Asian-American and Pacific Islander pride

bespoken logo

By Jama Abdirahman
An idea that started at the University of Washington Bothell to highlight the work and culture of Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders has spread to other universities where students are asserting their own identities.

Leah Shin and John Kim launched the BeSpoken Project to challenge representations of Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders in media and  professional settings.

Leah Shin“We wanted to do a project where we showcased Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders because I felt like they didn't have a platform to express themselves,” said Leah Shin, right, (business ‘19). “I felt that there weren't a lot of avenues.”

Shin and Kim (business, interactive media design ‘20) launched a website in May, Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Their goal was to include 30-40 students at the University of Washington Bothell. Now, by sharing with friends across the nation, it has reached 73 students at 15 colleges, including the University of Southern California, Drexel University and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

“In the beginning, one question we asked ourselves and other people was, 'Can you name five Asian-American and Pacific Islander influencers?' It was really hard to find that answer, even for me. We felt that was a huge problem,” said Shin.

John KimThe BeSpoken Project gives students an opportunity to write about what it means to be Asian-American and Pacific Islander in today’s society and to choose one role model or hero in the community. Alongside the written pieces, students photographed themselves posing as their role models.

“For me to do this project, it's kind of exclaiming to the world that this is who I am as an Asian-American and this is what it meant growing up,” said Kim, “My goal is to express what Asian-American means.”

Kim, left, says the issue isn’t just underrepresentation, it’s also a misrepresentation of the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community. “People view us differently from how we view ourselves. We wanted to represent ourselves rather than having other people represent us,” said Kim.

Shin and Kim are excited their idea has taken off and for what’s next.

“It's been getting the right attention, and it's sparking small conversations,” said Shin.