Illustrator Sandra Hsu is the co-founder of 'Share Your Asian Story,' a gorgeous Instagram art campaign on Instagram for the AAPI community to advance social justice through creativity. We talked to Sandra, an artist herself, about Share Your Asian Story, and the impact she hopes to create.
Alefiya: What does your Asian identity mean to you?
Sandra: Well, I’m Chinese-American. I love the way that Chinese culture values family above all else and the respect of elders. Everybody always tries to be together all the time and I love that about our family. An important part of that was also the food and the holidays, like the Chinese New Year and the Moon Festival. I’m also very proud of Chinese history and it’s very fascinating stuff to learn about.
Alefiya: How do you talk to your kids about Asian hate crimes? What are those conversations like?
Sandra: Both my kids are actually older- I have one son who’s 21, he’s a junior in college, and then I have another one who’s already graduated and he’s teaching high school. My kids are biracial and they grew up in a very white neighborhood. They enjoyed the cultural side of their heritage, but I honestly think they regarded themselves as mostly white. For my younger son especially, I don’t think he viewed the recent Asian hate crimes as something that had to do with him personally. Like, he felt compassion for the community, but I don’t think he really felt part of that community himself. My older son, he’s read a lot of books about Asian history and racism- he was telling me that it’s very interesting that as Asian Americans, we can come together as a community and find a voice together, whereas in Asia, Asian countries view themselves as separate peoples.
Alefiya: How and why did you start ShareYourAsianStory? Tell me everything.
Sandra: I am an artist, and one of the things I do is fashion illustration. A few years ago, I discovered an Instagram account called ‘Drawadot’ created by Marcus Kan. Marcus is just a fashion lover and an illustrator, and with this account, he started doing open calls for fashion illustration competitions every other month. That’s how I met him on Instagram. And then, I was invited to an event on Clubhouse, which is a new social media app that’s just listening to voices live. I was in the ‘room’ listening to Asian people’s stories about racism and their lives and things like that. One of the people that was in the ‘room’ that day had even started an organization called ‘Hate Is A Virus’ to raise awareness. After the event, I messaged one of the girls that had spoken and I was like,”Hey, I was really moved by what you said. I’m an illustrator. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do to help and raise awareness”, and she was like, “Yeah, you know, we might want to start a campaign of some sort in the near future” This was at the end of January. I said, “I’m gonna put you in touch with Marcus.” He, as I said before, was the creator of Drawadot. And he didn’t want to wait, he said, “I want to raise awareness now! And I want you and two other Asian illustrators I know to create some primary images!” When we got together on Zoom, we were talking about our hashtag and what our name would be and we were talking about how we really didn’t like the negative words that were flying around like ‘hate’ and ‘stop’ and ‘violence’. I was looking at the definition of racism and thinking about how if a person got to know me and my story, if I was humanized in their eyes, they really wouldn’t be able to perpetuate racism against me. And that’s how ‘Share Your Asian Story’ was born. As the account and primary artwork were created, we got really positive feedback and we started to get popular. There were many people who weren’t artistic and were still reaching out to share their stories, and then that’s how we started the Instagram live interview series. We’ve had amazing connections and there’s always something very organic and emotional that comes out of these episodes and submissions.
Alefiya: Are there any stories/submissions you’ve received that have been especially moving?
Sandra: I can’t really pinpoint a specific one. But the ones that really stick out to me are the ones where they’re like “I’m done being quiet, I’m done being silent.” I love the stories where these people really start owning who they are.
Alefiya: What is the biggest thing you hope non-Asian people take away from ShareYourAsianStory? What do you hope they learn?
Sandra: Talk to your Asian friends and get their stories. It’s not that hard. Just find your empathy, talk to your friends, and see what it’s really like. Listen. When I’ve spoken about my experiences to some well-meaning white friends, I’ve heard them say, “Oh, I had NO idea?” and I’m like, “Really? No idea?” Just really listen, but don’t speak over us.