A Spotlight on Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Artists – Meera Raman
APRIL 15, 2021
Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) artists are often left out of the conversation, especially when it comes to representation in the media. “There has been a very long-standing history of invisibility and narrow representation of Asian Americans in media,” says Chriistine Minji Chang, the global executive director of Kollaboration, in an interview with NPR. Kollaboration is an organization that works to create spaces for Asian American musicians. In the spirit of creating space, this article highlights four upcoming and established AAPI artists, as well as their incredible work.
Korean native Big Phony is the self-deprecating stage name of singer-songwriter Bobby Choy. Born and raised in New York, Choy got his start when he released his debut album in 2005.
“I was pretty heavily influenced by J.D. Salinger and his writings, like Catcher in the Rye. So I don’t know why the name, but the word phony, and Big Phony always stood out to me, so I thought that [it] might be the way to go. It’s a good reminder, a daily reminder, not to be one,” Big Phony said in an interview with ATK Magazine.
The musician is now based out of Seoul, Korea. “I always wondered why my parents wanted to live in the U.S. so much, [since] they don’t speak English very well. I saw them struggling so much, and I always wondered why they just didn’t stay in Korea. I had a lot of questions,” he said. Big Phony is still working and living out of Seoul, and releasing music for his loyal fan base. You can check out his music on Spotify and through his bandcamp website.
Min Jin Lee
Originally born in Seoul, award-winning author Min Jin Lee immigrated to Queens, New York in 1976, when she was seven years old. After attending Yale University, she was on track to attend Georgetown Law until she abandoned her law career to pursue her dream of writing, specifically about the Korean diaspora.
Although Lee has achieved literary success with prestigious awards and fellowships, she struggled professionally for many years. In an essay for Literary Hub, she wrote about her two failed manuscripts, the lack of financial stability in fiction writing, and the eventual sale of her first novel, Free Food for Millionaires (2007), which became an instant national best seller. Her historical novel, Pachinko (2017), was a finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction, optioned for a TV show by Apple, and deemed one of The New York Times’ “10 Best Books of 2017.”
Min Jin Lee has become an icon in the world of writing, and has brought the Korean diaspora into the minds and hearts of those removed from the lifestyle and culture she so vividly describes. You can find out more about Min Jin Lee’s work on her website.
mxmtoon, also known by her first name, Maia, is a Chinese-American singer-songwriter from Oakland, California. mxmtoon (pronounced as em-ex-em-toon) describes herself as “Hapa,” a Hawaiian word for “part” that has spread beyond the islands to describe anyone who is part Asian or Pacific Islander.
Maia got her start as a Youtuber where she shared her drawings, chatted about her experiences growing up in Oakland, and recorded herself singing and playing the ukulele on Garageband. She was planning to study architecture until her bedroom-recorded tracks went viral on TikTok. After this, Maia knew that she wanted to pursue a career in music.
The musician’s debut album The Masquerade (2019) captured listeners with its relatable lyrics. She discusses topics of heartbreak, seasonal depression, and loneliness issues that many people, especially amidst the pandemic, are struggling with. You can listen to mxmtoon through her Spotify and on her website.
Chinese-Canadian cook Clarence Kwan is the person behind the Instagram account @thegodofcookery, which uses images of Chinese food as a form of resistance. The account increased in popularity as racist attacks against Asian communities in the Western world became emboldened by the pandemic in 2020.
Kwan posts photos of home-cooked Chinese dishes as a form of political protest. He aims to unabashedly celebrate Chinese food to combat years of anti-Asian racism. “Every Asian kid growing up in a white world has gone through the same collective experiences,” he states in an interview, recalling how many Asian children are subject to ridicule for their “‘weird’ school lunches.”
The use of social media as an unconventional site of protest against anti-Asian racism urges users to question the hidden biases they may have. “Chinese food is a form of resistance,” Kwan writes in his Instagram bio. You can check out Kwan’s delicious food on his Instagram page.