The Inspiring Stories of 20 Unique Individuals, Expressed Through Art.
Navigate through the amazing artwork below to get a glimpse of how young Asians from across the country express themselves in these uncertain times. (Click on each artwork to enlarge.)
"overunDERDONE" , JESSICA CHIANG
Jessica Chiang, 17, PA
画蛇添足---adding limbs to a snake, or the act of overdoing. This is a simple Chinese idiom deriving from a simple Chinese story, which I ironically turned into (probably) overdone art. This piece represents my primitive stages of being immersed in Chinese culture: learning countless fables and proverbs in Chinese school, including this one. I grew bored of them, overlooking their importance and, eventually, my own culture. Chinese school was irksome work to me as a kid. This piece is about “owning” my culture in the wrong way; owning it as work, owning it as a display on my back. Too often I have found myself owning instead of embracing and seeing the beauty that’s right in front of me.
"RECOLLECTIONS", ETHAN LEE
Ethan Lee, 17, CA
My final project is a collection that reimagines my family history. I specifically chose photos that show relationships in action and the roots established in diaspora communities. The first piece is of my grandfather and his friends when they were young, posing in front of Los Angeles, where my grandparents and mom eventually settled down. I used pens to ink this drawing because I feel that that best captures the bittersweet tone of the photo, which shows a scene of friendship from decades ago. Similarly, the second piece, showing my mom and her friend standing in front of their old home, is in black and white to capture the mood of a bygone era. The third piece is of me in my childhood home, which has a lot of sentimental value to me. Fourth is also of me as a toddler in my grandparent’s backyard, the first and only house they lived in in America. The final piece is a scene of my relatives staring straight into the camera, which shows a connection from the past to the present and concludes my series. I used bright colors in these photos to simulate a child’s memories of their own past, which, despite the haziness, provide an immense feeling of comfort and familiarity. These pieces all show my family as they are and their collective story of immigration and community.
"JUXTAPOSITION", IVY HUANG
Ivy Huang, 18, MD
There is a lot more to experience living bi-culture. Through this drawing, I want to juxtapose Asian and American cultures while highlighting Chinese traditions. The first things that draw attention in this drawing are the set of cats in the foreground. In American cultures, black cats are generally the symbol of bad luck, while in Asian cultures, the beckoning cat is a symbol of good fortune. In the background, we see many symbols and items of a traditional Chinese styled home. “Duilian,” or antithetical couplets, are hanging scrolls on the sides of doors. The character “shou” is placed on the double doors and signifies longevity. The Chinese porcelain vases are common traditional household decorations, and the bamboo in the vases is a symbol of luck, strength, and health.
Even though there are many cultural differences living as an Asian and American, we can still embrace American cultures and preserve Asian traditions at the same time. Through art, I want to preserve my cultural heritage and remind others of the beauty of Asian roots.
"MGA UGAT KO", ANGELINA JALA
Angelina Jala, 17, PA
I always wondered why it was so painful when someone targeted my Filipino culture. I would be completely devastated for a time if I experienced hurtful actions that were directed towards my ethnicity. I finally realized that the emotion was so powerful because what I experienced shook up the roots that my life was built upon. Many emotions, not just sadness and pain, can feel magnified because they are affecting the identity rooted within you. For my project, I wanted to illustrate this concept of "roots" both culturally and in relation to nature. This particular tree is a Narra tree, which is the national tree of the Philippines. It is recognized for its strength and resilience. Like a storm, negative experiences that target your culture can sometimes push you to become stronger and deepen your roots. The spirit-like image of a girl represents my cultural identity. The colors of the tree and the Filipino flag are flowing up from the ground because life is derived from the roots. I take in my identity from my roots in the Filipino culture in the same way a tree takes up resources from the ground.
"ASUL", DANIELL GALANG
Daniell Galang, 20, CA
"Blue is the loneliest color of the Filipino flag. With a warm white, a vibrant red, and a gleaming yellow. I can't help but keep my eye on that blue."
This piece is a visualization of one thought that I had while looking at the Philippine flag. Despite the painting's loud nature, a quick glance at the blue boy's eyes tells you of a story waiting to be told.
Perhaps a tale of loneliness.... or just a colorful expression of an isolating migration story.
"ARCHIVED IDENTITY", JUANCARLO BULATAO
JuanCarlo Bulatao, 18, CA
I wanted my painting to represent my identity as a Filipino. I did a gradient type for the background with the colors of the Philippine flag. This is a portrait of the first president of the Philippines, Emilio Aguinaldo. And for his face, I did a triangle structure with different shades. When I was living in the Philippines, I always looked up to Kobe Bryant, and there is a mural or Kobe in Melrose, CA made up of triangles. So I was inspired to do something similar because he was my childhood hero. And for what he is wearing, I was originally going to do a suit and tie, but I thought it would fit best to put him in a traditional “barong”, which is the national dress of the Philippines for men, it usually has patterns, and so the black patterns are a “traveler’s compass” from the Kalinga tribe, which is where Wang-od, the last woman who gives traditional Filipino tattoos is from. I chose the compass because I felt like it was appropriate to use that since I immigrated from the Philippines to the US when I was younger.
"FOG", ALISON LY
Alison Ly, 21, CA
The girl in the painting is desperately holding onto noodles, a seemingly trivial connection to her family's roots, while trying not to fall into the San Francisco fog—the city where my parents met, and the American side of my identity.
My parents were born in Vietnam and Cambodia, but my grandparents are all Chinese. I wonder if I’d feel more secure about my cultural identity if my family history wasn’t so disjointed by migration across oceans and American cities of drastically different demographics. Because of this incomplete feeling and my inability to speak my parents' languages, the most tangible "Asian" part of my life was food, even though that feels like such a weak anchor to my cultural identity.
Despite knowing complex grey areas exist in our identities, I find it challenging to reconcile East Asian and Western culture, especially when the two sharply contrast. I wanted to playfully illustrate the most daunting feeling of cultural dissonance—do I choose to fall into one culture instead of sticking to another? I’m suspended in an odd space of no belonging while feeling guilty/pressured to make this non-existent “choice,” even though I know I belong to neither space.
"문화", MADELINE HAKALA
Madeline Hakala, 18, IA
My piece is a representation of my Korean-American identity. As a child, I felt pressured to conform to Western beauty standards and white American culture, concealing my heritage to the best of my ability. Today, I understand the great importance of celebrating my roots and owning my identity, so I wanted to create a piece honoring both my Korean heritage and American nationality. In my piece, a Korean woman is displayed, wearing a traditional hairstyle and article of clothing, standing in front of an American flag. The woman is not just American, nor is she just Korean: She is Korean-American, and she is proud.
"THE GOLDEN HORIZON", DAT NGUYEN
Dat Nguyen, 19, FL
My inspiration with this project is to portray my family’s journey over to the United States. I wanted to illustrate and show the hardships that the majority of the older generation of Vietnamese immigrants faced on their expeditions towards freedom and independence. Growing up, I heard countless stories of hardships and experiences that my family members, friends and many more Vietnamese-Americans have gone through, including stories of the "Boat People", the immigrants that travel on fishing boats to transverse the oceans toward a new life in United States, Germany, the Philippines, and many other countries to escape the war and communist regime in Vietnam. The subject of my painting is the immigrants on the Boat hanging on the boats as it struggles to stay afloat. The main subject can be seen hanging off the boat and helping others hang on. The Gold Glitter symbolizes the golden horizon representing a shimmering fresh start full of dreams and opportunities for generations to come.
"THE SOIL IN WHICH I GROW", ABBEGAIL LOUIE
Abbegail Louie, 18, CA
My piece is inspired by the elements of my life that have shaped who I am. I am Chinese, Filipinx, and American. Throughout my life I have always felt like I was evading one identity to fit into another.
Everybody in America has become inherently political. Whether it’s by the color of your skin, size of your body, or by the clothing you choose to wear. I wanted to use this canvas to express what my body should feel like– home. Instead of running from myself, I am taking in each day by rooting myself in the body that had been given to me by my ancestors.
"CULTURE SHOCK", TRICIA NGUYEN
Tricia Nguyen, 17, AZ
This piece is inspired by the experiences of culture shock from an outsider’s point of view, specifically experiencing Asian culture. There is such a depth and variety, the more you put yourself into learning the more you experience the beauties of it. There is also a variety of people who get this experience and how they choose to react and go at it. There are people who take one glance at it and will only allow themselves to only look at the surface-level. But then there are the rare individuals who take their time to hear the stories and to truly understand something so different than what they are used to.
I feel like someone who is Vietnamese and has been engulfed in my Asian culture since I was little, I never put into perspective what it was like to my friends or people around me, who have never celebrated Lunar New Years or had homemade pho. I never put into perspective how they felt when I introduced them to the Asian market or when I invited them in for dinners. I have had many experiences where people refuse to learn, let stereotypes drive their judgement, so I really value those who chose to stay and truly enjoy what I get to enjoy.
"GALLERY", MARISSA DOMANTAY
Marissa Domantay, 22, IL
My overall theme was Filipino American History. Throughout my life (and arguably, the life of many), I didn’t learn about people like me in US History. The closest I ever got before college was the very brief discussion of US colonialism of the Philippines, which didn’t even cover the trauma Filipinos faced. This continued throughout my undergraduate, it wasn’t until I, a second generation Filipina American, made the effort to learn this history. I had to conduct a lot of personal research until I had the privilege to meet and be a mentee of a FilipinX professor. This made me realize that Filipino Americans were erased throughout history even though we have always been present in it. So, I decided to highlight Filipino American History along with the people in it. I also decided to highlight those who are currently making history. I expressed this through recreating portraits and photos. It’s a very straight forward process yet recreating these images adds importance and respect to the figures in it. If someone looked at these images and had no clue who these people were, they would question why someone recreated it. This would push the viewer to conduct their own research and learn about these figures.
"SAME SKY", HESPER KHONG
Hesper Khong, 19, TX
With “Same Sky” I hoped to convey Vietnamese peoples’ nuanced history and lives, from living in Vietnam to seeking refuge in America. Growing up, I heard endearing stories of my parent’s experiences in pre-war Vietnam. The towering trees bearing juicy mangos, thriving women flaunting vibrant áo dài, blaring motorcycles occupying bustling streets, and much more. When I was older, my parents shared the deeply upsetting effects of the war, including people being raped or losing loved ones at sea. This brought immense trauma that continues to haunt my community, and I have been extremely frustrated as America’s role in it has been wrongly designated as our “ magnanimous savior”. Being able to seek refuge isn’t something we should feel grateful for when events such as the Sơn Mỹ Massacre happened.
My interpretation of America is depicted as a gilded mask, an attempt to hide their crimes and pretend to support Vietnamese Americans. Many of the people in my artwork don’t have distinct features to emphasize that they aren’t people I personally know; they’re based on a collective experience. My piece is an effort towards illustrating the interconnectedness of these events and the aftermath of a loving, resilient community.
"Prārthanā", ANGELA SAHA
Angela Saha, 19, CA
My final piece, Prārthanā (meaning pray in Bengali), is essentially the depiction of Asian culture that is often overlooked by the Western world. I was inspired to write this, as I am a South Asian woman living in the turmoil of the Western world who has faced oppression for my ethnicity and my religion daily. Through the portrayal of a young woman wearing a hijab, Islamic, being fused with a Hindu goddess, the two empower one another and acknowledge the stereotypes used to undermine their successes. It is important to note how these stereotypes are rooted in racism, ignorance, and xenophobia. I would also like to argue that the concept of xenophobia should not even be present in the Western world as colonizers are the outsiders, they are the foreigners to this land; they do not own this land. The contrast in cool and warm tones is to contrast the fuel flame of hatred with the darkness of misery experienced by many young South Asian women. The piece is to highlight the differences between the two religions and encourage and empower one another. Despite the Western world’s efforts in ignoring South Asia as Asia and the forced pitting of religions against one another, we will triumph hardships together.
"TOMATOES AND FRIED EGGS", JENNIFER DUAN
Jennifer Duan, 21, MD
I decided to create a watercolor painting of me preparing tomatoes with fried eggs. A simple recipe, but delicious nonetheless. Aside from the scattered ingredients on the table, I've added some notable sauces and spices in the background. Bonus points if anyone can recognize them.
Recently, I've felt more and more distanced from my Chinese heritage. Holidays are recognized but are not elaborately celebrated. I could see the use of Chinese slowly start to fade, and I never quite had the right words to sit down with my parents and understand their story. With the pandemic looming in the background of my life, I didn't have the desire or mental capacity to paint subject-matter of what was "lacking" in my identity. However, one thing that remained consistent within my family was food. Food gave me a connection to my parents that did not require words. One of my favorite dishes in particular is a very simple one: tomatoes with fried eggs. Though food seems like a very surface level subject matter at first, it was one thing that remained completely intact after my parents immigrated from China to the U.S, and throughout my childhood. My time spent at home allowed me to experiment with current dishes and cook meals with my family. Out of all the seemingly monotonous days in the summer, these moments remain one of my favorites.
"INFORMATION OVERLOAD", JINGWEN LIN
Jingwen Lin, 20, PA
In my drawing, the Ying-Yang style hotpot represents the U.S. as a melting pot where different peoples, popular activities, and traditional cultures are mixed together. On the left side, I drew American elements and apps that I have been exposed to. On the right side, I depicted some Chinese apps, activities that I enjoy spending time on. The elements on both sides are important for me because they make up who I am today, but sometimes there are conflicts and collisions between the two forms of cultures. And often, if I spend too much time on one side, the cost is that I won't be able to enjoy and benefit from the activities belonging to the other side. Above the pot, I am holding a pair of chopsticks and looking down at the two sides, deciding what to choose and how to find a balance. If I want everything, I would be too full and get sick since there is a limited storage room in my stomach. If I want to stay healthy and happy, I need to make a conscious decision on what really matters for me and give up on the rest.
"AMOY ARAW", TRISHA ALBANO
Trisha Albano, 18, CA
Because of the underrepresentation of darker skin in the media and the ideal features of whiter skin among Filipinos, I grew up very insecure about my skin tone and I wanted to show that struggle through my art. In my drawing, there is a girl looking in the mirror as she washes herself. The girl inside the mirror represents how I feel on the inside. I colored her the same colors of the Filipino flag to show that she wants to accept her cultural identity. She is reaching out to the girl outside the mirror who is trying to whiten her skin because she knows deep inside, she just wants to accept herself. The soap she is using is the popular Likas whitening soap used by many Filipinos who want to lighten their skin. My family would make me use this soap daily because they believed that my dark skin was ugly. But as I got older, I realized that having darker skin is not a bad thing and that I should feel confident in it--as it is a part of my Filipino identity.
"MAIN STREET", ANN TOO
Ann Too, 18, NY
I drew inspiration for my final project, titled “Main Street,” from my hometown of Flushing, Queens. Born and raised by Chinese immigrant parents there, Flushing was the first home I ever knew. It’s comparable to NYC’s Chinatown, since they are both predominately Asian neighborhoods. However, Flushing’s Chinese population has long surpassed that of its counterpart. Whether you’re looking for authentic/delicious eats (there’s everything from roast duck, to pineapple cake, to dim sum, so make sure to come hungry!), or an ancient herbal remedy, or KTV, or Asia’s latest pop album, Main Street’s got it all. People come here for good food and a good time. Sadly, downtown Flushing isn’t what it used to be ten years ago, largely due to gentrification. Many mom-and-pop restaurants and affordable grocery stores have shut down due to rising rent and working-class families have been displaced to pave way for luxury developments.
I wanted to draw a picture of what Flushing used to look like in order to preserve my memory of the neighborhood that I love.
"MY BUHAY", RACHEL FELIX
Rachel Felix, 24, TX
"Buhay" is Tagalog for "life" while "mabuhay" means "live" which is used as an uplifting greeting in the Philippines.
Through this piece, I welcome the viewer into my newfound life; a life of intentional love and acceptance of not only who I am, but of who others are as well, hence the use of sign language for “I love you” being proudly proclaimed into the sky.
The sun represents my Filipino heritage, the honor I hold to carry on my ancestral history, and that I too am made of stars that are meant to shine and not be hidden.
Due to the deep unlearning necessary for the Black Lives Matter movement, I have realized that I can be, and already am, so much more than what society has tried to confine me to. This piece represents the reclamation of my identity through the embodiment of love that I aim to share with the world, so that others may also begin to truly live.