I have known for years that the Tarot can be worked with in many ways. Meditation, ritual, visualization, spell work, prayer, healing, writing prompts, character development, plot and journaling are some of the ways I work with the tarot to gain insight, awareness, clarity and assistance when I am stuck in my personal as well as my writing life.
The Asian American Tarot pushed the door open further– I started to think about ways to explore the potential of the Tarot for community healing, generational and personal healing as well as social justice. I was reminded of the power of art—of imagery—and words.
(I am not Asian American and I do not assume to know the issues or struggles of the community. However, this project invited me start thinking about these issues. I wondered why I hadn’t already done so.)
The Following is posted with permission from the The Asian American Literary Review:
“What does care look like on a community level?
For some time we’ve agreed there’s a crisis of Asian American mental health—we keep pointing to the alarming CDC reports on Asian American suicide and suicidal ideation rates. But nobody agrees on the breadth of the crisis, what contributes to it, or how to deal with it. We’re grasping only some small fraction of Asian American unwellness.
Rather than trying to recalibrate our existing mental health resources to better engage race and Asian American experience, what if we started on the opposite end, with what wellness, unwellness, and care actually look like in Asian American life?
In the spirit of fortune-telling practices so prevalent in our communities, we’re creating a new deck of tarot cards, featuring original art and text that work to reveal the hidden contours of our Asian American emotional, psychic, and spiritual lives, as well as the systems of violence that bear down upon them. Replacing the 22 archetypes of the traditional major arcana (e.g., the Empress, the Hierophant, the Wheel of Fortune, etc.) are figures drawn directly from Asian American life–the Migrant, the Foreigner, the Shopkeeper, the Adoptee, the Model Minority, the Desecrated Temple–that we’ve asked some of our communities’ most exciting artists, poets, and writers to reinterpret.
Because Asian American wellness fundamentally depends upon anti-racism, our deck is an anti-racist hack for the traditional deck: take out the existing major arcana, insert ours, and voila! An Asian American mental health tarot, a little self-care magic.
Art by Monica Ong, text by Matthew Salesses
The Asian American Tarot deck is part of a larger project titled Open in Emergency: A Special Issue on Asian American Mental Health, to be published in January 2017, that we see as both a vitally important rethinking of mental health and an arts-based self-care package for our communities. It’s AALR’s most ambitious project yet, and we need your help to fund it and get it out into the world.”
I immediately connected to the adoption card. I reread it several times. What spoke to me was the story within this card and how healing it is to see images that address the truth–the core in such a powerful and beautiful way. I understand how this card could be used for healing, reimagining and reclaiming the power of the adoptee.
I am an adoptee and an adopter. I stand on both sides of the fence. My daughter is African American. I am of mixed ancestry—Native and European. I co-edited two adoptee anthologies with Trace DeMeyer. I am currently editing a collection of Native American poetry that will be published by Blue Hand Books that focuses on the historical and contemporary issues of Native Americans. Many of the writers are Native American adoptees. We are open for submission.
I am always deeply moved by the stories of the adoptees. The stories are life altering. But I am also aware of how unhealed many of us still are. How do we take the next step? Is it possible? Am I being too idealistic? My intent is never to erase or white-wash realities–or down-play the horrific history. I do not want to silence the rage–I support all voices. I firmly believe in acknowledging, expressing and discussing the pain and horror. My question is: How do we not drown in it? Is there a way to support and empower each other? What would that look like? These are the questions I have been wrestling with for weeks. If anyone wants to engage in this conversation–please share your thoughts and ideas.
I was raised outside the culture by middle-class white parents. I am not on the inside. I don’t pretend to be. My goal is to offer the privileges that I have–which are my writing resources and knowledge of the Tarot. I have been a student of the Tarot for over thirty years. And after reading about the Asian American Tarot project, I feel like I have just scratched the surface. Up until now I have not considered how I might incorporate Tarot into the social justice work that I do. This will take some thinking and research–and remaining open to having my boundaries pushed.
Contemplating this amazing project helped me to turn the lens both inward and outward. What are the issues in my own communities? As an adoptee, adopter, tarot reader, writer, mother and grandmother, how do I utilize the tarot from a social justice perspective—a wellness perspective? What can I do right now and in the future to take my understanding of art and writing to a new level that assists the communities I am involved with? I am also thinking about what decks might be more inclusive. There is a lot of work to be done.