What about in terms of how people see your work?
Once I did a collection inspired by Mustang, in Nepal. It’s a beautiful place. There were some big gongs. The fashion director from a retail platform came over and said: “If I want to look at that collection, I can look at a History Channel. We don’t want anything cool from you. We want pretty.” I didn’t fight back at that time. I was just like, “I need to save my business.” So I kept quiet.
But we have to really ask ourselves: Things we consider beautiful, things we consider chic, food we like, music we listen to, where is it coming from? It’s a very Eurocentric, colonial point of view, and we have to dismantle it.
Is that part of your responsibility?
I remember right after my first collection, when I was dressing a lot of celebrities, I called my mother back home in Nepal. My mom said, “That’s great.” And then she said: “You know who you should be dressing? Michelle Obama. She stands for something.” A year later, Michelle Obama had worn a dress of mine, and I called my mother. And then she goes: “I’m happy for you. Congratulations. But remember, this is no longer yours. This success is no longer yours. It belongs to everyone who felt marginalized the way you did. So now it’s up to you what you’re going to do with it.”
- A torrent of hate and violence against Asian-Americans around the U.S. began last spring, in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. Community leaders say the bigotry was spurred by the rhetoric of former President Trump, who referred to the coronavirus as the “China virus.”
- In New York, a wave of xenophobia and violence has been compounded by the economic fallout of the pandemic, which has dealt a severe blow to New York’s Asian-American communities. Many community leaders say racist assaults are being overlooked by the authorities.
- In January, an 84-year-old man from Thailand was violently slammed to the ground in San Francisco, resulting in his death at a hospital two days later. The attack, captured on video, has become a rallying cry.
- Eight people, including six women of Asian descent, were killed in the Atlanta massage parlor shootings on March 16. The suspect’s motives are under investigation, but Asian communities across the United States are on alert because of a surge in attacks against Asian-Americans over the past year.
- On March 30, The New York Police Department said it was searching for a man who kicked a 65-year-old woman, stomped on her and made anti-Asian statements.
Part of what you are trying to do with your work is educate people about the nuances of different Asian cultures, right?
Asian-Americans are the fastest growing immigrant group in the U.S. electorate, with roots all over the world. We are diverse. I look East Asian, right? But I’m from Southeast Asia. I sit in the center of the brown Asians and the other Asians. The wealth disparity between the richest Asian-Americans and the poorest is insanely high. I think maybe the largest of any ethnic group in this country. In spite of that, there is a myth of the model minority, of crazy rich Asians. That’s why “Parasite” is important, why “Minari” is important. Give us the platform so we can tell our stories.