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Proud to be Asian
By Alixandra Rutnik on Jan 27, 2021
One club Members Seine Kongruangkit & Quynh Tran take a stance against Asian xenophobia
COVID-19 has been a troubling time for us all, and specifically for the Asian-community who have been innapropriately targeted and harassed as a result of pandemic-related prejudices.
One Club Members and Miami Ad School Students Seine Kongruangkit & Quynh Tran celebrate what it means to be Asian in their film titled "We Are Asian." "We are Asian" is how they chose to retaliate against Asian xenophobia — not by getting even, but through positivity and pride.
We caught up with Seine and Quynh and we learned that they tranformed their rage into a film that educates others on the incredible elements of Asian cultutres.
You recount that Trump called COVD-19 “the Chinese-virus.” What was your immediate reaction after hearing him say that? Have you both been treated differently because of the pandemic?
Seine: The “Chinese virus” or “Kung-flu–" to say that we were furious is an understatement. This rootless hatred towards the Asian community had already been occurring for a while since the pandemic broke out, and the fact that the leader of one of the most influential countries in the world made such an outrageous remark was an immediate catalyst for this hatred to spike even more strongly, and at the same time unmasking how vicious it really is.
Quynh & Seine: Living in Berlin, Germany — a fairly decent and centralized European city, we were fortunate enough to not have encountered any severe physical attacks, but we were occasionally conditioned to a certain kind of unspoken racism, with weird stares being thrown at us on the subway. I also once faced a German lady who requested that I keep a distance because she assumed I was carrying the virus for my Chinese look. Many of our Asian and Asian-looking friends experienced something worse — some got yelled at “CORONAVIRUS,” some were denied entrance to a store, and some were told to go back to their country. These are scarring experiences.
Quynh: This Anti-Asian xenophobia soared partially due to the pandemic, and it has proven to be a pandemic within a pandemic. In hindsight, as Asians, we were raised to stay silent and tolerant under any circumstance. We both think this has to change, because our discomfort will never be known to others unless we allow it to be heard. Within the scope of media and advertising, there are also a couple of aspects we can rework to partake in fixing this issue, like initiating more conversations around this topic or normalizing starring Asian talent in TV commercials. The battle against Asian xenophobia is a long haul, and it calls for a collective effort from the entire society. So in the end, we can’t say it will be “eradicated,” we just hope it will be gradually eased off.
"This Anti-Asian xenophobia soared partially due to the pandemic, and it has proven to be a pandemic within a pandemic."
This film is all about being proud to be Asian. Why did you decide to create this film in this specific way?
Quynh: As creatives, our mutual frustration wasn’t entirely based on the emotion itself, but on how desperate we felt because we knew we could use our creativity to do so much in response to the matter. The creation behind this project was a roller coaster for us, as well. We started brainstorming in pure rage, and most of the directions we explored were, let’s say, very revenge-oriented (we first landed on using an AR filter to give Instagram users a virtual experience of how it feels like to be punched as a bullied Asian).
Seine & Quynh: Then at one point, it struck us that a dark approach would only push the problem to a dead end, and the media had already spoiled us with enough pessimism during that time. We decided to completely switch our lens — no more goosebumps of fear, only goosebumps of pride. That pride lies within us, the Asians, and what we inherently possess– the tastiest food, the most preserved culture, the hardest-working parents, and the bravest medical staff on the front line amidst this pandemic– that is what makes us Asian, and no mocking, spitting, or yelling can wreck the long way we have come. Quynh started crafting the storyline and the script for the film, then sent it over to me to draft the art and audio style. I was particularly careful about making sure the visual and the sound would do justice to the message conveyed.
Seine: Then came a July afternoon, and within an hour of publishing “We Are Asian” on Instagram, we were gladly greeted with tons of positive responses from the Internet– both from Asian and Western viewers. This mini success took us by surprise when it expectedly went viral in Vietnam, and we were once again flooded with messages from complete strangers thanking us for a meaningful initiative. This beautiful impact matters to us more than any award or media recognition, and it once again reminds us of the reason why we embarked on this creative advertising path in the beginning.
Additionally, you express that everyone gets grouped together despite the amazing cultural differences. Talk to us about the challenge of overcoming a monolithic view.
Seine: It’s tricky to find a continent as prolific and vibrant as Asia. We are vastly diverse, yet we are so in sync. Every country has its own unique trademark, culture, and language, yet we replicate a chunk of each other’s patterns and customs. Chinese, Japanese, Taiwanese, Hongkonger, Korean, Vietnamese, Thai, Filipinos, Laos, Singaporean, Indonesian and Cambodian — none of us are exactly similar to the other, and it’s even more wrong to categorize us all as Chinese. In the end, our similarities define us, but so does our diversity.
"It’s tricky to find a continent as prolific and vibrant as Asia. We are vastly diverse, yet we are so in sync. Every country has its own unique trademark, culture, and language, yet we replicate a chunk of each other’s patterns and customs."
As the art director of this project, I especially prioritized the inclusivity of each country by being highly fastidious about every small element, color, brush style, and pattern that I used in every frame.
You end this film by explicitly stating, “We are not the virus. We are Asian.” As an Asian-American, why do you think this message is important for the public to hear?
Quynh: To be completely frank, we are fed up with being labeled, especially when that label is indicative of a misleading and hatred-fuelled notion– a virus. We are far from being a virus, we are simply Asian, the Asian that are inherently fearless, diligent, and unstoppable. “We are Asian” isn’t a slur, it’s an immensely stacked honor. We put this message out there and we had a realistic ambition of altering the hostile definition that has long been slapped onto the title “Asian” itself– slant-eyed, yellow-skinned, and small-figured. Our Asian virtue is way beyond those shallow and stereotypical physical characteristics.
"We are far from being a virus, we are simply Asian, the Asian that are inherently fearless, diligent, and unstoppable. “We are Asian” isn’ a slur, it’s an immensely stacked honor."
It’s January 2021, we now have a COVID vaccine and a new President who just signed a memorandum condemning Asian-American racism. How are you feeling about the new year so far?
Quynh: There has never been a better time to be hopeful than right now. 2020 was clearly a year infused with adversity in terms of racial talks, but it also witnessed the upsurge of the Asian community’s accomplishments that has never appeared so fierce before. We saw Kamala Harris elected as the first female Black-Asian Vice President of the United States, we saw BTS as the first Korean group to ever receive the prestigious Grammy nomination, and sliding into 2021, we are pouring out utmost support for Andrew Yang as an outstanding Taiwanese-American politician running for New York City Mayor.
As for our sides, both of us are soon to be graduating from Miami Ad School this year, and we are so ready to kick-start our career in this apparently troubling time that is just truthfully seeking more positivity and joy than ever. May the world be healed with the advent of the vaccine, and may the both of us soon get to start contributing ourselves to the advertising industry awaiting lots of positive changes in 2021.
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