"What does it look like for Asian women to flourish and thrive?" is the question on which Cassandra Lam and Karen Mok founded The Cosmos — a community of Asian women creators that's geared towards supporting each other's work, sharing resources, and connecting over original content by Asian women, for Asian women. "The Cosmos was born from a place of necessity and darkness and pain, because the things that connected me and Karen to one another were the struggles that we felt in our identity, and the fact that there was no resource, no community, no space that was centering our experience," Cassandra Lam tells PAPER. "I've looked for Asian organizations or communities to be part of my whole life, and I've never found it until I built it with Karen."
Most Asian organizations tend to be either centered on a particular cause, or a particular profession, but The Cosmos exists simply to support Asian women in any and every aspect of their lives — whether it be career, identity, relationships, and everything else. As Lam puts it, "Sure, I'm all for supporting non-profits and activist groups, but I wanted a space where I could be first acknowledged as a human, not like, 'Hey! What do you do?' or 'What can you offer?'"
The co-founders met each other through a mutual friend who saw that they shared similarities in their passion projects. Mok was visiting from San Francisco, and what was supposed to be a relatively quick hour-long chat over coffee turned into a whole evening of important conversation. "We eventually got kicked out of the coffee shop," says Lam. "We talked about everything from the silence in the Asian community about, whether it was anti-blackness or mental health or sexual health and intimacy to [the] real chasm we feel between being the first generation to come to America, and the first generation born in America — and how we lacked tools, resources, language, and more importantly space to unpack all of these things." They wanted to do something about it.
"I've looked for Asian organizations or communities to be part of my whole life, and I've never found it until I built it with Karen."
The two started small: a Medium blog post, an open letter to the Asian female/ femme community entitled "What Does It Look Like For Asian Women to Flourish and Thrive?" And it ended with a call to action. "'Hey, if you're wondering about this question, or if you feel like this is a radical question that you've never talked about and you want to arrive at an answer with us, fill out this Google form.' We got over 200 responses, just from our personal networks," recalls Lam. "This is not even going into Facebook groups and anything like that. And when we collected all of those responses, we realized, 'Shit. We're not the only people who care about this. I think there's something here.'"
Without having a website, or without even a name for what they wanted to do, Lam and Mok decided to start with a three-day weekend retreat in Seattle, and tickets sold out almost immediately. Over 20 Asian women creators — "creator" meaning "somebody who defies the status quo, who wants to utilize her life, her passion, and her dreams in service of creating representation and culture change that we believe Asian women deserve" — from San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, and Denver came together in one house for workshops and activities focused on the individual, the community, and how to take action so that Asian women are allowed the space to thrive. "We had literally cried out all of the toilet paper and Kleenex in the house of the AirBnB," Lam laughs.
"...all these little stars coming together to form a brighter one, a more powerful one, to connect as a constellation, if you will."
Soon, Lam and Mok named their project The Cosmos. "Since mankind has existed, whenever human beings ever wondered what their place was in the world or what their purpose was, they always looked up to the stars," explains Lam. "We call it The Cosmos because it represents Asian women trying to figure out where they fit in, Asian women coming together, all these little stars coming together to form a brighter one, a more powerful one, to connect as a constellation, if you will."
Now their community has grown with at least 2,000 members from all over the country, and the world. Two thousand women in constant communication over a Slack channel, sharing new ideas, resources, and reaching out to one another for support. "The power of The Cosmos is that we're putting people together who have completely different and diverse life experiences and perspectives into one space online, and then allowing all of these people and perspectives and stories to percolate," says Lam. "Women are learning from each other and about each other in a very personal way that allows you to expand your worldview, and expand your own philosophy and politics whatever it may be."
The Cosmos will be hosting their first summit this summer, which seeks to gather 500 Asian women creatives, entrepreneurs, tech experts, and more under one roof. To learn more about the community, The Cosmos Summit, and to support the organization — and Asian women creators — through their Crowdfund, go to this link.
Images courtesy of The Cosmos