Why are you here? Nobody ever asks it so bluntly, but I have been asked variations of this question as a Japanese woman living in America. I have answered this question in a variety of ways. For school. Grad school. My job. My husband’s job. Because I like it here?
Ever since launching a Nashville-based group for writers who identify as AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islanders), I have found that many of us have wrestled with this very question and how to answer it. Some of us grew up in Nashville, and have been on the receiving end of, “Where are you really from?” far too many times. Some of us moved to Nashville from other cities like I did, and can defer to what they’re doing in this specific city with a tinge of defensiveness. Some of us are immigrants, who wonder why indeed are we here, in a place that doesn’t seem to welcome us?
I knew, leading up to our first AAPI writers’ gathering, that such a question could be charged with bad memories. Still, I felt compelled to ask the fifteen people who showed up: Why are you here? What do you hope to get out of this meetup?
Almost everyone said: We’re already getting it. Community. Just being in the same room with other writers who also identify as Asian American Pacific Islanders, a group that many of us didn’t even realize could be big enough to justify being a group in a place like Nashville. A group where you didn’t have to explain yourself, a safe space where you could voice real feelings and thoughts that might be more difficult to utter elsewhere. The group also yearned for accountability, in the form of deadlines and workshops.
Then, somebody said: Can we keep this program going forever?
In those first two hours we spent together in October 2022, we came up with an entire plan for the subsequent six months: more meetups, writing workshops designed for AAPI writers taught by AAPI instructors, and a public reading event during Asian Heritage Month where we could share our progress with our family and friends.
That’s exactly what happened. On Sunday, May 21, 2023, our group had its first public showcase, co-sponsored by The Porch and API Middle Tennessee (a wonderful nonprofit that has also consistently sponsored the Asian snacks consumed by the writers at every one of our meetups).
For a long time, I had simply accepted that Nashville might not be as diverse as New York or other bigger cities. Seeing the AAPI Writers showcase come to life, with so many people there in support, altered my understanding of our city. Nashville is diverse—we are simply scattered.
The showcase was featured as a Critic’s Pick in the Nashville Scene, which likely helped to bring in 70 people to the event that day. The room was fuller than I, and the other presenters, had anticipated.
This inaugural event celebrated the depth and diversity of AAPI writers. The lineup included an interactive digital work by Jenny Zheng; poetry by James Kyson, Nina Coyle, and Jing Geng; fiction by Jackie Richardson; a premiere of a short autobiographical play by Josh Inocalla; and essays by Steve Haruch, Tomiko Peirano, and JR Robles. Topics included family, names, adolescence, mockingbirds, language, the universe, identity, and more.
For a long time, I had simply accepted that Nashville might not be as diverse as New York or other bigger cities. Seeing this showcase come to life, with so many people there to support them, altered my understanding of our city. Nashville is diverse—we are simply scattered. My hope is that with more meetups and events, we can continue to tell our stories, and show this city and each other that we are here.
Mon, July 24, 5-6pm at The Porch: A Conversation with Jin Auh: Challenges Facing AAPI Writers, and Finding Community and Advocates (register here)
In this special event, literary agent Jin Auh will be in conversation with her colleague Matt Paco about the challenges facing AAPI writers in the book publishing industry today, and what it means to find community and advocates as emerging writers.
Sun, September 24, 2-4pm at The Porch: Nashville AAPI Writers Meetup (Free with registration here) There will be networking, writing, sharing, snacking. The writing exercise will revolve around the theme of “gratitude.”
SAVE THE DATE! Wed, October 18, 7-9:30pm at The Foundry: API Fall Harvest Fest! Mark your calendars now for this special event, where three local AAPI writers (TBD) will read pieces about their relationship to food, harvest, and gratitude. This ticketed event is a collaboration between our writers group, The Porch, Shoes Off Nashville, and API Middle Tennessee.
If you are interested in learning more about the Nashville AAPI Writers Group, feel free to contact Yurina at firstname.lastname@example.org. We aim to have our own website and Instagram up and running by this fall, so stay tuned.
Yurina Yoshikawa is the Director of Education at The Porch. She holds an MFA from Columbia University, and her writing has appeared in The Atlantic, NPR, Lit Hub, The Japan Times, and elsewhere. She was the winner of the 2020 Tennessee True Stories Contest and a 2021 recipient of the Tennessee Arts Commission. She has lived in Tokyo, Palo Alto, and New York before settling down in East Nashville, where she lives with her husband and two sons. She serves on the boards of the Nashville Philharmonic Orchestra and API Middle Tennessee, and is a co-organizer of the Nashville AAPI Writers Group. You can subscribe to her newsletter here, and visit her website for more information.