Aug 31 • 45M

Arizona Equals May

Listen to an interview with May Tiwamangkala, Democracy Defender Director​ at Arizona AANHPI For Equity

2
 
1.0×
0:00
-45:12
Open in playerListen on);
Arizona Equals is a conversational interview podcast chronicling the lives and experiences of LGBTQ+ Arizonans. Listen to new episodes weekly on Wednesdays, featuring conversations with queer people living in Arizona.

In today’s episode of the Arizona Equals Conversation, we talk with May Tiwamangkala, Democracy Defender Director​ at Arizona AANHPI For Equity. Topics include climate anxiety, online community, and progressive organizing in Arizona. May also shares how their experiences as a formerly incarcerated person and the child of immigrant parents informs and motivates their work.

Additional context for the conversation

Arizona Equals is a conversational interview podcast rooted in the idea that stories have power. Each episode, we sit down with an LGBTQ+ person living in Arizona to talk about their community ties and experiences in the state. Visit our website to listen to the full archive or to sign up to be a guest on a future episode of the podcast.

Full Transcript

00;00;00;05 - 00;00;26;08

Jeanne

Hi. Thanks for listening to the Arizona Equals Conversation. I'm Jeanne Woodbury. I'm the policy and communications director for Equality Arizona and the host of this podcast. Arizona Equals is a conversational interview podcast rooted in the idea that stories have power. Each episode, we sit down with an LGBTQ+ person living in Arizona to talk about their community ties and their experiences in the state.

00;00;27;24 - 00;00;59;13

Jeanne

Today on the show, I got to interview May Tiwamangkala. They're a personal friend of mine and the democracy defender director for Arizona AANHPI for Equity. We first met a little over a year ago when we were working together at a migrant rights and criminal justice nonprofit called Puente. Since then, we've been able to share knowledge and to collaborate a bit, including with a recent LGBTQ+ Healing Circle event hosted by Arizona AANHPI for Equity at their offices in Tempe.

00;01;00;23 - 00;01;24;06

Jeanne

I've always been really impressed by the quality and originality of May's work and the dedication they bring to the work. And so I was really interested to find out what some of the motivations are that drives them to do the work. And over the course of this conversation, I was able to uncover some of those layers from their time in Arizona's criminal justice system to their experience as the child of immigrant parents.

00;01;24;28 - 00;01;45;24

Jeanne

At every turn in May's story, they're always finding ways to use their skills and their interests to help others and to build community. I was so happy to be able to record this kind of conversation with them, and I really hope that you enjoy the interview, too. But before we get started, if you're listening to this episode on the date of its release, it's August 31st.

00;01;46;06 - 00;02;12;02

Jeanne

In just a little bit over a month, we'll hit the registration deadline for voters who want to participate in the 2022 elections. With that in mind, we're dedicating most of the month of September to voter registration events, and we need your help as a volunteer. To help us register voters in the month of September, visit EqualityArizona.org/Events today to sign up for some of our volunteer opportunities.

00;02;12;23 - 00;02;28;28

Jeanne

And now let's get the conversation started.

00;02;32;27 - 00;02;46;27

May

Hi. I'm May Tiwamangkala. I am the democracy defender director at AZ AANHPI for Equity. That's Arizona Asian-Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders for Equity.

00;02;47;05 - 00;03;02;26

Jeanne

Thanks for having me here today at your office. Last time I came here was for the LGBT Healing Circle event that you put on, which I was really honored to be invited to. I think that was a great experience and it was the first time I had seen your office, and I'm just really impressed with all the work you're doing.

00;03;02;27 - 00;03;27;12

Jeanne

When I got here today, you had like a dozen people coming in and out. And it seems like the scale of your work is really taking off. You're doing work that I don't think really any other organization is doing the way you're doing it. You know, you have your focus areas, but then you find focus areas that are corollary and associated, and you use that to expand the whole scope of your work.

00;03;27;13 - 00;03;37;27

Jeanne

Like with the LGBT healing circle or with the criminal justice work that you do. So can you tell me a little bit about how you got involved in this organization and what your approach is to that work?

00;03;38;10 - 00;04;07;02

May

Yeah, well, what really got me into organizing and advocacy was me being incarcerated. Back in 2016 I was locked up. I spent, you know, a good couple of months in county jail. And I saw how many people were freaking out about possibly spending, you know, so many years in prison. And they had no idea how to navigate the system.

00;04;07;25 - 00;04;37;17

May

And I do have, you know, some college in my background, and I was like the only one who really knew how to write, really knew how to read the legal paperwork. So I would volunteer my time to kind of like discuss things with people who were, like fighting their charges. And then, you know, when I was in prison, that's when I really wanted to help others.

00;04;37;17 - 00;05;05;14

May

And I did. We hosted Toastmasters. You know, we trained for public speaking, just, you know, to help people out with their interviews, how to advocate for themselves and just be comfortable with their story and not feel like, you know, they are the bad guy. Like, there's a reason why, you know, this has happened in their life and there are people out there who are empathetic and compassionate and believe in second chances and all of that.

00;05;05;14 - 00;05;10;16

Jeanne

Yeah. And that there are ways for the system to work that could be healthier for them.

00;05;10;24 - 00;05;11;23

May

Right.

00;05;12;05 - 00;05;37;07

Jeanne

I think it's really interesting when you talked about your very first experience in the county jail where it wasn't just what was happening to you that motivated you to get into advocacy, but you said, here's a way to apply my abilities. And that's what got you motivated, is you saw people struggling with a system that didn't really care about them, didn't care about working right for them.

00;05;37;07 - 00;05;38;17

Jeanne

And you said, oh, I can help.

00;05;39;02 - 00;06;07;08

May

Yeah, they were just a number. And I think just me having a little more education than majority of them really helped my case. You know, I was facing up to 12 years and they wanted me to do four and a half years I ended up, you know, pleading for leniency. And I ended up getting two and a half, little under three years.

00;06;08;15 - 00;06;28;10

Jeanne

What is that process like being confronted with a with a plea bargain or being given that, you know, that that kind of terrible message of here's the potential sentence you could be facing, and then going forward from there to find a way to improve the situation. What is that like?

00;06;29;14 - 00;06;50;28

May

It's really intimidating. I mean, I know like over 90% of people who are charged, they just take the plea bargain because they say, like, if you lose the trial, you lose a case, there is a good possibility that you'll get the maximum. And most of the time the maximum is at least 12 years. And no one wants to risk that.

00;06;51;12 - 00;07;05;15

May

They'd rather just do the four years or the five years. So then, you know, they bargain or they take the plea. And then they also don't have resources to get an attorney to go through the trials and stuff.

00;07;05;20 - 00;07;38;07

Jeanne

From the moment someone gets put into the system, it's not like it's something they've ever been prepared for by anyone. And it's not like they are given the best resources by the system. And I think that there's like a psychological experience to that that is difficult to comprehend that I've only really been aware of because of some of my friends, including you, who have gone through that.

00;07;38;26 - 00;07;51;06

Jeanne

Um, I know for trans people often the policy is to isolate them, which then only makes it worse because you don't even have anyone else to talk to about how it might work.

00;07;52;13 - 00;08;01;10

May

No, I mean all trans people who are in county, they are in solitary confinement.

Jeanne

Yeah.

May

Because yeah.

00;08;01;21 - 00;08;08;02

Jeanne

It — I don't even know how to ask a question about that because it's just —

00;08;08;14 - 00;08;19;01

May

It's sad. Yeah. It really, it's torture. It's very traumatizing. Right? I mean, even if they have a minor offense, they're still having to go through solitary confinement.

00;08;19;09 - 00;08;44;06

Jeanne

Yeah. And then moving forward from that point, over the multiple years that you were in the system, was your experience inflected by your queer identity? Was that something that changed the time that you served compared to maybe some of the other people that you were incarcerated with?

00;08;45;07 - 00;09;16;05

May

Definitely. I mean, when I — so everyone goes through an intake process where they have to be in prison as if they were in maximum custody. So you're locked up for 23 hours for up to a month in solitary confinement because they need to categorize you and figure out which yard you're going in. And part of that intake, they do talk about PREA, which is the Prison Rape Elimination Act.

00;09;16;18 - 00;09;16;28

Jeanne

Okay.

00;09;17;18 - 00;09;20;10

May

And then they ask you if you are gay or not.

00;09;21;15 - 00;09;23;18

Jeanne

That's a thing that they ask every person?

00;09;23;19 - 00;09;37;09

May

Yeah.

Jeanne

Wow.

May

They do. I think I lied and said I wasn't gay. Cause I was like, I don't want to be targeted.

Jeanne

Right.

May

But because I was masculine-presenting during that time, you know, I had short hair.

00;09;37;14 - 00;09;38;04

Jeanne

Yeah.

00;09;38;04 - 00;10;07;15

May

Pretty much of a tomboy. I was targeted by correction officers, and they would threaten me with disciplinary tickets because, one, I got a haircut that was considered radical, but it was just like a short haircut for a woman.

Jeanne

Wow.

May

So that would have been a ticket. And that would have made me serve 100% of my time where, you know, if you get off on good behavior, you serve 85% of your time.

00;10;07;16 - 00;10;07;25

Jeanne

Yeah.

00;10;08;08 - 00;10;18;12

May

And then also, some people who were queer got tickets for sitting too closely to other people who were incarcerated.

00;10;19;27 - 00;10;31;18

Jeanne

So it's not even about, because you didn't check the box on the form, you didn't answer their question. And that doesn't even matter. They still decide that that's the box you're in and that they're going to treat you differently because of it.

00;10;31;26 - 00;10;34;24

May

Yeah. Just because I how I presented myself.

00;10;35;15 - 00;10;48;15

Jeanne

How did that affect how other people associated with you? Were people more or less likely to interact with you based on the discrimination you faced from from the guards?

00;10;50;06 - 00;11;18;11

May

To be honest, more people talked to me and I was you know, a lot of people liked me on the yard. I mean, first of all, I was friendly, you know, always positive. I try to keep a good attitude, but no one has been in a world where everyone is the same, I don't want to say gender, but like everyone who is born female.

00;11;19;08 - 00;11;24;23

May

You know, and then you see the gender dynamics because not everyone identifies as feminine.

00;11;25;16 - 00;11;50;16

Jeanne

Right. That's fascinating. I'd love to hear more about that. It's like an alternate microcosm of gender. And I think that's not an experience that everyone really understands. People don't always really get how gender can change contextually and how it's how it's an exchange and a conversation. So can you can you tell me a little bit more about that?

00;11;51;04 - 00;12;17;19

May

Yeah. I mean, everyone, you know, was born female, but the gender dynamics were really obvious in there, like, you know, from the way people dressed or, you know, there were relationships in prison. A lot of times when people are locked up and going through a traumatic experience, they want to be with a partner just to cope with all of that.

00;12;17;20 - 00;12;32;15

May

Right. You know, so you see a lot of women start, you know, taking on masculine traits to be that support for, say, like more feminine women. And it happened a lot, like this is really common.

00;12;34;05 - 00;12;48;26

May

You know, If they were to have a relationship and the correction officers found out about it, usually the masculine presenting person would get sent to solitary confinement.

00;12;49;12 - 00;13;19;24

Jeanne

Wow. So it's, it's a specifically gendered violence that's happening in a place that's already a form of gendered violence. It's those layers. You mentioned that partly because of that, you earned more trust from people. I think, it sounds like. You also mentioned, you know, at every step in this process, you were finding ways to help people.

May

Mm hmm.

00;13;20;22 - 00;13;27;15

Jeanne

And one of those things was the Toastmasters program. What was your involvement in that? And what does that look like?

00;13;29;00 - 00;13;58;15

May

So I was the one running around the yard. We made a banner that said, like, you know, "Toastmasters in the cafeteria. Everyone show up." And I would promote it. I would help facilitate it. And I would always, you know, give my speech and really get people engaged with the program because, you know, some people, they just want to leave from their bed or a cubicle and go somewhere.

00;13;58;15 - 00;14;07;09

May

But like I, I think I like, you know, really empowered the people who showed up.

00;14;07;24 - 00;14;28;19

Jeanne

You made it more than just a place to be.

May

Right.

Jeanne

And then when we were working together at a migrant rights criminal justice organization, you hosted what I'll always remember as just like a really excellent public speaking workshop. Do you get a lot of opportunities to use those skills in your current work?

00;14;29;04 - 00;14;30;14

May

Oh, gosh, yes.

00;14;30;15 - 00;14;31;00

Jeanne

Nice.

00;14;31;22 - 00;15;06;09

May

That's all I do is speak. I mean, it really is the most powerful weapon, is our voice. And me being able to just like, share my stories about my incarceration experience, even like my Asian-American identity, you know, just talking about that, that has been such a tool for me to advance in my career. And I wouldn't have been able to do that if I didn't focus on that during being incarcerated, because I was doing so much self reflection.

00;15;06;09 - 00;15;07;19

May

And just like growing.

00;15;09;01 - 00;15;32;08

Jeanne

You work in an organization that's specific to an identity that you have. I work in an organization that specific to an identity I have, and sometimes I feel like, okay, this is work that I care about. This is work that I like, but it's not necessarily the work I have to do just because it's my identity and it's the kind of work I like to do.

00;15;32;09 - 00;15;44;03

Jeanne

I could potentially work for another organization that I care about, but sometimes we end up in these, in these organizations that are about us on some level, right? So how does that work for you?

00;15;45;23 - 00;16;16;28

May

I think, you know, I could, like you mentioned before, I was a criminal justice organizer in a Latino based organization. But I felt like I really needed to bring the criminal justice movement into my identity, which is, you know, Asian-American Pacific Islanders and bring in the work to us. Because I feel like there hasn't been enough organizing with the AAPI community, especially in Arizona.

00;16;17;07 - 00;16;24;18

May

You know, we're like the first one that's promoting civic engagement and building political power. And it's 2020 — I mean

00;16;25;05 - 00;16;33;22

Jeanne

Or 2022. Yeah. Why do you think that is? What do you see that explains that gap?

00;16;34;07 - 00;16;57;10

May

I think I think it's just just recently, you know, the population is growing and people are migrating to Arizona and they are Asian-Americans. So now we're having more, you know, power in numbers so we can do something like this and organize Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders.

00;16;57;15 - 00;17;22;22

Jeanne

So it's about those population trends, people coming to Arizona. I know that you're not originally from Arizona. You moved from where?

May

Chicago

Jeanne

Which I think actually, I was looking at some numbers, in terms of like net migration Chicago is one of the biggest sources of population growth in Arizona. What was it for you that brought you from Chicago to Arizona?

00;17;23;19 - 00;17;45;06

May

Well, I moved here when I was 20 and I was still in the closet. So I was, you know, really depressed. I had no vision for my future. And I felt like I had to just move somewhere to truly discover who I am and to be open with my, you know, queer identity.

00;17;46;12 - 00;17;59;15

Jeanne

And what was it about where you were, maybe not the location, but where you were in your life, that that seemed like the way to be able to open up, to just relocate?

00;18;00;28 - 00;18;25;22

May

Well, I think in Chicago, a lot of the areas are pretty segregated and everyone stays in their own little bubble. It's hard to get out of the city. And I grew up in the suburbs. I mean I went from, I was born and raised like they would say, like "it's the hood." And then my parents ended up saving enough money to move into the suburbs so I can get a good education.

00;18;26;11 - 00;18;48;06

May

And then when I moved to the suburbs, I saw like, you know, this is like a perfect life. We have all the resources. But I had, like a resentment because, you know, my friends that I left, they were struggling. And then we would go visit my cousins that still lived in the poorer neighborhoods. And, you know, they didn't have the type of opportunity.

00;18;48;14 - 00;19;03;05

May

So I was able to see two perspectives. But the thing about the suburbs is that they're very conservative. No one is open about being queer. So I felt like I really had to leave Chicago.

00;19;03;22 - 00;19;13;02

Jeanne

I see. And then coming to Arizona. Was that something that you were able to find right away, in terms of community that you could open up with?

00;19;13;17 - 00;19;34;06

May

Oh, yes. So I think it was like 2009 and I was like really into computers. So I would, there was this website called Downelink and it was a queer BIPOC, like dating app or website. It was like AOL chats.

00;19;34;10 - 00;19;34;22

Jeanne

Yeah.

00;19;34;28 - 00;19;47;12

May

And I actually met someone that lived in Arizona. And from there, I was able to network and throw, like, huge parties that had, like, over 30 lesbians just hanging out.

00;19;47;16 - 00;19;55;12

Jeanne

Wow. And this is through person to person connections through online things and then building that community around that.

00;19;55;13 - 00;20;03;00

May

Yeah. It all started from the online community. And then I was able to branch out and just meet more and more queer people.

00;20;03;15 - 00;20;34;14

Jeanne

Oh, that's amazing. So you said that you were really into computers, which is a line of conversation I can't skip because I'm a total tech nerd, too. I think 2009 sometimes I look back on as like one of the most exciting times for that in terms of changing trends and online communities. What were some of your early Internet community experiences and what do you see now in terms of the possibility of finding community like that online?

00;20;35;01 - 00;20;38;03

May

Oh, I miss the old online communities.

00;20;38;04 - 00;20;38;21

Jeanne

Yeah.

00;20;38;27 - 00;21;04;28

May

For me, it started when I was, you know, ten, 12 years old in AOL chat rooms. And I remember, you know, staying in those chat rooms and pretending to be like a 15 year old male. And that was like the highlight of my days. But that's when I really, you know, played around with gender and really lived how I felt like I was.

00;21;05;10 - 00;21;30;17

Jeanne

Yeah, I think that's a common experience. Like when people could just message A/S/L and you could decide. Right. And now I think, you know, Facebook created a lot of like real identity kind of policies and that shifted how the Internet works in some ways. Now, I feel like if you go into one of the major social networks, you're really unlikely to make new friends or new connections.

00;21;31;18 - 00;21;46;01

Jeanne

As an organizer, I think a lot of your job, you know, and as someone who runs teams of organizers now, is about making connections. Do you feel like social media and the Internet are a place where that can happen?

00;21;47;09 - 00;22;21;27

May

It is, but the way it's going is, you know, there's data on everyone and it's all about data and where you target your ads.

Jeanne

Okay.

May

Right. With me, you know, I was able to organize the AAPI Vigil, the Unity March through direct messaging. Like because we were all quarantined, you know, I was messaging all my friends or people who have commented on my post or liked my posts, and I was able to meet, or to make real connections that way.

00;22;22;14 - 00;22;34;26

May

But some organizations, they're not doing that, like actually messaging and building these real relationships. They just want to like make the impression on your screen and then that's it.

00;22;36;00 - 00;23;00;06

Jeanne

Yeah, that's a really good point. I think using actual messaging and making actual requests of people is different than just figuring out or can I get the right metrics, or can I get the right ads stats? You mentioned the Unity March. I think I'd like to talk a little bit more about that. This was earlier in the pandemic, right? And what was the process of putting that together like?

00;23;01;14 - 00;23;03;24

May

Oh, it was really stressful.

00;23;04;05 - 00;23;04;15

Jeanne

Yeah.

00;23;04;26 - 00;23;13;03

May

So the date that we decided on doing the Unity March was the same date that the neo-Nazis were rallying in Phoenix.

00;23;13;08 - 00;23;15;00

Jeanne

Okay. And when was this?

00;23;15;07 - 00;23;44;03

May

This was April of 2021.

Jeanne

Okay.

May

So they were coming. We didn't really know how large of a crowd they were bringing. We just knew that people were flying from different states. And we were concerned for the safety of our community, but we also didn't want them to think that, you know, we were scared of them and that, you know, the hate that they're displaying is effective.

00;23;44;12 - 00;23;54;17

May

You know, it's keeping us inside. So up until, like two days before we decided to reschedule the Unity March.

00;23;54;23 - 00;24;04;26

Jeanne

Okay. In response to some of the threats of violence or what was the, what was the deciding factor there?

00;24;05;09 - 00;24;29;22

May

Well, there was a lot of factors. We were scared that there were going to be other groups coming in to antagonize the crowds, whether they were neo-Nazis, I don't want to say Antifa, but we were scared of Antifa at that time, even though, you know, they mean well. But we didn't want any violence to happen and to have, you know.

00;24;29;22 - 00;24;39;14

Jeanne

Right, you didn't want things to escalate.

May

Right. Yeah.

Jeanne

Are those concerns that you're still dealing with in your work of escalation and violence?

00;24;39;14 - 00;25;12;29

May

Yes. I mean, I think just, us trying to protect the elections. You know, there is that fear that, you know, if the election deniers don't like the results, they're going to start something. You know, they carry around guns. The past two rallies that I was that, you know, there was a gun scare and I ended up running from the crowd because someone had shouted like "he's got a gun" or there was a confrontation.

00;25;13;16 - 00;25;19;01

May

So, I mean, the work is definitely getting hard, or harder.

00;25;20;07 - 00;25;59;13

Jeanne

When I talk to people, a lot of these shifts are centered on the pandemic in some way, whether it's additional hate or additional violence or in some cases, really good things. People move, people start new careers. People find ways to come out that they didn't feel like they could before. Do you think that some of the violence that you experience or have to take precautions around is something that's gotten worse during the pandemic and because of the pandemic?

00;25;59;13 - 00;26;03;00

Jeanne

Or do you see that as sort of just a just a parallel thing?

00;26;04;19 - 00;26;34;07

May

The pandemic does have something to do with it. But I think the overall is the climate crisis, which is causing, you know, the economy to not be stable and resources are limited now. So people are going to want to blame, you know, certain people for that. And it always results to people blaming immigrants coming in or, you know, communities of color.

00;26;34;15 - 00;26;36;07

May

And there's just more attention now.

00;26;37;09 - 00;27;20;07

Jeanne

That's something that I think is troubling. You know, you talked about how population growth is allowing for new kinds of organizing and community power building. And you mentioned moving here back around 2009. It's just gotten hotter every year since. Arizona could potentially be a pretty unlivable place if we don't take real climate action. So are you concerned from that perspective about how long you can stay in the state and what it could mean for the kinds of work that you're doing if Arizona turns into more of a climate disaster?

00;27;22;02 - 00;27;52;00

May

Oh, yeah, that is a battle I deal with every day is, you know, what is the future of Arizona? And because we do have a water crisis and just like, you know, it being, getting hotter every day, tensions are going to grow and people are going to start pointing fingers at, you know, the opposite group. And there's just there's just more fight to do here.

00;27;52;07 - 00;28;04;09

May

And I think, you know, I'm going to be here for a while because they're still lives that are affected right now. You know, I'm scared for the future, but right now, there's always going to be a fight.

00;28;04;24 - 00;28;24;06

Jeanne

So for you, a lot of the reason to stay in Arizona is because you want to make things better in Arizona. It's not like you're looking at it and saying this is going to get unlivable, do I need to leave? It's this might get unlivable, shat can I do to continue to live here? Is that an accurate assessment?

00;28;24;22 - 00;28;46;20

May

Yeah, no, I definitely have hope still. I think especially with Gen-Z'ers, like they just get it. And the youth, they understand a lot of people have climate anxiety. They want everyone to work together and come up with solutions. And that's not going to happen if people who organize the community start leaving.

00;28;47;14 - 00;29;06;07

Jeanne

What are some of the things that give you hope when you work with younger people? I know that you have like a fellowship program. What do you see in terms of their perspective and what is it like to work with people in that position and that point in their life?

00;29;07;04 - 00;29;37;20

May

Oh, I think they're just so, they're more empathetic. You know, they can see themselves in other people's shoes and really look into the issues. They also are tech savvy. So, you know, if I just bring up an issue, they're able to research, research it and really follow the science. Where, you know, the older generations, they don't know how to navigate the Internet.

00;29;38;01 - 00;29;39;21

May

Oh, I don't want to say all of them.

00;29;40;15 - 00;30;01;15

Jeanne

I mean, that's fair. Yeah, but I think that's that's true of the experience. Right. There's there's some old people who have been using computers for their entire lives, too. But it's different when you're 20 and the iPod existed when you were born. Right. That that's a different experience.

00;30;01;15 - 00;30;17;26

May

Yeah. And so, yeah, I guess with older people, it is a little harder to get them to even want to research more on an issue because they may be too busy or they're already set in stone with their beliefs.

00;30;18;08 - 00;30;26;15

Jeanne

So is that something that you run into in your work? Do you have those moments of trying to connect to older generations?

00;30;27;22 - 00;30;33;10

May

Our approach is speaking to the youth and having them speak to their family members.

00;30;33;11 - 00;30;33;28

Jeanne

Oh, okay.

00;30;34;05 - 00;30;36;01

May

I think that is the most effective.

00;30;36;07 - 00;30;58;26

Jeanne

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. What do you see as the role of family in a lot of these issues? Because I think, you know, with queer identities, sometimes the family can be a source of a lot of trauma or at least trouble. But there's also a lot of power, I think, in terms of how culture is carried through families.

00;31;00;03 - 00;31;08;03

Jeanne

So in the work that you do, what do you see as the place of the family and how does it how does that play into things?

00;31;08;08 - 00;31;38;07

May

Yeah. So family is the driving factor of why I do this work. I mean, just seeing what my parents went through, working for a manufacturing company and seeing them being exploited for their labor and then realizing, you know, it's part of the bigger picture of how America use immigrants for labor jobs. And that's why, you know, they were allowing so many to come in.

00;31;38;07 - 00;31;49;09

Jeanne

Right.

May

And just through my family's experience, I'm able to really understand what's going on with the whole country.

00;31;50;06 - 00;31;52;27

Jeanne

Are both of your parents immigrants?

00;31;52;29 - 00;31;53;13

May

Yes.

00;31;53;20 - 00;32;10;09

Jeanne

And so as a as a kid of immigrant parents, what was your perception of the people around you like the city that you were in, the schools that you were in? What were some of those experiences like, in kind of a firsthand way?

00;32;11;20 - 00;32;46;13

May

Well, I mean, them being in the labor industry, they were away from the home, you know, often. And that led to like mental health issues because I was the only child. And being an organizer and speaking to the community, I was realizing that a lot of Asian American people had the same experience as me.

Jeanne

I see.

May

And, you know, it's not by coincidence, like, oh, how come all these Asian Americans have these jobs that are like back breakers?

00;32;46;23 - 00;33;10;20

May

Well, they did it on purpose. They allowed people to come from different countries and then put them into these jobs and really didn't give them a good exit plan. You know, right now my parents are working under the table because they were laid off because, you know, physically they can't do the work anymore and they have to figure out what they're going to do for their retirement.

00;33;11;18 - 00;33;16;14

May

And that story is very common within the AAPI community.

00;33;17;16 - 00;33;28;06

Jeanne

And it doesn't seem like there's the resources that that community that your parents are in needs. Those resources, aren't there?

00;33;28;07 - 00;33;30;04

May

No, they don't even speak English, so

00;33;30;06 - 00;33;31;14

Jeanne

Ah yeah.

00;33;32;07 - 00;33;44;12

May

I mean, they're little better off in Chicago because they have more translation services. But in Arizona, it's, it's worse here. And that's why I think the work that we do is really important.

00;33;45;11 - 00;34;08;22

Jeanne

Yeah, it is really important. I think I've spoken with other people about how in the Asian-American community in in Arizona, it can be really difficult to find resources or community centers and that actually the work you're doing is sometimes the first thing people can find where they can actually be around people who are like minded and have similar experiences.

00;34;09;08 - 00;34;36;18

May

Yeah, and that was the whole point of the healing circle, the LGBTQ edition.

Jeanne

Yeah.

May

Like, I felt like I had no support within the AAPI community for being queer. You know, I feel the most judged by Asian-Americans because of what I dealt with with my family. So I wanted to make sure that people had a place to go to talk about the Asian-American identity and also being queer.

00;34;37;08 - 00;34;50;29

Jeanne

Yeah. So that series, you've been doing a series of different healing events, right? And you're bringing in issues like LGBTQ identities. What are some of the other experiences that you're bringing into those spaces?

00;34;51;17 - 00;34;56;00

May

The one we did before was bridging the generational gap.

00;34;56;06 - 00;34;56;17

Jeanne

Okay.

00;34;56;21 - 00;35;14;22

May

So just talking about the family experience and being so different. And then the next one we're doing is coping with climate anxiety.

Jeanne

Okay.

May

And then we also want to do one that focuses on mental health with AANHPI people and, who knows what more we'll do.

00;35;14;23 - 00;35;49;06

Jeanne

Yeah, I love that though. I think everything we've talked about, we've already touched on those things. We've touched on generational relationships and climate change and mental health and LGBT identities, and I think that's how life works. Things aren't silos, right? But a lot of people don't approach the work of organizing outside of a silo. It seems like just the experiences you've had as a person who exists in multiple overlapping spaces is what informs that work.

00;35;49;12 - 00;35;59;27

Jeanne

But I'd be curious to know what your sense is of why maybe things don't gel as well as they potentially could.

00;36;01;01 - 00;36;26;18

May

I mean, the whole point of me putting out the unity march was for cross-cultural collaboration.

Jeanne

Yeah.

May

And I think we have so many organizations that are, you know, indigenous, Latino or Latinx, Black, LGBTQ, but we're not speaking to each other, even though we have the same enemy.

00;36;27;03 - 00;36;27;14

Jeanne

Right.

00;36;28;06 - 00;36;53;18

May

You know, and if we all were to come together, we would be we would be able to move mountains. But, you know, back in the sixties, they had the Third World Liberation Front, and that was destroyed because they came up with the model minority myth and basically pitted Asians and black people against each other. And we're constantly, I mean, I'm not saying we're —

00;36;54;11 - 00;37;12;29

Jeanne

It's okay. I don't think it's like dire. I don't think it's like people can't talk to each other. From my perspective, the Unity March was a big success. Do you think that that's something that's going to keep getting better? Is that something that you're seeing moving forward? Is that ability to collaborate and talk to each other?

00;37;13;11 - 00;37;38;15

May

Yeah, I would love to do more unity marches. I think maybe what I'm saying with the other organizations is the way that the system is, it ends up being white people who are in charge with the funding. So we are always tiptoeing around, like the real issues. And when we do speak up, they tend to kind of like put it on the backburner.

00;37;39;03 - 00;38;02;03

Jeanne

Yeah, there's a way things get prioritized based on funding decisions and sometimes just a fear of conflict that I think does end up with worse outcomes, like you're talking about. I know that we've talked in the past about the fact that the work you're doing is unique and that attracts funders who wouldn't previously be engaging that work.

00;38;02;03 - 00;38;18;00

Jeanne

So it seems like maybe that is a trend that is going to happen where some of the systems of control and dependency can maybe break down and make room for more of the kind of work that you're promoting.

00;38;19;19 - 00;38;31;25

May

Yeah, I think it is going in that direction. More funders are looking for work that is promoting, you know, marginalized communities and communities of color. So that's a good thing.

00;38;32;27 - 00;38;59;13

Jeanne

You know, it's a really specific choice to say, I'm going to go into nonprofit work and advocacy work where things maybe aren't always stable, the funding isn't stable, sometimes the organizations aren't stable. And yet I know basically everyone that works in this field goes through some kind of crisis like that, maybe every couple of years, and then says, okay, let me start over again.

00;38;59;17 - 00;39;18;09

Jeanne

Let me keep doing this. I think I have a really good sense after talking to you and just knowing you, what keeps you going. But just from like a psychological standpoint, that cycle of chaos, I don't get why it doesn't push us out of the work. What is it that.

00;39;18;09 - 00;39;19;00

May

We love it!

00;39;19;23 - 00;39;20;02

Jeanne

Yeah.

00;39;20;07 - 00;39;21;11

May

We're chaos fiends!

00;39;23;08 - 00;39;40;27

Jeanne

What is it then that makes it worth it for you to push through some of those difficult things about funding and prioritization and then just say, yeah, okay, dust myself off, pick myself up, get back at it.

00;39;42;00 - 00;40;07;00

May

I mean, I did go to college to study philosophy and I was always interested in like governance and just like how society should be, you know? And I feel like with community organizing, that's a way of philosophers to share their wisdom and knowledge and to kind of share that vision of a society that they would want to be a part of.

00;40;07;22 - 00;40;30;13

Jeanne

For you, is there something that grounds you? Because that's not something that can just happen. Right? Like you're dealing with the constraints of society and the constraints of the nonprofit model and saying, here's the better vision, let's make it work. I think that that's a way to have a more sustainable and healthy organization and eventually a more sustainable and healthy society.

00;40;30;25 - 00;40;37;09

Jeanne

But it's a long process and it's kind of a painful process. So what keeps you grounded through that?

00;40;38;18 - 00;41;03;10

May

It is definitely a long process, but we do see, you know, improvements in society. I think if you look at more progressive states, they're doing some amazing things like what, Pennsylvania with criminal justice reform, you know, just like people who are running for attorney general or county attorney.

00;41;03;13 - 00;41;03;26

Jeanne

Yeah.

00;41;04;05 - 00;41;10;12

May

Those people share the vision and they're almost in the seat of power to change things.

00;41;10;18 - 00;41;25;19

Jeanne

Yeah. So you're able to see, here's the victory that can happen this year and see how that lines up with victories that can happen the year after and ten years from now. And that's what keeps you going?

00;41;25;25 - 00;41;48;18

May

Yeah. And I mean, I'm not going to lie, like, Bernie Sanders, he really energized me. And I think a lot of people, he you know, really started this workers movement and it really took one person and one campaign to, you know, rock the boat for corporations.

00;41;48;19 - 00;42;05;15

Jeanne

Yeah, seriously. And I think, you know, what I've seen is, is that campaign hasn't been successful in itself, but more and more campaigns are now using the tactics and the messages from the Sanders campaign.

00;42;05;24 - 00;42;15;10

May

Yeah, yeah. As long as you put it out there, someone might get inspired and end up using your stuff as their own. Which is good!

00;42;15;17 - 00;42;27;14

Jeanne

It is. Do you see that that's happening with your work? You're putting a lot of cool ideas out there. You're putting a lot of cool projects and programs and events out. Are you seeing that kind of uptake?

00;42;28;21 - 00;42;56;29

May

I think with us, I mean, it's mutual. I mean, I get inspired by a lot. Like, I mean, just being a part of Puente for that amount of time, I was able to see how the Latino community organized to stop SB 1070 and we're using their tools or their like template and kind of like putting it into our new AAPI organization.

00;42;57;11 - 00;43;12;19

May

So and then same with like, you know a lot of people, they were inspired by the civil rights movement and learning how, you know, the tactics and strategies they did. We're still doing that in 2022. I mean, not much has changed.

00;43;13;28 - 00;43;40;08

Jeanne

Right. I really like that historical approach to the work. You were talking about movements that fell apart and looking at why they fell apart and how to repair that and rebuild. You have a really thoughtful and forward thinking approach to the work that I really appreciate. I think maybe this is a good place to close, but do you have anything coming up with your organization that you want to promote?

00;43;40;28 - 00;43;49;10

May

Well, on September 24th, we are organizing a music festival called Phochella.

00;43;50;07 - 00;43;50;22

Jeanne

Nice.

00;43;51;11 - 00;44;03;23

May

The flier hasn't come out yet, but we're working with Fuerte Arts Movement and then a couple other organizations. But more information to be announced.

00;44;04;10 - 00;44;04;24

Jeanne

Nice, okay.

00;44;04;24 - 00;44;05;07

May

To be determined.

00;44;05;20 - 00;44;08;13

Jeanne

Well, maybe when I publish this I'll be able to put a link in. That sounds really exciting.

00;44;08;13 - 00;44;10;11

May

Yeah, it'll be cool.

00;44;10;29 - 00;44;12;27

Jeanne

All right. Well, thanks for recording with me today.

00;44;12;29 - 00;44;44;21

May

Yeah, well, one last thing. I mean, what I truly believe, what really drives me in doing this work is, I think if we, if we liberate marginalized communities in America, then that will domino into liberating the whole world. And that, that's going to, it needs to be done with the climate crisis, and we need to start fighting it as a whole planet rather than, you know, fighting for resources and all that.

00;44;44;24 - 00;44;44;29

Jeanne

Yes.

00;44;46;01 - 00;45;15;14

Jeanne

I love that. I love that. Thank you. And thanks again to May Tiwamangkala for joining me on this episode of The Arizona Equals Conversation. If you'd like to be a guest on a future episode of the podcast, or if you want to dove into the archives of past episodes, just visit EqualityArizona.org/stories. Thanks for listening. And don't forget to tune in next Wednesday.