Beyond the Ivory Tower: Interviews with Academics #4 with SanSan Kwan

sansanHey friends! This is the 4th in the series Beyond the Ivory Tower, which I started last year to add some colorful/creative outlets in my reading and writing-heavy PhD life at UC Berkeley while learning more about what it might mean for me to be in academia (and ask more personal questions to my favorite academics).  In it I interview (and draw portraits of) academics that I admire and respect :) My hope is that it’ll demystify academia a bit as well, and can become a platform for featuring folks who are doing groundbreaking work within an academic environment where older cisgender heterosexual white men still make up the majority.

SanSan is one of the those people who you wonder how they do it all. She is totally the poster child for dance and performance studies when we say “practice as theory” or blurring the lines between the two. She maintains a regular practice in modern dance, ballet, and yoga and is currently performing with choreographer Lenora Lee. She teaches ballet at UC Berkeley WHILE ALSO teaching graduate level courses!! She’s also a mom to two sons AND manages to dress stylishly too. Anyways, I got to ask her lots of questions that I hope you’ll enjoy the answers to.

Bio: Ph.D., Performance Studies, New York University.  Research interests include critical dance studies; transnational Asian American studies; theories of space and kinesthesia, and interculturalism.  Her book, Kinesthetic City:  Dance and Movement in Chinese Urban Spaces, was published in 2013 by Oxford University Press.  She is editor, with Kenneth Speirs, of the anthology, Mixing It Up:  Multiracial Subjects, published by University of Texas Press.  Her article on dance artists Jerome Bel and Pichet Klunchun and the ethics and politics of interculturalism was published in the May 2014 issue of Theatre Survey.  Her article on cartographies of race and the Chop Suey circuit, a group of Asian American cabaret entertainers who toured the nation during the World War II era, is published in the winter 2011 issue of TDR.  Additional articles are published in Performance Research, as well as various journals and anthologies (see CV for complete list).  SanSan danced professionally in New York with Joanna Mendl Shaw, Jonathon Appels, Maura Nguyen Donohue, HT Chen, and others.  She maintains a regular practice in modern dance, ballet, and yoga and is currently performing with choreographer Lenora Lee.

Let’s start with the nitty gritty: Can you map out your career/life trajectory?

I got my undergraduate degree at UC Berkeley, majoring in English but spending most of my time in the dance dept.  Then I moved to NYC in 1993 to try out a professional dance career.  I taught SAT prep courses and worked in arts admin while dancing with various choreographers.  I decided to enroll in the performance studies program at NYU in 1994, not knowing anything about the discipline, just that it seemed like a good way to marry my interests in performance and the skills in critical analysis I learned at Cal.  I kept dancing while pursuing the master’s part time and then, right after, the PhD.  In 1999 I headed off to Shanghai for a year, where my boyfriend found a visiting position at Fudan University, and then Taipei, where I had a Fulbright, for another year for fieldwork.  I got married along the way in 2000 and, at that point, I stopped dancing.  We returned to NYC just in time for 9/11, which we watched happen outside the window of our Chinatown loft.  My husband got a great job at Kingsborough Community College.  In 2003 I defended my diss and had my first child.  In 2004 I did a postdoc at Macalester College through the Consortium for a Strong Minority Presence in Liberal Arts Colleges.  That fall I started my first tenure track job at Cal State LA.  It was a heavy teaching load — 3-3-3 — and I learned a lot.  I had a great mentor there, Dr. Susan Mason.  My husband taught at Long Beach City College.  The community college system is excellent and pays well for PhDs.  In 2006 we had our second child.  In 2008 I took a leave in order to work as a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Dance Dept at UC Riverside.  That was another great learning opportunity.  In the middle of my time there we took off to live in Shanghai with our two young boys for six months.  My husband had a Fulbright teaching position at Shanghai International Studies University. We returned and I went back to Cal State LA for a year.  Then I got my dream job at UC Berkeley!  We packed up and moved once again.  Once again my husband landed a good job at Diablo Valley Community College (after teaching at Cal for two years).  I settled into my position in the department, getting tenure in 2003.  My husband died very suddenly in late 2003.  I took a bit of time off and have gradually begun to ramp up again with teaching and a few new research projects.  

What does a typical work day look like for you? What are your rituals and routines for being an academic? What do you do to take breaks? Does it feel formulaic like x hours on grading, x hours on service, x hours of non-work per week?

Sadly, my distribution of work and non-work is not too formulaic and not too consistent.  There are no typical days!  That said, on many days I get up, get my kids to school, get myself to work.  At work I teach, attend meetings, and handle email and other administrative work, or class prep.  I usually leave campus in the mid-afternoon so I can be home for my kids and chauffeur them around to their various after-school activities.  We make dinner and evenings together a priority.  I sit back down at my computer at night after the kids have gone to sleep.  Now that my kids are a bit older (13 and 10) we all three have desks in one room, so some days we all do our homework together in the same room!  

I’ve experimented with reserving 30-min per day for research and that does work for me when I am resolved to it.

Other days, when I don’t have to be on campus, I make sure to take a dance or yoga class in the morning and then I’ll go back home and work.

Recently, I was in some performances so a lot of my spare time was taken up with rehearsals.  No research accomplished during that period!

Similarly, what does a typical year look like in terms of projects that you’re working on? How often do you go to conferences these days? Do you give talks at other institutions?

I used to attend at least two conferences per year — CORD/SDHS and the Association for Asian American Studies — plus sometimes American Studies Assn, or ATHE, or PSi.  After Kenny died and now that I am a single parent I stopped going to conferences.  This November will be my return to CORD/SDHS after 3 years.

photo-3What does being an active part of CORD for example look like on any given year?

For many years (5?6?) I was on the board for CORD.  Last year I began serving on the Editorial Board of SDHS.  These positions are great for getting a broader sense of the people and the work of the field as a whole.  Especially since I am the only tenure-track dance scholar at UC Berkeley, it’s good for me to stay connected to other dance scholars via these organizations.  On the Ed Board I get to read current manuscripts and help get emerging scholars published.  

Okay, let’s turn more philosophical! What’s the role of academic inquiry for you? What purpose does it serve for the greater world? What’s the role of an academic intellectual within this world we live in where there’s so many problems? Many folks outside of academia want to know what exactly we’re doing to address those problems–you’re just writing in journals, etc.

[edited the week of elections to reflect new thoughts on the matter] That’s such a tough question and I do ask those same critical questions when huge events happen that are really stunning and you just think “what purpose am I actually serving? I’m not saving any lives, I’m not changing policy, I’m not discovering cures for cancer, etc.” But then I have to dial it back a little and realize that the kind of critical inquiry that we do in the humanities and in the arts does eventually hopefully trickle down towards changing policy and sociocultural attitudes. Plus, sometimes when really horrific things happen in the world it’s important to remember the value of art and the ways it can be a salve, a source of human expression and connection, and a tool for change.   

The morning after the elections this week I had my Dance in American Cultures class.  Initially, of course, it felt like it would be really wrong to hold class as usual.  I decided to start with a movement meditation as a way to ground us all in our bodies after what may have been a traumatic and long night for many of us. (The power of dance to bring us back into our bodies!) Then I gave students the opportunity to do some freewriting and sharing in small groups as a way to acknowledge the events of the night/morning and give students a space to think and talk through it all.  But then we launched into the reading for the day.  And that’s when I remembered that our work in this class is totally relevant to the events of the presidential elections.  The class is about dance and race, the ways that dance both reflects and shapes formations of race in the US.  The reading was a piece by Ramon Rivera-Servera about queer nightclubs as spaces of friction for both challenging and honing a sense of queer latinidad for working class Mexican immigrants.  I think it was helpful for us to learn more about one of the very communities under attack by Donald Trump and to consider the kinds of affective strategies they might employ to survive and make a claim for hope.

I think this gets more into the question of pedagogy then–do you feel like teaching is a place where you get to do a lot more than in your writing?

Yeah, if I think about what my actual writing projects are, they’re pretty insular. We’re writing for one another within dance scholarship or maybe performance studies more generally. But when it comes to teaching a breadth course like Dance in American Cultures it really is about going back to the basics of asking “How are our ideas of race formulated? And in what avenues do we see that actually happening?” And so I really try in that class to tie it a lot to popular culture or examples so students can see how that operates. But I think more generally–which isn’t to discount the higher level more detailed and more specialized work I’ve been doing in my writing, because that eventually helps formulate ideas that will then get broadened and trickle down to a student population, who might then eventually trickle into the society, which might eventually trickle into policy or cultural attitudes. It might feel isolated but ideally there’s a network that’s happening.

[added the week of elections to reflect new thoughts on the matter] For instance, my current project is on East-West intercultural collaboration in contemporary dance.  And while I am looking at pieces by avant-garde artists, who wouldn’t be known among mainstream audiences, the larger questions I ask, about how and why we collaborate across difference, and what tools we use to do that, those are questions that, I would argue, are very important to our globalized lives.  Ultimately, I want to argue that a practice of love is the key to intercultural exchange.  I think that could be very resonant beyond the high-art dance world.

Do you feel like you bring in your autoethnographic, personal experiences when you reference pop culture? Or do you like to keep a distance between the two?

In this particular course, it’s not so personal and my work isn’t really with pop culture. We’re looking at Rihanna, Michael Jackson, etc. and I only have a lay person’s understanding of those pop icons because my own work is more with concert dance or “high art” dance.  And I could bring in personal experiences–I might later on–when we’re talking about intercultural dance and Asian American stuff because I do have experience having worked with three different Asian American dance companies now so that really is about how we think about and represent ideas of race on the stage through dance.

If we were to use the often quoted metaphor of the world as a stage, and we look at race in this particular world, which is UC Berkeley, how do you think Asian Americanness gets represented? Also, you did your undergraduate studies here so I’d love to hear more about what Asian American means to you and being a part of Asian American dance companies. Have you always associated with more Asian American groups?

Obviously, Asian America is so heterogeneous so it’s hard to really pinpoint. Small examples that are personal. When I was growing up in high school in a suburb of L.A., I would say the Asian American population at my school was maybe around 5% and people still used the word “Oriental.” And my brother is four years younger than me, and by the time he got to the school, the homecoming king and queen, and the student body president were all Asian. And now, the city where I grew up is probably 20-25% Asian. Of course this is totally anecdotal but then coming to U.C. Berkeley, I was here from 88-92, which was pre the end of affirmative action, so the population on campus looked really different. There were more African American and Latino American students. After affirmative action was removed, around 1992, the population and the demographics changed a lot. And you also have the effects of post 1965 (when all the Asian exclusion acts were lifted) that were only starting to be seen. So more Asians could migrate to the US more freely. And that’s when you see the population of Asian Americans grow hugely.  

41hiwinwjkl-_sx333_bo1204203200_That makes me curious about the framing you do in your work, both academically and artistically.  It seems like in the past you were looking more transnationally whereas now focusing more on American studies–so I’m wondering why that shift.  

The project that resulted in the book (Kinesthetic City) really arose around a very personal search for what it meant to be Chinese and recognizing that my Chinese-ness looked very different from lots of other Chinesenesses.  When I moved to New York and met Asian Americans who grew up on the East Coast, I recognized that an East Coast Asian American experience or Chinese American experience was also really different. But I also had an inadequacy syndrome/inferiority complex about how authentically Chinese I was. I think that’s an Asian American issue to feel like you’re always read as foreign or certainly as Asian, and it’s not expected that your mother tongue would be English and yet whenever I would go to Asia, realizing that I didn’t belong there either and that I wasn’t fluent in the language…so all of those typical Asian American second-generation issues were kind of the impetus for the project that became Kinesthetic City which is really about what does Chinese-ness mean and how is it represented and how is it negotiated, and in what ways contends across these different kinds of communities, and how can we read it through movement and dance.

To change topics slightly, I’m curious about how you look at parenting…given your profession in higher ed, what do you talk about with your kids (10 and 13), what kinds of conversations are you having about education?

Well lately, because of Trump and Black Lives Matter, and because Kai–the 13 year old is–coming into his own understanding of race, we’re having a fair number of conversations about race in the house. And it’s interesting because Kai just started in this middle school that has a mandarin program–one of very few middle schools with a mandarin program–but as a result there are a lot of Asian American and Chinese American kids there. So more and more, his friends are becoming all Asian American and even Chinese American and that wasn’t the case before middle school where his friends were mostly white. So that’s been really interesting, that he’s coming into this realization of his own racial identity–it’s been fun to see. Then there was the Jesse Watters video, an incredibly racist segment and I was wondering if it was something that I wanted to show my kids so they get a sense of what they’re up against.   

photoAre they on Facebook?

No, not yet. But I was thinking about whether I wanted to show that to them, and whether they’d get it but they’re starting to do things you know Niga Higa? He’s awesome…he’s this Japanese American comedian who does these youtube videos. And they’re not always about race, but he’s Asian American and it’s often about race and they’re funny. So my kids are really starting to come into a realization of their own Asian racial identity which has been fun to watch.

Anyway, Kai’s at a private middle school now but I want him to go back to Berkeley High and part of the reason is that I want him to be in a community that is diverse socio-economically and racially and everything else. And I’m hoping that this nice little island that he’s in for three years of private middle school is a great experience for him but I also think it’s really important that he be a part of the real world.

That’s a neat approach–going away and coming back with new perspectives!  Did you move around a lot growing up or did you mostly stay in LA?

I moved to LA when I was three or four and then I stayed there until I was 17 when I came to Berkeley. Then after that was when all the moving around happened.

dsc_0938-sm-2Did you tour a lot with your dance troupe?

Yeah we toured nationally.

What was that like? Especially being in an Asian American dance troupe?

So I danced for two Asian American dance troupes when I was in New York. The first one was run by this guy named HT Chen and he’s first-generation Chinese-American and that work was much more identity based work that was about crossing the divide between downtown white modern dance and Chinese culture/Chinese-American history. And the aesthetic form of the dance often blended traditional Chinese dance with American modern dance, so those were the kind of artistic objectives of that company.  And then the company that I danced for after that was more political and about mixed race and Asian American identity rather than just Chinese-American and much more explicitly political in terms of anti-racism.

screen-shot-2016-10-15-at-2-12-54-pmDidn’t you do an anthology about mixed race-ness?

I did–it’s right there at the top of my bookshelf…Mixing It Up–you can have a copy 🙂

Thanks! Your kids are mixed race right? Can you tell me more about what mixed race identity means to you?

Well the impetus for the book was that I had just married this white guy, and we were always having conversations about what it meant to be a mixed race couple and then when we were thinking about having children, it was always a question of what it means to raise a mixed race family and what kinds of experiences are these children going to have being mixed race. So that was one product of our thinking about that (they co-edited the book).

I want to go back to the question of your dance practice in relation to your academic life and if those two identities are complementary or is one supporting the other more? Especially because it seems like in our department you’re the only one that teaches all kinds of classes–theory, undergrad, grad, dance! So first of all I’m amazed that you’re able to balance it all but also, given that in performance studies we’re always touting “practice (performing) as research”–do you think that’s just talk? Or is there something more to it?

Yeah I don’t know how to answer that question simply because yes, sometimes I feel like practice as research is just another way to make practice seem like it’s research and I don’t know what that really means. Why isn’t practice just practice? Why do we have to call it research in order to legitimize it? It’s just practice which is another way of thinking so it doesn’t need to be called research to give it legitimacy. So sometimes I don’t really know what that means but then other times I think that what I do as a dancer is completely separate from what I do here in this building (at UC Berkeley)–that I do that as a way to exercise another part of my being/brain/body and that they’re separate. But there are certainly moments when they complement each other, support each other, and inform one another very intimately. So there are moments when I realize that my experience in an artistic process in creating dance and knowing what dance feels like on my body totally informs how I look at another person and another dance company or think about racial formation and dance or do a movement analysis in order to theorize what that movement analysis means. And then on the other side there’s certainly moments when I bring my critical eye to what’s happening in the rehearsal studio that allows me to see what’s happening there differently. So sometimes they’re separate and sometimes they come together.

Something else I wanted to ask you was about your image as a professor. There’s this sense of professors having perfected it all. [*laughter* yeah, right!] Well you know, because they’ve gone through trials and tribulations of many years and coming to a place where they’ve more or less gotten things worked out. But of course that’s not true–I know it’s an illusion–but when those moments when shit hits the fan, who are the people that you turn to? Do you still have academic mentors or different ways of working through insecurities? What happens when you’re struggling?

That’s such a great question. I think I’m in a moment in my academic career when I’m in this in between space. Because as a junior scholar, by that I mean someone who is ABD (all but dissertation)/ finishing their dissertation to someone who is at a professor level it’s very easy to find people that are mentors and peers. And I did that really early on in my graduate career mostly through the Asian American performance studies community. I’d go to Asian American Studies conferences and all the performance studies people found each other and we ended up becoming this really tight group–we read each other’s work, and we supported each other at the early stages of our careers and we saw each other socially and was hugely formational and beneficial for me.

But I’d say that within the last 3-5 years as we’re all moving to associate professor, getting tenured, families, living in different places, not all going to the same conferences all the time, that tight group has dispersed a bit.  And aside from that tight group there were 2-3 senior scholars that were very dedicated to serving/giving back, who were mentors to us. We also used to organized symposiums every couple of years where we’d all get together and it was just as much a kind of emotional mentorship and social support as it was academic support. But then I’d say that as we all moved into the associate professor level, we’re not as connected as we used to be.  

So I do feel a little more at sea in the past few years than I did in the past, and I’d like to reconnect with those people. But we’re in different places now. It might be a product of the associate professor thing where it’s not as conventional to need mentors that supposedly you’re there now so you don’t need them as much. But obviously that isn’t the case. And I have reached out recently because I finished writing a draft of an article and I really wanted some other eyes on it. So I have reached out to both newer friends/colleagues and older friends/colleagues…but I’m realizing recently that I really need that network again. You never stop needing that.

Okay a non-academic question! Do you have any heroes or people that you look up to? [SanSan initially answered that one of her friends was a hero but then wrote to me later to share the following updated answer]

My hero, the person whom I admire and who has inspired me most is my late husband, Kenneth Speirs.  I think I probably was avoiding talking about him yesterday because I’m always a little afraid I won’t be able to hold it together if i do.  And I’m not always sure it’s an appropriate place to go in my “professor role.”  But I think I’m okay going there for your profile.  

So Kenny was heroic for lots of reasons.  He was fiercely loyal, he was courageous.  He was not afraid to be different, in fact, he insisted on difference.  He was not a conflict avoider, never passive, rarely neutral.  He had no problem asserting his needs, though always with respect and sensitivity.  He was not afraid to be emotional, to be passionate about things and to show it.  He could not often be called “easy-going.”  He appreciated beautiful things and cultivated and took care with them.  He was funny, so funny.  He was a doer, a list-maker, always had a project going.  He loved New Year’s resolutions.  He was skilled at self-reflection.  He relished his job as an inspirer, always encouraging his students, the people around him to follow their hearts, go for the unconventional choice, make the big change, fly higher, live bigger.  

I know this all sounds pretty lofty, and certainly there were plenty of mundane and even irritating things about Kenny, but the things I name above are quite true.  So that’s why he’s my hero.  

[Thank you SanSan for that really meaningful change to our interview and for your willingness to be open in sharing about your personal life.]

photo-1How does fashion and presentation factor into your work? You’re always so stylish and well-dressed!

*laughter* I think it serves as a great distraction or maybe an inspiration–it’s something to think about that’s more fun that gives me a reason to be excited in the day, something to think about or worry about…yeah maybe it is a distraction. I don’t know, it give me…my mom used to say this thing to me that’s actually really great, “respect your host or hostess by dressing appropriately.” So overdress and it’s a way to take things seriously and respect something. So I guess that’s part of the reason why I do it.  I could show up in jeans and it would be fine–nobody would have an issue with it. But I guess I like feeling like I’m taking it seriously.  

Mmh, I like that approach a lot! I care a lot about rituals that separate one activity from the next.

Yeah! There’s that too! Getting dressed for work as a ritual. And it’s not like I wouldn’t show up to work in sweatpants or jeans but it is a kind of a ritual or marker of moving from “mom” to “professor.”

72911010Yeah, I’m really intrigued by fashion. I mean I’m super anti-consumerist and yet I’m really obsessed with textiles. But usually there’s a way to be aware while also being able to play and enjoy adorning ourselves.

I agree! I did write one chapter of my dissertation on this retail fashion store called Shanghai Tang because I loved it! And that chapter was about how we can’t really get out of consumer capitalism and there’s some luscious things about it, so how do we reconcile those two things. And I don’t know what the answer is but…

Well if you asked a dumpster diver they might say that they’re trying to get outside of capitalism but without capitalism, there’s no excess to dumpster dive!

Exactly! So you really can’t get out of it, you can’t escape it. But does that mean you have to embrace it? No, not necessarily. But there’s something to be said about appreciating beauty and sometimes beauty is consumed.

Oof, yeah that resonates a lot with me as a visual artist. I WANT BEAUTY! But in academic spaces it feels like it pushes out all the joy and the pretty-ness of the world even though we need it here just as much as anywhere else. Anyways, we’re nearing the end of the interview so I want to ask a couple more advice-oriented questions to address the theme of this interview series 🙂

First of all, I wonder if you feel like academia still registers in the “ivory tower” way for you and what have you done in response if you felt like it was white-male dominated?

I feel like I understand at a not always personal level the kind of white-male hetero-patriarchy that is absolutely replicated in the ivory tower. My personal experience is different. My mother was an academic, so that was the example that I had. I’m in a pretty female-dominated field so I don’t experience a lot of white-male domination. At the same time, you can see in meetings and stuff the way that certain patterns play out that are very patriarchal. But unless I were to really dig at the most indirect and subconscious level, I don’t feel like materially or more directly that has been an obstacle for me. But again, I understand it at the institutional level–it’s just not been my immediate experience.

That’s fortunate! Actually my first semester here, all of my professors were women of color, one of them queer-identified and I thought “this isn’t normal.”

Right, unfortunately it’s not normal but performance studies and dance studies are places in which we are just much more diverse. If you were in other departments it might be different. But this field is dedicated to thinking about these questions.

What do you think is different for PhD students today from when you were pursuing yours and applying to positions. I know you’re not applying anymore but you’re working with many students who are.

I don’t want to diminish how difficult the market is right now. It’s super difficult–there’s no question. But I think it would be not entirely accurate to imagine that when I was looking for jobs which would be 2003–so 13 years ago–that it was worlds different. Certainly there was a time in academia where you could get a tenure-track job pretty easily. You didn’t have to worry about writing a book in order to get tenure, or the whole publish or perish thing didn’t exist. But that’s still several decades earlier right? I think with me, being on the market in 2003, I wouldn’t be able to know statistically whether it was really different–whether there were more or fewer positions, more or fewer graduates. But I do remember that in 2003, my husband who was in English was trying to get work, there was a glut of English PhDs and too few jobs. And I don’t know what that is now in English.

Did you apply immediately after getting your PhD?

Yeah I did.

Oh okay, but you also worked at a lot of different types of schools right?

That was when I was in graduate school while I was writing my dissertation. And then I applied immediately and I got a post-doc position and a job. So I took half of the post-doc and had to go to the job. But my husband had been out since ‘98 and he didn’t get a tenure-track position until 2002. And he applied to a lot of positions so I think the field of English was really struggling at that time, though I don’t know how it is now. I mean, there’s certainly been a lot of writing and media about how the humanities is pretty rough right now. So I’m sure it is different than in 2003 and I did get a job right away–I know people who didn’t–but I did. Maybe it was easier then? But I know that after I got the Cal State LA job, I continued to apply to jobs yearly because I wanted to get to a place that gave me more time for research. So I applied from 2003-2011 until got this job. So I was on the job market for eight years.

That’s phenomenal! It’s proof of your perseverance and patience!

Yeah, but I’d say every year I had an interview of some kind. But I didn’t finally land something until 2011 after eight years of being on the market.

That’s really helpful to get perspective! Also knowing that there are so many people trying to get the same position and so we have to keep trying if you want it.  Okay, last but not least on the theme of advice, what would you tell someone who’s considering a PhD in performance studies versus someone who maybe wants to continue being in the art world or doing the kind of writing they’ve been doing in a journalistic way or less restricted way? What are the benefits of being in academia for you?

I think for that person who’s not necessarily interested in an academic career, it’s really got to be a personal decision about weighing the investment with the gain. Knowing that the work you’re going to be doing in a PhD program is going to be pretty traditionally academic work where you’re going to have a lot of reading and writing–a certain kind of writing and a certain kind of critical analysis will be expected of you, and a certain kind of productivity. Plus a certain trajectory is going to be framed for you and are you willing to go through that at the same time that you know at the back of your mind, or alongside the work you’re doing to fulfill all those expectations, that you really see what you’re doing here as something you’d apply to what you really want to do. Because this through line isn’t going to necessarily change, so you just have to be willing to ask:is it really worth this investment that all the things I’m going to be learning and the ways of thinking that I’m going to be practicing going to inform the other kinds of work I want to do that isn’t academic? Ultimately I think it’s a totally personal decision.

Okay I want to end on a joyful note! What are the things in your everyday life that you try to bring in that bring you joy?

My kids. I’ll also say that this here is a home for me and a community of people that I rely on. So I do gain a lot by just being in the world here with both students and colleagues/peers. And then of course I have dance which helps me hugely. And my family, my kids, my home life, my network of friends. And those are all things that sustain me.  It’s all about community.

How about food?

And food! And fashion! Those things too for sure.pancake1

I always have to get a food question in there… so let’s end on this very last question: what are some of your favorite foods at Taiwanese night markets?

*laughs* I like mango shaved ice and I like scallion pancakes. Andddd beef noodles and I’d say that for now.

Thank you SanSan for being so open and generous with your time and wisdom.


About Miyuki Baker

Miyuki is a resident of the place where many circles overlap. They’re a queer, multi-racial/lingual artist, activist & academic passionate about using common or discarded objects, stories, zines, and performance in public spaces to make accessible art. Their research examines how we practice “hope” and meaning through space, architecture and the environment. They’re currently a PhD Candidate in the Department of Performance Studies at UC Berkeley. After graduating from Swarthmore College in 2012, where they were involved in queer Asian activism and making art, they received the Watson Fellowship to travel the world in search of queer artists and activists and made 8 zines highlighting what they learned under their publishing house Queer Scribe Productions. From 2014-2015 she lived in Ecuador and traveled by bicycle from Ecuador to Colombia cataloging traditional textiles, music and food. After returning, they built and lived in a mobile tiny house for a year (until selling it in May 2016).


  1. Wonderful interview, as always!

  2. Abbe Blum

    Great project. Good to see some of what you have been doing.

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