More than 140 advocatesincluding leaders from Chicagoattended the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA) summit July 25-29 in Honolulu, Hawaii.
The summit focused on comprehensive immigration reform in the LGBT and Asian-American, South Asian, Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander communities and unveiled its "Uncovering Our Stories" campaign which will tell the stories of LGBT Asian-American Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) who are dealing the immigration system.
NQAPIA is, according to its website, "a federation of LGBTQ Asian American, South Asian, Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander organizations. NQAPIA seeks to build the capacity of local LGBT AAPI organizations, invigorate grassroots organizing, develop leadership, and challenge homophobia, racism, and anti-immigrant bias."
Among the Chicago attendees were NQAPIA board of directors members Joy Messinger and I Li Hsiao, Liz Thomson and Ryan Viloria of Invisible to Invincible: API Pride of Chicago, and Jay Nair and JJ Williams of Trikone-Chicago.
Hsiao said that openly gay former NFL player Esera Tuaolo and Unite Here Local 5 received the Community Catalyst Award from NQAPIA. The Community Catalyst Award is given to a person and/or organization for contributions to the LGBT AAPI community.
Messinger explained that she attended the summit to increase the visibility of NQAPIA, to be the go-to person for NQAPIA member organizations and their members, to support NQAPIA staff in working towards their organizational mission and vision, and to support NQAPIA in building stronger partnerships with Pacific Islander and Native Hawaiian organizations.
Hsiao noted that he attended the summit for networking opportunities with other LGBT Asian activists, to learn more about the true history of Hawaii, and to hone his leadership skills.
Representing API Pride of Chicago, meeting leaders from across the country, and learning more about the indigenous Hawaiian community and culture were the primary reasons why Thomson decided to attended the summit.
Viloria said that meeting other LGBT API leaders to compare notes and exchange strategies was the main reason why he attended the summit.
NQAPIA's willingness to help Trikone-Chicago find a fiscal sponsor for its first major fundraiser earlier this year was the key reason why Nair decided to attend the summit.
Williams shared that it was important for Trikone-Chicago to attend the summit so they would have a seat at the table as NQAPIA discussed and created strategies surrounding issues that affect AAPI communities.
"For me, the summit was a space of learning and growing," said Messinger.
"Telling your own story so it's accurate and resolving conflicts in a better fashion were some of the things I learned at the summit," said Hsiao. "I also learned that Hawaiians never signed any document to be a part of the United States."
Thomson noted that she learned more about the history of the colonization of Hawaii. "One of the words I kept on hearing and reading about during this time was the need for self-determination. This is similar to the transgender community and the reproductive justice communitycontrol over one's body," said Thomson.
"This was my first time attending a major Asian-South Asian LGBT centric conference and it was truly inspirational to see all the work being done by NQAPIA and all grassroots API organizations across the continental United States to expand civil rights for a minority population within the minority," said Nair. "The workshops and presentation were well above my expectation. It was very professional (even in a casual setting), educational and provided insight into the enormous amount of work that is still ahead. The summit provided one of the best opportunities to network and establish new inter-organizational relationships."
"All of my experiences could be described as being inspirational. motivating, and empowering," said Williams. "Having the privilege of being surrounded by many of our nation's most vibrant leaders in the LGBT AAPI community was enough. Their insight into certain issues and their perceptive knowledge and experience in dealing with some really tough issues such as immigration reform, HIV/AIDS prevention and testing within the AAPI community, sensitivity towards transgender and gender non-conforming communities, and the colonization of the Pacific Islander/native Hawaii population cultivated much new knowledge for myself as well as for all involved at the summit."
Some of the takeaways that the Chicago attendees got from the summit include: understanding the issues important to all the members of the LGBT Asian-American, South Asian, Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander communities; the need for activists to keep in mind the bigger picture since many social justice causes such as HIV/AIDS, immigration reform and the needs of minorities intersect; every organization needs to be more inclusive of minority sub-groups within the larger LGBT AAPI community; and issues surrounding comprehensive immigration reform and how organizations such as NQAPIA can leverage their influence in Washington D.C.
"A group can always be more inclusive, and the NQAPIA summit made me think more about the Pacific Islander community and how it is to live in Hawaii," said Thomson. "I look forward to discussing how NQAPIA can be more inclusive and continue the relationship with some of the folks there."
"The struggles of the Asian Pacific Islander population has a stake in today's issues, whether it's racial/sexual/gender equality, eliminating transphobia, improving our neighborhoods, and HIV/AIDS education. We're often underrepresented when it comes to these issues, and, worse yet, Chicago has a shortage of groups and forums where these concerns can be addressed," said Viloria. "It's reassuring to see groups from around the nation with similar concerns coming together under the NQAPIA umbrella. i2i serves Chicago as a community group that can help address the issues that concern the queer API community, and also act as a resource where queer API can socialize in a safe, supportive space, so that no one is alone."
"HIV data shows that the AAPI community as a whole has the highest rate of increase of new HIV infections in the United States," said Williams. "I am taking it upon myself to ensure that Trikone-Chicago hits this issue head on to try to make a difference within the communities that we serve. I look forward to working with my members and reaching out to other organizations within Chicago in order to combat negative stigmas about testing and safe sex practice within the AAPI community."
See www.nqapia.org, www.facebook.com/i2iAPIPride, www.trikonechicago.org and www.muslimalliance.org for more information.
#1 Liz Thomson, Joy Messinger, Esra Tuaolo, Ryan Viloria and I Li Hsiao at Community Catalyst Awards. Photo courtesy Joy Messinger.
#2 NQAPIA staff Glenn Magpantay, Ben de Guzman, Co-Chair Mandy Hu, Incoming Co-Chair and i2i Point Person Joy Messinger, and Outgoing Co-Chair Alison Lin. Photo by Liz Thompson