A group of queer Swarthmore students recently started a new organizations for queer students who identify as Asian-American to provide a space for discussions about the intersection of sexuality and race in the Asian/Pacific Islander American community.
Toby Wu ’09, one of the group’s founders, explains that the idea came out of his involvement with a group called Young People For (YP4), a fellowship for progressive college students run by the People for the American Way. He decided to use his position as a fellow with YP4 to start a group for queer/questioning members of the APIA community at Swarthmore, because conversations with recent alumni and students revealed that there was a need for such a space. “For many reasons, not all queer Asians feel comfortable going to either SAO [Swarthmore Asian Organization], SQU [Swarthmore Queer Union] or Colors [a group for queer people of color],” says Wu.
Dan Chung ’10, a member of PersuASIAN says that he has participated in both SAO and SQU, but neither felt like perfect fits. “Though there are lot of people in SAO that are queer friendly, I didn’t feel completely comfortable because I was not the normative member in either [SAO or SQU].” Chung says he did not feel like a normative member of any campus group until he joined Colors. “When I went to Colors, I realized I found a place where I was the norm. It’s one of the reasons we wanted to start PersuASIAN.”
Wu explains that he struggled in non-Asian queer communities because some elements of the space were not accessible to him. “This could be a specific kind of cultural referencing, sensitivity to issues of race, and vocabulary used to articulate thoughts or perspectives,” he said.
At the same time, Wu stresses that he has generally had a positive experience working with groups that serve queer Asians. “For me, starting PersuAsian isn’t as much about creating a new space out of feeling excluded, but rather out of a curiosity about what those conversations among queer and questioning Asians/Pacific Islanders can go and mean for us,” he explained.
Wu stresses that PersuASIAN is simply an extension of other queer groups on campus, not a break from them. “We meet monthly, and that decision was intentional, because we are not looking to necessarily compete with similar groups for membership. Instead, we embrace this overlap in membership.”
Currently, the group is planning both social events (such as group cooking sessions) as well as more academic and political events, including bringing a speaker to discuss queer cinema. Wu explains that he did not start the group with any particular agenda aside from creating a space for queer and questioning APIAs. “That can look very political or very social, and that will probably fluctuate,” he says. Chung agrees, adding that his first priority is to create a social space for queer/questioning Asian students to come together and form networks, and second priority is to increase their visibility by holding lectures and public events.
“I really appreciated the conversations I’ve had with queer Asian alums, especially on those intersections of race and sexuality,” explains Wu. “I just hope that PersuAsian becomes an importance space in facilitating that for other folks.”