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Where are Asian-American Artists?

Artists and media professionals discuss Asian-American representation in the media

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The API Panel discussing Asian American representation in Media

The API Panel discussing Asian American representation in Media

Thomas Rodas

Thomas Rodas

The API Panel discussing Asian American representation in Media

Ricky Rodas, Managing Editor

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On Wednesday, May 3, The Cross Cultural Center hosted “API Representation in Media” at the University-Student Union (U-SU) Theatre. The panel discussion was centered on how Asian Americans navigate and gain notice in the entertainment industry. Minh-Triet Dao, the Social Justice Event Coordinator for the Asian American Pacific Islander Resource Center, organized the panel discussion in conjunction with the Cross Cultural Centers (CCC).

Dao spoke about the inspiration for the event saying, “I’ve been noticing very recently that there’s a lack of Asian American-Pacific Islander representation in mainstream media, so I thought I’d put together a panel of people who are Asian-Pacific Islander and are involved in mainstream… and local media.”  Dao believes that this topic of Asian American media representation is not a mainstream concern saying, “I think in small intentional circles they’re [issues of representation] being discussed, but I think in mainstream media it’s not highly discussed.”

The panelist included: Sean Muira, project producer of Asian American media organization Tuesday Night Project; Christine Minji Lee, actress and Executive Global Director of media platform and non-profit organization Kollaboration; DJ Richie Menchavez, creator and founder of Asian American music and radio platform Traktivist; and Leo Xia, community activist and singer-songwriter currently attending USC.

The speakers took turns explaining their individual journeys into the entertainment industry. Christine Minji Lee, who is from the San Francisco Bay Area, had graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a bachelor’s in public health before deciding to pursue acting and activist work full time.

“It didn’t feel fulfilling to do the 9-5 [career path], which I tried for many years. PK [Paul Kim, comedian and Kollaboration founder] was actually the one to tell me, ‘If you want to get into the entertainment industry and want to be an actor,’ he told me to get a full-time job,” Lee said. “He said if I’m cool with working and getting a good salary, having benefits, having vacation days, having a pension- all those nice cushiony things- then you’re not cut out for it.”

DJ Richie Menchavez, also from the Bay Area, talked about turning media prejudice and profiling into motivation to succeed in the entertainment industry. “When you start hearing that people are being denied meetings with A&R’s and executives because of the way they look and doesn’t match the way they sound, those kind of things drive you,” Menchavez said. “At least that’s what drove me, because we [Traktivist] work just as hard as any other label… from that point on, I started tracking all the Asian Americans who were making music, because it’s a journey and we’re still not there [yet having mainstream success].”

Leo Xia spoke the inspiration for his music and his motivation, initially starting off writing love songs in high school. “In college is when I started learning about Asian-American history, I realized it felt more gratifying to me to write about that and the history of my people to provide context for myself and people around me about the Asian American experience that isn’t really talked about.”

Sean Miura, who comes from a community organizing family, spoke in depth about people coming together to dismantle the concept of mainstream media, something he feels prevents Asian American artists from garnering widespread exposure. “If structures are inadequate for the multiplicity of communities that exist in the U.S, rather than try to replicate or feed into those structures, it’s just a matter of tearing those structures down,” Miura said. “So if we’re going to talk about the mainstream, I think it’s really important to recognize how we define mainstream… where corporations are in control of distribution and in control of taste, I think we need to recognize the way it is set up is flawed.”

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Where are Asian-American Artists?