Asian American Collective: Inclusion and representation beyond the binary

Portrait of woman hand resting chin

For Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in May, the collective’s founders discussed what safe spaces for Asian-Americans look like offline and across America

By Landon Peoples

Despite the fact that overall crime rates dropped from 2019 to 2020, anti-Asian hate crimes increased by 150% in America. It’s a harsh reality that, despite what feels like waves of radical inclusivity and acceptance on the outside, reminds us that social movements take longer to be effective in real life than their online virality lets on.

On the ground, grassroots organisations like the Asian American Collective (AAC) are hard at work trying to change things from the ground up. The brainchild of music industry veteran cofounders Grace Lee, Caroline Yim and Zeena Koda, the AAC seeks to represent the full breadth of the creative Asian-American experience across industries such as entertainment, music, sports, the arts, and more. Think: a real-life and virtual community where candid points of view are welcomed, encouraging honest conversation and inspirational perspectives in a safe space.

During Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, we spoke to the founder trio about everything from representation beyond the binary to what it really means to be a #DopeAsian.

Portrait of woman wearing denim shirt

Caroline Yim

A quote written in white text on black background

What was the catalyst for creating the Asian American Collective?

‘Having all come up in the music industry, none of us had strong mentorship from people who looked like us, came from similar backgrounds, and faced the same challenges that we do. Looking around us, we knew that there actually are a lot of Asian Americans in the music industry, but there wasn’t a space for us to come together. So, we created one.’ 

If there’s one thing 2020 taught us about humanity, it’s that we need each other more than ever. And we’ve seen an incredible surge in communities coming out for one another. What are your thoughts on community-led, minority-for-minority organisations?

‘Community is at the core of what Asian American Collective does. We link people to each other and create opportunities for people to form new relationships. We’re really passionate about helping the next generation of Asian Americans in the music industry – we’re seeing a ton of talent and passion from young aspiring execs, and we’re happy to help them.’ 

Describe what it truly means to be a #DopeAsian.

‘There are so many #DopeAsians, and we’re so proud to be able to highlight them and amplify their messages. #DopeAsians are hardworking, passionate, unapologetic, proud, authentic, and kind.’ 

Talk to us about AAPI representation within the music, media, entertainment, sports, and creative industries. What role(s) does AAC play in uplifting and honouring AAPI voices?

‘As a whole, Asians are underrepresented in creative industries. Race is still largely discussed as a binary in this country, and oftentimes Asians aren’t even counted and considered when thinking about DEI. We’re starting to see small shifts in that and are hopeful. We believe that little incremental changes are pivotal in reaching the goal of greater representation.’ 

A quote written in black text on white background
Portrait of woman wearing hat hands placed under chin looking up

Zeena Koda

How has the Soho House community (or the Houses themselves) played a hand in the success of AAC?

‘Funnily enough, Soho House New York is where Zeena and Grace first met to discuss teaming up to form the group. Grace and Caroline were in discussion to build something that eventually became AAC, and were connected to Zeena by a mutual friend who said she was thinking of something similar.  We’d love to do more with Soho House in New York and LA moving forward.’ 

How does AAC define success? Authenticity?

‘Success is serving our community to the best of our ability. We were really touched to hear recently that the advice and coaching that one of our mentors gave her mentee resulted in the mentee successfully advocating for a promotion and raise. Building one-to-one relationships between established and aspiring Asian Americans in the music industry is so important to us. And when those relationships help advance careers, it’s – chef's kiss – perfection.’

What’s next for AAC? What stories are still untold?

‘We're just getting started. We were able to have two in-person events pre-Covid, and we’re looking forward to creating more IRL experiences for our community to connect... maybe at a Soho House!’ 

Interested in becoming a member?