I Still Believe in Our City

Artist: Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya
Location: New York, USA

Year: 2020

In 2020, as COVID-19 flared through New York City and NYC hospitals saw a spike of nearly 200,000 patients, Asian and Pacific Islanders (APIs) faced an added threat: blame, racism, and xenophobia.From February through July, the NYC Commission on Human Rights recorded 184 incidents of anti-Asian discrimination, harassment, or bias, representing a nearly seven-fold increase from the same period the previous year (26). The majority of incidents reported nationwide have been against women, including an 89-year-old grandmother who was set on fire in Brooklyn.Some might have thought we’d just slink off in the face of these assaults. But we don’t scare that easily. We mobilized, amplifying our voices to stand up for our communities. We got creative, finding novel ways to protect our parents, educate our children, and support our customers. APIs were on the frontlines, caring for patients, stocking shelves, and making deliveries around the clock. We’re made of grit, hustle and hope, the same as every New Yorker, and we know this city is greater than her ugliest moments.Asian and Pacific Islanders are diverse in nationalities, religious traditions, cultural practices, and languages spoken. And whether we are new immigrants or generations-old New Yorkers, APIs share the common experience of being labeled the “perpetual foreigner.” Ask any API the last time they we were asked, “But where are you really from?” and they can recount the story. It’s a question that, intent aside, burns at the core of every Asian and Pacific Islander American’s sense of home.This pain, made worse by the onset of COVID-19-related discrimination, carries with it the history of this country’s anti-Asian laws.

From the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, to the immigration quotas barring immigration from Asian countries in the 1920s, APIs have been so othered that many cannot imagine Asian and Pacific Islanders as also being American. The Chinese Exclusion Act remains the only law in American history to make immigration by a specific nationality illegal.By the 1960s, the civil rights movement was challenging every significant law and norm that denied Black people equal treatment. From restaurant counters to voting booths, civil rights leaders paved the way for equal rights for all. Asian and Pacific Islanders learned from this approach and mobilized under the banner of the civil rights movement to fight to abolish nation-based immigration quotas and secure passage of the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965. From Yuri Kochiyama to Grace Lee Boggs, API activists worked side-by-side with and were inspired by Black civil rights leaders —a connection that continues in today’s movement for Black lives, and a history that this public awareness initiative and art series seeks to honor.More than an anti-hate campaign, this public awareness initiative is a testament to the beauty and resilience of API communities. It recognizes everything we’ve lived through this year but also speaks to decades-old anti-Asian biases. It’s a reminder that NYC needs us, and that we won’t give up on her.

In the wake of the pandemic, New Yorkers masked up and supported their essential workers. In the face of racial injustice and xenophobia, New Yorkers marched and stood in solidarity with their neighbors. “I Still Believe in Our City” affirms that Black lives matter, and that East and Southeast Asians refuse to be vilified or denigrated. No matter what comes our way. New Yorkers don’t succumb to cynicism or defeat. We choose to believe in and fight for ourselves, our home, and our shared future.“I Still Believe in Our City” was created by Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya, one of two 2020-21 artists-in-residence with the NYC Commission on Human Rights.

The daughter of Thai and Indonesian immigrants, Phingbodhipakkiya’s practice centers around making the invisible, visible. Her multidisciplinary work has appeared in museums, galleries, conferences, classrooms, speakeasies, rallies, digital screens, and on buildings all over the world.The works featured in “I Still Believe in Our City” couple striking visuals with statistics about discrimination API New Yorkers have faced amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The panels include words and phrases that have been uttered in hate, juxtaposed with bright colors, symbolic imagery, and portraits of defiant and proud API New Yorkers standing their ground. Nestling the ugly language in beautiful symbolism is intentional: API artist Phingbodhipakkiya shows that despite what API New Yorkers have faced, they remain undeterred and steadfast members of New York City’s communities.It spans a range of activations, from LinkNYC kiosks, bus shelters, a public mural, and social media placements with the hashtag #OurCityNYC. An additional special feature of the campaign includes an art installation in the Atlantic Avenue terminal, where Phingbodhipakkiya’s 45 unique pieces take over the station to celebrate East Asian and Southeast Asian New Yorkers, as strong, compassionate members of their communities and show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and the fight to eliminate anti-Black racism. The words and images on each activation may vary, but the message is the same: Asian and Pacific Islanders care about our city, they will not be vilified or victimized, and they are not going anywhere.

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The "I Still Believe in Our City" project excels in several ways:
1. Raising Awareness: The project sheds light on the discrimination and bias faced by Asian and Pacific Islanders (APIs) during the COVID-19 pandemic. By highlighting these issues, it increases public awareness and understanding of the challenges API communities encountered.
2. Celebrating Resilience: The project celebrates the resilience and unity of API communities. It recognizes their contributions as essential workers and showcases their determination to overcome adversity.
3. Promoting Solidarity: "I Still Believe in Our City" emphasizes solidarity not only within the API communities but also in their support for the Black Lives Matter movement. This promotes unity and social cohesion.
4. Artistic Expression: The project uses art as a powerful medium to convey its message. The combination of striking visuals, statistics, and symbolic imagery captures the attention of a broad audience.
5. Community Impact: By addressing discrimination and advocating for equal treatment, the project has a positive impact on API communities. It provides a platform for these communities to share their experiences and challenges.

Regarding its impact on economics:
1. Community Resilience: By supporting API communities and highlighting their contributions as essential workers, the project indirectly reinforces their economic resilience. It showcases the value they bring to the workforce.
2. Consumer Support: The project's emphasis on supporting customers and businesses within API communities can have a positive economic impact. It encourages consumers to engage with and support these businesses.
3. Long-Term Impact: While the immediate economic impact may be challenging to measure, the project's focus on unity and resilience can contribute to the long-term economic well-being of API communities.

Overall, the "I Still Believe in Our City" project excels in raising awareness, promoting unity, and celebrating resilience within API communities. While the direct economic impact may be challenging to quantify, it has the potential to contribute positively to these communities' long-term economic well-being.

Amanda was an artist in residence with the New York City Commission on Human Rights, and this project was initiated through that partnership.

My artistic practice is about finding joy and belonging in the face of grief and injustice, and rallying communities to imagine a shared future we can’t yet see. Through defiant storytelling across an expansive array of materials and media, my work brings forth colors, patterns, textures, histories, and rituals to amplify the urgent voices of marginalized people.I have witnessed the deep power of listening and partnership in effecting change. I am invested in expanding the narrative of the AAPI community and other communities of color and revealing the unseen labor of women.My art often serves as a portal to liminal spaces that enable audiences to reclaim, rebuild, and restore their spirits through participation and communion. With gratitude, I receive gifted stories, artifacts and wisdom that form spaces of healing and wonder where new pathways forward can be imagined.

Progress Agency