Ep1—Time to Take Notice Transcript
MOLLY: When Alice Y. Hom was growing up, it was hard for her to talk to her parents about her love life.
ALICE: As a young person I really didn’t have an inkling or an understanding of my sexuality.
I was saved in some ways because dating in my family wasn’t something that you did, like my parents didn’t want their kids to date, and I think partly because it was a Chinese immigrant family.
I did feel like I had to like boys, but I never really did. And I actually didn’t come out to my dad, officially, like verbally. And I think part of that was a language barrier. I didn’t speak Toishanese, the dialect of my parents, at a high level. So explaining these things was a difficult kind of thing.
MOLLY: When Alice was 18, she moved out of her parents’ house in Los Angeles and went to college on the East Coast. In a whole new environment, she started to explore her sexual identity. And one of the first places she turned to was to books.
ALICE: There were essays by Asian American feminists, there were essays by black lesbians. That to me was like, oh ding ding!, that resonates with me.
And I was actually able to find a book by Kitty Tsui, a published book about a Chinese American lesbian.
And that was eye-opening for me because I could read about a Chinese American woman who had gone through something similar. About her immigrant family or about feeling bicultural, or feeling the sexism in her own family.
It was huge for me to be able to have that, read that, and realize I’m not alone.
MOLLY: Alice’s bookshelf grew to a couple feet long. But only a couple inches of that bookshelf were taken up by books that reflected her own life experience. Books written by Asian American feminists or lesbians. As Alice got ready to graduate, she got more and more curious about the lives of women like her.
ALICE: I knew I couldn’t go back to L.A. because like my parents would be there, and I was like, I’m not sure. I was still fearful, you know. About living an open life as a queer person.
MOLLY: So she moved to San Francisco.
This was 1989. For Alice, San Francisco was like a wonderland.
ALICE: It was just an opportunity to be free. You could be whoever you wanted to be there,
You see people who are you know African American, Latina, Asian American, white, like I went to those kinds of nightclubs.
I could see hundreds of other Asian American queer people. So coming to that is just kind of like, wow, you can breathe a little easier, you know.
MOLLY: Alice loved her life in the Bay Area. But there was something calling her back to academia.
ALICE: I knew that it was connected to my own history. And I was very interested in Asian American feminism.
MOLLY: So Alice moved back to Los Angeles to go to grad school.
For her PhD dissertation, she decided to write about queer women of color who were involved in activism.
But as a historian, she needed primary sources to work with. Which is where she had an issue. It was the same problem she ran into in college – there just wasn’t a lot out there about queer women of color. These stories hadn’t been recorded.
Alice was about to change all that. But little did she know, deciding to press record was just the first step.
Welcome to Preserve This Podcast, a show about how to save our podcasts. I’m Molly Schwartz. This podcast is brought to you by the Metropolitan New York Library Council with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
In each episode, we’re going to teach podcasters how to preserve their podcasts. Today we’re getting to know Alice Y. Hom, one of the four indie podcast producers who are part of this project. With Alice, we’re going to be covering why preservation matters.
When Alice started her PhD research, she knew she wasn’t going to have access to the same kinds of documents that other historians have used. She would need to take a different approach.
ALICE: Because at the time there wasn’t a lot of documentation and primary sources about LGBTQ people of color, Asian American gays and lesbians, I wanted primary information and you could get that from talking to people who lived it, …. so oral history was the way in the 1990’s, the way to get information about LGBTQ people of color life.
MOLLY: So Alice started collecting the primary source materials herself. She interviewed over 50 lesbians of color.
ALICE: I was just blown away by what I was hearing from them. And I’m a wide-eyed 20-year-old hearing all this stuff that I’ve been wanting to know and learn about. What did Lesbian activists of color do previous to, you know, like the 1990s? I knew there was plenty that they did but I didn’t have access, I couldn’t read about it as much. And it was a blessing and a privilege to, you know sit in someone’s home in their living room, and have them tell me, this is what life was like as a lesbian of color in the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s.
But I just knew I had to document it and collect it.
MOLLY: Alice realized that not a lot of people had paid attention to these women’s work before. And that lack of attention had been internalized.
ALICE: Inevitably whenever I did an oral history with somebody, they would say something along the lines of, I don’t know why you’re interviewing me. I didn’t really do much… and I would tell them like, oh no, this is really important or we need to know this. It’s not just famous people who should be, you know, known. It’s the people on the ground, it’s the people who were photocopying the fliers, writing the copy.
MOLLY: By talking to women that other people had overlooked, Alice uncovered pieces of history that had never been documented before.
ALICE: What I discovered was these lesbians of color, they had been involved in other social movements all along, whether they were in the peace movement, or the Black Panther party, the Young Lords… They may or may not have been able to be out as someone who’s a lesbian, gay person, queer person, transperson, etc. but they’ve always been there.
MOLLY: Documenting these stories became Alice’s passion and her life’s work.
But Alice recorded those interviews onto cassette tapes. For the past 25 years, those tapes have sat in Alice’s closet. They were disintegrating and gathering dust.
Now, Alice has pulled those tapes out of the closet. She digitized them and preserved them.
And now, she’s using them to make her first podcast. It’s called Historically Queer.
ALICE: I really wanted to make sure that a broader audience gets to hear these stories and they get to hear the people who I interviewed. Like I feel a responsibility to them, like this deep responsibility around making sure what they did doesn’t go unnoticed and doesn’t remain hidden.
MOLLY: Alice has already written academic papers. By making a podcast, she’s trying to reach an audience outside of academia.
Alice: I think for me, if I have this opportunity to share those stories, and to make them accessible to a broader audience, it will be amazing because then more and more people will feel like they belong. Like they… their lives are valuable.
MOLLY: She’s hoping to pass this perspective on to more people.
ALICE: Before we had the word intersectional, people were already living their multiple identities their lives, resisting against all the oppressions: racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, for a very long time. So that’s what I’m trying to get across with my podcast
MOLLY: Alice loves the work she’s done as an oral historian. She rescued these women’s work from obscurity. She recorded them. And she preserved them.
Which is why it’s particularly interesting that Alice hadn’t considered that she’ll need to take steps to preserve her own podcast.
And can you tell me, have you thought at all about making a preservation plan? Have you thoughts about how people will be able to access what you’re putting out now over RSS feeds in the future?
ALICE: Not at all. So when I hear about your project, it was like whaaat I didn’t, it never occurred to me, which is, I feel little sheepish about that because I’m a historian and I’m thinking about documentation.
And I think it’s because I was just assuming. And maybe wrongly so, that it’s digital. And it would always be there. you know, like my tape cassettes I was fearful that they were going to disintegrate but for some reason I just thought, well digital will always be there and it never occurred to me that there could be a breakdown.
MOLLY: Alice’s assumption is nothing to be sheepish about – it’s a widespread misconception.
But digital files DO also disintegrate. Digital audio needs to be preserved, just like a cassette tape.
We have two experts in digital audio preservation on the Preserve This Podcast team. Their names are Dana Gerber-Margie and Mary Kidd.
Dana’s a long-time podcast super-listener. She’s subscribed to over 1400 shows. And she regularly listens to 40 to 50 of them. She’s also an archivist who’s worked with audio and video.
DANA: I took an aptitude test in high school. And the aptitude test said that I should be an archivist. Seriously. And I always think back to how they described what an archivist was and how much I loved this because I LOVED X-Files. Was an archivists would save the things that would describe human kind if an alien visited planet Earth to try to explain like what we’re all about. So I always think of archives and an archivist is kind of like trying to explain what the hell we’re doing here to an alien.
MOLLY: Mary Kidd is the other archivist on the team. She’s an audio archivist and she works at the New York Public Library. When Mary was young she started making visual art on her computer.
MARY: I was illustrating, but I was using older forms of Photoshop and Paint.
MOLLY: Mary has hard drives with a little personal archive of her old illustrations. Every so often she likes to go back and look at them.
MARY: And every time I look at it the images get smaller and smaller. Like physically, they get smaller and smaller. Because our screens get larger and larger, they have higher resolution, and the photos and the illustrations that I was making in the 90s, they are literally shrinking. And each layer of technological evolution covers my creative work in this static of distortion. And it’s horrifying. It’s horrifying.
MOLLY: Time’s is also affecting podcasts. But they’re not just getting distorted like Mary’s childhood drawings. Podcasts are disappearing.
Our mission is to teach podcasters how to preserve their work. Through this podcast series, we’ll take you through the nuts and bolts of podcast preservation. Alice’s story is just one example of why preservation matters. Alice has put so much work into saving overlooked pieces of history.
But all the digital files she’s creating are at risk of becoming unplayable or disappearing.
With some basic maintenance, she can protect herself against loss.
Over the next three episodes we’re going to go over three core concepts of preservation. The first concept is file organization. The second concept is storage. And the third is metadata.
If you’d like to follow along with us, and with Alice, you can go to preservethispodcast.org. There, you’ll find a zine that Mary illustrated. It’s like a workbook to go along with the podcast. In the next episode, we’ll be starting with the exercise on page 6. And we’ll also be doing traveling workshops. You can check our website again at preservethispodcast.org to see where we’ll be next.
Oh, and don’t forget to brush up on your elevator pitch for the aliens.
ALICE: Hello Alien, I hope you’re ready to listen to something fun and learn a little bit about what happens here on earth…
KAYTLIN: Oof, if I were describe what a podcast was to an alien, Well I’ll tell you how I describe it to my father, who is a kind of alien, he was born in 1948…
DAN: I’d say I’m gonna skip the part about explaining what podcasts are and assume the alien knows relatively little about the earth…
MOLLY: If you’d like to preserve your podcast for future listeners, human and non-human alike, visit our website at preservethispodcast.org. Subscribe to this podcast wherever you listen to your podcasts. And please take time to rate and review our show.
Preserve This Podcast is made possible through generous funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. It’s produced by me, Molly Schwartz, at the Metropolitan New York Library Council. There’s a whole team of people that make this podcast happen. Mary Kidd and Dana Gerber-Margie are our archivists and project co-leads. Sarah Nguyen is our assistant producer and project coordinator. Allison Behringer is the editor. Breakmaster Cylinder composed the theme music. Dalton Harts did the mixing and the mastering. We’ll be back in a couple of weeks with the next episode.