How can we make queer histories accessible beyond the academy? What might those histories teach us about how social justice organizations can sustain themselves over the long haul, despite hostile political conditions?

In episode 57 of the Imagine Otherwise podcast, host Cathy Hannabach talks with Alice Y. Hom about the political and personal process of starting a history podcast about queer and trans people of color, what nonprofits and community organizations face in the coming years, and how self-care and community care are at the core of how Alice imagines otherwise.

Guest: Alice Hom

Alice Y. Hom is a community builder invested in bridging diverse and overlapping communities to raise resources, nurture leaders, and build organizations’ capacity for social change. Currently, Alice is a Soros Equality Fellow where she is creating a digital media project called Historically Queer. Historically Queer is a podcast and digital archive documenting historical and contemporary stories of activism by queer and trans people of color. Alice is also a consultant for organizations and a coach for individuals in the nonprofit, philanthropic, arts and culture, and higher education sectors. In 2012, California Governor Jerry Brown appointed Alice to the California Humanities Board of Directors, and in 2017 Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti appointed Alice to the Los Angeles City Commission on the Status of Women. Alice previously served as the director of the Queer Justice Fund at Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy and she also sites on the Borealis Philanthropy Board. Alice is the co-editor of the award-winning anthology, Q & A: Queer in Asian America, and has published articles in various journals and anthologies.

We chatted about:

  • Alice’s podcast project Historically Queer (02:12)
  • Building solidarity and community power among social justice groups (06:32)
  • The powerful self-care lesson younger activists are teaching older generations (09:23)
  • The legacy of Q&A: Queer in Asian America (10:37)
  • Imagining Otherwise (12:40)

Takeaways:

Making the Historically Queer podcast

“Historically Queer is a podcast that uncovers historical and contemporary stories activism by LGBT people of color…Folks don’t have a lot of access, understanding, or connection to stories of activism by LGBT people of color. There aren’t many published historical books on queer people of color, and the ones that exist aren’t very accessible unless you’re taking a gay and lesbian studies or queer studies course…I was interested in making sure these stories have a broader public audience and that they’re accessible.”

Building solidarity and community power among grassroots organizations

“What I see going on with grassroots organizations is more collaboration [and] greater connectivity and relationship building…We can’t do it alone and one organization cannot fix everything…So what’s a way for us to build a stronger ecosystem of folks doing work on criminal justice, other folks working on immigration, other folks working on reproductive justice, and how do we connect? There’s a lot more solidarity movement happening along those lines.”

The importance of self-care and community care for activists

“This work is hard and it takes a mental and physical toll. What can we do to sustain ourselves so we are not physically and mentally depleted? How do we continue to deposit love, energy, and compassion to ourselves and to the other people doing this work?”

Learning from younger generations of activists

“It’s the younger generation that is teaching us that we’re not going to kill ourselves for the movement. They’re the ones that are practicing more self-care, and they’re the ones who are saying we have to pay attention to other kinds of things. Us in older generations often felt like we had to put everything into it, and at all costs, to be a true activist or community builder….I’ve been thinking a lot about queer women of color activists who tend to die young, who have breast cancer, who get all these diseases. I think that’s because they haven’t been paying as much attention [to their health and wellbeing] as they could. And the younger generation is actually paying more attention to their health and wellbeing and they’re the ones who are teaching us in the older generation how to slow down a little bit. It’s interesting to me to see how different generations are learning from each other in that particular way.”

The legacy of Q&A: Queer and Asian in America

“The book is going be 20 years old this year, so I feel like my baby is grown up and is an adult now. When we started that anthology in the early 1990s, David [Eng] and I were both graduate students and the majority of the people who wrote for Q&A were graduate students and/or activists and community members. Now some of those folks are tenured professors; they’re well-known in their fields. I think what’s changed is you have a generation of people—academics and scholars—who knew that there was something called queer Asian American studies and that they could actually have an academic career in that and publish books and publish articles about that and become a professor. The field has just broadened in that way.”

7 generations work

“I’m working with a group of 50 people and we’re calling it ‘7 generations work’—we think about 7 generations behind us and 7 generations ahead of us. What can we learn from the past 150 years so that what we do right now in 2018 is going to ensure that 150 years later it can be different and we can move towards that world that I’ve been wanting—a world free of oppression, one where there is love and compassion, and one where all people can feel like they belong.”

Imagining otherwise

“I have to refer back to Audre Lorde, who gave a speech at the 1979 March on Washington. She said, ‘I want to live in a world where our children can be free from racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia. Because those oppressions are inseparable.’ She said that in 1979, I say this in 2018. That’s the world I want to live in. I want to live in a world free of all kinds of oppressions, recognizing that all those oppressions are inseparable.

More from Alice

Projects and people discussed

About Imagine Otherwise

Imagine Otherwise is a podcast about the people and projects bridging art, activism, and academia to build better worlds. Episodes offer in-depth interviews with creators who use culture for social justice, and explore the nitty-gritty work of imagining and creating more just worlds. Check out full podcast episodes and show notes at ideasonfire.net/imagine-otherwise-podcast. Imagine Otherwise is produced by Ideas on Fire, an academic editing and consulting agency helping progressive, interdisciplinary scholars write and publish awesome texts, enliven public conversations, and create more just worlds.

Sign up for our newsletter

Podcast episodes, articles, and offers right to your inbox to help you rock your interdisciplinary career

Our Privacy Policy

Episode transcript

Cathy Hannabach [00:03]: [upbeat music in background] Welcome to Imagine Otherwise, the podcast about the people and projects bridging art, activism, and academia to build better worlds. Episodes offer in-depth interviews with creators who use culture for social justice and explore the nitty-gritty work of imagining otherwise. I’m your host, Cathy Hannabach. [music fadeout]

[00:23] This is episode 57, and my guest today is Alice Y. Hom. Alice is a community builder invested in bridging diverse and overlapping communities to raise resources, nurture leaders, and build organizations capacity for social change. Currently Alice is a Soros Equality Fellow, where she’s creating a digital media project called Historically Queer. Historically Queer is both a podcast and a digital archive documenting historical and contemporary stories of activism by queer and trans people of color.

Alice has also been a consultant for organizations and a coach for individuals in the nonprofit, philanthropic, arts and culture, and higher education sectors. In 2012, California Governor Jerry Brown appointed Alice to the California Humanities Board of Directors, and in 2017, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti appointed Alice to the Los Angeles City Commission on the Status of Women. Alice previously served as the director of the Queer Justice Fund at Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy, and she also sits on the Borealis Philanthropy Board.

[01:27] Alice is the co-editor of the award winning anthology Q&A: Queer and Asian in America, which we talk about in our interview, and she’s also published various articles in journals and anthologies.

In our interview Alice and I discuss the political as well as personal process of starting a history podcast about queer and trans people of color, what nonprofits and community organizations are facing in the coming years, and how self-care and community care are at the core of how Alice imagines otherwise.

[to Alice] Thank you so much for being with us today.

Alice Y. Hom: I’m excited to be here. You know, interviewing is a little bit of like a performance, but speaking in a podcast, I feel very performative in that way. So this is funny. Like, you know, I know there’s a little show person in me somehow, so it’s always kind of fun to do this, and I appreciate it.

Cathy: So I’d love to jump in hearing about your new podcast and your new digital media project. I know the podcast is called Historically Queer and I’d love to hear what the podcast covers and how it connects to this broader digital media project.

Alice [02:26]: Oh, sure. Yeah. Historically Queer is a podcast that uncovers historical and contemporary stories of activism by LGBTQ people of color and it’s part of a digital media project that I’m working on in this fellowship that I have from the Soros Open Society Foundation— it’s the Soros Equality Fellowship. We don’t have a lot of access, understanding, or connection to stories of activism by LGBTQ people of color. There aren’t very many, like, published historical books on queer people of color and if there are, you can kind of, you know, put them on maybe one or two hands. And they’re not assessable to people unless you’re taking, you know, a gay and lesbian studies course or you’re taking a queer studies course or you might read an article here and there. For me, I was really interested in making sure that these stories have a broader public audience and that they’re accessible.

Alice [03:25]:  I wrote my dissertation on community building and organizing by queer women of color in New York and Los Angeles in the 1970s and 1980s. And whenever I tell people that’s the topic of my dissertation, inevitably I get, “Oh my god, you have to write a book! You have to publish something. We really want to know that kind of history.” And I, you know, I, I feel like I have a hard time writing a book because the dissertation took so long. But beyond that, I really wanted to make sure that these stories, these experiences, the community building that happened, between queer women of color who worked on issues of intersectionality, they focused on race, gender, sexuality, class issues. All of that is something that not just college students should have it because I feel like if I wrote a book, it would cost a lot of money and it’d be taught, but only a certain segment of the population would have access to that.

[04:24] And I really want a broad mainstream public to have this information. So for me, it felt like a podcast would be that medium to share these stories. And what’s kind of funny is that, you know, I did these interviews in the late ‘90s and so all my oral history interviews are on tape cassettes, so I needed to digitize those tape cassettes. In doing that, I was afraid of, you know, could I still hear the sound, what would it be like? And it’s really interesting to go back and to listen because, you know, I was in my late 20s when I interviewed folks and things have changed. So it’s a nice way to think about that moment in the ‘90s where I’m interviewing people about the ‘70s and ‘80s and here I am in the 2010s going back and recalling these stories and creating new podcasts out of their oral history interviews. So I’m really excited about it.

Cathy [05:26]: What’s been the most surprising thing that you’ve encountered in that process of turning these earlier interviews, those earlier oral histories, into a digital format?

Alice [05:35]: The challenges! Like the time it takes to, you know, re-listen to everything. And I like the fact that I get to hear their voices and I want to do justice to them. So I think the hard part is for me, I would just like to put the whole thing up and have everybody listen to the whole thing. But I know a mainstream audience is not willing to listen to an hour-and-a-half of a Q&A. So the hard part is figuring out what that nugget is that I want to share. You can get eight minutes from an hour-and-a-half that will tell a story, but it’s really hard to get to that eight minutes and to make those decisions. Because I’m a historian, I will listen to, you know, listen to them talk for very long time. But a broad audience isn’t interested in that. So that’s the tough part for me. It’s figuring out what to cut from their interview and how to shape a story that makes sense.

Cathy [06:30]: You have a really long history in the nonprofit world in addition to your work in these kinds of digital projects. And I know you’ve done a lot of fantastic work helping social justice organizations develop leadership and particularly sustain themselves over time, which is something that movement-based organizations have really struggled with over the years. And I’m curious what kind of challenges you see social justice nonprofits or community organizations facing in the coming years, particularly given our rather changed political and cultural landscape.

Alice [07:02]: Well, I think that’s something that a lot of grassroots organizations are thinking through in different ways than mainstream institutions. What I see going on with grassroots organizations is more collaboration that is beyond just transactional in terms of, “Oh yes, I could sign onto your campaign and you sign onto mine.” Instead what I see is a greater connectivity and relationship building between social justice organizations. Patience.

I also see that happening with mainstream institutions too because we can’t do it alone. And once again, there’s that realization. One organization cannot fix everything. We’re being attacked on all sides and on all different kinds of issues. So what’s a way for us to build a stronger ecosystem of folks doing something? Criminal justice, other folks working on immigration, other folks working on reproductive justice— how do we connect? So I think there’s more solidarity movements happening along those lines.

[08:07] And you asked what, you know, what can we do? I think my suggestion—and I see this happening too—is taking time out. I think “self-care” is used a lot and I don’t mean like let’s get massages and you know, manicures and pedicures. I think really what it is is to take stock and be reflective of the fact that this work is hard and it takes a mental and physical toll. So what can we do to sustain ourselves so that we’re not physically and mentally depleted? How do we continue to, like, deposit love, energy, compassion to ourselves and to the other people who are doing this work? And I see a lot of groups being intentional around, “Okay, we’re not going to work until, you know, until 12 midnight or we’re not going to work until, you know, we’re just so wiped out that the next day we have to come but completely depleted. We’re going to start integrating a meditation. We’re going to start integrating, you know, that community care for ourselves.” So for me, I’m thinking of the long term and really paying attention to that physical and mental wellbeing stuff that I don’t think we thought about a lot in the past. And I see that’s a big change.

Cathy [09:18]: Do you find that particular generations of activists heed this lesson a little bit more than others?

Alice [09:24]:  You know what’s funny? I think in some ways it’s the younger generation that is teaching us, “we’re not going to kill ourselves for the movement.” Like they’re the ones who are practicing more self-care and they’re the ones who are saying, “You know what? I think we have to pay attention to these other kinds of things.” And that to me is more about an older generation feeling like they had to put everything into it and at all costs to be that true activist or the community builder. I’m going to have to sacrifice this is for the movement and I’m going to let social stuff’s kind of fall by the wayside or I’m going to let my family fall by the wayside. And I think this is different for different genders and how this happens, but I’ve been thinking a lot about queer women of color activists who tend to die young or who have breast cancer, who get all these diseases, and I think that’s because they haven’t been paying attention. And I feel like the younger generation is actually paying more attention to their health and wellbeing and they’re the ones who are teaching the older generation to slow down a little bit. It’s interesting to me to see how different generations are learning from each other in that particular way. So we’re good.

Cathy [10:34]: We’re coming up on the 20th anniversary of the groundbreaking collection that you coedited with David Eng called Q&A: Queer and Asian in America. Related to this theme of what has changed, what have you kind of seen change over the over those years? I’m curious how the kind of queer Asian American studies and community-building landscape has shifted. Have you seen it shift since the original publication of that book?

Alice [10:58]:  Yeah, completely. And the shift, you know, it’s going to be 20 years old this year, so I feel like my baby has grown up and as an adult now. When we started that anthology in the early ‘90s, David and I were both graduate students at the time and the majority of the people who wrote for Q&A were either graduate students or activists and community members. And now some of those folks are now, you know, tenured professors, they’re immersed in their fields. They’re well known in their fields. And I think what’s changed is you have had a generation of people, academics and scholars, who knew that there was something called queer Asian American studies and that they actually could have an academic career in that and, you know, publish books and publish articles about that and become a professor. So there’s many queer Asian American professors in academia now. They’re publishing monographs.

[11:54] The fields just broaden that way. What’s interesting is that, you know, we’re putting a Q&A 2.0 together right now, and I’m working with Martin Manalansan and Kale B. Fajardo. Those two folks, Martin and Kale, are professors and I’m kind of like the academic adjacent because I’m not in academia. I’m more of like the community member/community historian, which I like. I wanted to make sure that this new anthology continues to have voices outside of academia and activists who are on the ground doing work that doesn’t get documented or it doesn’t get presented in academic ways or in academic institutions.

Cathy [12:37]: So this brings me to my absolute favorite question that I get to ask guests, which really gets at the heart of the kind of work that you’re doing. So obviously this podcast is called Imagine Otherwise and one of the things that I get to talk with people about is how they do that—how they imagine and build a better world. What does that world look like to you? What is this world that you’re working towards when you edit anthologies, when you put together your podcast, when you go back to some of those really fantastic oral histories that you gathered in and look at them in new ways? What is the world that you’re working towards? What kind of world do you want?

Alice [13:10]:  You know, I’d have to refer back to Audre Lorde. She gave a speech in the 1979 March on Washington. She said, “I want to live in a world where our children can be free from racism, sexism, classism, homophobia because those oppressions are inseparable.” She said that in 1979, I say this in 2018. That’s the world that I want to live in. I want to live in a world where it’s free of all kinds of oppressions, recognizing that all of those oppressions are inseparable. That’s the work that I do. So I feel very much connected to how things have not changed. There’s progress, but we are still living in a world where these oppressions exists.

[14:00] I’m working with a group of 50 people and we’re calling it “seven generations work,” where we think about seven generations behind us and seven generations ahead of us. And what can we learn from, you know, the 150 years or so in the past so that what we do right now in 2018 is going to ensure that 150 years later it can be different and we can move towards that world that I’ve been wanting, which is one free of oppression, one where there is love and compassion and that all people can feel like they belong? That’s what I’ve been working towards, you know, when I write about this podcast, this digital archive. It’s all towards belonging, knowing, and then activating. And I feel like I’m working with other people who do that as well.

Cathy [14:45]: Well thank you so much for being with us and sharing your vision of imagining otherwise.

Alice [14:50]: Thank you. I’ve been happy to talk to you, Cathy

Cathy [14:57]: [upbeat music in background] Thanks for listening to another episode of Imagine Otherwise. Imagine Otherwise is produced by Ideas on Fire and this episode was created by Christopher Persaud, Rebecca Reynolds, Michelle Velasquez-Potts, and myself, Cathy Hannabach.

You can check out the show notes for this episode on our website at ideasonfire.net where you can also read about our fabulous guest as well as find links to the people and projects we discuss on the show. [music fadeout]