502 Gayle Isa


I am a 4th generation Japanese American, born and raised in Southern California with extended family in Hawaii. Growing up in Hawaii, it was often easy to forget that I was part of a “minority” group (despite the anti-immigrant racism that pervaded the culture) and to think that being a Gemini was as important to my identity as my ethnic or racial background. I experienced a huge culture shock when I came to Philadelphia to go to college, where race and racism, and history and people, were quite literally defined in black and white. For a first time in my life, I felt a conscious need to be connected to other Asian Americans. I began organizing on my college campus and doing volunteer work in Philadelphia, which led me to intern with the then-forming Asian Arts Initiative.

I picked this photo because it represents the community that I have found through what is now over two decades in Philadelphia. The photo was taken after a music video shoot for artist Taiyo Na’s song, “Lovely to Me: Immigrant Mother.” The video was directed by my life partner, Gary San Angel, who sent an open invitation to people to bring their moms or photos of the women who have helped to raise them to be included in the video. All the people in the photo are people who we’ve had a chance to meet as part of Asian Arts Initiative.

The photo is also special to me because it is one of the images that we including in a picture book to introduce ourselves to birth family members looking for an adoptive family for their child. So it is part of the story that helped bring my daughter into my life.