In 2019, streetwear designer Khanh Ngo launched his online store and made $90K in less than three months. He landed his “dream job” at Levi’s, but when COVID hit, he lost his job. Growing up in a rough neighborhood, Khanh wasn’t typical in the fashion industry, and people judged him for not being the model minority Asian. He also felt shamed by his father–a Veteran and Captain, who projected his own losses onto his son. Between familial pressures and stereotyping, Khanh wasn’t in a good place. Today, Khanh speaks on how those difficulties made him more authentic, and a source of inspiration, for even his own family. He’s proud to represent where he’s from and tell the stories he believes are important. He’s also focused on love–not normalizing being defensive “because you’re Asian” anymore.
Lai Lijuan, a 67-year-old woman, learned how to play video games from her grandchildren. She just won first place in the Ageless E-sports competition, after three months of training. In a world that rejects elders, Lai found courage and curiosity is a winning combo. Lai is a member of HK Evergreen Gaming in Taiwan, an all-senior e-sports team in Hungkuang University. Her gaming character, Morgane, has skills like burning enemies and protecting herself. But she wasn’t born with a love for gaming; in fact, Lai hated it. Her grandkids' obsession with gaming made her curious, and they ended up teaching her. When looking back at her life before gaming, Lai remembers depressing days where she should watch TV, scroll on her phone, and sleep. Today, she feels invigorated, confident, and closer to her grandchildren than ever. She feels younger, and reclaimed her value in society. Lai has found play.
When it comes to Korean food, we all know and love bibimbap, fried chicken, and BBQ–but what else is there? SĀNG is a Korean restaurant in Australia run by a family who migrated in 1996. Here’s why. Kenny Yong Soo Son’s mom left Korea looking for freedom in life–and work. Today, she and her husband are self-taught chefs at their restaurant in Surry Hills, Sydney, while their son Kenny manages the front of house. But this family owned Korean restaurant isn’t where the others are: it’s in the vibey neighborhood of Surry Hills. One of Sydney’s most expensive areas. . This has people questioning the authenticity of SĀNG. Once you try it, questions are answered, because even though the menu is from staple dishes, the styles of food Koreans love but most others don’t know are what shine. Their goal is to show the wide range of Korean culture and cuisine–even to people who think they already know it.
In Atlanta, there’s only one place you can get late night sushi on a Thursday: Trap Sushi. Fusing Atlanta and Japanese pop culture, Trap Sushi builds community around food, music, anime, and cosplay. Founders speak on the due diligence it takes to appreciate (and not appropriate) culture. Artist Tolden Williams, aka Troop Brand, grew up in Mississippi loving Dragon Ball Z. Stephanie Lindo, an environmental scientist, first learned about manga and anime from her Vietnamese best friends. When Tolden discovered Stephanie art online, their shared love for Japanese culture fueled a project that has now become centerstage of Atlanta’s growing cosplay community. Many Black cosplayers are on the rise–and so is racism. This exists in anime communities too, where being Black means you cannot play a certain character. Trap Sushi has become the place where people of all backgrounds feel safe and accepted to tap into cosplay, anime, and community in general.
In Korea, K-pop dominates the dance industry. But shows like Street Girls Fighter are legitimizing dance–giving performers a platform to be seen as more than just back dancers. They say dance helps them be present–something that is still hard to do in Korea. Street Woman Fighter and its spin-off Street Girls Fighter are dance competitions that began highlighting more than K-Pop. They featured street dancing, which for many adults in Korea, is a pointless path. Even for the teens who are successful dancers, finding the answers to the questions from adults – “What are you going to do with this?” – feels like a very real pressure at a very young age. Despite the societal pressures, physical tolls, and injuries that come with this career, dancers like twenty-year-old Hong Hayeon say they hope to dance for the rest of their lives. Working together with other dancers as a unit is an art form, and being able to draw from your own personality to pair it with the dynamics of others is a skill of its own.
Heesco, a Mongolian-Australian artist known for his murals, speaks on being born under communist Mongolia, and how he used graffiti to escape. Today, when Heesco paints with the next generation of Mongolian artists, he reminds them that dreams are greater than environment. When Mongolia’s economy collapsed overnight, Heesco’s mum moved to Poland, where he began drawing for his schoolmates to avoid being picked on for being a “foreigner”. From an early age, Heesco was drawn (no pun intended) to graffiti because it was a culture built by kids, and rooted in freedom of expression. He also loved that it cut out galleries, critics, and collectors from dictating what art is, or isn’t. Heesco shares that as a kid growing up in a rough area, he can empathize with how difficult it can be to keep dreams alive and not fall into depression. Today, he is an ambassador for ‘Lantuun Dohio’, a non-profit that crowdfunds to build services and libraries for children in Mongolia. He paints with Mongolian children, and has learned that creating on walls with them is healing and inspiring to them both.