infinity net painting. My only contact with the art world was John Gordon of the Brooklyn Museum. I owe so much to him. He invited me to participate in the “Watercolor Biennale” and helped me to sell my work by finding sponsors.
GT Within 18 months of your arrival, you had your first solo show. The walls of the gallery were hung with five huge canvases covered with white-on-white infinity nets. Meticulously painted brush strokes created a lattice almost invisible to the eye. The show was praised by critics including Dore Ashton and Donald Judd—you were even compared to Pollock. This first success must have been exciting.
YK I said to myself, I did it! I began associating with comrades who were also developing new types of paintings. I became friends with artists such as Eva Hesse and Donald Judd.
GT It is interesting Judd was so impressed with your work, as your paintings presaged the Minimalist aesthetics he later championed. Did you consider yourself a Minimalist?
YK I am an obsessional artist. People may call me otherwise, but I simply let them do as they please. I consider myself a heretic of the art world. I think only of myself when I make my artwork. Affected by the obsession that has been lodged in my body, I created pieces in quick succession for my new “-isms.”
GT With this first show, you established a balance between avant-garde aesthetics and the hallucinatory images that inspired you.
YK I ran all over the battlefield of art in New York that revolved rapidly like a swirl.
GT It was an infinity net painting that first introduced your art to Europe in 1960 as part of a group show alongside other artists working in monochrome, including Yves Klein, Lucio Fontana, and Piero Manzoni. You began corresponding with a number of European artists as a result.
YK The European reception to my work was truly great. The newspapers in Germany, Holland, and Belgium featured my work at the top of their front pages. In fact, the response was so overwhelming it incurred the complaints of the other artists who participated.
GT Looking at your 1960s work from the perspective of the 1990s, I’m most impressed by the diversity of media with which you worked: drawing, painting, sculpture, performance, installation art, etcetera. Mixing media was not as common then as it is today.
YK So many ideas were coming forth one after another in my mind that sometimes I had trouble knowing what to do with them. In addition to making painting, sculpture, and avant-garde fashion, I made a film called Kusama’s Self-Obliteration. I starred in, directed and produced it, and Jud Yalkut filmed one of my Happenings in Woodstock. I think I staged about 200 Happenings all over the place.
GT What is the meaning of “self-obliteration?”
YK By obliterating one’s individual self, one returns to the infinite universe.
GT That film was a collage of images, like much of your work. Were you inspired by other collage artists? I understand Joseph Cornell was a mentor to you.
YK No, I was not inspired by any other collage artist, even by Cornell. Rather, I think he was inspired by me. Cornell was not a mentor to me; I was his lover for 10 years. Cornell is better known for his box pieces. My work is quite different from his, but I saw a number of his pieces that appeared to be influenced by my work.
GT In 1962, you created your first sculpture, Accumulation No. 1, in which an armchair frame was covered with stuffed, sewn protuberances. There was fringe at the base of the chair, and the entire sculpture was painted white. How did you come to make something so different from your previous work?
YK When I was struggling to earn my living, all my friends said, “Do action painting, then you can survive.” But I continued to make paintings that were the exact opposite. I painted infinity nets day after day, and while doing so, the whole room appeared to have been covered with nets. So I created pieces by covering sculptures with nets.
GT Inevitably, the stuffed shapes seem phallic. Did you intend this association?
YK My sofas, couches, dresses, and rowboats bristle with phalluses.
GT Why do you refer to these sculptures as “Compulsion Furniture?”
YK As an obsessional artist I fear everything I see. At one time, I dreaded everything I was making. The armchair thickly covered in phalluses was my psychosomatic work done when I had a fear of sexual vision.
GT Women’s clothes were also covered in protuberances and monochromatic paint.
YK I glued male sexual patterns on women’s clothes and sprayed them completely with silver paint. Initially, I used white paint, but began to use silver and gold sprays around 1963 as I found them to be more durable.
GT Did you wear these clothes in your Happenings?
YK Yes, I went shopping at a supermarket and strolled on the street wearing a dress and a hat decorated with phalluses. Artificial flowers were also attached to the outside and inside of a parasol. This was the precursor of my nude Happenings.
GT As with the Happenings, there are a number of collage photographs in which you include yourself with your Compulsion Furniture. The most famous may be the image of you posed nude on your couch (Accumulation No. 2) in imitation of a pin-up girl, covered in polka dots. Behind the couch are infinity nets paintings, the floor is strewn with pasta.
YK Polka dots symbolize disease. The couch bristled with phalluses. The macaroni-strewn floor symbolizes fear of sex and food, while the nets symbolize horror toward infinity of the universe. We can not live without the air.
GT Among so many domestic objects, your Aggregation: One Thousand Boats Show in 1964 stood out.
YK The work was composed of a real rowboat covered with stuffed canvas protuberances, surrounded by 999 posters of the boat pasted on the ceiling, floor and walls of an entire room. After this show, repetition became a hot theme in New York.
GT The serial imagery seems similar to what Andy Warhol was beginning to do with his Flowers series, covering walls with an image repeated over and over.
YK Andy was a person who incorporated everything indiscriminately in his art as if he were running a wholesale business of imitations. Before he started doing his Flowers, he came to the opening of my One Thousand Boats Show and said with a stunned look on his face what a wonderful show it was.
Yayoi Kusama, Mirror Room (Pumpkin), 1991, mirrors, wood, papier mâché, paint, 200×200 x 200 cm. Collection, Hara Museum, Tokyo.
GT Involving the gallery walls in a sculpture exhibition was not very different from the installation art you would come to make. In 1965, you built a mirrored room and filled it with stuffed fabric shapes covered in polka dots, entitled Infinity Mirror Room—Phalli’s Field, orFloor Show. That made actual the implied infinity of your drawings and paintings.
YK The original idea for this work dates back to my childhood. I was making paintings in small, medium, and large sizes then, without sleeping at night sometimes. Those paintings, 2 or 3,000 in total, were rapidly sublimated within myself and developed into sculptures. In other words, underlying the mirror room were my early paintings. To create an endless mirror room had been my long-cherished dream.
GT What did you think of Lucas Samaras’s mirrored rooms when you saw them two years later?
YK My reaction was, “He did it again.” I hope Lucas pursues the path of creativity and pain inherent in artists from now on, instead of following what Kusama has done.
GT For your retrospective, the Museum of Modern Art recreated examples of your art that are no longer extant, such as the mirror room. What was it like to see your lost art after three decades?
YK I am disappointed that more than half my artwork is no longer. Now I want to create greater artwork to leave behind for future generations.
GT You’ve been compared to Pop artists by those who detect a Pop Art sensibility in pieces like Airmail Stickers, in which you covered a large canvas with hundreds of red, white and blue airmail stickers. Did you feel any affinity with Pop?
YK Yes, I was in the vanguard of Pop Art, and regarded as a Pop artist by the people around me. I felt that America’s energy was trying to change its history. I was part of the movement.
GT While you did reasonably well as a young artist in New York, you were eclipsed by male artists whose work was similar—one thinks immediately of Claes Oldenburg’s soft sculptures and Samaras’s mirrored environments, not to mention Warhol’s serial images. How did their success affect you?
YK Those male artists were simply imitating my illness. I participated in a group show held at the Green Gallery in June 1962 with Robert Morris, Warhol, George Segal, James Rosenquist, and Oldenburg who I hold in high regard. Oldenburg showed a papier-maché sculpture then. The Green Gallery offered me a chance to hold a solo show in September of the same year, but unfortunately I had to decline due to lack of money. During that summer, Oldenburg was working fast to create soft sculptures similar to mine using machine-sewn forms. When I went to the opening of his solo show held at the Green Gallery the same year, his wife led me to his piece Calendar and said to the effect, “Yayoi, I am sorry we took your idea.” I was surprised to see the work almost identical to my sculpture.
GT You staged dozens of Happenings—what you called “Body Festivals”—in your studio and in public spaces around New York. Some were sites of authority, such as MoMA or Wall Street. Other sites, such as Tompkins Square Park and Washington Square Park, were associated with New York’s psychedelic hippie culture. What was your role in these?
YK I played the role of high priestess and painted the nude bodies of models on the stage with polka dots in five colors. When a Happening was staged at Times Square under my direction, a huge crowd flocked to it. I was never nude, publicly or privately. At the homosexual orgies I directed, I always stayed at a safe place with a manager in the studio to avoid being arrested by police. The studio would have been thrown into utter confusion if I were arrested. The police were primarily after a bribe. When I was arrested while directing a Happening in Wall Street and taken into police custody, they demanded that I pay them if I wanted to be set free. Bribes ranged from $400 to $1,000. Since I paid them every time I was arrested, my Happenings ended up as a good out-of-the-way place for them to make money.
GT Why were the performers nude?
YK Painting bodies with the patterns of Kusama’s hallucinations obliterated their individual selves and returned them to the infinite universe. This is magic.
GT Nudity was central to your work in those years: in addition to the Happenings, you opened a fashion boutique offering clothes you designed that were “nude, see-through, and mod.” The shop had private studios and nude models available for body painting or photographing. You also opened the Church of Self-Obliteration in a SoHo loft, appointing yourself the “High Priestess of Polka Dots” so you could officiate at a wedding of two gay men in 1968. You designed a large bridal gown that both men wore. How did you see your art in relation to the sexual revolution?
YK I have been tossed by the waves between rejection or a fusion with my own sex. I suppose everyone has. To get baptized at the Church of Self-Obliteration, people first have their bodies painted all over with polka dots by Kusama, then return to the root of their eternal soul. It is the moment of joy and of inheriting the vitality of an infinity.
Yayoi Kusama, Alice in Wonderland Happening, Alice in Wonderland statue, Central Park, New York, 1968.
GT In 1968, you began to refer to your Happenings as “Anatomic Explosions.” They were your most overtly political works. You appeared in public sites with four nude men and women covered in polka dots. At the New York Board of Elections, they posed with oversized masks of that year’s candidates for president—Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey, and George Wallace—with a crumbled flag on the ground. What caused you to become concerned with politics?
YK I have been interested in politics since my childhood, probably because my grandfather was a politician. When I read a newspaper today, I first read its political column ahead of its cultural column.
GT It is a surprise, as your other art and writings seem apolitical—indeed, they are often intensely private.
YK I can only write about myself, but having searched the world around me, I have found that nothing is more intriguing than politics.
GT Why did you return to Japan in 1973?
YK I returned to Japan because of my deteriorated health. My Japanese doctor in New York failed to detect the illnesses from which I suffered. Upon returning to Japan, I received treatment for and recovered from the two diseases: Basedow’s disease and myoma of the uterus—not cancer of the uterus as rumored. Subsequently, I was hospitalized because of my obsessive-compulsive neurosis. In the articles written about me it is assumed that I voluntarily chose to live in the hospital; this is wrong. I am not suffering from manic-depressive psychosis, either.
GT You’ve said that your doctor regarded your art as good therapy. Has art therapy been part of your treatment at the hospital?
YK At the hospital there are art therapy programs such as calligraphy, karaoke singing, movie appreciation, and painting classes. Being the only professional artist in the hospital, I take no part in those activities.
Every day I create artwork either at a small place allotted me at the hospital or at my studio. At night I write novels. The novel Violet Obsession published recently has received favorable reviews. The other Violet Obsession, a collection of poems under the same title, has been translated into English together with The Hustler’s Grotto of Christopher Street. Both are now available in the United States.
GT You’ve published thirteen books of fiction and poetry since returning to Japan. Are you now better known in Japan as a writer than as an artist?
YK I have many fans of my novels, but I am known as an artist in Japan because I have had a number of solo shows here and I represented Japan at the 1993 Venice Biennale. I am participating in the current São Paulo Biennale at its invitation with my white painting.
GT You left New York more than two decades ago, but much of your fiction is set here. Why?
YK There are novels set in Japan, such as Suicide at Sakuragaoka, Between Heaven and Earth, and a collection of poetry. But I find it easier to write about New York because I have a richer experience of it. For people like me, I must say, it is difficult to live in Japan, except inside the mental institution. I have but few friends.
GT In Japan, your writing is compared to that of Izumi Kyoka, a writer of mystic fiction who died in 1939. Was he an influence on your writing?
YK I am a fan of Izumi Kyoka, but he has no influence on my writing. I write in my own original style. I have written surrealist novels as well as conceptual art novels. I do not want the readers of my fictions to speculate that the heroines in them are Kusama.
GT Reading your work, I was struck by its use of repetition—you often restate details about characters, or retell parts of the narrative. This gives your fiction a kind of breathless quality, like you were compelled to write it all in one sitting.
YK Repetition of the same patterns, an action which stems from my disease, is applied in my writing just as it is in my artwork. Dreams and hallucinations are actually occurring. This obsessional image is what I have transformed my disease into, and is therefore, to me, irreplaceable.
GT There is an almost transcendental quality to your writing about such topics as prostitution, drugs, suicide, or madness. Do you see such intense states as transgressive of mundane life?
YK No, I don’t. I don’t think these things are anything special.
GT I ask because I understand that transgressive fiction appeals to many younger Japanese readers.
YK Living in Japan, I am realizing that so many trivial problems happen one after another and that I find myself desperately trying to protect myself from them.
GT Many of your characters are outsiders, detached from mainstream society: Henry, the prostitute-junky-turned-murderer, and his pimp, Yanni, in The Hustler’s Grotto of Christopher Street. Shimako, who goes mad in Foxgloves of Central Park; and Masao, who makes love to the decaying corpse of his wife in Death Smell Acacia. Why are you drawn to outsiders?
YK I want to continue to write about the dark side of society since the bright side of society is written by famous conservative writers. I write about the shadow side of outsiders.
GT Your outsiders include gay men, but a lot of gay men would be bothered by your depiction of homosexuality—it seems depraved, desperate, pathetic. I’m thinking in particular of Robert Greenberg, the john who is murdered in Hustler’s Grotto.
YK In today’s world, gays are outsiders. That is why I try to remove society’s antipathy toward gays and change people’s views about outsiders in my writing.
GT Your recent work shown at New York’s Robert Miller Gallery continues the same motifs as the work you did in New York in the mid-1960s. How do you think your work has changed since returning to Japan?
YK I have been trying to give my work a structured look by combining various forms, as well as conducting chemical experiments using totally new materials to make the work permanently durable.
GT Have you done any Happenings since returning to Japan?
YK I have staged performances on the premises of temples in Tokyo. At one of the temples where there was a graveyard, I wrapped the surface of hard gravestones alternately with rolls of flimsy toilet paper. At another temple I threaded a vinyl pink cord around dozens of cherry trees in full bloom in a net fashion.
GT After years of relative neglect, your retrospective seems to have reasserted your place in the history of art of the 1960s. By painting your signature infinity net pattern on an icon of Western art like the Venus de Milo, as in your recent work, it seems you are also arguing for the importance of your art.
YK I will continue to create artwork as long as my passion keeps me doing so. I am deeply moved that so many people have been my fans. I have been grappling with art as a therapy for my disease, but I suppose I would not be able to know how people would evaluate my art until after I die. I create art for the healing of all mankind.
We’re working on a documentary that helps Asian parents to get over the struggle of accepting their non-heterosexual children. Please read this post on my blog and ask your Asian American LGBTQ friends to contact us and help us with this project. Thank you!