This guest post is written by Anaheim-based indie singer-songwriter krost.
I’m conflicted. I don’t know how I feel about being an “Asian American artist”.
When I was in middle school, YouTube started getting popular and became a platform for a lot of Asian American artists. It was the first time I can remember interacting with media that truly resonated with me. It wasn’t necessarily that I thought it was impossible to be an artist at the time. It was more so that I had never really actualized the concept of being an artist in the first place. I never saw someone who looked like me doing the thing, so I never envisioned myself doing the thing. I think that’s the power of representation – it plants the seeds of what is possible. To see people who look like you, doing cool things. It’s crazy how much that can influence your own perception of self and what you believe yourself to be capable of.
Integrating myself into this online community of Asian American artists sparked a strong desire to create. At the core of it, I wanted to connect with people, and I wanted to make people feel connected. Connection for me is hearing a song that is about an experience or feeling that resonates; it shares a story that I can personally relate to. For example, listening to Run River North sing about the immigrant experience in “Monsters Calling Home” hit pretty hard. I felt like my story was being represented, and it felt nice to feel seen.
Now, as I reflect on my artist career, I can say I’ve had a few really great opportunities – I am truly grateful for each one. But there’s a common theme to a lot of my opportunities, and it’s that they are Asian American focused or run, spanning from blog posts to performances to interviews. Not all of them are, but a lot of them are. And I make that observation with the utmost level of respect, gratitude, and love for the people who have graciously given me the opportunities I’ve been lucky to be a part of.
And so here’s the internal conflict – I feel so empowered by these experiences, but I can’t shake the underlying feeling that I only get those opportunities because I am Asian American, or that I am only getting Asian American opportunities. I think it says something to me when my most reliable gig season is playing shows during AAPI month. If I get a cool gig partly because I’m Asian, it’s still a cool gig at the end of the day. But then I wonder if I would have gotten the gig based on artistry and skill alone, and those wonderings run parallel to a spiral of feeling invalidated and sub-par as a musician. It’s like the whole, “she’s good….for a girl” deal. Maybe I’m good…for an Asian American.
If that is how I’m interacting with and being perceived by the world, what does that tell me about my artistry? Am I an artist just for Asians, by default because I am Asian? How do I break out of the bubble? Do I want to break out of the bubble? I’m not sure. I don’t know the answers to any of these questions.
But there are a few things that I do know. I know that I am grateful for everyone I’ve had the privilege of connecting with. I know that I started writing music because of feeling empowered by seeing Asian American artists. I know that by creating and sharing, I have the potential to catalyze someone else’s desire to create and share, even if that is through playing an annual AAPI celebration show. Lastly, I know that Asian American opportunities are not less than – they are beautiful, they are important, and they are necessary for cultivating and sustaining a community that is built on shared experience and a desire for connection.