COVID-19 Call 8 — Celebrating Pacific Islander and Asian American Wisdom

An eighth TLC community conversation with Kris Hayashi, Isyss Honnen, Cecilia Chung, and Emmett Schelling. 




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This is being provided in a rough-draft format. Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings

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>> Hi, good afternoon, everyone, my name is Katja and I am one of the Spanish interpreters this afternoon, here with my companion Alexia and we’re both part of a collective.
>> (In Spanish).
>> Today, there are four of us here and we have the capacity to conduct this meeting in three languages, English, Spanish, and ASL.
>> (In Spanish).
>> And before we get started, we just wanted to give you a really brief intro and some ways in which you can support us.
>> (In Spanish).
>> We work based on a framework called language justice which refers to everyone’s basic right to understand, be understood and to communicate in a language they feel most comfortable in.
>> (In Spanish).
>> Part of language justice is also acknowledging that language justice is not just the interpreter’s responsibility but it is the responsibility of everyone and so there are three very concrete ways in which you can support us.
>> (In Spanish).
>> So first of all we’re asking everyone to speak at a moderate pace and if you see us do this where a panicked face that means we’re asking you to slow down a little bit so we can interpret.
>> (In Spanish). 
>> If you see us do this, that means we’re having a hard time hearing you so there could be background noise and maybe you may have to move the microphone closer to your mouth.  You may have to speak louder, something like that.
>> (In Spanish).
>> And finally, we ask everyone who is not speaking to make sure that they’re microphone is turned off because it’s really hard for us to interpret when there’s a lot of background noise.
>> (In Spanish).
>> And finally, finally we are super grateful to be part of this meeting once again and to be able to support with making this space as inclusive as possible.  Thanks so much for having us.
>> (In Spanish).
>> Thank you, all, my name is Kris Hayashi, I’m the executive director of the law center and I’m going to be moderating can community call today.  I want to start out by saying this call places disability justice as a value and politic of trans ‑‑
>> Hi, Kris, I’m sorry, I have to interpret, the live ended.  Due to technical difficulty.  We’ll be right back.  So I am going to text you in the text thread once we’re back.
>> Okay. 
>> Great, thanks, all, sorry about that.  Technical difficulties.  So wanted to start by first saying that this call places disability justice as a central value and politic of trans liberation.  Disability justice holds access as a necessary practice for interpreting isolation and ensuring participation and leadership of disabled folks.  Access is meaningful but includes a commitment to the radical, the transform different demands of disability justice.  Disability justice charges us to identify interrupt and disrupt all forms of this.  Including ableism, black phobia classism and more.  We are implementing a commitment to have critical conversations together.  So, as we gather for today’s community call, Emmett who is with us today from the Transgender Education Network of Texas is working hard to respond to the homicide of a trans woman in San Antonio. 

This is the sixth trans woman we know of who we lost to violence in the span of one month.  We also want to raise up the ongoing murders and violence against black people by the state and the recent murders of Shawn Reed and Ahmaud Arbery.  Our communities are experiencing pain and loss during an unprecedented global health crisis and we know these crises are inextricably linked.  The state violence that fuels our failed government response to the COVID‑19 pandemic is at the root of what we face. 

Trans people of color are targeted by higher rates of violence including from the police, from the government and from the courts.  As a result of our community’s lived experience, we possess the knowledge and understanding to define what violence is what justice looks like, and create the solutions that will ultimately end the violence our communities face. 

Today we are also feeling sorry and feeling love with the communities, friends and family of the community member that we have lost in Texas, Ahmaud Arbery, Joanna M., Nina, Penelope Ramirez, Shawn Reed, Leila Sanchez and Serena. 

In their memory, we build a world with trans lives are valued and cherished.  I ask everyone to join me in a moment of silence.  Thank you.  So we want to kick off the community call with a round of introduction.  So I’m going to ask our panelists to share your name, your preferred gender pronoun, your organization, and where you’re at.  And also just let us know how you’re doing today.  I’ll pass it over to Isyss to start us out. 
>> Issys: Can everyone hear me?  Hi, everyone, my name is Isyss.  My pronouns are feminist pronouns.  Also, she, her.  I am in the Pacific Northwest covering Alaska, Oregon, Idaho and Montana and I lead a program in Washington.  I feel great today seeing everyone on the call and also learning how to care (inaudible). 
>> Kris: Thank you.  Emmett, can you introduce yourself and let us know how you’re doing today? 
>> Emmett: Hi, folks, my name’s Emmett Schelling, my pronouns are he, him, his, I’m currently the executive director of the network in Texas.  And, you know, I’m just, I’m grateful.  It’s been a rough day to be honest so I’m really grateful to be able to be here amongst these amazing leaders that I admire and respect.  That span all across the API community. 
>> Kris: Thanks, Emmett.  Cecilia, can you introduce yourself and let us know how you’re doing today? 
>> Cecilia: Hi, everyone, I’m Cecilia Chung.  My pronouns are she, her, hers, I work for the law center and I’m in San Francisco.  I think that I’m still trying to adjust to this new normal and, yeah, but nothing is normal.  So I think that my days, sometimes, feels like it’s been turned out and upside down and today it sounds like one of those days to me. 
>> Kris: Thank you, all.  So we want to start out this conversation today with a little bit of training so the purpose of our discussion is in this time of COVID‑19 to talk about the needs and the impacts on Asian and  Pacific Islander trans and nongender conforming people.  All across the country. 

There are two points that we want to hold and center in this conversation.  The first ‑‑
>> Hey, Kris, we have to start one more time.  If you could just start that question over from the beginning.  I’m going to edit this so it looks like one video regardless.  So it’ll look fine afterwards.  Just give me one second. 
>> Kris: Okay, yeah, no problem.  The first point we want to hold is although we’re experiencing a rise in violence with devastating impact on our communities we also want to hold that at the same time black, indigenous and other people of color communities have been facing continued to face intense violence, harassment and discrimination, particularly the ongoing murders and violence against black communities and the ongoing murders of black trans women so we must also hold that as non‑black, Asian Pacific Islander communities that we are and have perpetuated and been complicit in anti‑blackness.  So striving to fight anti‑blackness needs to be centered in this discussion. 

The second point we want to hold is that we want to complicate this discussion.  The term Asian and Pacific islander is a broad umbrella term.  Some communities within the Asian Pacific Islander umbrella are facing intense state violence before this time of a global pandemic. 

For example, the U.S. has deported southeast Asians en masse since the early 2000s.  Pacific Islanders have been dealing with the highest rates of homelessness and South Asians especially Muslim communities have been profiled and targeted by the state for decades.  So we want to hold those two points as we’re having this conversation today.  So with that, I’m going to start off with our first question.  So ask folks to speak to what you’re seeing, the impacts of this time, of a global pandemic are, an Asian Pacific Islander, trans and nonbinary folks and I am going to ask Isyss to kick us off. 
>> Issys: Hi, everyone, so as far as folks who are compromised, folks who are living with a disability.  There are ‑‑ when folks are facing a lot of social isolation and enforced with COVID, and are needing a lot of support as well.  And we’re all dealing with this global grief and there’s a roller coaster of grief, to confusion, and that’s not healthy for anybody.  And folks are being targeted when they’re doing this but also where there’s less anonymity and their proximity to resources are based on the conditions.  Right?

And what we’re focusing on is how to support them with funding because they’re lacking support in their line of work, right?  And as far as the community here, a lot of specific groups work in silos, right?  And a lot of the strategies that are being used are undermined.  The work that is going on across the country that are led by black trans women and trans femme.  But we’re an organization that I want to lift up that does that work.  And they’re out there meeting people where they are.  They are on the street helping sex workers here, providing low barrier funding and that’s what ‑‑ what is really needed right now. 
>> Kris: Thanks, Isyss.  Cecilia, can you speak to this question as to what you’re seeing as the impact on gender nonconforming folk? 
>> Cecilia: (No audio).
>> Cecilia, we can’t hear you, I think you’re on mute. 
>> Cecilia: Apologize, I was talking to myself.  I think ‑‑ what I want to, like, really underscore is the data and disability of API, trans, and gender nonconforming people under the COVID epidemic and the demographic we’re not showing up.  But we know we have community members that have gotten sick and passed away but yet when we look at the numbers it doesn’t tell us who these people are, what language they speak, and by not doing that, it is, undermining like our ability to get resources and also our ability to organize and to really strategize a plan to respond to COVID‑19 moving forward. 

I think that this is a really bad time because, like, census and not counting us, COVID demographic is not counting us and I would like to see more anger from our community.  And demand that needs to be fixed.  And of course, you know, like when we look at other communities, black communities, and Latinx and immigrant communities, they are ‑‑ experiencing the same kind of problems. 

I think that this is the moment for us to really build empathy because of these instability.  Because of the resource scarcity that we need to like band together to fight for equity.
>> Thanks, Cecilia.  That’s a good point to raise up.  Emmett, can you speak to this question of seeing what the impacts are? 
>> Emmett: In a state like Texas, since we don’t have statewide, even just a basic foundational guidelines under the law where we cannot be discriminated in housing or employment, it already puts us at a disadvantage in terms of our economic and just overall security and well‑being.  So when the crisis, like COVID happened, or hurricanes which happen pretty frequently on the Gulf Coast occur, often the same issue that we see occur overall.  Are then like compounded in the weight of the disaster.  And with that said, obviously, we know that within general populations, there’s already disparity within how ‑‑ by, black, indigenous, and people of color are able to access services and support.  That is, you know, hands down either from federal or state or municipal entities.  And then obviously when you factor in being transgender in a state like this, it gets even worse. 
>> Kris: Thanks, Emmett.  What we want to speak to is we know nonbinary leaders that we have all organized, we have always fought for our communities so what we want to raise up here and have a discussion about is the ways that Asian and Pacific Islander, trans, nonbinary leaders are showing up and leading in this moment.  And what are the solutions that we think we need?  So I’m going to ask Cecilia to kick us off. 
>> Cecilia: Thanks, Kris, I think this is a really important question for us.  So that we can all strategize together.  What I’m feeling right now is there’s a lot of community organizing neutral aids to really help their own community by fundraising, by trying to redistribute some wealth so that ‑‑ to ensure everyone can survive this pandemic. 

And I also see that more use of Zoom in addition to work.  I think I am ‑‑ personally, you know, like getting more connected with Zoom than ever and connecting with friends across the country.  I think that this new normal that we are not able to travel is going to continue for awhile.

And also the other things that I want to also mention is that for Asian Pacific Islanders, culturally speaking we are not just taking care of ourselves. 

We have our elders, we’re taking care of.  And we have our young that we’re taking care of and so in the time of like, social isolation and self quarantine, it’s easy for us to lose track of like how engage them and do well with that.  But I think that there are some creative ways that people are doing in terms of wellness checks.  I swear to you, every morning I get all these jokes from all my API friends and most of them are trans.  And also at this time, I want to highlight a couple of people.  One of them is in the San Francisco community health center.  She runs the trans live program and they have not stopped working.

They are distributing fluid to the community when even is experiencing hardship and I want to really send my gratitude to her and others like her who are working with their community. 
>> Kris: Thank you, Cecilia, yes, it’s so important.  It’s so beautiful and powerful the ways our communities are taking care of each other.  I am going to turn to Emmett next to speak to this question. 
>> Emmett: Back to the other southern states and this is it with the trans community.  We have to create our own systems.  The systems that are in place.  They don’t help us, they don’t support us.  Many times, if not all the time.  And in many cases, you know, actively work against us in some very negative and hurtful ways.  We are not direct services at TENT, however, realizing that need is very deep and very large in a space of this size, we move forward, we have black trans advocacy coalition and others I’m not going to say in full but two other great organizations that are trans led. 

Within Texas, doing this work of like fundraising and working as hard as we can to really meet the immediate needs of poor folks within the trans, nonbinary community, especially prioritizing that black, indigenous and trans people of color, need to be helped and centered in that work.  We were also lucky to be able to collaborate with the Montrose Center which is our sort of physical space for LGBTQ+ communities here in Houston.  And thankfully they had infrastructure that is also able to pick up and help with things like rent and utilities and the larger costs overhead that people are now struggling with. 
>> Kris: Thanks, Emmett, thanks for all the work that you’re holding in the Texas communities.  Next I want to turn it to Isyss to speak to this question of solutions and leadership. 
>> Issys: I want to echo everything that was mentioned before.  There are so many mutual aid networks that are being created by our communities.  We’ve always taken care of each other and we will take care of our own communities and not rely on the state, right, to take care of us because of that long history of controlling, not only medicine in insurance, causing medical violence on black, indigenous, people of color.  Queer and trans people.  And also controlling our healing.  So I want to lift up a group that’s doing better, focusing mostly on just working with black trans women, trans femmes but also individuals, providing them up to 250 dollars a month of support with basic needs.  Even though we have all of these mutual aid networks it’s not enough because people need healing, right?  For a lot of black, indigenous communities and also disabled communities.  They’re healing from not only intergenerational trauma when it comes to this.  But people have to focus on the most recent with COVID.  And on the list of the community members that are also working with the climate collapse, with COVID or any pandemic they need a safe space for accelerated political climate.  And that is a threat to our communities and to our safety.  So I want to ‑‑ I feel like we need to care for each other and also this wisdom to continue the work of hearing that knowledge.  I was on a list of a group called black trans fearless which is a national group. 
>> Kris: Thanks so much, Isyss.  I think it’s powerful the way the communities are continually raising up the intersection with climate justice and trans justice and racial justice in all the ways we need to be thinking critically about the intersection so thank you. 

Now we’re going to open it up for questions.  So if folks have questions, please put them in the comments in Facebook.  Anything you would like to ask this incredible panel of folks.  While we’re waiting for some questions to come in, I’m wondering, Isyss or Emmett you have been part of the coalition of groups who have been putting together the trans agenda for liberation.  I’m wondering if one of you could speak a little about that. 
>> Emmett: I’m going to let Isyss go first because I think she probably has more wisdom and if there’s anything I hope to fill in. 
>> Issys: Sure.  I can speak on one of the pillars which is to support indigenous.  As a way to rule our community space and that includes calling for the end of climate genocide, right?  As the intent of the issues.  Especially coming, living in a country that is living in one of the biggest country leaders of climate change, for the climate crisis.  So we’re calling for folks to enlist indigenous wisdom but also those on the frontlines of the crisis.  We want to support the leadership of indigenous people, black folks, communities of color, to play a role that prioritizes both of them that are most marginalized. 
>> Emmett: I definitely echo Isyss in that.  I also think when we look at the collaborative work of the coalition, in regards to the trans agenda for liberation, one thing that I think people really, you know, first, we should support our black trans siblings.  Just in general.  Because we care about them.  Because we love them.  Because we realize the injustice that they have to deal with day in and day out.  But second off, it is good for literally everyone.  When we uplift and center black folks, black trans femmes within that and adhere to all of the like, tenets that we’re able to come together, collaborate and really thoughtfully put together. 
>> Kris: Thanks so much Emmett and Isyss.  So the question ‑‑ next question is for you, Isyss.  Though, I mean, others can weigh in as well but what are the ways Pacific Islanders are impacted in their homelands by COVID?  And how has U.S. exploitation contributed to that? 
>> Issys: Both are ‑‑ the COVID pandemic, the conditions are new to us.  When I think ‑‑ when we’re talking about COVID I think of the 1918 influenza and decimating about one fifth of our population.  I’m talking about American Samoa.  They were able to avoid a lot of that because of what we were seeing in different areas.  And it affected 1% of the population and other than Samoa, indigenous people in Alaska were the most impacted.  Per capita.  I mean, what ‑‑ people are doing in Samoa is trying to build healing for our people but also we’re not just ‑‑ and this is something and I thank you for sharing that, Kris, we’re not just thinking about this.  We’re also thinking about the climate crisis.  We’re thinking about our island nations and how the ‑‑ what ‑‑ how we can prepare for our climate collapse and how folks could become climate refugees and how we’re able to support climate refugees if that were to happen and we ‑‑ we’re still doing ‑‑ folks are still healing from a lot of grief from the loss of this.  And have a lot of bad memories passed down from the influenza.  But also how it’s been ‑‑ with COVID, how it’s been associated with a group of people, right?  How it was tied to Mexican communities and now with this ‑‑ with COVID and now it’s created a lot of xenophobia against API communities and Pacific Islanders were ‑‑ Cathy who is ‑‑ we’re having to change a lot of our feelings and practices because of the space.  But as people from cultures that’s very difficult and that’s part of our healing. 
>> Kris: Thanks, Isyss.  So, folks definitely keep adding questions as you have done for this amazing group of folks.  I’m wondering Cecilia or Emmett if you want to speak as well to healing and ‑‑ healing in cultural practices and how you’re holding that in your work.  Or how you’re seeing it impacted.  Cecilia, do you want to kick us off? 
>> Cecilia: Sure, no pressure right there.  I think what I ‑‑ what ‑‑ I have to say, you know, this is not a commercial but I am grateful to work for an organization that really prioritizes healing justice.  It makes a world of difference in terms of how we are thriving and managing our stress level.  And I think that this is seen generally across the board.  Of course there are exceptions.  And I think that this is where a lot of centering and healing work needs to be done.  Well, luckily, this is the age of the internet.  We are also ‑‑ now seeing a lot more content provided.  Doing videos on yoga, on meditation, and really to, like help people engage in a safe way.  And I also see there are a lot of resource sharing about face masks and also sanitizer.  Although it’s still really scarce, right, around the country.  I want to also mention is that right now when we talk about healing justice, we need to talk about in as a standalone topic.  Because right now health care access is nothing we have seen before.  Like people are transitioning into telehealth, telemedicine and for those of us who go into the clinic to get our injections, you know, like it becomes a new challenge, you know, like, and that also includes accessing medications and hormones.  And so needless to say our anxiety goes up and that is more reason for us to use this time to remind each other that we are not alone in this.  We are isolating together and I think that is really a message that we need don’t to spread. 
>> Kris: Thanks, Cecilia, Emmett? 
>> Emmett: Yeah.  I might be the wrong person to answer this admittedly.  You know, I think a lot of the healing that I’ve been ‑‑ it’s just so natural from the community.  It’s seeing the way that you know, we take care of each other.  Even when logically we look and we’re like, I don’t have anything but we’re going to look out for each other.  That love, that selflessness, that recognition of shared struggle is something incredibly special within our community.  You know, I think, you know, healing looks like a lot of different things for a lot of different folks.  For me personally, you know, I really enjoyed cooking on a very large‑scale even though we’re a family of three.  And, even during the pandemic, you know, it gave me an opportunity to literally see people at a socially responsible distance.  But be able to share in that with, you know, my people, my community.  And I think, you know, there’s so many different and special ways that I have seen trans and nonbinary people just really show up for each other in a time that, you know, is unprecedented within our lifetime and still continue to carry themselves with such generous spirit, generous heart despite all of the pushback and all of the things that unfortunately are happening and are being directed at our community.  To see that just mutual love that comes from mutual aid has been something that has been a reminder that, you know, hope is not lost, that we continue to go on despite and we will continue to do that. 
>> Kris: Thanks so much, Emmett.  So we’re getting to the ‑‑ towards the end of this call and I did want to give everyone an opportunity to share some closing comments.  So I know Cecilia has something to add so I’ll pass it over to you to kick it off. 
>> Cecilia: Thank you, Kris.  There are two points that I really want us to really think deeper.  One is, because of COVID‑19 and because of the quarantine, when one of our loved ones passed on in hospitals, we are not even able to like be there with them.  So we have to create a new grief ‑‑ a new process to grief.  And, you know, that’s what I forgot to mention during last discussions on healing justice and I think that, you know, as Asian, as, you know, like many of our cultures really are full of spiritual practice this is a time to lean on the spiritual practice in order to honor our loved ones who had been like harmed by COVID‑19.  The other thing I want to mention is this catastrophe really showed us about the importance of equity.  Especially around food.  We all have experienced this in our supermarket that, you know, this second day when people are sheltering in place, all the dried goods in supermarkets are gone and I think this can be really problematic and so moving forward, I think that this is a huge lesson for us to think about and learn from.  To ensure that we are not going to impact it by such scarcity if this pandemic continues. 
>> Kris: Thank you, Cecilia, Isyss, can I kick it to you for any closing comments? 
>> Issys: Thank you, everyone.  I do want to add a little bit to what was said before around, like, access to technology.  I want to lift up a group that supports survivors of sexual violence.  And domestic violence and where there are other containments around wi‑fi is a lifeline, right?  And a lot of folks who are craving community connection and who need access to information, knowledge, or don’t have wi‑fi.  So that’s something I wanted to lift up and does help with public health and public safety.  And I want to lift up continuing to be ‑‑ to folks that are most impacted at the front.  Not just API folks but understanding that this isn’t something new for black and indigenous folks at all.  And folks living with disabilities.  And that we need a center of community healing as long as individual healing and that we will continue to fight and care for our communities like we’ve always done.  And that things will get through this as a ‑‑ as was said we are a bunch of resilient folks and we’ll get through this and we need to rely on each other to take care of each other.  Thanks. 
>> Kris: Thanks, Isyss and thanks for raising that point also.  I do want to highlight that a bit.  I think it’s really important that as we’re trying to think of solutions and strategy, that we are not proposing solutions that are going to increase the criminalization of any members of our community in incarceration in members of our communities and we know that black communities, brown communities are particularly targeted by criminalization and by prisons and jails and the state.  So it’s really important that we are not throwing out solutions that perpetuate that.  Thank you, Isyss, and so, Emmett, you’ll have the closing words. 
>> Emmett: Wow, I think for me, you know, I ‑‑ I want to stress that statement, you know, it is ‑‑ sometimes within the API community I will have a conversation that will get a little frustrating and understanding that when we recognize how white supremacy impacts us when we recognize how colorism impacts us within the API community and then also inherently how we externalize that, when we recognize that we are all in this together, that we are all in the same fight with the same negative forces that really do group that to the idea of white supremacy having such a huge impact on collectively our overall system that we are so much better together.  That we can show up for each other in ways that we recognize large and small and it’s been a real honor to be able to stand here and take care of each other among these giants.  I so greatly appreciate everybody on this panel and all the amazing work that people have been doing collectively for the love of our community. 
>> Kris: Thank you, all, so much.  Thank you to Emmett and Cecilia and Isyss for sharing your words and your wisdom and for all the powerful work you’re moving forward in your communities where you’re at locally and across the country and thank you to our interpreters and all the folks who are holding tech behind the scenes and thank you to everyone for joining us for this community call.  We’ll be back again next week at the same time to get together again.  So thank you, all, so much.

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