We had the good fortune of connecting with Miss Shu Mai and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Miss Shu, is your business focused on helping the community? If so, how?
As an artist, performer, and show organizer, my work impacts the community by providing safe spaces for LGBTQ BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) communities, specifically the LGBTQ Asian Pacific Islander community. In the spaces I help curate, we center the experiences of our own and uplift the work of queer and trans API artists that are often underrepresented. From my show, Send Noodz Party, not only do we create this space around performances and entertainment, we also utilize the platform we have to galvanize our community to be better allies to our fellow BIPOC neighbors.
As a drag artist specifically, my goal has always been to utilize my performances and number to explore and celebrate my queer Asian American experience, whether that is lipsyncing to traditional Mandarin songs my parents love, cosplay, Kpop, and talking about social issues in accessible and entertaining ways. Through drag, I become the person that I needed to be and see growing up. With that, I hope to not only represent what unapologetic queer Asian American-ness can look like, but also have folks see themselves in new healing ways in what I do. I hope to inspire folks to utilize their art for social change and liberation as well. Drag is such an interdisciplinary art form that can be so much more than just dramatic wigs and makeup.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
After working the bar/nightlife circuit a bit, I soon got better at drag – from looks, to more creative performances, etc. One of my favorite gigs was performing at Gameboi, LA’s gay Asian night that I frequented since 2011. That was one of the first stages where I could really curate a number that was specific to the Asian American experience. Seeing and feeling that difference of doing a number within your own community versus curating a number that panders to a more “general” audience if you will, I felt the desire to create more spaces like this that intentionally centers API drag excellence. On top of that, there was little community that I felt among API drag artists in LA. I was often either the only Asian or one of the few people of color at shows I’d be booked at. We existed, but there was never a designated space for us. Thus, myself and Bibi Discoteca, my coproducer, began producing LA’s monthly API drag show, Send Noodz Party!
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
In LA, I love eating out in Asian ethnic enclaves – I lived and worked in Koreatown so I’d definitely take them to restaurants in Ktown. We’d maybe venture out to the San Gabriel Valley for boba or good Taiwanese food, and finish off the day with heading out to see a drag show in either DTLA or West Hollywood (in pre-pandemic times).
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I had known I wanted to do drag since I was quite young. I never had a name for it, but growing up as a “boy”, it always felt like I was denied this sacred feminine expression. While I discovered a lot about myself as a queer person through dance (I’m a professional choreographer as well), it wasn’t until I started working in at a local LGBTQ Asian/Pacific Islander nonprofit that I was able to actualize how to combine my passions for advocacy, dance, beauty, and humor into one medium. Being in an environment that advocates for equity for LGBTQ communities of color and encourages discovering your authentic self through its programming was pivotal to my development as an artist.
During my time at APAIT (Asian Pacific AIDS Intervention Team), I met my drag mother Maria Roman-Taylorson, and had some of my first gigs hosting through the organization. Huge shoutout to APAIT and my drag mother Maria for birthing this wild dumpling queen!
Photo credits: Sandra Emmeline, NomNom Photography