Heroes and Myths as MOCA and Jessica Chen Celebrate AAPI Heritage Month

There are an estimated 23 million Americans who claim a direct connection of Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI). We caught up with a show by the J. Chen Project at the Museum of Chinese in American to talk with Jessica Chen to see how she celebrates the AAPI Hereitage Month. She touched on a broad range of topics covering everything from honoring the legend of Bruce Lee, who died 50 years ago in July, to combatting hate and prejudice today.

| 22 May 2023 | 02:55

In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) month, Jessica Chen and friends at the Museum of the Chinese Americans celebrate Asian identities and share their stories through creative art pieces.

AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islanders) month is observed every year from May 1 to May 31 and recognizes the cultural contributions made by the AAPI community and their achievements. “We are part of America, we are Americans. I wear an Asian face because my ancestors are from Asia,” Chen said.

Funded by the Coalition of Asian American Children and Families, AAPI Heroes and Myths aims to highlight specific AAPI figures that have made an impact on American history and stories of the past, present, and future. With the power of theater, the audience is welcome to a space of imagination while showcasing the different variations of how rich the culture can be.

In the mission to holistically address AAPI hate, one of the pieces commemorates the passing of Bruce Lee, who had a mentality that martial arts isn’t solely about kicking and punching, but a personal growth and discovering who they are as an individual. He is still considered the most influential modern artist in history as well as an entrepreneur and a pop culture icon thanks to five block buster feature length movies including Fists of Fury and Game of Death. Time magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century.

Lee created life and energy, and even though he was brought down by challenges and discrimination, he did not let that dictate the narrative of his story. As a result, Chen, who runs the J. Chen Project that is being sponsored by MOCA, wanted to marry the concepts of Chinese Classical Dance and contemporary dances since Chinese dancers practice martial arts in training while dancers in the state grew up watching martial arts movies wanting to learn the moves.

As a little girl, Chen loved to dance and perform in front of her friends and family, which soon turned into a passion for directing and creating theatrical experiences. Being on stage felt like home and took a leap of faith after college to combat the lack of representation. Chen wants to inspire the younger audience that anything is possible and one even said, “maybe I could do that”. Another piece features an impersonation of the late Anna May Wong, where 100 years ago, she was trying to find more complex roles to fight against discrimination and stereotypes. Wong started off small as a background role but was excited to be part of the process and later gained main roles. Now, there’s a growth of AAPI’s representation in Hollywood, which is an exciting chapter.

Chen tackles the issue of missing knowledge as generations search for a new home to rebuild their life. She questions, “What parts of our stories and identities and our culture do we lose when we move from land to land to land?” Chen grew up in a robust Chinese community but wasn’t surrounded by the culture and now working with dancers born and raised in China, ponders on the ancestral culture one must reclaim to have a connection with them.

The Asian community has dwelled upon hate and xenophobic racism from the pandemic, and many movements have created empathy and compassion for marginalized individuals. Chen wants the audience to ask themselves, “How can I do better? And how can I continue to do better to make sure I have a positive impact on society and the world in my environment?”, she said.