We Are Human: Celebrating AAPI Identities

We Are Human: Celebrating AAPI Identities

Read Time: 3 minutes

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in the United States, and in honor and recognition, SEGD presents this essay by contributor Shayla Hufana, Senior Art Director at Cognizant (Seattle, WA), a member of SEGD’s Racial Justice Commission and Co-Chair of SEGD’s Seattle Chapter. In her piece, Shayla writes about a work of public art she created in Seattle and how she hopes to empower AAPI youth “to reach beyond what any stereotype says of their background, identity or culture" and to be whoever they want to be.

My Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) art concept was selected by the Seattle Storm (professional basketball team based in Seattle, Washington, that competes in the Women's National Basketball Association or WNBA) for their Force4Change social justice platform, made possible by Urban ArtWorks and Uptown Alliance. In honor of its public installation during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, before the Storm's season opener, I wanted to tell a story through art, love and basketball to promote safety and awareness of AAPI hate.

First, a little history: At my 5th-grade graduation, I held the mic and told the audience, "I want to be a basketball player in the WNBA. My backup is to be a doctor."

The child you see wrapped in a Filipino flag is now leading others to stand together in unity, strength and courage to face life and work situations that challenge or scare them. This kid is me—my young, confident self (but afraid of needles, so being a doctor didn't work out!)

Sadly, the AAPI community has been experiencing terrible racially-motivated attacks over the past few years, including being targeted and blamed for the spread of COVID. People are afraid. AAPI youth need to be protected against racism and feel safe to be who they are, wherever they are, regardless of what the society says they should be.

The youth illustrated in my artwork for the Storm are real children of different AAPI ethnicities. The titles on their jerseys are skills/careers they want, or those that their parents have which I truly admire. Some aren't generally accepted by an Asian family, and with hate surrounding us, some don't get the chance to live their dreams out. The top of box typography displays key messaging with a basketball formed by names of women who have died too soon due to hate crimes. Some were so young, and some were leaders at their workplaces.

The Storm players—Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd, Mercedes Russell, and Coach Noelle Quinn—rise as advocates, giving these kids hope, motivation and inspiration to reach beyond what any stereotype says of their background, identity or culture. They stand behind as great protectors.

As a younger adult, I remember the advice and pressure from others on how to look, talk, and act. It felt so overwhelming. I used to be afraid to put myself in front of others because of my own personal barriers and negative experiences. My present self wants to help the youth, especially young girls, with intersectional identities and break these walls down. To shine bright like paint! Things may appear messy, but can become beautiful. As artists and designers, we can help the youth navigate hardships through art and with #heart.

Want to see Shayla’s work for yourself? Visit Seattle’s  KOMO Plaza, right across from the world famous Space Needle.

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