On March 25, San Francisco’s LGBTQ+ and Asian communities will unite for a virtual fundraiser called Chinatown Pride, marking what some are calling an historic event and the first of its kind.
“It’s a long time coming to have something like Asian Pride, in a place where, I think, we should have had this a long time ago,” says Aria Villajin, aka drag artist Pearl Teese, who will perform during the online festivities to benefit San Francisco Pride and the Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco.
“There aren’t many organizations or events that uplift gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans and queer Asian folk … especially in a city like San Francisco where we have so many Asian people, adds Villajin, a San Francisco trans woman whose clever stage name, from the popular drink, reflects her heritage: Pearl, from tapioca, representing Filipino roots; and Teese, from tea, because she’s Black. (With “a little sex thrown in,” Villajin adds.)
The entertainer promises that her three- to four-minute performance — which was photographed by queer Latinx filmmaker Stephen Quinones on the pedestrian bridge connecting Portsmouth Square to the Hilton Hotel – will be “reflective of the typical Pearl Teese experience,” with women empowerment themes and “incredible” views of beautiful parts of Chinatown.
The happy hour event also includes cocktail-making demonstrations, a video compilation and tour of neighborhood landmarks such as the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company and Forbidden City. There’s also a look at “Women: From Her to Here,” an exhibition in the Chinese Culture Center gallery in the Hilton Hotel, along with artist interviews.
The multimedia exhibition – with video, film, mixed media, photography, paintings and publications – offers “local and universal expressions of queer and feminist liberation, cultivation and imaginations” by artists from the Bay Area, Taiwan, Hong Kong, China and more. It can be seen online as well as in the gallery, which is open by appointment on Wednesdays through Fridays.
Organizers say Chinatown Pride offers guests the chance to “experience a different side of Chinatown and explore safe spaces and queer stories” as well as draws parallels between the histories of Chinese Americans and LGBTQ+ people. Of equal importance, it supports small businesses in Chinatown, which have struggled during the pandemic.
Fred Lopez, director of SF Pride, says, “We are so excited to collaborate in Chinatown for what we think is the first time for a queer event like this. Chinatown Pride fulfills plans made in early 2020 that COVID derailed for more than a year. While the pandemic has been hard for everyone, our two communities have been particularly impacted. And now, many AAPI communities have been further upset by racist attacks and violence. Now is the time for joy and art in the face of adversity and pain.”
Chinese Culture Center Executive Director Jenny Leung says, “CCC is thrilled to collaborate with SF Pride to celebrate LGBTQ+, BIPOC and immigrant communities. We want to welcome and invite everyone to come to Chinatown — to show Pride, love and take a stand against hate and racism.”
SF Pride Board President Carolyn Wysinger pointed to organizing efforts by CCC director Leung and curator Hoi Leung, as well as Amy Sueyoshi, dean of the College of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University.
Meanwhile, Villajin, a resident of the Outer Sunset who works as an advocate for people with mental health challenges, looks forward to “a lot of results” on personal self-actualization efforts as well as the end of the pandemic.
And as the only Black trans woman who has co-hosted the SF Pride Parade on KPIX broadcasts — she hopes to do it again sometime – she’s noticing positive trends in the quest for LGBTQ+ and Asian rights, especially among drag performers newer to the vocation.
“Younger entertainers are so aware, community-oriented and quick to be at the political forefront,” she says, adding that funding has begun to be distributed to Black and other groups, not only established gay men’s organizations.
IF YOU GO
Presented by San Francisco Pride, Chinese Culture Center
When: 6 to 7 p.m. Thursday
Tickets: $25 to $100