In honor of the approaching Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage month in May, the amount of representation for Asian American and Pacific Islanders blossoms.
Growth in AAPI media representation has increased over the past years, with a notable increase of 4.6% overall in 2021 compared to 2020, according to a study released by Nielsen in 2022.
Most recently, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” (2022), directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, won seven awards at the annual Academy Awards. The Oscars marked a historic number of AAPI community nominations, namely actress Michelle Yeoh. The Malaysian-born actress became the first Asian woman to win the Academy Award for best actress, according to AP News.
This is not the first film to highlight members of the AAPI community on screen. One of the earliest, “Lilo & Stitch,” the first full-length animation set in Hawai’i, came out in 2002, according to Hawai’i Public Radio. Other films like “To all the Boys I’ve Loved Before” (2018), “Crazy Rich Asians” (2018), “Turning Red” (2022), “Big Hero 6” (2014), “Raya and the Last Dragon” (2021), “Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” (2021), “Big Hero 6” and “Moana” (2016) have all become commercial successes. These recent movie releases are proof of the increase in representation of the AAPI culture and community.
“‘Avatar: The Last Airbender,’ isn’t made by Asians,” said Angel Araujo, a Filipino and Peruvian sophomore psychology major and API club member. “But it was just seeing somebody with tan skin or seeing an Asian kind of culture in something so popular. My family really held on to that.”
For many students on campus, finding representation in the media and seeing someone who looks like them is important. Five years ago, the API club was created to support the growing AAPI student community. Tanner Foster, senior business administration major who is Filipino, Polynesian, Japanese and Mexican and one of the original members of the API club, believes that representation is definitely increasing around our communities and within the CBU campus. Foster mentioned a book he read in a class taught by Dr. Kenya Davis-Hayes, professor of history, and its impact on him.
“The book is called ‘Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet’ and was one of the required readings for Minorities in America,” Foster said. “I really enjoyed reading it because it deeply elaborated on the internment camps during WWII. Although the fictional main character is Chinese-American, the book touches upon his innocent love for a Japanese girl and the confusion that came along with it during this troubling time. My grandmother was fully Japanese and managed to avoid being sent to an internment camp during WWII because she was from Lana’i, Hawai’i.”
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders often have not been represented in media. Roughly 39% of movies fail to portray any API character, 40.2% of films did not portray any Asian character, and 94.2% did not involve any Pacific Islander, according to a study done by the University of Southern California Annenberg analyzing statistics from 2019.
“There was a period of time where Asians were kind of invisible,” Araujo said. “Asians are known for being in America as model immigrants because you never really hear about us. I think it’s been really cool just to see more celebration of Asians stepping out into movies (and) into the culture, even like K-pop becoming super popular here.”
API club members agreed that representation of Asian American and Pacific Islanders has been lacking for years before the most recent film releases.
“Other than the stereotypical Asian characters, I don’t think there was much representation in the media,” said Malia June Moorehead Lizama, senior health science major and president of the API Club, who is Chamorro, originating from Guam. “As for the reason why, I think the world was just so focused on sticking to their own cultures. This is not just in America. I grew up watching primarily Asian movies and TV shows and noticed that the only times they would have a character of a significantly different race, they played a role dedicated only to that ethnicity.”
Araujo’s excitement growing up and seeing those on screen who looked like her resurfaced when coming to CBU and joining the API Club and the Heritage celebration for the first time.
Now, Araujo and fellow API club members look forward to this years Heritage celebration April 2.