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Breaking Stereotypes: 8 Asian Americans in Careers Outside the “Norm”

Writer Jennifer Lee, of the Guardian, said in a 2014 op-ed, “We need more Asian American kids growing up to be artists, not doctors”. That sentiment was expressed while battling a long-held stereotype (both among main-stream America and Asian Americans) that little Asian babies grow up into doctors, lawyers, science, and tech employees… and that there is little room for anything else.

That, of course, is a grossly inaccurate stereotype. Now, in 2018, we are seeing Asian Americans break into a variety of fields in entertainment, sports, literature and more. That’s not “new news” – we’ve been in these fields for generations. Just new to the majority of America with preconceived notions of Asian life.

So now that (some of) us have finally realized Asians can be actors, writers, chefs, politicians and rappers – what are a few industries and careers we’re still finding ZERO recognition and representation? The fields that, not only white America would be surprised we work in, but other Asian Americans as well?

We listed some great people doing some great things out there. Because, just like the rest of the world, no two Asians are alike.

1. Farming

When we picture the American farming industry, we picture blond-hair, blue-eyed men in overalls, sowing their fields. But the farming industry for Asian Americans goes back generations. Each community has their own origin story. Some are products of Japanese-American imprisonment during WWII who found little choice but to enter the farming industry to avoid concentration camps. Some are more recent, immigrants from rural Asia who found kinship in California fields. And some others are stories of love for the land.

Ken Lee left engineering in 1992 to grow food. Ken’s Top Notch Produce (above) has been growing ever since – both literally and figuratively.

But whatever the origin may be, Asian Americans are running some pretty awesome farms with some amazing health initiatives.

2. Environmental Community Outreach

And speaking of farming, there are some amazing Asian American focused groups that are striving to bring organic and healthy foods to the tables of those in need. Asian Pacific Islander Forward Movement (APIFM), a non-profit organization in CA, does just that, while working closely with local farmers.

3. Sci-Fi and Erotica 

Yes, literature does have its Asian American stars. From Amy Tan and Celeste Ng to Jhumpa Lahiri and Khaled Hosseini, for decades, Asian American writers have constructed beautiful worlds around Asian culture and experience. But what of the little sections beyond “Fiction”? Would it surprise you that Asian Americans have taken Sci-Fi by storm? Writers like Marie Lu of the YA Legend series and Nebula/Hugo award winner Ken Liu have diverted from the usual path. Or even more so, what about Erotica writers? That’s right – EROTICA! Writers like Suleikha Snyder and Solace Ames like to steam up your reading glasses.

4. Rock

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Honored to celebrate the #JapaneseAmerican community and the heritage of our awesome bassist Scott Okamoto at the 2017 #NiseiWeek Japanese Festival in the #JACCC Plaza in #LittleTokyo on Sunday, August 20th! A note from Scott on the importance of this historic festival to him: "I grew up going to Nissei Week in Los Angeles with my family. Along with the Obon Festivals, it was one of the rare public displays of our heritage. Despite losing most of our culture and heritage in the aftermath of the incarceration camps of World War II, Obon festivals and Nissei Week somehow survived and thrived. I am so glad they did because I spent the rest of the year trying to assimilate to the, then, white culture of the San Gabriel Valley. Nissei Week and the Obon festivals were my only connection to my #Japanese heritage, and I eventually built on those experiences as I developed my identity through the years. I started playing bass with my friends in Doctors & Engineers about 18 months ago, and at the time, the idea of a Japanese-American joining a South Asian band seemed novel. I’ve taken every opportunity to learn more about my friends and their cultures, often marveling at the similarities and differences with my own. This year we’ve learned that Japanese and Indian histories have ties that date back 1200 years (as far as I know). Japanese curry comes direct from India. Buddhism comes from India, and Indian priests helped to dedicate the famous shrine in Nara in the year 800. More recently, a group of women in the Ginza district of Tokyo have created a sub-culture where they wear colorful saris. All this to say that I am thrilled to play with Doctors & Engineers at this year’s Nissei Week Festival. We are apparently continuing a rich tradition of collaborations between two parts of the world. I can’t wait to rock in front of everyone, including much of my family. I’ll bring earplugs for them." -Scott PC: @joshuakphoto for @kollaborationla

A post shared by Doctors & Engineers (@doctorsandengineers) on

America, for the most part, has accepted that Asian Americans can deviate from classical violinists and become hip hop or pop stars. (Thank you K-Pop and Awkwafina). But even though we’ve been in Indie Rock since Indie Rock began, people are still shocked to see an Asian American behind a guitar or a set of drums. Japanese Breakfast, Mitski, Thao & The Get Down Stay Down (all female driven bands), and punk-rock groups like Doctors & Engineers and The Kominas, are fighting the misconception that Asians can’t rock.

5. Home & Interior Design

Asian Americans (especially women) have still found hurdles and barriers when entering the design industry, including home and interiors. Nao Tamura, Syrette Lew of Moving Mountains, Mimi Jung of Early Work, and Shamir Shah Design have been striving to make your houses a home (and a piece of art).

6. Psychology

Drum circle by Filipino Mental Health Initiative – San Francisco

Posted by Asian American Psychological Association on Sunday, January 28, 2018

If you haven’t heard, there’s a stigma against psychology and behavioral studies in traditional Asian communities. That stigma, in turn, has ignored an alarming rate of mental illness, depression and suicide. All racial communities have these issues, but in Asian American communities, those issues are more likely to be ignored. According to the American Psychological Association, Asians are 3-times less likely to reach out for help compared to their white counterparts. It’s a sad thing but luckily those walls built by conservative privacy are starting to crumble and groups like the Asian American Psychology Association (AAPA), The Asian American Federation and NYC’s Hamilton-Madison House are there to help.

7. Baking

We know Asians can cook. But did you know we also can bake? And I don’t mean chiffon cakes with cantaloupe and kiwi on top. I mean what we think of as quintessentially American and European Baking. Dianna Daoheung has received TWO James Beard Nominations. Her bagels at Black Seed have quickly become NYC-famous. Uri Scheft has been knocking challah, and his other central-Asian fusion baked goods, out of the park in NYC. Breadbelly and La Chinoiserie, two bakery-cafes in the Bay Area, will make you everything from Kaya toast and cheesy brioche to black sesame croissants and multi-tiered unicorn cakes. Yum!

8. Firefighters

 

Like most public service positions that require life-threatening situations, firefighters have found it hard to recruit Asian Americans. The FDNY reported in 2017 that only 1.3% of firefighters are Asian American. But folks like Sarinya Srisakul (featured above), New York’s first female Asian American firefighter, were ready for the task. Brooklyn Firefighter Chi Ho Li though he would do engineering when he was young, but was attracted to “being there for the people of his city”. These guys and gals don’t have links or IG accounts to follow. Just know they’re out there for you.

We are confident in saying that this is just a pebble off of the mountain of Asian Americans pushing boundaries and challenging tropes. Who are some of your favorites? We’d love to hear about them.

South Asian Influencers you should not be sleeping on

Up until a few years ago, all South Asians could claim for entertainment representation was The Simpsons’ Apu Nahasapeemapetilon – not a real last name, btw. While things are changing for the better, with more South Asian faces on film and screen, it’s online where the South Asian community, or Desi Twitter as we call it, can really find their voices. This is where South Asians get to bond over strict Desi parents, our collective love for biryani, and our collective rage over why everyone else can’t stop saying chai tea or naan bread when they essentially mean the same thing. We have our big beauty bloggers– Farah Dhukai and Nabela Noor, comedy YouTubers – Lilly Singh, Liza Koshy and JusReign, and insanely talented mash-up singers – VidyaVox. But the biggest influencers are the South Asians stars and actors that Desi twitter can’t seem to get enough of. Here’s a handy list of the biggest names who have us hanging on to their every word on social media.

Priyanka Chopra: Before she took over Hollywood, becoming the first South Asian actor to headline a major network drama with Quantico, Priyanka Chopra was (and still is) a Bollywood superstar. She worked in over 60 blockbuster movies, cut music albums, became the most followed Indian on Twitter and then moved to the US to produce a show casting herself as its lead. Since then, Chopra has been busy starring in the Baywatch reboot alongside Zac Effron and Dwayne ‘Rock’ Johnson and has major upcoming projects with two Chrises (Hemsworth and Pratt). Even before her stop-the-presses engagement with Nick Jonas, which caused a social media meltdown in both India and the US, PeeCee as her fans know her, caught constant media attention with her well-informed perspectives on being a brown woman in America.

IG: 27.8m Twitter: 23.2m

Mindy Kaling: There are a few reasons that a list filled with South Asian faces on American TV and film can now exist and one of them is Mindy Kaling. The OG South Asian woman on TV, Kaling wrote, starred in and later produced the beloved comedy, The Office. Her recurring role as the narcissistic Kelly Kapoor, a far cry from the muted wallpaper of South Asian women depicted on TV (if we saw them at all), remains a huge fan favorite even years after the show has ended. Soon after, she produced and starred in the groundbreaking The Mindy Project, playing a quirky rom-com loving, Ob-Gyn — another first for a South Asian woman on TV. She has since produced and starred in NBC’s Champions and has a major role in the upcoming Ocean’s 13 along with Rihanna and Anne Hathaway. We also love this new mom’s Instagram for her adorable baby food recipes, workout fails and red carpet fashion, where she regularly interacts with fans and supports up and coming South Asian talent.

IG: 3.4m Twitter: 11.9m

Kal Penn: There was a time in the late 90s and early 2000s when South Asian actors routinely played sidekicks or comic relief to the lead (mostly white) actor. And Kal Penn played almost all of them. It changed somewhat only in 2004 when he starred in Harold and Kumar, one of the biggest Asian comedy franchises, with Jon Cho. While Penn has since continued acting with popular roles in series like House and How I Met Your Mother, he was also the Associate Director for Public Engagement at the White House during the Obama administration. Even after moving on from that role, Penn has consistently used social media to speak for human rights and the unfair and racist typecasting of South Asians in Hollywood. In 2017, when a racist troll told him that he didn’t “belong in this country,” he used that comment to raise over $160K for refugees in Syria. He is soon coming out with his own book of essays.

Twitter: 599K IG: 137K

Jameela Jamil: This British-South Asian radio and television presenter was known for speaking her mind and standing up for women even before her stint as Tahani-Al-Jamil in the hit sitcom, The Good Place. Contrary to her role as the out-of –touch British heiress on TV, in real life Jamil has been dubbed as the social media vigilante women need. After struggling with anorexia as a teen, and recovering from a spine-crushing accident, Jamil is an outspoken advocate for body positivity. She has consistently called out the Kardashian sisters for promoting weight loss supplements and even started “I Weigh”, a user generated Instagram account where people describe how and why they ‘weigh’ more than their bodies or appearances.

IG: 365K Twitter: 325K

Tan France: Born to Pakistani parents in England, Tan France is one of the Fab Five from the breakout hit of the season, Queer Eye. As the stylist on the show, where five gay men help a participant make over different areas of their life, France is known for his empathetic and body positive makeovers. While relatively new in the American spotlight, France is already working with SNL’s Pete Davidson and writing a forthcoming memoir. On the show, he often talks about growing up gay in a Pakistani household in England and how that helped shape his identity. His Instagram is a refreshing mix of real life moments and style-inspo, which he also uses to engage with fans and the rest of the Queer Eye cast.

IG: 2m Twitter: 306K

When it comes to social media, it’s not always about the biggest numbers. While each of these celebrities has a huge following, what makes their social media shine is constant engagement. Apart from promoting their upcoming projects, they come across as real people who constantly speak to their followers. And that, in our opinion, is what turns a celebrity with a social media into a valuable influencer

Written by Yashica Dutt
Associate Creative Director

Why We Released A Mandarin In-theater Spot before Crazy Rich Asians

If you have watched or plan to watch Crazy Rich Asians in the theater, this is a before-the-movie commercial that you’re likely to see.

Playing an authentic bilingual Asian-featured commercial in theater in front of a diverse audience group is unprecedented. Envisioning Crazy Rich Asians’ appeal among Asian Americans, we, together with our client State Farm, decided to release “Smart Living”, a spot original developed for Asian Americans, alongside the much-anticipated RomCom in nearly 3,000 theaters nationwide. And it’s proven to be a smart move – according to Motion Picture Association of America, during Crazy Rich Asians’ opening weekend, about 40% of the moviegoers were Asians. It’s an amazing turnout, considering that Asians only make up to 6% of the American population.

What has driven us to push this theater release is we believe the story is universal, transcending language and culture and appealing to the ever increasingly diverse and intersectional American audiences. Anyone that has frustrating experiences talking to Alexa or Google Home would have a chuckle, regardless of race.

And the spot’s bilingual scenes come naturally with the storyline, and they vividly reflects the true-life moments of the majority of Asian Americans – speaking English as a professional at work, and chatting in a second language with friends and family. Be it Mandarin, Korean, Vietnamese, Hindi and many more. Crazy Rich Asians says it all – Rachel and Nick, two professors in NYU, switch their language when meeting their families.

“Crazy Rich Asians does not promote any Asian cultural superiority, nor deliberately fakes any story to feed Western aesthetics. It tells America that Asian Americans are just like everybody else in this country, having funny life stories.” This is a most liked viewer comment, spotted from a popular US-based Chinese language online forum Huaren.com, which applies to not just the movie but also the “Smart Living” spot in this context.

Just like Crazy Rich Asians is a pioneer of Asians’ presence in silver screen, “Smart Living” also leads the trend of showing authentic bilingual Asian American depictions in mainstream advertising environment.

 

 

For Asian Americans, the most anticipated weekend of the year finally arrived, and it was a triumph

Yup, you guessed it. It was the opening weekend of Crazy Rich Asians – the talk of the town, the watershed moment of Asians’ on-screen representation, the movie with the mission to achieve a thunderous success big enough to shake Hollywood.

And it has exceeded every expectation. The RomCom has wowed critics, gained a 92% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes, and has taken the top spot at the weekend box with a whopping $26.5 million – the highest grossing comedy debut of the year thus far and the highest opening for a RomCom in three years. Hundreds of thousands of Asian Americans have been eagerly and anxiously waiting and planning for this weekend. It is the moment of victory they have fought and dreamed for far too long.

 

From streaming to silver screen

Asian Americans’ journey to mainstream on-screen representation started decades ago, but the rising popularity of online video sharing platforms in the mid-2000 helped accelerate its progress. Often sidelined by Hollywood, Asian Americans have taken their stories to democratic platforms like YouTube where original content can shine. Fast forward to 2015. Realizing the mainstream appeal of Asian stories, ABC created Fresh Off the Boat, a comedy sitcom featuring an Asian immigrant family, which was a big leap from self-generated content to a professional production. What happened since has been histroic – Netflix launched Master of None starring Aziz Ansari and Ugly Delicious starring David Chang; Mindy Kaling and Awkwafina joined the dazzling cast of Oceans’ 8; Sandra Oh became the first Asian woman nominated for an Emmy in a lead actress category…and finally, the triumphant arrival of the all Asian cast major studio film on silver screen. Hollywood, are you finally feeling the heat?

 

From martial arts to desirable Asian men

Crazy Rich Asians challenges stereotypical depictions of Asians, which makes it feels real and modern.  The way news travels in an Asian family circle is depicted with near total accuracy – funny gifs and animated emojis crossing time zones on Instagram and WeChat, super active family chat groups that always include a few gossiping aunties. And, thank God (and the movie’s makers) for not forcing any martial arts scenes in the movie! Much to our delight, the movie actually brings a fresh breath of air by changing the clichéd Cinderella plot and shifting the balance of power to the middle class female lead rather than her ultra-rich boyfriend. Plus, against Hollywood’s troubled history of portraying Asian men, Crazy Rich Asians finally shows the world that there are plenty of gorgeous Asian men out there that everyone can swoon over.

 

From silence to #GoldOpen

What’s also groundbreaking is the way Asian Americans have rallied and supported the movie’s premier. Crazy Rich Asians bears the huge burden of proving its worth at the box office in order for Hollywood to recognize the value of Asian stories, and Asian Americans banded together to make sure that this would happen. A group of Silicon Valley Asian entrepreneurs came up with a social campaign idea called #GoldOpen, calling Asian Americans to host private screenings or buy out movie showtimes to help Crazy Rich Asians score a crazy rich opening weekend. Numerous Asian influencers – Instagram fashion guru Amiee Song, film makers Wongfu Brothers, roboticst Grant Imahara, entrepreneurs Boba Guys, WeChat blogger Much Ado, just to name a few – have enthusiastically promoted and contributed to the campaign. In fact we, an Asian American advertising agency, have also organized our own private screening event (and saw our State Farm Smart Living commercial in theater!) The ripple effect is enormous. Fandango says that advance online ticket sales are among the best results for a comedy release in 2018.

For brands, this social campaign is the most telling and convincing case, better than all research data, in illustrating the modern Asian American consumer profile – vocal, aspirational, social savvy, not crazy rich but certainly have a lot to spend, if you get them right.

 

OK, what’s next?

Crazy Rich Asians is no doubt a landmark success, and it is only the beginning. Asian Americans embody a vast array of cultural, linguistic and religious identities, and we should keep pushing the boundaries to tell fuller and deeper stories of them all, and eventually normalize Asians as complex and real characters on screen of all sizes.

For brands that want to win the hearts and minds of Asian Americans, the Crazy Rich Asians rules are loud and clear – keep your content authentic yet up-to-date, fun, social worthy, and oh please don’t stereotype.

We can’t wait to see it all happen.

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