DJ Kuttin Kandi is a retired hip hop DJ and activist, organizer, writer and artist who also co-founded Asian Solidarity Collective, a San Diego organization working to create Asian solidarity with other marginalized and oppressed communities. She is an alumni of Meridian’s Next Level program. For Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) heritage month, we’re excited to bring you her perspective on intersectionality and storytelling.
What does AAPI month mean to you?
Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage months means many things to me. First, it really means that not only must I be proud of my heritage but that I must always remember where I come from. It means that I must know my hxstory. Friends like our Filipinx people’s beloved historian Dr. Dawn Mabalon taught us the importance of our hxstory. The Asian American identity itself has origins connecting back to the 1960s during the early formation of the Asian American community. It was Asian American activists and writers like Frank Chin who stated, “Asian Americans are not one people but several.” We are not a monolith.
At its core, Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage month is really about celebration of who we are, amplifying those most impacted in our own communities and honoring our stories of resilience, resistance and struggle for collective liberation.
In addition, it is important to emphasize that we often name Asian American and Pacific Islander together as AAPI when Pacific Islander folx are often excluded. So, it’s imperative that when we celebrate a “heritage,” we are really more than just aware and proud of who we are but we actually center those who are at the margins of our own Asian American communities as well. At its core, Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage month is really about celebration of who we are, amplifying those most impacted in our own communities and honoring our stories of resilience, resistance and struggle for collective liberation.
Given the heightened injustices against the AAPI community in the last year, why is this AAPI month particularly important?
Anti-Asian violence is nothing new as it can be dated back to the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Page Act and the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, and it has continued through the surveillance targeting Muslims and South Asians following 9/11; the Vietnam War; Watsonville Riots; anti-miscegenation laws; the “no Filipinos allowed” signs; the murders of Vincent Chin, Angelo Quinto, Toby Diller, Dennis Carolino; the violence LGBTQ2IA+ Asian communities experience; the scapegoating of Asians during the COVID-19 pandemic; the fetishization of and racialized misogyny toward Asian women; the murder of six Asian women in Atlanta, GA; and the most recent shooting attacking the Sikh community in Indianapolis. There has always been a long history of anti-Asian violence. This is nothing new. However, what it calls us to do is that we must make a commitment to how we show up for one another, how we talk more than just visibility but how we name our hxstory and struggles and how we’ve always been a part of a long legacy of fighting for not just our own freedom but the liberation of all oppressed peoples. It begs of us to remember how the Asian American identity was originally intended to challenge all forms of oppression, not simply just about representation but rather an understanding of Lilla Watson‘s words that “our liberty is bound together.” This month is a reminder to stay consistently engaged in movement-building work for the rest of the 11 months of the year, until we all get free.
At Meridian we believe that a diversity of perspectives brings better ideas and outcomes. Can you talk about how you strive to infuse inclusion and diversity in your daily life and work?
My daily life and work as an Executive Director of an Asian American grassroots organization is dedicated to building intersectional solidarity with Black, Brown, Indigenous, and people of color communities. As an organizer for 25 years, it has been my lifetime commitment to do more than just talk about and strive for inclusion and diversity but rather fight alongside those who are most impacted within our own Asian communities and across all oppressed communities. It is a practice that is not just through actions but through the behind the scenes work that is often unseen. It is also in our own practices of decentering and deconditioning, and how we have to unlearn the ways we have been complicit in anti-Black racism as well as in other forms of oppression. It is about recognizing the ways we have been privileged and doing work to dismantle those privileges as well as naming where we are also oppressed. It is about the ways in which we must build power and collective action. This is work that entails strong efforts in base-building, campaign strategy and development, relationship-building, political education and coalition building. This is a lifetime commitment.
What is something you would like to see your work sector do differently in the future, as it relates to AAPI month?
I think in general, what I’d like to see is continuous efforts from all in doing more than just talking about representation and visibility but really speaking truth to power and the call for solidarity. But it’s not solidarity for “unity” sake; it’s solidarity that is intentionally striving for justice and freedom.
How has your identity has shaped your experience in your field, if at all? What does leadership mean to you?
My identity has definitely shaped my experience in all the fields I work in today. As a hip hop artist that has been influenced and inspired by hip hop pioneers, I learned early on the importance of always “giving back to the community.” This message taught me that hip hop was bigger than anyone, that this must always go back to the people. Hip hop feminism, a term coined by Joan Morgan, became a guide for me in understanding that all forms of oppression are connected but that there are gray areas in how we do and live hip hop. As an Asian American artist that has contributed in hip hop culture which is rooted in Black culture, I also understood my place and positionality as a guest in hip hop culture that not only must be a participant contributing an element of hip hop but also must be committed to the liberation of Black people and all oppressed communities. Hip hop guided me on this journey of understanding and acting. I became politicized because of hip hop. It also strengthened my identity as an Asian American. As someone who has co-founded and led many organizations, I don’t necessarily believe it’s about “leadership” per say, but more so transformative leadership which is the model that asks questions of justice and democracy. Transformative leaders must examine themselves and their practices and the ways in which they may be replicating oppressive systems in their work, organizations and movement-building efforts. Transformative leaders are committed to constantly challenging their own work and their practices in order to actively work at advancing equity and justice.