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5 Asian American activists creating a safe space for a promising future

In early 2021, “Asian American activists” was not yet a popular topic on social media. Related information was very limited and most of them were outdated. This reality, however, has drastically changed over the past six months.  

asian american activists
PHOTO CRED: FT montage.

As the “Stop Asian Hate” rally took over the city landscape, a new cultural dynamic also appeared. Asian activists and alike started to actively speak up for their communities. The rising awareness of racial justice among the Asian American community brings the presence of existing activists in the limelight and inspires the births of new generations of activists.

Here we have five Asian American activists who are active in New York that we think you should check out!

1. Ashlyn So takes her activism to the NYFW runway

Thirteen-year-old teen fashion designer Ashlyn So calls herself an accidental activist. Her activism has started since the COVID-19 outbreak and the ongoing racism against the AAPI community intensified by the pandemic.

During the pandemic, Ashlyn sewed 1,000 face masks for frontline workers. Her kind efforts earned her the People’s Hero award at the E! People’s Choice Award in 2020.

At the beginning of this year, Ashlyn realized that Asian elders have been being bullied, attacked, and killed across the States.

To help prevent anti-Asian violence, Ashlyn initiated two rallies to Stop AAPI Hate and #standforasians. Besides fighting for justice within her own community, she also set up a rally that united the black and Asian communities. This #unitedinlove rally aimed to bring understandings amongst different races and promote diversity and inclusion within our society.

Although originally from San Francisco, Ashlyn’s influence has expanded to the East Coast. During the 2021 NY Fashion Week, the young designer combined creativity and activism and took the runway of NYFW by storm.

As the youngest Asian American designer at NYFW, Ashlyn presented to the world her vision of chic styles for women and teenage girls. But most importantly, by incorporating the ‘Stop Asian Hate’ movement into her show and campaign, she reclaimed her identity and stood with her community.

2. Oscar Yi Hou paints a new world of hope

New York-based English painter Oscar Yi Hou explores the concepts of language, queerness, and cultural identity through his work. As a mostly self-taught artist, Yi Hou learned to paint through copying paintings by Lucian Freud or Vincent Van Gogh.

asian american painting
birds of a feather flock together, aka: A New Family Portrait 2020 | Oils on canvas | Artist: Oscar Yi Hou

“Inquiries into language, yellowness, cultural signification, relation,  queerness— these all flowered over the past few years as I read more and more and learned more about the world and my position within it.”

– Oscar Yi Hou, Art of Choice.

Personhood, manifested with shape, form, and color, is an important theme that the artist depicts in his work. The representation of the Asian race, additionally, is frequently asked and reinterpreted.

asian americ painting
2 lovers, 2 cranes (and then we took a bath), 2019 | Oils on Canvas | Artist: Oscar Yi Hou

Yi Hou discusses ethnicity whose presence is oppressed, consumed, and made transparent in the American society. His vibrant use of colors gives his figures their voices, stories, and identities.

The artist rejects the traditional stifling definitions of the minority races and cultures through his artistic activism.

3. Maia Cruz Palileo sets the paletone for Asian American activists

asian american painting
PHOTO CRED: Maia Cruz Palileo.

Chicago native Maia Cruz Palileo is a multi-disciplinary artist based in Brooklyn, NY. Hailing from a Filipino immigrant family, migration, familial oral history, and colonial documents have always been essential elements that Palileo portrays in her work.

“Palileo’s scenes, rendered in broad and loose brushstrokes, imagine Manila as her ancestors would have experienced it and parallel the fragmentary nature of memory to present an alternative history.”

Harley Wong, Artsy.

The artist creates a world that exists between reality and imagination, in which she preserves her memory of home. She paints her scenes with rich and vibrant colors.

She recasts the images of her ancestors into strong figures that are free from the heaviness of the anthropological colonial gaze.

asian american art
PHOTO CRED: Maia Cruz Palileo.

“You have to make what you want to see,” as Palileo says in a short film made by filmmaker Ligaiya Romero. It’s not that she has to learn about her ancestral history, she wants to know where she comes from.

Her paintings, therefore, are the agency that connects herself and her heritage. Through painting the important familial figures, she reconstructs the absent Filipino identity that is often rendered absent in the American context.

4. Pranjal Jain is using social media to revolutionize representation

asian american activists
PHOTO CRED: Alisha Barday.

Nineteen-year-old social justice activist Pranjal Jain grew up as an undocumented immigrant and Indian American.

Feeling the lack of representation of her community in the country, she founded Global Girlhood to revolutionize representation. The purpose of her organization is to inspire and connect young women around the world through storytelling.

Pranjal considers social media a powerful tool that helps build an online community where members can freely discuss topics such as mental health, anti-racism, womxn’s rights, self-empowerment, and more.

She is dedicated to creating constructive changes in the social system and belief. Since 12-years-old, she has been holding workshops, rallies, and events as a peer educator who actively fights for social justice and equality.

“I hope the stories Global Girlhood shares, ignites a revolution where womxn globally celebrate and spark each other’s power.”

Global Girlhood.

5. Sasha Gordon explores new creative territory

sasha gordon painting
PHOTO CRED: Sasha Gordon.

New York-born Sasha Gordon is an emerging American figurative painter. Gordon’s paintings are very personal, for they are reflections of her anxiety, depression, and sexuality.

The idea of being watched is deeply incorporated in Gordon’s work. In her 2021 painting Muse III, for example, she explores the idea of the viewer’s gaze and the exoticization of the Asian female body.

The depiction of classic white American culture in her paintings is also frequently used to contrast with her characters that are made of the same ethnicity, sexuality, or body size. However, within this conformity and uniformity, controversy, conflict, and tension arise.

In her way, she indicates the complexity of race and culture in the U.S. Regulating different races and cultures within one standard and expectation, therefore, is not going to fix the fundamental problem.

We’re rooting for Asian American activists…

Everything happens for a reason. We must trace back to the root.

The education system holds responsibility for molding biased impressions of minority cultures in our society. The toxicity of wrong information in the classroom can also lead to people’s hatred toward and rejection of their own communities.

At present time, however, young Asian Americans have not wavered in threats and challenges. They stand strong and have grown to be proud of their heritage.

This is exactly what we need for the Asian community at the moment; We need to start with making small changes within the community and we start when we are young.


Lofi music is the new wave: The evolution of an underground genre

Lofi music stands for low-fidelity music, it is the opposite of high-fidelity music. Think vinyl. High-fidelity music, namely, is the high-quality music production behind most mainstream music nowadays.

Unlike Hi-fi music that is precise and perfect in every detail, lofi music contains audible imperfections such as background noise or performance mistakes; Lo-fi music happens when the music is recorded with inexpensive equipment.

PHOTO CRED: Lofi Girl (YouTube)

Despite its imperfect nature, lofi music celebrates an authentic aesthetic, unique beauty of its own kind. Most of the time, the genre is non-lyrical. If you hear people’s voices, they are likely from samples of early television or radio recordings.

In the last ten years, the genre has flourished on platforms like YouTube and Soundcloud. Throughout the years, it has drawn millions of listeners. But why are music producers and common people so obsessed with lofi music? We investigate.

The evolution of lofi music

Even if lo-fi music has just gained much attention in the recent decade, something similar to it has been around since the 50s. Errors and mistakes in the recording process are admired in the genre; they are even sometimes intentionally created to enhance the listening experience.

People who listen to lo-fi music for the first time can get hooked on to its rhythm easily. The ambiance that the music brings to the audience is relaxing and embracing; it is like a chill community. In a way, we can say it provides listeners with a sense of belonging.

Lo-fi music is its own genre, but its characteristics are frequently added to other genres of music as well. According to MasterClass, in the 80s and 90s, “many punk, indie rock, and hip-hop artists pursued a lofi aesthetic for economic and artistic reasons.”

Contemporary Lo-fi music started when live streaming began to flourish on YouTube in 2013. Lo-fi pioneer Nujabes, for instance, has played an important role in promoting this genre of music on social media.

His 2004 soundtrack, Samurai Champloo, combines Lo-fi and Japanese animation and adds some visual elements to the livestreams. Other known Lo-fi artists on YouTube are French artist ChilledCow (now Lofi Girl), Netherlands-based Chillhop Music, Chilli Music, and etc.

Benefits of lofi music

How do you identify lo-fi music? Well, it has three key characteristics. First, drum loops form its rhythms. Second, jazz chords create relaxed and thoughtful quality. Lastly, samples build connections between different mediums.

Lo-fi music serves many purposes in our everyday life. Students put it on as background music to help them concentrate while studying. As Brenden Lutes writes, the technical flaws such as distortion, background noise, or limited frequency response in the music can trigger the cerebrum and help people focus.

Music therapists use it to assist patients in coping with their stressful surroundings. lo-fi music carries a therapeutic purpose. It soothes anxieties and helps its listeners articulate their emotions better.

Why is lo-fi becoming a trend?

It’s great to integrate Lo-fi music into your personal project.

As slow music, Lo-fi releases Serotonin – a neurotransmitter known as “Happy Hormone”, increases Dopamine, and decreases Cortisol (a stress hormone). The music itself produces positive neurophysiological effects that help increase brain activities. Moreover, other benefits that Lo-fi music bring are improved cognitive ability, elevated mood, reduced anxiety, and restorative effects.

But why is lofi music so good? Because it motivates us to be more productive and performative in our projects. When we experience improvements in our progress, we feel the urge to further pursue our passions and increase our commitments.

Furthermore, lofi music is known for its power to help people find their communities online. Utilizing lofi music as the background music in your project, in this case, allows people to connect and communicate while checking out your work.

What does lofi music say?

@Chilli Music

Just because lo-fi is an “imperfect” production of music doesn’t mean it’s shallow. Behind its chill beats, lo-fi music sings people’s needs to seek for a safe haven in contemporary society. More importantly, it subtly reflects people’s struggles and their intentions to reclaim calmness in the chaos.

Listening to lo-fi is not simply to relax. It is a spiritual journey of communication that connects different souls. To hear a story, to be touched, and to generate empathy. And within these deeply felt emotions, we attain a higher level of creativity and enlightenment.

Is DONDA wack? Why Kanye chasing perfection vibed us out

Kanye has always chased perfection, but in the case of his latest album release could it have done more harm than good?

After many iterations, Ye’s much-delayed album ‘DONDA’ is finally and officially out in the public. ‘DONDA’, the artist’s 10th album, is named after his late mother Donda West.

Kanye chases perfection, again…

Ever since the release, ‘DONDA’ has received quite a load of controversial critics on social media and within the music industry. After multiple adaptations in recent weeks, the album is now settled with 27 songs, which is 1 hour 49 minutes of length in total.

Yet, regardless of the artist’s effort to consolidate his work by fusing all his thoughts in one album, listeners and reviewers remain confused, “Ok, so what is the album trying to say?”

Is it a pure tribute to the late Donda, or the artist’s artistic expression of his religious belief, or his discussion of America’s long-existing incarceration problem?

PHOTO CRED: Kevin Mazur.

The messages in the album are a little messy, there is so much Ye wants to include and so much that it requires the audience to digest. But overall, what this album is about really depends on how you perceive and interpret it.

The creation of ‘DONDA’

Nothing is more dramatic than the drop of ‘DONDA’. The artist’s newest baby is finally out in the world after many delayed release dates and three dramatic listening events. Knowing the artist’s volatile personality, the internet does not feel surprised at all.

The album is no one-man’s work though, as we can tell from its collaboration with multiple well-known artists. Artists who have participated in Ye’s ‘Donda’ project include Chris Brown, Pusha T, Travis Scott, Jay-Z, DaBaby, Marilyn Manson, and others.

Controversy already arrived before the new album’s release

Ye’s third listening party was held on a Thursday at Soldier Field, Chicago. The listening event, however, generated criticism. First of all, because of its missing requirement for proof of vaccination or a negative  COVID test upon entry.

The stage in the third listening event was built around a replica of Ye’s childhood home in South Chicago. The house bore a large cross on its roof, which echoed with the religious ambiance in the album’s aesthetics.

Ye finished up his listening with a dramatic stunt by setting himself on fire. His creative stage planning, however, provoked very much polarized feedback from viewers at his listening event and online.

Social media has also reacted critically to Ye’s choice of featuring Marilyn Manson and DaBaby in his album. Ye even brought them on stage at his listening event.

Manson has been accused of multiple sexual assault cases. DaBaby has been criticized for his homophobic comments during the Rolling Loud festival. The public seriously questions Ye’s intent.

Pick a lane and stick with it. Are there too many running themes on DONDA?

Enough with the world’s divisive opinions on ‘Donda’. Let’s talk about the album’s themes and what they are trying to convey.

Besides Donda and Ye’s perspectives of God, America’s incarceration problem is probably the other most important theme in the album. There is no doubt ‘Donda’ has an obvious political conscience.

The idea of separation and broken community that is caused by incarceration is deeply embedded in the lyrics. Songs like “Jail” and “Jail pt 2” are pretty candid examples.

kanye perfection
PHOTO CRED: Zach Long.

Kanye is known for his efforts to bring on the talks of prison reform and “free the inmates” to his musical performances. Quoting gang leader Larry Hoover’s son’s words and integrating them into his music, therefore, honestly executes Ye’s intention.

“But it’s also an extension of Kanye’s individual grief for his mother, a displacing of his personal sorrow so that it joins with a larger collective sorrow for those loved ones with whom reunification is impossible.”

Aja Romano, Vox.

Not everyone is satisfied with Donda

Kanye is known for his good aesthetics and his stubborn pursuit of perfection in his music and art.

The album is a product of collective talents and efforts. However, not every guest artist is happy with the final track line-up for Donda. Rapper Soulja Boy, for example, posted on Twitter about his displeasure with being left off a track that he was asked to be a part of.

Ye, additionally, was dissatisfied with the rollout.

UMG gets fed up with Kanye and his obsession with perfection

He claimed on Instagram that Universal Music Group released his new album without his approval. The artist also believed that the music company was responsible for the fact that “Jail pt 2” was not included on streaming.

Interestingly, there are some comments trending on the internet right now and suspecting Ye’s listening parties are “ritualistic” in nature.

Fans, internet detectives, and conspiracy theorists who go into a deep investigation with every detail at the listening events have also further fueled up the suspicion.

They have been talking about the blood-colored drinks handed out at the party, the hexagram symbol on the merchandise, the energy in the seating, and etc.

Kanye Donda
Image via Billboard.

Well, who knows? Maybe Kanye chasing perfection is simply him channeling and manifesting his inner emotions. Possibly, he is experimenting on a new aesthetic on stage?

But hey, we may never know unless we are Kanye West.

Is the Crate Challenge making real-world problems a second thought?

The Crate Challenge or #CRATECHALLENGE has recently gone viral ina series of videos on social media.

Creatives and alike have been filming videos of them walking up and down staircases set up by milk crates; their attempts, however, are often unsuccessful and people ended up falling off the structures and injuring themselves.

As if life is simply too boring to sit around, people just have to create some messiness.

milk crate challenge trend
Image via abcNEWS.

Challenges like this have been all over social media – TikTok, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Slightly adapted versions have come one after another. Regardless of the many chaoses around the world at present time, making a crate challenge video seems to be a more urgent concern for many people.

How did this all start?

The #CrateChallenge begins

According to Know Your Meme, the crate challenge first appeared on social media on June 23, 2011. JoyRidersTV Bonus Footy posted a video titled “Gun falls off 6 Milk Crates” on YouTube.

Now, ten years later, Facebook user Billy Joe posted “two videos of people attempting the earliest form of the challenge” before it took off as an official internet trend.

Following Billy Joe, Facebook users Kenneth Waddell and Jordan Browne also posted live videos of people doing the crate challenge in a public park. Both videos have received a great number of views, reactions, and shares.

More and more people are caught up in the challenge across social media. The popularity of the challenge eventually solidified the #creatchallenge trend.   

As the trend becomes more widespread over time, people have also become more adventurous in their attempts as well. The crates have become higher and participants like Instagrammer  @kizzykeri even did the whole challenge in heels.

@kizzykeri is one of the successful cases in this challenge, but most of the time, people fall off the crates in a not so graceful position.

The worst milk crate challenge attempts

Speaking of the crate challenge failures, you have got to watch these hilarious and bad examples.

This kid just couldn’t wait, so he decided to give it a kick to spice up the process.

What comes along with the failures?

The crate challenge might be fun to watch, but it is not so fun for challengers who have fallen off the crates and hurt themselves.

Often, the injuries are minor, it is simply disturbing to see people crash landing on their faces, chests, or backs. For some people, however, the challenge has turned out bad.

There is no need to repeat the potential damages that a horrible fall could do to the human body. You are no gymnast people, why play with your balance on such an unstable foundation?

Ever since the trend started on social media, challengers usually failed their attempts and fell off the crates. Bystanders in the video just laughed off the failures and moved on. Over time, people’s interest in the trend has grown more likely into this expecting to see the challengers fail and their dramatic landings.

It’s entertaining to see different versions of crate challenges out there. However, some people did end up hurting themselves.

A woman from Dallas, for example, was badly injured after falling off the crates in her attempt. She has sustained severe injuries and remains in critical condition. But no, she has not died.

Another horrific incident also happened at a challenge. A shooting took place during a ‘Milk Crate Challenge’ gathering in Shreveport, Louisiana. Three people were reportedly shot and killed during a drive-by shooting, according to BET.

Bad injuries that may last a lifetime

Dr. Shawn Anthony, an orthopedic surgeon, commented that injuries caused by falling during the crate challenge can include broken wrists, shoulder dislocations, ACL and meniscus tears, as well as spinal cord injuries.

Also, why is it a bad decision to do this to your body at a time like this? As Covid-19 cases are resurging, many hospitals across the U.S have already reported their insufficient space and staff due to the increase in Covid-19 patients.

Therefore, if you do end up going to the hospital to fix your wounds, you might not even be able to receive prompt treatment.

Seriously though, what is going on?

Why is it now becoming a common thing for people to gain pleasure from watching other people suffering? The Crate Challenge is a dangerous attempt, but there are still people doing it every day.

People who watch those who do the challenge, additionally, have no intention of interrupting the event either. Well, I assume, people find it a cool thing to do.

People’s continuous consumption of these dangerous challenge videos on social media, unfortunately, has encouraged the development of online toxic culture.

The crate challenge has unquestionably reflected many problems in the society we live in. One, it reveals this toxicity in social media that it is okay to do things that are unhealthy as long as they are ‘the trends.’

Two, viewers are used to turning a blind eye to what’s been happening because they are just here to consume content.

crate challenge meme
Image via memebase.

“Instead of feeling pressure to perform for our friends or family, many crave impressing peers, or really anyone, who’s part of their online community. It’s all about likes, shares, views.”

Kiara Alfonseca, abcnews.

The Crate Challenge is not the only toxic trend out there. Others like the previous “Tide Pod challenge”, in which participants consumed Tide’s laundry detergent pods, and the “Blackout challenge”, in which a person chokes themselves until passing out are also dangerous stunts people do on social media to attract more attention and views.

TikTok banning the content

Yes, TikTok is certainly alerted by what has been happening recently. Realizing how dangerous the attempt could turn out, TikTok has disabled the search for “milk crate challenge” on its platform and removed some videos of the challenge.

“TikTok prohibits content that promotes or glorifies dangerous acts, and we remove videos and redirect searches to our Community Guidelines to discourage such content. We encourage everyone to exercise caution in their behavior whether online or off.” 


How are we feeling about this crate challenge, though? It’s silly, right, but people are still going to do it.

There are real issues going on in the world: climate change, the chaos in Afghanistan, the Delta variant… While people here are risking their lives to get some views and attention, there are people out there who would trade everything they have just to be safe and alive.

The worst part about this challenge and alike is that they are numbing our senses. People are so caught up in impressing others on social media trends that they are becoming unaware of the actual crises and chaos happening in real life.

It’s impossible to stop social media, as it’s so powerful. But what we can do is to be more aware of what we consume and be more conscious of what we post online. Because you never know if a wrong comment would create a wrong impact and kick up another toxic trend.

5 creatives giving us perspective on the situation in Afghanistan

While everyone is dancing on milk crates in the US the situation in Afghanistan still persists…

On September 11 this year, President Biden will finish up withdrawing all American troops from Afghanistan, according to U.S officials. As the U.S troops (and other foreign forces) are departing and the Afghan president Ashraf Ghani fled the country, Afghanistan is now in a state of chaos.

Afghanistan situation
Image via CNN.

Twenty years later, the Taliban is back. No longer backed by the Western government, Afghanistan is now quickly occupied by insurgents. They have taken over the Afghan Presidential Palace and seized power.

Fearing for the Taliban’s revenge on the country for its previous connection with the U.S, Afghans have been rushing to the airport and trying to flee the country.

We read the news about Afghanistan every day, but what we know and see are mostly just the surface. There are, however, creatives in and outside Afghanistan delivering authentic information and unique perspectives on the country’s situation to the world out there. Thanks to them, outsiders are able to learn about the event from a fuller aspect.

Shamsia Hassani

What also happened when the Taliban took control of the country? Since the Taliban took over the government, they have promised to respect women’s rights. But is it really going to happen? Many Afghans are skeptical about the statement.

Back at the time, as Joseph Krauss writes, “women were barred from attending school or working outside the home. They had to wear the all-encompassing burqa and be accompanied by a male relative whenever they went outside.”

If the social status of Afghan women is going to return to how it was twenty years ago, what kind of a future that they are going to face?

afghan women
PHOTO CRED: Shamsia Hassani.

Afghan female graffiti artist, Shamsia Hassani, stands up to defy such possibility through spraying arts in the public. She will not be silent, the Afghan women will not be silent. The female voices must still be celebrated.

Hassani has popularized street art in the streets of Kabul and her art has been exhibited all around the world. To the artist, graffiti is her unique means to bring people awareness to the war years.

War is cruel, but Hassani doesn’t want the world to remember Afghanistan as a place of chaos and destructive situations. Instead, she wants her country to be famous for its art, not its war.

The subjects of her art are women with burqas. The female images, according to the artist, are the new women of Afghanistan.

They are stylized, strong, energetic, and unapologetic. In an interview with Street Art Bio, Hassani explains that the demonstration of female presence in the public is more important than anything.

Painting the female images on the walls kind of forces the others to look into the situations Afghan women experience in reality.

Tommy Marcus

People might not know who Tommy Marcus is but have probably heard about @Quentin.Quarantino. On this account, Marcus is a meme artist who posts anti-capitalist, anti-billionaire content.

Amid the recent Taliban take over Afghanistan situation, he has raised over $6 million in just a couple of days via his GoFundMe page.

On the Taliban ‘kill list’, there are Afghan men and women who are human rights lawyers, champions of Women’s and LGBTQ rights, journalists, government liaisons, artists, and interpreters.

His goal is to help fly out Afghans targeted by the Taliban.

Marcus managed to reach his original $550,000 fundraising goal in the first 38 minutes of launching his campaign. In two days, the present raise has already surpassed $6 million.

This is an urgent rescue mission, as Marcus puts it. The sooner these people get rescued and flown out of the country, the safer they will be.

It has been devastating to see over the past few days, crowds of people racing to the airport, clinging to a flying jet, and eventually falling to death from the sky.

The Afghans knew either way is doomed, but still, they believe that falling to death is better than living in the horror of a violent and extremist regime.

But thanks to Marcus’s GoFundMe and some former U.S. military and special operations personnel, this humanitarian mission carries out incredibly.

Sahraa Karimi 

Born and raised in Tehran, Iran, Sahraa Karimi came back to Afghanistan at the age of 29. She is the first female chairperson of the Afghan Film Organization and the first and only Afghan woman who has a Ph.D. in cinema and filmmaking.

Karimi fled Afghanistan with her family when the Taliban took control of Kabul. They missed an initial flight to Ukraine in the middle of the chaos at the airport but arrived safely two days later.

On August 13, Karimi published an open letter online to “call on the international film community to act to protect filmmakers and other cultural creatives from Taliban violence.”

“A genocide of filmmakers and artists,” Karimi warned if the international community fails to act. After arriving in Ukraine, the Afghan director has not stopped working to get 36 other Afghan filmmakers and their families out of the country.

On her Twitter account, Karimi describes herself as an artist who revitalizes and preserves culture and as an actor of change. She would stay in Afghanistan if the Taliban will let her create the work she wants.

However, she highly doubts that would happen as her films are mostly about representations of the voices of Afghan women who have long been muted in society.

Besides, she couldn’t afford a future where her nieces would grow up under the Taliban regime; they would be barred from entering school, getting educated, and working.

If the future of the younger generations cannot be promised, changes can never happen and humanity will continue being trampled.

Paula Bronstein

Photojournalist Paula Bronstein was on assignment in Afghanistan in the final months before the Taliban takeover. Her photos and perspective document the country’s descent into chaos and confusion.”

Politico Magazine.
PHOTO CRED: Paula Bronstein.

Bronstein got to Afghanistan on June 14 this year and was assigned to focus on stories about the U.S. pullout. The takeover of the Taliban, as Bronstein depicts, developed at such a fast pace that the situation became more desperate every time she documented. The story, too, was constantly changing.

After her departure, she has been receiving messages asking for help from people in Afghanistan. There is only so much she can do, though. As a photojournalist, she is connected with her subjects. In this case, the real-life and culture in Afghanistan.

She documents war-life-induced situations in Afghanistan and shows them to the world. Taking photos of the painful and devastating moments of other people is a cruel process.

Sometimes, it is even perceived as cold-blooded. However, when the world sees what is really going on in the country, these photos carry out a humanitarian purpose.

As they shock the world with images of death and destruction, they also provoke compassion and stimulate the rescue process.

Omaid Sharifi

Between 1996 and 2001, when the Taliban was ruling Afghanistan, art creation was taboo. According to an article from NPR, the Taliban “denied music, destroyed the giant carved Buddha statues of Bamiyan and banned all artistic representations of the human form.”

Omaid Sharifi is the co-founder and president of the nonprofit arts organization ArtLords. His murals focus on empathy and kindness. In his interview with NPR, he notes that Afghanistan is a wounded country that needs healing. He is doing it through his art.

However, as the Taliban took control of the country, Sharifi fears for the future of his art. The artist is not sure if he is able to paint again and if his works are still going to be out there tomorrow. Even so, he still chooses to remain hopeful.

In a Stories of Transformation podcast, Sharifi defines the purpose of his organization.

“Artlords is not just a mural organization, but a movement to try to bring empathy, love, kindness, creativity, critical thinking [to Afghanistan]…to mainstream it, to make sure that everybody notices this, and uses art.”

Growing up amidst oppression and violence, Sharifi has learned to do anything to survive. But besides simply surviving the chaos around him, he has always wanted to revitalize the world. He wants to beautify the scars, poverty, corruption, and violence that are brought by the war with his arts.

Today, he remains in Afghanistan as an artist and activist. His beautiful murals can be found across the entirety of Afghanistan; they deliver positive and empowering messages to the young Afghans and serve as bridges that connect different cultures and classes.

Praying for the Afghanistan situation is not enough…

pray for afghanistan
Image via KCM.

When is this ever going to end? Afghanistan has been constantly caught in the loop of violence. And most importantly, what is the country going to look like under the ruling of the Taliban?

Nobody can really answer these questions because there is so much uncertainty. But at least, we can still think about how we can do to help with the situation in Afghanistan.

With social media, we can show our empathy and support through sharing news about Afghanistan and posting fund/donation links where people can offer more practical help.

Additionally, check out media accounts such as @so.informed to learn about how to support Afghan refugees and Afghans who have remained on the ground in Afghanistan from different parts of the world.

Last but not least, also check out Women for Women International to help women survivors of war and violence rebuild their lives by providing training programs and support!

Humanity is at Code Red but how can creatives help?

Humanity is at a Code Red status…

On August 9, the IPCC released its Sixth Assessment Report. The latest report details the critical state that our planet is facing right now. It’s an urgent warning.

The IPCC’s first warning, which successfully predicted the pace of global warming, started three decades ago. The second warning in 1995 noted that climate change was largely caused by human activities.

Fast forward to 2007, the IPCC published its Fourth Assessment and used the word ‘unequivocal’ to point out that humans were the main reason to global warming.

Image via Uniter Nations.

Seven years later, the Fifth Assessment came out. But this time, a harsh reality was revealed: “Greenhouse gas emissions were higher than ever, causing an unprecedented acceleration of climate change’s impacts.”

Humanity is at Code Red.

According to the 2021 report, the situation of our planet has gotten even worse. Climate change is altering Earth’s natural systems at every breathing moment. We can just tell from the extreme weather events that happened around the world this year.

Over the past three years, 91 authors from 40 countries gather information from more than 6,000 scientific studies and created the most recent IPCC report. Their research led them to a mutual conclusion that “every fraction of a degree of warming has grave consequences.”

The most important and practical goal right now is to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees instead of 2 degrees.

The 0.5 degree of difference is small in number, but it’ll be a life savior to many people; As the report points out, a fewer number of people will be exposed to climate-related risks such as flooding, food scarcity, superstorms, deadly heat, and widespread disease.

A fewer number of people will be susceptible to poverty by up to several hundred million by 2050.

humanity code red
PHOTO CRED: abcnews.

What is happening right now?

Now, let’s recall the disastrous natural events that happened in summer 2021. In later June, western Canada was under a “heat dome.” The phenomenon caused scorching temperatures when hot air is trapped by high-pressure fronts.

As Canada suffered from high temperatures, the U.S states of Washington and Oregon were also affected. The exact amount of death is not yet known but at least several hundred.

Europe was hit by devasting floods after torrential rains in mid-July. Villages in Germany and Belgium were severely destroyed, leaving at least 209 people dead and dozens missing. The damage also expanded to Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Switzerland.

Let’s also not forget the raging wildfires in the American West. The “Bootleg Fire” in Oregon, according to Firepost, “has burned the equivalent of the city of Los Angeles in vegetation and forests.” The blaze feeds on it and rapidly spread to the neighborhood areas. Across the state of California, wildfires have been an ongoing series.

The wildfire season started in the middle of an ongoing drought and low rainfalls and reservoir levels. The number of fires burned outpaced the 2020 season, making itself the largest season in California’s recorded history.

Outside of the U.S, natural disasters also struck heavily. In July, the central city of Zhengzhou, China, was flooded because of an unprecedented downpour that was a year’s worth of rain in just three days. Streets, road tunnels, and subway systems were overwhelmed with muddy water.

Natural disasters like floods and wildfires don’t just happen; they are the consequences of the increasing global warming situation and excessive human activities.

TikTok creatives who talk about environmental issues

Do you know TikTok is also a place where a lot of environmental activism happens? Indeed, TikTok is often associated with trends, funny videos, and relaxing content. But climate activists nowadays are taking humanity’s code red status seriously.

Philip Aiken, aka Phil the Fixer, defines himself as a redneck eco-socialist on his TikTok profile description. His videos, however, are not about cute animals or cool life tips & tricks. Instead, he talks about repairing soil sequesters carbon, boosting biodiversity, cleaning and restoring water supply, and making food more nutritious.


Repairing soil sequesters carbon, creates biodiversity, cleans and restores water supply, and makes food more nutritious. #soil #climatechange #mashup

♬ Trend Mash Up – Phil the Fixer

Against a backdrop of mashup viral sounds, the creator fully executes his creativity while addressing the existing environmental issue. Aiken intends to create more green spaces and most importantly, he hopes to cultivate positive influence and recruit more people to join his action.

“I am NOT a soil scientist. I’m an engineer, activist & creative who is just passionate about soil.”

Philip Aiken, Phil the Fixer

Aiken also co-founded EcoTok on TikTok and the Intersectional Environmentalist on Instagram during lockdown. Both platforms set off to create a resource hub where people can talk about social + environmental issues and justice.

Also, check out other climate discussions like #ForClimate and #globalwarming as well as creators like Climate Diva and Carissa and climate.

Campaigns fighting against our code red status

Besides influencers promoting environmental awareness on social media, companies, and brands have also developed bigger campaigns to cultivate more systematic activism.

Founded on the first Earth Day in 1970, EARTHDAY.ORG is the world’s largest recruiter to the environmental movement.

With its mission to diversify, educate and activate the environmental movement, EARTHDAY.ORG has already expanded its positive action to 192 countries.

The organization has conducted multiple impactful campaigns such as The Canopy Project, The Great Global Cleanup, Artists for Earth, Foodprints for the Future, and etc.

At the end of the day, EARTHDAY.ORG urges people not to underestimate their own influence and power; It believes that an individual yields impact as a consumer, a voter, and a member of a community that can unite for change.

The message of We Don’t Have Time campaign is as straightforward as its name, urging humanity to take action on our code red status.

It is activism for changemakers who want to generate constructive decisions for climate change. Its goal is to influence businesses, politicians, and world leaders and apply their power and influence to motivate more people and create meaningful transformations.

Check out anti-Ocean pollution-related campaigns such as Surfers Against Sewage, Polar-Ice, and green spaces campaign Trees for Cities to see creative environmental approaches.

How can we make use of social media?

In an article by Yasemin Craggs Mersinoglu in 2020, she talks about how Millennials and Generation Z are becoming the active populations that discuss environmental issues on social media.

Keywords like #moss, #biodiversity, and #native biodiversity scored 84.4M, 12.6M, and nearly 800,00 views on TikTok just in 2020. This year, the numbers have already climbed up to a jaw-breaking 217.7M, 25M, and 1.3M views.

code red climate change
Image via Council of Europe.

The power and influence of social media upon younger users are undeniable. In the age of technology, we are all avid content consumers. However, it is a code red moment for humanity to change.

Our time is a booming era of content creation. Social media platforms have already proved to us that every person can be his or her own content maker and influencer.  

Right now, we need more voices that speak the issues. Instead of watching other creatives address environmental issues and increase public awareness, you can join the creative wave to make a difference as well.

That way, more efficient changes will eventually take place.

Fast fashion is so last year: Why it’s time to get ethically stylish

Fast fashion is a huge part of our daily life and now sustainability needs to be too. We enjoy fashion, indeed. But at the same time, we often tend to neglect the negative impact that the fashion industry has placed on the environment.

unsustainable fashion
PHOTO CRED: Graham Tuckwell. Image via Financial Times.

Don’t get me wrong, fashion is good but sustainability is better. Fashion cultivates more enjoyments and offers more options to our personal aesthetics. However, on the dark side, the fashion industry also carries a destructive power. The fashion industry is notoriously known to be unsustainable.

According to World Economic Forum, each year, the fashion industry “produces 10% of all humanity’s carbon emissions, dries up water sources, and pollutes rivers and streams.”

The prevalence of fast fashion practices makes fashion become more accessible and affordable in today’s society. Yet, in order to attain such a reality, the process of production in the industry is in fact questionable. Here’s why.

Fast fashion = Unsustainable fashion

Many of us might think, if we do not participate in harmful deeds, we hold no responsibility for consequences that happens to the environment. Therefore, we don’t leave any human carbon footprint behind. Well, this is not true.

As consumers, if you participate in any consumption activity, you become part of the cause. By buying their products, you support the brands’ productions and the ethics they promote. And because of your demand and purchase, you’ve helped grow the market.

Brands such as H&M, Shein, Forever 21, and Zara are convenient places people go to when they look for inexpensive cute clothing. Clothing from these brands is usually made of very cheap materials and doesn’t endure well after 2-3 times washing.

That’s because these clothing are not made to be long-lasting. They are supposed to be thrown away after several wearing and when new trends come up. Consumers will then keep on buying more clothes to try on more new styles.

fast fashion
Image via Mehreen Tariq Ghani Medium.

In this case, fast fashion creates burdens for the already polluted environment. It is an industry that is unsustainable and unethical by nature.

Fast fashion garments are often overproduced, due to the industry’s manner to avoid empty inventories. Furthermore, workers who produce the clothes are usually exploited, earning an hourly wage much lower than the average. Working conditions are unhealthy, and there are no rules or regulations that protect the workers’ personal safety.

“In Bangladesh, the legal minimum wage for workers in the fashion and textile industry is €16 per month, that is around 0,50 cents a day for 14-16 hours a day. Actual living wage in Bangladesh for a single person is €72 per month.”

Fixing Fashion, One Army.

What is ethical or sustainable fashion?

fast fashion protest
PHOTO CRED: T2T Solutions.

Unlike fast fashion, ethical/sustainable fashion is a movement that renders an opposite purpose and fosters change. There is no set definition of what ethical/sustainable fashion is.

But in general, it is “garment design, production, and distribution that focuses on reducing harm to people and the planet,” as The Good Trade defines. It aims to provide a more sustainable future for everyone.

As the term suggests, ethical/sustainable fashion is concerned with the ethics behind a brand.

The idea of ethical/sustainable fashion is created to bring social awareness and create social impact. Most importantly, it questions the transparency of the process of production and if workers are earning a fair living wage.

How do sustainable fashion brands cope with eco-anxiety?

Sustainable fashion tends to get people coming up with images of unflattering clothing, but many of them are now changing that view.

Sustainable fashion brands take action in minimizing the industry’s carbon footprints. Instead of the traditional mass production or overproduction strategy, sustainable brands produce in small batches and some only take on-demand orders.

They use recycled and biodegradable materials to make pieces and to reduce carbon footprints.

Brands that support the sustainability and fashion movement

More and more fashion brands have joined the movement throughout the years to invest in happier production and shopping experiences. It is not just the brands; consumers have also played an important role. Consumers support the initiative through their consumption decisions and activities.

Brands that are known to be ethical and eco-friendly include Stella McCartney – a designer brand that brings vegan and cruelty-free materials to the high fashion market and Boden, a British sustainable clothing brand whose products are shipped in recyclable packaging.

Canadian brand Tentree plants 10 trees for every purchase and Californian brand Reformation whose each item comes with a description of its environmental footprint…

Christy Dawn, Levi’s, Kotn, ABLE, Sézane, Pact, and many more.

What can we do?

It’s necessary for brands to change, for now, there is a sustainable fashion movement going on out there.

However, the solution to the fashion problem does not solely depend on the brands. We live in a consumer-oriented society, brands always want to sell us more stuff and get us to consume more.

The most important and effective step is that we consumers are willing to change our ways of thinking. Buying products that are made of eco-friendly and recyclable materials and renting or buying used items are in fact much more practical and responsible than just spending money on cheap quality.

Consumers’ decisions matter

“Consumers absolutely have the power to change the industry, the industry packs a surprising punch.”

Linda Greer, scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, for Refinery 29.

Fashion is made by humans after all, so sustainability efforts can be achieved.

However, this is not saying consumers should stop purchasing new clothes. Boycotting is not going to fix the problem and not buying will not make a sound impact or change.

As Greer says, it’s more powerful to tell a brand that “I’ll buy from you again if you take steps to fix this” than “ I’ve never shopped here and never will.”

Therefore, buy clothes that last long, carry a purpose, and tell a story. Surely, the clothes might get a bit over your budget, but when you do good, you feel good. We should all manifest this vision – as Olivia Wilde puts it, “ethical clothing isn’t a fashion fantasy but an attainable reality.”

Olivia Ghalioungui’s fashion photography is one of a kind

At age 22, Olivia Ghalioungui has already established an impressive career. As a talented and accomplished photographer, she primarily focuses on fashion and diaristic photography. Hailing from a multi-ethnic family background, she is a creative artist who is blessed with abundant intercultural heritage and experiences.

Olivia grew up in between Cairo, Egypt, and Antiparos, Greece. She attended grade school at Cairo American College between 2005 and 2016. At the age of 17, she moved to Paris to pursue a career in the fashion photography industry.

Her talent quickly shined and got the opportunity to work with clients such as Marie De La Roche, GUNTHER PARIS, Premium Models, Kanika Agarwal, and more.

PHOTO CRED: Amanda Macchia. Image via Reverie Page.

“Olivia Ghalioungui’s photography travels an expansive artistic landscape. Her work spans from highly stylized fashion editorials for publications like Vogue to diaristic and analog photos, whose intimate and stripped-down quality gives viewers the impression they’ve been let into a momentary unearthing of her innermost spaces and relationships.”

Reverie Page, Anna Koutelas

The beginning for Olivia Ghalioungui

Kulture Hub: How did you discover photography? Did you get into fashion photography because you are personally into fashion?

Olivia Ghalioungui: I discovered photography when I was in high school. I needed an art credit and I just chose photography because it sounded the most interesting.

I mainly discovered photography through street photography and documentary photography. Cairo was a really culturally rich place to start photographing. In that sense, I was able to grow up in a place where that was so readily available to me.

Then I started shooting more portraiture and from shooting portraiture, I started curating looks and styles for my subjects to wear. From that, I started becoming more and more interested in fashion. Back in the time in Cairo, the fashion scene was not as big as it is now. I wanted so badly to go into fashion at that point, but I had nothing to work with.

I had a family friend who had a fashion brand. She wanted help for the fashion show, and I was able to go there and be the photographer at the pit and shoot the whole fashion show. That was my first interaction with the fashion world.

From that point, I was like this is what I want to do. I started researching art schools and came to Paris. In Paris, I really started my fashion photography career. That’s how I got into the fashion scene. Because in Paris, as you can imagine, there’s a lot more than in Cairo.

Olivia Ghalioungui

Cultivation of taste

KH: How has your career as a fashion photographer influenced your taste and fashion sense in a way?

OG: I definitely started discovering what kind of style and clothing I like more from working with different styles. I feel like there’s a clear separation between what I would wear myself, like my taste and fashion for myself and my taste and fashion for photographing. I just found myself to be more drawn to pieces that are super unique or quirky or different in a way, something maybe hasn’t been seen before.

I discovered all of those pieces through site styling with different stylists, magazines, or designers that I would meet. I would discover their work and then use their clothing later on for shoots or through showrooms as well. When they have new samples, they email me and that I can see what’s new.

For personal style, it’s been a journey as well. Sometimes I would like to go off and buy something that is completely insane, and you really can’t wear in the street.

The development of personal style

KH: There is this fluidity in your work, like ‘this is so Olivia’ kind of consistency. How did you develop your own style and aesthetics and how long did it take?

OG: Oh, this is a hard question to answer because I personally feel like I haven’t really nailed it down yet. Everyone else around me is telling me that it’s so obvious when I took a picture and I created it. But personally, I feel like my vision and inspirations are always changing. I feel like the things that I shoot or the subjects or the locations that I’m more drawn to, for example, always change.

But I feel like naturally something in the way that I see images or composition always stays the same. That’s very reassuring to me because I can trust myself that I won’t go off trail into another direction where I completely lose myself in that sense.

I think the key to finding your own style is just shooting a lot and printing out your work on inkjet paper and laying them down on the floor. Looking at them all together and reorganizing. Looking at all of your photos on the ground and really analyzing and thinking about which images I identify with the most.

Thoughts about contemporary social media and fashion photography

KH: Do you take fashion photos with your phone in daily life? What do you think about those quick and easy aesthetic photos on social media like Instagram nowadays?

OG: I don’t shoot any of my fashion shoots with my phone. But I’ve seen images of magazine covers being shot on the new iPhone. That is crazy. I feel like I would want to try it one day in the near future, just to see how it works.

But I think my opinion on shooting fashion images with a phone is that it’s kind of inevitable this would happen. These tiny phone lenses would have the capacity to shoot something that’s the same quality perhaps as like a cannon or a Nikon camera, for example.

A camera is so much more different from a phone. The way I learned photography, it’s very important that I’m holding a camera the old school way and shooting with my index finger and pressing on each other.

With a camera, you can use a polarizing lens and you can use all these mounts on your lens to make it different. Of course, there are these lenses for iPhones now as well, but I do prefer the more manual feeling of shooting on an actual DSLR or like an analog camera. It just feels more personal or physical.

I think those fashion aesthetic images on Instagram are cute. The minimalistic trend that’s going on right now is like pairing with the 90s retro clothing. It’s actually a really nice aesthetic, but I feel like when I shoot fashion I prefer to have it be on kind of newer, edgy, unique piece that you wouldn’t wear out in the street. It’s like less streetwear.

Olivia Ghalioungui’s most memorable shooting experience

KH: What is your most memorable fashion photography shooting? What is so special about that experience? How has it inspired you?

OG: It happened like many years ago. It was a campaign for a bag brand. They flew me out to Porto to shoot their new campaign. I remember it was in 2018. That exact weekend I flew out to Porto there were these horrible hurricanes happening in Portugal, and Lisbon and like coming into Porto, right when we were shooting.

We were shooting outside by the sea and the weather was very windy. We were literally shooting in a hurricane, but we still managed to pull off this amazing shoot with very, very cool images. It really pushed me and I really sat there thinking I am shooting a campaign during a hurricane in Portugal. I don’t even live here. It was a very memorable shoot, so it’ll always be kind of the most special experience and the most unique shoot I’ve ever done.

About fashion photography

KH: Can you tell us more about fashion photography? What do you think is the purpose of fashion photography?

OG: For me, the purpose of fashion photography is to showcase different pieces of clothing for the designers. Seeing them more as art pieces or structures that you want to photograph in a beautiful light and showcase in a beautiful way while at the same time, creating a story for the clothing. The general audience can look and imagine that story in their minds.

I see people love to daydream. They like to imagine themselves in these idealistic worlds of something random. The audience kind of tell themselves, oh, I want to be in this field. I want to have this. I want to apply this vibe to my life. And I want to buy this piece. I want to feel myself like I’m in this light.

Inspirations and personal growth

KH: Who are your greatest inspirations in the world of photography?

OG: I love Nadine Ijewere, she’s Jamaican. Her style is amazing, and her colors are insane. I also love this one photographer called Min Hyun-Woo. His photographs are just stunning. His work really speaks to me. Also, Viviane Sassen, she’s like the original inspiration.

KH: Looking back at where you came from, what are the greatest growth and progress that you have made so far?

OG: I think definitely discovering myself was one of the biggest progresses. After a few years, I’ve really understood what it means to understand what your style is and how to explain your style or aesthetic or to be able to defend why you do what you do. When I first came out I was just taking pictures but now I feel like I’ve kind of found a new sense of purpose within myself.

KH: What are your suggestions for aspiring photographers?

OG: I would probably say just like do it. First of all, like, decide if you want to really shoot analog or digital. I’d say start off shooting with a camera and not a phone. You have to learn the technical stuff like ISO and shutter speed and the manual functions to be able to understand how light works. You can’t learn that from a phone because it does everything for you.

It doesn’t really matter what camera, as long as it’s like a DSLR, then you can change your lenses. Through that you will realize or learn what your eyes are attracted to naturally. You have to start somewhere. You might as well just start shooting literally whatever you want and everything that you see.

Check out Olivia’s fashion photography work

If you enjoy this interview and would love to know more about Olivia, check out her personal website and Instagram page.

These Puerto Rican photographers explore freedom on the island

Puerto Rico is a small island in the northeast Caribbean Sea. As an unincorporated territory of the United States, Puerto Rico is neither a sovereign nation nor a U.S state. Because of Puerto Rico’s unique territory status over the past 500 years of colonization, it has always had a complicated national standing, which Puerto Rican photographers capture the complexity of in their work.

The complexity of the Puerto Rican identity, the chaos of politics, the hardships of the economic crisis, and the recent destructive power of Hurricane Maria have all greatly influenced the contemporary Puerto Rican landscape and lifestyle. Celebrations and contradictions are inseparable in daily scenes.

These women Puerto Rican photographers capture the lives of different Puerto Rican communities through their lenses. In their photographs, they discuss what it means to be Puerto Rican. What is it like to live in Puerto Rico — a place that is culturally Latin American, but politically a territory of the U.S?

The raw, intimate, and personal

Gabriella N. Báez is a talented artist based in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She is a queer documentary photographer who focuses on documenting intimate subjects. For instance, her father’s suicide post-Hurricane Maria, the queer community, sex work, and the relationship between sexuality, depression, and the body.

Project ‘Ojalá nos encontremos en el mal’ explores the psychological undercurrents of trauma that drive people to end their own lives after Hurricane Maria. House of Grace is a powerful documentation of a group of trans artists and creatives in Puerto Rico.

María José, a transdisciplinary artist and activist, founded House of Grace after Hurricane Maria in 2017. Amid natural disasters and the global pandemic, artists, dancers, performers, and writers in the house look after and support each other.

House of Grace builds a tight-knit community that embraces the queer and the trans communities with warmth and love. it is a safe haven that offers safety and affirmation.

Island Putxs is another interesting project that explores one of the world’s oldest and yet most stigmatized professions: sex work. Because of the declining economy in Puerto Rico, many women, queer, and non-binary people have chosen to make a living by selling their bodies.

Often, sex workers are marginalized, criminalized, and victimized by society. The project documents sex work, a now common phenomenon in Puerto Rico.

Identity construction and resilience

Adriana Parrilla is an artist based in Paris, France, and San Juan, Puerto Rico. She is a photojournalist and documentary photographer.

Her work explores diverse topics. In No MeLlames Trigueña; Soy Negra, she discusses the often systematically invisibilized Black identity and intends to understand the complexities of being Afro-Puerto Rican.

puerto rican photographers
PHOTO CRED: Adriana Parrilla.

Víctor (ongoing) is her other project. It is also the name of a young man born with a rare genetic disorder called Sotos Syndrome.

People with this syndrome experience gigantism, blindness, intellectual and motor disabilities, hearing loss, and etc. The worst part is there are no aid programs to help young adults with disabilities in Puerto Rico. The questionable territory status of Puerto Rico does not help with the problems the state faces.

“From the outside with all these difficulties, the world of Víctor seems very limited and his future uncertain. But when you get to know him, you will be surprised by his resilience. Inside his mind, limitations do not exist, and the world is filled with colors, music, and lots of love.”

Adriana Parrilla, Víctor (ongoing).

According to Parrilla, this is a project that intends to increase public awareness of people with disabilities and break down discrimination against their communities.

Lessons from these Puerto Rican photographers

These Puerto Rican photographers show viewers their individual translations of the realities in Puerto Rico through powerful images. Be it poverty, climate crises, or an uncertain political territory status, Puerto Rico faces problems day in and day out.

puerto rico territory status
Image via PR51st.

Through the diverse topics that Rodriguez, Báez, and Parrilla have covered in their works, we see a multi-faceted Puerto Rico. We see people struggle amid the chaotic political environment, economic hardship, and the aftermath of natural disasters.

At the same time, we also see people who seek to construct their own identities and take control of their own fates by pursuing their dreams and passions.

Each person is a different life story. Together, they make a unique Puerto Rico. In these photographs, their moments are frozen — so simple, so raw, so genuine. This is what life is like in Puerto Rico though; it is not as great as what you see in those glamorous Instagram travel pics.

I think this is why Rodriguez, Báez, and Parrilla have done amazing jobs as documentary photographers because their images are so unfiltered and honest. Their photos carry such emotions and depths that we don’t see much on present-day’s social media posts. And just on that note, we should credit these female artists.

Visiting national parks in 2021: Now, we are disrupting more than receiving

After more than a year of pandemic-related travel restrictions, Americans are ready to get back on the road again. While air travel might still seem to be a bit iffy, the traditional road trip vacation is making a return. In this case, national parks have become the popular destinations among travelers in 2021.

In the U.S, both big and small national parks quickly filled up every day because of overcrowding. The situation has become a little out of control.

PHOTO CRED: Ershov Maks.

Many people have driven all the way to the parks but ended up being turned away because the parking lots have no vacancy. Conflicts and fistfights between visitors for spots at the parks are common as well.

However, the most problematic reality is the increasing carbon footprint left behind by visitors in nature. People have caused a series of environmental issues that they don’t even notice. Nature is facing some critical challenges.

Littering has become a big issue. While visitors are enjoying the blessings of nature, they are also over-consuming it. Irresponsible behaviors such as leaving non-biodegradable waste behind, painting and carving on the rockfaces, and disturbing the wildlife have severely affected the ecosystems within the National Parks.

How many people are visiting national parks in 2021?

road trip vacations
PHOTO CRED: Michael Vi.

Just exactly how many people have been swarming to the national parks since the pandemic started? According to the National Park Service, national parks hosted around 237 million visitors in 2020.

While national parks have seen rising popularity in 2021, the official visitor counts this year won’t be completely transparent and available until mid-2022, as Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles, chief spokesperson for the NPS said.

The most visited national parks, as the report further shows, have hit significant visitor counts during the pandemic.

For instance, just last year all around, Great Smoky Mountains National Park hit 12.1 million, Yellowstone National Park 3.8 million, Zion National Park 3.6 million, Rocky Mountain National Part 3.3 million, Grand Teton National Park 3.3 million, and Grand Canyon National Park 2.9 million.

Although the overall recreational visits to national parks in 2020 were down more than 90 million visits (27.6 percent) from 2019, the number was still impressive.

This year, according to Today, tremendous amounts of visitors have already shown up at various national parks locations. For example, Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming received 88,000 visitors in April alone. The number was a 48 percent increase from its 2019 season.

Problems that arise with overcrowded national parks

It’s fun to go to national parks to enjoy nature. Road trip vacations can be the perfect time to bond with family or friends.

However, along with the increasing popularity of national parks, there come many undesired consequences as well. Visitors, in general, don’t seem to be responsible enough for their behaviors.

nps conservation
PHOTO CRED: NPS via NPCA (National Parks Conservation Association)

Littering has always been a headache when it comes to the preservation of the natural environment. Each year, the NPS oversees 70 million pounds of trash, food scraps, and hygiene products left behind by visitors.

The NPS urges people to take responsibility for their behaviors and minimize their waste output.

There are also visitors who have been extremely disrespectful of the natural scenery, like carving and painting on the rockfaces.

national parks 2021

“Graffiti and other forms of damage to park resources are harmful and illegal. Repair of vandalized sites is costly and time consuming. Often, a damaged site can never be fully restored to its original condition.”

Zion National Park for National Parks Traveler.

Human activities have also greatly affected the lives of wild animals as well. It’s understandable that people get excited when they are so up close to wild animals in real life.

However, wild animals are untamed and often not so friendly to strangers who trespass on their territories. Attempts to interact with wild animals is not only risky but also peculiarly immature and irresponsible.

So why all the swarming to national parks in 2021?

In recent years, there have been frequent filed reports on travelers who lost their lives by falling off the cliffs in various national parks.

For instance, a Phoenix man slipped off the cliff edge and died in 2018 and a Greek tourist fell to his death when a rock underneath him gave way in 2010 at the Instagram-famous Horseshoe Bend. What is driving people to visit despite the many incidents that happened?

national parks 2021
PHOTO CRED: John Burcham. Image via The Guardian.

“Social media is the number one driver. People don’t come here for solitude. They are looking for the iconic photo,” said Maschelle Zia.

The social media push is an irresistible force. People share their travel posts at the national parks on their social media and attract even more people to come. Viewers on the other end of the phone will think, “oh this place looks cool, I want to go check out too.” Such effect snowballs and eventually leads to the plummeting recreational visit. People are the greatest impact.

road trip vacation
PHOTO CRED: John Burcham via The Guardian.

Nevertheless, the nature of national park visits has changed. Rather than a temporary getaway from hectic workload and city life, national park trips in 2021 are more like a competition to create more iconic (sometimes even dangerous) photos.

What can we do to slow down the deteriorating environmental conditions?

national parks 2021
PHOTO CRED: John Burcham via The Guardian.

Little do we know that the national parks we love are “in danger.” Earlier this year, National Parks Traveler released its second annual list of national parks that are threatened and endangered by overcrowding.

Zion National Park in Utah, for example, is currently listed as endangered. Its scenic canyon has attracted many visitors via road trip and flight vacations every year, but this also makes the park struggle to control crowds.

Irresponsible visitors have treated the park with disrespect. They have defaced rockfaces with spray paint, carved their initials into the soft sandstone, and trampled vegetation by straying off designated trails, according to the NPS.

road trip vacation

Followed by Zion, a couple other national parks have also faced similar crises, just not as severe. The conditions of Arches National Park in Utah, Big Cypress National Preserves in Florida, Glacier National Park in Montana, Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee/North Carolina, and Mount Rainier National Park in Washington currently list these parks as threatened.

Therefore, what can we do to help preserve the national parks? While the National Park Service can definitely improve its reservation systems, invest in more rangers, scientists and administrative staff, and do better jobs at crowd control, we visitors must be held responsible for our own behaviors as well.

Be more respectful of nature as well as the wild animals that reside within. Your road trip vacation is not more important than the natural world.

Because if we don’t do something urgent about the situation now, the national parks will all be gone one day. Don’t let nature pay the price for our reckless decisions and behaviors.