A Letter to the Asian Pacific American Music Community

Ellisa Sun

Ellisa Sun

Dear Asian Pacific American Music Community (and its allies),

Whether you are an artist, a producer, an instrumentalist, a songwriter, a singer, or all of the above and more: I see you.

I know you’ve been grinding for so long. I know you’ve been struggling and hiding and running away and sometimes rebelling against your parents or the culture you know. I know it’s exhausting. I know you’re fed up with feeling like you don’t belong anywhere. I know you’re tired of making yourself the butt of the joke before anybody else can, so you can beat them to the punch.

I know you want to feel loved unconditionally in your art, not just loved for a job that pays the bills. You want to live honestly. Maybe you want to bear your soul, vulnerable and open to others, and you want to be loved even more for it all. I see you. I love you.

I know when you heard about the Atlanta shooting, you were shocked — but not that shocked. Maybe, like me, you were mostly numb. Maybe you cried. Maybe you threw something. Maybe you found out about the shooting from a white friend who texted you and apologized and said that they were here for you. Maybe that friend sent that text with nothing but good intentions — but it left you feeling nothing but anger.

For what? You’re not really sure.

I see those of you with a balled-up fist in your pocket. I see those of you with a chip on your shoulder, but nobody can see the chip because you’re so used to being invisible.

I see your beautiful eyes, whatever shape they take. I see your dark hair. I see you: trans, able-bodied, persons with disabilities, LGBTQIA, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th generation. Maybe you’re used to feeling sexualized if you identify yourself as cis-female, or demasculinized if you identify yourself as cis-male. I see you. I know you’re tired of it.

Some days you just feel like you’re screaming into a void. Some days it feels like you’re on the fringes of something, like you’re teeter-tottering on the edge of “making it” in the “in crowd.” Maybe you feel like you’re almost there, if you could just get one inch closer.

You’re used to doubting your greatness. Your reflex to reject any compliment or acknowledgement is both your weapon and your crutch. You want to come off as humble, but you’re sick of feeling like you need to be. I know you’re tired of feeling unheard when you speak.

I know with the COVID-19 pandemic, you went from feeling unseen to feeling way too seen. SO seen, in fact, that you are afraid to go outside. Afraid to walk down the street, afraid to show your face. Afraid to tell others where you’re from if they ask. I know you feel guilt and shame. I know you feel anger at this country for its hatred of us.

And I know you may be in denial from what I’m writing at this very moment. You may feel completely lost by this entire letter. Maybe you’re just fine as you are, and you don’t like me telling you how you feel. Maybe you don’t want to be treated as a monolith, because you’re not.

I know the term “Asian” or “Asian American” is a vast term covering the span of so many centuries and so many countries and so many cultures that to begin to try to narrow your life down to one singular experience is preposterous. To try to narrow down the rich diversity that is your life into one acronym — AAPI, API, APA — feels limiting. And if that is the case, I truly apologize from the bottom of my heart, and encourage you to stop reading this for now, maybe come back to it later.

I see your complicated relationships with your homelands. And maybe your homelands are not really your homelands. Your homelands are here, in the USA, but you have roots elsewhere. Maybe, like me, you’re ashamed to be American right now, even though your parents or grandparents or great-grandparents fought and worked their asses off to be American.

Maybe, like me, you’re sick and tired of a country that makes empty promises of equality but instead delivers hate and white supremacy to anyone who doesn’t fit the mold.

For my friends who don’t fit the mold, I see you too. I see you, artists who always wanted to have big eyes like a Disney princess or lily white skin and blonde hair like Taylor Swift. I see those little kids. The ones who were best friends with the popular kids, but never felt like they belonged. The ones who always felt like a sidekick and supporting roles.

And finally: I see you, artists who live out your dreams in a place nobody can see. You live out loud — but only in your imagination. You live in an imaginary world where you’re the main act. You get to be human. You get to be the star. You’re not supporting anyone, you’re not helping anybody, you’re not there to hold space for others.

I see you as front-persons, not sidekicks. I see you taking those stages, singing into the microphone. I see you telling your stories in song; and I see people intently listening, hearing you. You’re on stage, performing with your heart and soul, and you don’t feel one ounce of guilt or shame or embarrassment about it. You’re shining. You’re blooming right before my eyes.

I am applauding you every step of the way.

Love, Ellisa.

Ellisa Sun

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