The Dragon Fruit Legacy
Lavender Phoenix’s Dragon Fruit Project fed into many fruitful projects such as the Dragon Fruit Network and Dragon Fruit Podcast, and paved the way for the Healing Justice Committee.
Dragon Fruit Network
Through the work of interviewing and recording the stories of our trans and queer API elders, young TQAPI people connected with those in older generations. To many, this was a rare opportunity to build relationships across age and experience. At Lavender Phoenix, we saw this as a chance to push back against the ageism that often marginalizes youth and elders in movements and in broader society.
During the summers of 2017 and 2018, Lavender Phoenix Summer Organizers Justine Xu and Paige Chung met with elder participants of the Dragon Fruit Project and other community members to understand their needs and wishes from spaces like Lavender Phoenix. Through these conversations, we heard that elders wanted young folks to understand their histories and not be forgotten; we heard that there was a desire to build intergenerational relationships; and we heard that elders needed support—both emotionally and materially. We also heard that the term “elder” doesn’t always fit! Some preferred Auntie, others “aging,” and others preferred no age-specific identifier at all. From these findings, we formed the Dragon Fruit Network (DFN) to make space for intergenerational relationship building and community care.
The committee created opportunities for TQAPIs of different generations to get to know each other and work through the challenges and joys of intergenerational organizing:
- In 2019, Dragon Fruit Network developed a series of workshops on “Asking for Help” for community members to explore their relationship to asking for help, identifying boundaries, and practicing the skills of interdependence together. Between 2020-21, these workshops were adapted to be facilitated online during the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to over 15 workshops attended by over 100 community members of different ages and identities. To reach specific audiences, we held special series for community members of different backgrounds, including a series for trans and non binary API people, a series for South Asian trans and queer people, and one for trans and queer people of Oceania.
- In 2020, DFN organized and supported a Mutual Aid project during the first summer of the COVID-19 pandemic, providing meals and groceries to our trans and elder community members in need.
- In 2021, DFN members and allies from other Bay Area organizations came together to create QAPICAP: the Queer Asian and Pacific Islander Cis Allies Project. QAPICAP worked to name and address generations of harm caused by transphobia and skill up cisgender queer API’s of different generations to identify and challenge transphobia in every space they are in.
Dragon Fruit Project
Closing of Dragon Fruit Project
Selfie from our Dragon Fruit intergenerational gathering online in March 2020 we held in lieu of an in person reunion.
In 2019, the Dragon Fruit Project Committee, consisting of volunteers who worked for years on the project, collectively decided that it was time to close out this iteration of Dragon Fruit. The work of maintaining an in-depth, collaborative, and community-based project is immense, and many key volunteers wanted to turn their attention towards other efforts, bringing their skills along with them. To close the project and celebrate many years of storytelling and transformation, the committee planned to host a “Dragon Fruit’s Return” reunion of DFP storytellers, volunteers, and community members. We prepared agendas, hosted mini-reunions in our planning meetings, and prepared for the big event in March 2020. Yet, as the date drew near, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the Bay Area. For the safety and health of our community, we cancelled the event and dreamed of other ways to connect with our people.
As we adapted to shelter-in-place, we created a Dragon Fruit Phone Tree to reach out to elders and young TQAPI’s who were isolated at the beginning of the pandemic – either because they did not have access to Zoom and other forms of online communication, or because they were sheltering in place in homes that were non-affirming of their trans and queer identities. Learning from decades of community care during crisis, 14 volunteer organizers helped to connect 38 people through the Phone Tree. After weeks of coordination and the pandemic with no end in sight, the committee shifted to new ideas for closing out DFP.
As an alternative to the in-person DFP reunion, the committee decided to produce a Dragon Fruit Podcast to continue these critical intergenerational reflections and generate an online “report back” to share our lessons learned with the community (which became the Dragon Fruit Museum you are at today!)
Dragon Fruit Podcast
Selfie from the first Dragon Fruit Podcast launch party in 2021.
In the fall of 2020, Dragon Fruit Project hosted over 40 Dragon Fruit community members at 15 conversations centered on movement building, organizing, healing, and all that has changed since 2014 – which we recorded to create a podcast. We wanted to reflect on how our relationships with community and loved ones have evolved, and how we are learning to collectively heal and practice accountability in our relationships and movements. A reunion of all kinds, we even collaborated with our friends from StoryCorps to record some of these critical conversations.
From there, an incredible team of volunteer writers, editors, and audio engineers, produced three podcast episodes on organizing, relationships, and healing & accountability using audio clips of these recorded conversations. Our Dragon Fruit Podcast, a true labor of love, re-engaged 100 community members and uplifted our stories and voices to a wider audience of TQAPI people and allies from across the country, reaching over 500 listeners.
Check out all the podcast episodes on our website and on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Youtube. Full transcriptions and audio episodes are available for free!
Dragon Fruit Museum
Selfie from our first team meeting in 2021 to create the Dragon Fruit Museum. We called ourselves and the museum “Echo Chamber of Love.”
To officially close the Dragon Fruit Project and keep the legacy alive, a dedicated team of volunteers came together in 2021 to create an online museum. These volunteers, who had all been involved with and transformed by the Dragon Fruit Project, wanted to create a public ode to what we called “the echo chamber of love,” a space where we saw ourselves and our identities reflected in affirming ways. Together, this team created the Dragon Fruit Museum: the online space you’re visiting right now! We wanted to create an ever-living platform for people from within and beyond our community to learn about trans and queer API history and organizing, so others can continue these practices and grow their own fruits. In October 2021, we officially launched the Dragon Fruit Museum and celebrated with an online community event, bringing together volunteers from over 8 years of community-based oral history praxis.
Selfie from the Healing Justice committee in 2021 after creating “Healing Journey maps” together.
Closing the Dragon Fruit Project makes room for our people to grow other initiatives that address our needs. In 2020, as the Dragon Fruit Committee focused attention on sun-setting our work, Lavender Phoenix was busy finalizing our new Theory of Change, a strategy document outlining our focus for 2021 to 2026. Grounded in stories of community care and lessons from our own Dragon Fruit Network and Trans Justice Initiative, we developed one pillar of our Theory of Change, centered on healing and community care. The Healing Justice committee was formed in 2021 with committee members from the Dragon Fruit Network and Trans Justice Committee, merging DFN’s work on asking for help and building mutual aid networks with the Trans Justice Committee’s Peer Counseling Program for trans and non-binary API people. To us, Healing Justice is part of a longer legacy of storytelling, community-based transformation, and intergenerational relationship building.
Listen to the trailer to the Dragon Fruit Podcast that sweetly shares the story of Dragon Fruit’s beginnings and closing and reflect on…
Lessons Learned from Dragon Fruit
The Dragon Fruit Project was truly a community-based initiative at every step. Spanning multiple years, numerous offshoots, and hundreds of contributors, we learned many valuable lessons along the way. Here’s some of the main themes:
Sharing your story and listening to people’s stories is transformative. In nearly every interview, Dragon Fruit storytellers felt affirmed and seen by having their stories recorded, and listeners were inspired by hearing stories that reflected their own struggles and experiences. In a world where TQAPI people and narratives are erased and made invisible, storytelling makes space for our existence and gives room to imagine a future.
Dragon Fruit Project started in an effort to preserve the stories of people in our own community. It started out at people’s homes and on their kitchen counters. We met new people, one-by-one, making way for many more intergenerational relationships to be formed. Relationship building has always been key to our organizing effort. No matter how the project evolved, relationships remained at the center, grounding us in our decisions, and guiding how we moved forward.
If we don’t know where we’ve been, we won’t know where we’re going. Movements today are only possible because of the organizing throughout history. We have to look to our elders’ and ancestors’ triumphs and challenges in order to understand the moment we’re in and how to move forward. When we learn from history, we can make new mistakes—challenging what is possible and building on a long legacy of those who fought for liberation for all oppressed people.
Building, growing, and maintaining a community-based oral history project is a lot of work sustained over many years. Beyond any singular oral history, the Dragon Fruit Project was a living archive, a hub for political dissemination, and a catalyst for intergenerational organizing. The Dragon Fruit Project represents nearly a decade of community members contributing their energies to create something larger than their individual selves. As the work evolved, the Dragon Fruit Committee consistently recognized that there was a mismatch between our limited capacity and our ambitious goals. We not only had to record and edit oral histories, we had to maintain the Digital Portal, update interviews for publication, onboard new members, mobilize volunteers to host the walking tour, and more. As time progressed and volunteers came and went with each subproject, it was increasingly difficult to assess urgency, create long-term goals, and maintain institutional knowledge. Through our decision to close the Dragon Fruit Project, we learned deeply about asking for help, setting grounded boundaries, and learning when to say goodbye in service of greater community sustainability.
Being in Our Power
It took a full 2 years for the committee to plan and actualize “saying goodbye” to the Dragon Fruit Project. With dozens of volunteers contributing to the project throughout the years, the small committee of a few key members struggled to feel like this decision was ours to make. Yet, we knew that each of us had spent years working on the project—we possessed a deep understanding of the project’s purpose and impact. After deep challenges to each other and a regrounding in our power, the committee realized that we were indeed the best people to make this decision and shift away from unsustainable patterns of organizing. No one was going to make it for us. Now, even as this chapter of Dragon Fruit Project is coming to a close, we know that trans and queer APIs continue to make history. Our past and our present work is ongoing, and continues to be integral to larger movements for justice.
Write an “Ode to Dragon Fruit Project” poem that captures something you learned or something you love about the Dragon Fruit Project. Share your poem with 5 friends and post on social media with the hashtag #dragonfruitmuseum #TQAPIhistory #mydragonfruitstory