If you are of East Asian heritage but are now living in the West, the term “banana” probably has a double meaning. For many of us, it’s not just about the delicious exotic fruit, it’s an inside joke and a nickname prescribed to many first generation East Asians living in the West. Coincidentally, there’s even a New York-based magazine of the same name, celebrating stories from contemporary Asian culture and spurring on the conversation between Asian creatives and their collective identity.
Its latest issue, Banana Issue 005, delves into a myriad of topics from a photo series providing insight into Taipei’s drag scene to a profile on Dae Lim, the co-founder and CEO of Sundae School, a cannabis lifestyle brand. With a cover design by the renowned designer Eric Hu, the magazine’s fifth issue also beholds an in-depth profile on the current creative director of Ssense. And on top of all this, Philip Cheung honours the Chinese immigrants who laid down the train tracks of The Central Pacific Railroad while another feature delves into the choices of six Vietnamese Americans who emigrate back to Vietnam in spite of the countries’ turbulent relationship.
“I’ve learned so much from working on Banana,” says co-founder Vicki Ho. “One of the main reasons we started it was to learn more about our culture along with the rest of our readers. What I’ve realised through each issue is that our identity it way more complex and varied than my personal experiences with Asian identity and it’s really tough to cover it all!” Along with Kathleen Tso, Banana’s other co-founder, the pair carefully curate the biannual magazine to bring the diversity of Asian experiences to the fore. With increasing amounts of Asian faces making their way into the mainstream and the media, the magazine sheds light on “the complexity of our larger identity.” Kathleen continues, “Slowly, we can grow representation for different groups, but it will take a lot of time to showcase just how diverse we are.”
Editorially led, the clear design throughout the publication gives way to the significant content of each feature. Opting to feature a wide range of in-depth topics across each issue rather than centring the magazine on one theme alone, the magazine echoes the variety of opinions and ideas on what it means to be Asian today.
“I love learning alongside the reader and uncovering worlds that are also new to me,” says Kathleen. She cites the recent story on Asian dominatrixes as an example, gaining a deeper understanding into the nuances of how their race plays a role in their line of work. While in another feature, the viewer is offered an inside glimpse into how Taiwanese drag queens are trying to build a community around themselves “at a time of political change for LGBTQ+ people in their country,” Kathleen adds on the matter.
Evolving the design and editorial content with each issue, Kathleen and Vicki hope to continue to offer a wide as perspective as possible into the Asian experience. And for Vicki, one of her highlights of doing this involves is working on the food stories alongside long-term collaborators photographer Alex Lau and food stylist Tyna Hoang. Capturing the scores of enticing Asian cuisines, a central pillar of Asian culture, food, is a common tie throughout each issue of the magazine. And in this latest issue, it’s a ASMR-inspired feature on shaved iced desserts that have got us watering at the mouth.
About the Author
Jyni became a staff writer in March 2019 having previously joined the team as an editorial assistant in August 2018. She graduated from The Glasgow School of Art with a degree in Communication Design in 2017 and her previous roles include Glasgow Women’s Library designer in residence and The Glasgow School of Art’s Graduate Illustrator.