‘Where Y’all Really From?’ is question and answer for Asian Kentuckians in new podcast

·4 min read

On March 16, a 21-year-old man went on a shooting spree in Atlanta, killing eight people, six of them Asian women.

Shortly after, Lexington chef and activist Dan Wu wrote an essay about the killings, which came on top of a year of spiking violence against immigrants in general and Asian-Americans in particular.

“Meanwhile, you love us for our food, our movies, our martial arts, our anime, our labor, and all the scientific, literary, artistic, and cultural contributions Asian Americans have made to this country,” he wrote. “But you do not value our lives. You listen to demagogues who spread lies, hate, and xenophobia. You insult us. You vandalize our homes & businesses. You beat us. You kill us.”

Around the same time, Berea restaurant owner Mae Suramek and state Rep. Nima Kulkarni, D-Louisville, appeared together on Renee Shaw’s KET show to talk about the experience of being Asian-American in Kentucky. “I called Mae right after the show and said we need to have a continued conversation on this,” Kulkarni said. “Maybe a podcast?”

Nima Kulkarni
Nima Kulkarni

Suramek immediately called Wu, and by May, the podcast was underway. Wu also recruited Charlene Buckles of Louisville as a co-host. Wu and Buckles recorded all 11 in two weeks, and one will drop over the next 11 weeks. “Where Y’all Really From” debuted Tuesday on Louisville Public Media, which had recently set up a podcast incubator to encourage more marginalized voices to produce shows.

Where Y’all Really From? is a new podcast from Louisville Public Media.
Where Y’all Really From? is a new podcast from Louisville Public Media.

The title, which became the subject of the first show, came out of a question that Asian-Americans have heard countless times.

“People ask where are you from, and we say Lexington or Louisville, and then they say, ‘no where are you really from?” Kulkarni said. “We’ve all heard that before and we all react to it differently.”

The podcast is aimed at telling the stories of Asian and Pacific Islanders in Kentucky, a way of connecting the shared experiences of 1.6 percent of the population who are often overlooked or marginalized. The four creators’ heritage — Kulkarni is Indian, Wu is Chinese, Buckles is Filipina and Suramek is Thai — highlights how vast the world of “Asian-Americans” can be, whether immigrant or U.S.-born.

“It’s all about just telling stories about our lives, the intersections of our identities,” Wu said. His favorite interviews included those with Danni Quintos, an Affrilachian poet in Lexington who is Filipina and Japanese, and Angelika Weaver, a victims advocate in Williamsburg who is part Micronesian and part white, talking about living in a very white, very rural community.

Dan Wu, of Lexington, Ky., owner of Atomic Ramen located inside The 90 dining hall at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021. Wu immigrated to the States from China with his family as a child and says he has had number of hurdles to overcome owning and running a small business in Lexington.
Dan Wu, of Lexington, Ky., owner of Atomic Ramen located inside The 90 dining hall at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021. Wu immigrated to the States from China with his family as a child and says he has had number of hurdles to overcome owning and running a small business in Lexington.

“This podcast is first of all for Asian Americans in Kentucky and elsewhere who haven’t gotten to hear these stories of commonality and experiences because our stories don’t get told like this,” Wu said.

Wu is taking his own run at normalizing Asian faces in Kentucky’s very white politics; on Wednesday, he launched a website to start fundraising for an at-large seat on Lexington Urban County Council. If he’s successful, he believes he’d be the first Asian American in the council’s history.

Buckles said that in some ways, her experience as an Asian immigrant — she was born in Manila and moved to Northern Kentucky when she was 7 — has more commonality than she realized.

Charlene Buckles
Charlene Buckles

“For myself, it took my a very long time to realize the story is not just about me, but so many others,” she said. “We have to tell our stories because it’s not an anomaly, because they are overlooked.”

Suramek recently announced that she would run as a Democrat for Rep. Robert Goforth’s 89th District seat, which covers part of Jackson, Laurel and Madison. Goforth resigned amid domestic violence charges filed against him. The podcast was underway long before she decided to run, but it still related.

Mae Suramek
Mae Suramek

“There’s only three women of color in the state legislature right now and in terms of when we start thinking Asian American Pacific Islander community in Kentucky, I wonder sometimes if our voices are represented there,” Suramek said. “But more than anything, the podcast is really a place and opportunity to tell the stories of the AAPI community that have not been told. We are everywhere, doing great things.”

Speaking of which, the second episode features an interview with Dr. Neeli Bendapudi, the first woman and the first Asian American to be named president of the University of Louisville. Laura Ellis, Director of Podcasts and Special Projects at Louisville Public Media, said the interview is a master class in leadership for all women.

“We’re talking about this show as learning about experiences of Asian Americans in Kentucky, and I love it that we are centering those voices and not making a product for the white gaze,” Ellis said. But also there’s a lot that white people will learn from it if they will listen. “Even though it’s designed for other Asian American people to feel less alone, I think that making those connections is important across the board because the more we listen to each other, the closer we feel to each other and the less likely we are to be hateful to each other.”

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