Exploring the Resilience of Asian Americans

Exploring the Resilience of Asian Americans

Story by Sarai Li / Photography by Andrew Kung / Art direction by Djiun Wang

To be Asian American is to exist at the intersection of invisibility and hyper-visibility. Like any double edged sword, it's an experience difficult to put into words.

Recognizing this, Photographer Andrew Kung and Art Director Djiun Wang'sPAPER photo series, "Dawn," explores the crucible of resilience. From the over-sexualization of Asian women to the myth that Asians cannot be American, Kung and Wang's work is a love letter to their community that says, "I see you and I love you," in no words at all.

Asian models like Jeannie Park, Wonhee Lee, Angelica De Jesus and Hop Nguyen are the center of Kung's lens as he contrasts bright, vivid colors against the darkness of the past two years.

(On Wonhee) Top: Private Policy, Skirt: 022397BLUFF

In a series of solo portraits (pictured below), Kung photographs the sacrifices that come with duality: namely how Asian Americans are often forced to hide their "Asian" behind the Americana. Last summer, former presidential candidate Andrew Yang wrote a Washington Post op-ed that was greeted with backlash when he suggested it was up to the AAPI community to "be more American" — a common, but harmful argument that places the burden of racism on its victims.

These images dismantle that idea by showing how no matter what, Asian Americans will always still be Asian: from the color of our skin to the shape of our eyes, there is no erasing an inherent part of our identity. The red featured throughout "Dawn" represents the range, anger and fear that is within us when we are forced to assimilate.

(On Jeannie) Jacket: Private Policy

Over the last year and a half, the Asian American identity has become synonymous with "virus." Stop AAPI Hate reported more than 9,000 hate incidents in the United States since last April when misnomers like "Kung Flu" and "China Virus" were unfairly used to target East Asians around the world.

But xenophobia has always existed in the US: from the Chinese Exclusion Act to the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, Asian Americans have always felt the wrath of white supremacy in this country. In some portraits, Kung showcases the deep grief that runs collectively through our community, while others also pay homage to how much of America has been built on the back of immigrants. America, at its core, is diverse and to be Asian is to be as American as anyone else.

In the midst of global tragedy and structural racism, there's joy to be found too. Since last year, Asian Americans from all over the country have come together in solidarity. While hate aims to exile Asians from America, it's the love for each other and the community that will define this period of Asian American history.

Kung's series also captures this unique moment in history where the nation has to come to its racial reckoning — one that continues to build momentum as corporations and individuals alike shift to dismantle all the tent poles of racism that have defined America for far too long. Through "Dawn," Kung ultimately expresses his hope that we are slowly, but surely shifting our narrative in how we talk about race.

Despite the tragedies, Asian American activist groups have continued to push for policy that will support the AAPI community at large. On a grassroots level, individuals have formed mutual aid networks to protect elderly Asian Americans from harm; the collective action in the community has prompted responses from offices as high as the White House. Public figures like Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Lana Condor, Jamie Chung and more are using their massive platforms to raise awareness, as well.

Photography: Andrew Kung
Art direction: Djiun Wang
Styling: Lisa Jarvis

Production: Morgan Young
Lighting design: Eliot Oppenheimer
Digital technician: Glenn Lim
Assistant: Barbara Rios
Videographer: Brian Chu
Hair: Niko Weddle (using Kenra)
Makeup: Kevin Cheah (using MAC Cosmetics)
Models: Jeannie Park, Wonhee Lee, Angelica De Jesus and Hop Nguyen