In April 2018, writers in PAAC embarked on a remarkable and ambitious collaboration. An open call was made. We wanted storytellers and poets, essayists, playwrights, and theologians. We wanted granularity and dimensionality. What does it mean to be a progressive Asian American Christian and how does this shared identity interact with our various social worlds? We gave it a name—As I Am: A PAAC Writers’ Collaborative.
Every Tuesday, volunteer writers answered our call. We wrote about our often contentious and painful experiences with the conservative church. Some of our contributors used their posts as a means to reconcile pieces of their identity that never quite fit into the rigid boxes that people put us in. Others struck a more rebellious tone:
I’ve always disappointed everyone in my Chinese-ness (and my faith). But I am Asian American through and through: my skin, my blood run with butter mochi, my voice telling my brothers to close the lights, my memories…-Siobhan McDonough
We used the opportunity to scream—raw reactions at the current state of things:
I’m shaking right now—from fury and from fear. You disgust me. You’ve broken my trust and you’ve broken my heart.
I’m scared to be in my own home.
Stop trying to appease me with your empty words, America. I don’t want anything from you right now.
I just want you to take a good look at yourself.—Iris Chen
Our writers took us on a tour of El Camino de Santiago, Southern Californian strip malls, and all the in-between spaces from here to Taiwan to Manila. Our space was honored by writers who chose to share their vulnerabilities, stories of abuse, fragility, and healing.
In short, we got what we asked for and more. PAAC can feel like such a niche designation, but when we read these writers, our only conclusion is that we cannot be pegged into a singular experience.
I will not give up my fire
to be pressured into
a shiny thing
that only holds as much value
as the men around
decide to give to it.
I am more.
I am a universe of fire
in the dark.
I am good.
I am very good.
I am good enough.
–Stella Won Phelps
Let’s call this Phase 1. Phase 1 of As I Am was introspective.
In the spirit of Shifting Perspectives, we move into the next phase of our collaboration. We ask our writers to take us out of the homes and churches we grew up in and push us into spaces where we’re not as visible.
In November, we ask our writers to ride the wave of #AsianAugust, which saw an unprecedented string of high-profile box-office successes featuring Asian American talent—Crazy Rich Asians, Searching, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, etc. What does this cultural moment mean for Asian Americans? Where are we in terms of media representation and where do we need to go?
In December, we ask our writers to flex their creative muscles. Our families all have histories, but for many of us, these histories were lost to us when our forbearers immigrated to this country. We reclaim these histories by reimagining them in the form of myths and folklore.
In January, we build on the wonderful work of PAAC Family’s #HearFromaQueer series as we invite LGBTQ+ writers to share reflections on how their queer and PAAC identities intersect.
And finally, PAACs in love! We shamelessly feed into the Valentine-industrial complex by inviting writers to share with us their love lives. No holds barred, anything goes.
As we look forward to the next chapter, we want to pause a moment to reflect on the work we’ve created together. On behalf of the As I Am editors, I want to tell our writers what an honor it has been to read and publish your generous work.
And to our readers, we extend our heartfelt thanks. Stay tuned, we hope you keep reading because we’re still writing.
About the author: Christopher Paek is a co-editor of As I Am: A PAAC Writers’ Collaborative. He’s also a co-administrator of PAAC’s official writing group, Write On, PAAC.