A/P/A Voices: A COVID-19 Public Memory Project

Cobblestone street of Washington Mews

Recognizing the critical need for documenting the COVID-19 pandemic and the myriad of ways it has and will impact Asian/Pacific American communities in New York City and nationally, the Asian/Pacific/American Institute at New York University, in collaboration with Tomie Arai, Lena Sze, Vivian Truong, and Diane Wong, has developed the A/P/A Voices: A COVID-19 Public Memory Project. The NYU Tamiment Library & Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives will serve as the collection’s repository.

We undertake this project in a spirit of solidarity with other communities of color who suffer the profound effects of structural racism and state violence. We begin documenting the effects of COVID-19 pandemic on Asian/Pacific Americans in the midst of protests against the killings of George Floyd, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and so many other Black people at the hands of police and vigilantes. Intersectionality and cross-racial solidarity are central pillars of this project as we move forward to understand the current moment. Both provide an important lens through which to document complicated and rich lived experiences, as well as the work we still need to do to educate our own communities about state violence. With A/P/A Voices, we affirm our commitment to Black communities and Black lives.

From the anti-Asian violence and xenophobia that has spiked since the early days of the pandemic (and reemerged in the national consciousness) to the ways that COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted Pacific Islander communities and Asian immigrant service and healthcare workers, Asian/Pacific Americans are too often at the center of COVID-19 coverage and conversations as objects of anger, sympathy, and/or curiosity.

We believe, however, in documenting the complex and multifaceted experiences of Asian/Pacific Americans as subjects of their own stories. We hope this project offers space for thinking about the parallels, intimacies, and possibilities for solidarity between Asian/Pacific Americans and the communities that are most impacted by these seismic shifts in our history. 

There is no other major COVID-19 documentation effort about and for A/PA communities at this time. We believe that this documentation is essential not just for our communities’ own processing and storytelling, but for all of us to learn from this moment now and into the future.  To that end, this public memory project is intended to be broad in scope. We aim to cast a wide net, but endeavor to include stories from A/PA communities that often remain unrecorded. By virtue of our institutional location, we also have a particular interest in New York City and the university communities in which we are embedded.

We are collecting documentation of the experiences of Asian/Pacific Americans living during COVID-19 by:

  • Recording oral history interviews with narrators who wish to share their A/PA COVID-19 experiences or perspectives for archival preservation and future access. These interviews will be conducted remotely (while social distancing protocols are still necessary) or in person (only when safe to do so). To contribute to the project as a prospective Narrator, complete the NARRATOR REQUEST FOR INTERVIEW FORM.

  • Collecting a wide range of recorded interviews to document, as thoroughly as possible, A/PA COVID-19 experiences. To contribute to the project as an Interviewer, complete the VOLUNTEER INTERVIEWER FORM.

  • Collecting digital artifacts including, but not limited to: articles, flyers, and resource lists; publications and journal articles; photographs and images of artwork and installations; video and audio recordings. Select artifacts may be accessioned, alongside the recorded oral history interviews, by the NYU Tamiment Library & Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. To contribute an artifact to the project, complete the ARTIFACT DONATION FORM.

Guiding Principles

These documentation efforts are premised on the critical idea that memory and meaning are built collaboratively through dialogue, and that all of us—interviewers, organizers, and narrators alike—are part of a shared community that is experiencing unprecedented trauma to a lesser or greater degree.

We want to acknowledge difference and honor it. Our project is a gesture to the usefulness of the A/PA identity frame for many of us, while recognizing that it does not fully represent all of our narrators or participants in all their fullness. We acknowledge and want to think of expansive ways of incorporating different voices, languages, and identities.

We believe that Asian/Pacific Americans’ experiences of COVID-19 are important to document, but are not detached from the experiences of other communities to which we belong, create, and seek solidarity with.

We seek to build an ethics of care, consideration, and community—from the project design and facilitation of interviews to the collection and custody of these stories.

Finally, we believe that stories both comprise our own experiences and form a collective public memory. How we process and grieve, construct memory and make meaning, and how we take stock now and in the future is at the core of our efforts.

Volunteers

Zain Alam is an artist and musician whose interests include immigrant histories, Islamic culture, and South Asian diasporas. His recording project Humeysha has been described as, “a unique intersection, merging the cinematic formality of Bollywood and geometric repetition of Islamic art,” and featured in Vice, Village Voice, and the New York Times. His work includes video, performance, and writing which has been supported most recently by Harvard University, The Laundromat Project, and South Asian American Digital Archive.

Tomie Arai is an artist who collaborates with local communities to create visual narratives that give meaning to the spaces we live in. She is a co-founder of the Chinatown Art Brigade and is currently a 2020 Transnational Fellow with Monument Lab, an initiative that reimagines public space through stories of social justice and equity.

Minju Bae is a historian, educator, and public humanist who works across the fields of Asian American Studies, urban and labor history, and food studies. Her current work investigates how Asian/Americans navigated the politics of work, racial difference, and the radical restructuring of the urban-based global economy in the late twentieth century. She is also a member of Nodutdol for Korean Community Development.

Crystal Baik is associate professor of Gender and Sexuality Studies at University of California, Riverside with training in feminist oral history, critical militarization studies, ethnic studies and visual culture studies. Her first single-authored monograph, Reencounters: On the Korean War and Diasporic Memory Critique (Temple University Press, 2019), examines the everyday ramifications of the Korean War in the twenty-first century through a curated archive of diasporic memory works, including experiential oral history projects.

Shannon Daniels is a writer and educator with roots in Manhattan’s Chinatown. She is currently the program associate of accessibility at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she teaches and facilitates programs for visitors with disabilities, along with developing meaningful relationships with multilingual senior communities throughout New York City. She is driven by her passion for making creative, inclusive spaces where people of all ages can develop a love of the arts and humanities and advocate for their communities.

Cindy Gao is a PhD student in the American Studies program at NYU. Her dissertation research explores the role of communist Asia in the revolutionary imagination of postwar radical movements in the United States. 

Rosario Joaquin is the senior public programs assistant at the Asian/Pacific/American Institute at NYU. She is a resident assistant at NYU’s Rubin Hall, where she curates programs for the “Inequality and Justice” themed engagement community. Joaquin will graduate from the NYU College of Arts and Science in May 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in Politics and Asian/Pacific/American Studies.

Rochelle Kwan is a writer, audio producer, and cultural organizer who brings together her backgrounds in social work and media to engage with communities to celebrate the power of everyday voices. Her work includes developing a community engagement program with A/PA communities at StoryCorps, training students to lay the foundation for the Hunter College Asian American Studies Oral History Archive, producing Chinatown community storytelling projects with Think!Chinatown, and cultivating meaningful relationships with A/PA communities through the podcast, “Self Evident.”

Sarah Lin serves as a chaplain affiliate and campus minister at NYU, and is studying public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. She has completed several research projects focused on gender-based violence within the Asian immigrant community, and previously interned at Womankind, formerly known as the New York Asian Women’s Center. She has been recognized as a Public Policy & International Affairs (PPIA) Fellow, as well as a Voorhees Public Service Fellow and Gardner Fellow in Leadership & Social Policy at Rutgers University. She holds a bachelor’s degree with highest honors from Rutgers University.

Loubna Qutami is assistant professor in the Department of Asian American Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. Qutami is a former UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellow, a member of al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, and the former executive director of the Arab Cultural and Community Center (ACCC) in San Francisco. She is also a founder and the former international general coordinator of the Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM).

Preeti Sharma is an assistant professor of American Studies at California State University, Long Beach. Her research and teaching interests include feminist theories of work, racialized and gendered labor, Asian American feminisms, women of color feminisms/queer of color critique, and worker center movements. Her book project, The Thread Between Them, examines the transnational beauty practice of threading in South Asian beauty salons across Los Angeles County through their emergence, labor, regulation, and organizing in the neoliberal immigrant service sector. She has supported numerous research justice and storytelling efforts, including the most recent animated short, I am a #YoungWorker, with the UCLA Labor Center on young workers in Los Angeles’s retail and restaurant industry. She is also co-lead author of Nail Files: A Study of Workers and Industry in the United States, the first national study on labor issues in the nail salon sector.

Lena Sze is a cultural organizer and writer from New York City.

Vivian Truong is a scholar and educator from Brooklyn, New York whose areas of study include Asian American studies, urban history, and women of color feminisms. Her current research examines Asian American and multiracial movements against police violence in late twentieth century New York City. She is a postdoctoral fellow in Asian American studies at Vassar College and earned her PhD in American Culture from the University of Michigan.

Diane Wong is assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at Rutgers University-Newark. Her interests include Asian American politics, race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, cultural and media studies, and community-engaged research. As a first-generation Chinese American born and raised in Flushing, Queens, her research is intimately tied to the Asian diaspora and urban immigrant experience. She is a member of the Chinatown Art Brigade and co-founder of The W.O.W. Project located at Wing On Wo & Co. 

New York University:

Asian/Pacific/American Institute: Laura Chen-Schultz is Deputy Director at the A/P/A Institute at NYU, where she manages research projects and initiatives. She works in close collaboration with the repositories at NYU Libraries to build and ensure accessibility for A/PA archival collections. Tamiment Library & Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives: Shannon O’Neill is curator of the Tamiment-Wagner Collections. For A/P/A Voices, she serves as a vital consultant, offering support and resources on questions of preservation and accessibility. 

For more information about this project, please contact apa.archives@nyu.edu.