In The Know by Yahoo’s second annual Changemakers event in honor of Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Month kicked off on May 9 at Baar Baar in the East Village in New York City.
Baar Baar, an Indian gastropub that merges classic and modern Indian cuisines, was the perfect backdrop to hear the four AAPI panelists discuss their families, their nontraditional career paths and their favorite at-home comfort food.
Moderated by comedian Jenny Arimoto, the group consisted of activist Schuyler Bailar, break dancer Sunny Choi and UCLA sex education student leader Sriha Srinivasan.
The first question of the night, which set the tone for the rest of the group’s discussions, had to do with identity. Bailar, who is trans and half white and half Korean, said that while he struggled with his gender identity in college, it was his biracial identity that’s been a balancing act he’s had to navigate ever since he was little.
“I was constantly asked to identify with one or the other. I was never allowed to be both,” he said. “I still find myself feeling that even when I’m in spaces like this that are designed for Asian American, Asian diaspora movements, I still am always a little bit like, do I really belong here as somebody who isn’t wholly Asian?”
Similarly, Choi, who picked up breaking while in college and hopes to pursue it in the upcoming Olympics, admitted part of the reason why she doesn’t have a traditional b-girl name or a proper crew is that she didn’t know, at first, if she belonged in the space .
“I feel like my experience has been that I don’t ever feel like I fit in anywhere. And I 100% feel like that in hip-hop and in breaking initially,” she said. “What I realize is it’s like it was all me because everyone else actually accepted me.”
For Srinivasan, she described herself as sort of pushing herself into the sexual education space. It wasn’t necessarily that she never felt like she belonged but more that her parents weren’t sure about their daughter speaking on the subject.
“One thing about sexual health that I really realized with conversations with my parents is that in Indian culture, which is the lens that I’m speaking from, I don’t believe that stigma has always been there,” she explained. “That’s a conversation that I had to have with my mom several times and one I’m still having and still trying to understand, because I recognize that it’s nuanced; I realize that you have stigma, but let’s talk about where that’s coming from.”
It was Arimoto who decided to improvise a question and change the direction of the discussion toward food. Her favorite meal is her mom’s miso soup.
“There’s a different flavor based on your mom and your grandma and how they learn it,” she explained about homemade miso soup. “So it’s my mom’s clam-based miso soup. That’s my number one home-cooked meal.”
Bailar named Kimchi-jjigae, a kimchi stew — specifically, the one his auntie makes. Choi said her mom used to always have Yukgaejang, a spicy beef soup, ready for her when she came home from college.
“My dad literally makes fried rice,” Srinivasan said, mentioning how her parents would premake portions for her and she keeps them at school. “It’s just like the second I take it out of the microwave, I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m home. I feel really good.'”
Watch footage from the event in the video above to learn more about the panel.
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