While growing up in the American public school system, I learned certain things about Asian identity. First: that it was collapsible; other people neither knew nor cared about the distinctions between nationalities or ethnicities. Second: that the history of the region was defined solely through American colonialism or war, or otherwise as narratives condensed into a sidebar in a textbook.
But as I grew older, I began to engage with Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) history in a way that I’d never been taught. Part of this included learning about the Asian American Movement that began in the 1960s. Another part of this was thinking critically about AAPI identity in dialogue with colorism, anti-blackness, and holdover cultural conservativeness.
And yet another part was learning that AAPI heritage was already being examined in America, and celebrated during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. I’d never grown up knowing that May was anything special for AAPI communities; it simply wasn’t taught or shared, part of a larger erasure of AAPI identity. So in celebration of APA Heritage Month, I’ve asked eight AAPI creatives to share their work, their perceptions of representation and visibility, and how their respective creative fields can improve in both regards. After all, the first step to understanding your place in the world is to see others like you, already in it.
Soleil Ho, 29, Vietnamese American, she/her, chef, podcaster, and writer:
“Representation is validation. Seeing yourself and your experiences reflected in culture is incredibly affirming, because then you know you’re not alone: someone else has seen what you’ve seen, has felt what you’ve felt.”