Almost a decade before Raja Gemini strutted her way to victory on RuPaul’s Drag Race, there were the Rice Girls-- an all-AAPI drag troupe that performed to the music of the Spice Girls. This group was the predecessor to a current troupe known as the Rice Rockettes that will be performing at the Hyphen Issue 27 release party.
The Rice Rockettes consist of the following performers: Estee Longah, Lychee Minnelli, Brenda Dong, Lulu M. Pia, Doncha Vishyuwuzme, Kristi Yummykochi, Chi-Chi Kago, Saigon Dione, Veronika Elektronika Dione, Abcde F. Ghijkl, Breahna, Marijoy Tabatsoy, Refugeena Campbell and Hay-Hay Qua.
Prior to the group’s inception, founding member Estee Longah noticed a lack of fellow AAPI drag queens performers in the San Francisco Bay Area (by 2005, the Rice Girls no longer existed). During this time, Longah was performing at the N’Touch, a club in the Castro that first became a haven for AAPI drag queens during the 1970s.
Longah also noted that her mentor and drag mother, Tita Aida, founder of the Rice Girls, had difficulty finding performers for her weekly show at N’Touch. Longah attributed the void to a stigma in the community at the time towards the art of drag and those who practiced it.
In 2008 Longah organized a show titled “Acts of Desperasians” as part of her fundraising bid for the “SF Desperate Divas 2008” grand pageant. The performers included both established API drag performers as well as those who expressed interest in the arts of cross-dressing and showcasing talent.
Encouraged by the community’s positive reaction to the show, Longah brought the Acts of Desperasian group together the following year in 2009 with a proposal to form the Rice Rockettes.
Why the name ‘Rice Rockettes’?
“The name Rice Rockettes references both the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes, and the term ‘rice rocket,’ because just like the car, we’re each an Asian model that’s been seriously ‘tricked out,’” Longah said.
The group meets weekly, with rehearsals usually lasting around two hours. As a result, the girls have come to view each other as a second family.
“I personally enjoy the camaraderie that comes from being in a group setting. I’m sure there are pros and cons to being an independent solo drag artist, but for us, I feel like there’s been strength in numbers and we’ve been able to accomplish so much more because we have each other,” Longah said.
Such accomplishments have included performances on the API stage at SF Pride and at local drag venues such as Trannyshack.
The troupe has also appeared extensively within the AAPI community, with performances at Gay Asian Pacific Alliance (GAPA) events, cultural fairs and Pacific Islander dance festivals. Lychee Minelli served as a judge for the sixth annual Mr. Hyphen competition in 2011. Her male counterpart, Maveric Vu, previously served as front of the book editor for Hyphen.
But perhaps one of the most memorable performances was the Rice Rockettes’ live television audition for “America’s Got Talent.” The troupe reworked their number from scratch only days before auditioning and spent the final hours before the audition rehearsing in their hotel room. Unfortunately, they was not selected to move ahead.
Longah recalls the day as “insanely exhausting.”
“But because we had each other, we still managed to have a blast and we can look back at it now and laugh,” she said.
As for what the future holds, Longah hopes to see more members and performances across the country.