This is part two of a blog post written by Claro de los Reyes, 2013 Create Change Fellow. Click here for part one.
Ryan Wong and I met a few weeks later at a cafe in Brooklyn. Having built a deep value in creating projects through the strength of partnerships, (an idea that was solidified for me by my mentors at The Laundromat Project), I began our meeting by asking Ryan his thoughts on additional programming for the exhibit. In response, he voiced an interest in more performance-based programming which serendipitously, aligned with my passion and work around interactive and/participatory theatre. We dialogued for a few hours that night, brainstorming various ideas and possibilities. Needless to say, the meeting went well and we left that evening having solidified a collaborative relationship and a joint intention to organize an additional, theatre-based program that would soon become Speech, Chant, and Manifesto: The Words of the Asian American Movement.
Mounted on March 4, 2014, SCM was an interactive theatrical reading of text selections that drew from transcribed interviews, manuscripts, manifestos, and other literature written for and about the Asian American movement. Joining me in the cast members was the strength of a broad range of active Asian American artists and/or activists whose gracious participation immensely deepened the entire experience for me. The cast was composed of myself, Sukjong Hong (writer/ activist), Daniel Lê (actor/ stand up comic), John Roque (actor), Suzu McConnell-Wood (theatre artist/ educator), Noel Shaw (filmmaker/ writer), and Betty Yu (community organizer / artist). Sukjong and Betty were acquaintances I contacted for The Laundromat Project family. Sukjong was in my cohort of LP Create Change Fellows, and Betty I’ve admired from a distance through seeing her work from LP newsletters and blogs. John, Noel, Suzu, and Dan were friends and past collaborators in the NYC Asian American arts scene whose talent I knew would layer the creative process. Together, their diverse backgrounds reflected my intention to build community through out the creation of SCM.
The cast of SCM (left to right): Noel Shaw, Sukjong Hong, Claro Que Sí, John Roque, Daniel Lê, Suzu McConnell-Wood
Each individual carried with them a different relationship to the material, which gave way to a number of immensely rich dialogues during our rehearsal/creation process and during our conversations with the attending audience members/participants the night of the event. Additionally, their individual trajectories as active Asian Americans helped pull audience members from varied spaces and it was quite moving for me to stand alongside them and share SCM with a crowd of friends, students, scholars, family members, community members, etc.
Epilogue: PASSING FORWARD
I reflect on SCM today immensely proud of the endeavor and the motives that inspired its creation. Since its staging in March 2014, the Asian American community has mourned the passing of Fred Ho and Yuri Kochiyama, two substantial figures in the Asian American movement whose legacies were specifically highlighted in SCM. As they now join the ancestors, their passing reminds me of the immediate importance of honoring the Asian American figures (many of whom are still among us) who have paved the way for the community today: Asian American figures whose contributions provide foundational maps for forward movement; Asian American figures whose victories and mistakes can inspire critical thinking and dialogue for today’s generation, and Asian American figures whose legacies deserve to be represented in the wider conversation of American history & culture.
The late Asian American activist Yuri Kochiyama
I write the closing of this blog post in Northern California’s Bay Area, an epicenter for Asian American history and culture. I am here with intentions to begin conversations about future bi-coastal projects similar to SCM. My hope is that the Asian American community will continue not only to actively engage with the lessons of the past, but to do so in solidarity with each other and the wider American culture.
My plan is to move forward in creating celebratory artworks intended to honor and engage with obscured legacies—art intended to share knowledge that challenges biased representations, art that facilitates critical dialogues and community collaboration, and art created with a deep value for inclusivity and accessibility to diverse audiences. Perhaps this is my contribution to the Asian American movement? Perhaps this is how I help push culture forward side by side with movement makers before me? Perhaps the words of the late Fred Ho, in his speech at San Francisco’s Kearny Street Workshop in 1985, articulate my intentions a bit more clearly:
“Revolutionary art must energize and humanize; not pacify, confuse, and desensitize. This is the liberating function of art, freeing the imagination and spirit, yet focusing us to our revolutionary potential.”
Presently, I can look back confidently at SCM knowing that my collaborators and I worked towards what Fred Ho defines as “Revolutionary Art”. Interference Archive’s Serve the People exhibit was itself a ‘movement’, and SCM was intentionally created to amplify its values. Through partnership, SCM was able to share a small section of a larger multicultural picture. There are many more stories to tell and many more lessons to learn from a largely obscured multicultural American history; now all we have to do is dig through archives and share… The ancestors will thank you for it.
Claro de los Reyes, July 2014
Claro de los Reyes
John Quincy Lee