Chinese New Year is coming up (this Saturday), and while I’m happy to celebrate it, I also often wonder about what non-Asians get out of Chinese New Years celebrations. There are always inevitably a good number of non-Asians who come to Chinese New Years celebrations and, presumably, enjoy the food and performances of traditional Chinese dances. But do they continue to learn more about Asian culture and the issues that Asians face after they leave the celebration? I’m pretty sure they don’t. However, not all is lost—there are many great websites out there discussing Asian activism. Today’s web crush is one such website which focuses specifically on the work of Asian women.
The Sad Asian Girls Club was started by students Olivia Park and Esther Fan from the Rhode Island School of Design in response to what they saw as a lack of authentic representation in both their schoolwork and in Western media. Go to any art store and you’ll see stereotypical “Asian-inspired” ink and cherry blossoms, but Park and Fan were looking for something more relevant to their lives. One of their first projects was an art installation which you might have seen on Tumblr: they asked other Asian girls to finish the sentence “Asian girls are not ____”, printed the results, and pasted them on the walls of their school library.
As an Asian girl myself, I truly appreciate how Park and Fan’s projects have tried to cover many of the issues that Asian girls face, not just one or two. Their art installation lays bare many microaggressions and racist beliefs from non-Asians; their first project, a video entitled “Have You Eaten?”, shines a light on the extreme and at times severe generational gap in both cultural and social values between Asian-American girls and their immigrant families; and their three-part video on the “model minority” myth explains and debunks the belief that Asians are “good” immigrants because they “work hard”.
This last one is particularly poignant for me, because the model minority myth is something I was always uncomfortable with and which caused me a lot of stress when I was still in school. It sets Asian-Americans apart from “less desirable” immigrants, such as African-Americans, because they’re supposedly smarter; at the same time, any Asian accomplishments, like playing instruments proficiently, excelling in math classes, and getting into Ivy League schools, are put down to the simple fact that “they’re Asian.” (I was terrible at math but when I got As on math tests, people would say “of course” instead of “good job!” It was great for my anxiety disorder!) So I hope that hearing the collection of Asian girls in Park and Fan’s videos articulately cut down the model minority myth will help get rid of this incorrect understanding once and for all.
Though Park and Fan say that they don’t intend on continuing the Sad Asian Girls Club after they graduate, their work is still up on their website for all to see, and they’ve told PBS that they intend to use their platform to promote work by other Asian girls. This Chinese New Year, check out their art if you have a chance! You can find them on their website, Twitter, and YouTube channel.