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For 2023, the AAC sought out UNC students, alumni, faculty, or staff for a collaborative art display to be housed at the AAC for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM) focused on Asian American experiences. Each artist created an artistic reflection of an Asian American historical event from the 1950s-present to create a legible narrative of Asian American histories and experiences. There was an artistic thread in the background of each canvas to bring them together. Artists collaborated with one another to decide on this common thread, but had control of their piece otherwise. The goal was to highlight the experiences and histories of Asian Americans to create an educational and artistic experience to celebrate APHAM on UNC Arts Everywhere Day (14 April 2023).




Chinatown Streetlights by Julia Barnett

Areas known as “Chinatown” exist throughout the world, however I chose to represent the first Chinatown in the United States, which was in San Francisco. In 1853 the San Francisco neighborhood was officially coined “Chinatown” by the press and the area underwent many struggles such as the Chinese Exclusion Act, earthquakes, and fires, but the community united and rebuilt brick by brick, paving the way for the next Chinese American generation. Viewed within the context of America, Chinatown is an American working-class community that has been a partner in building this nation with every other American working-class community. Like all other American neighborhoods, Chinatown has been developed by the will and energies of immigrants, which is essential to the history of Asian American culture in the United States. Chinatowns around the United States are also prime tourist hotspots in major cities, as they contain unique architectures, bars, nightclubs, specialty stores, and unmatchable Chinese cuisine. Chinatowns have become the epitome of what many view as Asian American culture in the United States, so it was crucial that I displayed a more historical aspect to my piece in order to pay my respects the origin of Chinese influence and culture for Asian American Awareness month!

野口 勇 by Sophia Hamidi-Sani

This piece is a dedication to the great Japanese American artist Isamu Noguchi, who made significant contributions to the artistic field of sculpture and design. He was born in Los Angeles, California, in 1904, and spent most of his childhood in Japan. Noguchi returned to the United States at the age of 14 and eventually studied art in New York City. His work is characterized by a blend of Eastern and Western influences, and he is known for his innovative use of materials such as stone, metal, and paper. Noguchi’s legacy continues to influence modern art and design. He received numerous awards and honors during his lifetime, including the National Medal of Arts from Ronald Raegan in 1987. He passed away in 1988 at the age of 84. This painting is particularly special to me because my grandmother, who came to America in 1963, actually knew Noguchi when she was younger. He was one of the only other Japanese person she knew in New York. They would share conversation and he often drove her back home to Ozone Park in his fancy sports car. The personal connection between my grandmother and Isamu Noguchi makes me feel even more connected to his legacy and the impact he had on the art world.

Crossing the Waters to Freedom by Trang Le

Woven together are photos that depict two events that are very relevant to American history: the Revolutionary War and the Vietnamese refugee crisis. Despite depicting such unconnected events, there are huge similarities among these photos, one which depicts Vietnamese refugees (also known as “boat people”) and the other, the painting of “George Washington Crossing the Delaware” by Emanuel Leutze. The iconic Washington painting symbolizes the fight for freedom that the Americans took on during the Revolutionary War. This is very similar to the fight that Vietnamese people undertook after the Vietnam War ended (in 1975), when many fled on fishing boats in search of freedom. Though no one sailed from Vietnam to the United States directly, many landed in refugee camps in other Southeast Asian countries, and from there, many were sent to the United States, where Vietnamese American communities began to grow. From 1975 to 1990, the United States passed several acts that made it possible to admit hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese refugees into the country. Today, the vast majority of Vietnamese Americans (along with many Laotian Americans and Cambodian Americans) can trace their personal history back to this refugee crisis, which makes them unique among most Americans (and even other Asian Americans).

Asian Americans in STEM by Tiffanie Lee

I choose 7 Asian Americans “superstars” who have made significant contributions to various areas in STEM. From the top left to right, David Ho (physician and virologist who made significant contributions to understanding and the treatment of HIV), Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (theoretical physicist who studied the physical processes important to the structure and evolution of stars), Flossie Wong-Staal (molecular biologist who was the first to clone HIV and determine the function of its genes), Edward Tsang Lu (physicist and astronaut). From bottom left to right, Kalpana Chawla (aerospace engineer and first female astronaut of Indian origin), Chien-Shiung Wu (particle and experimental physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project and proved that parity is not conserved, known as the “First Lady of Physics” and the “Queen of Nuclear Research”), Steven Chu (physicist, professor, and former US Secretary of Energy). There are two stars on the bottom left and top right who represent the men and women who are unrecognized as well as all the Asian American scientists, engineers, etc. of future generations.

Asian A M E R I C A N by Ina Liu

“Asian A M E R I C A N” is inspired by the coining of the term in 1968 by Yuji Ichioka and Emma Gee during the founding of the Asian American Political Alliance. While “Asian American” has been a term and identity that have brought solidarity among our communities, it has also been utilized against us in aggregating us into a monolith, further erasing the unique needs and lived experiences of our diaspora. We are not a monolith, but a mosaic of different experiences. This piece therefore shows the tension between these two and asks how can we find a balance

Third World Liberation Front (TWLF) by Isabel Lu

The Third World Liberation Fronts (TWLF) of 1968 and 1969 were two separate strikes organized by multi-ethnic student organizations at San Francisco State and Berkeley University campuses. These students (including Black, Latin American, Chicano, Asian American, and Native American) demanded that their curriculum reflect the history and culture of minority populations. These protests led to the founding of Ethnic Studies and Black Studies in American higher education, and paved the way for Asian American studies programs across the country later on. TWLF is an historic event that showed how much student action matters. It’s because of the students leading TWLF that Asian American students and scholars now can better understand how their cultures and histories have shaped this country, and find communities to feel a sense of belonging and safety in Predominantly White Institutions.

டப்பாங்குத்து by Preethi Saravanan

Caste abolition in the US has made slow, but steady progress in areas like California and Seattle through anti-caste legislation and continues to spread into other sectors such as the Arts. Last year Usha Jey, Vidhushi Shrivatsava, and Anjali Mehta performed a Kuthu dance performance at Vogue’s magazine 130th anniversary in New York City. Asian American history, specifically Indian American history has been limited by notions of respectability based on caste, national origin, ethnicity, and skin color. Kuthu, originating from caste-marginalized groups in Tamil Nadu (South India), comes from the soul. As opposed to Bharatanatyam (a popular artform among the Indian diaspora with contentious ties to caste and gender inequity), this performance brought Tamil culture to the national stage in a way that transcended politics of acceptability and cultural crystallization, connecting people from all over the world – from Eezham Tamil immigrants to first generation Indian Americans, like myself.

中文学校 by Elena Tsai

School is in session! Except it’s on a Saturday in some random elementary school, someone else’s name is taped to your desk, and the cursive alphabet on the whiteboard is covered by a poster of the weekly Chinese vocab words. My art piece tries to capture a snippet of the equally beloved and beloathed institution known as ‘Chinese School’. For me, Chinese school was a conflicting experience. Housed in American public schools (and the occasional church), we lived through a recreation of our parents’ education system oceans and decades away. Each class grew up together from kindergarten all the way up to ninth grade, whereas in American public schools you were separated by the next class period. This contradiction between the physical space and the emotional space that Chinese schools exist in is what I seek to express.

Seed of the Nail Industry by Kayla Vu

As the daughter of two nail technicians, nail salons are a very familiar place in my heart. There, I would do my homework, fetch lunch for aunts and uncles, and get my own nails done by my father. Beyond the salon, I could meet any other Vietnamese American and bond over the near and dear experiences we shared.

Painted is the start of it all— Vietnamese refugees gathering around actress’s Tippi Hedren’s nail technician, Dusty Coots, as she taught Vietnamese women to become beauticians.