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Photo: Brittany Valentine/Al Día News
A number of AAPI leaders from across Philly joined in the festivities. Photo: Brittany Valentine/Al Día News

RISE: Asian-American Philly at the forefront

An event held at City Hall honored the city’s many Asian-American communities, and held a discussion and signing of the recent bestseller tracking AAPI history

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On Thursday, May 26, Philadelphia continued its commemoration of Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month with a celebratory evening filled with cultural dance and music performances, and the special opportunity to hear from Jeff Yang and Phil Yu, two of the authors of the recent bestselling book, RISE: a Pop History of Asian-American culture from the Nineties to Today.

At 4:00 p.m, the program began, and about 80 community members gathered outside City Hall’s North Apron to watch the performances and hear from the guest speakers.

Attendees got to watch an exciting series of traditional Filipino dances from a group of children representing The Mutya Philippine Dance Company, as well as an energetic Korean percussion performance.

In the second part of the program, the crowd moved indoors to a conversation hall in City Hall for an intimate book discussion with Yang and Yu, who have been hailed by the Office of Immigrant Affairs as “national icons.”

Co-author Phillip Wang, who couldn’t make it in-person or virtually, also has a large platform where he advocates for Asian-American issues. 

Wang is the co-founder of the American filmmaking group, WongFu Productions, which began on YouTube before becoming established as a professional media company. Their works have been featured in a number of national and international film festivals. 

Yu, who is a native-born Philadelphian, unfortunately couldn’t make it in person to the event, because he tested positive for COVID-19. Instead, Yu attended virtually through Zoom to answer questions and share more about the book writing process and its impact.

Attendees had the chance to hear from longtime activist and Asian-American Councilmember Helen Gym, who delivered a speech prior to the book discussion. 

Gym applauded Yu and Yang for always capturing the spirit of Asian America through their journalism and blogging. She also talked about the history of powerful and successful Asian-American activism in the city. 

One of the examples Gym mentioned was of the famous Phillies stadium fight in Chinatown. In 2000, John Chin, the executive director of Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation mobilized the community against a massive threat, as the city announced its plans to put a new baseball stadium at 11th and Vine Streets. 

This would have paralyzed Chinatown with traffic and illegal parking during events, harming residents and businesses and impeding the neighborhood’s opportunities for expansion. 

In their legal victory against the city, former Mayor John Street decided to build the stadium in South Philadelphia instead. 

Last week, City Council passed Gym’s resolution honoring the impact of Yu’s work and for demonstrating the transformative power of “staying angry.” Yu’s online persona is “Angry Asian Man.” 

Copies of the book Rise: A Pop History of Asian American Culture from the Nineties to Today, were available for purchase at the event, courtesy of Making Worlds Bookstore. 

When asked about his favorite part of the book, Yang chose the illustrated section known as “Stuff Asians Like,” which pays tribute to the common themes and consumer goods that connect this group of diverse communities, such as Spam, celebrating Thanksgiving, Ferrero Rocher chocolates, and Costco. 

“With physical books now, getting something in print makes it feel more real. And we know who we are, we know our history, we know our culture and our community, but does everybody else? We only truly acknowledge history when it becomes a book,” Yang said. 

After the program, Yang stayed behind to sign copies for the attendees, encouraging them to “keep rising.” 

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