API Equality-LA wouldn’t be the leading API LGBT organization today without the contributions of our stellar volunteer activists. Each month, it is our great pleasure to recognize one of them as our Activist of the Month. Join us as we get to know these incredible people who devote so much of their time and talent to advancing our mission.
We’re proud to share five minutes with Loni Shibuyama, our August 2012 Activist of the Month!
Congrats on being chosen as Activist of the Month!
Thank you very much. I’m very humbled, because I know that API Equality-LA has a lot of really dedicated volunteers who do a lot. But I’m very appreciative of the fact that API Equality-LA treats its volunteers in high regard.
How did you get started volunteering with us?
I think I went to some General Coalition Meetings in late 2010 or early 2011. Within a couple of months, Marshall Wong, API Equality-LA’s Steering Committee Co-Chair, asked me to come to one of the very first Pioneers Documentation Project meetings.
And what drove you to that first General Coalition Meeting?
I work for an LGBTQ organization that I really like, ONE Archives. But admittedly, it doesn’t have that many people of color who are regular or longtime volunteers/patrons. I had heard about API Equality-LA for a while and decided to start going to meet more people of color and stay in the loop on what’s being talked about in the larger API community. I also wanted volunteer and help out however I could. For API Equality, it was a way to support this very wonderful organization. And for ONE Archives, it was a way for me to have more confidence in advocating for people of color.
So you met Marshall at your first General Coalition Meeting, and when he heard that you worked for ONE Archives, he recruited you to work on the Pioneers Project?
Yeah, I think that’s how it went. Marshall is very persuasive. LOL.
He is, isn’t he? That’s funny. What do you do for ONE Archives exactly?
I’m an archivist at ONE. I organize and catalog historic papers and photographs of LGBTQ history, and make them available for research online and in-house. So Marshall suspected, correctly, that I had a strong interest in history and revealing the stories of people who might otherwise be forgotten. I also used to work for the Japanese American National Museum years ago, where I worked on oral histories there (including, for example, Yuri Kochiyama). You learn so much from interviewing people who lived through history. And I always find it fascinating.
Indeed! It seems like you’re a perfect fit for the Pioneers Project! Can you fill us in, give us a quick recap on what you had / have been working on for the project?
Well, this is a busy multi-step process as you experienced. Eric Wat has been an amazing resource for putting this project together because his research was how we decided to interview June Lagmay and Tak Yamamoto. So basically, I’ve been coordinating the interview and the finished film of June Lagmay. It started with doing as much research as I could on her career and activism background (again Eric’s book was the best source of this). The next steps were getting a crew together and interviewing her, compiling more information and “b-roll” archival documents for the film, and going through many months of editing—right up until we screened it for the first time to the public at ONE Archives. We’re still fine-tuning the film some more, but that’s what’s been going on for the past year. It’s been a crazy learning process for everyone in the committee.
Yes, tons of work! What was it like meeting June Lagmay?
She’s been so wonderful during this whole process. She’s a very busy woman, but she was kind enough to welcome us to her home for several hours (during Christmas!) to interview her. She’s a very down to earth and generous person. She’s also very smart and confident, and a no-BS kind of woman, and I have a lot of respect for her. Very warm and humble, too. It’s great getting to know her. And I’m very happy I got to do that because of this project.
What do you hope for the Pioneers Project to become, to accomplish?
It’s been a tough process, but I hope this is the start of many more interviews we can do. I think people who are LGBTQ are in a unique and difficult position in terms of passing on stories and history to future generations. When you’re straight, you have parents who tell you what it was like “back then.” Listening to parents’ stories about growing up and their experiences is kind of unavoidable. Most LGBTQ people don’t have LGBTQ parents who can tell those stories about what it was like growing up gay, etc. So stories about growing up gay in the 1970s, for example, don’t get passed on to newer generations of LGBTQ people the way they do with family generations. For that reason, I hope this project can be a resource for people who identify as API LGBTQ, so that those stories can be passed on. With that in mind, I hope we can continue to interview more people, and share it with the younger activists that are coming up.
That’s such a great point about passing down our stories the way families do! Totally agree. Okay, less heavy questions. What do you do for fun outside of work and volunteering?
I like to travel, but I don’t do it as much as I would like. But I like going to the theater whenever I can. I’m reluctant to call myself a theater geek, but I love musicals. When I lived in New York, I used to see a play or musical a couple times a week when I wasn’t in school. I also occasionally go river rafting or kayaking. I have plans to take surf lessons in the next couple of months, too.
Favorite musical of all time?
Oh man, that’s hard. Rent is a sentimental favorite, because it’s the first musical I ever fell in love with. Rent was also a first for me in that it was the first time I saw something with so many LGBTQ characters in it! It was eye-opening. I’m a huge Stephen Sondheim fan. His musical, Company, is a favorite. He is one of my creative heroes.
Speaking of heroes, or rather, superheroes! If you could have any superhuman powers what would it be?
Teleporting. I wouldn’t have to drive anywhere. And you can go anywhere! Remember, I like to travel.
Interview by Ray de Mesa
Want to join the Pioneers Project? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
API Equality- LA is a volunteer-driven organization that works to promote LGBT equality through outreach, political activism, and the power of personal narratives. We place an emphasis on working with Asian and Pacific Islander communities in Los Angeles, and we are always looking for new volunteers. Join our mailing list, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter to learn about upcoming events. If you have any questions, feel free to e-mail email@example.com!