Powerfully Queer and Asian: Reclaiming My Space

With May and June approaching, I’m constantly reminded of my own identities and how I occupy space.  May is Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month and June is LGBTQIA+ Pride Month.  I work as an architectural designer.  I am a mentor to youth.  I am an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) advocate.  I am a facilitator for LGBTQIA+ spaces.  With these positions, it’s always interesting to ask myself: What does it mean to take up space?  Who occupies these spaces?  Who is missing from these spaces?  What does it mean to be Asian?  What does it mean to be queer or LGBTQIA+?  As a queer person of color in corporate America, I am constantly reminded that my experience and my voice don’t matter.  Me simply being myself is considered controversial.  When these thoughts surface, I always remind myself that this is not on me.  Who am I controversial to?  And do those people matter and how much power do I want them to wield over me?  I try to take this energy and reflect on changing the institutions.

 

While I am designing spaces, I ask myself which communities am I designing for and who is missing from these spaces.  A room or a month during the year is simply not enough.  At my current firm and industry where I am advocating for EDI, I am disappointed that not much progress for systemic change has occurred and the lack of justice.  I remember the sense of dismay when I first joined these EDI conversations within the architecture industry and hearing how this Black architect challenged  the system for thirty years and his reflection on the lack of change.  Institutions and corporations are built to empower and keep power among the few and built on upholding ideas of white supremacy and patriarchy.  It’s hard to navigate these institutions and find your place.  The idea of “do I belong?” constantly echoes through my mind.  Nevertheless, I find it important to fight, to challenge, and to exist within these institutions.  These feelings of loneliness and constantly thinking that I am not enough are valid, so how can I go about addressing these systems that make me feel like this?  I know I am not alone in feeling this way, so I find it essential to change this and make sure others don’t have to experience this same pain and doubts that I experience.

 

I find it fascinating even within these back to back months honoring different aspects of my identity, I see the challenges with being my full self.  I feel conflicted with the sense of belonging within the Asian community and the LGBTQIA+ community.  I feel as though I always have to divide the aspects of my identity.  I experience homophobia and transphobia within my own Asian community, while I experience racism and sexism within the LGBTQIA+ community.  Why do I have to compartmentalize my identities and lived experience?  This is also a great reminder that you have different privileges in different spaces and groups and that your marginalizations do not cancel your privileges.  Even with my marginalized identities, I will always try to use my privilege to help and uplift those who are not heard or seen and tell them they matter.

 

With the importance of these months, it’s always important to acknowledge the history and origins of these months.  Protests are built into the foundation of our existence as oppressed people and to continue fighting for our rights.  As a non-Black person, it’s especially important for me to recognize the contributions of Black, Latine, Trans, and Queer activists.  With my Asian identity, I think it’s important to know the origins of the word “Asian American” was to challenge the problematic ideas of the “Orient.” In 1968, University of California Berkeley graduates Emma Gree and Yuji Ichioka were influenced by the Black Power Movement and the American Indian Movement and created the unifying term “Asian Americans” to bring students of Asian descent together to fight for the collective liberation of Asian American and Third World peoples. They also fought in the Third World Liberation Front to push for ethnic studies in colleges across the United States.

 

Pride also is a result of protests with the Gay Liberation Movement in the late 1960s.  The most well-known protest of the movement is the Stonewall Uprisings in1969. It’s important to recognize the names of: Marsha P. Johnson.  Sylvia Rivera.  Stormé DeLarverie.  And the many others’ names who have not been recorded in history.  Intergenerational knowledge is so important to maintaining this momentum for change.

 

All these individuals were willing to fight for their existence, take up space, and cement their place.  These institutions ignored and criminalized people for the way they looked, the way they were themselves, for the people they loved, and where they came from.  Liberation was the key in finding justice and equity for these people.  The battle still continues to this day.

With these reminders of the legacies and histories that I am part of, it’s essential for me to see the importance and strength in communities.

In order for change to come, a sustained movement must continue.  There is always power in numbers.  Hence why my current approach is to network and build up communities for marginalized folks such People of Color and Queer and Trans Folks of Color.  We sometimes fail to acknowledge the power we truly have.  Know your own strength.  Your own worth.  Your own self.  And be you!  Our existence is resistance.  Be happy.  Be sad.  Be angry.  Be fearful.  Be what your heart tells you.  Your emotions are valid and contain so much power.  On this journey, remember to take time to:  Feel.  Reflect.  Heal.  Celebrate.  We are still here!

Casey Wong

Casey Wong (They/Them)

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