Kristy Moua, Contributor
Why did I feel like a foreigner as I anxiously sat in the Asian Pacific American Resource Center, surrounded by students and faculty who were all affiliated with the University of Minnesota? I began to adjust myself to the new environment that surrounded me, feeling different and knowing that I am not normally part of this community. How ironic that I felt this way and that the name of the workshop that I attend was titled: “We Are the Other.”
Wing Young Huie was the guest speaker for this workshop; he is a Minnesotan, Chinese American man who is a freelance photographer. The coordinators of the event began to state that this was the very first workshop to a brand-new series, “This World Is Ours to Build: (Re)claiming AAPI Stories.” AAPI stands for Asian American and Pacific Islanders. The organizers continued to explain the necessity of this series, for the goal is to establish the importance and power that APPI stories contain.
Then Huie arrived; he plugged his computer onto the screen and pulled up the first slide. The first three words appeared on the screen: “Who am I?”
Huie began his presentation with such a powerful, open-ended question. He started to interact with us, asking if any of us knew who we were. No one raised their hands. Then, Huie asked if any of us were still trying to find our identity. Everyone raised their hands. After this, Huie began to share his life story. He was raised in Duluth, Minn., in his family of five. Both of his parents were Chinese immigrants. After establishing this foundation, Huie showed a class photo of him when he was in elementary school. The photographer shared that he never once had any other Asian peers growing up as a child until he meet another student who looked like him in high school. Huie said: “It was like I was looking at a mirror.” That student was someone Huie tried to avoid, later realizing it was because the other Asian student was a piece of reality Huie had tried to ignore.
Huie began to talk about who the first people he took photos of were, which were his mother and father. The artist then explained how he was never close to his father. Huie’s father was a busy man and was always working at their family restaurant. It was Huie’s photography project about his father’s impact in Duluth that allowed him to understand his dad a bit more. Afterwards, Huie showed works that contained the authenticity of random individuals living their lives, pictures that captured diverse communities and people with various identities.
Huie then discussed how he first went to China eight years ago and how he noticed his Americanness there. He got to meet Chinese students who had dreams and ambitions. He began a new project about what his life could have be like if he had lived the life of a typical Chinese man. Huie took photos of himself and other Chinese men in the same position, side-by-side, with the same clothes on.
I began to realize as Huie explained his work how powerful it was to wear the clothing of someone else. It is similar to the quote telling us to put ourselves in other people’s shoes. Everyone present was there to listen to a man who captures stories and has a story. I realized that everyone there yearned for a story like Huie’s to be told: a story that breaks the stereotypes and humanizes Asian Americans; a story that can give Asian Americans the strength to be vocal, feel empowered and to find healing. And I thought to myself, this is why storytelling is a part of who I am.
This article was originally published in the March 1, 2019 issue.