The Main Ingredient to Interdependence is Relationship Building
When we took on the role of coordinating APIENC’s Summer Mutual Aid Project, we were both fairly new to APIENC, just joining as a volunteer and Summer Organizer. Despite our newness, we understood the importance of mutual aid in this moment and were committed to building interdependent QTAPI communities. We didn’t fully know what it would take and look like for APIENC’s intergenerational trans and queer Asian and Pacific Islander community in the Bay Area, so we were curious and committed to learning as we went.
We started by doing research on mutual aid, reading and watching online resources, and speaking with APIENC community members who have been involved with other mutual aid projects or networks of care. As we understand it, mutual aid is an anti-capitalist, anti-colonial, and anti-racist practice that relies on our relationships to foster care and support. It directly prioritizes the community, over larger institutions that do not serve us.
We know that trans and queer API folks do not have equitable access to resources necessary for survival. Existing with these two identities, and at the intersection of many other identities, is powerful to us, but often marginalized in mainstream society. This means that our needs are often not thoughtfully considered, even in LGBTQ+ or API communities. It also means that there are significant barriers to accessing what we need, such as healthcare, culturally nourishing foods, safe housing, and more. As an organization focused on building interdependence and creating new worlds, mutual aid efforts offer an opportunity to invest in our own people and break down individualism and charity. By practicing mutual aid, we can reinforce the power of collective action and build deep relationships as we support our own needs.
In the spirit of collectivity and interdependence, we formed a team to coordinate this mutual aid project. As a new member, I (Dominick) had slight hesitations in the beginning, given that I have only interacted with the APIENC community once or twice prior to joining the coordination team. However, as much as I was scared, I was also just as excited to be connected with APIENC community members and help out through whatever way I could. Through the process, I was met with warmth, kindness, and support from many different folks, and I was reminded about the necessity of interpersonal relationships, especially in these uncertain times. As a Summer Organizer, I (Em) was tasked with leading the summer mutual aid project, and at first I was feeling overwhelmed about how I was going to coordinate, while being a new member and doing it remotely from Coast Salish Territories. Before our first team meeting, I worried about how to make sure the team would be clear on the flow of the process. Luckily, Sammie helped me create a graphic to explain the process, and I learned more about where I need to grow my facilitation skills. With the help of the coordination team and many others, I was able to break down overwhelming feelings and focus on our community’s abundance and what we could do to meet our needs in an efficient and humanizing way. As a coordination team, we believed in the necessity of mutual aid work. At the same time, we knew that we didn’t have all the solutions, and that this short-term project would be an experiment giving us learnings for future projects.
Through a group chat, video calls, and emojis, we coordinated mutual aid over two and half weeks. We engaged 25 community members, who either provided support (with groceries, meals, deliveries, PPE, and emotional support calls), received support, or both. Throughout this process, we, ourselves, built deeper relationships, just as we were hoping for within the broader community. We held vulnerability, shared appreciations, and supported each other with our own capacities. The intimate interactions we had with one another while coordinating fast-paced logistics gave us an idea of how we wanted to build interdependence and trust with the broader community.
At times we had many tasks to juggle, and we learned that being a team of four allowed us the intimacy and trust to support each other through navigating various challenges. One challenge we faced was receiving no responses when we sent asks to our large list of volunteers. As we kept sending out asks for support with no response, we worried about our ability to meet the needs of our people within our timeline, especially given the urgency of some requests. To move forward, we reminded ourselves of the abundance of our community and trusted that there were people that were willing and had the capacity to help. Instead of worrying, we thought about adapting our approach. We then decided to reach out to volunteers individually with strong, personalized asks, which was instantly more effective. This only reinforced the lesson that individual relationships are crucial to building interdependent communities where everyone feels seen, valued, and cared for. Even when starting the project, this lesson was front and center, as we saw how important it was to create a space for participants to vulnerably name their specific needs at this moment. We know that it can be difficult to ask for help and name our needs, but by doing so we create stronger, lasting communities in which we can take care of each other with our own abundance.
Community members who received support reflected on how, by asking for help, we are reassuring that we all have needs, it’s okay to ask for help, and that community will do what they can to support. For a lot of us, this was a healing experience. We felt the impact of asking for help and receiving support without shame. We learned something beyond the ingrained way of being that many of our cultures taught us about asking for and receiving help.
Through coordinating this mutual aid project, we learned that the main ingredient of interdependence is relationship building. Interdependence can be built in so many ways, and often interdependence has meant survival for marginalized communities. With this, we know that we can and do build relationships that are intentionally caring, supportive, and abundant. This lesson will be carried with us as because it’s not only a practical organizing lesson, but one that shows what it takes for us to build a liberated world where we’re all cared for in the ways we deserve to be.
Dominick (He/They) is a queer second-gen Chinese-American, who was born and raised in a part of Ohlone Territory (currently occupied as SF and Daly City) and joined APIENC in the summer of 2020 to find community with other TGC/queer API folx. If not attending rad webinars on Zoom, they can be found tending to their plants either in real life or on Animal Crossing!
Em (they/them) is a trans and queer Cantonese person and settler who grew up on unceded Coast Salish Territories and is now living on stolen Lenape land (NYC).