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Invisible No More: How Northeast Ohio Asian Americans are finding their voice to speak out against hate

Invisible No More: Northeast Ohio Asian Americans finding their voices and speaking out against AAPI hate

The so-called “invisible minority” is experiencing a cultural shift, as a younger generation rallies against AAPI hate crimes.

CLEVELAND — Think of a Hollywood star, an athlete, a singer and a politician. Did you do it? Chances are, you probably thought of someone who is White, Black or Latino. Probably not an Asian American, though. 

Honestly, I didn’t either, even though I was born in Chicago to Chinese immigrants. But even as Asian Americans are enjoying success in these fields, many still feel like they are regarded as a foreigner in their own country. 

Awkwafina, who recently won a Golden Globe award for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy, spoke out against a disturbing spike in Asian American Pacific Islander hate crimes. 

“We are raised to feel very American, but…we’re told we don’t belong here,” she explained.

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Jordan Wong is a Cleveland graphic artist who weaves the whimsy of comic books, video games, manga and anime in his creations. His newest exhibit, The 10,000 Things, is currently on display in the gardens of the Akron Art Museum. 

“I have the privilege and honor to work as a full-time artist under the name Wongface, and I am a second-generation born Chinese American,” he said.

Wong’s work can also be seen in a vibrant mural on the corner of East 30th Street and Payne Avenuw in Cleveland’s Asia Town, where he hopes his public art can lift the visibility of the Asian-American community.

“I think a lot of Asian cultures teach other generations to keep your head down and don’t cause trouble, so Asian Americans are not as vocal,” he explained. 

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Many children of Asian immigrants know the mantras of every Asian parent: Work hard, don’t complain, don’t be boastful. It’s how struggling immigrants tried to assimilate in America, but many believe it also perpetuated their own invisibility.

Then came a surge in attacks against Asian Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Stop AAPI Hate, more than 6,600 hate incidents have been reported since March 2020. 

The so-called “invisible minority” emerged with protests nationwide, even here in Cleveland. Vera Boggs, the Cleveland Regional Director with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission– and a Chinese American– sees a cultural shift on the horizon. 

“It is the people who have grown up in America, who are younger, who are going to get out there to make it known,” Boggs said of the recent advocacy for the AAPI community. “The saying goes, ‘The squeaky wheel is the one that gets the oil,'” she said. 

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“I don’t think we’re going to be invisible that much longer,” said Wong, crediting increased activism and the rising profiles of successful Asian Americans, such as Vice-President Kamala Harris, the first Black, Asian American, and female to be elected vice-president.

Wong himself is the first Asian-American graphic artist to headline an exhibit at the Akron Art Museum. He hopes to inspire the next generation of artists who look like him.

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“If I can create more instances of that? Wow. My job is done,” he said.

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