“Tribalism” has taken a beating in the lexicological landscape these days, and for good reason. To be tribal is to be unthinking, violent, mean. It’s been invoked to describe the growing divisions in our body politic. A tribe is an echo chamber – isolationist.
To find one’s tribe and to work for its good, by contrast, is empowering. There is a sense of homecoming and belonging. After wandering alone for a time, we’ve stumbled upon one another. Together, we discover that we are stronger because we build each other up. We have found our tribe and there is power in our collectivity.
Progressive Asian American Christians is a highly specific designation, but there is a purpose in its specificity. We are products of Asian and Pacific Islander immigrant families. We have come to know Christ, and we’ve had varying experiences—some painful—with the church. We have chosen to define ourselves politically—to put ourselves in direct opposition to certain ideologies, and in allyship and in solidarity with the marginalized.
In combination, these beliefs and identities have put us at odds with many of our old circles. We are “too Christian” to be progressives or “too progressive” to be Christian. Progressive Christian spaces are predominantly white and typically void of API Americans. Some of us have coped by compromising parts of ourselves. We learn to prioritize faith, identity, and ideology—as if these things could ever be teased apart. Still others decide to go on their own, extricating themselves from the structures that they can no longer abide. Slowly, essential parts of themselves begin to wither without community. Where is there space for us?
PAAC has shown us another way. There are those among us who decided to build new shelters and institutions. To write the things no one else would write for us. To put words to pain we can identify with collectively. Here, finally at home, PAAC members have fostered connection, cultivated communion, created worship, and created together.
As I Am emerged as a workshop to harness the age-old device of storytelling to forge our identities. We asked writers to write. No credentials were required, no mediums were preferred. All we wanted was for PAAC members to share their stories the best way they knew how. For what is a tribe without the stories of its people?
For almost a year, every Tuesday, volunteer writers did just that. As I Am writers were simultaneously occupying and creating space. They gifted us their poetry and personal narratives. They wrote into that liminal space between Asian and American and pushed us into new realms where APIA narratives were sorely lacking: the media, LGBTQIA spaces, the dating scene. What emerged was a stronger sense of what it meant to be PAACs. As the stories grew, so did our community.
Starting on the first Tuesday of May, a full year after we first started As I Am, we are excited to launch a new phase. We intend to delve deeper into Asian-Pacific Islander American issues and experiences to explore what it means to be PAACs. We begin by asking our writers to explore the sometimes painful, but necessary task of navigating boundaries with our parents and family members. What does that look like for APIAs across disparate generations, nationalities, cultures, and languages?
Our second theme explores issues of gender and/or class in the context of PAAC identity and community. How do these complex social constructs interact to shape our experiences in the world?
Third, we seek to “break the mold”–so to speak–by asking APIA writers to share their experiences of choosing “unconventional” careers. After all, we can’t all be lawyers, doctors, and engineers. What are the challenges of pursuing a career outside the lines?
And finally, we will close the year asking our writers to strut their stuff. Despite prevailing stereotypes of the “docile Asian”, we know that our communities are full of life and personality. How do we choose to express ourselves through our fashion, our style, our hair, our art?
As always, As I Am is powered by collaboration. We cannot do this work without folks from the wider PAAC community volunteering their time and their talents to share their stories. We invite writers of all stripes–published authors and casual poets alike–to continue forging.
Your stories illuminate our space. Your writing brings shape to our tribe.
Your voice is most welcome here.
Katherine Kwong and Christopher Paek
As I Am Co-editors