COURTESY PHOTO/PIM SINGHATIRAJ
InspirASIANal Voices, a storytelling event arranged by the student organization RAISINS (Radical Asians), kicked off with the following question: “What is your first memory of a circle?” Club members distributed paper and markers to the audience members, who anonymously penned their answers. The answers were read periodically over the duration of the event and varied considerably. Some were inspired by family memories, some were connected to the mathematical definition of circle and some pertained to the idea of social circles. This activity introduced the theme of the event: the many connotations of the word “circle.”
The event on Thursday, Jan. 16 was the fifth annual InspirASIANal Voices hosted by RAISINS, a student organization that focuses on “raising Asian and Asian diaspora voices on campus for more visibility and doing activism work through that,” according to Stephen Chen ’19.5. The club operates through horizontal leadership, highlighting the voices of all club members rather than electing a single leader.
The first storyteller to speak was Pim Singhatiraj ’21.5, who began by reading a few poems that she wrote about “her childhood, her trilingualism and her bi-cultural identity.” Next, she told a story about bonding with her four queer aunts last summer while visiting her hometown: the island of Phuket, Thailand. Her story related to the theme of the event in that Singhatiraj felt she had gained a “circle of cool aunts to spend time with.”
Singhatiraj became interested in RAISINS after attending last year’s InspirASIANal Voices event. She has been involved with the organization ever since. “RAISINS helped me find my Asian community and makes me feel like I belong on this campus,” she said.
Rachel Lu ’23 spoke next, conveying the story of her name. She first explained the origin of her birth name, which came from a psychic who predicts which Chinese characters bestow the best fortune. Next, she spoke about a name she chose for herself in second grade after transferring to an international school in Shanghai. Ultimately, she showed how she came upon the name she now goes by, which she and her parents selected by the time she first attended high school in the United States.
“I think of all three names that I have as three circles that don’t fit together, and circles can be boundaries. You’re either in the circle or you’re not,” Lu said. “But when you really think about it, maybe my life is a Venn diagram, and I’m just in the middle.”
Stephen Chen ’19.5 opened by reading the Serenity Prayer and talking about his Christian faith. His story revolved around relinquishing control and passing along leadership knowledge. Themes of accountability and the power of verbalizing one’s thoughts to others also surfaced, with the ultimate lesson being that vocal expression connects the speaker with the audience.
“The circle that you’ve selected to be around you knows how to support you,” Chen said. “Announcing your goals allows other people to enter into your own circle, into what you previously had a tight control over.”
Christine Nabung ’22 performed last, reading four poems that she wrote. The first two were about her grandmothers, one of whom lives with her and the other who lives in the Philippines, where she was born. She addressed her grandmothers’ histories with colonization as well as the inability to digitally contact her grandparents in the Philippines.
Last year, club members collaborated to create a zine titled “The Asian and Asian-American Sexual Experience.” The organization also works to connect students and professors from similar cultural backgrounds. According to member Jasmine Chau ’21, this year, the club has also been working on amassing stories from Middlebury’s Asian residents, culminating in a podcast that will be uploaded to their Instagram account.