By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
Can you name five Asian American Pacific Islander influencers off the top of your head?
This is the challenge that spurred two University of Washington (UW) Bothell students to reach out to their friends and become influencers themselves.
The month of May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, and Leah Shih and John Kim have used their social media savvy to build BeSpoken, a project to honor the Asian American experience.
“We wanted to represent the Asian American voice,” explained Shin, a sophomore. “BeSpoken is about Asian American communities speaking up and speaking out,” said Kim.
They found it challenging to name more than five Asian American influencers and leaders well-represented in the media. The two decided that they should try to do something to change this. Sparked by this past November’s presidential election, the two devised a strategy to change the landscape
of AAPI perceptions in the media.
Working with friends at other colleges, they have amassed a following across the country to come together and share their AAPI role models. The mission is to bring to light AAPI leaders that “have shattered the bamboo ceilings from generalizations to stereotypes,” according to a press release.
Shin and Kim contacted 20 students they knew on Facebook and the following spread. Currently, there are approximately 73 students participating from 13 colleges, including the University of Southern California, Drexel University in Philadelphia, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and Seattle University.
The BeSpoken Project seeks to gather students to pull together photos of people in the AAPI community that inspire them and write about why they chose that individual. Students pose in a similar fashion to their role models in photos. The website, aapibespoken.com, features photos of these college students with a short paragraph on what it means to be an AAPI in today’s culture. They are then asked to upload the photo onto social media and challenge others to join with the hashtag #StaySpoke.
“We never meant for this to be a political movement,” said Shin, “We wanted it to be a social movement … We are speaking out for our own identity.”
“We want Asian American students to speak up.” Kim added, “We want them to feel like they can do greater stuff.”
The two recall that it was very challenging to get people to join and follow through with the project. “It was interesting to listen to their stories and speak out about their own identity,” stated Kim.
The duo partnered with t-shirt maker Cotton Bureau to sell shirts and stickers. The website states that 90 percent of proceeds from shirt sales will be donated to AAPI initiatives.
One of the students participating in the movement chose Washington State Supreme Court Justice Mary Yu as an AAPI influencer. They reached out to Yu via Facebook and she responded positively to the acknowledgment.
The group is not sure about what will happen after this month, but a local meetup might be a possibility.
Regardless, the project to create awareness among students of the many AAPI leaders out there is a way to highlight Asian American heritage month.
For more information on the project, visit aapibespoken.com.
Jason can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.