HomeCommunityPositive Cre(Asians) sprinkles mental health into community-building socials

Positive Cre(Asians) sprinkles mental health into community-building socials

By Jia H. Jung, California Local News Fellow

Dear Community, a Bay Area grassroots organization formed by “accidental activists” born from pandemic times, launched its first Positive Cre(Asians) event on Saturday.

The monthly program celebrates and promotes mental and emotional well-being by showcasing a rotation of multidisciplinary artists, creative entrepreneurs, holistic healers and healthcare professionals in an AANHPI-owned space.

Positive Cre(Asians) is yet another community-building measure put together by the group to advance its objective of contributing to a proud, empowered, and safe community by supporting local, AANHPI-owned small businesses.

Tâm Ngô, Vietnamese American CEO/founder of The Ngô House new business and nonprofit consultancy and president of Dear Community, spearheaded the idea for events centered on mental health. She told AsAmnews that the spark happened for her after the Monterey Park shootings on the eve of the Lunar New Year in late January and the apparent suicide of Jackfroot digital media and entertainment co-founder David Nguyen in March.

“All of us were kind of like, are we numb to this now? It just started feeling like, why are we planning these vigils? We should plan something else. Something positive.”

She said that these kinds of tragedies took a particular toll on organizers already working passionately to heal, safeguard and uplift the AANHPI community. “For us, it was extra hard – how do we make sure to do these fun events…but they need to be meaningful,” she recalled.

Ngô put her head together with a core group of Dear Community colleagues, including founder and community relations director Amy Lee (first-generation Chinese American), Creative Director Philip Vy (third-generation Filipino-Vietnamese American), Events Program Manager Kimberly Szeto (Hong Kongese American), Ambassador Jeffrey Ambas (second generation Filipino American), and Instagram Social media manager Jenny Lee (first generation Chinese American).

Dear Community President Tâm Ngô mingling with Alvin Louie (right) and Dear Community Treasurer and board member Jon Wen (far right). Photo by Philip Vy

After conversations with the entire staff, board and advisors, they decided to go forth with the vision of social gatherings intentionally bringing mental health to the fore.

Implementing the vision was hard. The variety of people they consulted all said that mental health would not be an easy brand to sell in social settings, but the organizers knew what the community needed.

First, they toyed with the idea of a platonic form of speed dating to foster new friendships. They also researched whether similar events already existed since no one among them was a health professional. They did not have the expertise to start from scratch.

Ultimately, the team decided that they ought to stick to Dear Community’s forte of planning events for the benefit of small AANHPI businesses.

“There’s something really magical about people coming together to support a small business. It’s very healing,” Ngô said, noting how people open up in an atmosphere of safety that also buzzes with entrepreneurial and creative energy.

Dear Community knew a lot of business owners and creatives. The next task was finding contacts in the realm of health to bring in an informed mental health element into events offering social healing opportunities and creative outlets.

The search for healthcare guests exposed the planning crew to lots of interesting people, ranging from yoga practitioners to clinical professionals.

After over half a year of intent preparation, Positive Cre(Asians) became reality on a brilliantly sunny and crisp fall afternoon in San Francisco.

A rainbow of AANHPI attendees and diverse allies filled the Korean-owned BlueStream Gallery of contemporary art on 555 Grant Avenue right in the middle of Chinatown.

Artist Joanne Lee, left, and Kiwon Kang, right, owner of BlueStream Gallery on 555 Grant Avenue in San Francisco’s Chinatown, posing by some of Lee’s art with a supporter. Photo by Philip Vy

Each person entering the tranquil, inviting oasis by admission of their $5 ticket, picked up a mini notebook and pen from greeters at the door and filled out name tag stickers. They proceeded to a bar in the back that freely served calamansi, lychee, mango, and pomelo-flavored sparkling water sponsored by Filipino American-owned company Sanzo.

Those desiring a complimentary headshot stepped in front of Dear Community Creative Director Vy, who was applying his background in street photography by doubling as the event photographer.

Dear Community’s creative director Philip Vy in action at the headshot station at BlueStream Gallery on 555 Grant Avenue in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Photo by Jia H. Jung

Korean transplant Joanne Lee, the San Francisco-based artist whose eye-popping paintings decorated the walls of the newly opened gallery, was the first guest. She spoke about her journey and process in expressing themes of memory and time-lapse with her art. 

She detailed how she creates her micro Pollock-esque tangles of chaotic yet sharply defined squiggles by laying paint-dipped strings onto canvases of Hanji, Korean traditional paper. Lee revealed that she dyes the sensitive mulberry fiber multiple times by hand in a mix of natural pigments and animal glues sourced from Korea. She also shared that a motif of her earlier works was an empty office chair, signifying a space that holds memories. 

Though Lee spoke well in English, she brought a translator to her side to help her talk more freely later on in the event. In this portion of her presentation, she recounted the difficulties of adjusting to life in San Francisco upon moving there from Korea after her marriage. She also described how the epiphany she had while drawing something for her child – she had to make art full-time, no matter how hard it was to survive financially as a fine artist.

The other creative guest in the lineup was Singaporean transplant Chef Emily Lim. She quickly broke the ice by asking people to please not call her “Chef,” and confessing that people have told her that maybe she should be in standup comedy instead of the food business.

Chef and Dabao Singapore owner Emily Lim’s headshot from the Positive Cre(Asians) event. Photo by Philip Vy

Later, she provoked more applause, laughter, and hoots when she huffed, “I’m old,” and vented her frustrations about having to fight to be taken seriously in the States because of her youthful genetics.

The TV-featured owner of Dabao Singapore called upon five volunteers from the audience to participate in a demonstration of how to make Popiah. Lim said that the fresh spring rolls are such a staple in Singapore and Malaysia that people there have parties to make them together from refreshing combinations of oyster sauce, crushed peanuts, chili paste, shrimp, cilantro, marinated jicama and braised carrot squares, all wrapped up in thin, soft, porous skins the size and nearly the texture of small handkerchiefs.

Later, Lim divulged how the necessity of giving food workers jobs and paying them properly during the pandemic had helped her fall into her current enterprise. Dabao Singapore caters and makes home deliveries of complete meal kits for laksa noodle dishes, whole pepper crabs, whole-bird chicken rice, and other “hawker centre” favorites missed by emigrants from the sunny island nation of Singapore and sought out by others burning to know what real Singaporean fare is about.

Both Lee and Lim cited how they push through high-stress situations by being whole with their careers and cherishing the family, friends and partners who support them in their quest to do what they love.

The crowd watches as volunteers join Chef Emily Lim in a Popiah making demonstration. Photo by Philip Vy

Angel Wang, the emcee moderating and presenting the event, was the health guest. She is the Head of Growth at Anise Health, a provider of online mental health care that is attuned to the nuances of AANHPI cultures and needs.

Wang led an identity exploration exercise. People paired off as friends or strangers. Individually, they selected and ranked the most important identifying values (e.g. ethnicity, gender, career, etc.) from a list on a worksheet and wrote their reflections about their choices in the pocket notebooks provided to everyone. Later, they discussed their reasoning together.

Afterward, Wang encouraged all those who were able to take a seat on the floor right where they were and close their eyes for a brief meditation.

Ngô and the event planners had worried a bit about this element. Was it going to be awkward? Would people really sit down on the floor?

Everyone was game – most people sat down without hesitation on the immaculate wood floor and quickly shut their eyes. When they opened their eyes again, the event workers rolled out a dolly stacked with transparent containers containing pre-rolled Popiah for folks to take home or consume on the spot with the last remaining cans of refreshing Sanzo. 

Angel Wang of Anise Health, who led the event’s attendees in an identity exploration exercise and meditation. Photo by Philip Vy

Some guests continued to talk with one another after the event wrapped, forming new connections and reinforcing old ones. Others wandered out to the vibrant streets of Chinatown, hypnotized by the eclectic architecture, loud street signs, laundry hanging in open windows, lanterns tassels waving like jellyfish tentacles in the breeze overhead, the strains of an elderly man playing the erhu, and the sight of unique, colorful merchandise bursting onto the street from cluttered old shops and beckoning from inside new shops.

Ngô said that hosting the event on a Saturday afternoon had been “super, super intentional” – a way to get people to spread their positivity and cash throughout the neighborhood’s businesses after the main event.

“I think for myself, I was just super nervous. But I would just say it went according to plan, it really did,” Ngô said, stating that her team had aimed for 100 people and hit that number on the nose. The only mishap was spilling boba milk tea outside the doorway.

“I feel bad,” she said, even as the beverage disappeared into the pores of the sidewalk and dribbled on down the hill. Everyone comforted her. This, too, was art.

Dear Community President Tâm Ngô’s spilled boba milk tea was no reason for tears at the successful first Positive Cre(Asians) event on Oct. 14, 2023. Photo by Jia H. Jung

The success of the launch confirmed to Dear Community that following their intuition of introducing recurring mental health-themed creative events to the community was a good move. The organization is already starting to attract more funding and sponsors for future Positive Cre(Asians) gatherings.

“What we’re doing is not just a shot in the dark. There’s people who’s interested in it, and they want to support it,” Ngô concluded.

The next installment, on a date to be determined in November, will take place at Punch King Fitness Sunset gym in the Sunset District owned by active community members King Lei and Henry Chu.

In line with the second event’s theme of physicality, former boxer and professional Muay Thai fighter Daniel J. Kim will speak to the theme of having a physical outlet. Kim, who now coaches boxing and Muay Thai, is also the founder of The Karuna Project, an organization empowering orphans with tools for development, growth of self-esteem, and emotional boxing through access to combat sports training and other fitness activities.

Potential healthcare guests for the event are SF Hep B Free, which will remind attendees about the importance of liver health, and Kaiser Permanente, which will highlight specific health needs found in the AANHPI community.

“Come dressed like you’re ready to work out. And see what it’s like to punch a bag. See if it feels good,” Ngô beckoned.

Positive Cre(Asians) updates can be found on Dear Community’s Instagram page or Linktree site, along with information about other projects, collaborations with partner organizations, and ways to get involved or suggest an event idea of one’s own.

Dear Community founder and community relations director Amy Lee, right, holding up her Sanzo can with a guest of the event. Photo by Philip Vy

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on FacebookX, InstagramTikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.

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