belonging, Community, Values

On Belonging: From Hopes for Chinatown to Black Lives Matter to Anti-Asian Sentiment to Racial Solidarity

I became interested in making art about belonging in 2016, coinciding with the beginning of this Presidential administration and its policies which told Muslims, Mexican and Central American migrants, and trans people: “You don’t belong here.”

Over the past few years, the importance of belonging has been continually affirmed by the way othering characterizes American society now: political divisiveness, racism, xenophobia, the increased visibility of white supremacist groups, the murders of Black Americans by police and vigilantes, and the failure of the justice system to value Black lives.

Whenever I hear of a “___ while black” incident, I see it through a lens of belonging: white privilege allows a white person to feel entitled to police another’s belonging. It’s on the same spectrum of othering with victims in the movement for Black lives. Ahmaud Arbery’s murderers didn’t have to say, “Go back to where you came from” or “You don’t belong here” because that’s implicit in the decision to follow him while carrying a loaded firearm. When no one is charged for murdering Breonna Taylor, it communicates that being Black entails an exemption from belonging in a civil society where citizens can expect to be safe in their homes and live free from senseless state violence. When the justice system fails Black victims of police misconduct, it says that Black people don’t belong to the privileged class for whom justice will be served.

This spring, fear of the coronavirus triggered latent Sinophobia to become explicit in a wave of anti-Asian incidents. Art institutions posted pledges to speak up if they witness anti-Asian hate. (While I appreciate the allyship, I resent the necessity of promising to do the right thing. Decency should be enough, but othering robs us of our humanity, so we have to reiterate that we deserve basic civility.)

Yuanyuan Zhu—who works at Chinese Culture Center and has been an enthusiastic, crucial collaborator of my belonging projects—experienced a hate incident in San Francisco in March. In my Hopes for Chinatown project—bridging Art, Culture, and Belonging and 100 Days Action’s Art for Essential Workers—YY shared her hope for Chinatown:

“Less discrimination. More understanding.”

Photo of artwork being installed on graffiti-covered plywood covering storefront windows.

Christine Wong Yap, “Hopes for Chinatown,” 2020, site-specific public art: participation, hand-lettering, digital print, 80 x 148 inches and 96 x 48 inches. Commissioned and installed by 100 Days Action for Art for Essential Workers. Photo by Jeremiah Barber.

In the past 10 days, despite the ongoing pandemic, American uprisings have sprung up in all 50 states to insist that the police misconduct and anti-Black state violence will no longer be tolerated.

I am hopeful that this is an inflection point in history towards social change. As individuals and communities facing reckonings, the time is ripe for Asian Americans to confront our anti-blackness and white supremacy. In fact, coronavirus-related anti-Asian sentiment provides an opportunity to develop our understanding of systemic racism and the need for Black solidarity.

We APAs want to stop anti-Asian hate. We want people to know: We are not the virus. We want to not be perpetual outsiders. We want our belonging to not be conditional.

If we truly want less discrimination and more understanding, we have to do our part: to recognize that we have benefitted from advancements in civil rights won through Black struggle, to acknowledge that the model minority myth has been used to invalidate systemic oppression faced by Black people, and to address and rectify anti-Blackness pervasive in our communities. We have to stop othering Black people so we can see our struggles for justice and belonging in America are connected and intertwined.

 


Resources


Black Lives Matter Solidarity Statement and Phrases in Chinese

As a public service in language accessibility, I asked the Chinese Culture Center to share the text of their solidarity statement with me so I can post it here. You are welcome to copy and paste the Chinese phrases for use in activism supporting Black lives and justice.

Chinatown in Solidarity with Black Lives Matter
華埠與“黑人的生命很重要”堅定地站在一起

CCC adds our voice in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and all people who are committed to justice and equity.

We are deeply saddened and outraged by the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and the countless other lives lost to state-sanctioned violence. We send our heartfelt condolences to the families, hold space for your pain and rage, and share in a feeling of loss for those who are mourning loved ones taken from their communities.

Chinatown and Asian Americans across the country are deeply committed to equity and empowerment. We honor and acknowledge the leadership of the black community during the Civil Rights Movement that paved the way for many Asian American organizations to rise up and serve our communities. Institutional racism and violence against black lives must end.

舊金山文化中心與“黑人的生命很重要”運動及致力於正義和平等的所有人發聲。

我們對喬治·佛洛依德和哈迈德·阿伯里被謀殺以及其他無數因國家暴力行為而失去生命的人深感痛心及憤怒,為此保留空間以感同身受。

華埠及全美各地亞裔群體齊心致力於平等與民權。我們尊重及感謝非裔社區在民權運動期間的領導,為許多美國亞裔組織的崛起和社區服務的發展鋪平了道路。針對非裔群體的制度性種族歧視和暴力必須結束。

Black Lives Matter.
黑人的命也是命。
黑人的生命很重要。
黑人的命是珍貴的。

No justice, no peace. 沒有正義就沒有和平。

⁣⁣In solidarity,⁣⁣

CCC Team- Hoi, Jenny, Jia, Sheng, Weiying, Yuanyuan
中華文化中心團隊: 梁凱瑤,  梁凱欣, 柳嘉潔, Sheng, 于濰穎, 朱媛媛

For our AAPI community members looking for a place to work on personal development and learn more about solidarity, check out Chinese Progressive Association’s Asian American Racial Justice Toolkit at www.asianamtoolkit.org/.
對於美國亞太裔社區成員,如果想咨詢關於個人發展並了解更多團結一致的信息,請訪問www.asianamtoolkit.org/,查看華人進步會的“亞裔種族正義工具包”。

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belonging

Cultivating Belonging through Reflection

Writing to recognize and affirm how people, activities, or places shape a sense of belonging.

Art, Culture, and Belonging in S.F. Chinatown

An animated GIF, with the text "How do art and culture shape your sense of belonging" in English and Chinese. Illustrated below are a woman and a man talking while writing on a sheet of paper. The woman has a thought bubble about shopping for a Chinese dress with friend. The man has a thought bubble depicting a boy holding a drawing of an anime character, and a gender fluid person holding a drawing of a Chinese character. Then there is text, "Share your story or learn more at ChristineWongYap.com" in English and Chinese text.

I’m currently the lead artist in a project exploring how arts and culture inform belonging in San Francisco Chinatown in partnership with the Chinatown Arts and Culture Coalition and the Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco.

We are inviting anyone with a connection to SF Chinatown to submit your story of belonging. You can submit your story online now through March 31. I’ll be publishing and interpreting stories in a publication and art exhibit scheduled for Fall 2020. This project is part of the groundwork for the cultural district designation process, which would bring valuable city resources to the neighborhood.

S.F. Chinatown and social distancing

It goes without saying that health and safety are the #1 priority right now. Many people are busy just coping with closures and disruptions.

So belonging might be perceived as lower priority. But I think belonging is especially important now for mental health and the health of a community.

Mental health can be harmed by isolation and social distancing. A lot of people might be feeling ‘othered,’ especially Asians, and anyone with a sniffle (not to mention Asians with a sniffle, like me). It may be a struggle to feel a sense of belonging.

Community life is severely impacted everywhere—especially in Chinatowns, where small businesses have been hit hard by lost revenue due to xenophobia/Sinophobia, social distancing, and the loss of tourism. Two restaurants in Oakland Chinatown have temporarily shuttered. Many folks living in SF Chinatown are elderly, kids, low-income, or English language learners for whom seeking health care or social services may be challenging. For many jobs in Chinatown, working from home is not an option.

SF Chinatown is the most densely populated urban area west of Manhattan. Fifteen thousand residents live within 20 square blocks. The social hearts of Chinatown are in the markets, restaurants, cafes, bakeries, temples, and parks like Portsmouth Square. What happens when you’re discouraged from going to the places where you feel belonging?

Writing to reflect on belonging

Could remotely reflecting about your places of belonging—or the people, cultural activities, or foods that remind you that “I belong”—reinforce your sense of belonging?

In this project, Chinatown Arts and Culture Coalition has been collecting stories from their constituents locally. I also created a Google Form for people to submit their stories online, to give people the option to type, and to allow people who moved away to participate.

Now, the Google Form is a good option for people who have to stay home and refrain from large gatherings. I hope you consider participating and spreading the word.

Two memories

To put my theory into practice, here’s two personal anecdotes.

Nourishment in a bowl

For me, when I’m feeling sick, there’s nothing like a wonton noodle soup with savory strips of BBQ pork and bok choy for making me feel better. I can just imagine taking a bite of a pillowy with crunchy water chestnuts and ginger, and slurping up fat chewy noodles from a fragrant umami-laden broth that soothes the throat and warms the belly.

Photo of a red bowl with broth and wontons. A mug with possibly HK style milk tea, and a rice roll with a side of mustard.

Wonton soup from Sam Wo Restaurant, self-proclaimed as “the oldest restaurant in SF Chinatown”, 713 Clay Street, San Francisco Chinatown. Photo by Deccajpn D. from Yelp. You can order Wonton Soup with BBQ Pork from Sam Wo via Postmates.

There’s something really deep about how much emotional warmth and connection are shared between Asians through the act of sharing food. When I was a kid, I really liked eating just the cooked wonton wrapper, with no meat filling. My mom would just drop a few extra pieces into the broth for me. I can easily imagine how much her heart swelled as she shared this gesture of love and saw my enjoyment, because I feel this same feeling now. When I cook for someone who cares deeply about me, and I can see that a home-cooked meal is meaningful to them, it’s a powerful feeling of gratitude to be able to nourish them, making your feelings tangible and gustatory.

The Tastiest Rituals

I have fond memories of going for dim sum with a large group of family. Even when I lived in Sonoma County, we’d make the hourlong family excursion to go to New Asia Restaurant, with its circular doorways lined in golden tiles.

A photo of diners around a glass lazy Susan loaded with dim sum dishes: rice rolls, chinese broccoli (gai lan), spring rolls, deep fried taro dumplings, shrimp dumplings (har gow), beef dumplings (siu mai), roast pork, roast duck

Dim sum at New Asia Restaurant, 772 Pacific Ave, San Francisco Chinatown. Photo by Sam Y. on Yelp. Locals can order from New Asia Restaurant on Postmates.

Dim sum brunch is a multi-sensory experience. First, there’s the roar of so many people crowded around dozens of 10-seater round tables. There’s the waiters and waitresses shouting out the names of their dim sum dishes as they roll their carts past, and having to flag them down before your favorite dish passes. There’s the rituals of tea: pouring from the pot with two fingers on the lid, tapping the table in a gesture of thanks, and propping the lid up to indicate the need for a refill.

When the food arrives, there’s the custom of serving entrees to your fellow diners’ tiny plates, demurrals of fullness be damned. There’s lazy Susan strategies: rotating to place the fresh entree in front of elders, nudging the tea pot so the handle doesn’t bump into cups, stacking empty bamboo steamers and plates.

There’s a diversity of tastes and textures—lacy fried taro root dumplings, glutenous steamed rice rolls, the forceful punch of soy sauce, the aroma of banana-leaf-wrapped rice with hunks of Chinese sausage and boiled peanuts, the negotiation of eating a plate-length stem of hoisin-drizzled gai lan with a pair of chopsticks. If you’re lucky, there’s warm, sweet red bean soup for dessert. The meal concludes with demonstrative, assertive haggling over who gets to foot the bill.

 

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Three Elements of Resilience for Better Coping

Some potentially useful skills and abilities of resilience.

I’ve been studying resilience over the past few months, and a few concepts with have been useful to me recently. 

Putting It In Perspective

Seeing the bigger picture, and paying attention to those who have it worse than us, can help make our problems seem relatively minor.

Drawing in pinks, reds, and purples of building blocks. Title: Seven Skills of resilience. There are seven building blocks, each labeled with a skill: Learning ABCs (adversity, beliefs, consequences). Avoiding Thinking Traps. Detecting Icebergs. Challenging Beliefs. Calming and Focusing. Putting it in Perspective. Realtime resilience.

For example, if you or your loved ones aren’t among the most vulnerable, and your priorities right now are non-life threatening, nor about serious economic hardship, it could be possible that they’re first-world problems. Trying to stick too stubbornly to your plans, being upset and inflexible about disruptions, and prioritizing personal gains or achievement goals might be over-investing in relatively minor concerns (over which you probably have limited control anyway).

It’s important for everyone to work together to flatten the curve of COVID-19. Personally, I’m relieved that employers, businesses, and organizations are temporarily closing to mitigate the spread of the pandemic. (This is a great example of society leading when government is flailing.) It’s a time for cooperation and making sacrifices for the vulnerable—as well as their caretakers and all health care workers.

Optimism

Recognizing when to be optimistic, and what we can control.

When to use optimism

Everyday, we’re evaluating risks and making decisions.

I love optimism, optimists, and being optimistic whenever possible. Still, I recognize the limits of optimism. When grave consequences are at stake, be wary of being too optimistic. (Trump’s bluster and uninformed overconfidence are so disrespectful of people’s intelligence and the gravity of COVID-19.) If you’re making a decision that could impact health—yours or society’s as whole—err on the side of caution.

Drawing on gridded vellum. Title: When to use optimism. Red circle

From Positive Signs, a series of 60 drawings interpreting positive psychology research and more. 2011, glitter and/or fluorescent pen with holographic foil print on gridded vellum, 11 x 8.5 inches.

On the other hand, if you’re making a decision with lower consequences, choose optimism. For example, maybe you want to check in on an elderly neighbor but you’re worried about social awkwardness. In the best case scenario, it’s welcome and helpful, and you both feel good. In the worst case, it’ll be awkward, not that big a deal.

What we can control

As Karen Reivich, PhD and Andrew Shatté, PhD, define it in “The Resilience Factor,” being optimistic is to believe we control the direction of our lives.

A drawing in bright chartreuse with a

From a suite of drawings I’m currently working on about resilience.

There is a lot we can’t control right now—travel restrictions, closures of businesses and schools, and diverted plans.

So what can we control?

We can be creative in fostering connection despite the disruptions. For example, sharing photos of families instead of photos of empty shelves and commiseration memes (H/T artist Risa Puno).

We can gather resources and share knowledge.

We can try to use time at home productively, such as brainstorming ways to generate income. [Artists can work on applications, update websites and CVs, and improve art storage and inventory records. For example, I recently make boxes for art that I’ve been meaning to pack.]

Or, we can choose to see the restrictions on movement as a chance to rest, reflect, and practice self-care (such as using yoga instructional videos on YouTube instead of going to the gym), or doubling down on our support of neighbors and our communities.

We can choose to take steps to manage anxiety, and stop obsessing about coronavirus news (H/T artist jenifer k wofford).

Reaching Out

For Reivich and Shatté, reaching out is both a skill of resilience as well as a use of resilience. One definition they offer is to enhance the positive aspects of life.

A colored pencil drawing in green and black. Shown: of an arm reach up with the text,

From a series of drawings on resilience currently in progress. 2020, colored pencil on paper, 12 x 9 inches.

We are in an unprecedented time, when everyday brings scary news, anxiety is high, and everyone is coping with uncertainty. This is a recipe for poor mental health. Balance the negative with positive: connection, joy, humor, generosity. I love the videos of Italians singing from balconies, and Iranian doctors dancing. These are much-needed reminders of the human spirit and resilience.

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belonging, Meta-Practice

Residency Wrap-Up: Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society Artist-in-Residence Program 2018–2019

The Who, What, When, Where, and How of my Haas residency

To help other artists interested in residencies, I usually write residency wrap-ups that give an inside look to my residency experience. I find that there is only so much information one can glean from the organization’s web site. The more you know about the residency, the easier it is to tell if the residency is for you and what to expect.

No two artists will have exactly the same residency experience. This is especially true when I’m writing about inaugural residencies, which may be seen as pilots by the organization. Regardless, I’ll share my experience for the sake of transparency.

Screenshot of Haas Institute's webpage announcing Artist in Residence 2018-2019

Who

Haas

The Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society is a research institute at UC Berkeley that explores many different areas related to inequity. One of those research areas is othering and belonging. You can learn more at Haas’ website, their section on othering and belonging, and on their YouTube channel with videos of past Othering & Belonging conferences.

AIR Coordinator

Evan Bissell is the Haas Institute’s Arts and Strategy Coordinator. He was my primary contact person at Haas. I met with him regularly and he conveyed Haas’ expectations to me. I think Evan is uniquely positioned to coordinate this residency program. He is a longtime community-oriented artist in the Bay Area who holds a Master’s in Public Health and City Planning and teaches on art and social change at UC Berkeley. I’m not an academic, and I was a little intimidated about partnering with a think tank. But Evan is fluent in art and research. His feedback on formal concerns and artistic process was helpful. And, his input on how the work fits or intersects with Haas’ work was reassuring and complementary. In many ways, he was like a “fixer,” who helped me figure out what kinds of support he or Haas could offer. In some aspects, such as in parts of the book, I thought of Evan more as a collaborator.

 

What

Haas invited artists essentially “to create original work… to illuminate and advance our understanding of belonging… [in projects] that explore practices of dialogue.”

The residency included:

  • a $10,000 honorarium
  • a platform at the Othering and Belonging conference (1,500 attendees)
  • amplification in the Haas Institute news magazine and digital media (here’s a link to an interview in their newsletter)
  • support from Haas staff

Additional funds for materials were considered. (I asked for about $6k to cover travel, materials, studio rental, printing, etc. Though I reside in NYC, I did not have to pay for accommodations since I could stay with family in the Bay Area.)

My Project

You can learn about the Belonging Project at Belonging.ChristineWongYap.com.

 

 

When

November 1, 2018 through May 1, 2019. (The webpage says it’s a year-long residency but it’s technically only six months—or only about five months leading up to the conference.) I was interviewed in early October and notified in mid-October.

The residency culminated with a display of the work at the Othering and Belonging Conference in early April.

My Time Line

I traveled to California three times for this project, for a combined total of about three months. I did two five-week stints. The first was for outreach; the second was for production. The third trip was to prep and attend the Othering and Belonging Conference.

The generous stipend allowed me to focus on this project for 30–50 hours per week from mid-November to late February.

The schedule was tight; I’ve encouraged Haas to allow future AIRs more time. It wasn’t just that six months is a short time. It was also the timing around the winter holidays. I found it challenging to schedule workshops and find volunteers since semesters and organizations’ programs were ending, and students were doing finals. I also happened to start my project right when the Bay Area was suffering extremely bad air quality days that disrupted school and work routines.

 

Where

Haas is located on the UC Berkeley campus. The program is actually more akin to fellowship in that you aren’t provided with a space. The Haas office is small, and not set up for an AIR. In fact, many Haas staff and researchers work remotely in far-flung locations.

Where I worked

For one month, I printed at Kala Art Institute. I was previously a Fellow at Kala, so I was familiar with Kala’s studio, staff, and rules. I asked them if they would barter studio fees for conference admission; they agreed. Going back to Kala was a great experience. The staff and community of artists wholeheartedly welcomed me. They handed over keys and letting me get to work right away. A sense of belonging and interdependence are tangible there. It feels like those values are in the DNA of the place. I spent many 10- to 12-hour days working there.

 

Aside from Kala, I worked at my family’s house and did offsite workshops and meetings all over the Bay Area, from Benicia to San José. Fortunately, I could borrow a family car. I transcribed, edited and designed in my apartment in NYC.

The conference

The conference was at the Oakland Convention Center in downtown Oakland. Haas gave me two columns which were 6 to 8’ wide each to display my project on. I created an interactive mapping activity, launched the book, displayed the bandannas, and showed a slide show of certificates on a video monitor they arranged for me.

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The columns inside the Oakland Convention Center where I presented my project during the Othering and Belonging Conference.

 

[Photos above: Courtesy of Lee Oscar Gomez.]

A bar chart titled "Which two qualities of belonging are salient to you and your place of belonging?" Responses from 104 attendees of the Othering and Belonging Conference 2019. Connectedness: 66. Authenticity: 23. Family: 22. Well-being: 22. Accepted: 19. Growth: 19. Familiarity: 13. Meaning: 12. Self-worth: 9. Agency 8. Safety: 8. Access: 7. Autonomy: 4. Confidence: 3. Continuity: 1.

In the mapping activity, I asked participants to pick two of the 15 qualities of belonging we identified in the book, 100 Stories of Belonging in the S.F. Bay Area. Participants selected connectedness almost 3x as often as the second-most selected quality, authenticity.

How

Application

Haas held an open call for applications for the AIR program. I can’t remember how I heard about it. The application was refreshingly streamlined. All you had to do was email a short letter of intent, a CV, and a link to a website (or 10 images, or 3 minutes of video). There was no fee to apply (hooray!)

From the pool of several dozen applicants, some were interviewed via video chat, and one was selected. I was honored to be selected, and doubly honored to learn that the jurors included Brett Cook (whose murals I’d admired for years) and Roberto Bedoya (who has written seminal essays on creative placemaking).

Process

First, I met with Evan and we started by self-organizing: I came up with a timeline, a budget, and a draft of outreach materials (I wrote my “dream” budget and a “get-by” budget, they opted for the “get-by” budget and I made it work). He gathered feedback from Haas staff, and I made amendments.

As anticipated, the outreach phase was the hardest part. Fortunately, I lived in the Bay Area for over 30 years, I worked with many organizations, and I knew a lot of artists and art professors. Evan helped by connecting me with groups, reaching out to his own networks, and hosting a dinner. Some groups reached out to me after seeing Haas’ announcements, or individuals submitted their story after seeing the call in Haas’ newsletter. Evan also helped out by having materials translated into Spanish.

All the submissions made a 170+ page Google doc. When I was working on compiling, reading, and editing the submissions, I got caught colds, twice in four weeks.

I was happy to be back at Kala and to enter the production stage. Printmaking is very humbling. You have to be methodical and plan thoroughly. I learned a lot.

Lessons and tips

The experience made me adopt some principles that systematically prioritize patience over productivity:

  • Never skip steps.
  • Don’t overbook your schedule.
  • Do one thing at a time.
  • Take breaks.

This makes for better results, a more sustainable pace, and a healthier and happier attitude.

From past residencies, I’ve learned:

  • Taper off production the last few days of a residency.
  • Leave a whole day to pack and ship projects and materials.

Administration

This is going to sound extremely boring and unsexy, but I think administration, communication, and organization were crucial to a successful partnership. This is an unusual residency in that Haas is most interested in belonging and dialogue; they leave you tons of leeway in how you structure and execute your project, who you choose to work with, what you ask for, where you work, and when you accomplish benchmarks. Being self-directed and having self-management skills are critical. Again, it sounds banal, but in my wrap-up phone call with Evan, we realized that since we’d kept each other informed along the way, there were no major surprises or changes we needed to debrief.

Getting reimbursed in the UC system involves a lot of paperwork. I recommend that future AIRs learn about the documentation requirements, be diligent about keeping receipts (especially anything related to travel), and expect that check turnarounds will be lengthy.

Afterword

This is a really amazing opportunity for any artist who wants to tackle a self-directed project around belonging in the context of researchers interested in city planning, public health and more. I’m so honored and grateful to have been the inaugural resident. It’s been a tremendous opportunity to realize this project, to partner with Haas, to collaborate with many supportive community organizations, and to be entrusted with so many contributors’ stories. I feel that the seeds of this project were planted in 2016, and the fruits of this labor can be nourishment for the future.

 


A Postscript

Years ago, I had the chance to be considered for a residency at a very large tech company in California. I declined because I knew I’d regret it (money comes, money goes, but regrets haunt me for years.) Later, when I learned that their residency came with a $10,000 stipend, I didn’t second-guess my convictions, but I couldn’t help but think about what I would do with that much money.

It just so happens that the Haas honorarium is the same amount as that tech company’s. I did this project for so many other reasons beside the money. But this coincidence reaffirms that I did the right thing saying no. I garnered the same amount of financial support without compromising my values. And I did it partnering with a deeply ethical organization that actively promotes values and social justice. This helps me feel a sense of self-congruence for me as an artist, the projects I make, and my greater purpose as a human. It gives me a sense of maturity and self-assurance about what I am doing, and that being true to my principles is always the right choice.

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belonging

New Book Released: 100 Stories of Belonging in the S.F. Bay Area

Book cover: 100 Stories of Belonging in the S.F. Bay Area, from the Belonging Project, by Christine Wong Yap & contributors. with a foreword by Evan Bissell

I’ve been working hard the past 3.5 months (that’s why I haven’t posted lately) finishing up the Belonging Project as an artist in residence at the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at UC Berkeley.

Check out Belonging.ChristineWongYap.com to learn more about or to purchase 100 Stories of Belonging in the S.F. Bay Area. The bandannas and the certificates of belonging are featured in the book, and I’ll post more photos of them on the website in the coming weeks.

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…art is—or should be—generous. But when working with place, artists can only give if they are receiving as well. The greatest challenges for artists lured by the local are to balance between making the information accessible and making it visually provocative as well; to innovate not just for innovation’s sake, not just for style’s sake, nor to enhance their reputation or ego, but to bring a new degree of coherence and beauty to the lure of the local. The goal of this kind of work would be to turn more people on to where they are, where they came from, where they’re going, to help people see their places with new eyes. Land and people—their presence and absence—makes place and its arts come alive. Believing as I do that connection to place is a necessary component of feeling close to people, and to the earth, I wonder what will make it possible for artists to “give” places back to people who can no longer see them, and be given places in turn, by those who are still looking around.

Lucy Lippard, “The Lure of the Local” (New Press, 1997)

Points of Reference: Lucy Lippard on “The Lure of the Local”

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belonging

Six days left to contribute your story to the Belonging Project

In the Belonging Project, your perspective is one of the “potential versions … that will be made concrete and visible” if—and only if—you share it. 

An atlas is a collection of versions of a place, a compendium of perspectives, a snatching out of the infinite ether of potential versions a few that will be made concrete and visible….

Rebecca Solnit, Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas(University of California Press, 2010).

Contribute your story! There’s only six days left until the January 2 deadline.

Maybe you feel a sense of belonging on a soccer field, at a health facility, or on your block. Maybe you carry your sense of belonging with you, and you feel it when you make new friends or are with a group of like-minded people. Maybe you don’t feel a sense of belonging—what circumstances would help you feel belonging?

All these stories are welcome! Please submit. Contributions will inform a book with essays, maps, and bandanas that I’m going to start printing next month! But I need your stories to start…

Think outside The City

So far, contributors have shared many places of belonging in San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley. That’s great. I love all the stories. But I also want to hear about places of belonging in Santa Clara, San Mateo, Contra Costa, Solano, Napa, Sonoma, and Marin Counties.

Sketch of a map of the 9-county Bay Area, with counties highlighted where I could use more stories.

Maybe you have felt belonging in these places? Maybe you can share the call for participation with people you know in those counties? Thank you!

 

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Is Belonging a Place or Something You Carry With You?

Anyone with a meaningful connection to the nine-county Bay Area is invited to “share their story of belonging” by January 2. This call is deliberately open-ended.

A drawing of a bakerya drawing of a human figure with the heart highlighted

For some people, there might be a place where they feel (or have felt) belonging. (This is how I framed last year’s project exploring belonging in Albuquerque.)

For others, maybe they carry a sense of belonging with them. I was inspired to add this section by Brené Brown’s Braving the Wilderness, in which she argues that true belonging, to paraphrase Maya Angelou, is belonging everywhere and nowhere.

[I also included a section for people who neither feel belonging tied to a place or carried with them.]

If you haven’t yet submitted, please do! There’s less than 2 weeks left before the January 2 deadline.


With these multiple definitions of belonging in mind, it’s interesting to read:

“The Galería is not just this corner. The Galería is a movement.”

 

—Ani Rivera, Galería de la Raza Executive Director (in Ryan Kost, “Galería de la Raza, a birthplace of Chicano art, finds respite from exile” SFGate.com, December 20, 2018)

As most in the SF art community members know, Galeria de la Raza was one of the birthplaces of the Chicano art movement. It was located on 24th Street in the Mission District for as long as I can remember. Over the past few months, it’s battled a 100% rent increase. Rivera is announcing that they’re going to move, and find another location, but it may be nomadic—everywhere and nowhere—for the next two years.

It’s interesting to think how a place matters (obviously they’d want to stay in the Mission), while an identity or soul doesn’t have to reside in a specific building. Maybe carrying your belonging with you is a form flexible, strategic resilience in the face of gentrification and displacement. Maybe your sense of belonging can be tied to a place and also carried with you.


Many conversations I have in the Bay Area are about loss—about the working class, families, and artists—who have moved away to outer suburbs or different metropolitan areas. Take a look at this recent report on US cities with the greatest potential influxes and outflows:

More people are thinking about moving to a new city. Some 25 percent of those looking at homes for sale were searching outside their current metropolitan areas — up from 22 percent during the same period in 2017.

The general trend was away from pricier East and West Coast markets and toward more affordable inland areas. The top 10 most-searched destinations had an average home price of $150,000 less than the top 10 areas people were contemplating leaving.

Michael Kolomatsky, “Which Cities Are People Leaving — and Where Are They Going?” NYTimes.com, December 20, 2018

San Francisco tops the list of 10 cities with the greatest potential outflow.

San Francisco is also the top city of origin for three cities with greatest potential inflow:

Sacramento (#1)
Portland, Oregon (#4)
Austin, Texas (#7)

This is pretty outsized, considering that San Francisco is the 13th most populous city in the US.


TC was recently telling me that everything about San Francisco—from losing collaborators who move away, to the cost of living, to the ever-increasing traffic—feels like it’s pushing you out, and you have to proportionally become more determination to stay.

I replied that it sounds like San Francisco is turning into New York City.

I’ll think more about this. I’m interested in the love-hate relationship some people have to NYC. For those who can afford it, escaping the city (summering on the Hamptons or apple picking upstate) is considered a key to staying sane here. This has more to do with the place itself—crowdedness, tourists, and heat waves in the summer, and the general logistical nightmares of navigating such a large, expensive city. I wonder how love-hate relationships figure into the Bay Area. The negative emotions I’ve heard about are often about the impacts of changes, not qualities of the place itself. For me, when I lived in Oakland, it was a respite from San Francisco, but now Oakland is the US’ 5th most expensive city to live in, just after NYC.

Unfortunately, San Francisco can be a counterexample. There’s a fear that NYC (which as almost 10x the population and almost 10x the square mileage) is turning into SF:

“[Deputy mayor for housing Alicia Glen’s] legacy is bringing Amazon and turning New York into another version of San Francisco.”

—Maritza Silva-Farrell, executive director of Align, a group focused on labor and income inequality (as quoted in J. David Goodman, “Deputy Mayor Who Oversaw Amazon Deal and Troubled Housing Authority Is Leaving,” NY Times, December 19, 2018)

[Read “Bad Deal, Bad Company, Bad Billionaire: How Proposed Taxpayer Subsidies for Amazon HQ2 Can Still Be Stopped.”]


One of the challenges of this project is balancing rays of light against the doom and gloom of San Francisco’s changes.

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