by Amanda Ong
Seattle-based educator and scholar Kristin Leong is no stranger to feeling like an outsider. Last month, Leong launched Odd One In, a podcast about outsiders making their own way. While the podcast will profile many different people, the similar themes are a big part of her own story. Odd One In is a production of Rock Paper Radio, a newsletter for misfits and unlikely optimists, Rock Paper Radio, which Leong founded and where she works as editor and publisher.
“The podcast pairs with my Rock Paper Radio newsletter, which also frequently is based on stories of outsiders, by outsiders,” Leong said in an interview with the South Seattle Emerald. “And when I say that, I am really thinking about amplifying the voices and stories of folks whose voices have historically been either silenced or reduced to two-dimensional stereotypes in mainstream media. So People of Color, LGBTQ voices, youth, older voices, folks from our disabled community. [We’re] looking for stories of resilience and creative journeys from voices whose stories aren’t often told or not told enough.”
The debut episode features Philip Lee, better known as Old Chingu, a Korean American musician who merges pop music and hip-hop. Lee tells the story of his journey as a musician as he rewrites and reevaluates the American dream through his work. In addition to a narrated feature telling the story of a creative’s journey as a misfit, each episode includes an interview with a scholar or an expert who can comment on the story from an academic perspective. In the debut episode, Leong is joined by hip-hop professor Daudi Abe to comment on Lee’s story.
“I think that being an outsider, you have a clearer vision of things, because it’s really hard to see systems clearly when you are in the midst of them,” Leong said. “When I invite folks in both as the misfits I feature, as in the stories, and also the scholars and experts, I invite in to contextualize those stories. I see every single time that that’s an opportunity to pass the mic and amplify a voice that has historically been missing from our mainstream media.”
Leong is also the executive director of The Bureau of Fearless Ideas, a youth storytelling organization that serves students who are furthest from educational justice. Leong says her interest in misfits and outsiders is an extension of her desire to proudly claim her identity beyond typical identifiers of marginalization and discrimination that reflect negative traits.
Growing up biracial in Hawai‘i, the only white person Leong knew was her mom. After she moved to the mainland, they were one of the only mixed families or Asian families in their community. She constantly felt different from other people. But most of all, Leong says she felt the most different years later. She was working as a bartender, but at the same time, she had received a private liberal arts degree as the first in her family to graduate from college.
“I didn’t fit with the sort of stereotypes of who a single mom is supposed to be; this was many years ago, where single moms sort of came in two stereotypes,” Leong said. “One was this young teenage single mom, uneducated, and the other was these middle-aged women who had children on their own and were solo parenting, and they were doing it with pride. And I was definitely neither. That was the moment, more so than being biracial or being gay, that I was like, ‘You know what, if I’m gonna make it in this life, I just have to be myself and I just have to embrace that I just am who I am. And I’m not going to fit in anywhere, and that just has to be okay.’ And that was a really pivotal experience for me. I really think ever since then I have been interested in connecting with other people who also feel like outsiders.”
Leong covers her experience as a single mother in an upcoming episode of Odd One In, and many episodes are influenced by her own experiences. In particular, the debut episode begins with Leong reading a personal essay about her own Asian American identity. Especially after the pandemic brought on a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes and discrimination, Leong has found this time both frightening for Asian Americans and salient in discussing Asian American experiences.
“Yet, the positive is that I have never seen so much conversation about what it is to be Asian in America,” Leong said. “I’ve never seen so much conversation that includes Asians when we’re speaking about systemic racism. I have never seen so much conversation about the complexities between the relationships and allyships between our Black and Asian communities. Like, are things tough right now? Absolutely. But is there progress happening? I think so.”
Leong says the power of Odd One In is that everyone at some point in their life has felt like an outsider, even the most privileged people. The podcast invites everyone and their outsider experiences to feel seen.
“I hope what [Odd One In] does is show people we’re all weird and we all feel awkward,” Leong said. “It’s a simple message. It’s not an original message, ‘Just be yourself.’ But the feedback that I’ve received since the episode has been published has been so inspiring. People have been sending me notes and messages that are like, ‘You know, I feel a little bit less alone in the world.’”
Currently, the debut episode has been released, along with teasers for upcoming episodes, on all major podcast platforms, including Apple Podcasts and Spotify. The podcast has no strict release schedule for episodes, but listeners can look forward to upcoming stories and guests of all kinds.
Editors’ Note: This article has been updated to more accurately reflect Kristin Leong’s role at Rock Paper Radio.
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: Last month, Kristin Leong launched Odd One In, a podcast exploring what it means to feel like an outsider or misfit, themes Leong has experienced in her own life. (Photo: Keri Zierler)
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