by Amanda Ong
On Monday, July 11, Shin Yu Pai’s podcast The Blue Suit premiered on KUOW with the first of eight episodes, which will play every Monday.
“Blue Suit is a new podcast with KUOW that centers Asian American stories,” Shin Yu Pai, writer and host of the podcast, said in an interview with the South Seattle Emerald. “This is a group of stories about curated objects, but the stories themselves become like their own objects in a way. And it’s a way to kind of expand the archive, whose stories get told, whose objects get collected.”
The title of the podcast is a reference to its inspiration: Andy Kim, an Asian American congressman from New Jersey who was photographed cleaning up garbage late on Jan. 6 after the attack on the U.S. Capitol.
“It was like this really quiet picture taken after midnight, and with a solitary figure in a blue suit, with a surgical mask, just picking up the garbage the rioters left behind,” Pai said. “I think that particular image showed a certain kind of quiet leadership and character that was very moving to me in a time during the pandemic when there’s been a lot of anti-Asian rhetoric.”
The podcast came about after KUOW put out a call for pitches from the community last summer, with the offer that it would pilot a number of the podcasts that came out of the community. Pai’s application was one of more than 80 that went through its pipeline. She was asked to create a pilot, and the podcast was commissioned to move forward.
Pai is perhaps best known for her poetry and writing, and has published 11 books of poetry. Her work has appeared in multiple publications, including the Emerald, and she is a graduate of the University of Washington museology program, where she did thesis work on community museums and oral histories. Pai has been living in the Seattle area on and off since 2007, and has had many other professions, including working in philanthropy, arts, nonprofits, and as an event producer.
Pai’s interest in community stories as well as her work as an artist and curator have all come to culminate in The Blue Suit as she explores the meanings that a material or object can take on for us with personal and cultural significance. But the objects, Pai says, are just a way to enter the story.
“It’s about this kind of very deep personal relationship with a material or an object,” Pai said. “The focus on the object is a softer way to enter that conversation, that conversation about race, you know, gender expectations, and topics like anti-Asian violence right now.”
The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History has since asked Kim to donate his suit as an artifact of the Jan. 6 insurrection, which became the impetus for Pai’s series. Given Pai’s background in museums, she has had a longtime interest in collections, objects, and artifacts, and the way in which this blue suit was transformed through the cultural moment and the intention with which Kim wore it. Kim will be the final guest on The Blue Suit.
Pai says one of her goals with using the podcast format was to reach a larger audience, particularly as she centers the stories of Asian American artists and members of the community. Given the lack of Asian American voices and faces in the media, it was especially important to her to disseminate the stories to a greater audience.
“I wanted to really do my guests justice and to be able to circulate their stories very widely,” Pai said. “There’s finally starting to be these really powerful inroads of more Asian American representation in the media. But I think even within the news media, the journalism media, there’s still a struggle for stories being told by Asian Americans.”
Aside from Kim, all of Pai’s guests will be Seattle-based or have a connection with Seattle.
These will include musician Tomo Nakayama, who wrote the music for the series, and artist Etsuko Ishikawa, a glass artist trained in Dale Chihuly’s studio now pursuing her own highly acclaimed work. Parts of Pai’s story are interwoven throughout all of the episodes, but there is a specific episode of hers that tells a story about her relationship to her son and a stuffed animal that she grew up with.
“I live in this community, and the Pacific Northwest has become a home and very important to me,” Pai said. “Because it is very much a series about diasporic stories, people who are distanced from their homelands, from their culture of origin.”
Pai previously worked for 20 years as an events producer, and created a podcast for Town Hall called Lyric World. But while her work was gradually evolving more and more toward supporting and crafting programs led by BIPOC, it wasn’t entirely satisfying to Pai.
“I’m really acknowledging that for me, my personal commitment is to Asian Americans,” Pai said. “And, yeah, it’s a project that is very close to my heart, and I hope starts lots of conversations.”
Pai is hoping to have a season two. You can post pictures on Instagram with your own cultural and significant objects with the tag #BlueSuitPod. Pai will be looking at posts to crowdsource stories for the potential second season.
Listen in on KUOW’s website or through the podcast app of your choice. New episodes of The Blue Suit premiere every Monday.
Amanda Ong (she/her) is a Chinese American writer from California. She is currently a master’s candidate at the University of Washington Museology program and graduated from Columbia University in 2020 with degrees in creative writing and ethnicity and race studies.
📸 Featured Image: ‘The Blue Suit’ podcast’s title is a reference to its inspiration, Andy Kim, an Asian American congressman from New Jersey. After the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, Kim was photographed cleaning up garbage while wearing a blue suit. (Image: KUOW)
Before you move on to the next story … Please consider that the article you just read was made possible by the generous financial support of donors and sponsors. The Emerald is a BIPOC-led nonprofit news outlet with the mission of offering a wider lens of our region’s most diverse, least affluent, and woefully under-reported communities. Please consider making a one-time gift or, better yet, joining our Rainmaker Family by becoming a monthly donor. Your support will help provide fair pay for our journalists and enable them to continue writing the important stories that offer relevant news, information, and analysis. Support the Emerald!