Published March 31, 2021

For nearly half a century, Virginia Humanities has helped bring Virginians closer together through storytelling that fosters a deeper understanding of our histories and cultures. This includes grappling with the enduring violence, racism, and white supremacy that began here when the first European settlers arrived on Tsenacommacah shores. 

In this time of collective grief and determination, we stand with Virginia’s Asian and Pacific Islander communities. “We have the right to be here,” proclaims Poet Laureate of Virginia Luisa A. Igloria. Virginia Humanities firmly believes this, too.

You Can’t Talk to Us Like That

-after Kathleen Graber

America, I’ve got a touch of cabin fever too
& wish I could go to a favorite restaurant again,
walk down a short flight of steps into the cool
brick-lined interior of what used to be a speak-
easy. Wouldn’t it be great to order a dozen each
of the local oyster varieties, some bread
& butter, a nice pull of something bubbly.
We’d sing happy birthday or happy anniversary
while clinking glasses & taking group pictures.
But what if there’s a man at a nearby table
whose hatred boils over at the sight of anyone—
but especially brown people like us—having
the gumption to reach for a little joy
during this time of sickness & despair,
which sometimes feels worse than death?
America, he thinks we cannot be in the same
room with him. So we get video rolling. We
ask him to repeat the hateful obscenities
he’s hurled our way, so he can be held
accountable & shown out of the building.
We hold our ground, America. After all
the years our kind broke their backs
& your hard soil to bring fruit & grain
to your table just so you can put a clean
white cloth & a crystal service on it;
after graveyard shifts during which
our kind daily tend to your sick
& dying: we have the right to be here
& the wages are overdue.

-Luisa A. Igloria

“You Can’t Talk to Us Like That” by Luisa A. Igloria, Virginia Poet Laureate 2020-2022 and participant in the 2021 Virginia Festival of the Book. Image by Ramona Martinez. Letterpress printed at Virginia Center for the Book, a program of Virginia Humanities, Charlottesville, 2021.

Listen to more stories from Asians and Pacific Islanders in Virginia and beyond.

During Virginia Humanities’ all-virtual 2021 Virginia Festival of the Book, poets and Old Dominion University professors Luisa A. Igloria (Maps for Migrants and Ghosts) and Benjamín Naka-Hasebe Kingsley (Dēmos: An American Multitude) weave together personal and family histories—from Igloria’s childhood in the Philippines to Kingsley’s intersection of Onondaga, Japanese, Cuban, and Appalachian cultures—to document the transformative promise and simultaneous intolerance of U.S. society.

Children of Asian immigrants face both pressures at home and the demands of the broader U.S. American culture. In this episode of With Good Reason, Social Worker Peter Nguyen (Virginia Commonwealth University) says we need more culturally sensitive therapists and social workers to help parents and children work through the extremely tough task of living in two worlds.

Born into a community of nurses in Virginia Beach and raised by a Philippines-born mother who practiced nursing for forty years, Ren Capucao tells the story of Filipino nursing in Virginia through oral histories, filmed narratives, photographs, and maps, organized around topics including gender, race, and culture.

Read A Culture to Care »

Former Virginia Humanities Fellow April Manalang (Norfolk State University) says that the concept of ‘indebtedness’ to their new home in the United States is a prime motivating factor in the Filipino community. It’s also a factor in the communities’ strong ties to military service. Learn more in this episode of With Good Reason.

Some of the Vietnam War’s most enduring legacies are Vietnamese communities in the U.S., made up of refugees who arrived in large numbers after the Fall of Saigon. Members of the next generation describe the delicate balance of growing up as both Vietnamese and U.S. American, and discuss immigration today. Learn more in this episode of With Good Reason.

Author Kim O'Connell

In her forthcoming book, The Saving Grace of Spring Rolls, former Virginia Humanities Fellow Kim O’Connell draws on her own family history to navigate and illuminate the broader Vietnamese immigrant experience in the years during and after the Vietnam War.

Read a Q&A with O’Connell »

Erika Lee, Director of the Immigration History Center and professor of American History and Asian American Studies at the University of Minnesota, talks with BackStory’s Nathan Connolly and Joanne Freeman about how three Chinese and Chinese-Americans helped change U.S. perceptions of China.

Vanessa Adkins, right, is apprenticing under her cousin Jessica Canaday Stewart learning the finer points of traditional Chickahominy dancing. Photos taken at the Fall Festival and Pow Wow in Charles City on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012.

Our work brings people together and honors our shared humanity.