The Asian American Writers’ Workshop’s magazine launch party expected only around 300 guests to come and support their three new titles, but ended up hosting a much larger audience of all races and ethnicities.
“There were over at least 1,000 people at the party over the course of the night, likely more,” said Sara Faye Lieber, writer and digital media strategist for AAWW.
Participants ranged from Theresa Li, an activist for DREAM Act, to Marguerite Desir, a designer from the West Indies with diamond-studded sunglasses and a heavily beaded necklace.
“It’s connecting the dots together,” Ms. Desir said. “I believe we are all connected, and in not staying to one tradition and spreading it out.”
The crowd only quieted down to a loud murmur when the party’s main event began and speakers such as artist Julio Salgado, Bhangra music mixer DJ Rekha, Queens poet laureate Ishle Park, writer Tao Lin and Christina Xu, founder of the Awesome Foundation, took the stage. Even then Comedy Central’s Hari Kondabalu, sent several quips towards the food and drinks stands in addition to his repertoire of race-related jokes.
The crowd’s variety could be because the AAWW was launching three magazines—The Margins, Open City and CultureStrike. The three publications cover a large range of issues.
The Margins is AAWW’s flagship magazine, which its website calls a “bold new online magazine dedicated to inventing the Asian American creative culture of tomorrow.” CultureStrike is a publication dedicated to immigration issues. Open City, as executive director Ken Chen observes, is a “New York Magazine for the places that are rarely portrayed…Jackson Heights, Richmond Hill, Chinatown, Sunset Park and Flushing.”
So why come out with three magazines at once? Open City and CultureStrike have been in soft launch, but that night they shared the spotlight with The Margins as new and reinvented publications.
Mr. Chen cited the fact that according to the 2010 census, Asians and Latinos are the fastest growing racial groups.
“People of color make up almost 70% of the New York population, but you wouldn’t be aware of this fact if you went to a typical literary reading or opened most New York-based magazines,” said Chen. “So what we want to do is to create a platform of editorial content that really affected what it means to be American or global citizen in the 21st century.”
Chen also emphasized the magazines’ inclusion of ethnicities other than Asian American. “We’re trying to show that Asian American literature is for everyone, not just Asians and not just for immigrants,” he remarked. “We want to involve people who never thought of themselves as having anything to say about these topics.” (Such writers include Junot Díaz, Teju Cole, Dream Hampton, and Mike Davis.)
It’s certainly a change from AAWW’s earlier days. Ms. Park, who attended AAWW workshops at the turn of the century, said that then the demographic was more Asian Americans of older ages in their 30s and 40s.
“The APAJ [AAWW’s first publication] has been replaced by all this other stuff,” she said. “You can see this crowd out here, how diverse and hip it is. It’s reaching this urban hip audience it wasn’t able to before. It’s serving the community in fresh and good ways.”
By contrast, the group gathered last night was a bunch of hip young people, many of who were Ms. Park’s friends, former students or fans. The Queen of Queens, tan and dressed in a loose dress, seemed comfortable with the excited group milling about her to take pictures.
Famously awkward poet and writer Mr. Lin, on the other hand, did not.
Nibbling alternatively on a cucumber and on his nails, Mr. Lin said he had not written about Asian American issues.
So why was he here?
“That’s just because I’m a known Asian,” he said. “My work doesn’t cover identity.” Would it in the future? “I doubt it, but maybe.”
Meanwhile, the wooden frame of Mr. Salgado’s print machine churned up and down as fast as he could spread out the paper and the paint. Behind him the prints, featuring a portrait of his family, were disappearing almost before the pages floated to the floor.
“My parents are not criminals, they are courageous. So that’s why I made this image specifically—I want to give it away,” the artist, who focuses on the issue of identity in terms of immigration and sexuality, said.
“The issue of immigration is not just a Latino issue. I know a lot of students from the API who are undocumented. It’s important that we work together and use art,” he said. “I think that art can be used as a tool of empowerment for our community.”
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