This is part one of a blog post written by Claro de los Reyes, 2013 Create Change Fellow.
On March 4th, 2014, I gathered a cast of Asian American artists and activists to serve as readers for an interactive theatre event called Speech, Chant, and Manifesto: The Words of the Asian American Movement. The event was specifically created to support and compliment Interference Archive‘s groundbreaking exhibit Serve the People: The Asian American Movement in New York, curated by Ryan Wong.
As I now reflect on the experience, I am still amazed on how the stars had aligned themselves to make the event come to life. The following is a brief reflection on the events that transpired around the mounting of Speech, Chant, and Manifesto: The Words of the Asian American Movement (SCM).
SETTING THE STAGE: MOTIVES and INSPIRATION.
I am a theatre & film artist (who straddles the gray matter between the black and white; between the commercial and the community-based). I am also a NYC arts-based educator, and a culture worker. Importantly, I am a person of color—an Asian American—a 1.5 generation Filipino-American who claims residence in Gowanus, Brooklyn. All these selves simultaneously influence and motivate my practice of a socially engaged (and community-based) theatre and digital filmmaking; And all these selves came to play in my organizing of SCM.
[ top left: Claro teaching for Filipino School of NY/ NJ, top right: as cast member of Pan Asian Repertory Theater’s Off Broadway run of “No-No Boy” (Spring, 2014); bottom left: facilitating as a Create Change Fellow at the Laundromat Project Field Day 2013 in Hunts Point, Bronx; serving as an assistant teaching artist at the Apollo Theater Video Oral History Project 2013.]
Central to my values as an artist is to facilitate the creation of works that challenge socially constructed barriers and ‘master narratives’ that produce biased perceptions of cultures (and peoples) beyond those rooted in Western Europe. Today, the ramifications of these biased representations continue to negatively affect people of color in a multitude of ways – and although this issue is immensely layered and complex, it is a necessity for me to challenge these narrow and/or inaccurate perspectives through my work as an artist and educator.
Personally speaking, the under representation of Asian American contributions (and overall presence) in American culture and history continues to burden perceptions of Asian American communities today. For the sake of brevity, I write broadly on this issue, as this issue, again, is beyond the scope of this blog post. That said, one need not look no further than American mass media (or a public school history curriculum) to see the dearth of Asian American presence in mainstream… anything ( film, literature, sports, music, etc.). As a move towards pushing culture forward, I seek to actively share in my work obscured (and/or censored) perspectives and historical narratives.
SCM was therefore a project born out of an immediacy to brighten the spotlight on the history of Asian American activism. Ryan Wong and Interference Archive set the stage with the Serve the People exhibition, and my organizing of SCM was my way of “serving” alongside them in the honoring and celebrating the legacy of Asian American activism and its contributions to American culture.
PLANTING SEEDS TOWARDS SERVING THE PEOPLE
I first came across Interference Archive (IA) as a 2013 Laundromat Project Create Change Fellow where I, along with my cohort of fellows and the Laundromat Project staff, were welcomed to the space to find out more about the organization first hand. IA had graciously agreed to host an Laundromat Project Salon Potluck which provided us an opportunity to spend an evening touring the archives, breaking bread, and dialoguing with some IA staff. As a Gowanus, Brooklyn resident and community-based art maker I left that evening fascinated and drawn to everything that IA represented. My mind raced with ideas of potential collaborations with the space and I was thrilled to learn of such a valuable resource in my neighborhood.
Claro de los Reyes
John Quincy Lee