March 1 marked the beginning of Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month Celebration (APHC) at Hopkins — a month dedicated to recognizing and reflecting on Asian-American and Pacific Islander narratives throughout United States history.
To commemorate the beginning of the celebration, the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) held an opening ceremony at Shriver Hall featuring Wong Fu Productions. This event is the first in a series titled “Not Your Silent Minority,” which is dedicated to highlighting Asian-American voices on campus.
Wong Fu Productions is a digital production company dedicated to telling universal stories through an Asian-American lens. They operate primarily on YouTube and have garnered over 500 million views worldwide. Additionally, they have received critical acclaim and recognition from media outlets such as CNN and NPR for bringing Asian-American stories to light.
Masuma Islam, a programming administrator for OMA and one of the main organizers of the opening ceremony, stated in an email interview to The News-Letter that OMA chose Wong Fu Productions to open the event because of their relatability.
“We wanted to open Asian-Pacific Heritage Celebration month with an unforgettable event. Wong Fu’s creative material touches on the experiences of many lives of Asians and Asian Americans,” she wrote.
The ceremony featured Wong Fu’s Co-founder and Director Wesley Chan, Senior Editor Taylor Chan and Director of Photography Christopher Yang. The group is currently touring various colleges and came to promote their latest web series Yappie, which revolves around many contemporary social issues that young Asian Americans face in the workplace.
The event included a live screening of the first three episodes of Yappie followed by a question and answer session with the audience.
In an interview with The News-Letter, Wong Fu spoke about the continuing evolution of Asian
representation in media and the possible future directions that it will take.
“We’re extremely happy with this past year when it comes to Asian-American content. [Wong Fu has] been fighting this fight for 15 years, so to see the progress this past year has been really inspiring too. But we always try to ensure that it’s not just a moment and that [this] still continues for years to come,” Taylor Chan said.
Wesley Chan added that a main priority for the group is to use identity as a focal point for all of their content. He stated that because there are so many stories to tell, occasionally the idea of self-discovery can be clouded in the production process, although this has not been the case in the past year.
“The reason why this year has been great is especially because we’re telling our own stories,” Wesley Chan said.
Additionally, the three members discussed how their content has changed over time, from their beginning stages at the University of California, San Diego to an international tour.
Wesley Chan remarked that for him and the other co-founders of Wong Fu Productions, making videos was just a pastime that unintentionally transformed into a means of broadcasting a specific narrative.
“It was just recreation at first. Inadvertently, we were casting our social group, our friends, because it was our world. It was indirectly a form of representation, because living in Southern California was [an Asian] bubble, and we were unapologetic about it. What we didn’t know was that so many people resonated with that too. We didn’t know that we were being a voice for so many people,” Wesley Chan said.
He added that because their production company began to grow, the team had to deal with more issues in order to reach their diverse audience.
“The story these days is much different in terms of how we cast. We’re more conscious, and we want to represent as many types of people and experiences and perspectives as we can. It’s less about ‘How do we just appeal to the Asian audience?’ and more about ‘How do we tell a human experience through an Asian-American lens?’” Wesley Chan said.
Taylor Chan admitted that for all the stories that they could bring to light, the diversity within the Asian community is so large that there are always more perspectives to tell.
“We’re trying to change with this diverse and ever-changing audience, but we acknowledge that we can’t change fast enough because I think it’s hard for us to represent this vast community. We’ll do everything we can to bring in new voices into the community and collaborate and support the creators, but at the end of the day, the best thing we can do is seek out others that can tell their stories better,” he said.
The News-Letter also spoke to various cultural groups about the significance of APHC to their respective organizations. Many leaders felt that APHC allowed for the recognition of Asian cultural groups at Hopkins, creating an environment in which members of the Hopkins community could learn from each other and be further exposed to different cultures.
For junior Wei Wen, co-president of the Chinese Student Association (CSA), APHC was a place for a diverse group of people to come together.
“It allows each [Asian] culture to be represented in a common space where people can appreciate every single facet of [these different] cultures,” he said.
In a similar vein, junior Aran Chang, co-president of the Korean-American Student Association (KASA), mentioned that APHC allows more students to become aware of KASA.
“Not a lot of people know how the Korean-American community is different from the Korean community. So [APHC] is our chance to say, ‘Hey! You should stop by our club even though you wouldn’t think that you belonged in this space,’” he said.
Additionally, many leaders felt that APHC was also an event to showcase the progress made by each cultural community in being part of contemporary American society. Member of the Inter-Asian Council (IAC) Grace Wang said that APHC was an important landmark for Asian Americans.
“It’s a good way to disassociate stereotypes that are associated with Asian Americans... which are demeaning and toxic,” she said.
Ananya Kalahasti, treasurer of South Asian Students at Hopkins (SASH), commented on the progress that the South Asian community has made.
“We’re now taking up a lot of new political positions, [with] two South Asians running for president in 2020... Being part of an organization that stems from a population that’s growing so rapidly,” she said. “It’s meaningful to have events like [APHC] where we can reflect on that.”
Yet others acknowledge that there is room for growth within the community.
Teagan Kim, co-president of the Filipino Students Association (FSA), remarked that the one of the most pressing issues facing the Filipino community is anti-blackness and colorism.
“Filipinos who grow up in African-American heavy neighborhoods adopt [African-American] culture as a surrogate... and those narratives are not ours to adopt,” she said.
Wen commented on the barriers between the international Chinese students and American-born Chinese students at Hopkins.
“There is a divide in the student body [of CSA], and even though we share the same heritage, the fact that American-born Chinese students are born here creates that divide,” he said.
Ultimately, though, all leaders felt that APHC gave Hopkins students a chance to appreciate their own unique identity of belonging to two distinct cultures. Chang stated that he felt that APHC shines a light on those who vacillate between assimilating into American culture while trying to preserve their cultural heritage.
“A lot of us have accepted the fact that we are not going to be either culture; we are a unique group of our own. That feeling of belonging to neither place is something that is not felt by one person out of a million people — we’re part of a community, no matter where in the country we’re from,” Chang said.