Summer of Asian American Stories

Dear Humanity,

As we head into the fall season in Chicagoland, I wanted to take one last look back at what an incredible summer it has been for this story-gatherer. Every culture and group has its stories. Now, more than ever, is a time when stories can help human communities uplift, survive in love and honesty, be brave, thrive, and heal. Here were the “Top 5” highlights of my summer. I hope you found rich and profound stories to sustain and nourish you, too:

5. George Takei and Gaman. Resilience. Went to hear Uncle George speak about his time in an American internment camp, taken at 5 years old at gunpoint. Through Japanese American internment, the Civil Rights Movement, Marriage Equality, and Hollywood, Uncle George has expressed an indomitable human spirit, sense of humor, and grace. He has a profound belief in the practice of democracy. Gaman: the Japanese word for enduring the impossible with patience and dignity. Check out the song in his musical, Allegiance.

4. The First Asian American Literature Festival. Traveled to Washington, D.C. for this amazing gathering of Asian American poets, performers, writers, scholars, and lovers of the written and spoken word. Asian Am Lit rang in the corridors, stages, and galleries of the Smithsonian, the Phillips Collection, Dupont Underground, and the (OMG!) Library of Congress. So inspiring: Li Young Lee, Regie Cabico, Sarah Gambito, Gowri K., Gene Oishi, Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis, Franny Choi, Sejal Sha, Karen Mei Yamashita, and all. Readings, workshops, book vendors, editors, poetry slam, literaoke, pop-up dessert bar. Kudos to the Asian Pacfic American Center  (APAC) of the Smithsonian and Kundiman for creating this space in our nation’s capitol.

3. Sssst! Tagalog Camp. Taught a Tagalog language class for kids. The sense of cultural continuity and the kids’ freshness gave me hope. Reconnected with my dear friend, Elaine, a talented photographer, and we’re revisiting our book project of Filipino American women’s stories.

2. Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. Daytrip with my friend Scott into the shush of prairie grasses, the search for elusive bison, dizzying butterflies and grasshoppers, golden Alexanders, prairie sunflowers, and purple thistle waving in the wind.

1.The Banyan, Asian American Writers’ Collective Inaugural Celebration. Gathered and organized with local Asian Am writers to read our works and launch Samina Hadi-Tabassum’s book of poetry, Muslim Melancholia. We had an intergenerational audience, ages 4 days old to 70+ and packed the Oak Park Main Library with stories, food, Asian Am visual art, music, and kids’ activities. Worked with Riksha Magazine to share stories that were nakakaaliwuplifting. More to come? Yes, please.

I know, I know. Technically #2 isn’t full of Asian American stories. Or even human stories. But the Flowers and Grasses have their tales to tell, too. The act of getting quiet and listening to their wordless existence brought me peace. From the Flowers to me, may the peace spread to you.


Mary Grace

Chicago Play Reco: “The 30-Year Gap”

30 Year GapHidden gems.

One of the things I love about Chicago is its vibrant theater and performance scene. Every neighborhood seems to have its own venue for great local plays or live readings. It’s a chance to unplug and get face to face with beautiful stories – so close, in fact, you can often see the actors sweat!

From what I’ve seen in Chicago, playwrights, directors, and actors are working hard to make what they bring to stage poignant, earnest, and real.

One Chicago talent is Matthew Johnston whose play “The 30-Year Gap” has one more performance of its World Premiere at the Public House Theatre. “The 30-Year Gap” is a story about Chris (Nate Speckman) and George (Gavin Donnellan), a nephew and an uncle, both gay and who come of age in two different time periods – 1978 and 2008.

Johnston described the focus of his play this way: “The main issue is how his life has changed between 1978 and 2008 and why exactly Uncle George hasn’t come out of the closet, the fear of being rejected, the fear of losing friends, jobs, housing, etc.” This is in sharp contrast to Chris’ experience coming out in 2008 to the support and celebration of friends and family. The play flashes back and forward between the two intertwined lives as Chris strives to help his uncle embrace, without shame, his love of other men.

I saw “The 30-Year Gap” with a couple of girlfriends. We were charmed by the actors, particularly Nate Speckman’s performance. But the real star of the play, we unanimously agreed, is Johnston’s dialogue. Crisp banter organically segues into the serious terrain of love, loss, violence, and then resurfaces with tenderness. I was surprised at the range of emotions Johnston could evoke in 80 minutes. Rare.

There are plot twists and at least one major surprise which I won’t spoil here. Let’s just say, look out for “the Light”. Light and love manifest in the most unexpected way. The “The 30-Year Gap” challenges the audience to ask itself: “Who counts in our society? Who do we count as lovable and worthy? How do we limit society when we limit who we love and respect?” (The playwright might disagree. But that’s what great art is about, right Matt? The work takes on a life of its own and connects with the audience in ways we may not expect.)

I highly recommend “The 30-Year Gap”. In fact, it’s scandalous that you can watch great theater for $10! Go forth and see this performance while you still have the chance. Tickets are even discounted on

Public House Theatre. 3914 N. Clark. Tickets: 773-230-4770 Last performance: Thursday, April 28th.