If you drove down 880 on July 4, you may have seen a different kind of American flag projected upon a 20-story building near Lake Merritt. The flag, which is a large, blue square with white text completed by a ribbon of red and white stripes along the bottom, read “Dear America, Fix Your Racism.” Fireworks, it seems, weren’t the only reason to look up Independence Day weekend.
The striking image was part of “Dear America,” a series of mostly-unsanctioned, multi-story projections organized by the interdisciplinary Oakland-based artist Christy Chan. The series is a response to anti-Asian racism, and particularly violence against elders.
Featuring text in varying combinations of English, Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese, and Thai, the projections will be cast on a variety of buildings throughout the Bay Area select evenings this month. In addition to the July 4 call to action, the series includes a few more bumper sticker-worthy quotations, including “White Supremacy is the Original Cancel Culture,” “Asian America is America,” and “Hands off Waipo and Gong Gong,” affectionate terms for grandmother and grandfather in Chinese.
“In a time when the right to belong of Asian Americans is being questioned, taking up space matters,” says Chan. “In sharp contrast to the false notion that Asian Americans are a people whose belonging in America must be granted by non-Asian Americans, this project is about Asian Americans unapologetically taking up space, celebrating each other’s presence, and not asking permission to do so.”
While most of the projections have been in Oakland, two will be shown in San Francisco this week. The exact location of the Thursday, July 15, projection has not been disclosed, though a press release states it will be somewhere in “Downtown San Francisco.” Seekers are encouraged to go to the Instagram page @dear_america_project, where they can answer a question about Asian American history to learn the exact address. On Sunday July 18, another will be shown in Huntington Park in collaboration with Grace Cathedral.
Though Chan spearheaded the project, it is fundamentally collaborative, featuring the works of seven different artists and artist-led organizations. For example, Texas-born multidisciplinary artist Mel Chin collaborated with the organization For Freedoms, which works with artists to center their voices in democratic discourse. Their projection, which reads “Black Lives Matter” in English and Chinese along with the English words “Better Together,” was shown on a 20-story building near Lake Merritt. Another participant in the project, Christine Wong Yap, is both an artist and social practitioner who partners with local organizations to research psychological wellbeing, belonging, and resistance. Her piece, projected on Mills College, read “Less discrimination. More Understanding,” in Chinese. Other artists participating are ceramicist Cathy Lu, the artistic collaboration between Michele Carlson, Weston Teruya, and Nathan Watson called Related Tactics, and one third of Filipina-American artist trio M.O.B., Jenifer K Wofford.
The confrontational nature of the artwork is meant to seize public space in an act of reclamation. Unlike the quiet and submissive stereotype often placed on Asian Americans as the “model minority,” the artworks are bold and demand attention. “There is a presumption that non-Asians get to decide when and where Asian voices and bodies get to belong,” says Yap. “Displaying a message in Chinese is about taking up space and saying ‘we belong,’ on our terms.”
In addition to the artists, several community organizations are supporting the project as well, including the Chinese Historical Society of America, Grace Cathedral, Kala Art Institute, the Mills College Art Museum, the Montalvo Arts Center, and Stand with Asian Americans. The project is also supported by community donations, collected via the Kala Art Institute website.
“This violence didn’t begin with Trump. It began centuries ago and has been preserved by passive attitudes about the long-running, broad effects of white supremacy culture,” says Chan. “But we all have the power to speak against inequality, right here in our backyard.”