For many trans and queer Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, “our stories remain unwritten” (echoing the words of Kānaka Maoli activist, poet, and scholar Haunani-Kay Trask). Because of our layered and varied histories of exclusion, we often share a yearning for connection to home, family, and a sense of lineage. Despite the countless ways systems of oppression disconnect us, we continue to seek and build belonging and humanity.
Western history privileges the written word, and has been told in ways that marginalize our stories to the footnotes of history. Through the lens of Western (Eurocentric, white supremacist, and heterocispatriarchal) history, TQAPIs are either absent, misunderstood, dehumanized, exoticized, or vilified. This fraught relationship with history perpetuates itself through time when we are unable to find reflections of ourselves in the past. In academia, oral histories are often considered more subjective than “traditional” written archives. But we know that oral history is connected to a practice of sharing stories and knowledge within families and communities. It is a practice that is commonly rooted in many of our ancestral cultures. What can we do to fill the silences and rewrite history from where we are, from our own perspectives?
What can we do to fill the silences and rewrite history from where we are, from our own perspectives?
When we began the project, we were struck with the reality of our elders growing old and losing memory. The violence our communities face daily (and have faced historically) added urgency to the project of documenting our histories and strengthening our relationships. To promote healing and continue our work towards liberation, the Dragon Fruit Project brought individuals together to listen and share their stories. This living archive not only preserves our stories, but builds a stronger kinship to each other, our past, and our future. Through building the skills to listen and share as acts of love, the Dragon Fruit Project touched the lives of many and planted seeds that will continue to blossom for generations.
This living archive not only preserves our stories, but builds a stronger kinship to each other, our past, and our future.
In a presentation in 2017, the Dragon Fruit Project Committee reflected on why oral histories were so important to building our historical memory. (A slide from a PowerPoint presented at a conference in June 29, 2017)
Contrary to the belief that queer, trans, or non-binary are “new” identities, history shows that there are reflections of queerness and gender nonconformity throughout time. Art by Fei Mok. This image was part of a Trans Day of Resilience/Remembrance Facebook post, November 20, 2018.
Part of our purpose was to continue developing the next generation of leaders…how they stood out, how they advocated, how they fought stigma, how they created awareness was something that we realized [as] part of the work…and now there’s hundreds of queer API folks running around the city, and it’s a joy to see, to understand that there’s a legacy and hopefully folks who are just coming into the work, whether it’s through [Lavender Phoenix] or through HIV work and so forth, that there’s a legacy of people [who] existed before I [started] doing this.” – Cesar Cadabes, Dragon Fruit Project
From interviews captured by phone at the Lavender Phoenix office to more sophisticated recording equipment used at the Storycorps booth in the San Francisco Public Library, the Dragon Fruit Project built a collection of nearly 100 interviews featuring trans and queer Asian American and Pacific Islander community members. The interviews tell the stories — of desire, wisdom, resilience, and heartbreak — of our community in the San Francisco Bay Area. Many of these interviews were transcribed and uploaded to the Dragon Fruit Portal, a few of which you can see below.
Alongside publishing the oral histories as text in 2018, Dragon Fruit Project volunteers created social media graphics in the style of “Who’s that Pokemon?” to highlight interviewees and get the word out about specific moments in history. Through Instagram and Twitter, we posted a question such as “Who founded the TGI Justice Project to do legal work representing trans people facing violence in prisons?”, and followed up the next day with the answer: Alex Lee!
Though the opening of this museum marks the closing of the Dragon Fruit committee in its current form, work will continue to make all of the interviews accessible through the portal and elsewhere, with support from the UC Berkeley Ethnic Studies Library. Check out a few of the oral histories from the Dragon Fruit Portal and images from the “Who’s that Pokemon?” campaign below.
What have you learned about trans and queer Asian and Pacific Islander histories? Where did that information come from? What do you wish you knew?
Read an oral history from the Dragon Fruit Portal or visit the Ethnic Studies Library to listen to the interviews. What resonated with you? What drew you to their story? How does their story overlap or connect with your own? How does it change the way you see yourself, your community, or your history?
Invite a friend to exchange stories about your experiences using these storytelling prompts from a 2018 Dragon Fruit Project workshop on community care! Take time to reflect on your answers before sharing. Afterwards, reflect together on how it felt to listen and share with love and what you learned about each other and yourselves.