Co-founded in 2020 by music industry veterans Grace Lee, Caroline Yim and Zeena Koda with a shared belief “to be it, you need to see it”, the AAC seeks to promote unity amongst all Asian-American communities within music, entertainment and the creative arts. AAC co-founders share insights on taking time to care for yourself, inspiration from shared and lived experiences, find support and your voice within the community, and the joy of great music.
Grace Lee, Cofounder Asian American Collective, Head of Artist Relations (East Coast), YouTube @graceleenyc
Zeena Koda, Cofounder Asian American Collective, Head of Brand Digital, North Face + Host @zeenakoda
Caroline Yim, Cofounder, Asian American Collective, Co-Head of Hip Hop/R&B + Music Agent, WME, @yiminator
Staying focused, keep creating and taking care of yourself, especially in pandemic/post pandemic times and rise in racist attacks toward Asian Americans. What do you all share for collective members and do for yourselves?
Grace: People say this all the time, but they do because it’s true: you have to put on your own oxygen mask first! We can’t do anything to help others when we’re not taking care of ourselves. One example - we had a (virtual) event scheduled for Thursday, March 18th, which was two days after the mass murder in Atlanta. The event was part of a monthly series we have called Office Hours in which a vet from the music industry shares their career journey and experiences with up and coming execs. We checked in with our speaker for the month, the artist MILCK, and with her guidance, we changed the program from the regular format to more of a family meeting / sharing space. MILCK led the group in a breathing exercise, we had space for sharing and conversation, and she even sang for us. The time and space was a beautiful way for us to come together and acknowledge our feelings and pain, and really just hold space for each other.
Zeena: People constantly ask me how I “find time” to do so much and all I can say is I am passionate about our mission and helping others, so I prioritize it in my day. Over the years, I have learned small tactics that help me, prioritize me, even if just for a few mins a day. I’ve learned to schedule copiously. Slot in heads down work time, workouts, 30 mins for coffee and reading, dog walks, even allotting time for “doing nothing” has helped me to value the possibility of every moment in my day and think about rest. Checking in for a 1 minute meditation to get attuned with your energy level each day is also key. If you have more in the tank keep going, if there’s less pull back and give yourself grace. In this non-stop, overachieving environment we’re living in, one of the most courageous forms of self-care can be walking away when you identify that you need that space to recharge.
It’s important to give people space to be without pretense and an environment to bring their vulnerabilities. I believe heavily in the practice of holding space for others. Conversely, I believe in walking away to taking time for yourself when you are not “available” as well. With AAC we try to be a non-intrusive community for people to consider holding space. We try to rise to the occasion when we know our community and mentor/mentee cohort might need that support. Even if it’s just an hour to speak freely, cry a few tears together or buzz through a round of Caroline’s music trivia, we want them to know we are here for them.
One of the aims of the AAC is to highlight people that "don't really get a spot in the history books". Like who and why?
Grace: One of our favorite things to do is shine a light on prominent Asian Americans in lots of different spheres - both current and historical. Yuri Kochiyama comes to mind - there’s this narrative right now about a political and social awakening amongst Asian Americans. That’s definitely true for a lot of people, but I think it’s also important to acknowledge the fact that Asian American activists have long been fighting for equality, and have been doing so with other communities of color. Yuri Kochiyama was a lifelong civil rights activist, and was actually with Malcolm X when he was assassinated. Google her.
Zeena: I’m very attuned with activism and the political world. I believe wholeheartedly in the power (albeit slower than many realize in execution) of legislative change through representation and prioritizing our objectives via legal avenues. That’s a long winded way of saying: put more AAPI’s in office who will help to prioritize our needs and stand up when we are being violated. Representation matters, to be it you need to see it. For the past year we’ve been highlighting changemaking political, entertainment, fashion, sports and music figures who have either broken boundaries with their brave actions or innovations, or are currently paving new lanes for AAPI’s. Check out our IG to read through many of the fascinating stories. It’s important to us to combat hate or prejudice through allowing our community to share their stories and amplifying them, as well as unearthing a history we rarely saw growing up.
As activists, what’s the #1 thing folks (especially artists and young people) can do to ensure more Asian American representation?
Grace: We all have things we can do - those of us who have been in the business for awhile can use our influence to help younger folks get into the industry. We can talk to them and share our experiences, we can give them opportunities, we can refer them to folks in our networks… we can help build a pipeline for the next gen of Asian American music execs.
Caroline: Mentorship, allyship and building community ARE important for more Asian American representation across the board. The more connections and touch points we have, the more opportunities can arise for us.
Zeena: Support the community with your consideration, time, investment and emotion. Read more about our American and native histories. Have more candid discussions to challenge preconceived notions. In this racial awakening it will be inevitable that as many similarities as we find, we will also discover many unknown differences. Do not let those things scare you. Embrace them and find the seams to rebind. Learn more interculturally. Buy from API biz to support. Have rich convos with your older relatives. Speak out when you do not align with something. We all have a part to do in increasing representation by showing up and being present, everyday. Each brick support fortifies our collective position.
We've also created and are featuring this AAPI playlist if you would like to shout out any of the artists you like?
Grace: I love so many artists on this playlist, but Japanese Breakfast is top of mind for me right now. I recently inhaled her book Crying in H-Mart while listening to her music and I just can’t get enough. Her new album comes out next month and I can’t wait to listen.
Zeena: Joji is something special. Watching his sound mature and refine over the past few years has been really cool. There’s a real sensuality in his voice that brings such a different life to his music and helps to cement his crossover appeal.