Gidra

(1969 - 1974)

Gidra is a radical zine started by UCLA students Mike Murase, Dinora Gil, Laura Ho, Tracy Okida, and Colin Watanabe in 1969. The zine was the first magazine dedicated to Asian American political issues, dedicated to finding a voice for Asians in the context of the Civil Rights Movement and the relationship between Black Power and Yellow Power movements. Within the tumultuous environment of the anti-Vietnam War efforts, many Asian Americans faced rampant racism both while fighting in the Vietnam War, as well as within their own country as civilians. Filled with poems, cartoons, and editorial pieces about racism and social injustices, Gidra 
became an important outlet for Asian Americans to express their political frustrations. 

Using a DIY collage style and provocative cartoons, Gidra (named after a Godzilla enemy) gave Asian Americans a sense of belonging within a landscape that had virtually no Asian representation in the media.

As explained by Ishizuka, a historian and UCLA student at the time,
 

​“So many of us        didn’t know there  were others who  had the same hopes  and fears. It was a  lifeline for me.”

What Does
Chinese-American Design Look Like?

Yolk

(1994-2003)

Running from 1994 to 2003, “Yolk” is a celebration of both experimental 90’s graphic design and Asian American representation. After Tommy Tam, an avid magazine reader was dissatisfied with the lack of non-stereotypical covers with Asians, he was inspired to create his own magazine that prioritized Asian visibility. The magazine covered controversial topics, such as myths surrounding Asian penis size and dog eating, along with interviews with prominent Asian figures in the creative industry such as comedian Margaret Cho and costume designer Doug Chiang. Under the creative direction of Tin Yen, who worked with prominent designer Saul Bass for four years, “Yolk”’s visual identity embodied an explosively rebellious spirit signature to the 1990s, with crazy type treatments and bold typefaces that prioritized style over legibility. 

Although “Yolk” disbanded almost a decade after its inception and was essentially lost to obscurity, its influence is not lost on some designers.  LinYee Yuan, founder and editor of “Mold” magazine, comments on how “Yolk” shaped her path to pursue design.

 “Reading the stories of creative, successful, and brilliantly unapologetic Asian Americans was inspirational for me as a first generation teenager growing up in Houston, Texas. More than that, it showed me how magazines could connect people through the magical alchemy of storytelling and graphic design.”

Heading 4

Heading 3

Heading 4

Heading 4

Heading 3

 

Sad Asian Girls Club

(2016-2017)

Sad Asian Girls Club is an art and design collective started by RISD students Olivia Chen and Esther Fan that deals with the experiences of Asian American girls, such as stereotypical depictions of Asian women in the media to the struggles of living in the world between Western and Eastern society. Their mission is to give Asian American women/femmes a platform to use design to express their experiences and speak out, defying the preconceived notion of Asian Americans are politically passive. Some of their seminal work includes “Have You Eaten?”, a video in which Fan and Chen eat food quietly as someone offscreen, presumably representing their mothers, criticizes their weight, sexuality, and appearance. Drawing from experiences of having immigrant parents, this video addresses the common dynamics of family life for many Asian American women. Another project created by the collective is a poster series in which they asked Asian women to finish the sentence “All Asian women are not___.”. 

The posters covered a myriad of experiences, from the fetishization of Asian women to the model minority myth, revealing everyday microaggressions Asian American women face. 

The collective faced problems of exclusivity, specifically the lack of South Asian girls in the collective along with reflecting their own privilege as East Asians in an elite art school. In an interview, Esther states, “We got a lot of media attention last year and various other achievements that I think happened only because our aesthetic is easily consumed or accessible by pop media, with the whole ‘sad girls’ thing. In the beginning, we figured it was because we’d figured out what attracts attention and we’ve made really inspiring work, which is maybe true but I feel like we got by more importantly because we’re a couple of artsy conventionally attractive East Asian girls/femmes.” After the duo graduated, they disbanded the collective. 

What Does

Chinatown Design

Look Like?

 What Chinese American design, inspired by solely Chinese American pop culture and visual iconography, look like? 

An Ethnic Enclave

The creation of Chinatowns across the U.S was a necessity for Chinese immigrants, due to systematic racism and legal barriers that prevented them from assimilating into American society. The influx of Chinese laborers in the mid-1800s due to work in railroads and the gold rush was met with white hysteria over Chinese laborers taking jobs and driving wages down. This era saw an increase in anti-Chinese attacks, forcing Chinese immigrants to find strength in numbers by concentrating in ethnic neighborhoods, thus the birth of Chinatowns. Through the Exclusionary Act of 1882, which restricted Chinese immigration into the US, Chinese immigrants were also prevented from living and working outside of Chinatown. 

Due to housing and job discrimination fueled by racism, few Americans were willing to hire Chinese workers or allow them to buy land. For the first wave of Chinese immigrants, Chinatowns were their only sense of home and community. It was an enclave where they felt safe, where they could live peacefully and earn an income. It was a home away from home in a country that was unaccepting of their existence and culture.    

 

An Ode to

Chinatown

 While many can interpret Chinatown’s kitschy aesthetic as cheap and unsophisticated, characterizing a complex culture into neon sings and dragons, this kitschy depiction of Chinese culture is something that is inherent to my identity as Chinese American. Growing up in suburban Delaware where good Chinese restaurants are nonexistent, my monthly trips with my parents to Chinatown in Philadelphia were valuable opportunities to explore my culture, somewhere I could feel pride as a Chinese American. It’s where my dad first taught me to order dim sum in Cantonese and perfect the art of waiving down the waiter, where I would watch my Mom’s basket of produce as she talked with the butcher at the grocery store, where I discovered the culinary wonders of bubble tea and wonton soup. When I see neon signs and dragons, or rows of colorful signs and cheap souvenirs, I see nostalgia and beauty rather than crudeness. 

On a final note, another preconceived notion I want to challenge is the idea that popular culture and design created by untrained designers are somehow unworthy of being studied. That these styles are inherently lesser than design created by educated designers that went to art schools, or the style of design encouraged by the mainstream graphic design industry. Although the designers that created these signs and advertisements that populate Chinatowns weren’t professionally trained, this visual clutter is still beautiful in its own right. As perfectly stated by Rumsey Taylor in this New York Times article, 

“Imagine a sushi bar adorned in Helvetica, and it may not seem
as authentic, or as
appetizing.”

This site was designed with the
.com
website builder. Create your website today.
Start Now