Open City: Blogging Urban Change
Artist Feature: Kit Yan & Sometimes Home
By Peggy Lee


In December of last year at Project REACH located on Eldridge Street, Kit Yan and poets Regie Cabico and D’Lo workshopped  2 Dicks and a Diva with an audience for two nights. I went on the second night and was impacted by the intertwining narratives of these prominent queer poets revealing what life on the road as a touring performance poet meant. 2 Dicks and a Diva began with the glamor of the stage and quickly exposed the not so glamorous underbelly of the hustling poet life: college tours usually involving sleeping arrangements on an undergraduate’s couch, the difficulty of maintaining romantic relationships, no health benefits, scheduling consistent gigs for future rent, gas money, and food, and the isolation one can feel writing alone or performing on stage. I left the show with a renewed understanding of the deep and complex commitment these poets had to community, and the release of fixed meanings of “home.” At his Prospect Heights apartment, I had the opportunity to ask Kit Yan more about his impulse to home as an on-the-road artist and further, his migration history, intimately linked to Chinatown(s).

Kit immigrated from Yenping, China and grew up on the island of Oahu until he was 18 years old. During his childhood, his family bounced from neighborhood to neighborhood: living in the outskirts of the Honolulu Chinatown, moving more inland, and then returning to the city. He describes the Chinatown in Hawaii as small in comparison to the many Chinatowns that have lined his tours from San Francisco to NYC. Chinatown, aside from being a place to go in a city, is where he touches base and always feels welcomed. When I asked him about growing up near Honolulu Chinatown, he describes how re-visiting those memories can be both painful and colorful. Growing up poor, he remembers his mom sorting through rotten produce thrown out by groceries, while simultaneously re-calling how magically bountiful Chinatown felt on New Years or during dim sum.

After high school, Kit left Hawaii for Boston to attend college and afterwards worked in the heart of Boston’s Chinatown. First, he worked at an insurance office and then at his last stint before exiting the nine to five world, worked for affordable housing at the Asian Community Development Corporation. He had a strong experience with his queerness in Boston’s Chinatown. For National Coming Out Day, he wrote an op-ed with the help of Andy Marra for a widely read Chinese and English language paper. He wrote a story about coming out as queer and trans to his family. He didn’t know what would happen, especially since he wasn’t out to his previous job, but knew that everybody was going to read it. The following week, he received an overwhelmingly positive response mostly from people his parent’s and grandparent’s generation and was often stopped in the street to talk about his piece.

Kit has now been living in New York City for almost three years. He moved to the city because his former touring partner wanted to be here. He describes living in NYC as temporary, finding life to be too fast-paced, and the sense of community a little fragmented just because there are so many people here. He plans on giving NYC another 2 years. On home, Kit says, “Home feels like a lot of places to me at the moment. New York is sometimes home, Boston is home, Hawaii, my car while on tour, wherever my friends and chosen family are. I have no strong attachment to a fixed home because it just takes on so many meanings.”

Recently Featured in the HBO Documentary Asians Aloud, Kit Yan tell stories through slam poetry from the lens of a transgender Asian American from Hawaii now lost in the big city of New York. Through touching love poems, dirty sex accounts(optional), and comedic tales of his childhood –Kit takes you on a journey that is raw, real, heart-wrenching, and unforgettable.

Kit’s work has been taught at universities coast to coast, from San Francisco State to Harvard. He spoke to over 200,000 from the stage of the 2009 National Equality March, performed on the San Francisco Pride main stage, and is a nationally ranking slam poet. Kit Yan is first ever and reigning Mr. Transman 2010.

Please check out his Kickstarter and support:

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About Open City
Open City: Blogging Urban Change is an interdisciplinary neighborhood blog and community project coordinated by the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. Five commissioned writers, called Organizing Fellows, are working with community organizations and neighborhood folks in Manhattan’s Chinatown/Lower East Side (LES), Flushing, Queens, and Sunset Park, Brooklyn to collect oral histories and interviews, offer commentary about gentrification, neighborhood change, and produce new creative work around these themes. Read more.
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Featured Profile
CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities was formed in 1986 (formerly known as the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence) as a response to an increase in anti-Asian hate crimes both in New York City and around the country (which included violence by police officers against Asians).
They have two offices – one in Manhattan’s Chinatown (which houses the Chinatown Tenants Union, and the new Asian Youth in Action organizing project) and the Youth Leadership Project office in the Bronx – and have members from all over the city. Over the years, CAAAV’s main campaigns have focused on community-based organizing work rooted in Asian immigrant and refugee communities. Although their advocacy and organizing work is focused mainly in Manhattan’s Chinatown and the northwest Bronx, CAAAV’s work also touches upon larger issues (such as affordable housing, war, and immigration) shaping communities all over the world: “Our work is primarily centered around issues facing New Yorkers, but always with a global analysis.”
CAAAV’s mission is to organize and build the power of working-class Asian immigrants, refugees, and youth to change concrete conditions and participate in a broader social justice movement. In the past, CAAAV’s work included organizing South Asian taxi drivers, Korean women workers, and Filipina domestic workers. Several of these organizing projects have gone on to become their own organizations, such as the New York Taxi Workers Alliance and Domestic Workers United. CAAAV’s current work focus on three different program areas: Read more.

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Community Announcements
Manhattan CB3 Land Use, Zoning, Public & Private Housing Committee
Monday, May 2 at 6:30 pm -- Rutgers Community Center, Gymnasium - 200 Madison Street (btwn Rutgers & Pike Sts)

Brooklyn CB7, Land Use/Landmarks Committee Regular meeting
Continued discussion on potential 8th Avenue rezoning

Manhattan CB3 Economic Development Committee Tuesday, May 3 at 6:30pm -- Community Board 3 Office - 59 East 4th Street (btwn 2nd Ave & Bowery)

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