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What Does It Mean to Be AAPI? 12 Young People Reflect on Their Identities

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Source: Teen Vogue 

Orginial Link: What Does It Mean to Be AAPI? 12 Young People Reflect on Their Identities | Teen Vogue

What Does It Mean to Be AAPI? 12 Young People Reflect on Their Identities
Amid historic levels of anti-Asian violence, it’s crucial this Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month to not just rally against racism, but to uplift stories of joy that showcase the fullness of the AAPI experience. This May, Teen Vogue is shining a light on that full spectrum, from history you’re not taught in school to cultural contributions we’d all be worse without.
MAY 19, 2021
A selection of Polaroids of AAPI youth in Los Angeles taken for a Teen Vogue project
Identities are fluid. There are some we’re born with but many are contextual, changing shape depending on whether we’re with our peers or relatives, our own community or another, at school or in another country. Some are imposed on us by others.
“Asian American” is one of those impossibly complex, fluctuating terms. It’s used to define some 23 million people living in the United States — 7% of the total population — whose families have roots in countries ranging from the Philippines to India to North Korea. The umbrella term is meant to encompass recent immigrants and people whose families have lived in the U.S. for generations, not to mention people with incredibly varied cultures, histories, languages, and religions.
For Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, Teen Vogue sent a photojournalist to Los Angeles, home to one of the largest Asian populations in the country, to talk to young AAPI people about what their Asian American identity means to them.
We heard from high school and university students, political volunteers, health-care workers, and social justice organizers. At their homes and workplaces, they shared stories about their families’ histories, grappling with internalized racism, the heartbreak of the past year of rampant anti-Asian violence, and their overwhelming pride in who they are.
As Joyce Seoyoung Jang, a psychology student and co-president of USC’s Student Coalition for Asian Pacific Empowerment, told Teen Vogue, “In knowing that I could choose to define myself through celebration and not oppression, I fell in love with being Asian. [...] In shifting my view, I stopped seeing my ethnicity as a burden and saw it as a treasure. I saw it as liberation.”
Photojournalist Jonathan Frydman’s work involves having his subjects share their own words, in their own handwriting, on top of their portraits. A selection of those images is below.
Hao Qing Lu Xia, USC student, 21: “Being Asian and immigrating from a non-Asian country has given me a uniquely fluid sense of identity. I’m grateful for this as I feel I can belong anywhere and connect with anyone.”

Myla Taylor, 22: “Being in a small Southern town, I grew up wanting to fit in and hated being seen as an outsider. But when I got to L.A., [I realized] the things that made me unique are what I love about myself.”

Joyce Lam, Kaimore Group, 26: “So much of my identity has been shaped by my parents’ sacrifice to immigrate to this country, and I want to pay it forward by building better opportunities for this community.”

Mia Nham, program coordinator for health access at Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles, 23: “The darkness of the last year and the attack in Georgia has unified us Asian women to stand up and protect each other beyond this temporary moment. That is the light I found in this dark time.” 

Richelle Caday, USC student, coordinator of the Asian Pacific American Student Assembly, founder of the Southeast Asian Student Coalition, 22: “As a low-income, first-generation woman of color at a predominantly white institution, there were many times when I felt out of place amidst the greater student body. Luckily, I was able to find various communities and pockets of campus where I felt at home, especially within the AAPI community.”

Tally Phuong Ho, public health master’s student at California State University Fullerton, 25: “I’m proud to be an Asian American, and I’m glad that I could come here to achieve the ‘American Dream,’ but I hope future generations don’t have to go through what I went through.”

Melissa Tungare, 21: “Being a singer and [an] actor, as a brown nonbinary person, is a revolutionary act. So is being an activist. I do both to survive.”

Brian M. Kim, 21, student at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts: “Back home, I’m a proud Korean. In the U.S., I simply became an ‘Asian.’ But how can you possibly categorize people from tens of different countries and backgrounds into one simple word without losing the essence of who they are?” 

Joyce Seoyoung Jang, USC student, co-president of the Student Coalition for Asian Pacific Empowerment, 21: “I define my community as much as it defines me. I can’t say that the Korean community doesn’t have queer folks because in seeing myself there, I know that isn’t true. I am there, and so are others.” 

Elizabeth Yin, University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, 21

Alissa Thanh-Thao Nguyen, 22: “Growing up, it was also difficult seeing beauty standards [favor] white features and thinking that because I was Asian, I would never be beautiful. I wanted so badly to be white so I could be pretty with big blue eyes and blonde hair. It took a lot of unlearning to find beauty in myself.”

Sarah Kageyama, Palisades Charter High School student and member of Congressman Ted Lieu’s Youth Advisory Council, 18: “I think that a lot of people have begun to lose hope in a better future. But I don’t think we can afford to. Hope it what drives us to push for change.”


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