Cultural performances collaborate to address relationship violence in API communities
By April Nishimura
Northwest Asian Weekly
Last Friday night, the auditorium at the Filipino Community Center was packed for the debut of Seattle’s one-night-only iVow performance. The audience watched attentively as community members recounted how violence had affected the personal lives of the Asian and Pacific Islander (API) female cast. The range of performances made it clear that relationship violence, homophobia, and sexual assaults are still pervasive in API communities. The performance brought the question of how a community can tackle such large, systemic problems — how the culture of relationships within API communities can be changed to one that is nurturing and isn’t violent.
A number of organizations are using the arts to address these issues, finding inspiration in working with one another.
The iVow performance showcased this kind of Pan-Asian collaboration. The event was spearheaded by the Filipino group Pinay sa Seattle with performers from Khmer in Action (KIA), a progressive group of Khmer people, and Tadiama, a radical Japanese American community group. The performance was part of a larger nationwide campaign calling for an end to violence against women in the API community. Pinay sa Seattle’s sister groups in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York are also hosting performances across the country as part of this campaign.
Although Friday’s performance focused on ending violence against women, the show also included how transgender and gender non-conforming people are targeted by violence. The iVOW show also raised the visibility of gay APIs by featuring their perspective on how they are affected by homophobia within the API community.
Challenging homophobic sentiments within the API community was further developed by the QTAP project, a collaborative/interactive photo installation that was included at iVOW. Julie-Ann ‘Julz’ Ignacio, the creator of the QTAP project, explained, “The QTAP project aims to raise the voice, visibility, and empowerment of queer APIs.” By sharing the images and stories of APIs who are gay, Ignacio hopes to explore what queer sexuality means in API cultures and decrease violence derived from homophobia.
The QTAP project will be featured again on March 4 at the annual vigil of the Asian/Pacific Islander Women and Family Safety Center (APIWFSC). Featuring the QTAP project at the annual vigil was an easy decision.
APIWFSC provides community education and direct services to Asian and Pacific Islander survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking. Each year since its founding in 1994, APIWFSC holds an annual vigil to remember those affected by violence.
According to Ignacio, relationship violence is often overlooked in same-sex relationships, “When you think about domestic violence, you think of a husband and wife, not a same-sex couple … if somebody is both queer and a minority, it means balancing with two different identities, it can become complicated.”
APIWFSC specifically addresses these issues through its Queer Network Program. In the past, the Queer Network Program supported plays that were written, directed, and performed by people of color who are gay. Currently, APIWFSC continues its focus on the arts and communities building for gay APIs through discussion groups, writing circle, and a monthly dim sum lunch.
According to Emma Catague, co-founder of APIWFSC, it will take “a personal commitment of everyone in the community to end domestic violence and sexual assault.” This year’s collaboration with the QTAP Project is a huge step in bringing the issues of gay APIs to the forefront. QTAP believes this is crucial in order to undo the larger structures that allow violence, in all its forms, to be perpetuated in communities.
In addressing domestic violence, sexual assault, and homophobia, nobody is exempt. “Ending systemic forms of violence among Asians and Pacific Islanders will require a community wide effort. In this sense, the current artistic collaborations are a bright spot on the horizon, which testify that ending systemic violence will only succeed when others are inspired to take action as well,” said Catague. ♦
To view the QTAP project, and make your own commitment to ending violence, community members are invited to APIWFSC’s 15th Annual Candlelight Vigil. This year’s vigil will feature cultural performances by Indonesian and Khmer dancers, Vietnamese musical performances, spoken word, and food. The event is free and open to the public, March 4, at 4–6 p.m. on the King County Courthouse lawn, 516 Third Avenue Seattle.