Unwellness Activity

Mimi Khúc’s “Touring the Abyss” appears in our spring 2024 issue. Tracing her visits to US college campuses before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, the essay examines the hidden crisis of student mental health, with a focus on Asian American students in particular. It includes the exercise below, which we invite you to complete.

In the spirit of collective care, we’ve also invited responses by 4 Asian American artists–Pyaari Azaadi, Jess X. Snow, Devyn Mañibo, and Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay–whose arts practices variously engage the contours and possibilities of Asian American un/wellness. Their responses appear below.

Before you start your own reflection, make it safe for yourself to write. Authorize yourself to be vulnerable. There is also a space, if you feel comfortable, for privately sharing responses on Mimi Khúc’s website.


Pyaari Azaadi

Unwellness looks like navigating the psychological and physical effects of menopause, recovering from cancer, while raising a teenager and caring for ailing old parents.

Unwellness looks like being unable to leave bed and home for 8 days, overwhelmingly depressed about lifelong financial precarity, physical illness, war, climate change along with chronic PTSD from intergenerational trauma. 

Wellness looks like emotional regulation, healthy self esteem, meditation, healthy eating, community building, artmaking, joyfulness in nature. It looks like being able to envision a future for oneself, and the ability to have healthy intimate relationships.


Myself, Daughter of Indira, Grand daughter of Gangabai (2021)
End Game (2018)
“I was the earth locked in longing for you, my mother, the moon thinking that it was my duty to oscillate around you because you had eclipsed the son. Both of us endlessly reflecting one another’s dark sides” (2021)



Jess X. Snow 陈雪

Wellness looks like:

Being present. Breathing more easily. Attunement to the space within my heart and the space within my body. The ability to listen to its needs. Attunement to the needs of the Earth. Friendship that spans deep coalitions across cultures & identities & continents. Clean water and clean air. For everyone. Lands returned to the sovereign hands of indigenous people. Care for the livelihood of all living beings. Remembering our reciprocal relationship with the soil, river and sky. Accountability & conflict resolution as a sixth love language. No more genocide. No more prisons. A Free Palestine. A Free Hawai’i. The right to return to a home unoccupied. A deep knowing our liberation is bound to each other & the land. A time machine inside the body to travel into the future—one our children will dream of living in. A time machine inside the heart to travel into the past and listen to the lessons of our movement elders and ancestors. Stopping to hear the birds & see the stars. Giving and recieving. Nights of deep rest & dreaming, knowing in the morning when we wake, we will be safe. A deep trust that there is time & more time & more.

Unwellness looks like:

Waking up to read the news; which amounts into a weight in my chest that encompasses the suffering of all people—generated by the oppressive systems of the west. The conditions that made genocide, war, and capitalism  possible. The urgency to find a solution for it all—the belief there is only now, or never. The delusion that all of it is up to me. The feeling that liberation and happiness is impossible. Giving in to the status quo. The model minority. The inner critic and the outer critic in an endless dance. The hunger for validation from the country, the institution, the school system & the state even as these systems destroy. The disassociation necessary to sustain the American dream. Forgetting the ability to imagine worlds and lives otherwise. Not having the resources or community to seek help. Going to bed and the cycle repeating itself. 

Devyn Mañibo

It’s something like a sizzling heart, unbearably bitter, unraveling, and jagged. Gender trouble, maybe, back trouble, or gastrointestinal distress. I’ve found myself wrung and dried, and looking you in the eyes, the dreaded mirror, speaking too fastwhile my shaking hands call the shots.

Isn’t my wellness somehow all the same? Ripped from the same notebook? Happening in tandem? Wheeling through thecurséd question How. Are. You. Wouldn’t you like to know? I’m learning to nurture my softest parts, taking a breath to cool the sizzling, feeding myself, sparkling, and finding time to grow, to slow.



Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay



Jess X. Snow (they/them/他) is a non-binary filmmaker, muralist, poet of the JiangXi Chinese diaspora whose body of work explores migration, queer asian experiences, kinships across cultures and species, and abolitionist futures. Recently named one of Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces of Independent Film, their short films center the desires, disobediences and dreams of flawed Asian migrant queers. Their shorts have screened at 50+ festivals worldwide including: BFI Flare, Frameline, Cinequest (Best Student Short), and Durban International Film Festival (Special Mention) and New Orleans Film Festival. Their children’s book, WE ALWAYS HAD WINGS (Make Me A World/Random House) is forthcoming in 2025. A member of the Justseeds Artist Co-operative, prior to filmmaking, they spent a decade creating artwork for migrant, climate and racial justice movements. Their large-scale murals which feature intergenerational kinships with Black, Asian and Indigenous femmes can be found across Turtle Island.  Along with their artistic practice, they teach screenwriting and community art practices to people of all ages and backgrounds


Pyaari Azaadi (she/her; b. 1969, Bombay, India) immigrated to the US in 1984. She received her MFA from Goldsmiths College, University of London. Azaadi has continued to intertwine studio and social practice, art and activism, creating transformative work with Queer, BIPoC communities in New York for three decades. She founded the South Asian Women’s Creative Collective (SAWCC) in New York (1997) and London (2004). Azaadi served as the founding Director of Public Events and Projects from 2003-06 at the Queens Museum, curating exhibitions and connecting the museum to local communities. In 2017, Azaadi engineered a collaboration between the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, Asia Society and the Queens Museum to organize a national convening of South Asian American artists, academics and curators; and the exhibition Lucid Dreams and Distant Visions. In 2019, Azaadi curated a trilogy of exhibitions to inaugurate the Ford Foundation Gallery: Perilous Bodies, Radical Love, and Utopian Imagination centered the visions of BIPoC artists. She has been a resident of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Process Space residency and an honoree of the Brooklyn Arts Council and ASHA for Women. She was awarded grants by the FST Studio Projects fund and the Foundation for Contemporary Art in 2021.


Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay is a Lao American poet and playwright. CNN’s “United Shades of America” host W. Kamau Bell called her work “revolutionary.” She is best known for her Kung Fu Zombies play cycle. Her work has been presented by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, Theater Mu, Walking Shadow Theatre Company, and elsewhere. She’s a current artist fellow with the Bush Foundation, Mellon Foundation, Jerome Foundation, Camargo Foundation, and the Center for Cultural Power. @refugenius


Devyn Mañibo is a Jersey-bred maker, feeder, and poet. She is the Deputy Director of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop and holds an MFA in Performance & Performance Studies from SAIC. She lives with her wife in Queens.


Mimi Khúc is a writer, scholar, and teacher of things unwell. She is the creator of the acclaimed mental health projects “Open in Emergency” and the “Asian American Tarot” and the author of dear elia: Letters from the Asian American Abyss (Duke University Press, 2024), a deep dive into the depths of Asian American unwellness at the intersections of ableism, model minoritization, and the university, and an exploration of new approaches to building collective care.