Seven years ago this month, Aaron J. Lee posted a collage of 16 Asian American Buddhists in a blog post titled "Happy Asian Pacific American Heritage Month!" Aaron was surprised by his own handiwork. "The portraits remind me that we cannot be described by the coarse stereotypes of Oriental monks, superstitious immigrants or banana Buddhists," he declared. "We have incredible stories to share with you—if only one takes the care to look for them."
In our recent conversation at Ancient Dragon Zen Gate, Howard Ruan spoke of the impact of seeing these 16 people on Aaron's blog. How many of these faces do you recognize? I asked the young adults I interviewed for Be the Refuge. Some were dismayed to be able to name only a handful of the faces. Some were delighted to see their communities represented. Some wanted to see more South and Southeast Asians. None of us (besides Aaron, of course) was able to name all sixteen people. What are your thoughts and feelings about this collage? The image brought forth a bevy of opinions and emotions, though a common thread emerged: the desire to learn more about Buddhist Asian America.
Tomorrow, May 4th, 2021, gives us an opportunity to do just that. Marking the 49th day after the Atlanta-area shootings, May We Gather, the first national Buddhist memorial ceremony in response to anti-Asian violence, will bring together Asian American Buddhists and allies in a ceremony of healing and renewal. I hope you'll be able to join me in virtual sangha for this 90-minute livestreamed event, which begins at 4pm PDT.
If you're interested in attending an online event around Be the Refuge this May, feel free to register for these upcoming events:
- San Jose State University on Thursday, May 6, 7–8:15pm PDT, in conversation with Dr. Tamara Ho, Associate Professor in Gender and Sexuality Studies at UC Riverside. Our program is co-sponsored by the SJSU Humanities Department, the Chao Te Lin and Avatamsaka Education Fund, the SJSU Mosaic Cross Cultural Center, and the APIDA Task Force. Special thanks to Profs. Todd Perreira and Funie Hsu—both of whom are featured in Be the Refuge—for moderating this conversation.
- Insight Meditation Community of Charlottesville on Tuesday, May 11, 7–8:30pm EDT. I'm grateful to IMCC for choosing Be the Refuge for their inaugural All-Sangha Big Read, hosted by Liz Reynolds.
- AAPI Sangha LA on Tuesday, May 11, 7–8:30pm PDT, for Asian/Asian American/ Desi/Pacific Islander/Asian diaspora meditation practitioners. Noel Alumit, whose interview inspired the structure for Be the Refuge, will guide meditation before we open to conversation. RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org by Monday, May 10.
- Making Visible on Monday, May 12, 4–5:30pm EDT. This online event is part of a three-month speaker series I’m curating on Asian American Buddhism; An Tran and David Woo will be presenting in June and July. This series aims to counter the marginalization, erasure, and stereotyping of Asian American Buddhists by celebrating the diversity of this group as indispensable stewards and shapers of American Buddhism. My presentation will offer a journey through Be the Refuge, a glimpse into some of the forms of community engagement that it’s sparked, and time for audience insights and questions.
- Buddhist Church of Oakland on Saturday, May 15, 2–4pm PDT, in conversation with Funie Hsu and members of BCO’s Junior YBA (Young Buddhist Association). It's a joy to connect with BCO, whose resident minister, Rev. Harry Bridge, moderated the book launch for Be the Refuge back in January.
- KPFA Talk it Out Radio on Sunday, May 16, 7–8pm PDT, a live radio broadcast with host Marlena Willis, including a segment when listeners can call in. Tune in to KPFA 94.1 in Pacific, KPFB 89.3 FM in Berkeley, KFCF 88.1 FM in Fresno, and K248BR 97.5 FM in Santa Cruz, or listen online at the show's website.
- Harvard Buddhist Community on Thursday, May 20, 7–8:30pm EDT. For this special online event in honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, titled "Reimagine: A New Generation of Asian American Buddhists," I’ll be joined by anthropologist Nalika Gajaweera. Bring a cup of tea and a snack (or meal!) and join us for this exploration of identity, language, lineage, generosity, affinity, and more. I'm honored be part of Radical Re-Orientation: The 2021 Buddhism and Race Speaker Series, which features Larry Yang, Rhonda Magee, Duncan Williams, Ann Gleig, Shanté Smalls, Katie Loncke, and others.
- Young Buddhist Editorial on Saturday, May 22, 10am–3pm PDT. This special half-day online retreat will feature interactive sessions with guest presenters/panelists around the four parts of Be the Refuge: Trailblazers, Bridge-Builders, Integrators, and Refuge-Makers. The retreat is open to people of all backgrounds. Registration is free, though the suggested donation of $10–$15 will support the guest speakers and YBE’s costs of operating the retreat.
- Oregon State University Contemplative Studies Initiative on Wednesday, May 26, 6:30–8pm PDT, with Holly Hisamoto. What is lost when American Buddhist sanghas and meditation communities decenter our Asian heritage? This event provides a space for honest exploration as we delve into this question and consider what it means to be a refuge for oneself and others. Informed by chaplaincy work, Holly and I will lift up themes of identity and culture, power and race, anger and grief, ancestors and ritual, and other topics from our perspectives as Asian American Buddhists. In the face of ongoing anti-Asian violence, we intend for our conversation to hold a space for connection, resilience, and healing.
- San Francisco Zen Center on Saturday, May 29, 10am PDT, in conversation with Rev. Dana Takagi, on "Roots and Refuge: Asian American Buddhists Across Generations." It's a privilege to be in dialogue with Dr. Takagi, professor emerita at UC Santa Cruz, who taught sociology there for three decades, has worked with the National Institutes for Health on diversity issues, and is a book series editor at UC Press.
I wish Aaron were here this May to celebrate the increasing visibility of Asian American Buddhists. I hope you'll join me in celebrating and continuing Aaron's legacy of championing our voices and uplifting our stories—whether you call this heritage month APA, AAPI, AANHPI, APIDA, or another acronym altogether. Aaron's name comes up often at book events. Dr. Carolyn Chen and I remembered him last week at Eastwind Books. Dr. Jessica Main recalled him a few weeks ago when we spoke at at Banyen Books. The last question of that evening lingers with me still: "What do you think an 'Aaron-lineage' Buddhism would look like? What would it mean to 'Be the Refuge' in this lineage, how might one practice this, and what kind of community do you envision?"
I immediately thought of food and a beaming smile. I also thought: it would look like so many things that we are still dreaming into being, together.