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‘Asian Americans are American,’ PSA responds to AAPI Hate

By Lia Reichmann, AsAmNews Intern

“Asian Americans are American.”

That is the ending line of Brian G. Cheung’s public service announcement entitled Asian American Gothic.

“The line at the end says, ‘Asian Americans are American’ and it was inspired by a hashtag [I saw] at the time and I was like ‘man, that is so simple, but so true’,” Cheung said in an interview with AsAmNews. “And so with that, I was like how can I manifest that general concept because I feel like some people need to be reminded of that. And to be honest, I needed to be reminded of that because we spend so much of our lives feeling like we’re not or we’re other or we’re a subset of something, but we’re just as American as our neighbor.”

Based in San Francisco, Cheung, an indie-based director, created the PSA in response to recent attacks on Asian Americans. According to a report from California’s Department of Justice, hate crimes against Asian Americans rose 177.5% from 2020 to 2021. 

“I would actually say that it’s not even so much that there’s a question as to whether or not we’re American. It’s a question of whether or not we are as American as other Americans, and the conditional nature of our Americaness lives,” said Jeff Yang, co-author of Rise: A Pop History of Asian America from the Nineties to Now, a New York Times bestseller.

“Every crisis seems to test when there are economic downturns, when there is a geopolitical crisis, or in this case, a crisis related to health care. Anytime there’s a question about whether or not you know, a harm to Americacan be blamed on outsiders, it feels like Asians are placed in the cross[hairs].”

The 30-second PSA begins with an Asian American couple emulating the famous painting American Gothic by Grant Wood. Cheung said he chose to use the American Gothic painting because it is “so recognizable” and thus makes it “the perfect slice of American life” to replicate.

Other people of Asian descent are posed in similar fashion throughout the PSA. The daughter of 84-year-old Thai American Vicha Ratanapakdee, who was killed walking in his San Francisco neighborhood, is also shown in the PSA holding his portrait. It ends with a list different AAPI organizations people can support.

At almost 30 seconds long, Cheung worked with production company Only Today on the PSA. Cheung said during the pandemic people were being attacked in Oakland’s Chinatown and he wanted to be able to help in some way, so he reached out to Only Today’s Joyce and Raymond Tsang.

“I reached out to the only Asian American owned production company that I knew and I [said] I was thinking about doing this idea. Do you think it’s a good idea just as a personal opinion?’” Cheung said.

He added not only did both Joyce and Raymond like his idea, but they wanted to work with him on it and fund it.

“And I was just kind of thrown aback because I was just expecting to do this by myself with my own cameras so they offered to back me on this whole production, and then the rest is history.” Cheung said.

Yang noted it’s important to look at the way Asian Americans are perceived, especially in regards to the model minority idea.

“Campaigns like this [bring] to the attention the fact that this is something that challenges, in small and big ways, threatens us as Asian Americans,” Yang said. “That’s an important thing for our creators to put a spotlight on… a thoughtful message where people can actually consider whether or not even unconsciously they might be engaged.”

Cheung said he has plans to produce more PSA’s in the future using the same people, but each person “is going to get their own vignette”.

“I think it’s foolish to think any one video is gonna solve a problem. But my concept behind it is like when there is a problem, if there is a fire burning, what will you do with your one bucket of water? And I think my one bucket of water is this video,” Cheung said. “I think when people are feeling disenfranchised, when people feel like they’re not being heard, people need to kind of rise up and give a voice to the people that need it, because I think not enough has been said about it, in my opinion, and more people need to speak up and speak out and there needs to be more representation.”

Cheung said the response to the PSA has been overwhelmingly positive. He added the fact that people have been able to understand the message has been “very meaningful” to him.

Asian American Gothic is currently available on Vimeo.

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  1. Would have been better had he ended it with “Americans… of Asian descent,” rather than the tired and visually stereotyping phrase, “Asian American….”

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