I am honored to be one of the participating artists in the Artists at Work initiative in the Borderlands Region. It is a year long residency working with the City of Albuquerque Department of Arts & Culture and a community partner on a social impact initiative. I am inspired by this opportunity to build resilience in the community through civic engagement and develop a social practice that centers collaborative approaches, inclusive change-making, challenges dominant narratives and structures, and develops new cultural traditions. I hope to initiate a project that collaboratively grows regional resilience by elevating cultural identities and narratives.
Storytelling is central in my practice and I am committed to dismantling systems of exclusion and harm. I am the child of an immigrant survivor of the Korean war, bicultural, bigender, a survivor, and queer. These identities dictate my work and engagement in the community in which I live, which is Albuquerque.
Albuquerque called me to Be and grow roots. I was confused by this sustained tug to enroot in a place with so few Asian people. I am from the West Coast and miss the ocean. I am also atypical and do not fit anywhere neatly, and I came despite these concerns. I often find myself deep in the weeds, well out of sight of any mark of a path. I often become a weed or a wild creature in my explorations. I am here because I am an artist: I need the sparseness of land and sky as well as unconstricted social norms, and the light embraced me in this place. I am learning that I have also been beckoned because of the very reason I was confused - the small population of the Asian diasporic community. We are low in numbers across the borderlands, yet this incredibly diverse, transinternational and tribal terrain is also home for people of Asian descent. I am here to map the larger truth and rhythms of the Asian diaspora. In an article I found, the author states that “Many came but left no lasting mark.” A likely alternate truth is that any marks left were intentionally erased. We are here, and have long been here with desire to be more than a labor force, despite being silenced and marginalized and systematically excluded and legislated against. This soil is a dwelling place for people and spirit, not a passageway. I want to Be at home and Be seen fully, too.
My proposal is a storytelling initiative that challenges the tri-cultural myth of New Mexico. I propose to nurture full spectrum visibility of the Asian diasporic community. It is inherently anti-racist and supports immigrant (and children of immigrants) inclusion to insist that Asian people belong here and have important stories to tell. I envision my practice and schema as other than an oral history project. I intend to survey community members to guide the project and stories will be collected to respect generational trauma, immigrant experiences, and language integration. It will support personal, cultural, and generational storytelling and ownership of narratives. This is essential because larger culture can shift into an equitable space when a marginalized group is seen in fullness.
My goal is that this initiative will help to reconfigure the stereotype of the passive, perpetually foreign Asian body. In the liminality of invisibility and hyper-visibility, dominant culture cannot see us. Our stories are not included in prevailing cultural mores and we are disqualified from being known beyond a gaze that reduces us to ornament or threat. In my work exploring color, I have experienced that it is possible to expand seeing. Expanding sight generates recognition. Story emerges through aligned sight. Story, like food, is a gateway between cultures. It is imperative for the Asian diaspora to map our collective memory and share our stories by creating our own lore: a self-determined body of knowledge about ourselves. This is the pathway to cultivating alliances and claiming our rightful inheritance: Belonging.
Artists At Work (AAW) is a workforce resilience program designed to support communities through artistic civic engagement. Conceived as a public/private partnership, the program will provide a salary, plus health benefits and professional development resources directly to participating artists; provide financial support to participating local cultural organizations; and connect both to the work of local social impact initiatives in areas such as antiracism, justice reform, sustainability and equitable development, health, economy, homelessness and housing, child welfare, and immigration. It is designed to impact the whole ecosystem of a community.
Artists At Work was an idea inspired by the WPA and founded by THE OFFICE performing arts + film with an initial pilot in Western Massachusetts in 2020. Following that success, AAW was awarded $3M by the Mellon Foundation to expand AAW nationally, launching programs in Los Angeles County (2021), the Mississippi Delta Region (2022), and the Borderlands Region (2023). The implementation of Artists At Work in the Thrive Region (2022) is made possible by the support of The Lyndhurst Foundation. The implementation of Artists At Work in San Antonio (2023) is made possible by a grant from The John L. Santikos Charitable Foundation Fund of the San Antonio Area Foundation.
More information can be found at: https://www.artists-at-work.org/