Not your model minority: Asian American leaders in the music industry

May 27, 2021

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The hate crimes against the Asian community are not only taking place in the United States – they’re gaining traction globally. I am constantly considering my wife and child’s protection from racism. The thought alone makes my blood boil.

It’s going to take courage from all of us to speak up if we want to create change. I’m so honored that Grace Lee, Kevin Nishimura, Wendy Ong, and Joseph Patel agreed to speak with me about the challenges and opportunities Asian Americans face in the music industry and beyond. 

Below are some of my favorite parts of the conversation. We touched on themes of representation, identity, and coming together to lift each other up. I encourage you all to watch the roundtable discussion below as we close out the end of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

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grace

Grace Lee

Moderator / Head of Artist Relations (East Coast), YouTube

“Sponsorship is using your influence and power to bring somebody else up with you. I think I speak for all of us when I say I do feel a responsibility to bring up and nurture the next generation of Asian American executives. I feel very optimistic.”



kevin

Kevin Nishimura

Co-CEO and Co-Founder at Transparent Arts / Co-Founder at Gold House / Co-Chairman at Pacific Bridge Arts Foundation

“I’m a big fan of preventative measures. And showing more Asian American content, artists, and faces in commercials – these are all preventative measures that make us less foreign. If someone can tell you, ‘Go back home’ or ‘Go back where you came from,’ that means you haven’t seen enough of us. We need to give equal real estate on billboards, TVs, and movie screens.”



wendy

Wendy Ong

President, TaP Music

“One of the most common excuses is ‘But I don’t see color. I just hire based on experience and capability.’ Across our industry that’s a real challenge. But the younger generation is changing the way we act and speak up. We need to applaud organizations like Asian American Collective and others that bring peers together with shared experiences. Engaging with these groups is very motivating for people like me who want to understand what the next step is beyond posting on social media. These organizations also expose me to a lot of injustices that are not reflected in mainstream media. So I think it’s important to engage these kinds of organizations, and together we can target corporations and hold them accountable.”



joseph

Joseph Patel

Award winning Director, Producer and Writer

“When white people use the term ‘Asian American,’ it can be used to lump everyone who’s not Black, white, or a certain shade of brown into one category. But what I’ve learned over the years is to flip it. I use the term ‘Asian American’ as a sense of solidarity and to feel part of a larger community. It gives me a sense of broad resistance.”



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Lyor Cohen

Global Head of Music, YouTube

“My recommendation to my Asian colleagues was to check in with Black activists. We shouldn’t be reinventing the wheel. Hate is hate. There shouldn’t be all these disparate people from different groups. We should all be on one human activist team.”



Be sure to also check out our Celebrating APAHM playlist, which includes releases from Japanese Breakfast, Audrey Nuna, Raja Kumari, and Eric Nam. hope you all found this conversation as inspiring as I did. Thank you so much for reading, and please stay safe.


With love and respect,

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Lyor Cohen

Global Head of YouTube Music