API Chaya held its 24th annual vigil and march on March 7, 2019. Photo by Auriza Ugalino.

Every year, API Chaya hosts a vigil to honor lives ended by intimate partner and violence. In particular, this vigil honors the lives of Susana Blackwell and her unborn baby Kristine, and her friends Phoebe Dizon and Veronica Johnson. All three were murdered by Susana’s abusive husband on March 2, 1995. Leading up to their deaths, Phoebe and Veronica walked alongside Susana in seeking care to keep her safe from the harm she was surviving, and connecting her with any services that could meet her cultural needs. 

The API Women and Family Safety Center was birthed from the community organizing response to the 1995 murders and later merged with Chaya, working to serve South Asian survivors in similar circumstances. Thus, in 2011, API Chaya was created. Facilitating spaces to remember, honor and celebrate lives ended by domestic and sexual violence has always been a practice API Chaya has shared with our community, ever since the genesis of the API Women and Family Safety Center. One of the first responses to these murders was to provide community members a space to not only mourn the loss of these women, but to also uplift their story of collective survivorship and care for one another. Every year since 1995, API Chaya has organized this ritual space in the form of our annual vigil to honor all lives lost to violence. This vigil, over the years, has been a space where grief is transformed and where the experience of loss and separation pulls our community together in shared survivorship.

This year, we will continue to honor the lives and friendship of Susana, baby Kristine, Phoebe, and Veronica, and others who suffer from the harms of intimate violence at our Digital Vigil, which will run throughout the month of March 2021. You can find more information about our vigil on our Instagram (@apichayasea) and our Facebook page. 

The recurring theme of our vigil through the years has been, “Kapwa”, a Tagalog term meaning the shared interconnectedness among and between beings; envisioning the self in connection to the other. In this way, surviving violence can be understood as an act of interdependence, a space where forming meaningfulness out of grief and pain is uplifted through a shared sense of self. The tagline of the vigil is, “Remembering The Self, Remembering Each Other.” When one experiences the death of someone in their life, it may be common for those still living to feel a sense of “losing their own sense of self” or feeling like, “a part of me has died.” This aspect of the grieving process occurs because of Kapwa, a deep sense of self which connects us to those who have passed on. Thus, when one mourns the loss of a loved one, one may also grieve for the self.  

This year, in recognition of our organizing history and in honor of lives that have ended and continue to perish due to interpersonal and systemic violence, we invite communities to reflect on the question, “How does grief move and transform our movements?” Through Kapwa, we continue to honor and celebrate the lives of Susana, baby Kristine, Phoebe and Veronica, just as we honor and celebrate ourselves in our continued survivorship today.  

We are also spending time reflecting internally this year, in a time full of so much in the world to mourn. In recognition of how deeply connected API Chaya staff are to our organization’s history and survivors, our agency is offering internal gatherings for staff members to share in collective grief and healing processes.  

“Our API Chaya internal grief gatherings have been an essential (and truly intentional) effort to build sustainable wellness among our staff. As an agency that is committed to uplifting survivor leadership and helping communities heal, it’s important that we don’t separate ourselves from the human need to grieve; through our collective grief and active intention towards healing, we will see the anti-violence movement flourish.”  

  • Nikki, Youth Program Organizer at API Chaya 

Recognizing and honoring grief is a way to see our love continue. It is vital for ourselves as survivors, for our people, and for our movements. API Chaya is here for you, and we invite you to join us on the long journey of healing. 

If you are in need of grief support or referral, please contact Derek at [email protected].

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