AAPI Heritage Month
last updated 12 May 2022
May celebrates Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage. We are so proud to represent a wonderful group of AAPI artists, and are celebrating the backgrounds that led them to where they are today. We had the opportunity to hear some more about a few of these lovely illustrators, and how their blended cultures play a part in what makes them tick. Though we have scratched the surface in representation and having necessary conversations, we have a long way to go, and hope their stories can encourage further change. Enjoy!
Artwork by Sharon Fujimoto-Johnson
I’ve come to realize that it is not only my privilege but my responsibility to share stories from my heritage. I am the first in my family to marry a non-Asian, and the first to have “mixed race” children. I’ve been nourished by the foods of diverse cultures, and internalized the nuanced music of different languages. I hold in my heart the stories of my paternal grandfather’s internment during World War II, and stories of my mother’s family surviving the bombing raids of Tokyo. Humans everywhere want to be loved and accepted, no matter where they come from, what they look like, or what language they speak.
Sharon Fujimoto-Johnson continued… Asian Americans have all experienced racism in some form, and the recent rise in hate crimes against AAPI has gutted our community. We are exhausted, and worried about our elders and women. We are heartbroken about the messages our children are internalizing. I want to raise the banner of stories rooted in love, peace, and hope against that backdrop. I hope to create books where children can see themselves celebrated, so that messages of love and acceptance will take root in their hearts.
My mother is from Taiwan and my father is American, so both of their cultures influenced me growing up. When I was young, I felt different because of how I looked and cultural differences that I didn’t quite understand then. I’m now appreciative I learned from two different cultures and have a lot of wonderful memories of Chinese and American cooking, language, and family. My heritage influences my art by how I try to draw characters I would have related to as a child. There wasn’t a lot of representation when I was younger, so it’s wonderful to see the publishing industry making an effort to show a variety of cultures and faces that are not normally seen in books.
In Taiwan, everyone lives very close together and works hard to get along- sometimes to the point of sacrificing the individual for the good of the group. I always felt pressure to fit in with the standards of those around me whether it be my career choice or beauty standards. It’s important that people know they can express themselves whether or not they fit the mold.
Sammi Tsai continued… I have written several children’s books addressing the idea of not fitting in a group or not feeling comfortable being one’s self. I believe my art stands out because it speaks to the common person. I hope I help people realize while there are differences in cultures, we are all one people. We shouldn’t use these differences as reasons to separate ourselves from each other, but rather use them to learn and grow. By observing the inherent differences of our backgrounds we can actually come together and grow.
I was born and raised in South Korea, and moved to the United States when I was fourteen. Despite being proud of my culture, I remember trying hard to hide my ‘Korean-ness’ in order to make new friends and get along with everyone. The language barrier was another big concern. Although I spoke English quite well, I was often judged. Soon after moving to the US, I went from being a playful person to shy and quiet.
Cindy Kang continued…All these challenges made me reflect on my heritage, leading me to study Korean history and culture more closely. I now habitually analyze my culture compared to others, contemplating how my heritage is instinctively reflected in my artwork. Even though a work might not necessarily be about Korea, the signature serenity and atmospheric quality of art reflects the simplicity, humility, and altruism inherent in the lives of Koreans.
Growing up in Indonesia, I remember spending a lot of time at my Grandpa’s (Kung-kung, as we called him) house where the first floor was a small shop. He would sell mostly salted, dried fish. Anytime I smell the scent of dried anchovies, it takes me back to that house. Indonesia is a diverse country, and there are so many different folk tales depending on what island you’re on and what ethnic cultural background you have. Growing up with such diverse stories played a part in my interest in quirky, imaginative worlds. I seek out stories where the impossible can happen and where everything is bright, colorful, and fun. I enjoy using bright, saturated colors with dramatic atmospheric lighting in my art.
Sonya Abby continued… Take pride in your culture and heritage. It wasn’t until I moved away from Indonesia that I felt there are different perspectives and biases towards specific groups of people. The rise in AAPI hate crimes across the country show it can be very difficult to feel comfortable in your culture and upbringing when people are judging you because of it.
Thank you so much for reading about a few of our Asian American or Pacific Islander artists. We are proud to represent a diverse list of artists with beautiful backgrounds. To work with one of our artists, click here! Miss last month’s Earth Day blog? Click here to read about how our artists are helping the planet and to see Earth-friendly art!