It’s not everyday that more than 100 students excitedly cram into the Multicultural Center on a school night. However, this wasn’t just any school night. On Apr. 12, students gathered to listen to Buzzfeed video producers Niki Ang and Jen Ruggirello speak at an event titled, “Two Gaysians with Big Dreams and Confused Dads.”
Ang and Ruggirello were invited to speak about Queer and Asian Pacific Islander representation in new media. The talk, which was organized by Queer Asian Pacific Islanders and UCSB Pride, was one of the many events that took place for Pride Week at UCSB.
Twenty minutes before the event started, there was a large mass of eager students lined up, ready to secure a good seat for the event. Audible gasps signaled that Ang and Ruggirello were within sight. All eyes and phone cameras were on the pair as they entered the room. The line followed them into the room; within minutes there was almost no empty chair in sight.
Once the room was filled to capacity and some light refreshments were served, the talk began. Ang and Ruggirello first showed a short video describing their work and a brief overview of the topic of discussion.
“As for mainstream American media,” Ang said in the video. “The lack of Asian identity isn’t just missing out on a whole culture and perspective of people who are willing to add to the conversation. It’s doing a real injustice to younger audiences who feel like that’s something that they can never attain, when simply, that’s just not true.”
Using the video as a starting point for the discussion, Ang and Ruggirello then shared their own identities. Their identities were very much rooted in their cultures, ethnicities, and childhoods. Ang expressed that some parts of growing up were harder due to “not having someone who’s been through it.”
“You’ve got to feel okay knowing who you are and being who you are, and then you can explore that creatively,” Ruggirello said.
The pair discussed how their identities influenced their work, specifically the series “In the Closet.” They emphasized the importance of being inclusive in the content they make. They invite guests of different identities for some episodes, but not all the episodes always focus exclusively on the guest’s identity.
“It’s just including people as a part of the conversation. Yo, you’re human, you just got a lotta sides to ya,” Ruggirello said.
In their impassioned talk, the duo also highlighted the importance of community.
“Being a part of a minority group or marginalized community, the work is never going to stop. And that can be hard sometimes, but it’s really important in those situations to find people that you love and love you for who you are. Hang out with them, and eat pizza,” Ang said. “If you don’t have each other’s backs, or look out for each other, how far are you really going to get?”
Ang acknowledged the difficulty of being wholly inclusive and representing everyone in media. The term “Asian” and “Queer” are so broad that a large range of people fall under that category.
“I can’t do that, right?” Ang admitted when talking about representing another culture or identity. “I can find people who can do that, and I can do what I can to get there, but like, one [experience] doesn’t negate the other. Don’t feel bad for feeling proud of who you are and where you come from and your culture, but also recognize there’s a lot of other cultures out there who are also like not represented.”
Afterwards, the conversation opened up to include the audience. Ang and Ruggirello answered questions from the audience. Some of the questions were more lighthearted or pertaining more to their jobs. Other questions were more personal and thought provoking.
Both Ang and Ruggirello offered great advice stemming from their own experiences. The small space and personal stories created an intimate atmosphere. The wisdom and encouragement they shared almost felt like they were answering the question, “if you could go back and time, and tell your younger self advice, what would you say?”
“If you’re ever like, ‘is my story worth telling?’ Yes it is,“ Ang said. “So you guys put yourselves out there and you do whatever you need to do. You go into any workspace, industry that you’re going to go into, and you are a minority, don’t think it’s not worth it, because it is.”