Identity LA Recognizes AAPI Women Who Are Breaking Barriers & Leading The Way For Positive Change TOKiMONSTA and Awkwafina Set The Stage For Amazing Performances And Distinguished Honorees
LOS ANGELES, CA- Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month takes place in May. Since 1990, America celebrates the culture, traditions and history of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States. We also celebrate our future.
On May 11th, 2019, at the Ford Theatres in Los Angeles, Pacific Bridge Arts Foundation (a 501(c) non-profit co-founded by Far East Movement and Wong Fu Productions) and the City of Los Angeles hosted Identity LA.
Now in its fourth year, Identity LA observes the achievements of established leaders within the Asian American and Pacific Islander art & culture community through a celebration of music and public recognitions of distinction. The evening, hosted by YouTube influencer and actress Michelle Khare and inspirational speaker Christine Chen, was particularly notable, as each of this year’s honorees was a woman or focused on women’s issues.
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, Identity LA’s decision to make this year’s festivities woman-centric was a powerful initiative. It shines a light on how conscious Pacific Bridge Arts Foundation is of the current times. To not only acknowledge Asian American and Pacific Islanders but to focus on an arguably less acknowledged subset of that population speaks volumes.
Awkwafina (née Nora Lum), an American actress, writer, rapper and musician from Queens, New York, was the most culturally relevant honoree of the evening. Given her recent big screen roles in the blockbuster motion pictures Crazy Rich Asians and Ocean’s 8, she’s been a positive role model for aspiring Asian American actors and musicians seeking to break into the ever-difficult industry of entertainment. Of the occasion, Awkwafina reflected:
“I performed at this very event a couple years ago and to be standing here today receiving [this award] is an honor. I think that events like this are really important, especially ones that celebrate Asian American women at a time like this, so give it up for yourself if you’re an Asian American woman. You’re out here representing us too. I look forward to the future generations that will be standing here, performing here, being honored here because it’s all about that. I feel very blessed to be here, so thank you all.”
21 year old Nadya Okamoto was another honoree. She is the Founder and Executive Director of PERIOD (period.org), an organization she founded at the age of 16. PERIOD is now the largest youth-run NGO in women’s health, and one of the fastest growing ones here in the United States. Let’s not forget that she ran also ran an ambitious campaign for Cambridge City Council as a teen while attending Harvard, running on a profressive platform focusing on issues like affordable housing, education equity and civil liberties among other topics. Oh yeah, she was also named to InStyle Magazine’s “The Badass 50: Meet the Women Who Are Changing the World” list, along with Michelle Obama, Ariana Grande, and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. No big deal, right? 😉
The third honoree was the Center for the Pacific Asian Family (“CPAF”). In 1978, CPAG established the first multi-lingual hotline assisting API survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse. CPAF continues to be the only agency in California that provides comprehensive services to API survivors of sexual assault, and the only 24-hour hotline and emergency shelter providing targeted services to API survivors in Southern California.
The evening’s musical offerings featured three strong women as well.
The evening’s musical fare started off with the infectious pop confections of Sophia Black. After dropping a widely lauded, self titled debut EP in 2015, Sophia seemed to slip off the radar a bit. It wasn’t until early 2018 when she resurfaced with the dreamy single “Real Shit” which featured a side artist appearance by KYLE. She would continue to roll out more singles throughout 2018 (“Blessed”, “Fire” & “Move”) and earlier this year dropped some dance remixes of “Move”.
Watching Sophia perform on stage, you would not have been able to tell that she’s been somewhat dormant for the past few years. Her performance was pop-perfection. From her extremely catchy tracks, to her seemingly perfect voice, to her hard hitting and synched choreography, her set had it all. She even got KYLE to drop in to perform “Real Shit” with her (which was fuego, btw).
But what made this performance particularly impressive was that she literally did it all on her own. This young lady went out of pocket to give Identity LA a performance that was as polished as any arena pop concert that I’ve been too.
On her twitter, Sophia explained:
“I really had no management team, no label support, and no tour support but pulled off that show as if I had a label budget. I’m fucking proud of myself. That performance was spectacular. I paid for every rehearsal, talked to every person at the venue, made my own schedule /time line, did my own hair n make up and styled myself + my DANCERS… IMAGINE THE LEVEL WHEN I HAVE A BUDGET.“
I’m imagining it right now, and I’ve got five on tickets to for that show.
Of all the Asian American women in music, there’s probably none as socially and culturally relevant as Connie K. Lim p/k/a MILCK.
As fate would have it, MILCK’s song “Quiet”, a song that was written as a way of coping with sexual assault and abuse as a teenager, resonated with millions following the Women’s March in 2017. It became the de facto song of the movement, and was acknowledged by Billboard magazine as the number one protest song of 2017.
MILCK was also a performer at last year’s Identity LA, but bringing her back to perform for this year’s festivities was a no-brainer. For a celebration of the strength and accomplishments of Asian/Pacific Islander women, her’s was a voice that needed to be present on this evening.
And her voice literally seemed to embody the spirit to the entire evening. Confident and resonant, defiant yet empathetic, MILCK’s culturally conscious music not only entertained, but also encouraged the listener to acknowledge and fight the good fights that lay ahead.
An unexpected musical treat of the evening came when Katherine Ho was invited up to the stage to perform her rendition of Coldplay’s “Yellow”, which is was made famous by its placement in the pivotal scene of “Crazy Rich Asians”.
For me, this was the show-stopper.
I grew up hating the color yellow. I associated that color with such a negative connotation because I had been subject racist remarks and incident of violence where that color was used in a derogatory way towards me. But as Jon Chu so eloquently wrote to each member of Coldplay, that alt-rock ballad really did shift the perspective in my mind. Like Jon, that song was the first time I ever saw that color in a positive light.
To hear Ms. Ho sing that song live was an oddly empowering moment for me. Though the translation form Mandarin to English notes the omission of the color, the fact that a young Asian woman was singing the melody of this ubiquitous pop song in a foreign language, making it her own, and embracing the tone and message of the original was a beautifully powerful moment for me.
Closing out the evening was the inimitable, Grammy nominated recording artist TOKiMONSTA.
TOKiMONSTA’s story is an amazing one. Not only has she had to fight her way to respect in the male dominated industry of music, in 2015, she was diagnosed with Moyamoya disease; a disease in which arteries in the brain are constricted and can lead to cerebral hemorrhage, a higher risk of recurrent stroke and even death. Following her diagnosis, TOKiMONSTA underwent two brain surgeries which caused her to briefly lose her language and comprehension skills.
But with music in her veins, and determination in her soul, she made a miraculous recovery and stepped back into the studio to work on her latest album Lune Rouge which was released in 2017. The album got a remix makeover in 2018. Each album has garnered well deserved praise.
To say that TOKiMONSTA has thrived since her recovery would be an understatement. Not only has she been steadily releasing her own music, but she’s also helmed some fantastic projects on her Young Art Records label, the latest project being the compilation album Young Art Sound II which was released May 3, 2019.
TOKiMONSTA’s set brought all of the trademark vibes that had Los Angeles calling her Los Angeles’ hottest “Lady DJ”. It only took a few minutes before the crowd at the Ford was up out of their assigned seats and dancing in the aisles. As if the crowd needed anything else to get more hyped about, the Malaysian singer-songwriter Yuna stepped onto the stage to perform a pair of songs, including their collaboration “Don’t Call Me”.
It was fantastic celebration of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders women in society and in music. Los Angeles city Council Member David Ryu summed up the occasion perfectly earlier in the evening by saying:
“Los Angeles is home to more Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders than anywhere else in the nation [… and … ] will author the next great chapter in the American story. For Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, I am honored to bring our many AAPI communities of Los Angeles together to celebrate where we’ve been, where we’re going, and the leaders who are paving the way forward. I’m especially excited this year to shine a spotlight on AAPI women who are breaking barriers and leading the way for positive change, and highlight their inspiring stories.”