Minority Mental Health Advocate: Mimi Khúc


"There is no freeing of our emotional lives...without seeing and addressing the cultural and structural systems that differentially destroy us." -Mimi Khúc

Tell us about the work you do and how you got started.

I curated and published a project called Open in Emergency: A Special Issue on Asian American Mental Health. It attempts to answer that question of what mental health looks like when you live in a world that is trying to kill you. It asks us to start first with the violence of racialized living and what Asian American life looks like in that context--its shape, its capacities, its dreams, its nightmares, its foreclosures, its failures--and then asks how we can understand wellness and unwellness from there. My 70+ collaborators and I came up with some pretty creative offerings: a "hacked" mock DSM: Asian American Edition, an original deck of Asian American tarot cards, a testimonial tapestry of collective wounds, a stack of handwritten daughter-to-mother letters, and an annotated pamphlet on postpartum depression. The project launched in January and has reached individuals, universities, community organizations, and even counseling centers all over the country, even globally. I'm excited to continue working with these different groups to develop public programming to really connect these resources to their communities. Currently, I'm also developing the project's teaching program set to launch this Fall, which will provide curricular support for those teaching Open in Emergency in their classrooms and will digitally connect these classrooms to have a national discussion on issues of mental health and race.

Why does minority mental health matter to you?

I work at the intersection of race and mental health because I discovered somewhere along the way in my education that racism kills. It is exploitation and destruction. Killing is at the heart of its function. And so I came to ask myself, what does mental health look like--what can it possibly be--when you live in a world that is trying to kill you? So much of dominant mental health discourse focuses on the maladjustment of the individual, the individual's inability to "function" or "cope" or "be normal" in society. An approach that erases the ways in which we as people and societies are structured by violent social forces and histories. Our capacities for feeling and living are truncated. There is no freeing of our emotional lives, no creation of well-being, without seeing and addressing the cultural and structural systems that differentially destroy us, as racialized communities.

What would you tell your younger self?

Hey, kid, life is about to get real hard, real fast. Heartbreak and loss beyond your imagining. You will break. But brokenness is ok. As a wise friend counseled, it's ok to be broken and fucked up. And you will help others hear and feel that message and there will be true healing, true reckoning, by bearing wounds and demanding they be witnessed. And you will find love so breathtaking it will save your life, over and over. You will save your own life, over and over. And you will save others' lives. There is meaning in this thing we call madness.