Why AAPI Month Has Been Disappointing.

Slide 32
4 min readMay 29, 2020

I got into a discussion with someone the other day about Constance Wu’s acting skills. The consensus was we didn’t think she was that talented. While we debated who would be a suitable substitute for her roles, we couldn’t come up with many other well known Asian American actresses. The person I was speaking with asked why her roles just couldn’t just be filled by an actress from Asia. There were, afterall, so many talented Asian actors to pick from. This comment fired me up.

We are supposed to be celebrating the accomplishments of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders this month, but instead I find myself disappointed by the representation I see. To the unfamiliar, substituting as Asian actor to play a role meant for an Asian American seems to be a simple solution. But it’s not just about representing what someone looks like, it’s about representing who they are.

I am a second generation Asian American and my story and experience is completely different from those of someone who was born and raised in Asia. I was born in the middle of Indiana and lived in a corn field with my family. I’ve lived all over the United States, and even spent some of my childhood and professional years in Asia. Yet, I never completely identified with the Asians I met there. Sure, my heritage is Asian. But my story is American. As an Asian American seeing other Asian Americans in the mainstream media ignites a different type of pride, an acknowledgement that someone like me can be accepted.

Media companies like Spotify and Hulu try to embrace AAPI month, yet the selection of actual media featuring Asian Americans is so minimal they often fill their promotions with artists or films straight from Asia. Every now and then you get an Asian American heritage night in professional sports, but sometimes the leagues and teams trot out an Asian-born player for the occasion. It’s great that more people of Asian descent are getting exposure in mainstream American culture. But, how can you call it a celebration of Asian American Pacific Islanders when your only reference is artists and athletes from Asia? The Asian American experience is unique and deserves to be acknowledged as something different than the Asian experience.

I question the intention of brands when they celebrate AAPI heritage in this manner. These so called celebrations of Asian Americans have devolved into something that just checks off the ol’ cause marketing box in hopes of cashing in. It comes off as tokenism and reflects their ability to really miss the point when it matters. As an Asian American marketing professional, it’s an embarrassment to the marketing profession and an insult to the Asian American community.

There are, however, opportunities to get this right and I am rooting for brands to do so. Here are steps brands can take to authentically tell the AAPI story. First, be deliberate about who you are representing and how. If you’re going to lengths to tell the AAPI story, go a few steps farther and make sure you get it right.

Second, make this more than a one-time marketing opportunity. If you’re noticing that you’re not getting enough content to tell the AAPI story, that’s probably because the opportunity to create those stories didn’t exist. Hire qualified Asian Americans for positions and roles at every level.

Third, listen. Have conversations with Asian American communities to know what’s important to them and what they expect representation to look like.

Unless there are opportunities for Asian Americans in mainstream media, our pool of artists, storytellers and athletes will continue to be minimal and represented by people who don’t really understand our experience. By prioritizing opportunity and representation, the AAPI community will respond positively and the marketing numbers will follow. And only then will we truly be able to celebrate AAPI monthly correctly.

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Slide 32

Slide 32 is a marketing agency with a conscience. We help you connect your marketing efforts to your community to create a positive impact. https://www.slide32.