Asian American Tarot
What does care look like on a community level?
For some time we’ve agreed there’s a crisis of Asian American mental health—we keep pointing to the alarming CDC reports on Asian American suicide and suicidal ideation rates. But nobody agrees on the breadth of the crisis, what contributes to it, or how to deal with it. We’re grasping only some small fraction of Asian American unwellness.
Rather than trying to recalibrate our existing mental health resources to better engage race and Asian American experience, what if we started on the opposite end, with what wellness, unwellness, and care actually look like in Asian American life?
In the spirit of fortune-telling practices so prevalent in our communities, we’re creating a new deck of tarot cards, featuring original art and text that work to reveal the hidden contours of our Asian American emotional, psychic, and spiritual lives, as well as the systems of violence that bear down upon them. Replacing the 22 archetypes of the traditional major arcana (e.g., the Empress, the Hierophant, the Wheel of Fortune, etc.) are figures drawn directly from Asian American life--the Migrant, the Foreigner, the Shopkeeper, the Adoptee, the Model Minority, the Desecrated Temple--that we’ve asked some of our communities’ most exciting artists, poets, and writers to reinterpret.
Because Asian American wellness fundamentally depends upon anti-racism, our deck is an anti-racist hack for the traditional deck: take out the existing major arcana, insert ours, and voila! An Asian American mental health tarot, a little self-care magic.
The Asian American Tarot deck is part of a larger project titled Open in Emergency: A Special Issue on Asian American Mental Health, to be published in January 2017, that we see as both a vitally important rethinking of mental health and an arts-based self-care package for our communities. It’s AALR’s most ambitious project yet, and we need your help to fund it and get it out into the world.
AALR is a small, independent arts nonprofit based in the Washington, DC area. We have no endowment, no grant support, and no direct institutional funding--we rely entirely upon private donors, project-based sponsorships, and our subscriber base so that we can publish without fear, without strings attached. Our all-volunteer staff has been working on this mental health project since late 2014--a small team of one guest editor (Mimi Khúc) and five guest curators (erin Khuê Ninh, Eliza Noh, Tamara C. Ho, Long Bui, and Audrey Wu Clark), though it’s been a process of what we like to think of as “community curation”: we’ve convened a number of public dreaming sessions to shape and grow the project with many voices involved. So far we’ve raised over $3,000 in sponsorships (scroll down to see full listing of sponsors), and we’re devoting $7,600 of our organizational operating budget. We have $10,000 to go to cover the cost of the tarot deck layout, printing, and distribution, with a larger goal of $15,000 to totally fund the production and mailing costs of all of Open in Emergency. Please help us get there!
Your contribution can help get copies of the issue, including the tarot deck, into the hands of the folks who need it most. We want to donate copies to community and counseling centers, QTPoC and multicultural resource centers, and shelters across the country. (We're already at work on a national teaching program that will connect college and university classrooms across the country.) If you have local spaces in mind that could use a copy, or could help distribute free copies to those who can’t afford them, we’d love to work with you—we need your help identifying spaces of need and getting issues out into our communities.
Here’s the full lineup of major arcana cards, visual artists, and writers:
Death • the Scholar • the Migrant • the Lovers • the Mother • the Patient • the Foreigner • the Fool • the Ancestor • the Farmer • the Shopkeeper • the Adoptee • the Lecher • the Survivor • the Daughter • the Model Minority • the Refugee • the Prisoner • the Desecrated Temple • the Deportee • the Hangman • the Devil
Shawna Yang Ryan • Long Bui • Sueyeun Juliette Lee • Rajiv Mohabir • Wo Chan • Maya Soetoro-Ng • Jennifer Ho • Konrad Ng • Tanwi Nandini Islam • Gerald Maa • Simi Kang • Brandon Som • Matthew Salesses • Mimi Khúc & Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis • Tanwi Nandini Islam • Aimee Nezhukumatathil • David Kyuman Kim • Mimi Thi Nguyen • Margaret Rhee • Anida Yoeu Ali • James Kyung-Jin Lee • Sharon Suh
Monica Ong • Monica Ramos • Simi Kang • Camille Chew
Other featured pieces in Open in Emergency include:
- a foldout testimonial tapestry—a collectively woven tapestry of written and visual testimonials, a process-oriented art piece that reimagines community care & healing;
- a “hacked” mock DSM: Asian American Edition—a new catalog of “definitions”/reflections, with alternate understandings of un/wellness and critiques of Psychology as field, discourse, and industry;
- performance artist/comedian Kristina Wong reflecting on her decade of art and activism on Asian American women's suicide;
- scholar Jigna Desai on neurodiversity, disability, and race;
- a queer mixed race WOC self-care package by artist/scholar Genevieve Erin O'Brien;
- prose work rethinking mental health by Johanna Hedva, Karen Tei Yamashita, David Mura, Sejal Shah, Kai Cheng Thom, erin Khue Ninh, Eliza Noh, Laura Uba, Aileen Duldulao, James Kyung-jin Lee, Kathleen Yep, Cynthia Wu, David Kyuman Kim, Chad Shomura, Peggy Lee, Shawna Yang Ryan, and Paisley Rekdal;
- Bhanu Kapil on the psychic legacies of Partition;
- "Keanu wellness memes" by Mimi Thi Nguyen;
- an excerpt from Saymoukda Vongsay's play Kung Fu Zombies vs. Shaman Warrior examining conceptions of mental illness as demonic possession in Lao communities;
- an art piece by Gerald Maa exploring linkages between CIA torture and the American Psychological Association;
- a photography series on fear by Julie Thi Underhill;
- a “treated” pamphlet on postpartum depression—a redaction/erasure/annotation of existing postpartum depression info-literature that centers lived experience of Asian American mothers, by Audrey Wu Clark, Sharline Chiang, and Pooja Makhijani; and
- a stack of daughter-to-mother letters—handwritten letters tracing intergenerational intimacies and violences by, among others, novelist Joy Kogawa, novelist le thi diem thuy, poet (and adoptee) Jennifer Kwon Dobbs, queer and trans poet Kit Yan, poet Tarfia Faizullah, and trans activist and writer Ryka Aoki.
If you'd like to support the project but have limited funds, please contact us at email@example.com. Besides identifying spaces of need for distributing the issue, we'd love your help coordinating livetime and web events, and if you're a teacher, we'd love to loop you into our national teaching program, which will connect classrooms across the country to teach and learn together about Asian American mental health.
Be sure to scroll down to see all the rewards! (THERE ARE COOKIES!!!) Beyond the limited edition elements of Open in Emergency, we have a number of customized, personalized giveaways. Margaret Rhee or Sueyeun Juliette Lee will write you a poem. We've got tons of signed books. Genevieve Erin O'Brien is offering a collector's set of self-care cards (with felt carrying case!), and Matty Huynh teamed up with Pulitzer-prize winning novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen to create a one-of-kind squid art piece. And the cookies! Dark chocolate chunk walnut brown-butter sea salt cookies and chewy cornflake marshmallow dark chocolate chunk Momofuku-style cookies, lovingly prepared by the guest editor.
University of Maryland Asian American Studies Program • Institute for Asia and Asian Diasporas at Binghamton University of the State University of New York • The Ohio State University Asian American Studies • Arizona State University Asian Pacific American Studies Program • Asian American Student Union (AASU), University of Maryland • Celebrating Asian American Pacific Islander Womxn (CAAPIW) • University of California, Irvine Department of Asian American Studies • University of California, Berkeley Program in Asian American and Asian Diaspora Studies • Shift MN, a program of Rainbow Health Initiative • University of Connecticut Asian and Asian American Studies Institute • Asian/Pacific/American Institute at NYU • UMass Lowell Center for Asian American Studies • Kundiman • Department of English, Clark University • Betsy Huang • National Asian Pacific Americans Families Against Substance Abuse (NAPAFASA) • English Department, Mt. Holyoke
Risks and challenges
If Asian American Tarot: A Mental Health Project is funded, we plan to finish layout for the tarot cards later this summer and begin printing, and they'll be ready for distribution by January 2017, individually and as part of Open in Emergency.
Publishing this kind of innovative, formally inventive, social justice-oriented project requires tremendous effort and a lot of resources. But AALR has eight years of publishing experience, a sharp, dedicated team, and a wonderful community of volunteers, supporters, and advocates. We're confident that we'll be able to follow through on all we've promised.
As we build this project and get it into the hands of folks who need it--thank you for your support. Thank you for recognizing Asian American mental health as a crisis that needs a new kind of intervention. We're profoundly grateful for your faith and help.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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