Lip-synching with a face full of glitter, a bedazzled leotard, six-inch heels, and batting eyelashes were all a part of celebrating Asian heritage, Queer pride, and many other identities this past Friday evening. APAHM’s event showed that Asian pride is here and it’s starting a commotion.
Earl Hall set the stage for Columbia’s Asian Pacific Heritage Month’s event Diasporic Representations of Asians + Gender (D.R.A.G.), with performances from Yuhua Hamasaki and Alok Vaid-Menon. The theme for this year’s APAHM was “Commotion,” a counter-commentary on Western society’s stereotype of Asians as calm and subordinate.
Hamasaki, a drag queen, singer, actor, and reality television personality, opened the event with drag performances to “When Love Takes Over,” by David Guetta, ft. Kelly Rowland, and a compilation of Miley Cyrus’ greatest hits. She riled up the audience by interacting with them, even making them a part of the show. Choosing eight random contestants from the audience, Hamasaki brought them to the stage to compete in an ameteur drag show. Each contestant strutted their stuff and the audience chose a winner by means of screaming loudest for their favorite. Contestant number eight won the battle with her fabulous walk and charming poses, and was rewarded with the grand prize of Hamasaki merch.
Vaid-Menon, performance artist, poet, and LGBTQ rights activist, continued the show with a comedy skit that made social and political commentary on heteronormative America and the consequential treatment of people of color, queer, and trans communities. They made jokes about white yoga instructors, “straight people science,” and “white goddesses” Scarlett Johansson and Katy Perry, purposely mispronouncing their names.
They also emphasized the need for more educated discussions with queer and trans communities and not just using them as forms of entertainment.
“People are more comfortable with us when we’re lip-synching than when we’re speaking,” Vaid-Manon said.
Following both performances, APAHM held a Q&A with each performer, in which they further discussed Asian heritage and intersectional identities, rejecting the fetishization, tokenization, and appropriation of Asian culture.
“Living in Chinatown, I had a huge culture shock. There wasn’t much Asian representation in the media and when there was, it was very stereotypical.” Hamasaki said. “The Asian woman was the prostitute and the Asian man was the delivery guy or the geek, but we are so much more than that.”
In addition, Vaid-Manon and Hamasaki spoke about family honor in the Asian community, since coming out in Asian communities can lead to being disowned or shunned, claiming that coming out was made for white people.
“People have the misconception that being queer is a ‘white thing,’ when in reality my queerness reflects my love of being brown,” Vaid-Manon said, “In my Indian community, I started performing at three years old, dressed in my mom’s clothes dancing to Bollywood, and no one had a problem with it.”
Both guests addressed the issue of homophobia in Asian families, claiming that it stems from the trauma of racism. According to Vaid-Menon and Hamasaki, Asian people who experience racism may become accustomed to being invisible, hiding their identity and not drawing attention to themselves.
“Asian parents who are hiding their kids’ queerness are just trying to keep them safe from violence,” Vaid-Menon said.
“At the same time, hiding these identities makes us repress them, which is why Asian communities have such high rates of depression and suicide,” Hamasaki interjected.
The stereotype of Asian culture as “conservative” is exactly why APAHM chose the theme of commotion. It centered the event around challenging gender norms, defying societal standards of race, and most importantly, being yourself.
“If you should take away one thing from this event, it is to be yourself, no matter what anyone tells you, because you are worth it,” Hamasaki said.