Art, no matter what style, is a form of self-expression and exploration that crosses all cultural boundaries. It is also an outlet for our social concerns and grievances. What happens when a group of people decides to harness the power of artistic expression to galvanize a specific community and draw the attention of an entire city to that community? In this case, you get Sulu DC.
Born out of a desire to support the Asian American and/or Pacific Islander (AAPI) artist community in the area, Sulu DC defines itself as an “underground, grassroots network and home for AAPI artists.” The founders come from a variety of artistic and socially active backgrounds: Regie Cabico (spoken word artist, co-founder of Sulu in New York and artistic director of Sol y Soul), Simone Jacobson (poet, dancer and independent curator), Jenny Lares (spoken word poet), Brian Wang (co-chair of D.C.’s Young and Powerful) and Alex Cena (hip-hop/spoken word artist and youth organizer with AALEAD). These five artists saw a need for a unique cultural group and formed Sulu DC in November 2009.
While Sulu DC is one of the most well known organizations of its kind in the district, it is not the first. Sulu DC was modeled after a similar group in New York —- both take their name from Sulu of Star Trek, the first Asian character in space.
Sulu DC has experienced tremendous growth in the last year. According to Executive Director Jenny Lares, the group has gone from operating out of the basement of St. Stephen’s Church in Columbia Heights to having access to a brand new, fully equipped arts space at Artisphere in Rosslyn, Va.
On the third Saturday of every month, Sulu DC hosts performances by spoken word artists, dancers and singers. Since its beginning, the organization has showcased over 60 artists, with at least half being local. “People find meaning and community in the work that [Sulu DC does by] providing a space and support for AAPI artists,” says Lares.
Admittedly, while Sulu DC has struggled with its involvement with AAPI youth in the area, they continue to make headway. AAPI youth are encouraged to volunteer on the day of the show, “to get a sense of how shows are run and be inspired and empowered by the performers,” said Lares. Lares and the other members of the core team hope that in the future, the group will involve its members on a deeper level. “[We hope] to set up workshops for youth to workshop poems, work on their performance on stage, and connect them with older artists who can then mentor, encourage and support them as they find their own voice.”
Lares said, “We, the five founders, have realized that Sulu DC has taken on a life of its own, and it’s going to take more than five of us to keep it going.” As a result, Sulu DC will be expanding its core team so that it may continue fulfilling its role in a “more sustainable way.”
As a result of their greater visibility and their desire to involve youth on a larger scale, the core team at Sulu DC has decided to start doing college and university shows. One of their first performances was this past Thursday, here at Georgetown. Thuy Tran (COL ’11), president of Georgetown’s Vietnamese Student Association and member of the Asian American Student Association, was instrumental in bringing Sulu DC to Georgetown. After seeing Jenny Lares and other Sulu DC artists perform at Busboys and Poets this past summer, Tran decided to facilitate a Sulu DC performance on campus. The Vietnamese Student Association, along with the Asian American Student Association, Club Filipino, GU Women of Color, Hawaii Club and Japan Network all collaborated to make the event possible.
The Georgetown AAPI Community has grown and become increasingly diverse. As a result, there are many on-campus groups —- such as Flip Dis Funk Dat, GU Jawani and those previously mentioned —- that offer a place for students of AAPI background as well as those interested in the cultures to explore and develop their talents. But regardless of the number of groups on campus or in the D.C. area, some difficulties still persist for AAPI artists.