When Mai Nguyen and Kevi Nontasak met at a potluck party through a mutual friend, they instantly knew they had a special connection. Their shared Asian American identity, presence in similar creative spaces in NYC, and strong affinity for building community formed a unique relationship from the get-go. They also shared a deep concern about Asian hate crimes occurring across the country.
The pivotal questions at the time were, as Mai explained, “What do I do about this, being Asian? How do I address an issue that is so personal and deep to me?”
That became the basis for Now You See Us (NYSU), a community organization that serves the modern Asian diaspora through conventions and workshops framed as intimate gatherings that foster deep relationships and conversations. “The essence of all of our events and workshops has always been to challenge people to think deeper,” Mai said.
Kevi added, “We’re here for our community — we’re providing this service via our passion for the people.”
Both Mai and Kevi have been involved with Sofar Sounds long before the beginning of NYSU — Kevi has hosted many Sofar shows, and Mai has worked as a crew member at Sofar shows in New York. When they reached out to Sofar about co-curating their May shows (including an upcoming show on May 28th), they coincidentally met two Asian Sofar employees who helped them through the process. “I feel like that’s how it should be, right? We’re naturally carving out spaces and opportunities for each other,” Mai said. “There’s a huge conversation about Asian presence in music, and that’s something we always want to bring to these events — getting people to think about how important it is for us to, as we are celebrating these events and celebrating ourselves, understand how far we’ve come to get to this point, and how far we still have to go to encourage this through legacy and future generations.
Photo by Kristen David
The three pillars of NYSU as a community organization are Arts & Culture, Finance & Career, and Food & Cuisine. NYSU offers regular workshops and events in each area, from a creative wellness workshop series to family-style holiday dinners. “I feel like in Asian culture, food is such a huge part of any big celebration, and being able to recreate that scene within our own friends and circles, being able to share each others’ cultural stories and upbringings through food, felt crucial,” Mai said.
“I didn’t have anything remotely like this growing up, or upon arriving in NYC,” Kevi said. NYSU emphasizes building kinship through culture and identity, something that is few and far between in our country these days. “We want to grow our family,” Kevi said. In these isolating pandemic days, it seems more important than ever to foster the communities that we have, and sometimes, that means doing what NYSU does: radically redefining community, and creating spaces where we can all grow together.
Photo by Chris Zranchev
Check out Now You See Us to learn more.
Words by Young Fenimore Lee
Photo credit: Mai Nguyen and Kevi Nontasak, photo by Chris Zranchev