March 2023 Cultural Work Roundup
Welcome to March’s Cultural Work Roundup! The Roundup is an interview of a local BIPOC cultural worker and the things they’ve been taking in and putting out into the world. APANO Communities United Fund (CUF) recognizes that solidarity is an integral part of cultural change, that our society is built on the disproportionate exploitation and oppression of Black and Indigenous people, and that Pacific Islander communities have been marginalized in the work of Asian/Asian American visibility. So, the Roundup prioritizes emerging Black, Indigenous, and Pasifika artists, as well as emerging Asian/Asian American and POC artists who are doing solidarity work through a BIPOC/intersectional lens. This month, I got the pleasure to interview: Kevin Aipopo - a poet, community organizer, and emerging elder using oration to honor stories and past traditions. Read on to learn more about them, the writings that fuel them, and where to see their next live performance!
Announcement: After this month, Cultural Work Roundups will be published seasonally. Enjoy the spring blossoms and catch us in the summertime!
Kevin speaking in Portland during the Global Climate Strikes on September 20th, 2019
What’s your name and pronouns?
My name is Kevin Lionga Aipopo and I use all pronouns.
Where do you call home?
As a person of Samoan and Black American descent, Home is always tricky. When referring to Samoa or Hawai’i (where my family emigrated to before making their way to the PNW), we always say “Back Home” despite not having a chance to visit. I feel the impacts of diaspora and displacement in my physical surroundings so I often find Home in my people. If I see you and I feel you, you’re my people, and that’s how I know I’m Home.
Excerpt from poem, As I Am
What does “cultural work” mean to you? How does your art fit within it?
Cultural work has so many faces. For me, it’s an opportunity to take hold of the blessings I’ve been given and pass them forward. I want to be a descendant that my ancestors can be proud of and one day, an ancestor that my descendants can look to for guidance. There are really powerful histories of oration in both the Samoan and Black American cultures. I found poetry through oration and now utilize it as a platform to continue honoring stories and past traditions. Before colonization, we didn’t have written languages and storytelling through oration was highly revered. I want to become a living library for my people and help reinstitute respect to spoken words.
What does solidarity look like to you? How does it show up in your art?
“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” - Lilla Watson. Lilla Watson is an activist, artist, and academic who has been advocating for Women’s and Aboriginal Rights for decades. Watson and other Aboriginal Rights activists created this quote together and it is now commonly used throughout Australia as a slogan for social justice groups. I don’t believe that we can have solidarity unless we have a stake and are willing to sacrifice something. We cannot be in solidarity if we only operate through our sense of comfort or protection. Solidarity is an acknowledgement that our oppressions and ultimately our victories, must be intertwined. I don’t just write for myself; I feel an obligation to give voice to my people. I ask permission, offer respects, and honor my folks in all of my work.
I’ve been blessed with many opportunities to weave my story into that of many others not only through poetry, but through community organizing. I actually found poetry through community organizing-- I started writing in 2019 after linking up with some folks at a Pacific Climate Warriors retreat in Australia. This was also the first time I felt deeply connected to the Climate Justice movement, realizing that it wasn’t just a space for white folks. Being able to realize my stake in a global movement and finding a way to express my voice while honoring my ancestral traditions is something that I will always be immensely grateful for.
Excerpt from The Water Talks
What’s your dream, vision, schemings of a liberated future, new world, etc.? How does your art connect to it?
I have a really difficult time imagining the future. I don’t feel that my sense of justice ever waivers, but I do confront the notion of loss often. A truly liberated, just future seems so far away that I don’t know if it’s really possible. But it doesn’t matter if I think it’s possible or not. I know that I can do something to make things, in any small way, better than they were before. I’m not setting out to change the world, just the pieces of my world that I can. In Samoan, there is a saying: “Na Matou Tūtū La’au Ma Nei,” which means “On the journey to where I am today, I have rested under many trees”. I am only able to share what I share because of this blessing of shade my ancestors gifted me. I only want to give those future generations more shade and room to rest. This proverb is something I’ve used in pieces before but it’s always something that I can keep in my mind as I write and perform. It reminds me of who I do this work for.
Excerpt from Once and Always Our Home
What have you been getting involved with or practicing that brings you closer to your solidarity work (like groups, meditation, learning circles, etc.)?
Over the past couple years, I’ve really lost connection with a lot of community-based practices. The pandemic and traumatic experiences have severed many relationships I once held dear. I’m still in the process of learning that self-care, rest, and introspection are all a part of solidarity work. I cannot show up for my people if I’m not able to be my full self. I’ve been working to become more mindful, accepting of loss, and less anxious so that I’m able to reintroduce myself into larger forms of solidarity work with an open heart. I’ve begun doing some grounding exercises and prayers that I would typically hold for groups, for myself. Reframing these practices as something that I can also give to myself has helped me recenter my needs, especially when I am facing burnout.
Kevin leading a group centering activity at a climate retreat in Australia. There is a traditional head piece in the foreground and a traditional mat behind them.
What have you been watching that’s been inspiring you and/or informing your vision (from your social media feed, movies, TV shows, any other media)?
Being an activist/artist/community organizer/emerging elder takes so much of my energy and space. I find it hard to refuel by engaging in more movement-based entertainment and often avoid a lot of “save the world” media to protect my capacity. At my core, I’m a very simple geek and any number of video games or anime keep my passions burning. The work we engage in can become so complicated and overwhelming. Sometimes I just need to watch some kids try to win a volleyball tournament (Haikyuu!) or play some Legend of Zelda. Letting someone else be the Hero for a bit reminds me that we’re all taking something that seriously while still giving myself a chance to step back from the grind.
What have you been listening to that’s been giving you life (podcast recommendations, a song or album that gets you out of bed, etc.)?
I recently listened to the series Authentic: The Story of Tablo on Spotify and was hooked from the jump. I instantly became an Epik High fan and can’t express enough the amount of respect I have for the humility and vulnerability of Tablo. It’s difficult to fully comprehend the depth of the trauma he experienced when he was accused of falsifying his educational achievements. Throughout the series, Tablo has so many opportunities to bash the folks who put him through so much pain but instead chooses to reflect on the gratitude he has for his family. I was able to find a lot of peace through the way he now carries himself. I hope everybody hears his story and ends up loving their crew.
What’s the last thing you read that moved you (articles, books, poetry, whatever)?
Next to my desk, I have a Valentine’s card from my fianceé, Ellie. I look over and read it every now and again and can’t help but feel overjoyed. I also try to read at least one poem each day. I keep a copy of Interim by Des Spicer-Orak (an APANO CUF employee and certified real one) near my desk and I don’t have enough words to speak to how incredible their work is. Interim is a collection of poetry that explores identity rooted in the Ocean, community, and Queerness. I identify deeply with many of Des’ pieces and I love picking it up to feel grounded every now and then.
How do we get connected to your art and/or work?
I’m in the process of building out a website/blog but in the meantime, I’m around when I can be! Y’all can see me on IG @yaboykevfromsanfran (not actually from Frisco but when I went to Australia, everyone thought I was so here we are lol). Folks can also hit me up on email: email@example.com. I also have a few recorded performances that can be found on YouTube and I will be performing next at PSU’s Showing Up event on March 11th (see “Community Offerings” for more info).
Be our next featured artist or nominate an artist you know! If you would like to be featured in a future Cultural Work Roundup or would like to nominate someone, let me know by telling me a bit about yourself or the artist you know. The Roundup prioritizes emerging Black, Indigenous, and Pasifika artists, as well as emerging Asian/Asian American and POC artists who are doing solidarity work through a BIPOC/intersectional lens. The interview can be done over coffee, Zoom, or email! You can contact me by:
We’re also sharing local offerings, events, etc. from community members in the Roundup. Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to share your offering in an upcoming Roundup.
PSU's Artist As Citizen Initiative Artist Showcase: "Showing Up"
When: March 11th, starts with a pre-show panel at 7pm
Location: Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center (5340 N Interstate Ave. Portland)
Info: Visit https://showuppdx.com/ for more information. Free Admission. RSVP soon (event is capped at 100 people)!
A showcase of musicians, poets, and visual artists, the evening explores the theme “showing up” through multiple art forms and conversation. What does showing up for yourself look like? How do we show up for other people? For oppressed communities? With performances from PSU's Laptop Ensemble, Joe Kye, spoken word artist Kevin Aipopo, and the Casey Lipka Trio (Sacramento), this will be a healing and thought-provoking event. There will be a pre-show panel to discuss the theme with the creatives. Donuts will be provided by HeyDay PDX.
The Year of the Rabbits, an art exhibit by Portland-based artist Qi You
When: on view daily through March 26, 2023. Artist talk on March 1, 5-7pm
Location: PGE Gallery Lobby at Portland Center Stage (128 NW Eleventh Avenue)
Info: Visit the website for more information
The Year of the Rabbits draws upon the artist’s history as a design student at China Central Academy of Fine Arts and Qi. It involves reinventing traditional zodiac animal iconography and bringing her wishes into a new collective story with this dedicated life-long project. From Beijing to Portland, from the ironic expression to bridging identities in her second home, the year of the rabbit 2023 is a fresh new start for the symbols after reaching its 12-year cycle. This gallery exhibit will be on display in the PGE Gallery Lobby and will include a mix of prints on varied mediums.
This programming message brought to you by APANO Communities United Fund, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.