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‘Untold’ is an honest dive into the South Asian community

We’d love to bring to you untold: defining moments of the uprooted, a new book about the South Asian community from Mango & Marigold press. Mango & Marigold is an award-winning independent publishing house of South Asian and multicultural stories. It is also one of the only Asian-owned publishers in the country.

Untold is a young adult anthology that celebrates AAPI Heritage, mental health awareness, and the LGBTQ community. It explores the South Asian experiences in North America and the UK of identity, being, and relationships.

south asian community
PHOTO CRED: Brown Girl Magazine.

32 emerging voices, 32 unique personal moments and experiences. Untold discusses sexual orientation, gender identity, racism, colorism, mental health, suicide, and cultural collision between the East and the West.

We reached out to Julie Lalwani, Subrina Singh, and Duriba Khan (three writers from the book) and asked them to share their thoughts and journeys of compositions.

It all started with the urge to share

Kulture Hub: What made you decide to write down your stories and share them with the public?

Julie Lalwani: I did not see a lot of representative stories that discussed the corrosive impact of racism in the South Asian community. Whenever I wanted to discuss it with my fellow South Asian friends, no one wanted to really acknowledge that our community was subject to racism. The isolation I felt because of their silence, prompted me to act, or, rather, write. 

Subrina Singh: I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 16 and I didn’t start sharing it publicly until I was 23. During that time, I felt alone, inferior, and defected. I decided  to share my story because I wanted others suffering with a mental illness to know they are not alone. Sharing my story gave me a sense of relief and made me start to accept my disorder and how it affected my identity. I wanted to share my story and journey with suicide to normalize the conversation.

Duriba Khan: As an avid reader growing up, I constantly searched for myself in coming-of-age stories, usually written by predominantly white authors. I tried so hard to relate to the characters I read about.  I even compared my own life to theirs. Eventually, I reached the conclusion that the stories of those who looked and felt like me were simply not worth telling. 

The biggest challenges in the process of creation

KH: What are the biggest challenges you had in your writing process and what are the three things you enjoy the most about your story? 

JL: Writing is deeply personal, to the point of catharsis, to me. So it is a challenge to bare so much of what I feel to total strangers. ‘Will they understand? Will they accept me?’ I often wonder that. 

SS: The biggest challenge I had in writing my story was being raw and real while also trying to not trigger others. Three things I enjoy the most about my story is honoring my sister who I write about, being 100% honest and writing without shame.

DK: “Log kya kahenge,” the sentiment of “what will people say?” has held me back in every single art form I have explored, especially writing. When writing, I often find myself explaining my raw-est thoughts. Then rewriting a more digestible version I could offer my grandfather to read with a cup of tea. Although tiresome, this process reminds me of how oftentimes history is rewritten in the same way; The uncomfortable parts omitted or diluted, and what remains is a tainted version of the truth. 

The clash of cultural identity and “Otherness”

KH: How do you define your cultural identity? How do you cope with ‘otherness’ in the Western world? 

JL: I am a first-generation South Asian woman whose parents came to this country with $7 in their pockets and all their worldly possessions in two suitcases. We were taught in many different ways to value the characteristics that made us seem “Western” and, yet, had to adhere to the rigid patriarchal constructs of India when it came to sex, marriage and our bodies.

“Otherness” is such a tricky, complex construct for me. I think I am still making peace with my “otherness”. It seems to be an ever-evolving process that has me vacillating between being proud of who I am to struggle with what I see in myself.

SS: My dad is Guyanese, my mom is Trinidadian, and I do identify as Indo-Caribbean. I do not feel the need to cope with otherness in the Western World. I grew up in a diverse community and have always been very used to being the token Indian girl.

DK: First, I’m an Indian-Pakistani-American Muslim woman. Secondly, I am a budding lawyer, daughter, sister, and writer. Because I lived a pretty sheltered life in my own South-Asian Muslim bubble growing up, I rarely felt “othered” in the Western word. In high school that bubble popped. Now, I find myself coping with otherization through acceptance, community, and art. Combined, these forces remind me that for every person who deems me “the other,” there are hundreds who place a hand on my shoulder and coo “you will never be alone.”

Being South Asian in Western society

KH: What do you think are the most underrepresented experiences of the South Asian community in Western society? 

JL: I think the most underrepresented experiences of the South Asian community are the ones that Western society has no point of reference for yet. So, the West understands their definition of racism. But do they understand ours? No, I don’t think so. In so many ways we still tell our stories through the lens of what the West will comprehend. Almost as though we are still the conquered East waiting on the overindulged West to emotionally “get us”.

SS: I think the entire experience growing up South Asian in America is unrepresented. The blending of two identities and two cultures is a challenge. I know for me, while I was dealing with a mental illness and navigating both of my identities I struggled. I always felt it would have been easier to simply be American while dealing with the challenges of being bipolar.

DK: In representing the South Asian experience, Western society reduces every province, village, and community to one, generalized “South Asian” archetype, embodied by spicy food, Bollywood, sitars, and holi. It is true that some of us are these things, but we are so much more. In the future, I hope to witness representation of frequently ignored communities such as Indo-Carribbeans, Shia Muslims, and so many other minority groups that are part of what makes South Asia a sight to see.

As South Asian women, they empower each other

KH:  What can be done to support South Asian women in real life? 

JL: I think it depends on the women we are trying to help. The question, in some ways, makes me feel inadequate. I keep wanting to answer with what I have done and not with what I can do. I know I feel deeply connected to each South Asian woman I have the privilege to meet. She feels like a sister to me and all I want is for her to live as fully as possible.

DK: Listen to their stories. Pass the mic. Give them a platform to showcase how brilliant they are. Additionally, invest in them. You can support South Asian women-led businesses by purchasing from them. Additionally, you can sign up through a relief aid program that financially funds education for young girls in South Asian countries. The possibilities to support South Asian women is truly limitless – so I urge you to help in any capacity you can. 

SS: South Asian women can be empowered by allowing them to be heard. Letting them tell their stories and supporting their work is all part of the process. I am so grateful to Brown Girl Magazine for the continuous support and love. Through my writing and telling of my journey, I feel empowered.

Changes in the South Asian Community

KH: If you can bring constructive changes to the South Asian community in your country, what would you improve or change or start over?

JL: I believe the world lives around us and within us. Within myself, I would wish for more courage, recognition of strength and kindness. If we flipped that analogy outward, I would want the same. Kindness, not just the appearance of it. Courage to change, not the conversation of it. Recognition of the strength it takes to break the bonds of racism, not obligation of the West’s guilt in perpetuating it.

DK: I would improve upon rampart issues like colorism that affect and are ingrained in the minds of young girls every day. Additionally, I would remind my community that they will never be able to stand up to oppression against them if they cannot do so for others. Solidarity with other non-white groups facing similar issues when growing up is imperative to securing our freedoms. 

SS: There is so much negativity associated with mental illness and suicide; I wish I could change the conversation and how we speak about these topics. I think by doing so, we would create a more open society and I believe it would help those suffering greatly. 

The trailblazing mission of making the South Asian community visible

“Moments that reveal, bone by breath, the beating heart of a life, that launch us into new lives. Land us into ourselves.”

Tanuja Desai Hidier, Foreword, untold: defining moments of the uprooted.

Who gets to determine the idea of home and belonging? Who is to give the voice to speak for your culture and identity?

After 9/11, brownness has become such a sensitive visual term. While part of society chooses to reject, some simply marginalize the entire experience and render it nearly invisible.

While the overall brown community suffers from silence and misunderstanding, brown women bear such reality with extra complicity. The richness of their ancestral history and the complexity of their cultural identities and gender roles in the current moment are both of their gifts and burdens.

As Tanuja Desai Hidier notes, “Brownness was a complicated experience outside of this whitewashed world too.” The constant feeling that not being Indian enough to write the Indian part of the story and not American enough to write the American side is indeed frustrating, but maybe it is this in-between identity that makes their experiences so unique and inspiring.

The 32 writers open up their vulnerability to the public with great courage. They talk, seek, cry, and speak their truths. By translating their emotions and memories into genuine words, they make the silence into beautiful sounds.

In their stories, brownness is celebrated and the untold is revealed.

5 photographers in Colombia capturing the terror of police brutality

What is happening between protestors and the police in Colombia right now?

Chaos and violence have escalated in the country since the end of April this year. Multiple lives have been sacrificed in the ongoing protests against President Iván Duque Márquez’s proposals on increased taxes and health care reform.

During the conflicts between the government and the protestors, people died, went missing, were injured, or arrested.

colombia police
PHOTO CRED: Fernando Vergara. Image via: Vergara/AP.

As the crisis intensifies, not only the nation but also the world has witnessed the police’s unsympathetic and inhumane approach to suppress the protesters.

In these heated moments, there are photographers who walk among the protestors or move on their own to document what has been happening in this country in recent decades. Through the photographers’ images, we see the police’s excessive force and the violations of human rights from the past to the present.

Andres Cardona

Colombian photographer Andres Cardona‘s images carry a lot of sentiments: sadness, anger, pain, despair, fear, bravery, etc. Blood on the faces, the burning fire, and the flying smoke in the protests demonstrate moments of horror, death, and destruction.

In Cardona’s works, there are not that many images of direct conflicts between the police and the protestors; Instead, a lot of them contain the (close-up) facial expressions of citizens or protestors. However, there is this power in Cardona’s images. It’s like time can be paused. And memories can preserve in the flick of vulnerability.

“Cardona’s work is an exercise in memory. From Colombia’s armed conflict to the traditions of indigenous communities or the deforestation of the Amazon, his images document the present while hoping to make sense of the past.”

Clara Hernanz Lizarraga, 1854 Photography.

Luis Robayo

Originally form Cúcuta, Colombia, Luis Robayo is an AFP (Agence France-Presse) correspondent and a Simón Bolívar prize awardee. Robayo is known for his dedicated documentation of armed conflict within the Colombian indigenous community.

Robayo is one of the photojournalists who has been capturing the tax reform protest in Colombia since late April. Although his works often cover heavy social topics, the colors of his visuals are surprisingly saturated.

Unlike Cardona, police brutality is more explicitly featured in Robayo’s photos in Colombia. Images such as the desolate and scarred cityscape and the wounded bodies are important components in his narrative.

Joaquín Sarmiento

Based in Medellin, Colombia, Joaquín Sarmiento is another AFP photographer.

When people look at Sarmiento’s works, they can quickly distinguish his images from those of the others. One unique characteristic in Sarmiento’s image is his emphasis on the human occupancy and activities in space.

There are great dynamics and stories within his photos. Although many people are featured within the same frame, nobody is looking straight at the camera.

People are just minding their own businesses: protesting, marching, even playing music in the chaotic environment, etc. Sarmiento’s sophisticated capturing of these natural human behaviors and postures is what makes his photographic expression so genuine.

colombia police
PHOTO CRED: Joaquín Sarmiento. Image via The Guardian.

 Ignas Karvelis

 Ignas Karvelis
PHOTO CRED: Ignas Karvelis. Image via Latin America Reports.

As an independent documentary photographer based in Bogotá, Colombia, Ignas Karvelis has already started documenting police brutality back in 2019.

Back at the time, Karvelis captured students’ and teachers’ protests against a corruption scandal in the Colombian capital and the police’s violent response to the protests.

In this event, student activists were surrounded by riot police who attacked them with tear gas in one of the Universidad Distrital’s buildings. Karvelis quickly seized the moments and reinterpreted the tension between the two parties through his photos.

Ignas Karvelis
PHOTO CRED: Ignas Karvelis. Image via Latin America Reports.

Juan Barreto 

Barreto is skillful at catching the moments of confrontations between the protestors and the police. As viewers, we immediately feel the intensity and dynamics of the events in his images.

Barreto’s images portray riot police in a very interesting manner. Although the police stand for absolute authority and control in Colombia, they fail to fulfill their responsibilities.

Instead of protecting the people from getting hurt, they are the ones executing harm. The police are supposed to be ‘stand-up’ like their stances. But they fail this too. Rather than provide justice and security, the police cultivate terror.

The police in Colombia are only exacerbating preexisting problems

It’s been a month since the tax reform protest happened in Colombia. Yet, the government of President Iván Duque Márquez still hasn’t given the public a satisfying solution to the current crisis.

People are dying and missing in the everyday conflict. Nowhere is safe.

The protests did not just happen overnight, political tensions have been existing in the nation for decades. The country’s tax reform proposal, police brutality, and the government’s inept handling of the COVID-19 pandemic recently simply exacerbated the situation and precipitated the train of events.

However, more and more people have also come to realize the severity of the current event. Unions, college students, social organizations, celebrities, and public figures have joined hands-on social media to raise awareness of what is happening in Colombia. The UN, too, urges Colombia’s government to protect the rights of protesters.

For people of Colombia, there’s still a long way to go..

Cube Art Fair’s innovative solution to creating art space during Covid-19

The Frieze art week (May 5 to 9) in New York City this year may have already passed, but its impact lingers and continues to expand. One of the coolest events that took place during the week would be the world’s largest public art fair held by Cube Art Fair.

The pandemic has put a halt to in-person art shows or exhibitions. However, the fair took a completely innovative approach to make art, creativity, and hope visible and available to the over 10 million citizens in NYC.

cube art fair
PHOTO CRED: Cube Art Fair.

Cube Art Fair

Cube Art Fair created the #staycreative campaign to provide a platform for artists who were unable to hold their in-person shows during the pandemic. The campaign enhanced public exposure and visual impact of the artworks; it encouraged both commoners and artists to stay creative and hopeful during the pandemic.

gregoire vogelsang
Gregoire Vogelsang, Founder of Cube Art Fair. PHOTO CRED: Cube Art Fair.

“We came up with the idea of thing art and displaying it to everyone with the hope to inspire people not only to stay safe but also to #staycreative. This is why our campaign’s hashtag is #staycreative. I am thrilled to see that our artists can remain creative and can inspire others to do the same.”

Gregoire Vogelsang, Founder of Cube Art Fair, Press Release.

A gathering of talented artists around the world

The fair featured 100 artworks on over 100 billboards, kiosks, newsstands, and bus stops around NYC. Among all these locations, the most impressive spot was a giant 12,000 sq/ft billboard at the heart of Times Square.

Artists whose artworks were on display: Jonas Leriche (New York), Laura Jane Petelko (Toronto), Kenneth Willardt (NYC), Griet Van Malderen (Brussels), Tigi Van Gil (Brussels), Kelli Fischer (Memphis), and more (check out at the end of the article!)

We love the fact that Cube Art Fair gathered all these talented artists from all over the world and embedded their artworks in the everyday scene.

“Artist have not stopped creating and the public demand to see art has not stopped either. It’s up to us to be imaginative and think outside of the box to connect both together.”

Gregoire Vogelsang, Founder of Cube Art Fair, Press Release.

The form of Cube Art Fair

cube art fair
Art by Eric Ceccarini. PHOTO CRED: Cube Art Fair.

The art fair chose to show the artworks via tangible media agencies that we see in our everyday lives. In this way, it transformed the city into its exhibitionary space and offered everybody equal accessibility to arts.

However, why didn’t it present the artworks in a traditional method like an in-person gallery gathering or run the event on a more convenient platform like the online viewing room?

Gallery space is very limited; the small, confined space is not likely to provide visitors the best viewing experience. Additionally, because of the pandemic, people still have to follow the social distancing protocol to ensure individual safety.

Online viewing event can be a convenient method indeed. However, human participations in art viewing and discussion in the event will become hard to perceive and measure. Moreover, within the digital space, the textures and emotions of the arts can be greatly diluted by the screen.

Recreating human interaction

adeline jadot
Art by Adeline Jadot. PHOTO CRED: Cube Art Fair.

Through presenting the artworks at the most iconic spot – Times Square – in the world, the event recreated an open art space that was gigantic, safe, accessible, and welcoming.

This open space allowed many people to gather in the same spot safely at the same time. Within this space, people were given the freedom and full access to appreciate the art.

People stopped, took photos, engaged, and initiated conversations with other people. In a way, the event also engendered human interactions that have been interrupted by the pandemic.

Other billboard locations that also featured the artworks were: 66th and Columbus St, 67th and Broadway St, 57th and 5th Avenue, Madison Ave, Grand and Mott St, Broadway and 13th St, Union Square, Herald Square, and Central Park South.

Cube Art Fair at the heart of Times Square

cube art fair
Art by Tigi Van Gil. PHOTO CRED: Cube Art Fair.

What the art fair did was groundbreaking.

At this most iconic spot in the world, the fair did not air advertisements, but a collection of amazing artworks instead.

It created a moment that was so unique and meaningful – like the single calmness in an ocean of hungry commercials. The #staycreative campaign delivered culture feeds to people’s minds and hoped every person who saw the artworks would be benefited from their experiences.

Art for New York City

jonas leriche
Art by Jonas Leriche. PHOTO CRED: Cube Art Fair.

New Yorkers reflected in their conversations with the founder of Cube Art Fair, “we have never seen art like this at Times Square. It’s usually just advertisement here.” They also agreed that seeing art in such a public space was already a big achievement and they are curious to see what’s next.

As the space was open to everybody, it also became a non-prejudiced space. It welcomed everybody to participate in the art world as well as NYC culture. No judgement, no pretension, more authenticity, it was all about the good vibes.

We are excited to see what great artworks and changes Cube Art Fair will bring to the public next!

More artists from the event to check out

Rubem Robierb (Miami), Paul Emile Rioux (Montreal), Nikki Vismara (San Francisco), Christophe de Fierlant (Brussels), Lisa Ledson (San Francisco), Daniela Moellenhoff (Hamburg), Cécile plaisance (Paris), Olivia de Posson (Brussels), Tigran Tsitoghdzyan (New York), Didier Engels (Brussels)

For the artists’ complete information, check out Cube Art Fair here.

5 dope AAPI artists reminding us to stay strong for MHAM

May is Mental Health Awareness Month (MHAM) and we have every reason to celebrate. It’s not shameful to show your vulnerability or admit your struggles; we are all going through something different. Since May is also AAPI Heritage Month, we proudly combine the two themes together to highlight AAPI artists making a difference.

It’s a difficult time of year, we know. Finals, graduation, job hunting, moving… everything clumps up at the same time. However, if you ever feel overwhelmed and frustrated in your situation, don’t give in easily or let your anxiety break you down.

Instead, on this Mental Health Awareness Month, really take the time to understand yourself. What gets you into your happy place? For many, it is music.

In light of our mission to support mental health awareness and the AAPI community, we have gathered five AAPI artists who remind us of staying strong in their music.

Nora Lum, aka Awkwafina

aapi artists
Image via Wikipedia.

We have known Awkwafina as Goh Peik Lin in Crazy Rich Asians and Billi Wang in The Farewell. However, besides her booming acting career, she is also a talented comedian, writer, and musician.

Awkwafina first rose to prominence in 2012 when her rap song “My Vag” went viral YouTube. The song was a response to Mickey Avalon’s song “My Dick.”

Afterward, Awkwafina also recorded a few hits such as “NYC Bitche$” and “Green Tea.” “Green Tea” is a song that challenges Asian/American women stereotypes and discusses the objectification and oppression towards Asian women in a satirical tone.

In Bad Rap, a 2016 documentary, Awkwafina shares her experiences as being a marginalized hip-hop artist who is Asian American and woman. Knowing the obstacles and challenges that Asian American women have been facing in society, Awkwafina is determined to defy stereotypes through her music.

Her outspoken comments on the female genitalia in her lyrics, for example, transform the ‘P word’ from a negative taboo to an empowering symbol that hopefully helps Asian women to embrace their feminine power and reclaim their autonomy. Awkwafina is truly one of the greatest AAPI (and worldwide) artists alive right now.

Jonathan Edgar Park, aka Dumbfoundead

aapi artists
Image via Wikipedia.

Growing up, rapper and actor Dumbfoundead had quite a diasporic childhood. He was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina to South Korean immigrants. When he was three years old, he and his family came to the U.S. by crossing the Mexico-United States border. They later settled in Koreatown, California.

In Dumbfoundead’s music, his family’s migratory history are important in developing his musical identity. As one of the most prominent Asian American rappers in the U.S, he is known for his socially conscious lyrics. Dumbfoundead also invests comprehensive thinking in the names of his music.  

His 2017 label BORN CTZN, for example, translates a will to belong to a country, like America. His album Foreigner, which was launched in the same year, expresses his experience of being ‘the other one’ in both his native country and adopted country.

Besides his active efforts in reinventing the representation of the Asian American identity in the public, he is also an activist in social issues. During Covid-19, he has provided great support for workers in the restaurant industry. Dumbfoundead is one of the most inspiring artists we can look to during AAPI Heritage Month.

Shawn Serrano, aka Shawn Wasabi

aapi artists for mental health awareness month
PHOTO CRED: Nick Walker

Hailing from Salinas, California, Shawn Wasabi is a Filipino-American record producer who has been making music since 2013. His song Marble Soda, which was released in 2015, immediately hit 1m views within 24 hours.

“I feel like there is a mixture of support and loneliness in entertainment. There isn’t really anyone to share this feeling with. People tend to put others into boxes without even realizing, and I encourage everyone to be aware of your biases.”  

  Shawn Wasabi for Vogue.

Growing up in an Asian American household, he has learnt that success doesn’t come easily, and changes don’t simply happen. Choosing to become a musician rather than a doctor, for SW, was a risky decision at first. It was tough, especially Asians are often so underrepresented in the entertainment industry. His achievements and impact nowadays, nonetheless, have proved that he made the right decision.

As a member of the AAPI community, SW encourages people to reach out and have conversations with each other and with people of different communities around them to fight against anti-Asian hate and violence together.

Mike Shinoda

Mike Shinoda Songs 2021 | Mike Shinoda Hits, New Songs & Albums - JOOX
PHOTO CRED: Mike Shinoda

Shinoda is an American musician, record producer, and graphic designer. He is best known for his role as the co-founder of the band Linkin Park, one of the best-selling bands in the 21st century.

Although born to a Japanese-American father, Shinoda’s Asian-ness in his identity was often not completely seen or detected right by people around him. As he says in an interview with Vogue, “Growing up, people always got my ethnicity confused. My dad, my brother, and I got mistaken for Mexican, Native American, Chinese, Filipino, and Inuit.”

The incarceration experiences in the Shinoda family’s history have been important influences on his journey of musical composition. He dedicated a song called Kenji from his 2005 album The Rising Tied to his family’s internment memories and marginalized racial identity in America.

“Whenever we’re facing a widespread crisis—as we were then and as we are now—there is a temptation to cast blame. But maybe the misplaced fear and anger of Japanese Internment can be a reminder that we’ve made some mistakes before, and we don’t need to make them again.” 

Mike Shinoda for Vogue.

In a time of crisis like now, Shinoda suggests unity and collaboration in society. Conflict, hatred, frustration, and violence happen, but they should never be legitimized and accepted.

For this Mental Health Awareness Month, tap into Shinoda’s music and words.

Jennifer Lee, aka Tokimonsta

aapi artists for mental health awareness month
PHOTO CRED: Bethany Vargas. Image via Office Magazine.

In 2019, Tokimonsta became the first female Asian American producer to receive a Grammy nomination for Best Dance/Electronic Album for her 2017 album Lune Rouge.

As a woman of color in the music production industry, her achievement and life experience are nonetheless inspiring.

Tokimonsta was diagnosed with Moyamoya disease in later 2015. In early 2016, she went through two brain surgeries which later caused her loss of communication and comprehension abilities.

These personal experiences, however, eventually engendered the birth of her Lune Rouge album. The album is about her struggles to regain her language ability during her recovery process and how music has been essential in helping to heal her wounds.

According to the artist, the current anti-Asian hate crimes amid the pandemic have taken a toll on her mental health. It is her responsibility that, as a public figure, to stand up for her community, as she agrees.

However, it has been exhausting to explain something repeatedly to people who just don’t care about what the AAPI community has been going through at the moment.

She suggests people start with the process of unlearning and AAPI members begin with helping people within their own communities. The artist shares platforms that people can utilize to show support for the AAPI community, such as  Hate Is A VirusAAPI Women Lead.

AAPI artists staying strong for a brighter future

There will be light at the end of the tunnel, we shall have faith.

In a time like this, we may feel disconnected, lonely, helpless, vulnerable, hopeless, or disappointed. Never give up, though. You are not alone in this; because what you are experiencing at this moment, other people are probably experiencing something similar somewhere else.

Artists like Awkwafina, Dumbfoundead, Shawn Wasabi, Mike Shinobu, and Tokimonsta (and a lot more out there) opened up about their personal experiences.

They remind us to stay strong and connected in the present crisis. Only when we become mentally strong, that our judgements won’t be clouded by our emotions. Together, we’ll overcome this with great confidence and strength.

Your AAPI Heritage Month/Mental Health Awareness Month playlist:

Some additional resources to support the AAPI community for Mental Health Awareness Month:

AAPI Women Lead

Asian Americans Advancing Justice

Hate Is A Virus

National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum


AAPI Mental Health Resources




5 powerful pieces of art created by the AAPI community

Welcome to AAPI Heritage Month! Art has always been an important form of expression in the AAPI community. It is a visual language that requires non-traditional ways of seeing and interpretation.

This week, we have brought to you impressive artworks by Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya, Byron Kim, Bob Matsumoto, Felicia Liang, and also Vanilla Chi.

Inspired by their personal life events, these AAPI artists skillfully translate collective Asian American experiences into intriguing visuals through illustrations, painting, posters, and all art.

“I Still Believe in Our City,” Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya

The artists’ name might sound unfamiliar, but her artworks are phenomenal.

Phingbodhipakkiya’s arts have appeared in the Stop Asian Hate rally, the Atlantic Avenue terminal, and also many other public spaces throughout New York and around the world.

I Still Believe in Our City” is not just an anti-hate campaign; it is also an empowering interpretation that aims to increase public awareness and express the beauty and resilience of the AAPI community through art.

“Despite everything that has happened to us, we are still here and we will continue to fight for our shared future.” 

Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya, NBC News.

Phingbodhipakkiya emphasizes the practice of human rights in her creations. She is devoted to rendering the invisible visible.

She uses bright colors to contour the Asian identity and then enhances it with flowers and plants that are symbolic in Asian cultures. The bright colors and symbolic imagery translate racism against Asian Americans into visuals.

Her arts reveal that anti-Asian-American hate crimes and bias incidents are not fabricated events; they should thus not be covered up or ignored by the media. Her works also include portraits of Black people, serving as a statement that the Asian community is standing in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter Movement.

Synecdoche, Byron Kim

aapi art
Synecdoche, Byron Kim. Image via National Gallery of Art.

The term Synecdoche is a figure of speech. It refers to when a part of something refers to the whole of something. In Korean American artist Byron Kim’s project, however, the word is entrusted with more complex and thought-provoking layers.

Kim’s Synecdoche gives out an abstract feeling at first sight. The work looks like a simple grid of small monochromatic panel paintings. The story behind the painting, however, is quite touching.

Each color represents a portrait of the skin color of an individual who is related to Kim. His family, his friends, even strangers… In a way, Synecdoche is also an abstracted group portrait.

What does skin color represent for each individual? Who are these people beyond the color of their skin? To Kim, Synecdoche emanates a personal and political emotion.

The project itself, too, brings a sensitive and problematic reality to the spotlight. We can certainly equate our racial heritage with colors, yet it is doubtful our cultural images and identities can ever be accurately represented.

“Remembrance,” Bob Matsumoto

“Remembrance,” Bob Matsumoto
Remembrance,” Bob Matsumoto PHOTO CRED: Tony Garcia.

Japanese American artist Bob Matsumoto designed and created poster “Remembrance” in 2017. The art is to honor Japanese Americans who were forcibly uprooted and imprisoned during WWII.

In 1943, Matsumoto was only four years old when he was incarcerated in the Manzanar Relocation Center with his family. Although the event took place when Matsumoto was just a child, it has since left profound influence on shaping his perspectives of being a citizen of Japanese descent in America.

Matsumoto sees that experiences as a shameful chapter of American history; it is the reason why he considers fighting anti-Asian racism as lifelong purpose.

Remembrance – a pitch dark background decorated with the color of America, red, white, and blue – is a quiet yet powerful piece. It vividly visualizes the tension between allegiance and rejection, nationalism and otherness. The artwork is an attempt to remind America that if no changes take place, history will repeat itself.

“Remembrance. It’s a tribute to the incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans, a symbol of the loss of freedom and dignity we suffered. It’s a bold reminder of our history. Never to be forgotten.”    

  Bob Matsumoto, Art Center

#100DAYSIANS, Felicia Liang

aapi art
#100DAYSIANS. PHOTO CRED: Felicia Liang.

Felicia Liang published a 100 Day Project about growing up Asian American and reinventing one’s cultural identity. #100Daysians began with Felicia’s idea of creating one drawing every day for 100 days.

The subjects in the project are all illustrated in colored pencils. They are just super mundane existences and yet contain important meanings to and memories of the Asian community.

Regular viewers might find the contents fun and interesting or simply look at them as an artistic expression. To members from the AAPI community, however, these are things that shape their cultural identities and constantly remind them of their roots.

“We will never be silent again,” Vanilla Chi

“We will never be silent again,” Vanilla Chi
CRED: Vanilla Chi

As it is written in the contents of the poster, the AAPI community is no longer keeping their voices to themselves. Chi makes this poster a statement of opposition to racism and a tribute to people who have endured it.

The poster includes many symbolic elements in Chinese culture. Each of them speaks a narrative and altogether compose a testament.

The most impressive quality of this poster is the artist’s brave attempt to use a stereotypical image as the protagonist who tells an archetypal immigrant story in the narrative. Through the power of words and visuals, Chi echoes the painful, frustrated, and rejected experiences that Asians have encountered throughout American history.

The poster is also made downloadable to the public.

Is it what we must endure?

stop asian hate
Image via ADL.

Vietnamese American Poet and novelist Ocean Vuong once wrote, “The sunset, like survival, exists only on the verge of its own disappearing. To be gorgeous, you must first be seen, but to be seen allows you to be hunted.”

Such beautiful description, especially in art, is so relatable to the experiences of the AAPI community. It is a necessary process for the AAPI community to undergo challenges and hardships before the day when their people are equally accepted and respected.

It would be a hell of a journey, but when they overcome, they will harvest hope and see beauty.

Revolutionizing sleep apnea treatment with the O2Vent Optima

Dr. Christopher Hart is a true innovator. Thanks to his inventive O2Vent Optima device, sleep apnea treatment has been given a whole new perspective.

Chris has been an adventurous researcher and practitioner in the search for better alternative therapy to cure sleeping disorder disease. Hailing from a dentist background, Chris possesses impressive expertise in the mechanism of nasal obstruction and mouth breathing.

sleep apnea
PHOTO CRED: Pulmonary Practice Associate.

As a victim of sleep apnea himself, Chris has been devoting to finding better sleep apnea treatment that would bring users greater benefits and convenience. The result is the O2Vent Optima oral device. The O2Vent Optima offers users comfort as it customizes user needs to provide a perfect fit.

The O2Vent Optima is impressively lightweight in comparison to the bulky CPAP machine. With no uncomfortable mask or complicated machines attached, the O2Vent Optima guarantees flexibility and mobility in user experiences.

It functions as a second nose that allows air to be directly delivered to the back of the throat and avoids dry mouth or sore throat.

The necessity for the O2Vent Optima invention

christopher hart, creator of the O2vent optima
Christopher Hart, founder of GoPAPfree. Image via Oventus.

Kulture Hub: What inspired you to create the O2Vent Optima? where does the name come from?

Christopher Hart: Necessity is the mother of invention. I’m a dentist by trade, but I was also a severe sleep apnea patient.

Because of my nasal obstruction, I couldn’t tolerate CPAP and the standard mouthguard that just deals with the tongue flopping back wasn’t effective enough. Out of desperation, I made a mouthguard with some other ways that allows the air to get to the back of my throat, and to my lungs.

I had a network of dental clinics, so I started using it in patients. Over time, those planned expenses started to increase. I was going to forget the idea altogether until the previous CEO of the company of Anderson got involved. He took my prototype for the CSR, which is the Australian version of the NIH. Within 11 months, he developed the software design with a CSR on the 3d printing technology. That was the first O2Vent.

The vent was invented at that point in time. Optima is our 28th generation. And we think we have it right, the beautiful device.

“Mouth breathing is not favorable physiologically and nasal breathing is ideal. What we do is we offer to the extent the patient can breathe through their nose, they still do. But instead of switching to mouth breathing, we manage that mouth breathing by putting what we call a second nose in the mouth guard. So the lips are still sealed around our extended airway and the jaw position remains in place.”

Christopher Hart for Kulture Hub

The O2Vent Optima oral device vs the traditional CPAP Machine

KH: How does the mouthpiece work? How is it different from the traditional CPAP machine?

CH: A CPAP machine stands for continuous positive air pressure. It’ll use a pump, and a hose and a mask to splint the airway to inflate it basically, with positive air pressure. Unfortunately, many patients can’t tolerate its quite uncomfortable feeling and being tethered and claustrophobic and noises and leaks and abrasions on the face.

With our technology, instead of pumping the air in, we have an air channel within the mouth guard and the jaw position remains where it should be. With a mouth guard maintaining that stable jaw position, the patient breathes through the nose as they normally would but receive her pain with standard mouth guards.

Now instead of banning therapy, treatment actually improves if the patient’s nose congests to the point where they’d normally switch to mouth breathing.

O2vent optima
How the O2Vent Optima works. Image via Oventus.

KH: What are the reasons that you’ve seen CPAP machine as not effective in treating sleep apnea?

CH: I think CPAP is very effective, there’s no question that it splits the airway by pumping air and keeps it open.

But it’s the problems with adherence. It’s the feeling of being waterboarded with something strapped to the face and being tethered to a machine feeling of claustrophobia. It’s the lack of portability and abrasions on the face that leaks noises, waking up the bed partner and not being able to shift your sleeping position.

Potential risks of sleep apnea if not properly treated

KH: If sleep apnea is not properly treated, what kind of risks might patient encounter in the future?

CH: There are some very significant long term health effects as well as the socioeconomic effects. Health wise, you know, hypertension, diabetes, depression, obesity, increased cardiovascular risk, and then obviously increased risk of workplace accidents.

There is a shortening of life expectancy with untreated sleep apnea, particularly given that it leads to hypoxia, or our oxygen levels in the body.

A design based off of personal dental experiences

KH: How much did the devices designing and prototyping process actually benefit from your background as a dentist?

CH: All the device wouldn’t exist if I wasn’t a dentist. It wouldn’t exist if I was in a severe sleep apnea with narrow obstruction either. I was shown that 82% of patients that have sleep apnea, also suffer from nasal obstruction the way I do and we switch to mouth breathing.

But had I not been in that situation myself and being a dentist, there wouldn’t have been the opportunity to develop the technology. As I said before, necessity is the mother of invention. And I think it was quite fortuitous that I was working in the field and was desperate to fix my own problem. So that is absolutely critical to the development of technology.

Usage of the O2Vent Optima in the age of Covid-19

KH: How has COVID-19 affected users’ experiences with the device?

CH: We have had patients who actually have worn the device during the day. One physician in particular, who believes that the event actually helped him tremendously during COVID. It helped him to breathe even while he’s away.

The other thing that has arisen out of COVID is that, you know, a lot of respiratory clinics, obviously, this is a respiratory pandemic, so many of them shut down, and some of them haven’t reopened.We were then forced to develop our own virtual clinical models. So we can now actually treat patients anywhere, anytime, with a totally remote patient workflow.

Obviously, it’s been terribly difficult for us and many other people working in the respiratory space. But there certainly is a silver lining to that cloud. I think it’s presented a remarkable opportunity for us to help many more patients.

The future for Hart and treating sleep apnea

KH: What do you hope the future of your company and curing sleep apnea looks like?

CH: In terms of the company and the future, we have arguably the most effective treatment on the market and and now that we have access, or we can give access to patients globally and affordably, I think that we would like to help as many people as we possibly can with this disorder.

And now we talk about freedom, freedom to sleep anywhere, anytime, anywhere, and having that safe app in your pocket, allows patients to get their freedom and their lifestyle back while managing the medical risk of very serious health conditions.

Christopher Hart for Kulture Hub

What can the O2Vent Optima and solving sleep apnea mean to society?

christopher hart
PHOTO CRED: Christopher Hart, Founder of GoPAPfree and inventor of the O2Vent Optima. Image via YFS Magazine.

It was a learning experience talking to Chris. Thanks to his generous sharing of his professional knowledge and insights, we are introduced to such beneficial technology that can bring profound changes to patients who have been suffering from sleep apnea.

Besides Chris, we also reached out to Todd Goodstein, a sales engineer from Philly, whose life has greatly benefited from the O2Vent Optima. This small mouthguard has helped treat his UARS and largely improved his sleeping quality.

Todd now happily reunites with his wife after years of sleeping in separate bedrooms; he wakes up with more energy throughout the day. Since the device is fairly portable, Todd travels with it everywhere.

The O2Vent Optima is a significant innovation of the time. It is truly out-of-the-box thinking, free from the traditional machine form and size, and offers its users a convenient, simple, and portable option.

The invention of the groundbreaking O2Vent Optima enables patients to reclaim normal lives and reunite with their families. The advanced technology of the device indeed promises a significant and creative breakthrough in the industry as well.

5 insightful plays to peek into the AAPI theater scene

Not familiar with AAPI theater?

Not a problem, we have collected some fabulous plays you can get yourself started with. This week, we have gathered the works by Frank Chin, David Henry Hwang, Jay Kuo, and Diana Son.

The Chickencoop Chinaman, Frank Chin

aapi theater
PHOTO CRED: University of Washington Publication.

Chinese American filmmaker Tam Lum is working on a documentary project about a Black boxer named Ovaltine.

He travels to Pittsburgh to meet with Ovaltine’s father and stays with childhood friend Kenji. Kenji is a Japanese American who lives in a poor Black neighborhood with his girlfriend Lee and her son.

During Lum’s time with Kenji and Lee in Pittsburg, the three get into arguments on discussions about cultural heritage and Americanized identity. Lee accuses Tam of rejecting his Chinese-ness and also Kenji of being prejudiced against African Americans.

Lum denies Lee’s accusation and explains he and Kenji go to school with African Americans and Mexican Americans. They dress and behave like others so that they wouldn’t be minoritized. Kenji also adds that his participation in Black culture comes from his uncertainty about his Japanese American culture/identity as Lum is of Chinese American culture/identity.

Lee believes that Lum’s marriage to a White American woman is an attempt to erase his Chinese identity. Lum later reveals that he dislikes the description of the “model minority.” While he sees Asians as the passive, hardworking, and highly educated immigrants the U.S wants, he is praised for his Americanness by the White Americans.

The questions are: when will society eventually embrace Lum’s and Kenji’s cultural backgrounds? And when will minorities like Lum and Kenji in America no longer be pressured to forgo their heritage to become someone they are not?

Soft Power, David Henry Hwang

aapi theater
PHOTO CRED: David Henry Hwang. Image via Curran.

The story begins as Xue Xing, an entertainment producer from Shanghai, travels to America for work and falls in love with Hilary Clinton.

Xing then attempts to recruit a character (who is DHH’s theatrical avatar) to compose a Chinese audience-oriented musical. The development of the plot is intertwined with DHH’s real-life experiences – particularly a sidewalk stabbing in the neck that almost left DDH near death in 2015.

As an intended reverse “The King and I”, David Henry Hwang’s Soft Power is an attempt to confront the musical’s contradictions and rewrite racial politics. In Soft Power, Asia is no longer the exoticized subject, but America.

It’s interesting to note that many details about America in the musical are purposely manipulated as hilariously inexact. ‘White’ roles are played by Asian actors who make up in whitefaces and imitate incorrect accents.

Soft Power examines the natures of democracy, white nationalism, and also Asian-American identity. The musical is an ambitious amalgam; it explores the East/West stereotypes and Asian representations within the increased geographical tensions between China and the U.S.

As DHH reflects, the way America has treated Asian Americans has always been a function of America’s relationship with the Asian countries it was in conflict with.

“But I think the root of Soft Power comes from a very personal and honest investigation of what it means to be Asian American, and therefore, what my relationship is to China.” 

DHH, Time.

Yellow Face, David Henry Hwang

PHOTO CRED: Johanson Productions.

Another representative work David Henry Hwang, Yellow Face is a semi-autobiographical piece of AAPI theater that features the author as the protagonist. To DHH, the play is a memoir, yet a kind of unreliable memoir.

The story of Yellow Face begins with DHH’s protest against the casting of Jonathan Pryce, a white British actor, in an Asian role in Miss Saigon.

The play also features the event of DHH’s father, founder of the Far East National Bank,  being investigated. DHH’s father’s bank was suspected of illegal campaign contributions and funds for Chinese espionage.

Yellow Face is part fact and part fantasy; Most of the time, audiences wouldn’t know which part real which part is not until it is pointed out. But even if they do know, what’s the point of being reminded that the story is fake even with some real parts?

It is the same as the question about ‘what is a racial identity?’ If Asian-ness is interchangeable and an Asian identity can be easily transferred to and interpreted by a white actor on stage, what does it mean to be an Asian American in white-dominated spaces?

The questions left unresolved in the play. Additionally, who has the right to claim ownership of a culture? Who is allowed to represent it? And who is representing the Yellow Face?

Allegiance, Jay Kuo

aapi theater

Originally a book  by Marc Acito, Kuo, and Lorenzo Thione, Allegiance is a story inspired by the personal experiences of George Takei.

The background of the AAPI play is set during the Japanese American internment of WWII. The Kimura family is forced to give up their beautiful farm and relocate to the Heart Mountain internment camp in Wyoming.

The Kimuras are loyal Americans, although not being seen as ones. California born and raised Sammy Kimura is desperate to prove his loyalty to the nation. He is determined to join the army.

While young Sammy intentionally accentuates his Americanness, the vulnerable grandfather (played by the real George Takei), embraces his Japanese-ness by embodying traditional Japanese equanimity in gardening.

Allegiance is a recollection of family history and Japanese Americans incarceration history. It is an unconventional educational musical that acknowledges the relocation of Japanese American as shameful aberration in the U.S history.

America might have won the war, but it failed to offer justice to its citizens of Japanese descent. Targeting the entire ethnic group as a suspect without compassion is nonetheless a painful historical lesson in this version of AAPI theater.

R.A.W. ‘Cause I’m a Woman, Diana Son

PHOTO CRED: Jon Crispin. Image via Hemispheric Institute.

R(aunchy). A(sian). W(oman). Diana Son’s short play is an exploration of stereotypes about Asian women. For instance, images like the pampering geisha, the exotic virgin, or the suicidal Miss Saigon.

This is a groundbreaking play that casts only Asian American women. With their dance, music, and spoken words, they visualize their experiences of being Asian women in different forms and identities.

Exotic, submissive, chic, obedient, mysterious, domestic, petite, oriental, Raunchy, Asian, Woman…

“I love your eyes.”

“Where are you from? I mean, what country are you from?”

“I love Oriental woman.”

As the actresses start posing and talking on stage, words appear on the screen over the stage. These words, these comments, and these questions are passive; they eroticize and alienate the Asian female identity and experience. In the meantime, the contents are curiously sarcastic and hilarious.

Son, in a way, is addressing the politics between interracial relationships and mocking Western male’s culturally insensitive fantasy over the Asian female body. Her intention is channeled through the voices of her actresses and their unapologetic conversations about female sexuality.

In these attempts, she challenges the checked stereotypical Asian female roles and intends to reinvent a new Asian female identity.

Son’s new female image comes from a place neither black nor white and it will not allow others to categorize it. As a powerful line in the play resonates, “I will not be your fetish. I will love and be loved.”

AAPI theater as we stand right now

Although representations of Asian/Asian Americans have greatly increased on the silver screen in recent years, they are still woefully missing in AAPI theater. It is largely because theater is generally dominated by Western culture and influence in America. It is a white space, so to speak.

However, contemporary Asian American playwrights have also been making progress little by little. They have been fighting to have their cultures seen and voices heard in this still constricted theatrical domain. Those who never give up’s contributions should be remembered and their names celebrated.

5 books to prepare you for an important AAPI Heritage Month

AAPI Heritage Month is around the corner. And it’s always a good time to read about some amazing books by writers from the AAPI community.

These selected books will surely bring you new perspectives on the AAPI community. Come join their discussions about immigration, cultural identity, racism, and living as minorities in America; you might find out something new.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Ocean Vuong

aapi heritage month
PHOTO CRED: Penguin Press.

A début novel by the Vietnamese American poet Ocean Vuong, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is an epistolary auto-fiction that tells a story of surviving in America.

The novel, written in the form of a letter, presents the powerful words of a son to his illiterate mother. This is a story that mirrors the life of Ocean Vuong.

Through the perspective of Little Dog, Ocean Vuong talks about what life is like as the son of an immigrant and also as a gay man surviving the violence of America.

He explores his contradictory cultural identity – being the product of  war and colonialism – in poetic, beautiful yet somehow melancholic language and emotion. A life that is already divided into two: one back in Vietnam, one here in America.

He could let go of neither of them. This is a book about what it means to become an American and how much it takes to be one. Just as Little Dog asks, “What is a country but a borderless sentence, a life?

I Was Their American Dream, Malaka Gharib

aapi books for heritage month
PHOTO CRED: Penguin Random House

What is it like growing up as half Filipino, practicing Egyptian tradition, and yet being 100 percent American? Malaka Gharib’s graphic memoir is a tribute to immigrant families and their descendants pursuing the American dream.

There will be few books more apropos of today’s timeline and during AAPI Heritage Month than this one.

Gharib’s memoir circles around the question that she has faced since she was young – ‘What are you?’ As she thoughtfully explores the gradation of racial diversity through her illustrations, she also learns over the course that it is culture that matters, not color.

The beliefs, values, food, and music and experiences are things that make up her unique identity.

It doesn’t matter whether she is in her mostly white college or the mixed-race communities back home. Gharib’s personal experience is a kind of melting pot mix journey of cross-cultural understanding, connection, unlearning, and relearning.

Through her skillful depictions, we are introduced to thoughtful insights of the diverse lives of modern immigrants in America.

How Much of These Hills is Gold, C Pam Zhang

how much of these hills is gold
PHOTO CRED: Riverhead Books

“This land is not your land,” a cruel message to Lucy and Sam, children of Chinese laborers, from the other children, the miners, and the laws.

Their father is gone. They have to find a proper place to bury his body. In the Chinese culture, the body ought to be brought back and buried in his or her homeland when a person dies.

“Burial is one of the ways we mark land as ours, that we claim ancestry and belonging.”

Annalisa Quinn

It’s in the middle of the Gold Rush. Two young kids carry a decomposing corpse across the California hills and search for a literal ‘fatherland’. California is their home;  it is where they belong, where their father’s body should be buried.

Yet, despite the fact that their ancestors have built a civilization upon their scarred and dead bodies, nothing about them is ever credited and honored in the history book. Their contribution and sacrifice are still unwritten.

Zhang is not trying to defend for the gold men or to reclaim their rights to own on the American soil. She is a self-conscious writer who actively questions the ideas about land, ownership, rootedness and history in a much larger anthropological landscape.

How Much of These Hills is Gold is about longing and disappointment and what makes a piece of land home. Most importantly, will the amount you invest in it the same as you take out of it?

American Born Chinese, Gene Yuen Yang

aapi heritage month
PHOTO CRED: First Second Books

The story of American Born Chinese is divided into three tales; it is a powerful visual interpretation of racial struggles and stereotypes, transformation, and cultural identity in the U.S. A legendary Monkey King, a first-generation child of immigrant called Jin Wang, and a White American boy named Danny. Three characters who seem to be unrelated, but their fates are in fact tightly intertwined.

Yang’s creative storyline is impressive. Through depicting his characters in startling caricature of negative Chinese stereotypes, he ironically reflects the cultural images that the American society expects on the minority race.

Chin-kee (sounding like ethic insult “chinky”) is Danny’s embarrassing Chinese cousin. In Yang’s portrayal, Chin-kee wears antiquated Chinese clothing, grows queue traditional hairstyle, and had yellow skin and buck teeth.

However, he is the Monkey King in disguise who has come to free Jin Wang from his imaginative self-image as the White American Danny. The Monkey King helps Jin Wang explore and also embrace his Chinese identity and heritage.

This is a fun and thought-provoking graphic novel to read. While the book shows how racist stereotypes are formed and presented out of ignorance and prejudice in America, it also passes on a moral that people shouldn’t make fun of others due to their ethnicities or feel ashamed of their own cultures.

The Making of Asian America, Erika Lee

the making of asian america
PHOTO CRED: Simon & Schuster

“Asian American community … uniquely captures the story of America..Theirs is a history of immigrant dreams, American realities, and global connections that has helped to make the United States what it is today.”

Erika Lee, The Making of Asian America.

Little is known about the history of Asian Americans, despite the fact that they are the fastest growing minority population in the U.S. The country does not mention their contributions and often simplifies their cultures.

America visualizes them as the quiet, hardworking people who are no troublemakers, yet at the same time, checks them in the extremely racist term “Yellow Peril.”

Erika Lee’s book is a relearning process of the Asian American history and struggles. Besides the national dimension, Lee also focuses on Asian American experiences in the transnational contexts.

She discusses how racist treatment of Asian American is manifested through exclusion laws, internment camps, hate crimes and racial profiling.

However, such racial injustice has also inspired Asian American activists to empower and speak up for each other. A truly sweeping, fascinating narrative that sheds light on Asian immigrant history, citizenship, and Americanness.

Pages to follow for AAPI Heritage Month

There are a lot more books out there concerning AAPI issues for us to discover and read! Support AAPI art always, not just during AAPI Heritage Month.

Here are some book lovers and authors that you can check out and diversify your feed for the upcoming AAPI Heritage Month.

Owl’s Little Library | Insta: @owlslittlelibrary

Electric Literature | Insta: @electricliterature

Stacey Lee | Insta: @staceyleeauthor

Sabrina | Insta: @travelling.the.pages

Kat | Insta: @booknerdkat

5 films sure to change your outlook on AAPI struggles

In light of the tragic shootings in Atlanta, Georgia on March 16, mass protests against Asian violence/hate have since taken place across the U.S. It is empowering to see that members both inside and outside of the AAPI community have stood up for what is right, and films that follow similar themes are of utmost importance to fully understand AAPI struggles.

It is long past the time to unlearn prejudice and also fight against injustice that is happening to the AAPI community.

We can start with learning the art, music, literature, or other cultural content created by members of the AAPI community. So, this week, we have gathered some classic AAPI films of different genres for you.

Have your popcorn ready and here we go!

The Joy Luck Club (1993)

aapi films
The Joy Luck Club poster (via IMDB)

Originally a novel by Amy Tan, The Joy Luck Club was adapted into a drama film in 1993. JLC is a film about relationships between Chinese American women and their Chinese immigrant mothers.

The film skillfully captures the dynamics of four different Asian American families. It highlights the conflicts and differences between the first and second generation in the Chinese American community.

The mothers contain high hopes for their daughters, but are unaware of the “anxieties, feelings of inadequacy, and failures” that the daughters are going through.

It is a beautiful production that covers multiple themes like reconciliation between different generations as well as balance between the Pan-Asian values and Americanness. The process of learning, understanding, and embracing different cultures is also an important line that parallels the ongoing stories of the four families.

The Farewell (2019)

aapi films
The Farewell Theatrical Release Poster (via A24)

The story begins with Chinese American writer Billi visiting her grandma who lives in Changchun, China. Grandma has been diagnosed with lung cancer, which is already at a terminal stage. Instead of telling the grandma the truth, the family decides to keep it a secret, and even thus manipulates the medical test results.

Throughout her trip, Billi gers into arguments with the family for not revealing the cancer diagnosis to her grandma. She does not agree with their deliberate dishonesty.

Billi’s reaction and the family’s decision reflect the collision between two different values – the individualistic values in Western culture and the practice of collectivism in Asian culture.

Billi still thinks her grandma has the right to know the truth about her physical condition. On the contrary, her Chinese family members consider telling white lies as a necessary act of mercy.

After spending time with her grandma, Billi gradually adapts to the Chinese cultural value and agrees to maintain the lie. She then shares the emotional burden with the rest of her family. It is her responsibility for her grandma and promise to herself.

The Farewell is a warm, honest, and beautiful comedy-drama film about an AAPI family.

Better Luck Tomorrow (2002)

aapi films
Better Luck Tomorrow Theatrical Release Poster (via IMDB)

Ben Manibag and Virgil Hu are your stereotypical overachieving Asian Americans. They are straight-A students who go for the prestigious Ivy League Universities.

You probably think they are only book smart, but they will impress you with their incredible extracurricular activities. They are on the basketball team, the Academic Decathlon team, and also the food drive.

What you don’t know about them is their secret underground businesses: selling cheat sheets, also dealing drugs.

You just can’t tell from the surface. They look just like the regular mild and well-behaved Asian kids.

“But although they have ambition, they lack values, and step by step they move more deeply into crime.”

Roger Ebert, Film Critic.

Better Luck Tomorrow is a disturbing story. Ethnic identity is a problematic element.

While ethnic identity is a stereotypical racial image, it is also a camouflage of one’s true intention.

Ben says “Our straight A’s were our passports to freedom” in his narration. The parents think their kids are staying out late to study, but they have no idea that the kids are out breaking bad.

Justin Lin’s film is a rejection of fixed stereotypes, social expectations, and also tokenism. By depicting his heroes as ‘a wolf in sheep’s clothing,’ he challenges the image of model minority in American society.

He defies that the Asian identity is something to be collected, muted, or rendered invisible. Better Luck Tomorrow is thus a celebration of non-conformity. Although the film is totally fictional, Lin managed to embed many profound messages within the layers of the storyline.

The Grace Lee Project (2005)

the grace lee project
The Grace Lee Project. PHOTO CRED: IMDB.

The Grace Lee Project is a documentary film directed by American director and producer Grace Lee. Growing up in Columbia, Missouri, there were not that many Asians in Grace Lee’s community. Her name was a unique identity and existence.

As she moved to big cities like New York and Los Angeles, she found out that her name was also shared by many other women. The name, however, was associated with the idea of ‘niceness’ often assigned to Asian women.

Attempting to break the passive stereotypical Asian female image, Lee set out to look for other Grace Lees who do not fit into this racial and gendered expectation.

What does a name mean? Through her documentary journey, Lee intends to find answers through seeking unexpected Asian female characteristics within expectedness. She thus emphasizes the individuality and humanity of subjects who share the same name with her.

A Place in the Middle (2014)

a place in the middle
PHOTO CRED: A Place in the Middle image via PBS Learning Media.

Young Hawaiian girl Ho’onani aspires to lead the hula troupe at her school. The troupe, however, is boys only…

This is a true story; it is a film that talks about the power of dream and explores the boundary between different gender identities. The film is also educational; it discusses the values of diversity and inclusion and cultural heritage issues of Pacific Islanders.

In Hawaiian, kāne means “male” and wahine means “female.” Some people, however, are just simply not one or the other. Those who are ‘in the middle’ between male and female are called māhū. Ho’onani doesn’t see herself in a particular gender.

Kuma Hina (Ho’onani’s teacher) understands the traditional Hawaiian embrace of both male and female spirit. She respects Ho’onani’s self-definition of her identity and puts her in a special space in the group.

As an entity, they prove what matters most is what’s in your heart and practice the true meaning of aloha, which is love, honor, and respect for all.

“The importance of community, dance, and fluid gender expression in native Hawaiian history make this documentary a thought-provoking exploration of postcolonial multiculturalism.” 

Mariah Bohanon, Insight into Diversity

AAPI films have importance beyond our comprehension

The AAPI community has endured profound hardships throughout history. Their struggles are not only systemic racism, but also rigid stereotypical boxes that society has placed them in.

Films that explore the nuances of life as a member of the AAPI are essential. It is a bridge to understand more about cultures that are foreign to many people.

Last year, the Black Lives Matter Movement initiated waves of fights for equity and racial justice and fights against police brutality. Early this year, the #StopAsianHate rally took the spotlight and joined the forces of proclaiming equal social standing for Asians.

Asian people, the model minority that has always been rendered as quiet, harmless, invisible, have now decided to show the world their voices. And these films show the diverse and robust humanity present in AAPI people everywhere.

Industry leaders getting diversity and representation right in 2021

2020 was catastrophic. The coronavirus was one thing, but the consequences the disease has since caused are even more profound. Still, if one saving grace is to be found, it is that conversations surrounding racism, representation, and diversity are now more common in 2021 amongst industry leaders than ever before.

However, the easy part is opening up conversations. The hard part is directing these conversations into actions. And it is essential for companies and industry leaders to be the ones spearheading efforts surrounding equity and equal representation.

“Diversity is especially important for a global company working across cultures, geography, races, and markets.”

Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation.

Industry leaders who are focusing on representation in 2021

2021 is a year of change, starting with a new president. There is still a long way to go to mend the wrongs that were previously done.

American society, nonetheless, is doing its best to reclaim its balance and normalcy. Industry leaders and social activists, influencers, and more are working together to generate changes in representation in 2021.

Companies and organizations embed the ideas of diversity, equity, and inclusion within their systems. They intend to establish working environments that provide fair opportunities for minorities and people of colors.

Let’s take a look at the actions some representative figures in different industries take.

Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft

As the CEO of Microsoft, Nadella is an expert with great insight and intelligence. He is also a leader with great compassion and emotionality. He is aware of the ongoing racial and cultural conflicts in society and the lack of diversity in workplaces.

Last year, in the wake of protests related to police killings of Black people, Nadella sent out an email to all Microsoft employees addressing racial injustice. Microsoft’s commitments are to improve the situation and increase racial diversity of the company’s management structure.

The goal is to double the number of “Black and African American managers, senior individual contributors, and senior leaders in the U.S by 2025.”

“The company released a five-year plan that details how the company plans to combat racial injustice and inequality for the Black and African American community. And how it addresses the needs of other underrepresented groups, including the Hispanic and Latinx communities.”       

Sarah K. White for CIO.

Teresa Carlson, Vice President for Amazon Web Services

The technology industry is notoriously known for its prejudice and discrimination against women.

The landscape of the tech industry is still stagnant, despite social conversations about expanding gender diversity in technology. Women are still underpaid, underrepresented, and underestimated.

“The Challenge of fully representing – let alone empowering – women in technology have taken much longer. According to 2019 data from (NCWIT), though 57% of all employed adults in the U.S were women, they held just 26% of computing roles.”                         

Teresa Carlson, Fortune.

To build a diverse and equal tech future, Carlson believes that the industry must include every color, gender, belief, origin, and community.

Together with Amazon Web Services, Carlson has been “purposeful in working toward the creation of a business that reflects the diversity of its customers.”

Examples are working through recruitment from women’s colleges and organizations, and support for women-focused affinity groups with global chapters, etc.

Carlson is an advocate for representation and ownership of one’s skill and learning. Partnerships and education, in this case, are crucial to realizing this expectation.

AWS’s collaboration with Louisiana Community and Technical College System (LCTCS) in 2020, for instance, empowered underrepresented students and provided them with a skill-based program that will “position students for well-paying, in-demand jobs.”

Women were given amazing representations in this program since the LCTCS campuses are highly diverse. While Black, Indigenous, and people of color take up 63 percent of the student body, women represent over 50 percent. And this was only the beginning for building a better pipeline and creating a better working environment for women in tech.

Anna Goodson, Founder of Anna Goodson Illustration Industry

A female-powered agency. An illustration agency whose goals are to capture cultural diversity and define decisive cultural moments. Anna Goodson Agency is a platform that gathers hidden gems (artists) from different backgrounds.

Cultural diversity matters. Representation matters.

President and Founder Anna Goodson has been devoted to building an inclusive, culturally diverse family that helps people find their own voices since 1996.

In light of the Black Lives Matter movement, the agency has also increased its inclusion of Black illustrators/artists and asked them to translate hidden stories and cultural roots of their communities into visual representations.

Black artists and illustrators have been protesting in the movement to render their visibility in both real life and on social media.

Judith Rudd, a digital illustrator and motion graphics artist, as Anna Goodson notes, “has developed a personal illustration style based on Black glamour that’s shaped by her experiences as a Black woman and her engagement with the high fashion aesthetics of ‘Ball’ culture.”

In Rudd’s images, there are stories and there are also historical depictions of Blackness. Her tone is authentic because she draws inspiration from her personal experiences and cultural background.

This echoes Goodson’s comment, “Authentic representation and true diversity mean hiring illustrators from appropriate backgrounds.”

industry leaders representation 2021
PHOTO CRED: Judith Judd.

Besides Rudd, there are also artists like My Tien Pham, Nien-Ken Alec Lu, and Jiyeun Kang, who are not afraid to call for changes and deconstruct racial stereotypes through their arts. It is “the quietly transformative power of inclusion and radical softness,” as Goodson describes.

Rihanna, Founder of Fenty Beauty

I don’t own any products from Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty, but I have heard primarily positive comments on the brand from people I know. The brand is still young, but it has already acquired a great number of loyal consumers.

How did Fenty Beauty become so popular and successful in such a short period of time? The brand’s broad inclusivity across skin tones and gender is the reason.

When Fenty first came out in the market, it already had 40 different shades of foundation – much more than most makeup brands in the market. As the brand continues growing throughout time, its collection of foundation shades has also expanded to 50.

Fenty is able to reach its consumers and fulfill their demands for shades ranging from the lightest to the darkest. Consumers love Fenty because it is a brand that thinks about consumers’ problems.

“It was the first time underrepresented, underserved women and cultures were features in a global prestige beauty campaign.”

Sandy Saputo, chief marketing officer at Kendo Brands.
industry leaders representation 2021
Fenty Beauty 50 Shades of Foundation Campaign. PHOTO CRED: Fenty Beauty.

The availability of distinct foundation shades passes on Rihanna’s message to increase inclusivity of diverse skin tones and visibility of different cultures in society. The campaign also shares Rihanna’s vision of “Beauty for All.”

In 2021, besides the concept of diversity, inclusivity, and representation, Rihanna also includes considerations for different skin tone, sizes, age, and gender in her beauty brand.

Tommy Hilfiger, Founder of Tommy Hilfiger

The American fashion brand, Tommy Hilfiger, has also joined the force of championing inclusion and representation in 2021. The brand has announced its key partnerships with its People’s Place Program “to celebrate Black, Indigenous and People of color in fashion to advance underrepresented communities.”

“The People’s Place Program is a cornerstone in our efforts to open the door to everyone who has been left out by fashion. This welcoming spirit has always been at the heart of our brand, and we are here to do more and to do better.”

Tommy Hilfiger, principal designer at TH Global.

Besides the People’s Place Program, the company also collaborates with Harlem’s Fashion Row and The Fashion and Race Database.

The Fashion and Race Database is an educational platform built to bring attention to people who “previously had been hidden in the margins of fashion history.”

In February this year, Black musician and producer Saba and Compton Cowboys took over the brand’s social media channel and visualized important moments in Black American history.

Coming up this summer, Hilfiger will launch collaborations with Indya Moore (actor, model, activist) and Romeo Hunte (fashion designer).

Indya Moore for Elle
Indya Moore with ELLE. PHOTO CRED: Zoey Grossman.

Looking forward to more industry leaders focusing on representation in 2021

The work is not yet done, we still have a long way to go. While we are watching leaders and influencers promoting diversity and representation in society in 2021, we can do something too.

Starting from events around us, small change will then make a big difference.