Tuesday Night Cafe: Where the sun sets and Asian American artists rise

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The sky had begun to darken, but warmth still abounded as we watched performers bathed in yellow-stage lights bring an outdoor space surrounded by business towers and busy streets come to life. The wailing of a distant siren, car horns, and the sound of tires against rough pavement found harmony with the voices of slam poets, singers, and other Asian American performers.

Founded in 1998, Tuesday Night Cafe (TNC) is the country’s longest Asian American performance series, and is aimed at providing a space for Asian American creators and their work.

When I first attended TNC, I watched a petite Japanese man strum his blues ukulele while singing with rasp and gusto, saw a Filipino husband and wife slam poet duo throw down on the topic of intersectionality, and shared a moment of solidarity with victims of police brutality during a live recording of a podcast.

All the while, I stood within the crowd inundated with chills, and in awe of the warmth, joy, and vulnerability all around me. For the first time in my life, I felt like part of a community that celebrated and empowered Asian American artists. 

As film and television casts have begun to diversify in recent years, they have still managed to leave out the Asian community. We are hugely underrepresented, and when we do manage to find time on-screen, we are often limited to stereotype-ridden roles that reinforce perceptions of the Asian American as unartistic and timid.

TNC challenges that void in fair representation by ensuring that Asian American artists have a space to create work that is truthful to their identities and their experience.

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