After last year’s 100 AZNs (2017), I realized many people felt that “Asian American” held little to no meaning to them personally. Just as the term “Asian American” was coined as a defiant rejection of pre-determined labels (“Oriental” and “other”), 100 AZNs encourages a re-imagination of the language, visuals and stories with which we use to define ourselves and our cultural legacies.
100 AZNs reclaims “Asian American” on our own terms. The widespread dissociation from “Asian American” on an individual level is a subconscious f*ck you to the uninspiring, at best, and dangerous, at worst, dominant narrative about Asian American identity. White supremacy’s historic perversion of “Asian American” lumps together all Asian subcultures in order to encourage a pro-model minority/anti-Black agenda as well as further inequality between East Asians and Southeast Asians. Overshadowed is the initial intentions of “Asian American” set by Chinese, Filipinx and Japanese students to unify Asians across subcultures during anti-Vietnam War and Civil Rights Movement organizing. Similar to the first call in 1968, this is a time for pan-Asian solidarity.
In addition to language, 100 AZNs explores visuals in order to hack away at the monolithic idea of an Asian American identity and honor the countless intersectional identities that exist within. In this way, it also celebrates my own identity. The practice of creating 100 AZNs allows me to locate my own place as a first generation Korean American adoptee. I hold my light-skinned East Asian privilege in tandem with the fact that my adoptee identity is marginalized, yet, within adoption circles, my Korean Americanness is dominant. I walk into an adoption conference and I can throw a nickel and hit another Minnesotan Korean adoptee. I walk into an Asian American gathering and I shrink a bit. I walk into any room as the only Asian person and it feels lonely but familiar. Knowing these dynamics within myself makes it easier to see my own humanity and recognize others’ in Asian and non-Asian spaces.
The first 100 AZNs started as a challenge. I cringe, remembering my skepticism that enough Asian Americans could even fill a list. Thanks to the support and resources from many people doing this work long before me, in the span of one year, the fear of scarcity has been replaced by the sheer joy of celebrating individuals and organizations who are continually reclaiming “Asian American” for themselves and others. 100 AZNs is a single visual experiment in skipping the skepticism and imagining a pan-Asian community, one hundred people at a time. Here’s to this year’s 100 AZNs (2018).