Giving voice to survivors

As the rain poured in Washington, D.C. Wednesday night, a group of a couple dozen people gathered in Chinatown to share poems, songs and artwork dedicated to surviving.

The second Art as a Voice event, hosted by the Domestic Violence Resource Project (DVRP) at the Chinatown Community Cultural Center, raised awareness of domestic violence and sexual assault in the Asian/Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities.

DVRP Interim Executive Director Tuyet Duong shared a painting based on the year her father spent in a Communist concentration camp and his love of gardening — a bonsai tree sprouting from the top ventricles of a heart. He experienced a lot of suffering, she said, but he loved gardening. Bonsai trees grow in unexpected ways, and Duong tried to capture this in her painting.

“I am undocumented, a human with a story.”

“In high school, I found out I was undocumented,” said queer spoken word artist Ken Gonzales. “The usual narrative, I couldn’t get my driver’s license.” Gonzales performed a piece called “9 Numbers of Freedom,” signifying the numbers that allow him to move through this country freely. His poem was littered with incredible figurative language, like native tongues being sliced on an English cutting board. “Despite the win with same-sex marriage, there are still undocumented LGBT folks in detention centers undergoing abuse,” Gonzales said.

A trio sang original songs of love, trials, and triumph and covered India Arie’s “Break the Shell.” Elisha Brown performed a song called “Long Distance Love,” dedicated to her love who lives across the country. “We’re in different time zones, so I sleep by my phone,” she crooned softly, seemingly unaware of the power of her voice. “You’re my long distance love.” Singing is new to Brown, she said, as she focuses more on spoken word poetry.

There was also a table featuring A Letter for You project, where people can anonymously write survivors letters to let them know they matter. The project defines survivors as people who have experienced a traumatic event, including violence, abuse, rape, bullying, illness or others. Several audience members wrote notes addressed to survivors before the event began, and were invited to write more after the performances. The letters are archived on the project’s website. You can write and email your own letters to letters@aletterforyou.org or mail them to:

A Letter for You Project
P.O. Box 472
Garrett Park, MD, 20896

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Marlena Chertock

Marlena is a digital storyteller and poetry editor at District Lit. Her first poetry book, On that one-way trip to Mars, is available from Bottlecap Press.

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