Making History: Behind-the-Scenes of Dragon Fruit
Oral history projects take an incredible amount of work behind the scenes! Every aspect of the project takes intention, time, and love: thinking about who to interview, coordinating interviews, researching individuals and history, drafting what questions to ask, planning how to record the interviews, transcribing and coding them afterwards, and more. Just as important as recording the interview is the work of sharing them and making them accessible to TQAPI people, wherever they may be.
Often, historians, archivists, and librarians in institutions spend many years gathering and organizing historical materials in order to make them available to the public. It takes years of training and practice and often specialized equipment and space to be able to engage in an oral history project. To make the Dragon Fruit Project work, Lavender Phoenix had to build and nurture an incredible network of collective skills and labor without the kinds of formal institutional support that many academic projects rely on. This was truly a community effort, led by the Dragon Fruit Committee and Lavender Phoenix staff.
For Lavender Phoenix and the Dragon Fruit Project, it was important to strive to do this work in a loving and sustainable way. We centered our work in relationships, in joy, and in collective responsibility. Lavender Phoenix began hosting community work days for people to connect, engage in political education, and build the archive together. What work day isn’t made better by good company, laughter, and delicious food?!
In this room, we’ll go behind the scenes of the Dragon Fruit Project to learn how Lavender Phoenix organized the work and our volunteers to make the magic happen.
Recording the interviews was just the first step! In the early days, volunteers used whatever technology they had available, often using “voice note” apps on their phone, or free recording software on their computers. By 2014, Lavender Phoenix partnered with Storycorps to record higher-quality interviews in the San Francisco Public Library recording booth. Through many person-to-person connections, Lavender Phoenix recruited community members to be interviewers and interviewees, and helped to develop guiding questions. Storycorps engineers like Như Tiên Lữ, Yosmay del Mazo, and Geraldine Ah-Sue were present at many of the interviews to support the recording and logistics. The partnership resulted in a set of interviews, all of which are archived at the Library of Congress. However, some of the interviews are still being processed and may not be available yet. In the meantime, check out some of the Storycorps interviews here!
In the early days, transcribing the interviews was one of the most time-consuming parts of the process. On average, it takes a person about four hours to transcribe one hour of audio. Transcribing, editing, and coding the transcripts was a critical way to make the interviews accessible and widely shareable. At this time, auto-transcription services weren’t reliable or easily available, so every single transcript had to be manually typed, edited, and checked for historical accuracy (to ensure we correctly documented the names of people, organizations, and locations). To do this, Lavender Phoenix called on volunteers and organized transcribing work days in any free community space, such as the Chinese for Affirmative Action community room, where we could gather to train volunteers and work in an encouraging and supportive environment.
Screenshot of a Lavender Phoenix Transcribing Day agenda from 2015.
Professor Amy Sueyoshi, Dragon Fruit Project founder, at the first Dragon Fruit Transcribing Day, December 14, 2013. (From Facebook)
No work day is complete without nourishment! Fruit and drinks at the Dragon Fruit Transcribing Day, December 14, 2013.
The work didn’t end with transcribing! Once interviews were transcribed, they were “coded” to identify different themes. Coding is an important technique in qualitative research where a researcher will categorize and identify different themes and patterns in qualitative data like interviews. By highlighting themes and quotes, important lessons and information can be distilled. For example, some of the themes that volunteers highlighted were “internalized oppression,” “familial relationships,” “coming out,” and “cultural tensions.” This work, though tedious, allows interviews to connect with each other and community members in different ways. Special gratitude to the dozens of Lavender Phoenix volunteers who spent hours transcribing and coding interviews! An example of a coded interview. This interview was conducted by Kirby conducted with Willy Wilkinson on February 28, 2015. The interview was coded by Lavender Phoenix volunteer Kim Celine.
With all of the work done to construct an archive of stories and build a deeper community memory, the Dragon Fruit Project turned its attention to dissemination. We knew that we needed to make our stories known and accessible. With guidance from Anirvan Chatterjee, a community storyteller and activist, we looked towards Wikipedia, an online repository of free and accessible public information. Though Wikipedia is seen as one of the most democratic and open repositories of information, a 2011 study found that Wikipedia’s editors were overwhelmingly white, male, English-speaking, and living in the Northern hemisphere. Rather than existing as a “colorblind utopia,” Wikipedia and other digital spaces are shaped by the same forces of oppression that shape our world. These editors have immense power: they write, edit, and nominate pages for deletion, shaping how information is presented and organized. Over the past few years, there have been many stories of sexist and racist attacks on the Wikipedia pages of women, trans, and queer people, and attacks on editors themselves, further illustrating how digital repression operates.
In response, organizations across the United States have organized events, often called “Wikipedia edit-a-thons,” to edit and add Wikipedia pages about underrepresented communities, and to empower these communities to be the authors of their own information.
In 2014, Lavender Phoenix organized a Wiki-Hack in collaboration with other Bay Area-based organizations such as GLBTQ+ Asian Pacific Alliance (GAPA), Trikone, and API Queer Women and Trans Community (APIQWTC) to create pages for trans and queer Asian and Pacific Islander community members and issues.
Flyer for Wiki-Hack, October 19, 2014.
“How does it feel to be here?” | “Historic. It’s amazing. The thing to recognize is that this has never been done before. To have this event happen during my lifetime… I can’t believe it, it was never foreseeable. It’s amazing. I can’t tell you how emotional it feels to be able to be putting our work into the mainstream. Before, it seems like we didn’t exist in people’s eyes. This gives a validation to everything we’ve ever done. By doing this, you’re part of a movement that is never going to stop. You can always be inspired, no matter where you are.” – Crystal Jang, From the Wiki-Hack Live Blog
“Why are you here today?” | “I’m here for a few reasons. One because I support a group of queer and questioning youth @ the Chinese Progressive Association. In this space there have been questions around degrees of coming out – coming out, coming out to some people in their lives, or always being outed. And how it is a political and personal act to do so. It’s important for them to connect with members in the community who’ve struggled with these same questions themselves. I’m also here because it’s important for our community as Queer POC to leave lasting marks and tell our own stories, journeys, and accomplishments.”
To read more about the Dragon Fruit Wiki-Hack, check out this Lavender Phoenix blog post.
After creating pages for our people on Wikipedia, we knew that we needed even more autonomy in how we disseminated our stories. At the end of 2014, we began dreaming of a Digital Portal—a way for people to access all of our transcripts, resources, and zines (kind of like this museum!). For months, Lavender Phoenix volunteers from the Dragon Fruit Project and our Communications Committee gathered at Digital Portal Working Days to transcribe interviews, pull out key quotes, design graphics, and create a website from scratch. In 2015, the portal finally launched at an in-person party held in San Francisco, Chinatown. Volunteers and friends of the project shared their experiences of the Dragon Fruit Project, and we premiered our toolkit, “how to grow your own Dragon Fruit,” to help others emulate this in their own communities.
The Dragon Fruit Project continued to blossom in new ways with political projects to encourage and support archiving, intergenerational knowledge sharing, and relationship building in TQAPI communities.
Visit some of the Wikipedia pages that were created during the November 18, 2014 Dragon Fruit Project Wiki Edit-a-thon. If you feel inspired, sign up to become an editor and try it out! Maybe you can even help update some of the pages we initially created!