Greg Pak, creator of Korean-American Hulk, talks new series Kingsway West

When asked what draws him to a given story or work, Marvel and DC comic writer Greg Pak quickly dismisses the merit ascribed to a work by a “Best Of” list. “People come out with lists of the ‘Greatest Films Ever Made’ and all that,” he muses, “and I think that’s just entirely subjective. A film that may be just a film to somebody else may be the formative film of your life.”

4515888-3478422914-greg_pFor Pak, those works included classic black and white films (he loved the “aesthetic”), Westerns, and outdoor adventure stories (he was Boy Scout). Pak is also especially drawn to work that reflected his experiences, or at least had similarities to them. “I paid a lot of attention whenever I was able to see non-stereotypical depictions or multi-dimensional depictions of Asian people.”

Pak’s latest and entirely creator-owned work, Kingsway West, serves a testament to this notion. The comic, released August 24, 2016, follows the narrative of a Chinese gunslinger as he treks throughout a magical Old West to find his wife. Pak uses his prowess for fantasy storytelling to give fantastical dimension to the world where Kingsway West takes place. Combining fantasy elements–particularly, the presence of a substance called “red gold” in the world of Kingsway West–with the largely looked-over history of Chinese people in the Old West allows Pak “to not worry to be beholden to actual American history… Instead, I can actually create a new anthology which plays with all the same themes that I was gonna play with before.”

Kingsway West goes back in time in more ways than one: Pak conceptualized the story over 20 years ago. “It’s a story that made a lot of sense to me because I’m an Asian-American kid who grew up in Texas. I loved Westerns, and [when] I learned about the actual history of Chinese and the Old West… my head exploded.”

So why now, and not 20 years ago? “I wanted to make Kingsway West as a feature film way back when, and that didn’t happen–one, because it’s a Western, and two, because it’s a story with Chinese and Mexican leads. At that time, I think it was hard [for] financiers to get it.”

“When I was growing up, I had that Margaret Cho experience,” he continues, “Where you’d be like, ‘Asian person on TV!’ It’d be such a shocking, unusual thing. It was a big deal. And usually, it was some embarrassing racist stereotype.”

But even though there’s still much progress to be made, Pak notes that times have undoubtedly changed. “You’re starting to see it happen all over the place… Fresh Off the Boat and all those shows that have gotten green-lit recently is due to really, really hard work by really, really dedicated writers and producers. But it’s also [because] we’re getting closer to the point where it’s a no-brainer… the business people will realize that there’s money to be made by making stories with people of color as leads.”

Pak also notes that the comic industry is extremely different from the film industry because comics are “willing to take more risks.” Pak remarks, “I’ve literally never had anybody ask me if I could change the ethnicity of characters in stories I’ve pitched in the comics world.” This shows in Pak’s creation of the Korean-American character, Amadeus Cho, who recently inherited Bruce Banner’s powers to become the Totally Awesome Hulk. “At no stage during the entire process [of the creation of Amadeus] did anyone say, ‘Does he have to be Asian?’ [That] would have happened in the film industry at that time.”


While it’s easy to simply hope for the film industry to follow the comic industry’s lead in showcasing more diverse–and more reflective–stories, Pak urges aspiring creators to “devote yourself [to the story] that means the most in your heart. If you have a story and nobody else gets it, but you know that’s the story you have to tell, keep working on it until people can get it.”  

For more information about Kingsway West and how you can place an order, visit


Images via Greg Pak & Marvel



For mixathon48’s Operations Lead, Nhan Vu, it’s no secret that gaining success in the music industry is a tough code to crack. “You have to know the right people, equipment costs a lot of money, you need to be part of a record label… There’s a big gap between established artists and people who are just starting out.” So how can one bridge that gap between opportunity and talent in terms of music production? That’s where mixathon48 comes in.


Founded by Nicholas Yiu and Matt Hong, mixathon48’s core mission is to promote music technology education. Their main event is a hackathon-style “mixathon,” during which participants have 48 hours to fully produce a track from start to finish. “We judge the tracks based on a list of criteria,” Nhan, Operations Lead for mixathon48, explains, “and then from there, we choose the winners and the winners get prizes.”

But mixathon48’s significance lies in more than just its main event: its focus on music production makes the organization a rare presence in the discussion on arts accessibility. “There are a lot of free resources [for music production] out there, but they’re kind of all over the place,” Nhan says. Producing music is a largely self-taught endeavor, one that requires access to expensive tools that are not easy to learn.

What’s more is that many music educators do not reflect multicultural or underserved communities who seek to learn about music. This reproduces a double barrier for many API communities, for whom the arts have often been undermined or ignored. “[For] my family, we don’t really value the arts as a legitimate form of career,” Nhan explains. “I’ve always had a passion for music, but I was always too afraid to go after that because of that fact.” The arts have long been a hard sell in API communities—a fact which contributes to underrepresentation of Asians or Asian-Americans in mainstream media.

The fact, then, that mixathon48 was founded entirely by API community members challenges the problems of inaccessibility and underrepresentation. “Although we don’t specifically target API producers, I think just having our faces out there and people seeing that ‘Hey! These are API people leading this organization’, we’re doing our part—whether it’s directly or indirectly—to making the music industry more diverse.”

Of course, Nhan says that there’s definitely more representation of Asians and Asian-Pacific Islanders in music today than there was in the past. “These days, there are a lot more API musicians, producers, DJs, things like that, a lot more prevalent now,” he notes. “If I was younger, and I saw how a Vietnamese person was a DJ, I definitely [would give] that a shot. But I didn’t see that as a kid, and so growing up I didn’t really see that as a viable option… mixathon48 is about helping people realize [that, and] helping people grow as musicians and as producers.”

And it’s more than just representation within American or U.S.-based communities: mixathon48 has a vast, global reach. Within the past year, mixathon48 has grown rapidly, at an unprecedented pace. “It started off as a contest,” Nhan says. “We’ve been around for a little over a year now, and we’ve had three events… We didn’t really expect that kind of turnout that we’ve had. People from Europe, India, [and] Asia would apply and send in tracks… People from all different parts of the world coming together to make music.”


At the heart of it all, Nhan knows that music is a universal language—and the inherent inclusivity of music is a component that the organization wants to maintain. “We’re definitely trying to be more inclusive to the global community… How do we be more inclusive? A lot of the vocal stems we provided are all English. So moving forward, how do we be more inclusive of people in other countries?”

As a newly-registered non-profit organization, mixathon48 will continue to ask these kinds of questions to expand their impact beyond the mixathon event. “My vision, personally, [is to create] an online community for early stage music producers,” Nhan states. “We’re still trying to figure out how to do that.”

Undoubtedly, though, the organization will stay true to its core: the passion for how music makes people feel and the hard work required to create it.


Photos via Mixathon48 FacebookTwitter and mixathon48

We Call Her Yolanda: A Story of Recovery

When Typhoon Haiyan, otherwise known as Typhoon Yolanda, hit the Philippines in 2013, the media was quick to deem the Philippine population as “resilient,” applauding the ability of the Filipino people to persevere in the face of one of the worst natural disasters ever recorded.

But shortly after the Typhoon settled, stories of the storm slowly disappeared from major media outlets; it seemed that the Typhoon had subsided into just another Southeast Asian storm. The Philippines, however, continued to face the havoc wreaked by Yolanda. The storm was indeed massive, and the disaster in its trail was seemingly irreconcilable. Yet the media failed to answer the question: What does recovery look like?

Producer May Tam and director Anthony Bari, Jr. shooting in San Jose, Tacloban
Producer May Tam and director Anthony Bari, Jr. shooting in San Jose, Tacloban

Anthony Bari, Jr., the director of We Call Her Yolanda, states that the documentary aims to answer just this. “The whole project is about recovery.” Bari clarifies, “This isn’t something [where] you can do a quick tuck and roll, and you’re back to living… It’s about growth.”

Of course, chronicling growth is a task that takes long-term commitment—and one that many, albeit with good intentions, fail to make. In contrast, the We Call Her Yolanda team has been back to Tacloban a total of four times and over these trips, the team became close to the people featured in the documentary—a family expecting a child, a fisherman, and several others. Anthony and his team were assisted by Alex Trinidad, a Filipino-American U.S. army veteran based in Manilla, whom Bari and Trinidad met during a relief operation in November 2013 where Trinidad helped guide and interpret for volunteers. 

Alex Trinidad playing ukulele on the shores of San Jose.
Alex Trinidad playing ukulele on the shores of San Jose.

Logistically speaking, setting up the interviews was difficult. Many of the people in the film had no cell phones, and so meeting up operated on “an honor system,” Bari calls it. “It was like, ‘Okay, meet me by this tent or tree at about 3 o’clock your time.’”

And earning the trust of these individuals was also no easy feat. “Foreigners come in and they take some pictures and leave. We’re trying to do the exact opposite,” Bari says. “We’re trying to be part of it. We’re not trying to take what we got and run away.” In the beginning, “A camera was not even an option. It’s the worst thing, if you ask me, if you just go and shove a camera in someone’s face who’s been through a lot of stuff and lost members of their family, their household, their livelihood, their everything.”

Children light candles on the one year anniversary of the Typhoon, in honor of the Typhoon victims.
Children light candles on the one year anniversary of the Typhoon, in honor of the Typhoon victims.

It is this commitment to interpersonal relationships that We Call Her Yolanda is founded on, a commitment that births an ingenuity from the subjects of the documentary. The film, Bari clarifies, is meant to serve not as a filtered nor nitpicked narrative, but instead, as a platform for these individuals’ stories, and aims to keep the integrity of these stories intact. “A lot of people think that it’s a normal, everyday thing—they never realize how big [the Typhoon was] because they’re watching it from their living room or on Facebook. It’s very disconnected the way you find out about these disasters.”

With this in mind, Bari states that the perspective is “not from the foreigner, but from the person on the ground.” The name of the film is derived from this notion as well. Bari points out that media outlets, specifically in the United States, call the storm “Typhoon Haiyan.” But in the Philippines, survivors call it “Yolanda.”

To this day—nearly three years after the Typhoon and miles away from Tacloban—Bari and the rest of the We Call Her Yolanda are still in close contact with the families and individuals they met in the Philippines.  When asked what comes after the film, Bari expresses that he wants to return back to Tacloban. He speaks of the fisherman who was interviewed for the film. “He needs a deep sea fishing boat,” Bari remembers. “If enough people pay attention to this project, we can go back there and actually buy the boat with him.”

Jaffery the fisherman and Anthony Bari, Jr., shooting on the sea.

Learn more about the film at


Images and video courtesy of We Call Her Yolanda

Thoughts on “The Forest” and Mental Health

On January 8, 2016, U.S. theaters premiered The Forest, a horror movie about the Aokigahara forest in Japan. Also known as the “Suicide forest” or “Sea of Trees,” the forest is well known worldwide as a place where many go to commit suicide. The film, which stars Game of Thrones actress Natalie Dormer, fared moderately well, making $22.4 million as of January 17 against a budget $10 million.

This isn’t the first horror film that has been made with mental health or suicide as a central through line. Films like Shutter Island and Sucker Punch have made topics like manic depression and schizophrenia attractive plot points for horror, thriller and action movies.

Nor is it the first movie or media representation about the Aokigahara forest, which has been portrayed in numerous films, video games, and novels. Throughout many of these representations, the forest is depicted as alluringly mysterious, almost mythic, due to the suicides that take place in it.

But let’s get something straight: we don’t need another horror movie that exploits suicide as a convenient storyline and uses a very real epidemic as a mere tool for plot advancement.

The Forest’s use of the Aokigahara forest as the phantasmal backdrop to a Western horror film perpetuates the stigma against mental health specifically as it relates to Japanese and to Asian and Asian American communities as a whole. It fictionalizes and horrifically glorifies an epidemic that Japan has struggled to address and Japanese people face daily.

What’s more is that The Forest is steeped in Orientalism, thereby not only exploiting but silencing the suicide epidemic in Japan. The premise of the film is presented through the lens of a white woman who, despite being warned by the Japanese characters in the film, ventures into the forest to save her suicidal sister. In this way, the film relies on the silencing of the Japanese characters so that the white woman’s view of the forest is shaped by her own ignorant perceptions of  “foreign” terrain, effectively “Other-ing” the forest and Japanese people.

So, in sum, The Forest not only eroticizes the Aokigahara and the things in it, but it also fails to recognizeand, quite frankly, blatantly ignoreswhy the forest exists.

Mental health is a taboo topic in many Asian communities that is often shamed into silence. If The Forest is not going to talk about mental health in a meaningful or respectful way, here are some facts to provide context behind the mental health and suicide epidemic in Japan:

  • Suicide has long been “glorified” in Japanese history, but Japan is desperately trying to combat this stigma. Called seppuku, suicide has historically been viewed in Japan as an honorable way of taking responsibility rather than as a selfish act. The Japanese government has committed itself to undoing this view and drastically reducing the suicide rateand it is effectively doing so, with suicides hitting an all-time low in the past 18 years. However, Japan still claims more suicides than any other developed country in the world.
  • Mental health problems are impacting the country so heavily that businesses are being obliged to check the mental health of their workers regularly. As a potential solution to an increase in stress and mental health disorders nationwide, Japanese workers will be required to take a test once a year, with questions about their stress levels and workloads. Furthermore, employers will not be allowed to fire or punish workers who indicate high stress levels on this test. Rather, they will be required to reduce workers’ stress through decreased hours and an improved work environment.
  • Mental health is affecting Japanese youth as well, as evidenced by Japanese “invisible youth,” a group of teenagers called the “hikikomori” who refuse to come out of their bedrooms. Most “hikikomori,” which means “withdrawn” in Japanese, are male teenagers who are burdened by societal and parental expectations to succeed. Speaking to this weight of expectations is the fact that more Japanese teens commit suicide on September 1before the first day of school in Japanthan on any other day of the year.
  • The cultural stigma against mental health also heavily impacts Asian Americans, who are less likely to seek help when it comes to mental health. For example, Asian stereotypes, such as the notion that all Asians do well in school, can perpetuate the mental health stigma and the view of Asians as the “model minority,” thereby adversely affecting Asian Americans’ perceptions of mental health.

The Forest turns the lived experiences of others into fabled non-issues. Many audiences are already calling boycotters of the film “crybabies” or “too sensitive,” as shown in the dissenting comments on Love Life of An Asian Guy’s heated post about the movie.

But if what sells is the blindly contemptuous portrayal of a serious and fatal problem, it’s time to reassess our behavior and valuesnot only as moviegoers or media consumers, but as empathetic humans.


Nicole Arca’s Top 5 Moments of 2015

Nicole Arca is a writer for the Kollab Blog and current 4th year media and communications student at UC Berkeley. Originally from West Covina (in the heart of the SGV/626), Nicole has a passion for Asian American issues and a pen that spits hot fire. Check out her list of her top 5 moments in Asian America!

From institutional recognition to representation on broadcast TV, 2015 was a pretty important year for Asian Americans. But I’m hoping that my favorite FilAm artists (featured in this list) will hit the airwaves or the silver screen in 2016!


24th FPAC (Festival of Philippine Arts and Culture) at El Pueblo – At the 24th FPAC in November, tons of FilAm artists, like Odessa Kane,Karen JoyceManila Rice slayed the stage or showcased dope art. Traktivist was there spinning some beats as well! Overall, FPAC was just a really good time.


Vincent Rodriguez III in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend -Filipino American actors taking a leading role on national TV? What a time to be alive.


First School In the Nation to be Named After Filipino Heroes – A school in Union City was the first to be named after Filipino-Americans – a momentous moment for representation and institutional recognition of FilAms everywhere.


Master of None – Aziz Ansari touches on some pretty important subjects in a palatable way that makes this show super easy to binge watch.


Bambu’s The Comrade Sessions EP – Announced stealthily in the music video for his song “Comrades” (off his album Party Worker), this EP is required listening.


Dear Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: Thank You from a West Covina Filipina

Dear creators, actors, and producers of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,

First off, as a West Covina native, I want to thank you for putting West Covina on the map. Thanks for showing that Southern California isn’t one blob of beach glamour but rather, it’s made of a ton of diverse suburbs that many Southern Californians call home. Sure, West Covina is a boring town that took me 18 years to get out of, but it’s also lovable — which Crazy Ex definitely portrays.

Last Monday night, you aired your 6th episode “My First Thanksgiving with Josh!” in which Rebecca Bunch spends Thanksgiving with her ex-boyfriend Josh Chan’s family — and they happen to be Filipino.

You should be proud of yourselves. This has been called a “landmark moment for Filipinos on American TV” and it’s probably the first time a lot of Filipinos have been on an American TV show all at once. The CW is also changing the game with its other programs —  – more specifically, Jane the Virgin, for which actress Gina Rodriguez has won a Golden Globe for Best Actress (the first Golden Globe ever won for the network). In an industry where people of color seem to be deprived of screen time, y’all are doing something right.

I want to take the time to show you exactly what you did right, whether you meant to or not. As if seeing my hometown on broadcast television didn’t give me enough feels, seeing Filipinos —- people who look like me and my family — made me straight up sentimental.

A Filipino Thanksgiving on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend – Source: Fusion/The CW

So, while the warm fuzzies and butterflies last, I want to thank you for:

Recognizing us as “Asian”… You show that we also go through the pressure of the model minority myth, and that this myth is destructive. Josh just wants to work at a chill electronics store, but his dad wants him to work in a hospital. Instead of presenting the model minority as being entirely constitutive of Josh’s personality, you show how he struggles against it  a struggle that resonates with many Asian Americans, including Filipino Americans.

…but also specifying us as “Filipino.” But you also got some Filipino-specific details: the fact that many of us are Catholic by way of the Spanish, our cuisine (bless Rebecca and her diniguan-related troubles), and the workings of a Filipino party. You also showed that we come from everywhere. When Josh lists the cities his family members are coming from, you cleverly mention cities with large Filipino populations — Stockton, Temecula, Glendale, just to name a few.

Showing how important family is to Filipinos. When you represent Filipinos on screen and you want to do it accurately, you better make sure to show how important family is to us. You not only did that, but you also made family the center of the entire “My First Thanksgiving with Josh!” episode and a constant site of struggle for Rebecca throughout the series. Rebecca is right to ask, “Would I like to be surrounded by the unconditional love of 100 Filipinos?” Of course she would. Filipino families are big and they show some big love, too.

For simply putting us on the screen. .Before Crazy Ex, it was hard to recall seeing a Filipino who wasn’t Manny Pacquiao anywhere on American television. Filipinos are the second largest Asian American population in Los Angeles, but we are practically invisible when it comes to television or film  only 6% of main characters on TV are Asian. You’ve made a dent in that percentage with Josh Chan, which is a big deal.

Vincent Rodriguez III as Josh Chan – Source: The CW

Of course, the show — no matter how awesomely campy — is not without its faults. Allow me to make some suggestions:

  • Don’t cross the line with the stereotypes. They were funny, but you tend to go wild with them… which could be a hit or miss. I get that you were poking fun at Rebecca by satirizing her through the age-old trope of the “Mighty Whitey,” but we’re still really underrepresented, so the few representations that do exist will likely shape the perceptions that others have of us. Any variation of us as “The Other” is a bit sketch.
  • Be careful with the representations of other folks of color on the screen, specifically the Latina characters. Valencia is hypersexualized; Mrs. Hernandez doesn’t talk (Please clarify this in future episodes). Also, West Covina’s population is 45.73% Latino —- clearly not reflected in your show.
  • Bring back the boba guys from the Cup of Boba hut. Because they were hilarious. And the 626 loves its boba.
Vincent Rodriguez III as Josh and Rachel Bloom as Rebecca having boba – Photo: Greg Gayne/The CW

Much love and power to you,



Featured image courtesy of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend/CW

Representing the Movement: Fong Tran on the Power of Presence and Passion

With over 200,000 views on YouTube, thousands of subscribers and more than 500 reblogs on a single poem, spoken word poet Fong Tran speaks to quite the extensive audience who want to hear what he has to say.

And he has a lot to say. Earlier this year, Fong’s poem “Don’t Be An Activist” circulated all over social media, revealing the hard truth behind activism and the call for compassion in community organizing. Prior to that, “Dear Young Man of Color,” his piece about the struggles of being a man of color in America, prompted powerful discussions across the Internet. Fong also delivers the truth beyond social media, securing performances across the United States from Wisconsin to the Bay.

But there’s more to Fong’s activism than his ability to drop the mic. With a Bachelor’s degree in Social Welfare from UC Berkeley and a Masters in Community Development from UC Davis, Fong has committed himself to activism as an educator and continues to represent his values of social justice and intersectionality through his work.

Kollaboration had the chance to speak with Fong about his roots as an activist and how he pursues his passions today – right on the UC Berkeley campus where it all began.

Nicole Arca & Fong Tran – from

Tell us a bit about yourself – where are you from and how does that influence your work?

I grew up in South Sacramento. My mother fled from Vietnam and raised five of us – I have three older siblings and one baby sister. In that context of being in a big family, being raised under welfare, food stamps, not having a father in my life… that informs what I do in terms of activism in my poetry. So I was lucky enough to be the first in my family to go to college and even luckier to go to Berkeley…I had the mentality that I just slipped into the thing – the “imposter-syndrome.” My philosophy of always giving back and helping others – people in Richmond and Sacramento – to go [back to] college was instilled in me. I wanted to help others overcome the barriers I went through.

How did you get into poetry?

I studied abroad in Vietnam for about six months, traveling all over Southeast Asia. The day I came back, President Obama was inaugurated…. the world [was] different. And I came back with the mentality: “I wanna try new things.” That’s when I was like, “Ima try poetry.”

In the beginning, I always thought of and saw myself as a bad writer. And so I internalized that. But what ended up happening was in the process of writing, and getting a little bit better each week, I started really enjoying it for what it was, which is really doing the art and writing for you versus writing for somebody else.

The poem that changed everything was when we got the prompt of writing something traumatic in our life… I decided to talk about what it was like to not grow up with a father and being raised by a single mother, and it was one of the very first times that I had been public about that issue. In that poem, I just kind of let it all out – and the revelation was not making this just about pain and oppression but also about strength, resilience, and triumph.

When I performed it, I started shaking, trembling and stuttering and I think the crowd kinda knew that the words were very personal to me. [At the end of the poem]… practically everybody was crying. And that was the moment where it was like, “I get something out of this and I think the audience can get something out of my piece [too]”

How else did you further your activism?

I worked at a non-profit in Sacramento called Asian Resources, an all-around social services organization. I mainly focused on job development for young people as well as higher education: helping young people get internships and jobs, as well as getting them to sign up for community college classes.

Why do you think the arts are important in the API community – especially when they aren’t seen as valuable?

I think the conservative thinking that most API parents may have is informed [by] trauma and oppression and larger institutions of poverty. So, when your folks are coming from a place of “I need to survive,” they’re gonna want the same thing for their kids: “I want you to survive and thrive.” And in their eyes, thriving is high income, high status positions like being a doctor or being a lawyer.

I think it’s vital for Asian Americans to engage in art because on the surface level, we need to diversify the archetypes of what Asians can be and what we see in media and what we see in society. I also believe that stories, essentially, [its] one of the most vital things in our community. It’s a political act to tell stories, to reclaim history. If we’re not telling [your] history, then someone else is telling it for [you].


You ended the poem “Don’t Be an Activist” with a call for compassion. How do you think people can show compassion through activism in whatever they do?

I think [in a lot of activists spaces], there’s a “call-out” culture. I really think that’s unproductive. I mean, there’s a space [for that], but otherwise, I always take the approach that somebody may not be quite sharp about a certain issue[s] or particular community – so I really want to work with them to create empathy around this issue or this topic. Compassion is systemic and essential to activism. It’s wanting equity because we don’t currently see equity that meets people’s needs.

A lot of people are on the defense when it comes to these conversations, about race and identity and gender and sexuality and social justice, but you have to approach it from an open-mind standpoint – even if I’m an advisor, I’m still learning from my students, and I can never approach it like, “I know more than them.” I may have more experience in certain arenas and that’s valuable to them and I can gift that to them, but they are teaching me just as much as I am trying to teach them.

How would you communicate the need for social justice to spaces that do not believe in its necessity?

The best form of social justice is to always represent it. I think that’s the most sustainable and most impactful [way] in my life – to represent the values that you want people to follow and emulate. That within itself is difficult sometimes – to be resilient, especially within your families, to come home and bring these conversations to them – which feels like leaps and bounds sometimes.

Who are your activist role models?

I think I thrive much more in group settings, so I can’t really pinpoint individuals who model how I work. I think it’s being in spaces – Key Club, REACH! (Asian Pacific Islander Retention and Recruitment Center), SASC (Southeast Asian Student Coalition).

My students are always gonna be the biggest form of mentors for me. Tupac has this quote: “I’m not saying I’m gonna change the world, but I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will change the world.” I might not change the world myself, but I know I’m gonna help develop the young people that will. If that could be my form of activism or my legacy, then I’m good.

If you could give advice to a younger version of yourself, what would it be?

Generally, I don’t think from a regret model – I really believe that everything happens for a reason. I wouldn’t be who I am if it wasn’t for the events that took place. But ultimately, something that all young people don’t get enough of is love and affirmation. I would probably just tell my young self, “Hey, do what you’re doing, do it hard, be confident, be un-wavered, be relentless at learning.”

Learn more about Fong and his work at his website


5 Reasons Why Disney’s Casting of Moana is a Big Deal

Last Wednesday, Disney released a video about its upcoming film Moana. Along with the video, Disney also announced who was cast as the lead character in the film.

And guess what? Moana is a Native Hawaiian princess… who will be played by an actual Native Hawaiian girl, 14-year old Auli’i Cravalho.

While the decision is hardly innovative (letting people of color play people of color? How revolutionary!), it’s a big deal. Given the underrepresentation as well as the misrepresentation of people of color, Disney’s latest move is an important milestone in not only the company’s history, but also in that of film and TV.

Here are five simple reasons why casting decisions like Disney’s Moana are much needed:

1. Recurring media representations of any given group of people over time will affect the way we perceive those people.

Photo by: Bob D'Amico/ABC
Sandra Oh as Yang on Grey’s Anatomy – Photo by: Bob D’Amico/ABC

For example, according to shows like Baywatch or even Spongebob Squarepants, we may believe that lifeguards have the luxurious task of strutting around all day, basking in the sun while folks swoon over them. In reality, lifeguards sit in a chair 4-5 hours a day until disaster strikes. Luxurious? Probably not.

A more serious example is the common stereotyping of Asians in the media – see O-Ren Ishii in Kill Bill as the Dragon Lady and Christina Yang in Grey’s Anatomy as the model minority.  

2. Withholding the right to self-representation has historically been a form of oppression in the media, especially for people of color.

Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany's
Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Case and point: the long history of yellow face in Hollywood. Asian actors were actually restricted from playing major roles even if the character was of Asian descent in order to secure jobs for white actors.

Although there are certainly fewer instances of this intentional oppression today, we’re still tackling the acceptability of white actors playing people of color. When non-white cultural narratives are already so hard to come by, these opportunities that do exist shouldn’t be denied to actors and actresses of color.

That being said: thank you, Disney, for recognizing this truth by conducting an open casting call to find the next Moana.

3. Disney princesses are role models for many young girls – and not every girl looks like Snow White.

Disney Princesses at the coronation of Merida - photo by Candace Lindemann/Flickr
Disney Princesses at the coronation of Merida – photo by Candace Lindemann/Flickr

The Disney Princess effect suggests that many young girls model themselves and their actions after princesses they see in Disney movies. So what happens if a girl of color notices that barely any of the princesses look like her? She’ll likely aspire to look and become more like her role model – who will most likely be white.

The residual (and subconscious) effects of privileging whiteness in the media are dangerous. For example, they lead us to believe fair skin is more valuable than darker skin.

4. More stories need to be told.

Viola Davis at the Emmy's. Image source: Mic/AP
Viola Davis at the Emmy’s. Image source: Mic/AP

Remember Viola Davis’s epic Emmy speech from a few weeks ago? If not, let us refresh your memory: Davis said, “You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.” Davis’ words perfectly encapsulated the sentiments behind a conspicuous statistic: despite the diverse cultural demography of the United States, the majority of film directors, writers and actors in Hollywood are white and male.

A note to media makers and creators everywhere: Culture is complex. In order to be accurately portrayed, it needs to be represented by someone with the lived experience of being from that culture. The actress or actor thus will feel more accountable for the intentionality behind his or her character’s portrayal. Otherwise, the portrayal is susceptible to simplification – or stereotyping, which does nobody any good.

5. Because of the reasons above, it doesn’t matter if a character is animated or not – it’s still representation.

The cast of The Last Airbender - via knowyourmeme
The cast of The Last Airbender – via knowyourmeme

Looking at you, M. Night Shyamalan. When accused of whitewashing in his film The Last Airbender, Shyamalan defended himself by saying, “The great thing about anime is that it’s ambiguous.” Never mind the fact that, as per Shyamalan’s casting choices, Dev Patel plays the film’s villain Zuko and just so happens to be the only brown person in the entire film.

But that doesn’t mean that narratives of people of color should be exploited through faulty representation. Disney has been so guilty of this (see Pocahantas, Mulan, Aladdin and The Princess and the Frog) but they’ve proven they can do better and we have our fingers crossed with Moana.


Featured Image Credit: Disney

10 Asian American Fashion Bloggers to Follow

As the domains of art and culture continue to find their place online, fashion continues to evolve into a communal art form.  In many ways, fashion is now becoming more accessible, less elitist, and easier to follow thanks to the fashion bloggers who have fostered this intimate community online.

In particular, the community of Asian American fashion bloggers has grown considerably—and refreshingly so, especially when Asians continuously struggle today to break the bamboo ceiling.  Here are 10 Asian-American fashion bloggers (and vloggers) who are representing the AAPI community in style.

Continue reading “10 Asian American Fashion Bloggers to Follow”

Keeping the Revolution Alive: Remembering Yuri Kochiyama

Yuri Kochiyama, who passed away last Sunday, June 1st, was known for her radical social activism during the 1960s in the course of the Civil Rights Movement and also for her prolonged dedication to the fight against racial injustice.

We should remember and honor Yuri by carrying on her legacy and applying the life lessons she left us with. The issues of inequality and injustice that she fought so strongly against are still very much with us today, perhaps not in the same shape or form, but in the ways they affect our communities.

As members of the communities that Kochiyama revolutionized, it is our duty to continue her work and, thereby, keep the revolution alive.

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Preserve and protect your roots 

Kochiyama was dedicated to the preservation of her Japanese-American identity and pushed for others to foster the same cultural selfhood. Having experienced the atrocities of internment camps in the wake of Executive Order 9066, Kochiyama first-handedly witnessed the abhorrent treatment of her ethnic community and zealously strove to resist anything that disrespected or threatened her culture.

In 1988, Kochiyama’s attempts to alleviate the cruelties of World War II and the internment camps proved to be successful through the signing of the Civil Liberties Act, which granted reparations to Japanese Americans who had been imprisoned by the U.S. government. She also demonstrated this commitment to the preservation of her culture through her fight for ethnic studies departments in colleges.

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Others are key

Kochiyama once stated: “Life is not what you alone make it. Life is the input of everyone who touched your life and every experience that entered it.” In the spirit of the Civil Rights Movement, Kochiyama knew that collective action was necessary to realize success. Noticing the similarities between the discriminatory treatment of Japanese Americans and African Americans, she practiced intersectional camaraderie by standing in solidarity with other ethnic communities. She involved herself in the fight for Puerto Rican independence, acquainted herself with the goals of the Black Panther Party, and recognized that the struggles of all minority groups were connected.

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Be conscious

Yuri coined the famous saying: “Consciousness is power.” She knew that the first step to any movement of change was to become aware, which would foster “trust and goodwill”. Kochiyama continuously raised awareness, not only during the 60s through her activism in social movements, but also through delivering speeches throughout her lifetime, urging people to mobilize against inequity.

In addition, Kochiyama saw consciousness as “the perfect vehicle for students” to implement change and served as a strong advocate for student voices. Many believed that Kochiyama was almost hyper-aware and “ahead of her time”.

Stay open-minded and compassionate

Although Kochiyama knew the importance of being critical, she also knew that narrow-mindedness, bitterness, and violence crippled the heart of revolutions. Her compassion was actualized both on a nationwide scale through her support of nuclear disarmament and on a personal scale through her services as a pen pal to political prisoners.

Importantly, her friendship with Malcolm X also showed that she valued interpersonal relations amidst intense social change. Kochiyama’s compassion for Malcolm was famously documented by TIME Magazine, in a photograph that captured Kochiyama by his side at the time of his death.

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Never settle

Yuri’s prolonged efforts to question the quality of social and racial systems show us that change is constant, and because society is persistently changing, we must continue to challenge the inherent disparities that come along with it.

Yuri Kochiyama never settled for anything less than equality, so in her honor, we must carry on the revolution and keep her legacy alive. The Blue Scholars’ song, titled “Yuri Kochiyama” proclaims: “Revolutionaries die, but the revolution won’t.”

Thank you, Yuri Kochiyama, for being the revolution.