In season 1, I have released an episode about what it means to be a part of the mixed Asian experience; this season, I wanted to add on to our discussion by exploring the intersection of Black and Asian identities as it is crucial to be aware of the fact that there is also a diversity of narratives of not just within the Asian/Asian American community but within the mixed Asian/Asian American community as well. Feeling inspired after watching Blasian Narratives, I invited Mieko Gavia to speak and share about her perspective and journey with self-identity as a Blasian American and the politics behind being labeled as mixed race, especially when it comes to mixed identities that don't center on whiteness. If there's anyone who would like to share their narrative as a non-white mixed Asian woman on Project Voice, please let me know!
Mieko Gavia is a writer, actress, and all-around oddball from Indianapolis, Indiana. After graduating from Oberlin College with a degree in Theater, Mieko followed the classic scenario of a small-town girl with big-city dreams and hightailed it to NYC. When she’s not acting or writing, Mieko can be spotted foraging in used bookstores or wherever cheap food abounds. You can catch her at http://www.blackrevolutionarytheatreworkshop.org and www.miekogavia.org
TRANSCRIBED BY LUCY PING
PROOFREAD BY SABRINA KU
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NGUYEN: Hi! Welcome to Project Voice. This is Jess here. Today we are going be talking about a topic I've been wanting to cover for a really long time. It actually started out in Season 1 and I did an episode on the mixed Asian American experience. Not realizing that (laughter) both of the interviewees that I had interviewed, I mean they weren’t just of Asian decent but they were also of White decent. It was something that I realized right after editing the episode and there are many many narratives out there, and that's something I'd like to stress in every episode, and of course not just within the Asian American community but the mixed Asian American community. There are many - there is a diversity of non-White mixed Asian narratives that haven't been covered yet. And today I was fortunate enough to be able to interview Mieko Gavia. I wanted to continue discussing this topic and continue the dialogue after watching the Blasian Narratives. I was like, I got to do this, I got to do this. And now I'm here with Mieko and I’m going to have her introduce herself for a brief moment. Yeah! Hey Mieko! What's up out there?
MIEKO GAVIA, INTERVIEWEE: Hey! So, my name is Mieko Gavia. I am, I identify as Black, Japanese, and Mexican. I am a mixed queer woman of color. I'm a writer and an actress. I've been living in New York since 2011 but I am originally from Indianapolis in Indiana. And I am a producing ensemble member of a theater company called Black Revolutionary Workshop so, I thought I'd just plug that in right there. (laughter from both Gavia and Nguyen)
NGUYEN: Yeah, nice plug! So Mieko and I actually met each other on a Facebook group that promotes Asian American activism and I wanted to know more about what you took away from being part of this space. What were you looking for when you joined this group?
GAVIA: Well, I joined the group because of another friend who had joined. She and I had met in a different group that was about inter-woman of color solidarity. But some of the politics of that group weren't quite as sensitive to the particular aspects of Asian identity and Orientalism, weren't as sensitive to the politics of Asian identity and erasure of Orientalism. So I kinda followed her from group to group and ended up in the same Facebook group that I met you in. So, my takeaway from being in this space is that it’s the identities of non-White mixed Asians, particularly Black Asians, is a lot more different than I had initially thought. When I initially joined the space, I was like 'oh yay, people are going to understand this and there are going to be all sorts of people who can understand that and we can have all these conversations' but one of my first conversations in the group was pretty rudimentary level, at least what I had thought, discussion about ways to become involved in the struggle against anti-Blackness even within the Asian American community and about not erasing the experiences of Black Asians and reminding people that we do exist. And, so, at certain points I found it a bit disheartening but at the same time, the response from the mods and from a lot of the community has been really great. So, it's... annoying to have to constantly remind things and have to see my fellow Black Asians that are part of the group constantly remind things. But on the other hand it's really good to see other people ally themselves - I don't like using the term 'to be an ally', I like to use the word 'ally' as a verb - so it's really good to see other non-Black Asian Americans ally themselves with us and our struggles and be like 'Hey everybody, we can and should do better.' So, that’s really heartening and it also makes me think a lot about different politics as well, about disability activism and about gender, about East Asian politics versus South East Asian politics, and South Asian politics. Yeah, it's really helped me broaden my mind in a lot of ways. And I think I've broadened other people's minds, so. Yeah! I like it!
NGUYEN: Wow! You've covered some really good points there. (laugher) And actually, I think you might even add more. So my next question is, as a mixed Asian American, what are the most important points that you would like for our listeners to take away from listening to our interview? Like what are some of the pieces of narratives that you feel like you want to share with other people and to make them realize that there are so many stories out there that haven't been discovered and that it is important to be open-minded?
GAVIA: Yeah, I think that something that I'd really like for people to take away from this interview is that very few things in this life are fixed. That is something that I am still trying to learn. I am also bipolar so dealing with mental health issues is really big. And I tend to think that I'm stuck a lot but remembering that very few things are fixed - even with your identity, how you identify yourself racially, sexually, gender, where you live, how much money you make - those things are fluid. And, I think that mixed people are in an unique situation where we are naturally born in this kind of wiggly wobbly space and not everybody reaches that same point of understanding what it's like to straddle two - or in my case, three - or however many different worlds but it's... it gives you a really interesting perspective on things. So I also would like for people to take away that not everything that we talk about has to center Whiteness. Being a person who is not mixed with White, I feel like that's something we do a lot. When we talk about our struggles with oppression, a lot of it is always Black versus White or Asian versus White. Or when we talk about biracial people, it's - when we talk about mixed race people - a lot of it is biracial, and a lot of it is Black and White, or Asian and White, or Latino and White. And I would like to think about a view of liberation that doesn't always center everything versus Whiteness because then we're still defining ourselves in relation to Whiteness. And we don't need to do that. So...
NGUYEN: Going to more specifics now. What are some issues you face as a mixed Black Asian American? How has identifying as Blasian affected different aspects of your life? For example, with friends, at school, work, in the dating world?
GAVIA: Some issues I face are, well, for one thing it's very difficult to learn how to do my hair. (laughter) I know that I lot of mixed Black people go through is but my hair texture is different to my sisters, like each of my sisters - I have two sisters and a brother - all of our hair textures are different. It's different than my mothers. It's different than each of her siblings. We each have our own unique texture, so that's been one really unique struggle which I think is kind of really apt for an individual person’s struggle. Let's see. I think a lot of it is about representation. That is an issue that I face. For example, being Black and Asian is -- there are more people who are being recognized for that, but it's very exoticfied and very fetishized. And it's always a very similar trope of a person who is light skinned with a certain shape of eye and straighter hair and they're slim - so they look like the term -- basically like, an Asian person dipped in chocolate, or something like that. So when you see somebody who doesn't necessarily look like that, it disrupts this narrative and people aren’t comfortable with it. So as an actress, it's difficult to find your way in that and to keep your identity while you're playing different characters. In school, it was very difficult because of my name. My name is obviously not that common in the United States, and it's not that common for somebody with my complexion to have. And so, that's led to a lot of 'What are you? Who are you? Where are you? Why do you have that name? Did your parents just really like Asia?'. You know that kinda stuff which is very very frustrating and very erasing of my identity. And you know, as far as Latinoness, because I'm also part Mexican -- and I think this goes to Asianness as well. Like, there's a really big connect to language with a lot of my identities that are based in nationality. So I don't know Spanish and my Japanese is pretty -- I didn't know any Japanese before I went to college. I started taking college classes so I could specifically go to Japan to learn more about my culture. So if you don't know the language, I think there is this idea that a lot of people have - whether it's imposed on you by other people, or imposed by yourself, or imposed by your family - that you're less than. Especially when you don't look the part. There's this pressure to prove yourself to be like 'No, I am this. I am this. I am this.' It makes you feel really insecure even while you push yourself. So, yeah.
NGUYEN: Yeah, I think there is a danger in part of being a group or identifying yourself with a community because there will always be a majority in the community, or there's , hmm -- there are stereotypes out there for different communities and there's a set of expectations for how we should look. Or how we should act. So when we don't meet up with these expectations like you said before, it feels invalidating on ourselves. If we don't fit 100%, or if we don't fit 80% of the list or something, you know. (laughter) So it's -- when in reality, what we should do is that, we should like I said before be more open-minded and just really not having as many preconceptions or preconceived notions about other people. So basically I think everyone's experience is valid and how you choose to identify yourself, of course, is however you want. And I think that's why I feel so compelled to write about this because there are many diasporas of the Asian-American community. That's why on my podcast I said a podcast dedicated to Asians/Asian American woman folx, of course. There's going to be overlapping experiences and I think, I think we should celebrate those overlapping experiences and find solidarity with each other through them.
How do you compromise your multiple identities being Black, being Latinx, and Asian? What is your relationship between each identity? What are your interactions with the communities like?
GAVIA: So, right now. There place where I am right now, is that I'm really comfortable with who I am and I am really proud to have as -- I worked with this one girl, she was from Georgia, the country and when I told her all of my heritage, she said 'Wow, you have many bloods'. I don't know if like that's how they put it, or how they say it in Georgia or if that was her attempt at translating what she was trying to say but I really liked that. So instead of having like mixed blood or part of something, I have many bloods and I like that. So right now I'm really good but it hasn't always been that way.
So I grew up in a very Black community. I'm really close to -- my mom is Black and Japanese and my dad is Black and Mexican and so, the Black side of both of my parents they live largely in Indiana where I'm from. So I grew up around this strong Black vibrant community. So there's a lot of stuff with that that I identify with and aml comfortable with. But at the same time, I always felt this little sense of being pushed out. For example, one time we went to a family reunion and I was downstairs and my sister was upstairs. And my sister when to get a piece of cake and some old lady started yelling at her and calling her all of these racial slurs so all of the sudden my parents grabbed and said Hey, we're leaving. And I didn't know what was going on. When you find out afterwards what had happened, and when you're parents say we're not going to be hanging out with this particular group of people anymore,that's really hurtful, you know? When my parents grew up, it was a lot worse. My grandfather was White passing and he married a dark skin Black woman. So my grandfather was a White passing Indigenous Latino man and the KKK burned a cross on his and my grandparents yard because they thought this White man was with a Black woman. You know like stuff like that. Like my mother received death threats from Black separatist group.
In a lot of ways, growing up for me was better. It was still really tough, growing up in a community where things were either Black or White, literally. There weren't a lot of Latinx people. Where I was growing up there weren't a lot of Asian people. So I largely felt like I was almost Black but not quite all the way there and everybody knew it, and so I felt like I was being treated like that. So at the time, because of that and then we started getting a larger Latinx population, a lot of them were Puerto Rican and there's, you know, this kind of disconnect -- obviously, not every country likes every other country because they speak the same language. (laughter) So, there's differences there culturally and also the fact that I couldn't speak Spanish, you know, I felt very isolated at that time, so I gravitated towards White friends because it felt less painful to be completely out of something rather than part in and part out and always to be reminded that you're not quite a part of that community. It was easier for me to just be like 'Well, I'm not White', so there was that. That was still also really difficult, I’m still trying to get over some of the things that happened during that period of my life. It was a lot more isolating and I was a lot more bullied than I had thought initially during that time.
But when I went to college I came into and embraced my Blackness again and I came into and embraced my Asianness. I'm still working on my Latinx part because that's the most - not distant - but that's the part of my heritage that I know the least about. I'm proud of be Latina. And I'm proud to be a Chicana. But there are so many things that I don't know and that I would like to know about, where my grandfather came from because he's undocumented so the history there has been cut off. You know, there's a lot we don't know about him. So yeah. That was long and rambly but if people don't like who I am or if they say 'You have to be this, you have to be that, you can't be this, or you can't be that', if you don't identify with one -- if you don't identify solely with one group, then you're filled with self-hatred or something. Just basically, just like fuck that - I am who I am and if you don't like it, then... fuck you! (laughter) Sorry I don't know if I can cuss but --
NGUYEN: (laughter) Yes, you can. That's the attitude. (laughter)
Your stories actually made a good leeway for my next question. And it's about how, as people of color, women of color, we grew up internalizing racism against our own people, against our own communities. And it's natural when you grow up in the White patriarchy and the reason why we're here on this podcast, is that we've learnt a lot about ourselves -- we've been through a lot. And most likely during our younger years we didn't fully know so much about what's going or how to put things into words, put the feelings we have into words. For me, at least, I knew that there there some just mess of things that I had a hard time finding words for and I didn't have the vocabulary, until I went to college. Going to Smith was a really empowering, life-changing decision for me because I felt like I - not only did I gain a lot of vocabulary - but I was engaging in discussions that I don't think I would have otherwise been able to at many other colleges, at many other spaces out there.
You brought up earlier about the importance of intersectionality, of the different identities that make up us. And for me, I want to -- I am curious to know, what your journey has been like with exploring your self-identity and the different aspects that make up you? And how have you achieved self-love? Like, what is your journey like with self-love and self-acceptance?
GAVIA: Well, I am still working on the self-love and self-acceptance part. Ah (sighs), I just had a long conversation with my therapist yesterday. It's still... it's still tough. Even though, I'm now -- even though, I'm okay with who I am in a lot of ways, there's -- it's still, it's still fluid. Some days I'm like, really, I'm like oh, I wake up and it's, 'It's great to be me, I'm the shit, it's so great being mixed and being queer. And everything about me is just precious and I'm just a sparkly princess'. (laughter) But you know, I'm really happy with who I am and I'm really proud of myself and I think I can conquer the world. And then there's some days where you're just 'Argh, I'm a pile of shit.' And so... it doesn't -- it's not -- I think in many ways, my journey is not linear and I don't think a lot peoples' journey's are linear. And I don't think it has to be. That's something that I'm -- I think I'm starting to finally beginning to grasp. I think an important part of discovering self-love is that your journey with self-love does not have to stay fixed. It's not an achievement level to be unlocked. You know, you're always going to be up and down and feel differently from day to day, month to month, from year to year and that’s okay as long as you try and you're mindful and keeping aware the conversations you have with yourself. Yeah, like I said before, it's been really rough sometimes growing up, especially during my middle school years. God. I hated being a pre-teen. Pre-teenhood was the worst. Yeah, it was tough.
NGUYEN: I think you made a really interesting point with your journey about self-love being non-linear. Because I take it as, even though I am more socially-aware than I ever was before. And I'm more aware of myself than I ever was before, I still have a loooong way to go. Something I'm trying to accept as a part of life, is that, I really need to be patient. I mean like, practicing patience. Like you said, having to feel so rushed to level up because it's not what life is about. It would be so stressful that way.
Also you brought something up earlier before about fluidity. Like how, your identities are fluid. We're ever changing too. And we're constantly growing too and we don't even realize it. Or maybe we do? I think that's what life is all about. It's about having the -- (inaudible) like, your journey with self-love is all about really. It's not a destination, maybe it's the journey itself.
I think you might've answered this already before. Have you taken the time to explore or do you plan to take initiatives?
GAVIA: Well, I am kinda, there's more stuff I want to do. So as far as exploring goes, like my grandmother is from Okinawa, my mom's mom. So there was a lot of stuff we didn't know because of language barriers and you know. After World War II, a lot of records got messed up and so my sister has a friend who is helping us find that stuff so it's really exciting. And I want to do the same thing for my Mexican heritage. My goal is to go -- like, I've already gone back to Japan and met my relatives on that side, we're still keeping up with the connection now - and I want to do the same for my Mexican side. I want to do that same thing and I want to find my relatives over there and learn more about them and their story. And I want to learn Spanish and I’m trying to keep my expectations in check. It's not like I'm going to 'I'm going to learn Spanish in one semester and then I'm going to Mexico and I'm immediately going to meet these people in the mountains of wherever that came from. It's going to be great.' No, Mieko, life doesn't work like that. Things are more difficult sometimes. Things take time, so you know, learning to be patient with myself and learning that if you don't do -- something I'm still learning is that even though your identities are equal in weight, it doesn't mean that you have to be everything all the time. And that if you’re not as far as you need to be in one place, it's disrespecting something else. Right now, I feel a lot of guilt because I'm exploring so much of my Okinawan side but I'm not, I'm still, like, in the dark on a lot of Mexican stuff. But you know, it's a journey. Things take time. You learn what you learn when you’re ready to learn them. And I'm not less of a Latina because I don't know Spanish, and I don't know exactly where, the exact town where my ancestors came from. So, yeah. That's an initiative that I'm taking.
Oh yeah! Also! With my acting and my writing career, I feel really strongly about providing a writing visibility and providing writing voice to other women of color, specifically queer women of color and women of color with disabilities, so that we can see ourselves in the narrative. Because I want to be able to inspire other people like me. Just to know that we're not alone. So that's another initiative that I'm taking.
NGUYEN: Wow! That's amazing. So beautiful. I want see you perform one day.
So what are the spaces and opportunities that you would like to give a shoutout for our audience today? For those who are part of the mixed Asian community, to take in or to take away as resources that they can use for themselves? To refer for other people? Or for our listeners in general? To refer to people they know who think think it will be helpful?
GAVIA: So, I really want to give a shoutout to - it's called, I think it's called The Mixed Persons Bill of Rights by Maria P.P. Root. That was really instrumental in understanding and helping me understand and incorporate all the facets of my identity. So every person, specifically mixed people, should read that. It's not very long. It's amazing.
Another plug for my theater company: Black Revolutionary Theater Workshop. We're on Facebook. We're on Twitter. We're on the 'gram - I think we're on the 'gram. We’re everywhere, we're based in New York and we're awesome! Because we talk about all different facets of the Black experience, politics, gender, and religion and all that good stuff, in the context of art. So you should check us out.
Also, one thing I'd like for everything to keep in mind is to check your sources. When you read a lot of stuff on the internet, if you read something on the internet that seems to wild or too good to be true or if it says exactly what you were thinking... double check that. Double check those facts. Because sometimes, it is. And something that I've learned is that - from having a fluid identity - is that there are many perspectives on single issue. Not that all perspectives aren't valid, but there are many perspectives. So it's always good to -- and a lot of misinformation - so it's good to check those out.
Yeah, the end.
NGUYEN: Alright, thank you so much Mieko. It was a pleasure to have you on Project Voice.
And for listeners out there, please follow us on Project Voice, if you would like. We're on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. And we even have our own website. So check us out! And otherwise, I hope you all have a wonderful day. Tune in soon for our next episode. Bye!
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