SXSW Asian-American showcase to discuss shattering stereotypes, barriers

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This year, South By Southwest will be hosting its first Asian-American music showcase, along with a panel dedicated to discussing Asian-American Pacific Islander (AAPI) issues.

Kollaboration, a non-profit media organization focused on empowering AAPI artists, will be hosting both events.

“I wanted this to be a point of celebration and encouragement so (the artists) feel motivated and like they can be part of this,” said Minji Chang, Kollaboration’s global executive director. “This is a really great platform for them to go and experience.”

In 2015, at a panel featuring record label executives, Chang realized there needed to be more opportunities available for Asian-American artists.

“I got up during the Q&A and I just asked, ‘Have you ever signed any Asian artists?’” Chang said. “One of the guys was very honest and he said, ‘Well there’s a couple that I really like, but my boss doesn’t think it’s worth pursuing, and he doesn’t know how to market them.’”

While the festival has featured international Asian artists and showcases, Chang said Kollaboration’s music showcase aims to place a spotlight on Asian-American musicians who face different challenges breaking into mainstream media.

“Whenever Asians are highlighted in mainstream media, it’s the K-pop wave,” Chang said. “It’s marketable and popular, but at the same time, that creates a different narrative from what (Asian-Americans) experience.”

Megan Lee, star of Nickelodeon show “Make It Pop” and a performer in the music showcase, said there needs to be more dialogue about the lack of Asian-American representation in media.

“I hope that the panel and the music showcase can ignite the sparks to open more spaces for us,” Lee said. “The more voices that are spoken out loud, the bigger our community will be and the more it will be in the light.”

Social media giant Phil Yu, creator of the blog Angry Asian Man, has noticed in an uptick in representation but also said there’s still a long way to go before the dearth in representation is corrected.

“Everybody who is a successful artist in any industry got their break somewhere,” Yu said. “Asian-American artists are just not given a chance. How does one ever get to prove themselves or be in on the conversation when you’re just never there to begin with?”

Though the panel will feature speakers well-versed on talking about Asian-Americans in the media, Yu said he’s aware not all attendees will be as familiar with the topic.

“We need to operate at a level so that everyone can get something from it,” Yu said. “It’d be so great for their curiosity to be piqued, and for someone to be energized and inspired to seek out work at whatever level they’re coming from.”

Despite the amount of progress that still has to be made, Chang said she hopes the two events can be a starting point in getting people engaged about the problems at hand.

“I’d love for anybody to be invited into the conversation or as part of the solution,” Chang said. “I hope we do right by everyone.”