Asian American Tarot: a mental health project

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Recently a friend of mine posted about this gorgeous new deck on Facebook. When I saw it, I was instantly looking forward to sharing it with the Little Red Tarot community.

The Asian American Tarot Deck explores healing and mental health struggles, through the lens of Asian American life experience and community. The project is an incredible example of creative and magical self-representation, and its one of the most creative re-writes of the tarot I’ve seen lately. The deck joins an awe-inspring wave of POC inspired and created decks such as the Collective Tarot, Numinous Tarot, Next World Tarot and Slow Holler.

You can learn more about this project and order a copy of the deck on their crowdfunding page.

I hope you enjoy this interview with Mimi Khúc, guest editor of Asian American Tarot. If you know of other decks that showcase POC life stories and self-representation, please share them in the comments. I’d love to hear about them and potentially interview their creators.

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What inspired the creation of a tarot deck to address the mental health crisis happening within the Asian American Community?

I & Lawrence-Minh Bui Davis, the editor of The Asian American Literary Review, had been dreaming up a project to address Asian American mental health for a while but its form was still up in the air. Then a colleague and friend of ours, Long Bui (who would eventually come on board as a curator for the project), gave tarot readings to friends and fellow academics during down time at the annual meeting of the Association for Asian American Studies – and that sparked the idea. We watched as Long narrated life struggles, crafted meaning, imparted advice – and we realized that a redesigned tarot deck could be a way to create new wellness practices at the intersection of the arts, Asian American studies, and magic.

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This 22-card-deck re-writes the archetypes and characters of the major arcana to be more representative of Asian American experiences, resilience and community. It features cards like the refugee, the adoptee, the model minority and the shopkeeper – just to name a few. What impact do you hope this type of self representation will have on the mental health of your community?

We wanted to rename the major arcana, not only to represent Asian American experience, but also to trace the forces that structure Asian American lives and the ways that Asian Americans have negotiated those forces to survive, to find life, to find meaning. And so we dug into our Asian American studies backgrounds, along with other related fields such as disability studies, gender and sexuality studies, critical ethnic studies, religious studies, to come up with figures that would help users of the deck better understand the complex ways history and structure shape their lives. And then we enlisted exciting Asian American visual artists, writers, scholars, and poets to render these images and ideas.

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You chose to have the death card be first in the major arcana of your deck, rather than the fool. I love the death card and I’m very curious – what inspired your choice to have it be the first card of the deck?

Great question! We chose Death to be first, because we wanted to highlight the impact of structural violence – and what is at stake. If the point of racism is to exploit vulnerabilities to the point of premature death, to paraphrase scholar Ruth Wilson Gilmore, then this kind of death – state-sanctioned, culturally-sanctioned death – shapes the horizon of our communities’ experiences. Death is always there; we live in its shadow and in its wake. And still, in the face of that, we have to figure out how to be.

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In your crowdfunding campaign you tell us that this deck has been created “in the spirit of fortune-telling practices so prevalent in our communities”. I’m wondering if you can expand on these practices a bit. How does connection to ancestral knowledge play a role in the creation of this deck?

Both Lawrence and I are Vietnamese American, and both of us have grown up seeing our family members engage various fortune-telling practices to make meaning of their lives. For me with a religious studies background, and for Lawrence whose work includes ghosts in literature, the ways that our communities understand the world as multiply-layered, not always rational, and deeply infused with “spirit” (I’ll let you interpret that however you will), form important ways of knowing and ways of being that are often dismissed by a racialized rationalism of the mainstream. When creating the Asian American tarot deck, it was important to us that the deck not be a parody of tarot or fortune-telling more generally, but a real engagement with alternate knowledge-making.

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Right now you are raising money for this deck. What will this money be used for, why should folks consider giving and how can they do so?

Our original goal was $10,000 to fund artist payments and print costs of the tarot deck. Our stretch goal was $15,000 to fund the print costs for the entire mental health project, Open in Emergency: A Special Issue on Asian American Mental Health, of which the tarot deck is one part. There are four additional parts: a hacked DSM: Asian American Edition, a testimonial tapestry, a treated pamphlet on postpartum depression, and handwritten daughter-to-mother letters. Together, these pieces generate a new conversation on Asian American mental health.

Amazingly, we met our minimum goal in 2 days, and then our stretch goal in 6! Now we are hoping to raise an additional $5000 in the last 3 weeks of the campaign to be able to do a larger print run and donate copies of the issue to spaces of need. We are already working with community partners to identify community spaces – we want to get this issue into the hands of those who need it most.

Please consider supporting! Every dollar goes towards the costs of the issue and helps get more copies out there. Our all-volunteer team thanks you!!

4 comments

  1. Cassandra Snow

    This is absolutely amazing. I have it earmarked to do it’s crowdfunding once I meet my basic financial goals for the week. Thanks so much for posting, Andi, and bringing this to our attention!

    • andi grace says:

      thanks for reading. and really i think its less about thanking me and more about lifting up this amazing project. its so exciting to see it being funded so generously.

  2. DJamil Graham says:

    Thank you for this extraordinary post. I find this work so inspiring and relevant to the times. It never fails to amaze me how many ways the Tarot has been interpreted and put in service.

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