Listen to Asian Voices

10 TED Talks by and about Asian people and culture

In light of recent persecution of Asian peoples world-wide due to irresponsible and unwarranted anti-Chinese rhetoric, Asian Pacific American Heritage month (May) is all the more in need of celebration this year.

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

So, here are a few TED Talks that showcase the perspective, struggles, and brilliance of Asians in the West.

Canwen Xu describes a typical exchange I know all too well when interacting with the “clueless”. This resonates with me so much:

“Used to being the only Asian in the room, I was self-conscious at the first thing people noticed about me was, that I wasn’t white. And as a child I quickly began to realize that I had two options in front of me. Conformed to the stereotype that was expected of me, or conformed to the whiteness that surrounded me. There was no in between.” — Canwen Xu

Director Jon Chu speaks out about how important it is for Asians to see themselves on the screen. From simply watching home movies, to creating the first all Asian cast in a contemporary film, Jon Chu shares his journey from rejecting Chinese culture (like many immigrants) to embracing the richness of diversity in film.

Something that I appreciate most about leaders of colour is their humbleness. In words, mannerisms, and vibe, this is something that I see in so many immigrants. It’s a quiet confidence that is firm, yet open.

From a young age, whether it’s explicitly spoken or not, immigrant children know that their parents need to work very hard in order to provide them with food, clothing, shelter, and education. In a recent virtual baby shower I attended where the question was asked “What is something your parents did with you that you’d like to do with your child?” the resounding answer from Asian immigrant children (now adults) was a silence followed by something along the lines of “Our parents didn’t play with us; they didn’t have time to.” I don’t have any memories of my parents playing with my sibling and I. I don’t resent them for it. I understand.

At the same time because of my immigrant parents’ sacrifices and hard work, there’s pressure to succeed in order to pay-back what they gave us. Children are their retirement plan. It’s a lot to carry.

Sahaj Kaur Kohli chats about the guilt experienced by immigrant children. I very much feel this way, too.

Here’s a fun one about chopsticks! I’m sure there are tidbits you didn’t now about chopsticks.

Jennifer 8. Lee also highlights the history of American “Chinese” food, so much of which is unrecognizable as Chinese to most Chinese people.

Comedy aside, Jennifer 8. Lee speaks about the racism that is embedded within the history of Chinese cuisine. She cites a pamphlet in the Library of Congress and entitled: “Some Reason for Chinese Exclusion: Meat versus Rice: American Manhood against Asiatic Coolieism: Which shall survive?”

Jennifer 8. Lee goes on to say,

“And it basically made the argument that Chinese men who ate rice would necessarily bring down the standard of living for American men who ate meat. And as a matter of fact, then, this is one of the reasons we must exclude them from this country. So, with sentiments like these, the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed between 1882 and 1902, the only time in American history when a group was specifically excluded for its national origin or ethnicity.”

Further, representation in politics is one of the reasons I decided to run in my local municipal election in 2018. I didn’t see people that looked like me in politics. I didn’t feel heard or represented. We need immigrants at the policy table. Sayu Bhojwani speaks out about how “immigrants’ votes, voices and vantage points” provide a richer, more democratic place to live.

Asian immigrants aren’t only eco-friendly in life, (see my fun piece: Eco-Friendly Immigrant Ways) artist Jae Rhim Lee showcases her mushroom burial suit that brings new life after death. Innovative. Green. Generous.

Okay, maybe a little weird, but super unique and very interesting!

I’m constantly impressed and touched by the courage and resilience of North Korean refugees. TED has a few testimonies like Hyeonseo Lee’s.

Honestly, after hearing personal stories like hers and others, it’s absolutely infuriating to think of the hate crimes committed to the Asian community in the past year. After having overcome such deep adversity already, unprovoked racists attacks are not only unacceptable, but cruel and immoral. Please do not be a silent bystander.

I have a few friends that have similar transracial adoption stories similar to Sara Jones’. Being adopted often comes with the need to feel endlessly grateful. It’s also hard to fit in not only with peers, but even within one’s own family. Sara Jones’ shares her personal journey that helps me empathize.

Professor and Climate Data Scientist, Angel Hsu, shares her knowledge about the disparity of green spaces in rich and poorer neighbourhoods. She explains, “Our latest research shows that 97 percent of major urban areas in the United States are exposing Black populations and people of color to a full degree Celsius higher of urban heat than their white counterparts.” Here she speaks about the part cities can play in the solution towards being carbon neutral:

For me, enjoyable aspects of John Maeda’s TED Talk include how much fun he was having in his work and art, his quick quips, the intersection of math & art, and the way his right and left brain inform his creative leadership style. Combining form and content is important in conveying any message. I’d suggest that delivery, which John Maeda excelled at, is also core to communication. Check it out here:

It is my hope that through watching and listening to these amazing Asian leaders Asians may see themselves on the screen for once and that others may alter conscious or subconscious biases towards overcoming prejudice. Also, simply, there is always room to learn, grow, and celebrate together no matter race, ethnicity or culture. Hooray!

Photo by Jessica Irani on Unsplash

Serving charities globally through fundraising consulting. Passionate about charity, simplicity and adventure. Writing about work, life, and random musings.