by Mark Van Streefkerk
A video storytelling campaign was launched at the beginning of this month to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) heritage. “Our Stories Are Your Stories” (OSAYS) is a growing video collection of short oral histories from AAPI people of all walks of life in the greater Seattle area. Coinciding with AAPI Heritage Month, another goal of OSAYS is to help dispel harmful misconceptions about these diverse communities and create empathy as a response to the disturbing trend of anti-Asian violence and xenophobia.
Notable Seattle athletes, artists, actors, and community leaders like Doug Baldwin, Dr. Vin Gupta, Hollis Wong-Wear, Gary Locke, Lana Condor, Yuji Okumoto, Lauren Tran, and more have kicked off the campaign by contributing their stories — and OSAYS expects more to come. The oral histories don’t have strict guidelines but primarily explore the questions, “What does it mean to be Asian American or Pacific Islander?” and “How does identity inform your life?” Anyone from the AAPI community is encouraged to contribute. The OSAYS videos will become part of the Wing Luke Museum’s oral history archives.
Mimi Gan, director, video storyteller, and founder of Mi2Media, LLC, said, “With all the anti-Asian hate that’s been going on and the hate towards other minority communities, we want this to combat the hate with some empathy and understanding. Once you get to know someone, those barriers or walls come down.”
For the campaign launch, OSAYS invited members of the AAPI community to come to Wing Luke and film their stories, made possible by an all-AAPI crew. Former Seahawks wide receiver, Baldwin, shared his childhood memories of weekends spent with his Filipina grandma. Wong-Wear shared her story of growing up in her mother’s Chinese restaurant in Northern California and what embracing a mixed Chinese American identity means to her. Gupta, of the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, has most recently been visible in the news as an expert in health policy. For OSAYS, Gupta had the opportunity to share about his experience being South Asian and how he was cautioned by his mom to tread lightly as racism and xenophobia was on the rise after 9/11. So far, 15 of OSAYS’ core stories have been filmed. The plan is to release one every day at least through the month of May on their website and social media accounts.
OSAYS started at the end of March as a conversation between five AAPI women in response to rampant anti-Asian hate and misconceptions perpetuated by the media, which turned into a call to action. Gan, Maya Mendoza-Exstrom of Seattle Sounders FC, Mari Horita of Seattle Kraken, Katherine Cheng from Expedia Group, and Betti Fujikado of Copacino Fujikado, turned their collective concerns into a campaign to amplify the diverse voices of the AAPI community.
Mendoza-Exstrom, the senior VP of legal and external affairs at Seattle Sounders FC, said, “It started with a rant.” She noted that the five women were frustrated with the stereotype of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders portrayed as passive, “model minority” citizens. It’s a common and inaccurate assessment of AAPI communities who seldom have agency over their own narratives. Then in March, when the devastating news broke about the massage parlor shootings in Atlanta, the hyper-sexualization of Asian women was another dimension added to the national dialogue — these dangerous stereotypes can lead to real-world harm for the AAPI community.
“We were all at a point where we wanted to do something, but we weren’t sure what to do,” Gan said. “We didn’t want to keep talking about it — we wanted to have some kind of call to action … when we came upon ‘Our Stories Are Your Stories,’ that just felt really right.”
These stories are not only for the AAPI community but for everyone, Mendoza-Exstrom said. She hopes OSAYS can give people a moment of pause when they visit the CID or when they buy flowers from the Hmong farmers at Pike Place Market. The histories of AAPI communities are “an important part in the legacy and fabric of our city and our region and our culture,” she said, “and they should pause to wonder, ‘What is your story?’”
The five women turned into a volunteer executive team to help film and coordinate the OSAYS campaign. Three of the founding women serve on the board of the Wing Luke Museum, the fiscal sponsor for OSAYS. Other sponsors include Microsoft, Amazon, the Seattle Seahawks, Seattle Sounders FC, and the Seattle Mariners.
OSAYS hopes that their collection of stories will keep growing long after AAPI Heritage Month is over and that their toolkit can be helpful to other communities with similar campaigns. In addition to collecting stories, OSAYS is brainstorming ways to get their content out to even more people and when it’s safe to do so, like adding an in-person component.
“It just gets my brain turning about all the ways the Wing can be a more focused and more powerful voice in our community, and I say that about NAAM [Northwest African American Museum] and some of the other great institutions that are doing this great storytelling work and archive work,” said Mendoza-Exstrom. “This is the secret sauce that’s going to bring us together.”
Check out the official OSAYS website for a toolkit with tips on recording and submitting your own oral history. You can follow the project on Instagram at @OurStoriesAreYourStories, on Twitter, and through the hashtag #OSAYS.
You can also support OSAYS with a donation through the Wing Luke Museum. Make sure to enter “OSAYS” when donating on the website.
Editors’ Note: This article has been corrected to reflect that Lauren Tran is a contributor to OSAYS. A previous draft listed Laura Cline in error.
📸 Featured Image: Some of the OSAYS film crew and contributors at a thank-you celebration at Citizen. (Photo: Jordan Nicholson)
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