Transcription by: Jazlynn G. Eugenio Pastor
(Five Feet Dance Collaborator)
Clarissa: Hi everybody! This is Five Feet Dance. We’re a dance company focused on making dance, sharing stories, and creating community. We’re currently an edge artist in residence at Counterpulse, making a project exploring the Asian American identity and experience with group of 6 Asian American women. All of whom are mostly here. I’m Clarissa Ko.
Malia: I’m Malia Byrne.
Melissa: I am Melissa Lewis.
Nina: I’m Nina Wu.
Kathleen: I’m Kathleen Moore.
Joyce: And I’m Joyce Kushner.
Clarissa: And Jazlynn Eugenio Pastor can’t join us today, but she is also part of this process. The first question I want to ask to all of us is, Has anybody experienced this before? Why is this so special for you?
Malia: So this is the first time I’ve shared a space with only other Asian American women. So it’s really been important for me to just look around and see people who look like me and who are really willing to listen to my stories. And can probably relate in someway. And I think it’s really significant that we are creating this space together with the conscious intention of doing that. And we’re not just holding a space as Asian American women, but we are holding a space and creating a space meant to honor us and honor all of our cultures and shared experiences and our individual experiences. It’s celebrating that and also doing some- doing the work we might need to do. But it’s all in the name of love and celebration.
Nina: Yeah, I found this space to be incredibly healing. Cause yeah, I grew up- I think we all grew up in spaces where we were the only one who kind of looked like us. And having to show up in a space, kind of like with your guard up, needing to explain yourself each time or having to erase some of yourself each time. But coming into a room, everytime you get to commune, like seeing other people who look like me allows me to let that guard down.
And it feels so good to not have to explain that part of myself. Or you know… It’s not so shallow. We get to dig deep into the nuances of our experiences. And I learn so much from everyone. It’s like, “Oh! I relate to that,” or “Oh, I’ve never heard that before.” And it helps me put new words to experiences I’ve never been able to unpack before.
It’s not necessarily- It’s- Okay, the thing that is most potent to my mind right now – it’s not really a particular experience – but having Joyce in this space has been so powerful to me cause she’s a little bit older, but we have the same migration story. Like her parents immigrated from China, my parents immigrated here from China. And I’ve never met anyone who occupied that same space as me that’s a little bit older for me to look ahead to and be like, “Oh this is how she’s turning out” Everyone laughs. Or I can- Cause I never get to look to anyone for advice in that way. Cause I can’t look at my parents for how to be Asian American. They have a very specific Chinese Immigrant experience, and I often was embarrassed of them. Or like, “You’ll never understand me, Mom and Dad.” Whereas when someone like Joyce, she absolutely understands me cause we have this shared growing up experience of second generation Chinese American, in specifically, White suburban hometowns. So that’s been so healing to find that connection in our line of family… Yeah.
Kathleen: I just feel that from the get-go the incredible support in the group has allowed for these vulnerabilities and tender moments to emerge, and that anything you say is- it’s okay.
Kathleen: I mean it’s okay if it’s this beautiful gorgeous memory. And it’s okay, for here, if it’s really terrible or sad. And all of these memories are part of what our stories are so…
Clarissa: And everything in-between too.
Kathleen: And everything in-between. Even the mundane things or- they’re all so special.
Nina: Mhm. It’s a very validating space.
Joyce: Well I’m personally, extremely grateful that not only we have come together as Asian American women, but we’ve come together from different Asian heritages. And from different, again to repeat what Nina said, different ages. And different… I don’t want to say development, but development of unpacking our identities; different stages of it.
Meeting people from other cultures has made me really get out of my own selfish experience of wanting to heal myself or relive things that I’ve done in the past. But to actually realize there’s a broader Asian community that’s feeling similar things but in different nuanced ways
because- especially living in the Bay Area, you know, even though I’m Chinese American, I live in a community that’s 90% Filipino-American and that’s what my child is going through and that’s what he’s living through. And the ability to empathize more in the broader community.
And also with the different generations that we have here. You know we got these 2 younger, much younger than me, half Caucasian half Asian women with us and it just helps me to realize that outside of the experience I went through, that my child, who is half, is going through a different experience that I did. And it’s making me really think about what I need to prepare him for in the conversations that maybe I should be having with him that I’m not having cause I’m seeing it through specific, second generation lens rather than someone who’s already living in 2 worlds and having to deal with that. And also, I think it’s important that as a cast of Asian American women are putting our faces forward. And putting in everyone’s faces that, you know, we’re here, we have things to say. That we’re not just demure Asian women, and we’re all not just Susie Wongs. Everyone laughs. We represent the whole variety of the spectrum of what it means to be Asian and American, and female.
Clarissa: Thanks, Joyce. I also wanna put out there that this cast, the people who are involved – me, the sound designer – are Asian American women but we’re also not representative of the whole [Asian American] community, and I don’t think that’s necessarily what we’re trying to do. We’re focusing on this particular group of people and what we can do as our group and what we bring to this group. So, I don’t know, I hope that we don’t… appropriate other people’s voices or try to unify it in a way that colors everybody the same way. So that’s important to put out there.
This is particular to us and our group of people. And it’s magical that it’s come together in this way because I- coming into the project, and thinking about who to invite, I never thought that these conversations or this level of depth or connection would’ve come together. But just by nature of these people being open and generous and…
Clarissa: Curious, yeah. That magic and special ingredient has come together.
Melissa: Yeah, it feels really empowering and a learning experience and really radical to let those things for me, and maybe for others too, have really for a long time felt invisible or I’ve learned how to switch in and out on how much I share those things. And I think in this group, there’s no need for that extra worry that I can really just show up and be the most vulnerable and open version of truly how I sit in my identity.
And some days it’s harder and some days it celebratory, but I trust that this group holds that and will support everyone in the weight of all of that and find, in the process, finding a lot of sisterhood…
And liberation? I think you said that word earlier.
Clarissa: For me, I’ve been in a group of folks who are Asian American. Like my friend group, my family, other dance groups even, but not necessarily with this intentionality of unpacking our experience or connecting with each other on that level. And having these… Maybe, not so conventional, conversations.
Malia: And I think also, I mean this experience is one of the many things that’s aligning in my life right now where my identity as an Asian American women with divorced parents and a dancer from Santa Fe, New Mexico feels really salient in the bigger picture of the world right now. And it’s like,
I feel really drawn and impelled to talk to everyone I talk to about this work. Not just this work, but the work, and it’s really- it’s informed the way I talk to other Asian American folks – to my Mom, my Dad, to my brother – and to White people and to not White people. Just having these conversations is so important right now.
So yeah, the fact that we are doing that. We are reserving 6 hours of our week to do that is really big and transcends into the larger picture.
Kathleen: Well that we’re working at is peeling away the artifice, that you can get with dance or any sort of presentation work, and we’re really trying to dig where are our truths. I mean, that’s what we’re really trying to do is share, “Okay, I’m gonna deeper. I’m gonna go deeper, I’m not just gonna show you this pretty thing I made because it’s pretty.”
Kathleen: Every- All of us been situation where we’ve made a pretty thing and showed it to everybody, and that’s what it was. But that’s not- the work we’re doing might, on its surface be very pretty, but that’s not why we’re doing. We’re not doing it because it looks good.
Clarissa: Cause it may not.
Kathleen: Right. And it may not or may not.
But what we’re doing is we’re trying to create a past that artifice. Past that. And I think that’s part of the intentionality of the work that we’re doing, otherwise we wouldn’t be sharing our stories this deeply.
We’d just be- Oh well, if you just drop your weight.
Melissa: Your question just made me think of my experience growing up. I was in this traditional Chinese dance troupe, and uh… Like that was the space with all Asian American women of different generations and we met on a regular basis but the intention was so different. We were essentially trying to replicate this traditional version of Chinese dance, and I think it was helpful for me to find- I found a lot of friendship in that group and in that space. But I think it’s taken me awhile, and I’m still working through that- that environment for me, was quite complicated. And it lacked the invention of holding space for reflection or conversation and in some ways I think it was detrimental to me because I was, sometimes, the only person that looked the way that I looked. Looking a little bit out of place and it was really hard for me to fit- figure out how I fit the broader picture and it was really rigorous and really stressful. So! It just feels like such stark contrast. This particular group and this particular project.
Clarissa: And maybe to end, this process is not necessarily completely solving the problem. Like we’re carefree, we’re liberated. This is just- Maybe where we can continue to heal and find other people to have these conversations with.
Nina: It’s true. I take this times and these conversations we have into my life with my other friends. Like, “At Five Feet we talked about this,” you know, “I’m really thinking about that.” So it’s definitely like a platform or jumping off point to carry out the work out into the world and into the future. I don’t know, I feel like our lives are continual work so I’m grateful for this injection of thoughtfulness and depth and intention.
Feature photo credit: left to right: Nina, Jazlynn, Kathleen, Clarissa, Joyce, Melissa, and Malia