Updated May 27, 2022 - Axios Events

Watch: A conversation on AAPI visibility & vulnerability

On Friday, May 27th, Axios Editor-in-Chief Sara Kehaulani Goo, breaking news reporter Shawna Chen and Axios Today host Niala Boodhoo led conversations with AAPI newsmakers examining the duality of visibility and vulnerability facing the Asian American community at this moment in history. While AAPI representation in politics and popular culture is increasing more than ever before, the larger community continues to face threats and violence amidst a rise in anti-Asian rhetoric. Guests included actor Tamlyn Tomita, New York City Council District 39 Councilmember Shahana Hanif and Climate Envoy for the Marshall Islands, Kathy Jetn̄il-Kijiner.

Tamlyn Tomita shared her thoughts on the increase in Asian American representation in film, what’s driving the momentum and how roles offered to AAPI actors have evolved in substance and quantity over the last three decades.

  • On the rise of Asian American & Pacific Islanders in film: “Our stories deserve to be told because quite literally, they make a lot of money at the box office…but more importantly, it relates to Americans of all different cultures, this immigrant culture, the family, the relationships between mother and daughter and father and son. These are kinds of stories that connect us all.”
  • On the importance of stories shining a light on Asian American history: “These are histories that are known, but they’re not widely known. But they need to be known, and these are the stories that I’m interested in, because as Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islanders, we’re part of this culture, the contributions, our accomplishments that contributed to the greatness of this culture, while adding that kind of specific seasoning, that kind of specific spice from our mother countries.”

Councilmember Shahana Hanif explained what motivated her to run for public office, how the power of visibility couples with the burden of representation and how she grapples with mounting hate crimes against Asian communities.

  • On the power and the burden of representation: “It’s tough to be the first to cross many identities. And at the same time, I recognize that I get to have the mic in the room that I’m entering, in the conversations I’m having about legislation and how the city’s budget must be allocated through a lens of justice and equity.”
  • On misconceptions about Asian American participation in politics: “You’re absolutely right that this is a dangerous misconception that Asian Americans are not involved in the political arena. We have always been involved. We’ve always been fighting hand in hand with Black activists and other communities, to be seen…we’ve always been fighting and advocating and organizing for a just city, for ourselves and for all communities.”

Kathy Jetn̄il-Kijiner reflected on the outsized impact of climate change on Pacific Islanders and how to better increase visibility of Pacific Islanders among the larger pan-Asian community.

  • On climate change in the Marshall Islands and nearby low-lying lands: “What we’re experiencing is the potential loss of our physical existence, the physical existence of our land, and as a culture that’s deeply tied to that land, this is something that will impact our identity, who we are as a people, our sovereignty.”
  • On how to give more visibility to Pacific Islander communities: “I think getting to know the Pacific Islander community better would be great and understanding the culture and the very specific issues that Pacific Islanders face that differentiates our experience from Asian Americans is probably a good step. Listening to Pacific Islander scholars, listening to Pacific Islander writers, highlighting those voices is really valuable.”
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