Exploring Black and Asian American Lesbian Archives: Aché and Phoenix Rising

Historians in the News
tags: African American history, archives, womens history, LGBTQ history, primary sources, Asian American History, Alternative Press

Ever since I was a child, I always had this insatiable curiosity for the past. Some of my favorite childhood memories are going to my grandmother’s house and looking through our family photo albums. My grandmother and I would burst into uncontrollable laughter as she shared with me the memories and stories behind those photos. I remember reading my grandmother’s Ebony: Pictorial History of Black America encyclopedias and being in awe of the expansiveness of Black history that was not taught to me during my formative years of education. I remember wanting to touch my grandmother’s fine china tea sets, and her scolding me for even attempting to put my grubby little fingers on her precious heirlooms.

It wasn’t until years later that I realized my curiosity for the past—particularly my family’s past and lineage—would lead me to want to know more about the past lives of others. It would lead me to the archives. 

Black feminist scholar Saidiya Hartman in “Venus in Two Acts” (2008) writes about the dangers and violence of white supremacist, patriarchal, and cis-heteronormative revisionist histories in the archives. Throughout history, we have seen how Black, Asian, and other communities of color have been excluded, objectified, exploited, rendered faceless, and nameless in the archives. This exploitation and objectification in the archives directly connects to the contemporary de jure and de facto non-citizenry of Black and Asian communities. It is a reflection of the continuous and heightened anti-Black and anti-Asian state and quotidian violence that impacts our communities domestically and globally. 

However, when we interrogate the archives of and by the most marginal in our communities—not as objects or property but as materials written and authored from their own perspectives—what can these archives tell us about the fortitude of Black and Asian American queer women who recognized the urgency and necessity to tell their own stories? What about archives that speak to what scholar Tiffany Florvil examines as a politics of queer belonging, but more specifically a Black and Asian American queer belonging? What about archives that speak to Black and Asian American lesbian self-determination and resistance? 

By exploring my personal archives of journals and newsletters published by two organizations formerly based in the San Francisco Bay Area—Phoenix Rising, a newsletter published by the Asian/Pacifica Sisters and Aché: A Journal for Lesbians of African Descent—I saw how these archives offered critical insights on how Black and Asian American lesbians created safe spaces and community for themselves, in spite of ostracization by mainstream society and the communities they belonged to. 

Read entire article at Asian American Writers' Workshop

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