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UIC preserves queer Asian-American archives
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Melissa Wasserman

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The University of Illinois at Chicago ( UIC ) Queer Asian-American Archives ( QAAA ) Project celebrated Asian-American Awareness Month with "Preserving Community: Celebrating the Queer Asian-American Archive Project" on April 28.

The event, held at UIC's Daley Library, presented QAAA's collection, which includes documents and digital images from Invisible to Invincible ( i2i ), an Asian and Pacific Islander and LGBTQQ organization and Mango Tribe, an Asian and Pacific Islander American women's performance collective. There were also various individual oral histories and cognitive mapping from queer Asian-Americans and South Asians.

"The mission was really to preserve the very diverse and interesting histories of the LGBTQ Asian-American communities," said QAAA Project Co-Director Liz Thomson, a Ph.D. student in disability studies. "It would be such a shame for the people and the documents to not have a home somewhere."

Thomson, Co-Director/Professor Laura Fugikawa and QAAA Student Researchers Naomi Leilani Salcedo and Shoma Webster led the presentation.

"It's really great to participate in something that I strongly identify with, something that I strongly believe in and I'm sure other people can finally have a place where they can go where it's not either or; it's both Asian-American and LGBTQ," said Salcedo, a UIC junior who identifies as a queer, gender non-conforming, second-generation Filipina-Mexicana American. "It's something I think is very necessary in terms of educating and creating awareness with other people, even if they're not identifying with our community or communities, there's a lot of intersectionality in terms of identifying throughout color communities."

"Central to this collection, the Queer Asian-American experience is partnerships," said Fugikawa in her introduction that evening.

Fugikawa, a visiting assistant professor of Asian-American studies and gender and women's studies at UIC, was teaching for the Asian-American histories class and hoped to identify a queer Asian-American subject in local community archives and larger established historical holdings in Chicago. A few other professors in her department told her to talk with Thomson.

When Fugikawa finally approached Thomson on the sidewalk, the project began. Fugikawa said Thomson reported on her experience of going to the Gerber Hart archives and came back with a very thin file. The two decided to collaborate with a vision to make a change and Fugikawa credits Thomson's enthusiasm and deep connections within the Asian-American Queer community that QAAA had access to the interviewees and i2i materials.

"I've always been a visual person," Thomson said regarding her interest and involvement with the project. "I've done photography since the sixth grade in 1986 and I've always had a camera and even a film camera, so I appreciate text and words, but for me I really appreciate the images too. Having so many images is significant because 10, 15, 20 years from now, hopefully even as long as UIC's here, people can have access to the images and say 'i2i was part of the Dyke March in 2012 and 2013' or 'we have photos of i2i being at the Chinatown Lunar New Year parade because here they are.' Probably it was not written about text-wise, but here we have photos."

Salcedo, Webster and Vicky Tai, a QAAA student researcher conducted the majority of the research as they sorted through the pamphlets, organized the notes and collected the oral histories through interviews. UIC's Asian-American Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institution ( AANAPISI ) grant by the U.S. Department of Education funded the project. UIC Asian-American Studies and the UIC Archives are also significant supporters.

The materials currently in the QAAA were presented during the event, however this did not mark the project's completion. The group will continue to collect materials over the next year. The event, Thomson described, served as a way to celebrate and honor one's whole self and multiple intersecting identities.

"I think we're just recognizing that we need to be intersectional because we are full people and we can't just bring our LGBT selves to the table or we can't separate it and just bring being female to the table," said Thomson who also previously worked with UIC's Gender and Sexuality Center. "We want to be our full selves."

The celebration was open to the public and welcomed attendees with Asian-style appetizers and Asian-American information to read. A diverse group of over 20 people attended.

"It's important to understand there are lots of different veins of this larger narrative," said Salcedo drawing on the ideas of the melting pot and colorblind. "It's good to understand we connect, but also recognizing that we are different. We are different and it's important to recognize we are different and for why; what makes us different and how can we understand each other in that difference."

For more information on the UIC Asian-American Studies Program, visit

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