The book (especially Chapter 8 and 11) explores many contributions Ric has made, as one of the APAIT’s co-founders, to the AIDS movement in Los Angeles. A “boot-camp” for people with AIDS jump-started Ric’s early activism, even as women and people of color continued to be marginalized by many mainstream AIDS organizations. This excerpt illustrates how predominantly White AIDS organizations continued to fumble when working with communities of color, well into the 1990s.
Ric Parish has a story that illustrates the clumsy ways predominately White AIDS service organizations tried to serve people of color. In 1996, Ric finally left APAIT to work for L.A. Shanti. Shanti – a Sanskrit word meaning “inner peace” – provided emotional support to people living with HIV and was located in the heart of Hollywood. Many years before, Ric had gone to Shanti's Positive Living for Us (PLUS) Weekend Seminar. He credited PLUS for turning his depression from his AIDS diagnosis into self-empowerment that fueled his AIDS activism and career. "It was basically boot camp for people who were newly diagnosed with HIV. A full weekend of seminars starting at eight in the morning to six at night, PLUS would cover different topics like drug treatment options, nutrition, insurance and public benefits. Then it would have support groups for people to talk about how to get care, how to live. That weekend changed my life. There were about a hundred people there. Being able to see that many people who were in the same boat as me was…it shifted my consciousness." PLUS was the program Joël ran after he left APAIT, and when he was planning his move to San Francisco, Joël recruited Ric to replace him. Ric didn’t need to be asked twice.
He didn't know, until he started working there, that the organization was struggling. "L.A. Shanti was very embedded in West LA, West Hollywood, gay White male reality, which afforded them huge amount of money for such a small organization. That was the envy of other organizations." Along with APLA and the Gay and Lesbian Community Service Center, L.A. Shanti was among that first wave of AIDS service organizations in Los Angeles, though it never grew to the same scale as its peers. So when the funding trends started to shift towards communities of color, the organization had a hard time adjusting. "They had no people of color on their board. They had no people of color in their reality or their consciousness," Ric said, as he quickly realized the task of making that adjustment fell on him and another new hire, Ximena Morgan, who was brought on to run the Spanish version of the PLUS Weekend. "They expected her to deliver the Latino community and for me to deliver everybody else."
Although he had had a critical understanding of racism in the gay community, Ric still found the reality of going "from a pure API consciousness within the realm of people of color into a White organization that had no clue on how to do outreach, to even talk to people of color, much less serve people of color" more abrupt than he had expected. Even when he was there, Joël tried to tell the Shanti leadership that Black people weren’t coming to the PLUS weekend “because, I don’t know, the legacy of Jim Crow.” Befuddled, the leadership responded, “What do you mean? We’re wide open. They can sign up anytime.” Ric understood that was the mentality he had to contend with, and he also knew that if they wanted more people of color to come, they needed to go to them. So he decided to run the PLUS Weekend in Watts to attract more African American people living with HIV. He recalled, "It threw everybody into chaos and terror because they were afraid. 'Oh, they're going to kill us!' There were people who literally said that to me. It was surreal. We did it, anyway. Somehow I managed to get the leadership team to back me on this." He ran the seminars at Watts Healthcare Foundation, a longstanding institution in the community. "Nobody died. In fact, by day two of the weekend, the White queens were having little field trips. 'We had soul food. We went to the mall. We took pictures at the Watts Towers.' It was like, Oh my God, really? It was comical but it was also heartbreaking. That was a wake-up call for me."
L.A. Shanti did not survive the shift in the AIDS funding landscape. The White gay men L.A. Shanti typically served were living longer by the mid-nineties and staying healthy. AIDS was becoming less urgent for them, as the proportion of AIDS incidence began to shift towards people of color. Or in Ric's words, "They [L.A. Shanti] didn't know how to evolve with the epidemic." They closed up their shop in 2005. When that happened, Ric managed to save the PLUS Weekend and migrated the program to a new group called The Life Group LA, which he co-founded with Sunnie Rose-Berger. The Life Group LA continues to run the weekend seminar to this day.
Joël Barraquiel Tan
Joël Barraquiel Tan
In the book, Joël discusses the influence of his mother on his social justice stance. In this excerpt, Joël references the same story in Chapter 12 about Keith Kasai bringing his parents to a support group at the residence of Ellen and Harold Kameya’s. which Joël’s mother Toni Barraquiel, also attended. The story reveals so much about their mother-son relationship that drives Joël’s role as the enfant terrible in the AIDS movement.
Joël's mother, Toni Barraquiel, was also at the meeting at the Kameyas' that night because Joël had wanted her to meet other Asian parents of lesbian and gay children. She had met Keith, through Joël's work at APAIT. She reported the event that night to her son...and got mad at him for making her go. According to his mother, Joël said, "[Mrs. Kasai] cried the whole time. Keith's dad was ashamed, along the line like, 'I'm never going to have grandchildren, blah, blah, blah.’ Everybody was disappointed and distraught. When it got to my mom, she said, 'Shame on all of you. Your only job is to love your children unconditionally and you can't do that and you need support?' There was a moment she said to Keith's mom, 'Stop crying. I'm tired of hearing you cry. What are you crying about?' Keith's dad was like, 'Mrs. Tan..' She stopped him. 'Who told you I'm a Mrs. Tan?'" (Toni Barraquiel raised her son as a single mother and she continued to use her own family name.) She told the Kasais, "I know Keith. Keith is a good boy." Then, to Keith, she said, "Don't listen to your parents."
Afterwards, she seethed at Joël. He said, "She was so pissed at me. She was like, 'Why would you put me through that?' My mom was a fucking badass like that. It was a proud moment, but I think that helped also to inform who I was in the movement. If Mom's like that, fuck all of you."
Alice Y. Hom, who as a graduate student interviewed Joël's mother for her research, wrote this about them in her 1994 essay, "Stories from the Homefront: Perspectives of Asian American Parents with Lesbian Daughters and Gay Sons": "Their relationship as a single mother and only child has always been one of closeness and open communication so problems did not arise in terms of disclosing his sexual orientation." Ms. Barraquiel, one of the few people in Alice's study that didn't request a pseudonym in the essay, initially thought Joël's sexuality might have to do with the fact that she had to raise him alone, "a matriarchal thing." But then, she told Alice, "Even if I think that because I raised him alone as a mother, even if he came out to be gay, he was raised as a good person. No matter what I would say I'm still lucky he came out to be like that." And once she made up her mind, there was no convincing her otherwise.
Joël underestimated his mother. She didn't need a support group any more than he did. His mother's unconditional support to him gave Joël the bravado required for a self-proclaimed enfant terrible in the movement, even when it rubbed people the wrong way. Although he was just a few years older than me, Joël exuded confidence, the sense that he had a place in every conversation, no matter which room he walked in, while I and most of my peers were still wading through the muddy waters of community acceptance.
Sometimes, the best response to rejection is "fuck all of you." But as AIDS raised the visibility of queer APIs, including in immigrant communities, more of us were also coming home, imperfect as it might be.