Leeroy Kun Young Kang shared a few words with us at 25 Years Out: Celebrating the Gay Asian Pacific Islander Men of New York (GAPIMNY) Records:
I want to thank the A/P/A Institute for inviting me to be a part of this event. I’m honored to be here to celebrate GAPIMNY and this new acquisition of their archive to NYU. I’m going to share a few words that I hope will help contextualize the significance of GAPIMNY’s history and their records within a larger historical framework.
On a fairly regular basis, I get asked the question: “So, I have this box of newsletters…” or “I have these video tapes in storage… what should I do with them?” I have to be honest and say that in these instances there is always a moment where I wish I could exponentially multiply myself, the time, and the resources required to properly preserve all these holdings. But, what I usually tell people is, if you can, hold onto them, and connect with others.
I think tonight’s event commemorating GAPIMNY’s 25th anniversary and the donation of their archive to NYU’s Tamiment Library is a perfect demonstration of what can happen when these objects of memory are held with care, both individually and as a collective body over time.
For the past decade or so, w e have a seen a significant shift in the archives landscape, where grassroots communitybased archives are coming out of their literal and figurative closets. And through this, new critical questions of appraisal, description, access, and subjectivity, are all brought into the fold to create a more expansive, evolving, and holistic archival practice in the 21st century.
These questions also bring forth the concerns of value within a knowledge producing and consuming economy. The creation of queer communitybased archives come from a very unique space, one that is intimate, where connections and activity occurred in people’s homes, in the safe pockets made within policed public spaces of protest, basements of community centers, and in raw spaces carved out for radical activity. Queer feminist scholar, Tirza True Latimer once wrote, “….queer archival practices are not only propelled by strong feelings, they also aim to preserve the residue of historically suppressed sentiments.” The ephemera from queer archives and all the affectual qualities that they produce from these intimate spaces create profound meaning, and enrich not only our scholarship, but the understanding of our daily lives and of the times we live in, and also serve as messages to those of us in the unimagined future to discover. For queer Asian Pacific Islanders, these messages and markers of evidence, not only serve as affirmations, but are also central to our livelihoods as they can act as portals of connection to our past histories, contributions, and to those who created them.
As these community archives are continually being faced with perishing in basements and closets or given the rare opportunity to be acquired by a larger institutions, I am thrilled to see GAPIMNY’s archive being ushered into the Tamiment through the caring hands of the A/P/A Institute where it will be cared for and given new life and access. To me, this demonstrates my firm belief in how it is imperative for archivists, curators, activists, artists, and scholars all identifiers that are not mutually exclusive from one another to work together to better translate, exhibit, interpret, and also reinterpret our histories.
To situate things a bit historically, when GAPIMNY formed in 1990, the Gulf War had just been declared under the George Bush senior administration, whereas more local sites of institutionalized violence erupted with the infamous Rodney King beatings and the subsequent Los Angeles Riots that followed. It was also the birthyear of the world wide web and a hence new proliferation of networked systems of information and global economies. In New York City, AIDS activism was in full throttle and groups like ACT UP, and queer of color affinity groups like House of Color were actively mobilizing through means of community forums, direct actions, and videomaking. APICHA community health clinic formerly known as the Asian and Pacific Islander Coalition on HIV/AIDS, was founded the year before to address unmet HIV/AIDS related needs of Asians and Pacific Islanders in New York City. Within emerging discourses in representation, Richard Fung’s pioneering 1991 essay, “Looking for my Penis: The Eroticized Asian in Gay Video Porn” broke open the need and space to articulate queer Asian male sexual subjectivities across multiple disciplines. Along with GAPIMNY, the South Asian Lesbian & Gay Association of New York City (also known as SALGA) formed that same year, paving much space for other queer API organizations to form like Trikone NYC, QWAVE, and Dari Project in the years to follow. These organizations continue to be critical in giving LGBTQ Asian Pacific Islanders a space to be seen, supported, loved, and celebrated.
Revisiting these times allow us to reflect on not only what has changed but also h ow so many of these conditions still reflect are current and persisting realities. And while I personally was not of age to participate in all the activity then, my young protoqueer self was starved for images that reflected me, and I am deeply grateful for all the work that was laid down in order for me to find those images years later and to now also help shape what those images are and will become.
Beloved social activist and philosopher, Grace Lee Bogg’s who passed on earlier this week once said, “We never know how our small activities will affect others through the invisible fabric of our connectedness.”
With these words, it is truly incredible to witness and celebrate GAPIMNY’s 25th year anniversary and to honor the many small activities that have created so much space for connectedness among many other queer API individuals, groups and other formations both locally and globally. I have great respect to any organization that invites change, and shifts in accordance with the needs of the community that they serve. To me, the longevity of GAPIMNY speaks directly to the ways in which it has grown and shifted according to those needs. I see this event not as a way to historicise GAPIMNY’s contributions, but as a demonstration of honoring them as a continually thriving space.