Finding good people good friends at

fkwang blacklava artwork
“Did you eat? means…I love you” by Frances Kai-Hwa Wang, multimedia prose poems and photographs, including photograph of Blacklava founder Ryan Suda tucked into the corner | Frances Kai-Hwa Wang, contributor

t always comes back to people.

A few years ago, then-graduate student Kate Agathon invited me to be the keynote speaker at Purdue University’s inaugural Asian American Studies conference on Asian-American identity in the midwest. Kate Agathon is so warm and engaging that she was able to put together some of the most amazing folks in Asian America, Phil Yu, Blacklava founder Ryan Suda, R&B singer-songwriter Dawen Wang, spoken-word poet Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai, Turtlist Media’s Jason Lee, as well as several academics, all with midwestern (and many Chicago connections).

Spending a day together talking about the issues that were important to us and how we came to those issues, comparing our different approaches, was powerful. started out as a surfwear retailer, but quickly evolved into an online store for all things Asian American (including my chapbook). I remember realizing that although Ryan Suda’s medium is T-shirts with pithy sayings that reflect the Asian American experience (i.e. “Asian is not Oriental,” “I speak English,” “I suck at math,” “I will not love you long time”), he and I are actually doing very similar things.

However, since Ryan Suda’s shirts go out into the world one person, one day at a time, he probably reaches more people (and certainly very different people) than I actually do. lol.

I have enjoyed the easy camaraderie found with these folks whenever we have met since then, especially Ryan Suda, who is just such good people. The conversation always flows and the ideas for collaboration come easily. He has helped so many people and organizations over the years, always with a kind heart and easy humor. I am struck by the thought that there are so many different ways of being a leader in the community, and so many ways of giving to the community, but in the end, it always comes back to good people.

So when Blacklava recently celebrated its twentieth anniversary with an art exhibit and celebration, I was thrilled when Ryan Suda asked me to be a part. There was no hesitation. Yes! I wrote a series of six prose poems and short short stories, coupled with photographs of family and food, inspired by the Blacklava t-shirt, “Did you eat? means…I love you.”

There were hundreds of Asian American writers, artists, actors, actresses, musicians, media people, activists, and friends at the art exhibit opening and celebration. Everyone was sporting their favorite Blacklava T-shirt and telling the stories that happened to them when they wore those shirts. Even I got stopped unexpectedly at airport security the day before by the TSA agent who noticed my Blacklava button, “I suck at math,” but instead of the usual story that starts off “I got stopped unexpectedly at airport security by the TSA agent,” this TSA agent laughed and laughed and agreed that she was bad at math too so let me go through with no problems.

Sometimes when you meet someone, you just know that this is a friendship worth having. Everyone is always so busy, busy with stuff, but you make time for those people that matter. Those people make time for you. And you learn to be better people, better you. Eight-year-old Little Brother’s assessment (as he carried his sister’s suitcase without being asked because that is what family members do), “Ryan Suda is the coolest.”

Thanks, Ryan Suda and Blacklava for all that you do for the Asian American community. Congratulations on your 20th anniversary!

I recently met two other young men who are adorkable and delightful and also good people impossible to resist. Stephen Dypiangco and Patrick Epino of theNational Film Society are currently in the middle of a kickstarter campaign to raise funds for their project, “Awesome Asian Bad Guys,” an action/comedy series about two brainy and offbeat filmmakers, a volatile group of Asian bad guys, and one impossible mission. Check out this video of Ryan Suda talking about the Awesome Asian Bad Guys…shirts?

Blacklava’s 20th anniversary art exhibit will run at Hatakeyama Gallery in Los Angeles, from September 29 to October 10, 2012.

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is a second-generation Chinese American from California who now divides her time between Michigan and the Big Island of Hawaii. She is a contributor for New America Media Ethnoblog,, and She team-teaches Asian Pacific American History and the Law at the University of Michigan and University of Michigan Dearborn. She is a popular speaker on Asian Pacific American and multicultural issues. Check out her Web site, her blogs at and, and she can be reached at


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