San Franciscans are known for a lot of things. Depending on who you talk to, we’re techies, countercultural misfits, foodies, or something else entirely. But two local communities are particularly emblematic of San Francisco’s historical identity: those who make up San Francisco’s world-famous Chinatown, and the loud and out LGBTQ community.
Yet, it’s only in 2021 that these two communities are coming together to host the first Chinatown Pride. Organized by both San Francisco Pride and the Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco (CCC), the hour-long online fundraising event will bring together performers, historians, artists, and even local businesses. Viewers can tune-in on Thursday, March 25, from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.
“Being someone who was born and raised here in San Francisco, I feel like I would expect there to have already been some type of Asian pride thing here — but that’s just not the case,” says Aria Villajin, who performs in drag under the name Pearl Teese. In years past, Villajin hosted both the KPIX and CBS live streams of San Francisco Pride. This year, Villajin will present a video-taped drag performance filmed by queer Latinx filmmaker Stephen Quinones atop the scenic pedestrian bridge connecting Portsmouth Square to the Hilton Hotel. “I hope I do Asian pride justice, because we don’t have anything else like that here, and I don’t know of anything like it anywhere else,” she says.
The Chinatown Pride event is an extension of an existing project titled Women: From Her to Here which showcases thematic artworks in the CCC’s gallery space inside the Hilton Hotel. The artworks to be presented on Thursday are each made by female and LGBTQ+ artists with Asian diasporic perspectives, including Chelsea Wong, Tina Takemoto, Arthur Dong, and Heesoo Kwon. Villajin’s performance tops off the night, which she says is all about “being a woman and owning it.”
The event will hopefully offer a moment of reprieve for intersecting communities struck by hardship. The death of Vicha Ratanapakdee and an attack this week on 75-year-old Xiao Zhen Xie, both of which happened in San Francisco, shook the local community and came amidst a spike in reports of anti-Asian violence nationwide. Earlier this week, a series of mass shootings in Atlanta left 8 people dead — 6 of them Asian women.
Because of a combination of anti-Asian racism, fear of violence, and a dependence on foot traffic and tourism, Chinatown has also taken a disproportionate economic blow during the pandemic. And though the state and federal government has not been tracking COVID-19 illnesses in the LGBTQ community specifically, many LGBTQ activists are also suspicious that cases, deaths, and economic impacts of the pandemic have hit the queer community particularly hard.
“I hope and think that this is something that can uplift the local Asian community,” says Villajin. “Business owners are really going through it, so I hope this will help create a change.”