“We will never be silent again”: Vanilla Chi creates a downloadable poster about facing anti-Asian hate
The New York-based artist has created a free-to-download poster in support of the ESEA community. Produced in response to the Covid-related surge in anti-Asian hate crimes, it can be used in a variety of ways to raise awareness and support the cause.
The archetypal immigrant story centres on being seen as equal to the dominant culture. But as Ocean Vuong, the celebrated Vietnamese-American poet points out, “the sunset, like survival, exists only on the verge of its own disappearing. To be gorgeous, you must first be seen, but to be seen allows you to be hunted.”
A couple of weeks ago, I listened to an insightful podcast with Vuong. There was a particular moment which surprised me, when he describes language as “an act of kindness”, a way of showing love to one another. I was taken aback because I had forgotten this beautiful purpose. I had forgotten because my mind was clouded by language co-opted for hate. The phrase “I will kill all Asians” will linger for some time still. A death sentence the Atlanta shooter uttered on 16 March 2021 before killing eight people, six of whom were East and South East Asian women.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, anti-Asian hate crimes have skyrocketed. The violence is accompanied by hateful language, slurs and condemnations weaponised in the name of bigotry, ready to explode in the mouths of strangers. As Asians cautiously step out from the safety of their own homes, there is a persistent background fear that the language used to colonise us will prove more violent still and will attack at any moment.
However, was it ever intended otherwise? This is not a new story. This text, comic and poster are, as Audre Lorde said, an expression of “no new ideas. There are only new ways of making them felt.”
When I now think of Oceon Vuong’s take on language as an act of kindness, I am reminded of how diasporic stories are passed down. The sacrifices made by immigrant parents so their children can hone accentless, unbroken English. I think of tales of distant lands once called home and journeys made from East to West. For our elders, language was currency, a permanent bridge to home and a means of grounding Western-raised children to it.
There are countless stories of how language is used as a vehicle for racist rhetoric in the Asian immigrant experience. Each one is as heartbreaking as the next, but the ones I find most difficult to stomach are the accounts from our elders who were forced to swallow their pain, because they did not have English in their arsenal to respond. This language became my mother tongue, but unlike those before me I can use it to fight back. And as the clinical psychologist Jenny Wang suggests: “Let’s channel the rage of our elders and wield language as an agent of change. Our voices matter even more now. Our voices must sustain this movement in order for the tide to turn.”
With this in mind, I and the New York-based illustrator Vanilla Chi have created a comic and poster in support of the ESEA community. It is created as an act of defiance against racism and made in honour of the people who endured, so we could flourish and find a collective voice.
The poster is free to download, please use it in an activist cause you see fit.
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor. Feel free to drop Jyni a note if you have an exciting story for the site.